Wednesday, August 8, 2012

10 Electroclash Songs That Still Hold Up in 2012

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2012 at 10:50 AM

I totally had a tie like this.
  • I totally had a tie like this.
Allow me to mark a personal milestone for a sec? (Oh, you will? Thanks!) The summer of 2012 marks my 10th full year of residence in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I remember dopily thinking in 2002 that the neighborhood was pretty well filled in, a cake whose finished baking I could perpetually enjoy. LOL. So, as the best places struggled to stay afloat, sunk, and everything except the pizza place turned over three or four times, the realization that change is the constant here was a slow-moving one. Now, looking back on beloved "institutions" lost, on bars and restaurants with poor business timing, no place seems as unreal to me as Club Luxx, a candy-colored, neon bar on Grand St. (that subsequently turned into The Trash Bar punk club) that was my friends' first weekend hotspot. Honestly, it seemed pretty unreal then too. But electroclash, the still joked about dance music genre that made its Brooklyn HQ there via Larry Tee's "Berliniamsburg" parties, actually holds up way better than you might have been lead to believe.

Now, arguably, electroclash was already on the wane that summer of 02. I was briefly in London in 2001, but long enough to stop into the Trash party that was electroclash's real spiritual birthplace and its eye of the storm. (It was dark and overwhelming! They played The Stooges! An unseen person grabbed my ass!) By summer 02, electroclash had just received its dreaded New York Times trend piece (a great read in retrospect as always, they still had to call it "the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn" then. How wishful its speculation that a 00s focus on 80s culture was just a fad! And it's last paragraph could have been written a week ago, about Tumblr). There is some archived back up for 2002 as the heighth of the scene, though. And even some in-the-minute grumbling from an ancient-looking Free Williamsburg page here. Remember, the harsh instant-backlash machine of the music crit blogosphere hadn't quite found its legs yet. Death by a thousand Twitter-joke pin-pricks was not an existential threat. Microtrends lasted longer, took a couple weird turns before being universally declared a total joke. These artists were still producing solid stuff through a wave of second records in 2003. And while DFA and dance-punk came in strong to replace it, their path to dominance had been partially pre-blazed by electroclash's real punk and post-punk elements. The bar/house party playlist drift was fairly seamless.

There was also the added tangibility of trends being tied to real life physical places, as opposed to far-flung virtual ones. And while this is just a case of "different" rather than the misty-eyed, nostalgic "better," you really could see a style of music's constituency in a way that was impossible with subsequent blips like "witch-house" or "sea-punk" or whatever. Ha, can you imagine the snark levels in a trend piece reporting back from an actual, physical chillwave club? (OK, who's the smartass in the back who just yelled out..."You mean Glasslands?") It's vaguely comparable to hitting Brooklyn's new crop of metal venues in 2012 (though metal heads will HATE that comparison). As made up as electroclash might seem to people who missed it, it still seems way less made up than much of the stuff that followed.

Note: The Quietus' Luke Turner provided a comprehensive defense of the genre last fall, tied to the tenth anniversary of Fischerspooner's "Emerge," a date which is as good starting flare for electroclash as any. And while that piece is totally vital for its "this is what that was" nuts and bolts, I feel like you can squint your way into a version of the music that's aged even better. ("Emerge," for instance, has aged pretty poorly. When it pops up on shuffle now, it's a bit like a performance artist throwing glitter on you as you’re trying to ride the subway home.)

So, a long windup to say, here are ten Electroclash tracks that have survived 10 years of tragic iPod and laptop death, and still sound great in the summer of 2012.

I-F - "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass"

This 1997 track from Dutch producer I-F predated, and more or less created, electroclash. In mapping the evolution of the more faceless techno of the mid-to-late 90s to big-hooked club-pop of the early 00s, this is the missing link. (Leaving it out is like saying Iggy Pop wasn't punk because punk didn't exist before he did.) It’s a rumbling juggernaut, with a goofy sense of humor.

Peaches - "Tombstone, Baby"

But that sound, of course, needed some sex. The Teaches of Peaches, with its SO WHAT, FUCK YOU version of sexual empowerment, is a must-listen. (Those of you enjoying both the profanity and general bounciness of Azealia Banks these days should probably dig it out.) But songs like “Fuck the Pain Away” and “Lovertits,” as cool as they still are, caricature themselves with their extremity. It just made them too easy to write off. And while outsized, aggressive sexuality is a huge part of Peaches’ story, there were other notes Merrill Nisker could hit. "Tombstone, Baby" from her sophomore record, Fatherfucker, is Suicide made sexy, and my favorite thing she ever recorded.

