Tickle Torture: Sex, confetti and relentless funk

RAGHAV MEHTA | Updated 9/5/2014

There’s heartache beneath Tickle Torture’s hypersexual dance-pop.

Tickle Torture
Swim Agency

"It’s like if Prince and Justin Timberlake were fucking in a dumpster,” Elliott Kozel said, describing his one-man dance-pop vehicle Tickle Torture. “Prince doesn’t scream, though. I scream.”

Kozel — the former leader of local indie rockers Sleeping in the Aviary — has always been a songwriter’s songwriter, delivering earnest, funny and often poignant songs that don’t skimp on the hooks. But with Tickle Torture, which celebrates an EP release Saturday at the 7th Street Entry, he steps into a sexier realm. That EP, “Spectrophilia,” is a tumultuous marriage of relentless funk and dance. It’s a far cry from Kozel’s previous work, but still rooted in stellar songwriting and sterling production.

Started in 2011 during the sluggish dissolution of Sleeping in the Aviary, Tickle Torture was Kozel’s reaction to his disenchantment with rock ’n’ roll.

“I got sick of having a band. It’s like having five girlfriends,” Kozel said. “The band was going bad and I decided to make music I could make by myself and I always had that idea of combining R&B with noise music.”

The Prince influence on “Spectrophilia” is obvious, with moments that sound as if the New Power Generation took ether with the devil. But that’s just the crust of it. Kozel offers something more layered and interesting than a hipster house-party rehash of the Purple One. Replete with propulsive beats, rousing hooks and squalls of noise, the music focuses all of his bizarro brilliance to create erotically swaggering dance romps.

There are several guests on “Spectrophilia, including hometown“The Voice” contestant Ashley DuBose, acclaimed singer-songwriter Caroline Smith and even members of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Smith, a close friend and roommate, emphasized Kozel’s efficiency as a songwriter.

“He’s a good editor,” said Smith, who collaborated with Kozel and rapper Lizzo on last month’s Women’s Foundation of Minnesota-benefitting “Let ’Em Say” single. “If I’m hearing something, like a ’90s pop jam, and I say, ‘Can we write a ’60s soul bridge?’ He’ll do exactly that.”

Kozel’s penchant for melody is rivaled only by his devotion to stagecraft. Along with a slew of provocative music videos (“Would I Love You” premiered on Vice last month), he invests plenty into Tickle Torture’s live show — confetti, balloons, etc. He admits to occasionally losing money due to the high costs. Oh yeah, and sometimes his penis shows up, too.

On the surface, Tickle Torture might sound like the hedonistic musings of a degenerate beat-maker. But, exposed genitalia aside, “Spectrophilia” is a deeply personal record beneath all the sweat and glitter.

“I thought I was in love with my ex-girlfriend and it was basically not real,” Kozel said, explaining the EP’s title. “I was in love with these memories and the ideas of what it was.”

Heartache is a theme in Kozel’s music that traces back to his roots with SITA. Songs such as “Another Girl” and “You, Me and Ghost” were written about the same ex, with whom he has since made peace.

“The songs aren’t about fucking. It’s about love,” he explained. “But at the same time I want people to come to the shows and go home and be inspired to have freaky sex. Or just have freaky sex at the show. That’d be cool, too.”


Tickle Torture

With: Pony Bwoy, C. Kostra.

When: 9 p.m. Sat.

Where: 7th Street Entry.

Tickets: $8-$10.