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Things We Like: Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society isn’t just any jazz big band. The music is informed by the science-fiction subgenre called Steampunk, which envisions a future where steam power is still the day’s dominant technology.

“For me, the core of it — like, the essence of what was in steampunk was this kind of creative referencing of the past,” Argue says. “We’ve got this antiquated music technology, the big band. And this used to be a very standard instrumentation back in the ’30s and the early ’40s before WWII. Like, pretty much everything you’d hear on the radio involved a big band.”

Argue says that the big band was something of a technological necessity in the 1930s. Back then, there was no amplification, so if you wanted to throw a party, you needed a lot of horns to fill a room with music.

But Argue is asking: What if big bands were still widely popular in 2009? What if jazz bandleaders and indie rockers shared the same stages?

“As technology kind of improved, big bands kind of fell out of favor, except with diehard nutjobs like myself who really loved the possibilities of having those many instruments together in a room,” he says. “And then I’m kind of taking it and saying, ‘Well, what would it be like to play this modern, studio-crafted rock with this swing-era technology?’ ”

Ingrid Jensen has played trumpet and flugelhorn in Secret Society since the band’s first gigs.

“It goes from anywhere from ethereal and spacey to very, very deep grunge-rock-techno, et cetera,” Jensen says. “Feels like the feeling I had when I used to play in these old swing bands where they really swung. But in this case, it’s more like really rocking out.”

Darcy James Argue isn’t afraid to embrace the pop and rock of today along with the music of great big-band composers. After all, he says, it’s the music of his generation.

“Thing is, I’m a white guy from the West Coast in my early 30s,” Argue says. “If I have a culture, it’s like grungy guitars and kind of minor-key chord progressions. I never really considered making music that didn’t involve that in some way.”

Argue has seen his band’s performance schedule pick up slightly since the release of his new album, “Infernal Machines,” in the spring of 2009. He hasn’t been blogging quite as much lately, either — he’s says he’s been busy copying music to help pay off his “big-band habit.” But his blog,, is one of the better ones in jazz.

And Secret Society is one of the best bands to come along in a while.