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Photo Essay by Andy Witchger: Superorganism at Minneapolis’ First Avenue

Superorganism has an unusual origin story. The eight-person collective coalesced after YouTube videos, message boards and Skype conversations revealed the scattered group shared similar artistic and musical visions. They began sharing melodies, lyrics, found sounds and bits of meme culture, cobbling them together into the rudiments of songs.

Their first breakthrough came when one of these collages made its way to Orono Noguchi, an internet acquaintance from Japan attending high school in Maine. She added vocals on her computer and sent the file back to the group. That single, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.,” quickly gained traction, amassing over 11 million listens on Spotify alone.

Spread out in disparate locales like New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Australia, the group relocated to a house in London’s East End that now serves as a living quarters, recording space and art studio.

While the method of delivery has changed, this songwriting approach is nothing new. Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard made headlines mailing DATs across the country to construct The Postal Service’s debut nearly two decades ago. In the intervening years, this sort of songwriting only became more convenient. What’s unique about Superorganism is that they’ve preserved this method of collaboration while living in the same space. Bits of songs float electronically from room to room before the band ever takes up instruments.

This seemingly haphazard songwriting process sounds like a recipe for chaos. Fortunately, the group’s talent for self-editing and Orono’s world-weary voice keep things grounded.

While Superorganism’s sound channels psych-pop reminiscent of mid-era Flaming Lips and the youthful glee of Architecture in Helsinki, Noguchi delivers casual observations with an adolescent malaise akin to Stephen Malkmus. The results are beautiful, buoyant and occasionally baffling.

Warped samples bubble to the surface, saccharine synthesizers intermingle with driving bass and the occasional birdsong mixes with subtle background harmonies. This pop maximalism translates directly to their stage show.

Watching Superorganism perform is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Group members don technicolor raincoats, glitter and 3D glasses as a psychedelic light show pulsates around them. Their exuberance is contagious.

Surrounded by the choreographed exploits of her bandmates, Noguchi aimlessly wanders the stage with a confidence that belies her teenage years, speak-singing and engaging the crowd. When she makes eye contact, it seems like she’s sharing her thoughts about the day, via stream of consciousness, just with you.

Superorganism grew up immersed in the digital age, so there are no lamentations about the evils of technology found here. After all, the band forged their relationship across thousands of miles thanks to engagement provided by the internet.

On one of the their most beautiful songs, “Reflections on the Screen,” Noguchi sings in hushed tones about the comfort technology has the potential to provide: “And there’s something, so affecting / In the reflections, on my screen / It makes me feel alive, sat in bed lit by the light / Of a silly GIF playing on repeat.”

They end the way they started, with “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” Glowsticks bob in the crowd and fog machines envelop the stage as the band’s final query echoes: “I don’t know what you need to get by/ Something for your mind?”

Superorganism Setlist:

“It’s All Good”

“Nobody Cares”

“Night Time”

“Reflections on the Screen”

“The Prawn Song”

“SPRORGNSM”

“Nai’s March”

“Everybody Wants to Be Famous”

Encore:

“Something for Your M.I.N.D.”

Andy Witchger (@andywitchger) is a naturalist, photographer and concert junkie from Minneapolis. You can find his work in City Pages, The Current and on his mom’s refrigerator.

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