Devo 2.0 taps into "uncontrollable urge" for nostalgic '80s funk

In 1978, Devo stumbled into the national spotlight with Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!.

The peculiar cult favorites brought flower-pot hats, bright yellow jumpsuits, synthesizers and a message: Mankind was not evolving toward perfecton but was instead spiraling downward through devolution.

So perhaps it is a fitting manifestation of their theory that five children will go on tour next month to play "Whip It!" and other Devo favorites-an adult band's songs written for adult audiences, but performed by and for children.

The tour, hitting the stages of all of the East Coast's hottest elementary and middle schools with an additional jaunt to Devo's native Akron, Ohio, is brought to the world courtesy of Walt Disney Records.

But lead singer Nicole Stoehr, 13, insists Devo 2.0 is of a different ilk than your average kiddy band. She points out each member of the band plays his or her instrument on stage. Stoehr, for instance, got her part after auditioning to play keyboards.

"At first, they wanted the band to be all boys, like Devo," she said. "I auditioned and danced and sang and they decided to cast me as the lead singer."

The cast was selected out of about 1,000 kids who auditioned. And while it hasn't all been peaches and cream-Stoehr said the band rehearsed all of four hours every day over the weekend in preparation for the tour-the aspiring actress and singer bubbled over talking about her experience.

"All my friends say they got the CD, and it's so awesome," she said. "I think even teachers and a lot of parents know about [the original] Devo."

Enough to make you feel old.

"I think kids will like it because it's fun and upbeat-and sends out a great message," she said.

But what message is that? Stoehr and her cohorts, all between 10 and 13 years old, bounce energetically on a bonus DVD of music videos directed by Devo founder and bassist Jerry Casale. The videos have all the quirkiness of Devo but none of the original's disjointedness and disaffection. In place of Midwestern college boys, Devo 2.0 is comprised of carefully groomed tweens-overly scheduled kids who split time between voice teachers, dance lessons and school.

David Giffels, co-author of Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, said some Devo fans-known as "spuds"-have been upset by the move, but he thinks Devo 2.0 is a brilliant promotional tactic for the original band members. Moreover, the irreverent nature of the group fits right in with Devo's philosophy.

"Devo was always making mischief with popular culture," he said. "Devo is one of the few groups of pop stars who realize how ridiculous they appear performing in middle-age. But they realize that their music has a certain timelessness-was ahead of its time and ought to be performed in some sort of venue today."

And as Devo ages and is less able to perform, Devo 2.0 can be seen as a humorous commentary on aging pop stars in general.

"What was really ironic was that Jerry Casale has had serious back problems and had to perform in a grotesque-looking full-body back brace," Giffels said. "It's like children are now being trained to be the new Devo."

Stoehr said the fans' disapproval might stem not from the content of the songs-what does "Whip It!" mean, anyway?-but from the use of the Devo reputation.

"I just really want people to know that it's a really fun and upbeat band," she said. "Sometimes people might think that it would be inappropriate, but it's a lot of fun."

And Giffels will tell you that Stoehrs has it right. Cultural connotations aside, the music appeals on a primal level. The kids, like the adults before them, have fans whipped-whipped good.


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