Move Over Barney, Here Come the Bzots | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

Move Over Barney, Here Come the Bzots 

A La Grange dad saw what children's entertainment had to offer and decided he could do better.

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We interrupt this entertainment product for an important public announcement: Spotted making music in Lakeview last Saturday, the Bzots--three assembly-line robots recently escaped from Globocrud LLC's local plant--remain at large. Says Globocrud's CEO, the Exalted Sir Cleve Crud, PhD, Esq.: "While these robots are in no way dangerous, they cost me a lot to build. If you see a suspiciously colorful, noisy, work-shirking robot, call the emergency Crudline at..."

Whoa. Sorry--I have to change the channel. The Bzots did escape from the Globocrud factory, but not to slack off. They ran away to follow their dream--to start a band, of course. The music they make (when they're not dodging Globocrud agents) combines the turntable work of the vaguely Rasta-looking Wkwewe, the guitar-bass duo of exuberant Skree and timid Bdonk, and effects that sound suspiciously like they were programmed into a computer by a human.

The La Grange-based creator of the Bzots, Dave Skwarczek, has a hard time admitting that the eight-foot-tall robots who appear on the kids' TV show he's developing--and in the elaborate live shows he's putting on around town this summer--are really guys in funny foam rubber suits. "I don't know whether to do interviews in character as the Bzots' manager or not," he says. "I want to create this whole thing. I want kids to really feel like Globocrud is a big corporation trying to crush the dreams of these independent artists." The Bzots' Web site even includes a link to the fictional Globocrud's corporate site.

Skwarczek, who's 35, has actually designed Web sites for Globocrud-size corporations. When he was a teenager he liked to make goofy videos and write silly songs about "belching and girls," but then he grew up and had to make money. In 1994 he started a Wicker Park Web-design company called Streams. He says he was proud of the corporate stuff he produced but there was still something missing. "Sometimes," he says, "it was like, 'Are you hiring me to create something or are you hiring me as a pair of hands because you don't know how to use Photoshop?'" In 2001 he sold Streams to Dunn Solutions Group in Skokie.

That same year he and his wife, Robyn, had their first child, and soon Skwarczek was knee-deep in kiddie videos, many of which he found saccharine, sterile, or just plain "not hip." Thinking they could do better, he and Robyn founded a children's media company, Eat Your Lunch, with proceeds from the sale of Streams. Then in 2002 a friend of a friend of a friend introduced him to musician Matt Meils. They hit it off immediately. "I came up with the idea of a robot band," says Skwarczek, "and Matt and I pretty much started writing the next day."

As a kid Skwarczek loved H.R. Pufnstuf and Looney Tunes--he says there are Bugs Bunny jokes he first heard 25 years ago that he only got last month. He wanted to carry on in that tradition and write layered jokes that would pique kids' curiosity. He also noticed that while adults can choose from different kinds of music, "there are no real genres in music for little kids."

The Bzots songs, which he describes as "a mash-up of electronic, rock, hip-hop, and dance," touch on things like playground insults ("Is It Really True?") and the importance of nap time ("Power Down"). The first Bzots DVD, Bzots: Escape a Go-Go!, is a hypnotic mix of animation, graphics, and live action that video producers Angle Park created entirely on a bunch of Macs. By January of this year the DVD and a 14-song CD, Powered Up!, were for sale on the Web, along with lunch boxes and T-shirts, and Skwarczek began pitching the Bzots to television. ("Broadcast, video, national tour, and toy deals are all being worked on right now," he says, "but you never know what's going to work out or when, so I usually don't talk about stuff until I'm depositing the checks.")

This summer, the Bzots--with the help of some puppet-savvy friends, including vets of Redmoon and Theater Oobleck--have performed at neighborhood festivals like Midsommarfest and Rock Around the Block. Many of those same friends also acted in the DVD, which has gotten the thumbs-up from Chicago Parent magazine and the Coalition for Quality Children's Media. The CD's doing well too. The Bzots song "Three of Us" was number three on the national children's satellite radio station XMKids for five weeks this spring.

The Bzots, says Skwarczek, appeal to kids because their creator hasn't set out to teach them a lesson. Though Karl Marx would probably have no objection to the plots, Skwarczek says Globocrud's pursuit of the band is just a narrative device, like Gilligan's attempts to escape his island. "I'm not trying to raise anyone's kids," says Skwarczek. "You might pick up a basic positive concept like 'follow your dreams' and 'sometimes things turn out differently than you expect,' but overall we're not trying to teach literacy, numeracy, or problem solving. We want to entertain. If our fans listen, have a good time and sing and dance, and come away with a greater appreciation of music and art, Bzots are thrilled!"

The Bzots play at 3 PM Saturday, August 7, at Party in the Park, La Grange and Woodlawn in La Grange Park. On Saturday August 14, they'll perform on the family stage at Retro on Roscoe, Roscoe and Damen in Chicago. For more information see www.bzots.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Joeff Davis.

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