Knower: What to know if you’re not in the know (and their virtuosic set at the Hi Hat)

Knower at the Hi Hat
Knower at the Hi Hat

At the Hi Hat on Wednesday night, Highland Park’s Knower brought down a packed house with a searing set drawn from their seven-year catalog. Backed by the astute ensemble of Rai Thistlethwayte (keys), Jacob Mann (keys), Sam Wilkes (bass), the core duo of Genevieve Artadi (vocals) and Louis Cole (drums) unleashed their hyperkinetic electro-funk-fusion, surrounded by a crowd of local musicians and fans who are in the know.

Each song was marked by ripping solos and breakneck musical telepathy within the tight-knit quintet, and the onstage banter was best characterized as heartfelt, a bit ironic and ultimately hilarious. There was a Mylar funk shark swimming around the ceiling of the venue with a taped-on piece construction paper that casually read “Go Fuck Yourself,” a bedazzled 5-gallon bucket being used by drummer Cole as a beer goblet and a quick break to perform their best a capella jam about the different types of milk. As a duo who gained popularity through creative pop covers and meme-able original content on YouTube, Knower has taken the serious jazz idiom and translated it into a stylistic chameleon that is both outside of and commensurate with millennial trends.

While pop music continues to churn out some of most inventive and laughable music of the century, jazz has advanced through the deep grooves of contemporary hip-hop and R&B, gaining a high-visibility foothold on the ever-growing mountain of music being produced and doled out like vaseline on the Tyra Banks show. Many artists of the jazz discipline have found their way to world renown by helping to produce classics with their more renowned peers (see: “To Pimp a Butterfly”), covering (see: Badbadnotgood) and subsequently garnering the attention of their hip-hop heroes (see: Badbadnotgood with Tyler, the Creator), or even aiming straight for the internet’s heart with YouTube covers of radio pop hits.

Knower has been described in varying degrees of hyperbole, ranging from the relatively restrained “futuristic Los Angeles synth-pop dance duo” to the excessive “crazy-cool heavy electro jazz funk progressive pops from L.A.” and the hyphen-happy “experimental-electronic-fusion-funk-popsters.” We’ll stick with “future funk,” or more specifically, Nintendo jazz made for dancing. Music nerds love it. The EDM set can get down to it. Their musical influences are a grab-bag of genres, full of notables like Skrillex, Stereolab, James Brown, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Lush, Thundercat, Talking Heads, Michael Jackson and others. They’ve toured with Pomplamoose and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and make regular local appearances at joints like the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo. Their international following is no joke, and their YouTube subscribers are up to 37,000 (just a few thousand more than Prince protégé and cult YouTube contributor Mononeon, who has laid down some wild basslines over some of their recent hits).

Knower’s output began almost eight years ago with some wacky Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears covers, leading quickly to a collaboration and tour with fellow California multi-instrumentalist duo Pomplamoose. Their early original content “Window Shop” earned them a front-page feature on YouTube and “Fuck the Makeup, Skip the Shower” was included on the in-game radio station FlyLo FM on Grand Theft Auto V. After several years of taking any show anywhere and becoming quite popular in the video-song format pioneered by Pomplamoose, Knower struck up conversations and collaborations with musical heavyweights like Thundercat, Quincy Jones, Snarky Puppy, Tim Lefebvre (most recently featured on Bowie’s final record “Blackstar”), and recently embarked on a tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Needless to say, Knower’s most avid audience is the serious musician crowd (not to be confused with the musicians who take themselves seriously), both of its main members having graduated from jazz studies programs at nearby universities. Although nowhere near as theory-obsessed as some of their peers, Knower’s music still appeals primarily to musicians because, quite simply, it’s shreddy (though we wouldn’t necessarily compare their fans to metal fans — that’s a separate discussion altogether). At the Hi Hat, fans in the crowd were deep in discussion about their own projects and how they “found” Knower, and seemed familiar with the entire setlist — until they called for an encore and Louis Cole had to gently remind everyone that they did not, in fact, have any more songs.

Setlist: Time Traveler, Butts Tits Money, One Hope, Hanging On, Lose My Mind, All Time, Things About You, The Government Knows, Overtime, Encore: Time Traveler (reprise)

||| Watch: The wild live band session of “Overtime”

||| Also: Check out “Butts T**s Money” and ”