Charlie Looker’s Extra Life is a non-conformist powerhouse, highly unique and very much at the forefront of what we call avant-garde. In that respect the Brooklyn based outfit is quite in line with Looker’s previous projects and collaborations. Zs (profiled here), Period, Hillmer Looker Pride Trio or Dirty Projectors all specialize in the fine art of awe inspiring architectural sonic designs. (((unartig)))’s Extra Life video profile presents the early days as a solo act as well as the current full band lineup. Along with original and mostly unreleased footage shot in New York City between 2006 and 2009 come words by Sam Mickens/The Dead Science/Sam Mickens’ Ecstatic Showband & Revue, Mike Pride/From Bacteria To Boys, Larkin Grimm, Nat Baldwin/Dirty Projectors and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix/Liturgy.
The first time I saw Extra Life, it was like revenge of the choir boys. Extra Life is totally evil and beautiful, and they stand peerless in a category of music that is completely their own. This is no soft-cocked indy rock group. There were dominatrixes and vampires in the audience, as well as noise rock legends and classical composers. We all had our jaws dropped in overwhelming awe, admiring their skill and ecstatic life force.
Larkin Grimm | New York, November 2009
[Hunter Hunt-Hendrix | Liturgy]
When I first heard the Secular Works recording, it really hit me hard. I was addicted to it yet cringing at every listen because my perceptual apparatus was burdened with the task of literally reconfiguring itself trying to generate appropriate aesthetic criteria for judging Charlie’s music. Which is to say, it is mercilessly original (among other things). And I think it takes Zarathustran courage to make a record like that, which inherently cannot fit the mold of whatever scene out of which it is born, since it breaks all the molds. It was a profound inspiration to watch him pull it all together.
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix | Brooklyn, November 2009
[Sam Mickens | The Dead Science]
EXTRA LIFE::THE NEW ASCETICS
Main Entry: as·cet·ic
Pronunciation: \ə-ˈse-tik, a-\
Variant(s): also as·cet·i·cal \-ti-kəl\
Etymology: Greek askētikos, literally, laborious, from askētēs one that exercises, hermit, from askein to work, exercise
1 : practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline
2 : austere in appearance, manner, or attitude
What is powerful in Extra Life performances is not any sense of frenzy or abandon; it is in the very exercise and limits of control. It can be viewed, in this sense, as something of a musical fascist state—it derives all of its power from the complete alignment and subservience of its component parts and none from the emotional outburst of the individual. It is a music of gleaming, mechanical force, not a headless, communal force but one of severely pointed and sharpened intent. Fascism’s etymological root, the Latin Fascis denotes “strength through unity” and, literally, “a bundle of sticks;” both true and clear sympathetic ideas to the work of Extra Life. Entirely through-composed music, it rings out as a cascade of tightly wound voices, a musical bundle of sticks made Leviathan by their close-hewn and tightly bound arrangement. It is not a music of open space but of battened hatches and sealed exits, and nuclear fission.
While essentially contemporary punk rock music, Extra Life can also be viewed as the logical progression of experimental music production from the post-improvised music generation. Like the developers and practitioners of most forms of occult science and “magic,” Extra Life observe and act by the tenet that the true ecstatic spiritual state can be reached only through applied efforts and coordinated design and not through an ephemeral abandonment of worldly bonds. Truly higher states must be reached by divinely arranging the present structures and elements of this world rather than flaccidly dissolving amongst them.
Unlike many of their recent predecessors and contemporaries, Extra Life do not find their punk rock in the debasement and relaxing of grip of musical understanding, nor in the oft-clung-to excuse for sloth of musical “freedom,” but rather in making themselves operators of the highest level, taking formal musical educations and classical senses of personal discipline and leveling them against the contemporary environment. They understand that in modern art action, as in modern political action, the dissident and avant garde must possess as great a sense of rigor and militancy as the forces that establish and maintain the ruling class; that in this age no power will be overturned nor new paradigm reached with diffuse or sentimental pursuit of a better tomorrow.
Their title, “Extra Life” can be delineated in two primary ways—
I. The portion of lived experience definitively above/outside the bounds of functional living, “extra-life” as in “extra-curricular” or “extra-terrestrial”
II. An experiential overload; the overflowing portion of one’s sustainable human experience
While both of these ideas can generally be viewed as the most basic and constant themes of music or, indeed, of art in general, the degree to which Extra Life’s work recognizes, notes, and penetrates these concepts places them at a high level of refinement in content delivery. Their primary lyrical fixations—sexual negotiations, itinerant moral defectiveness, individual (primarily physical) self-construction, figures of organized religion—all function as somewhat metalogical concepts in Extra Life’s songs—art that understands, undermines, and redirects the poetic traditions inherent in itself. At the point of experiential overdrive and at the white-hot fringes of control, Extra Life creates crushingly powerful new work by walking a path of severity and austere definition.
Sam Mickens | Brooklyn, November 2009
[Mike Pride | From Bacteria To Boys]
I should have seen Extra Life in full band mode many times by now. Charlie Looker is one of my closest music partners in the world, and while I had seen him perform Extra Life solo many times over the past 3 years I wasn’t prepared for the revelation that awaited me on November 5, 2009 at the Cakeshop. I had opened the night with Sam Mickens’ Black Lantern Trio. Over the years, Charlie and I have been involved in many projects/bands; starting with Antenna Terra (w/ Ty Braxton in 2001), which morphed into our duo Aardvarks, which went on hiatus then became Period, which we then expanded to its current quartet. But, alas, time moves faster and faster as it progresses, and before you grasp it, you might have missed out on something profound.
I have always known that Charlie was brilliant (truly) but I never could have anticipated how deeply the band’s performance would stir me. Having known Charlie for nearly 10 years with varying degrees of ultra-closeness and distance, I was moved by how bare Charlie was exposing himself: through his compositional methods which myself and many others have internalized and been inspired by over the years; through his lyrics which seemed to run from self-effacement to social critique, completely confidently; and through the band’s rivetingly precise, emotional and powerful performance. Extra Life is a band of top-notch musicians, performing amazing and powerful music with grace and nobility. By the end of the concert I was holding back tears of a powerful impression and just couldn’t stop myself from thinking how proud I am of my good friend, Charlie.
Mike Pride | Sunset Park, Brooklyn Thanksgiving 2009
[Nat Balwdin | Dirty Projectors]
Extra Life combines beauty and brutal force like no other band in New York, or anywhere for that matter. Even at the music’s densest moments, Looker’s unique melodic sense prevails. The music feels hundreds of years old and futuristic at the same time. Looker’s voice is delicate, yet powerful. You get the feeling that one moment he might break your neck, and next he might make out with you. When music has so many contrasts within, sometimes the ultimate goal can be lost and the results lacking. That is not the case with Extra Life, as each contradiction only adds to each other to create something truly unique and utterly beautiful.
Nat Baldwin | Brooklyn, November 2009