Club d'Elf coalesced in public for the first time in early 1998 when bassist/composer Mike Rivard (a.k.a. Micro Vard) was given the opportunity to host an every-other Thursday night at Cambridge's ultra-hip Lizard Lounge. An in-demand session and live bassist with such local and national acts as Morphine, the Story, Jon Brion, Paula Cole, Aimee Mann, and Guster, he had a long list of friends and contacts to call upon to guest with the band. For the core of the group, he drew from several groups in which he was affiliated: Hypnosonics (led by Mark Sandman), Mat Maneri's House of Brown, and Indo-jazz group Natraj. The original concept was to have a "house band" (consisting of Rivard, drummers Jay Hilt or Erik Kerr, tabla player Jerry Leake, and sampler player Jere Faison) play composed grooves upon which guests would improvise, so that every show was a different remix of the tunes. Boston/Cambridge lacked the kind of improv scene that embraced jazz, dub, electronica, rock, and world music that existed in NYC at venues like Tonic (where the band soon found its Manhattan home). Word got around that something new was going on in town and a devoted following began to develop.
The range of musical styles the band incorporates is reflected in its wildly diverse audience: DJ-oriented club kids and ravers; notebook-scribbling, boho-intellectuals; tie-dyed Phish fans; Berklee students attracted to the high level of musicianship; and Moroccan Berbers—in other words, sensation seekers. The Lizard shows came to be known (only half-seriously) as "ceremonies," or as the Boston Phoenix dubbed them "non-denominational revival meetings," where everyone—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, Sub-Genius, etc.—was invited to explore the states of trance which the music led both listener and musician towards. For Club d'Elf, "trance" is not just an electronica genre but also includes the Gnawa music of Morocco, extended James Brown tracks like "I Got To Move," and Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying," among other points of reference. It's the intersection between Ali Farka Toure and the Talking Heads, between Fela Kuti and Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan, and it is this nexus which the band is interested in exploring.
The name was inspired by Rivard's interest in the writing of Terence McKenna and highlighted as well the fact that, more than just a band, this was a club with varying levels of initiate-hood. Shortly after the first Lizard shows, Boston Magazine awarded the group Best Cutting Edge Act and announced "the sound of the future is here." It would be the first of many awards bestowed upon the band including Best DJ/Electronica Act (2001 FNX Best Music Poll), Best Jam Band (2001 Boston Phoenix Editors/Readers Poll), and Best Jazz Act (2004 Best of Boston). The list illustrates the sometimes confusing task of labeling the band's music, which defies easy categorization. Ahead of the curve in predicting the trend of mash-ups, d'Elf navigated a musical terrain where Squarepusher accompanied (Moroccan band) Nass El Ghiwane; where Music For 18 Musicians collided with John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (drums courtesy of DJ Shadow); and "On The Corner" was remixed by Brian Eno with Mississippi John Hurt sitting in.
By the time the band released its first CD, 2000's As Above: Live at the Lizard Lounge, the group had shifted to an even greater emphasis on Moroccan music, heralded by the addition of Casablanca-born/NYC-dwelling Brahim Fribgane on oud, vocals and all manner of percussion instruments. Fribgane moved to Boston, and along with Rivard and Kerr, became the core trio around which a startling variety of special guests added their flavors, including John Medeski (whom Rivard had been friends with since their time together in the Either/Orchestra in the late '80s), DJ Logic, Joe Maneri, Kenwood Dennard, David Bowie guitarists Reeves Gabrels and Gerry Leonard, Hassan Hakmoun, and many others. Inspired by Hakmoun, Rivard began to play the sintir (also called guembri or hejhouj) and worked it into the band's repertoire. Trips out of the 617 area code became more frequent (NYC had already become the band's second home) with tours of the North and Southeast, and in 2001 the group first toured Japan, where it has played several times since.
A deal with Los Angeles-based Kufala Recordings yielded six double-CD releases of live shows from the period of 2000 to 2004, and 2006 saw the release of d'Elf's long-awaited studio debut, Now I Understand (Accurate/Hi-N-Dry). This CD was the culmination of eight years of work, and in addition to the core of Rivard, Fribgane, and Kerr, it featured the contributions of more than 20 other musicians. Primary among these was Mister Rourke, whose DJ skills had become a major element of the group's sound by this point, giving the music a decided hip-hop slant and a surreal quality that played on the group's interest in monster movies, aliens, and paranormal phenomena.
In June 2007, the band's seventh release on Kufala, Perhapsody, hit the streets. Recorded at the Lizard Lounge Release Party for Now I Understand, it features deconstructions of tunes from that album as well as other tunes from the group's large repertoire, and a sampling of the "crazy-make-'em-ups" for which the group is famous. In October 2007 the band was scheduled to play at the prestigious Festival du Monde de Arabe in Montreal.