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  September 24, 2002

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A View On Electroclash
By: Rix Roundtree-Harrison

Be it the disco of Donna Summer, the punk of Blondie or the electronics of Gary Numan from 1976 through 1980 I eagerly and dizzyingly purchased dozens of albums, singles and 12" singles a month. But through-out 1981 and early 1982 I purchased virtually no music as radio was in its urban cowboy period with acts like Eddie Rabbit, Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers receiving a great deal of air play. The reigning pop queens at the time Sheena Easton and Olivia Newton John were feeding us bland up-tempo MOR pop and I was in a depressing musical funk. After months of purchasing no new albums I was like a junkie in desperate need of a music fix. Desperate I went to the now defunct Peaches Records store and I spotted Cher's "I Paralyze". I thought, "hmmmm, Cher's been around for ages, I'm familiar with her work, there's bound to be something on the LP worth listening to so I'll buy it." Never having purchase a Cher album before I brought I Paralyze took it home listened to it maybe twice thought "hoo hum, it's......okay" and put it away (couldn't tell you where it is today) as it did not satisfy my hungry and aching musical needs. But, a few months after this purchase things changed in a major way when US radio begin playing the Human League's sensationally synthetic single "Don't You Want Me?” In addition to this historical moment the cable system of our town delivered MTV, Billboard magazine focused on some new synthesizer artist in a feature call "New Music Spotlight" and some long gone magazine had a special synth pop issue and alphabetically spotlighted all the current synth bands of the time from Blancmange to Our Daughter's Wedding to Ultravox. After these events my musical hunger was satisfied and for years to come. I was again purchasing dozens of albums and singles a month from a variety of synth pop artist. From the light weight synthesizer music of Duran Duran and Talk Talk to the synth heavy hitters like Kraftwerk, Visage and of course the Human League. There was such a smorgasbord of synth pop that from 1982 through 1997 I had purchased 15-25 albums a month, plus 15-25 singles a month. I was spending so much of my pay on music that I actually had to put myself on a music-buying budget, life was good.

It's now 2002 and again I'm in the musical doldrums. Many of the remaining synth pop bands from the 80's grew musically (as they should) and went into musical directions that did not interest me. Radio, currently in its teen pop, boy band, rap rock, sound a like guitar band era bores me to distraction and just like 20 years ago I'm buying very little music. From 1998 through July 2002 I purchased maybe 6 full length CDs and 3 singles a year. Earlier in 2002 again I desperately needed a music fix so desperate I went to my local Tower Records store. I saw Cher's "Living Proof" and I thought "hmmm, Cher's been around for ages, I'm familiar with her work, there's bound to be something on the LP worth listening to so I'll buy it." I brought Living Proof took it home listened to it maybe twice, thought, "hoo hum, it's ……okay" and then put it away as it did not satisfy my musical hunger. But, a few months after this purchase again things changed in a major way. Billboard magazine's July 24th issue spotlighted the burgeoning new musical movement called Nu-Electro or Electroclash as some prefer. In the two months since that issue's release I've purchased over a dozen full length CDs by Electroclash artist (that's more than I purchased the whole of 2000 and 2001). Most of these purchases were mentioned in the Billboard spotlight, Miss Kittin & the Hacker, Ladytron, I Am the World Trade Center, Bis, Felix da Housecat, Mount Sims, T.H.E.M (Thee Human Ego Maniacs), Chicks On Speed and two acts that were unmentioned in the Billboard spotlight Ganymede and Goldenboy. There are others mentioned in the spotlight that have product out that I will buy in the coming weeks, Adult, the Faint, and Crossover. Plus in the fall there will be new releases from Electroclash artist W.I.T (Whatever It Takes), Fischerspooner and My Robot Friend, it's going to be a great fall and a merry Christmas for me.

What has really impressed me about this new generation of synthesizer electricians is the high quality of the electronic music they deliver. Not only is the music they create exceptional, each band has its own unique sound. Remember early (1982) Duran Duran, Talk Talk and Pseudo Echo, they had an interchangeable sound, there's none of that with this group. Out of the 12 Electroclash artist that I’ve purchased there isn't a dog among them, but I must say that thus far Bis and I AM WTC are nothing exceptional, just okay. They all assault your senses with consistently invigorating electronic loops, blips, swirls and synth washes in a pulsating 21st Century frenetic electronic storm. With all of these Electroclash electricians one can hear the electronic influence of such first generation electricians as OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark), New Order, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Bobby "O" Orlando, Ultravox, Book of Love, The Human League, Erasure, Yaz, the Units, Visage, Gary Numan, Devo, Pet Shop Boys, and the Old Master's of electricity Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder.

