The Airborne Toxic Event is an American indie rock band from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz that consists of singer and guitarist Mikel Jollett, guitarist and keyboardist Steven Chen, bassist Noah Harmon, drummer Daren Taylor, and keyboardist and violist Anna Bulbrook.
Named after a section of the book White Noise, by Don DeLillo, the group incorporates string instruments and keyboards, along with a standard rock lineup of guitar, drums, and bass guitar. They are signed to Majordomo Records.
The band was formed in 2006 by Mikel Jollett. During a one-week period in March 2006 while working on a novel, Jollett learned that his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he also experienced a break-up and was diagnosed with genetic Autoimmune disease. Even though the disease encompasses over 70 different disorders, Autoimmune led Jollet to develop 2 cosmetic conditions: Alopecia areata and Vitiligo. Spurred by these events in his personal life, Jollett turned from writing prose to writing songs, and soon realized he was composing an album instead of a novel.
Jollett met drummer Taylor in the summer of 2006 and the two established an immediate rapport. After working on original material together for four months as a two-piece, Jollett asked classically-trained violinist Bulbrook and bassist Harmon to join the band. A situation that Jollett enjoys re-telling with relish, Harmon initially refused. With a background in orchestral and chamber music, Bulbrook since taught herself to play viola and keyboard, while Harmon holds a jazz degree in upright bass performance from the California Institute of the Arts and taught in East Los Angeles as part of the school’s Community Arts Partnership. Jollett had met Chen several years earlier, when both lived in San Francisco. Chen was at first asked to join as a keyboardist, but revealed to Jollett that he in fact, played guitar and filled the role as lead guitarist.
To supplement his fiction writing, Jollett had earned income as a freelance writer, contributing to organizations such as NPR, Los Angeles Times, Filter Magazine and Men’s Health. Since the creation of the band, he has continued to write only fiction. Jollett’s short story “The Crack,” was published in the Summer 2008 McSweeney’s issue 27 sandwiched between short storys by Liz Mandrell and Stephen King.
The band takes its name from the postmodern novel White Noise, by Don DeLillo which won the National Book Award in 1985. In the book, a chemical spill from a railcar releases a poisonous cloud, dubbed by the military as an airborne toxic event. This serves as a metaphorical device for the novel’s themes of mortality and media consumption, as the protagonist Jack Gladney is forced to confront the prospect of his own death.
The Airborne Toxic Event played its first show in Echo Park in the fall of 2006, less than a month after it was fully formed. Since then, the band has performed extensively in L.A. and become well known throughout the greater Los Angeles area. In December 2006, Rolling Stone named them one of the Top 25 Bands on MySpace. They went on to receive positive responses from music blogs and press, notably L.A. Weekly and Los Angeles Times which named the group one of the top three L.A. bands to watch in 2008. Previous bands to receive this distinction include Cold War Kids and Silversun Pickups.
In a rare move, during the band’s January 2008 residency at the popular Silver Lake venue Spaceland, Los Angeles Commercial Radio stations KROQ, Indie 103 and 987FM all officially added the as-yet-unsigned band’s song Sometime Around Midnight to regular rotation. Providence’s WBRU, Seattle’s KEXP, San Francisco’s Live 105, San Diego’s 91X Boston’s WFNX, and Sacramento’s KWOD 106.5 also showed significant support for the group.
After an extensive courtship from major labels, the Airborne Toxic Event signed with the indie imprint Majordomo Records in April 2008. Their first full-length record was released in the U.S. on August 5, 2008.