There’s nothing like the sights and sounds that a talented marching band can deliver. While such musical delights were once relegated to football games’ halftime shows and various parades, recent years have seen horn-and-drum groups stomp their way indoors, bringing these distinct thrills to entertainment seekers who are specifically there for the high-energy jams.
The phenomenon is also far from confined to the U.S., as evinced by MEUTE — arguably Europe’s most popular such ensemble. Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, the group has played scattered stateside shows, but its current North American tour marks the band’s first official trek through the continent. Founder/trumpeter Thomas Burhorn adds that the band’s Thursday, Oct. 17, takeover of The Orange Peel (complete with matching red jackets that look like they’re from John Philip Sousa’s day) will be all 11 musicians’ first time in Asheville.
A self-described “techno marching band,” MEUTE elaborates on that concept in the official description on the group’s website. It’s a collective where each player fulfills the role of a DJ with acoustic instruments. Burhorn is happy to clarify that odd concept, which brings to mind images of people scratching records with flutes.
“The job of the DJ is to make the people dance and feel some positive energy,” he says. “That’s what we do as well. We are playing for the audience and are celebrating with the audience. We don’t play just for ourselves.”
More specifically, they rework dance tracks with brass, woodwinds and percussion. Past selections include Deadmau5’s “Gluma” and Australian producer Flume’s remix of the Disclosure and Eliza Doolittle collaboration, “You & Me.” In channeling the latter DJ’s fuzzed electronic thumps on the chorus that turned his version into an instant earworm, MEUTE utilizes baritone saxophones and low brass on the bottom register in tandem with trumpets lining the upper range to craft its own immensely catchy take. Further putting the group’s stamp on the song is the introductory dance between smooth alto sax and plinking xylophone, plus space for an extended trumpet solo as the track reaches its apex.
Regarding how he knows a song is right for MEUTE to reinterpret, Burhorn points to the emotional resonance a particular piece of music has with him and his bandmates rather than the work’s technical components. “The most important thing is that it feels right,” he says. “It’s like a favorite song that comes to you. You don’t choose it by categories — you feel it.”
In reworking the tunes, he reveals that certain players write the arrangements for the entire ensemble. He compares the process to a painter “who brings the landscape on canvas with different colors, then reality.”
These skills are on full display in MEUTE’s recent release, Live in Paris. Approaching the group’s April 2019 show at Le Trianon, Burhorn says he and his bandmates “knew that this show had the potential to be a hot concert, and then it was.” Though much of the complete band experience is lost without the visual component — some videos from the performance are available on YouTube — the energetic sound is plenty danceable on its own. Upon additional reflection on the memorable evening, Burhorn recalls the ensemble’s sustained pep all the way through to the final number, during which he and his bandmates experienced something they’d previously never encountered.
“The floor in the room is made from old wood and is very elastic, like a trampoline. So, everyone was jumping really high, and our encore in the audience was a challenge because everything was moving all the time,” Burhorn says.
And, yes, that’s no typo — MEUTE indeed enters the crowd during its show, though the bouncing effect of Le Trianon seems unlikely to be repeated at The Orange Peel. Accustomed to being close to the audience during outdoor performances, where the sound carries without microphones or other assistance, Burhorn says no significant adjustments are needed to adapt the band’s work to the indoors. For him, “the music is strong enough for every setting,” though at walled-in venues, the musicians do “have a big amplifying system with big sound.”
Also augmenting the experience is “a huge light show,” the convergence of which means it’s not necessary for Burhorn to pick a favorite setting. As he puts it, “Both are best.”
WHO: MEUTE with Joe Dela Cruz
WHERE: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave., theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m. $15 advance/$18 day of show