In the 1942 film classic Cat People Simone Simon uttered the line "I like the darkness, it's friendly,” I couldn't agree more when talking about Electroclash artist. The dark and sinister worlds created by this generation of electricians is inviting and intoxicatingly exciting. I find these new electric generators far darker and moodier than their predecessors. From Anything Box to Xymox the old generation of electricians delivered a bohemian lifestyle of romance, drama, art, club life and sex all meshed together in the high voltage grid of synthesizers, electric guitars and drummers to paint their view of tomorrow's new electronic civilization. By contrast I find that content wise the Electroclash set isn't all that interested in tomorrow and deal with the artistically bankrupt, corrupt, celebrity obsessed, terrorist infiltrated, R-rated world we live in today. Also the new generation seems to be focused on the progressive electrical integrity of their music and the guitar doesn’t get much if any play in their work. The first generation dreamed of delivering the electronic music of tomorrow with the technology of the time. The new generation is tomorrow today; in their mindset the technology is used not to make tomorrow's sound, but the sound of today, the 21st Century. Besides darkness another thing these next generation of electricians have in common is cynicism. Unlike the old electricians the new bunch don't seem to be very optimistic about the people of today or the world of tomorrow. T.H.E.M, unsure of what tomorrow will bring or if there will even be a tomorrow, suggest you "Live For Today" and "Play to Win". Their credo seems to be you should give no thought to others just do it now, get it now, without fear of sin or retribution because tomorrow isn't a guarantee. While T.H.E.M have no faith in the future cynics Ladytron have no faith in humankind. This is evident in Ladytron's "Seventeen", when they lament "They only want you when you're seventeen, when you're twenty-one you're no fun." Cynical electric darkness delivered in a detached unaffected manner that would make Book of Love's Susan Octaviano proud, and I love it.

Since Billboard turned me on to these folks I've been surfing the Internet to learn more about them. I've found that a lot has been written about these Electroclash artists. Some say they are on a nostalgia trip, only making rehashed 80's synth pop/new wave, I totally and completely disagree. It's no crime using the 80's as an influence; the 60's have been influential since, well, the 60's. What is a crime is not taking an influence and progressing with it, modernizing it or making it fresh. I think all of the Electroclash acts accomplish this with great aplomb. Just one listen to any of these acts and you can tell that they are well versed in Trance, Techno and today's technology, they embellish their work with added influences of 80's synth using it as an electronic strand of time that ties it all together, certainly not a rehashing, more like a rebirth.

What's also really interesting is the number of American Electroclash acts there are, very few (that I've come across) are from the UK and that's a switch. In the 80's most of the synth pop acts were from the UK. This time around it doesn't look like the unsetting sun of the British Empire will be the leader in this new movement. It appears that first generation UK synth rock is being digested by today’s Americans synth poppers and reinvented new and modernized, the way the British Invaders of the 60's reinterpreted the R&B of 50's black America and British Invaders of the 80's reinterpreted America's 70's disco.

There will be many stars in the Electroclash movement but one of its first and probably its biggest is the dazzling Miss Kittin. Miss Kittin and the Hacker's "First Album" is decadent, delicious and danceable. Miss Kittin sings about Hollywood, stardom, glamour and fame with such disdain and disgust. Yet at the same time she wants to be a star….a big star and live at a famous Hollywood zip code, y'know like 90210. In both delivery and content Miss Kittin reminds me of Cristina ("Don't Mutilate My Mink"), one of the legends of the legendary Ze Records. No matter whom Miss Kittin works with, be it Felix da Housecat, Golden Boy or The Hacker with her deadpan delivery, cynicism and detached ambivalence she turns a pulsating electronic beat and synth swirls into an event not to be missed.

I love so many things about the music created by the Electroclash electricians. So far Ganymede and Ladytron are my favourites, but many others send electronic shivers up my spine as well. I have a system for listening to new music, I play a new CD while working on a project, cooking dinner or washing dishes. While I’m doing any of these things I see what songs grabs me and interrupt me from what I’m doing. Well, I started washing dishes when I placed Ganymede’s “Euromantique” in my CD player and not a dish got washed. Euromantique is an excellent album from the sophisticated icy electronic glamour of the first track “Euromantique” to the electronic nursery rhyme of the final track “Only Pictures Cry” this CD grabbed my attention and would not let go. The same with Ladytron, no work gets done when Ladytron sits in their house electric "Flicking Your Switch". The Hacker's electronic onslaught mesmerizes and when I listen to Mount Sims I close my eyes and hear that native lover Divine and see a big fat yellow-labeled vinyl "O" record.

Many have wondered if Electroclash is really a movement or a non-movement, what difference does it make? The fact is the Electroclash scene is here full of young people just like many young people of the past who have decided they want to devote their lives to the creation of music. They aren't just going to pack it in just because Electroclash is or isn't a movement. Fact is musical styles and taste change, maybe Electroclash won't be the next big movement, maybe it will be garage bands like the Vines, Hives or White Stripes or maybe both genres will simultaneously be the next big thing. In any case Electroclash will be around for a while because there are always those who yearn for something different.

I'm really enjoying discovering these Electroclash artist and buying CDs again and I’ve been spreading the word about them to all my music loving friends. I view these Electroclash artists as the offspring of the first generation of synth rockers and if I had kids in their early 20s I'd be thrilled if they were Electroclash artist. I also remember being in my early 20's in college and always broke (I kept a part time job just to be able to buy music), so I know these young Electroclash artist aren't rolling in dough. I know that every CD sale is important to them because as in all things survival depends on funds. So when I tell people to check out some of the Electroclash artist I also tell them to remember that these guys make great music but they need to make money too, so if it's financially possible, don't burn it, buy it.

As for Cher, well she's become sort of a historical marker for me. Twice when I was in the musical dumps I purchased a Cher album and suddenly positive musical changes happened. I'm sure I’ll see Cher again in 2022 when I'm again in the musical doldrums; I’ll buy her latest album while awaiting a musical revolution.

 Written By:  

 Rix Roundtree-Harrison


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