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TRS-80: Tron on Acid

Jay Rajeck founded TRS-80 in Chicago in 1997, and while the line-up and location have changed over the past 11 years, he's remained consistent in his delivery of relatively minimalistic, predominantly instrumental electronic music, which he often mixes with bizarre retro samples. The result is a sometimes-spastic sound collage that resonates with drum & bass, trip-hop, and ambient accents.

Affectionately named after a vintage early 80s Radio Shack personal home computer, Rajeck's also got a sense of humor: They recorded a cover of the Family Ties theme for an 80’s covers compilation. And then there's this, below, made by Rajeck's LA collaborator, Eric Fensler. The fake public service announcements were featured in the recent Weezer video, “Pork and Beans.”

Rajeck, who moved to LA in 2006, pays as much attention to the visuals as he does the music. He's written music for Dr. Pepper and BMW commercials, has had TRS-80 songs featured in Coca-Cola and Nike ads (and an episode of CSI:NY), all of which he says keeps his dexterity sharp. During TRS-80 performances, Rajeck digs into his extensive collection of 16mm vintage educational films, and combined with Fensler's expertise at making videos, the two create immersive experiences in sound and vision. When they performed at the Dublab collective's Daylight Goes Dark screening at The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre last month, the duo played in front of one of the biggest projection screens they’ve used to date. With Fensler on keyboards and sampler and Rajeck behind the drums, the audience bounced their heads to cosmic beats as they basked in the neon-blue glow refracted by smoke machine fog. It was like watching the movie Tron on acid during a high school anatomy class in 1983.

“The whole initial inspiration for TRS-80 was to take electronic music," Rajeck told me at the Dublab screening, "which is normally an all-studio thing, [and] take that music and do something. Bring in live drums so it has a raw energy. The visuals [are] a whole other branch of the band that took off.” They provide a focus while TRS-80 plays, he adds. “A big part of it is because we don’t have a singer. I mean, we don’t have a David Lee Roth on stage rocking the crowd, so I feel responsible to give people something to look at. I want to entertain the crowd as best as I can.”

After about a year-long hiatus from performing live, the pair recently gigged at the Airliner to celebrate the release of their new EP, “The New You” put out on Rajeck's Vinyl International record label (which some may know from releasing Ariel Pink’s Underground last year). A west coast tour is also in the works.

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