Outside LA’s famed Roxy Theater the temperature is a cool (for Southern California) 65 degrees. But inside the club, the atmosphere is thick with heat.
On the Roxy’s intimate stage, an 11-piece German marching band called MEUTE — meaning “pack,” like a pack of wolves — explosively plays their instruments while gracefully weaving around one another. Even the guy wearing a 50-pound sousaphone glides about the stage with poise. They all don cropped, double-breasted red coats with ornate epaulets and gleaming silver buttons while working the dance floor into a fervor wild enough to alter the club’s climate.
This is not the audience reaction one might see at a parade or football game halftime show. That’s because MEUTE is not playing another tired rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” nor are they cycling through a repertoire of jazz standards. Instead, the self-proclaimed “techno marching band” is playing electronic dance music tracks like Dennis Ferrer’s “Hey Hey” or Flume’s remix of Disclosure’s “You & Me” — all on brass, reed and percussion instruments. And just like a DJ set, there are no breaks between tracks, making the show into an extended, if atypical, club night dance session. Other artists the group covers include deadmau5, Laurent Garnier and Solomun. Watch Billboard Dance’s premiere of MEUTE’s new video for “Panda” — an Oscar House rework performed live at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall — below.
MEUTE was assembled in 2015 by Thomas Burhorn, a trumpeter who dreamed of fusing his two most cherished sonic domains: trumpet and techno. It was in the bowels of Germany’s venerated techno scene where this whimsical vision was conjured. “In Hamburg, where we’re from, when you go out you usually listen to electronic music,” says Burhorn. “I’m a trumpet player, and was playing in jazz bands, and one night while I was dancing and raving at a techno club in Berlin, I wondered why there wasn’t a merger of the two — like a live bass drum, marimba and trumpet playing electronic music. So I decided to be the person who tries it.”
As most orchestral musicians roll in groups, Burhorn began assembling his pack. Then over the course of a year, he and his bandmates rehearsed a repertoire made up of rearranged techno, house and deep house tracks. Live marimbas and trumpets provided playful melodies. A trombone and various tones of saxophone established depth. The sonorous rumble of a sousaphone laid down the low end, while cymbals, hi-hats, snare drums and bass drum offered the dynamic beats that elevate dance-floor denizens like a drug. One of the members even puts down his sax to wail a few songs with bell-like clarity.
MEUTE‘s ascent into the electronic stratosphere didn’t begin in the club, but in the street. After purchasing matching marching band regalia, the group hit the cobblestone courtyards of Hamburg and quickly went viral. Since 2015, they’ve become YouTube sensations, transforming their impromptu street performances for passersby into full-blown concerts. Knowing they had forged something extraordinary, the group — 11 musicians and seven crew members — hit the road. They’ve now toured through Europe, Africa and now North America, with an extensive European tour on the calendar for next spring and a date at Electric Forest 2020 on the horizon.
“The biggest challenge of touring is communication,” Burhorn says, “which we are very good at. But most important we try to find the funny side of things and always aim to be the happy travel party and when we are not the happy travel party anymore, then we will stop traveling.”
Touring with a large group wasn’t their only challenge, though. Accustomed to the exhilarating freedom of street performing—and European laws that allow beer drinking on the street—the group had a few hesitations before launching their North American tour this past October. Though excited for their shows in cities including New York, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington DC and the aforementioned Roxy in Los Angeles, they found that in the US, the police were not as lax as authorities in Germany and other countries.
Though they had a few successful US street performances, a midnight show in the French Quarter of New Orleans and a pre-planned performance in front of Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial among them, the law caught up with their party in Boston. After a fire alarm abruptly ceased their concert at a venue called Sonia in Boston, Meute reacted as expected—they marched outside and continued playing. The band acclimated to the new setting with aplomb as glowing phones encircled them. They were in their element. And then the cops came.
“In the videos from when we played outside in Boston,” Burhorn shares with a slight chuckle, “you will see the blue lights of the police. They came there and said, ‘you have to stop, otherwise you get arrested,’ but we didn’t get arrested.”
Despite this brief run-in with the law — and US laws that prohibit them from drinking beer on the street — their North American tour was a success. In addition to playing for packed dancefloors in some of North America’s most dazzling cities, they were pleased, and surprised, to find their unique brand of music was beloved in corners of the country — Asheville, North Carolina and Burlington, Vermont among them — that are not necessarily known for their love of electronic music.
“We actually really enjoyed playing Asheville,” Burhorn says. “We appreciated being in a small city we never heard of. There were 500 or 600 people all dancing and screaming and loving, which we didn’t expect. During these moments some of the bandmates began to cry because it was a very emotional experience.”
While the words ‘German techno marching band’ are seemingly bizarre sentence partners, MEUTE has given them life and given audiences a memorable way to experience electronic music. With another US tour in 2020, this pack’s hunt for success is proving successful.