Birthday Girl is a three-piece electronic band with a taste for the contradictory. Besides the fact that none of the members are in fact girls, they say, “We can be quite serious, and not very birthday-ish at all. Our sound definitely isn’t light hearted. It’s no party.” What began as series of unregimented jam sessions between friends turned into something more when Daniel Breiter, Dean Berger and Glenn Stein realised they wanted to share what they had been creating and so, Birthday Girl came to be. Today they’ve released Rituals – their debut, five track EP – via Indie Shuffle.
Listing the Spar salad bar, heartbreak, Sea Point seagulls screeching and fantastically bad 80s films as some of their inspirations; the band incorporates a mixture of acoustic instrumentation and found sounds to create their own brand of “dance music for people who hate dancing”. The choppy energy of the opening track, ‘Getting Mortal’ introduces us to Birthday Girl’s intricately plotted disorder. While ‘Imagine Having Friends’ swirls between wonder and ambiguity, ‘Zexy Dreamer’ is rich, theatrical and undulating. Then comes the atmospheric ‘Swimsuits’, one of the band’s earlier outputs, before ‘Fatherhood’ brings the EP to a potent and affecting close.
Daniel, Dean and Glenn always knew they wanted to form a band together – even before they managed to sync up to do it, they had been playing together in one way or another for a decade. “I think the first time I ever jammed, like, improv – just do what comes, was with Dean. I used to go to him every Wednesday and we would make a noise, just guitar and drums,” says Daniel. Towards the end of 2007 the trio had a three day music-making session at Glenn’s house. Inspired by the songs Josh Hommes (Queen of the Stone Age) wrote on the fly for his side project Desert Sessions they had their own Seaside Sessions. Although they’d never make the outcome publicly listenable, the process taught them a lot.
Birthday Girl started to take shape a year and a half ago when, after many consecutive weekends spent devoted to writing, they found themselves with a few tracks that had some consistency to their sound. Bringing out an EP seemed like the natural next-step and with that, the idea of playing live became more exciting. While their music is essentially electronic, they’re putting a lot of effort into maintaining a band-esque approach to performing live – a feat that has turned out to be one of their biggest challenges. “We never wrote these songs with the intention of playing them live,” they explain. “We just went for it, whether it be layering 3 different drum recordings or bending and twisting synths and guitar riffs, we just did what sounded cool to us.” As a result, they’re in the rather odd position of having to learn how to play their own songs. “In many ways, we all enjoy this because it’s something we’ve never had to do before, but it can be tedious and confusing. It’s a skill in itself, and we’re learning as we go. Our live performance will only get better over time.” They’ll soon be testing these waters with a small and intimate show at Straight No Chaser on May 31.
Before their diverse musical backgrounds converged as Birthday Girl, each member had been involved in Cape Town’s music scene in varying degrees – some ongoing. Daniel, who has been playing guitar since he was 15, has formed part of a few bands over the years while predominantly focusing on his own projects: the now concluded Fun Toy and currently, HOOM. Dean began drumming at the age of 14 and formed his main high school band with Daniel and another friend. “We called ourselves Semi Automatic Colony (taken from the lyrics of an At The Drive-In song) and tried to play funky prog rock inspired by The Mars Volta. We thought we were incredibly edgy,” he says. Later Dean co-founded and spent a few formative years in Bateleur. Glenn started out as a guitarist and then moved onto bass after being heavily inspired by Tool, Iron Maiden and Incubus. Since contributing to Like Knives with Skye MacInnes (of Sakawa Boys) and Jelly Fish, he now plays in the Latino fusion band Los Tacos.
Getting to the point of releasing an EP has been a largely insular process for Birthday Girl, who all produce in some capacity. That said, there have been a few people instrumental to the process including Anya Zinn for her violin on ‘Zexy Dreamer’ and ‘Fatherhood’, Melissa Kahn for her clarinet contributions to ‘Zexy Dreamer’ and Ross Fink who did a beautiful job mastering the tracks. On the visual side of things is Jeanne Fourie, who is responsible for the animated promo video and all of the imagery that accompanies the band’s release. Ben Rausch, who is releasing Rituals on his label So Many Animal Calls Music has offered a great deal of guidance and inspiration along the way.
Up next Birthday Girl have the seeds of a music video planted, but it may be a while before this comes to fruition. As their process veers from the band’s lackadaisical origins, they’re also starting to think about the next batch of music they want to write. “At the end of the day, and we know this will sound cheesy and lame, we are really happy to just be making music, especially together. As long as we’re doing that, it’s a vibe. Everything we have done so far has been very natural and organic, and we don’t want to change that.”