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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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In Music

The rebels: the brothers Perlick-Molinari.

Rebels with a French horn


French Horn Rebellion is a musical enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a bunch of synthesizers.

Robert and David Perlick-Molinari, two brothers originally from Mequon, create what they describe as retro-futuristic music with keyboards, Macbooks and panache. Both are classically trained musicians, though you wouldn't guess that from their style.

"Yeah, it's kind of weird," says Robert, who received a music scholarship to Northwestern University. "It's like a bunch of French horn players gathered together to use their skills to rebel against authority -- but instead of playing their horns, the use electro-synth music."

Robert describes their sound as electro-dance-disco-synth-pop-rock -- with a little hair band influence for good measure. If that doesn't include enough hyphens, they also want to include more 1970s groove from the funk era. The tone of the band was inspired by an unlikely source: The O'Hare Airport international tunnel, which Robert describes as representative of "frustration, nostalgia, love and hate."

Musically, that translates to a lot of fun electronic bloops and bleeps and ultra-catchy hooks that stick in your head for weeks. "Up All Night," the standout track on their self-titled debut album, sounds like a collaboration between Daft Punk and The Strokes.

And every once in awhile, they bust out an actual French horn.

"It makes one of the most beautiful sounds I know," Robert says about his horn, a rare Geyer model from the 1950s.

This month they kick off their first major tour, which stops at The Mad Planet on Saturday night. They're also working on a European release of the single "Up All night," including the original, two remixes, a French version and a B-side.

While at Homestead High School, Robert received individual lessons from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's principal French horn player. He advanced to the principal French horn chair in the school's prestigious orchestra in only his sophomore year of college. He then founded French Horn Rebellion out of his dorm room to create a modern outlet for classical music, whose traditional audience is shrinking.

Meanwhile, his brother David was making a name for himself in the New York scene. After earning a New York University degree in music theory and composition, he moved to Brooklyn and starting performing in groups all over the indie music spectrum, including the darkly ambient SpaceShuttle Earth, the shoegazing Dust Bunnies and the funky electronic Savoir Adore.

Professionally, David created musical scores for commercial campaigns on behalf of McDonald's, General Electric, MTV, Mercedes-Benz and VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club."

In forming French Horn Rebellion, they brought their classical background together with the modern realities of making music. They both respect electronic equipment's ability to create -- and in some cases replace -- complex sights and sounds that were once the realm of large-scale symphonies.

But they also believed in crafting something that required a human touch, more than just pressing a button to produce a synthetic noise.

"We didn't want to lose the specific nature of people coming together and playing together," Robert says.

When they take the stage, they seem to be both performers and audience members, as they hit buttons on their keyboards and move to the beats.

"It's like a constant battle between us and the technology," David said. "We can't even tell what's going on sometimes."


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