If Hawnay Troof was a workout routine and not a hyperactive electronic dance act, Vice Cooler would be its spasmodic Richard Simmons. At the band’s September record release party at the Williamsburg performance space Death By Audio, Cooler set the beats on his Dell laptop to an ear-pummeling volume and gyrated his heart out. Wearing a black dress shirt and beige suit, he barked into the microphone, jumped, wriggled, and spun. He crashed into the audience and fell to the floor. Back on the twelve-inch-tall stage, he drew the audience into his reverie, beckoning with spirit fingers. “Don’t you touch me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” he sang, leading some forty audience members in the chant from “Connection,” the dizzying hip-hop track from his new release, Islands of Ayle. “Why can’t you feel me? Na, na, na, na!”
A woman who appeared to have barbecue tongs shoved through her head grooved along. A guy in his twenties wearing bright orange sunglasses, his long hair getting in his face, smiled and boogied. Cooler directed everybody in the room to lower themselves to the floor: down, down, down. Then he jumped up, the crowd rose, and the energy got electric.
Vice Cooler, an amiable twenty-four-year-old from Mobile, Alabama, son of a nurse and a “well-known lunatic named the Booty Man,” is all about connection. “When I go to play, I don’t look at it as, ‘OK, tonight, it’s just me.’ I look at it as, ‘It’s me, and that person, that person, that person,” he said, pointing to imaginary dancers in the street outside the show space. “I try to give everything I can possibly give to the crowd; whether it’s five or five hundred, I don’t really care. I want the maximum amount of people to be able to walk away and feel affected by it, as opposed to somebody being like, ‘Oh, it didn’t move me.’ And then me thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t really give it my all.’”
For years, Hawnay Troof was a crude, low-budget affair. It began at the turn of the century, when Cooler and a friend downloaded a cracked version of the amateur techno computer program FruityLoops and penned a few songs. One day they headed out to see a show in Birmingham, Alabama, and they ended up playing a clandestine set beside the club’s Coke machine.
In 2002, Cooler (a simplified take on his much longer and far cooler real name, which he doesn’t want in print because random high school kids used to drop by his Oakland apartment and annoy him) put out his first EP: Who Likes Ta?—seven horny songs driven by FruityLoops’ factory settings. On tour, Cooler and his lady friend Baby Donut donned striped polo shirts and tight briefs for their dance parties. In the classic “Dry Hump 2002,” they sang, “If you like to dry hump (yeah, yeah! yeah, yeah!), get prepared to be dumped (yeah, yeah! yeah, yeah!).”
But gone are the days of perverse lyrics and crappy production quality. Islands of Ayle, Hawnay Troof’s second full-length album, is far more sophisticated, layered with cutesy melodies, bizarre samples, and the bouncy bass lines of a borrowed Moog keyboard, and exploding with spastic energy. “I was trying to make a pop record,” Cooler said. “Where people couldn’t listen to it and say, ‘Oh, this is just some lo-fi thing.’ I wanted people to listen to it and say, ‘Oh, this is pretty good!’”
Cooler spent much of 2006 and 2007 on a relentless world tour, which brought him to shows at massive European music festivals and a curator’s apartment in Cairo. “It’s really cool and it’s really sad at the same time,” he said. “Being on tour that long, things start to not seem real. It starts to feel like you’re just watching a movie or something. Especially when it just becomes this really long thing, like a snowball,” he added. “I feel like I’m starting that again now, like it’s gonna go on forever.”
Cooler’s recent tour through the Midwest—a sometimes frustrating and unsettling slog, as he described it—put him in debt, but the plan is to bank on some West Coast shows and hit Australia, then Europe, later this month.
At Death By Audio, the final minutes of Cooler’s twenty-minute set were positively Hawnay Troof. He seductively dropped his pants, revealing tight briefs and striped soccer socks, and changed into his signature costume—a pink suit with black stripes. Just before directing his laptop to play the finale, the anthem “Out of Teen Revisited,” he hailed the audience.
“I appreciate you for being you, for being strong,” he said. “If you have a drink, hold it up. If you have an imaginary drink, hold it up. Here’s a toast to us!”