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Science funk-tion

Shirtless Tayo Branston really stands out in a crowd — even when his crowd is a funkadelic nine-member band that performs songs about a giant robot destroying the earth.

Drummer/vocalist Branston is part of Five Alarm Funk, which will play a mash up of rock, funk and world music on Wednesday at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer.

The local play list will include selections from Abandon Earth, a just-released sci-fi-themed album that sets songs about global destruction to a smile-inducing beat. And Branston will be the clothing-optional guy behind the drum kit.

“I refuse to play with a shirt because I get extremely hot and sweaty,” said the 31-year-old.

Other musicians in his Vancouver-based band might choose to wear a random superhero costume or some kind of eye-catching headgear, but Branston generally refuses to get dressed above the waist when on stage.

He explains his drumming style involves playing with his whole body, “and I don’t want to be doing a lot of laundry while on tour. ... The thing about a Five Alarm show is that we totally engage with our instrument with all of our moves and energy.”

The group formed a decade ago once featured an unruly assortment of 10 or 12 musicians, but Branston said that number has since been whittled down to “the perfect nine.”

That way, the two guitarists, bassist, three percussionists and three horn players can all fit on stage at the same time and pull off synchronized dance moves in the vein of ’70s R&B/funk groups Kool and the Gang, or Earth, Wind and Fire.

“We’re all white guys from Vancouver, so we all have two left feet,” he admitted.

But practise makes perfect — or at least passable.

“We put on a show with very dance-able music and vocals, and try to make it super fun and quirky, so people have a big smile on their face.”

At the same time, some of the group’s music has deeper themes, although no overt messages, said Branston. “It’s not my style. I never try to push my views on people.”

The fifth album, Abandon Earth came about not because group members are B-movie fans, but because they were looking for an theme that would lend itself to being both ridiculous and serious, depending on interpretation.

Fans, especially those familiar with the group’s silly We All Scream video (which involves an ice cream-related torture scene), might think of those schlocky 1950s alien invasion movies — and that’s fine with Branston, who came up with the robot-destroys-Earth story line last winter.

“I wanted to do something fun because Five Alarm’s all about that.”

But he was also thinking about climate change and the idea of technology or man-made devices overpowering the natural world. One of the new songs, Higgs Boson, is about fears that splitting the “God particle” might lead to the development of new black holes. “Who knows what would happen if you activated a particle collider?” said Branston.

The group’s sense of humour shines through in fake apocalyptic newscasts read by voice actors and squeezed between songs on the album to move the storyline along for listeners.

“Our biggest influence is Frank Zappa,” said the Vancouver native, who wanted to be a musician ever since getting his first drum kit at the age of 10.

His firefighter father and cake-decorator mother were always supportive. In fact, Branston credits his mom’s love of dancing to salsa and flamenco tunes around the house for exposing him to some of the world music that now colours Five Alarm Funk’s repertoire.

Balkan/Gypsy music, Bollywood soundtracks and plain old rock ’n’ roll are other influences — as is ’70s-style funk, a resurgent musical genre that Branston believes has never entirely faded from popularity.

“People regularly get up and dance at our shows. We toured from Vancouver to London, Ont., and did 18 shows in 17 days and were sold out 95 per cent of the time. ... It’s getting to the point where our dream is becoming a reality.”

There’s a $10 cover charge for the 8:30 p.m. show. For more information, call 403-356-0033.

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