Fans of the ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon “Rugrats” will recognize the name Reptar as the Godzilla knock-off that fascinated toddlers Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil. But among music fans, Reptar, playing at Wooly’s Wednesday, is making a name for its wild live shows that often involve costumes and working the crowd up into a dancing frenzy.
“Even when we first started, we always wanted each performance to be a show,” said keyboardist William Kennedy. “We always had ideas of crazy stuff to do. Weird stuff. We just wanted to make things as entertaining as possible. We let the energy of the crowd take over.”
Kennedy is probably the most animated of Reptar’s four members, donning shiny outfits and bounding around the stage when he isn’t bouncing up and down behind his keyboard. The band’s use of percussion and movement has led this group of white boys from Athens, Ga., to be labeled “Afrobeat” in multiple stories. Kennedy is quick to dismiss the label, but it’s easy to hear how it could get attached to Reptar. Kennedy studied African music at the University of Georgia, and spent a summer in Nigeria. He hosted a radio show on African music.
“I think that influence has worked its way into our music, but to label us Afrobeat is not really fair,” Kennedy said. “It’s a totally different genre of music. It’s a misappropriation, but there are definitely some African pop music influences on our music.”
Kennedy first saw Nigerian musician Femi Kuti, son of the famed Fela Kuti, perform when he was in high school, and it was one of the first times he realized that there was so much more to a live show than just the music. Kennedy said the experience blew him away with the amount of energy the musicians displayed.
Reptar released its first full-length album, “Body Faucet,” earlier this month. The album was produced by Ben Allen, who has worked with Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley. The group connected with Allen when he saw them open for a band in Atlanta.
“He had come to see another band at our show, but things were running late so he saw us too,” Kennedy said. “Afterward he said he liked us, and asked if we wanted to record some songs in his studio for free. We were super excited, because we hadn’t recorded in a studio before. Then we got home and looked up who he was. Then we freaked out.”
Allen helped Reptar achieve a new level of complexity in its sound. The band added another percussionist and guitarist for touring purposes to help re-create the fuller studio sound on the road.
“We had been using a lot of pre-programmed backing tracks, but we wanted to move toward an all-live setup,” Kennedy said. “Having a second guitarist helps us with the more complex live stuff and harmonies. It brings a whole other level of energy to the show.”