When Matt & Kim play their anthemic indie pop songs to the X Games crowd in Wagner Park this weekend, the surroundings may be more familiar than you’d think for the Brooklyn-based duo.
They recorded their breakthrough 2009 album, “Grand,” in Matt Johnson’s boyhood bedroom at his parents’ house in rural Vermont, surrounded by the snowboard posters he’d plastered on the walls and ceilings during high school.
As a teenager, he was a park rat, boarding in the pipes at resorts around Vermont and the Northeast.
Matt & Kim decided to take this winter off from touring, after playing nearly non-stop gigs since the breakout success of “Grand” and its inescapable platinum single, “Daylight.” But playing Aspen during the X Games was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“We decided we wanted to take that show specifically because of the X Games,” Johnson told me from Los Angeles, where he and Kim Schifino are working on new music. “I grew up in Vermont snowbaording every possible day that I could. I was a halfpipe snowboarder and love doing things that connect me back to it. It was something we really wanted to be part of, and it’s the only show we’re doing this winter.”
They’re sticking around town to take in the action at Buttermilk and ride the local mountains.
“This will be my first time riding out West,” Johnson says. “In the East, we’re so used to just riding on an icy hill that a snowy mountain seems like a very bizarre thing.”
The pair shares a bill with Phoenix on Saturday, in the first downtown outdoor X Games shows since the mid-2000s, with a crowd of more than 6,000 expected to fill the park. DJs Tiësto and Axwell play Sunday.
Matt & Kim formed in 2004, while the pair was studying at the Pratt Institute in New York. He learned to play keyboards, she took up drums, and they started playing house parties around Brooklyn, showcasing the simple, upbeat sound they were perfecting.
The gigs quickly got bigger, as their riotous shows gained a reputation that’s continued to grow over the years. Their catchy songs mix an indie DIY ethos with an almost Up With People level of positivity. Though they’ve racked up plenty of sing-along-friendly hits of their own — “It’s Alright,” “Let’s Go,” “Daylight” and “Good for Great” among them — they tend to mix in pieces of cover songs to amp up the crowd’s enthusiasm at concerts, including anything from dubstep to ‘80s jock rock.
“We need to feed off of the audience and the more energetic we get — jumping around, crowd-surfing, all sorts of stuff — everybody who’s there is adding energy to it,” Johnson says. “And we like to make our set feel like a DJ set, in the sense that we put things that are recognizable in there that aren’t Matt & Kim — Major Lazer or something. We want it to be like if you’ve never heard a Matt & Kim song before, you can still have a great time.”
They manage to make their shows — no matter how big the crowd — feel like the house parties where they got their start, with Johnson playing two keyboards at a time, and Schifino keeping time on the drums. Enjoying themselves on stage is a priority, Johnson says, along with not taking their rock-star image seriously.
“We’re not one of these bands that clearly look themselves in the full-length mirror with the guitar over their shoulder, perking their lips like, ‘Yeah’ — it’s the opposite,” he laughs. “We’re jumping around and interacting.”
That goofy spirit translates into their music videos. Between an infamous one for “Lessons Learned,” where they stripped naked in Times Square, ran around (and then got arrested), and the one for “Yea Yeah” where they got pelted with food (and then got naked), they’ve done more than just about any artist to keep videos relevant in recent years.
The music itself has grown simpler over the course of their four albums, stripping away layers down to its core boy-girl, beat-and-melody essence.
“I think people really connect to the beat and the melody of the song — and the lyrics, you know — and everything else is just filler,” Johnson explains. “Sometimes you feel very vulnerable just leaving everything standing there very naked, when you don’t just keep layering. But we’re trying to do high-energy music with less and less parts.”
Matt & Kim have played outdoors in the Rockies once before, at last April’s closing weekend festivities at Copper Mountain. Putting on the energetic show fans have come to expect was a challenge in the altitude, Johnson recalls: “We hadn’t gotten used to the altitude change, so every breath I took felt like half a breath.”
They learned their lesson, and are coming to Aspen a few days in advance to adjust, and get in some quality time on the hill.
“We’re coming out early, because we have to bring the heat for X Games,” he says. “We can’t try to be breathing like fish out of water.”
Doors for the Wagner Park shows open at 3 p.m. Phoenix will also play a solo show at Belly Up late Saturday night. Tiësto hits the Belly Up stage Sunday night, for a sold-out show.
X Games Music Schedule
Friday, Jan. 24
Upper Gondola Plaza, Aspen Mountain
Saturday, Jan. 25
Matt & Kim
Sunday, Jan. 26