The Chain Gang of 1974's Real Genius

The Chain Gang of 1974's Kamtin Mohager mines '80s nostalgia with stellar results

It’s not every day that one of your musical heroes appears in your music video, but for Kamtin Mohager -- the man behind the Chain Gang of 1974 -- that’s exactly what happened last year.

Mohager, a former touring bassist for 3OH!3, has made a name for himself and his solo project over the last few years with addictive electro-pop hooks, danceable beats, and endearing ‘80s-esque production that screams John Hughes movies, New Coke (and, uh, old coke), and boatloads of Aqua Net. 

That is to say: It’s fun and mines nostalgia in the best way possible. Not by simply repackaging it and selling the familiar to folks eager for that lived-in feeling, but by stripping it down to its foundation and adding a modern spin while keeping the vitality and joy of those yesteryear inspirations on the backburner -- not upfront and not absent altogether, but just simmering on low heat in the background.

For the Chain Gang of 1974 (who are at the Hideout on Feb. 11), that mix has translated to a handful of albums and upbeat anthems like “ Hold On,” “Undercover,” and “I Still Wonder” to smoldering synth-burners like “Sleepwalking” and “Teenagers.” Nearly all of Mohager’s songs sound like you’ve heard them 1,000 times over and that’s by design -- he's carrying a torch lit decades ago by New Order, Depeche Mode, A Flock of Seagulls, and Tears for Fears. And while he’s far from alone in the genre these days, he’s championing it better than most.

It’s wildly appropriate then that one of his musical idols -- Tears For Fears frontman Curt Smith -- made an impromptu cameo in the Chain Gang of 1974’s latest video, “Slow.”

"A day before we started shooting, one of the producers called me and brought up this wild idea of contacting Curt,” Mohager recalled when speaking to Billboard last November.

“A few hours later, I get a screenshot of the email conversation and see that Curt ‘loves the song.’ He showed up on the second day of filming, and did his part. For me, it was a very surreal moment, because Tears for Fears have been such an important band to me. I remember being 6 years old and listening to my copy of ‘Songs From the Big Chair.’ To see Curt singing one of my songs is something I will never forget.”

Smith only shows up for a brief moment but he’s definitely there. And it’s fitting: Like much of Mohager’s work, we can’t help but get swallowed up in massive melodies and hip-moving beats while getting obvious, yet fleeting, glimpses at his influences -- and that’s the way it should be.

The Chain Gang of 1974 headline the Hideout on Feb. 11. Tickets are available online here.

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow, plays in Diamond Lakes, and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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