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Song Premiere: Protect-U, 'Distored'

The Washington, D.C., duo Protect-U will release its new album, <em>Free USA</em>, on May 13.
The Washington, D.C., duo Protect-U will release its new album, <em>Free USA</em>, on May 13.

"Distored" is a gritty techno track with a heartwarming story behind it — and, like so many stories, it began one night in Paris.

Back in 2012, D.C. electronic duo Protect-U — Mike Petillo and Aaron Leitko — was celebrating its recent signing to Planet-Mu records by touring Europe. Petillo and Leitko (both of whom I know from my time in D.C.) aren't your typical dance-music DJs; their live set-up is elaborate, to say the least. Rows and rows of knobs clamor for space next to distortion pedals and analog synthesizers, and the two spend most of their show jumping around each other while navigating the array of circuitry.

After a successful show at Le Pompon in Paris' 10th arrondissement, all of the equipment, including a couple MacBook Pros, was locked away in a room at the club — a room, they found out later, with an emergency exit door. When Petillo and Leitko went to retrieve their gear at the end of the night, they found the room empty. Thieves had made off with more than a dozen pieces of equipment, some of it extremely rare. Protect-U looked finished.

The Internet quickly got to work, and within a few days, fans of the duo crowd-sourced almost $6,000 under the campaign "Help Protect-U Make Music Again."

Petillo and Leitko didn't work quite as fast as their fans after buying new gear. It took them almost 18 months to write and record new material, an album called Free USA that is due for release May 13 on Future Times, the label Petillo runs with Andrew Field-Pickering of Beautiful Swimmers.

"Distored" is my favorite track from the new record. It kicks off with an overloaded kick-drum similar to Kyle Hall's "Dr. Crunch," but Protect-U weaves in multiple synth lines and left turns over the next six minutes, never letting the track lose momentum.

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