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Hot New Dance Hits makes humorous music that's more than just a joke.

Casio Magic

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Thrift-store bins aren't the places where most musicians rummage for the perfect equipment. But in dusty piles of thrift-store junk, Richmond's Hot New Dance Hits found a musical treasure: the Casio keyboard.

This band has taken the small, plastic, toy-store variety Casio and practically made an art form out of the instrument's prerecorded drum beats and tonebank settings, those little plastic buttons that change the sound of keys. And though they use regular instruments, too, the Casio is the irreverent soul for Hot New Dance Hits' barrage of distinctly unmainstream pop.

"The whole thing started as kind of a fun sort of joke," says guitarist Keith Saunders. In fall 1998, Saunders, drummer David Seaman and lead singer Jared Lambert were amusing themselves by recording weird Casio sounds and looping them to make funny disco songs. Soon they decided the sounds and rhythms they were creating were as good as they were funny. "The songs were goofy and stuff," says Lambert, "but they were catchy. The more we liked it, we thought, 'actually, these could be really good songs.'"

"Eat Your Heart Out" was printed and distributed in cassette form in January 1999. Goofy but catchy is a fitting label. The looped recording of an airplane taking off on "Crash," the roaring lions on "Big Top," the Casio drumbeat intro on "March of the Silent Clowns" and the baboons on "Baboon Lagoon" — those parts are definitely funny. But don't be surprised if you find yourself nodding your head and singing along. And since they all began as disco tunes, they can even inspire some dancing.

"We definitely tapped into something that we didn't know," Saunders says. "I listen to those songs and am amazed," because most of them were written and recorded in 20 minutes.

Lambert moved to New Mexico right after "Eat Your Heart Out" was released. Instead of calling it quits, Saunders and Seaman took on bassist Paul Burnette and kept composing, sending the tapes to Lambert for vocals.

The result was "Francis," a full-length CD released by the band in January. Its music is slightly less tongue-in-cheek than "Eat You Heart Out," but songs are just as wildly varied, a hodgepodge of pop, punk, rock and disco elements made new and fresh by the band's unique sensibilities.

Hot New Dance Hits plays a belated CD release show Saturday, April 15, at Sweetwater. Richmond has never seen the full band perform live, and with Lambert living out of state, it may never happen again. The show is a must-see for fans, or anyone just curious to see if the HNDH sound can be accomplished live. "We're only going to practice all together for three days before the show," Saunders says, "but it'll all be

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