No matter what you call them, !!! makes some of the decade's best dance music

!!! Extra Golden

Confusion swarms around !!! like bees surround a honey-filled hive. Naming your band with three punctuation marks — rather than with, you know, actual words — will do that. Of course, this sorta thing has been done before. Look at Prince: He still can't decide whether he wants to be called by his royal moniker or that unpronounceable symbol.

But in !!!'s case, there's no "artist formerly known as . . . " crutch to fall back on. DJs across the globe are left clueless, and concertgoers beg their hipster friends to give them the lowdown on this mystifying moniker, because they don't want to sound clueless.

But the answer to this name-game puzzle isn't really all that complicated. Just be creative. After all, that's what the band wants. Any three consecutive monosyllabic sounds will suffice: "blah blah blah," "yo yo yo." "Chk chk chk" seems to be the most popular pronunciation — even if the band's seven members can't agree on what to call themselves. Right now, guitarist Mario Andreoni says he's going with "jik jik jik" or "jack jack jack." Take your pick.

!!! cribbed its name from the 1980 African comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which a Bushman goes on a quest to return a discarded Coke bottle to the Almighty. Whenever the movie's characters would click their mouths, the subtitles read !!! The guys in !!! thought that was funny.

Still, even if they've reconciled with their name, Andreoni says it makes relatively simple tasks — like "going through immigration or using the internet" — a real pain in the ass. He's right. Try Googling !!! — you'll get nothing about the California group. You have to use chk chk chk.

Not so surprisingly, !!!'s music can also be confusing. Last year's Myth Takes borrowed tricks from krautrock and techno to African-rhythmic percussion and Chicago-house bleeps. Andreoni says everybody from Roxy Music to Bohannon to Spoon influences the music that courses through the band's albums.

One thing is certain, !!! has made some of the decade's best hip-shaking dance-punk, incorporating disco, pop, and funk into a fusion of unforgettable jamtastic beats. Once they get into a groove, says Andreoni, the guys will stretch out a song for as long as it feels right. "If it isn't going anywhere, we'll usually stop," he says. "The most fun jams go down different roads, can last upwards of an hour or more, and never finish where they started."

!!! formed in 1996 in Sacramento as an all-night-party band. The orgy of members — they started out with eight guys — unleashes a variety of sounds on record and onstage. More important, it gives the group the manpower to put on super-crazy live shows. Singer Nic Offer dances around the stage like a more flamboyant Michael Jackson, crotch-grabs and all.

Andreoni says all that energy is a key ingredient in the group's music-making. "It's why we're a band, really," he says. "Playing live is really exhilarating, plus there are a lot of people onstage, so shit is always going down."

That helps explain why !!! is back on the road, even though Myth Takes was released way back in March of 2007. "You spend a few weeks in a studio, and you can't wait to play live," says Andreoni. "[Recording and performing are] two totally different things. It's boring when a band sounds just like the recording."

Which is exactly why !!! prefers to emphasize its musical complexity — which appeals to both European dance-scene youngsters and elitist Coachella hipsters. The band has performed at ginormous festivals (Lollapalooza, Glastonbury) and small clubs (its current tour). Andreoni says as long as there's a stage, !!! will play it.

In 2006, the group hit the road with global superstars the Red Hot Chili Peppers — its highest-profile gig yet. Last year, !!! zigzagged around the planet with indie-rockers Holy Fuck, Telepathe, and the Field. Andreoni says !!!'s current tour features a mix of Myth Takes tunes and some new material, which will be tested onstage and later hashed out in the studio.

But Andreoni can't even guess at a tentative release date for the new record. It's a long process — of writing, rewriting, testing the songs in concert, and then filtering all that live energy into the studio recordings, he says.

Through it all, the doors are always open to innovation and change. "It's more fun to take chances and stretch out," says Andreoni. And you can bet he's talking just as much about fans' creative pronunciations of his band's name as he is !!!'s music.

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