The Boston band Lovewhip worships at the altar of the beat. Anything that makes you shake, shimmy or otherwise get your groove on is sacred ground for the trio, who have been making electro-funk party jams for the past 10 years.
“I think anything danceable is kind of fair game for us,” said lead singer and guitarist Erin Harpe. “We’re dance music, in whatever form that entails.”
Lovewhip, who will play Friday night at Geno’s in Portland and Saturday night at the Underground Lounge in Rockland, have amassed a cult following in New England, ever since their first album “Whip It, Baby!” came out in 2000. Their fourth album, “Love Electric,” came out in February, and while the idea remains the same — dance music for everybody — the lineup and sound has changed.
Back in 2000, Harpe and bassist Jim Countryman, the two mainstays that comprise Lovewhip, were cranking out dance pop heavily influenced by Afro-pop, the bubbling, uplifting, infectiously funky music that came out of Africa in the 1960s and ’70s. Though bands like Vampire Weekend have now taken Afro-pop into the music mainstream, Lovewhip were doing it years before it became a hip thing to do.
“It’s kind of funny that Afro-pop is this new, hip thing, because it was totally our thing way back in the late 90s, early 2000s,” said Harpe. “I don’t think the Boston music press really knew what to think of us, so they kind of pigeonholed us as ‘world’ music. We got a Boston Music Award for it, in fact.”
“Whip It, Baby!” was followed by “Bouncehall” in 2003, which brought Jamaican dancehall and reggaeton into the fray, charging the music with a pulsing island beat. By 2005, though, the rhythmic palette with which Lovewhip was painting was getting a little stale. The band changed course again, opting to explore synths and samples with the album “Virtual Booty Machine.”
“We’ve always reinvented ourselves,” said Harpe. “We all love, love, love that ’80s sound, that Michael Jackson, B-52s kind of thing. We wanted to get more electro.”
Lovewhip enlisted the help of Bangor-area electronic artist Les Rhoda to help shape their sound and get them used to the technology that goes along with it. They also stripped themselves down to a three-piece, opting for a lineup consisting of just Harpe, Countryman and drummer and sound programmer Devo Kocses — though guest stars on saxophone and other instruments often sit in on gigs.
“Love Electric” is a kind of culmination of years of experimenting for the band. It’s firmly rooted in 80s synth pop, but a closer listen reveals a vast array of influences, like Harpe’s raw, bluesy vocals, dancehall beats and an ever-present abiding love for African rhythms. Basically, it’s a smart, no-holds-barred party album.
A party album, however, doesn’t always mean a party live act. In Lovewhip’s case it thankfully does — the band puts on one heck of a show. Wild, futuristic, sexy costumes are a must, along with assorted props and other theatrical elements. Harpe is a true rock ‘n’ roll vixen, equal parts Debbie Harry and Peaches. And when Lovewhip plays in Portland, it enlists the help of southern Maine burlesque troupe Atomic Trash, who perform right alongside the band as the Whipettes.
“They’re friends of ours, and have always been huge supporters of the band,” said Harpe. “I really wish we could bring them out with us all the time. But we can’t really bring all those people along. So we just do it in Portland. It’s so much fun.”
Lovewhip fits in neatly with artists like M.I.A., Missy Elliott and LCD Soundsystem, who blur the lines between electronic dance music and other genres, whether it’s hip-hop, punk rock or dancehall. And Lovewhip’s been at it for just as long, if not longer.
“I think there’s so much interesting stuff out there, in terms of dance music,” said Harpe. “There’s so many possibilities.”
Lovewhip will play with Computer at Sea, El Grande and the Whipettes at 10 p.m. Friday at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland, admission is $10 and the show is 21-plus. They will also play a show put on by the Hot Pink Flannel Collective, starting at 10 p.m. Saturday at the Underground Lounge, located below the Tradewinds Motor Inn on Main Street in Rockland. Admission is $5, and the show is 21-plus. For information, visit www.lovewhip.net.