The things Protect-U‘s music evokes—spaceflight, digital creatures, futuristic architecture, dark dancefloors, kaleidoscopes—aren’t inherently funny, so it’s a bit surprising to hear Mike Petillo, one-half of the D.C. duo, say that its new side project made him laugh.
Taking the name Geo Rip, he and musical partner Aaron Leitko called in a third player, Baltimore’s John Jones (Dope Body, Nerftoss), and developed some fresh angles within Protect-U’s framework of synth-heavy, rhythm-driven music. Jones brought some of Charm City’s creative looseness to the live-in-the-studio recording sessions in Takoma Park, Petillo says. He’s not kidding about the laughs.
“In this day and age, things are so absurd, and I think this project—some of it’s kind of absurd in some respects. It’s kind of a little zany and a little funny to us… I really liked being able to laugh at it,” Petillo says.
Those chuckles, however, aren’t obvious on the resulting release, U-Udios 2. If there’s levity, it’s within the sound of musically astute dudes giving themselves permission to mess around and save the good parts. I flat-out asked Petillo if he thinks Protect-U, during nearly a decade of making thinky, deliberately unconventional dance music, has been too serious at times.
“Yeah, definitely, in our own little moments, for sure,” he says wryly. “But I think we’ve been working past that.”
U-Udios 2 has the general hallmarks of previous Petillo/Leitko projects, like 2014’s Free USA album: The machines—the “Eurorack” synthesizers and so on—are prominent, and the humans themselves are silent. But Geo Rip’s songs flow where Protect-U songs might otherwise erect unexpected pathways. Petillo puts that squarely on Jones, whose upbeat Nerftoss tracks tend to have forward momentum.
The vibe was a matter of “trying to get it right in the moment, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, you just move on to the next thing,” Petillo says. “Looking for those magic moments when you’ve done things without thinking about them too much. And they just kind of happen.” If the trio pulls in an obvious influence—like the dubby bass on “Arkadata” or the strains of krautrock in “Cha Chalant”—it’s flipped around in a way that isn’t forced.
U-Udios 2 caught on quickly with Protect-U’s core audience. (Critic Philip Sherburne tweeted that “it rules.”) Petillo and Leitko’s U-Udios label sold out of its stash of the cassette version, but a few are still available through labels like D.C.’s PPU and New York’s L.I.E.S.
One thing has remained dead serious for Petillo: Keeping up with a wide range of music. He equates it to an “academic lifestyle” in some respects, “where you’re like, reading other people’s papers all the time, you’re trying to stay up on the research.” He and Leitko essentially “know what we like so much better,” after a decade of working as Protect-U, Petillo says.
“It takes a long time for anybody to really kind of figure out what they actually enjoy, and the music that they really connect with, and how to make that and really be able to do it somewhat quickly,” he says. “Even though it still takes us awhile to get our shit together—tracks made and music composed—I just think we’re so much quicker about establishing what we like and what we don’t.”