Here’s a live version from a few years later, just to note her ahead-of-her-time DIY Lady Gaga vibes.

Ladytron - "Playgirl"

Ladytron were always the most real-seeming, talented band associated with electroclash. So, of course, they denied ever being a part of it. They released Softcore Jukebox, an excellent wide-net influences mix in 2003, just to prove their depth. The Witching Hour, put out in 2005 after all of their peers had basically gone bust, was one of the best pop albums of the 00s. (So good. Seriously.) But their first two records, bored with glamour, glassy-eyed catchy (with sinister sung Russian! Skeevy reference to women's tennis!), are the most polished version of electroclash, whether they liked the label or not.

Fat Truckers - "Superbike"

But while Ladytron was the best band that made the best records, the very best album of the genre was actually a compilation. Futurism #1, a 2002 mix CD by the East London label City Rockers (among those thriving in London's East End well before the Olympics "saved" it), was the soundtrack of summer '02 (um, on Withers St. in Williamsburg, anyway). Its two-disc running length had plenty of room for the obvious stuff like "Emerge" and "Lovertits," but also this goofbomb from Sheffield's Fat Truckers, an easily danceable example of the genre's willful silliness.

Alpinestars - "Burning Up"

But that said, that comp. was also Exhibit A for how surprisingly soulful these songs could be (on the margins, anyway). "Burning Up," by Manchester duo Alpinestars, could be a long lost synth-pop ballad from Damon Albarn. As serene as electroclash ever got, and truly lovely, still.

Northern Lite - "Treat Me Better"

On a similar wavelength, but with a stronger beat and a simple mantra that boils 95% of romantic dissatisfaction down to its base complaint. As basic a sentiment as a James Blake song's, but, like, it would sound good in your car.

See also: ADULT.'s "Hand to Phone," which is uglier than this, but harder. Both cut deeper than that one cover of "Sunglasses at Night" (which, OK, still sounds decent).

(Futurism #1 is available to stream in full on Spotify, BTW.)

Golden Boy & Miss Kittin - "Rippin Kittin"

"Mommy, can I go out to kill tonight?" Of the big, definitive electroclash songs (stuff by Fischerspooner, Felix da Housecat, etc.) this one probably holds up best. It’s just a minor switch in degree from the glamorous but mundane horror of aloof, lyrical coke zombies that many of the lesser tracks featured prominently to this weirdly naive slasher film monologue. But an inspired tweak.

Ellen Allien - "Trash Scapes"

Ellen Allien, a German DJ who founded the BPitch Control Label, was always an unlikely mainstay on these electroclash comps, having at least a foot in glitchy, sometimes pleasure-denying IDM. And while her masterful 2003 record Berlinette goes well beyond the electroclash norm, she found a way to make continual disruption into that relentless pop thump on at least a track or two. "Trash Scapes" key lyric: "the past is a late train to unknown trashscapes" is kind of a haunting to me now, given the rocks of pop junk we now know the rest of the 00s were waiting to turn over.

* Also, though I wouldn’t call it stylistically relevant to this discussion, The Cure guitars she snuck onto Berlinette's closing track "Open," bringing that faraway, California-highway-at-dusk feeling, seem wildly influential now. (HOW SAD lil' Natalie Portman looked in the video!!!)

Vitalic - "La Rock 01"

It was a prominently European sound that just happened to appeal to the metropolitan instincts of Metropolitan Avenue. As such, some of the very best electroclash singles came from all corners of the old country. A French lean towards harder dance sounds was to be expected. Vitalic's 2001 single, "La Rock 01," had a hedonistic throb that let it slide into like mixes seamlessly. Coiled and ready for the moment, late in the night, when everyone just needed to lose it. (See the utility of sub-genres located in actual, physical spaces? Spaces with people in them??)

"Poney, pt. 1"

And just for kicks, might as well mention its more overtly Daft Punk-y b-side, which got fully Internet-famous upon rerelease a few years later, due in no small part to so...many...airborne...pups! Daft Punk had just gone disco in 2001, you'll remember, so we needed a new old one.

Chicks on Speed - "We Don't Play Guitars"

Munich's Chicks on Speed embodied the knowing performance art aspect of electroclash as well as anyone, with results that were deadpan hilarious. Here, on their best single, they describe what parts of rock stardom they are willing to perform, and which they are content to outsource. Rules established, rule broken. And like most everything here, terrific fun, if you'll let it be.

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