Monday, May 04, 2009

Deca-Disco 2009: “Base – How Low Can You Go?!”

A 2009 follow-up piece to the orginal Deca-Disco text, (see previous post).

The original Deca-Disco piece was written in 2003, just after the start of the war on Iraq and although there was no shortage of reasons for cynicism at the time and I was not exactly an optimist, I had no idea of the scale of greed, deception and incompetence that was to follow. Compared to political and economic developments since 2003, even the sleaziest and most consciously cynical electroclash now comes across as prim and repressed. As I said then, such tracks were and are examples of klepto-realism, palely reflecting and often supporting the kleptocratic order which remains entrenched even now (maintained by apathy and the real threat of violence in its defence). Now the zeitgeist is infinitely more decadent and authoritarian than it was even then. Although the word ‘electroclash’ is rarely heard now, its attitudes and textures still mark the present. There are at least as many people now who identify with the degraded kleptocratic trash worldview that electroclash grew out of. Even now many of these types display no irony, no distance or no awareness, but this makes them useful as living exemplars of (though also potential fighters for) the klepto-culture.

Musically the neo(n) retro/neo 80s trend is at least as strong (if slightly less visible) than it was in 2003. London club nights such as Reeperbahn and Brave Adventures are still popular, drawing audiences with an average age of 25 to listen to music dating back to their early childhood or even their conception. D.A.F. recently played their first London show in 25 years and many of the audience were far too young to have been around at the time of the previous show. The eighties electronic revivalism that electroclash was the most visible example of was no flash in the pan, indeed many of the artists associated (willingly or not) with electroclash have either endured or are now returning. Miss Kittin and The Hacker’s new album Two sounds colder, less confident, more neurotic and alienated than their breakthrough and seems to hint at an underlying desperation. In the meantime ADULT.’s music became ever more bleaker and We know how to have fun seems even more appropriate to the desperate hedonism of depression-era Britain.

Another returning neo 80s artist Millimetric’s new album features a collaboration with The Hacker called Escape from Camp 81 which fits the (post)-EBM aesthetic perfectly, sounding like a techno-influenced companion piece to 242’s ‘Body to Body’ or Nitzer Ebb’s ‘twa.’ Come hell or high water, DJ Hell and his International Deejay Gigolo Records operation carry on regardless, Hell’s new album Teufelswerk features eighties style icon Bryan Ferry but also continues to reference German electronic and Neue Deutsche Welle aesthetics. In the last few years Gigolo artists such as David Carretta have produced storming ‘neo EBM’ tracks which are much more aggressively sequenced and dynamic than much of what comes from the actual conservative EBM scene. Due to the ‘hidden hand’ of EBM influence operating behind the scenes, much of the most EBM-sounding tracks do not actually call themselves EBM, but could not have existed without it. Gigolo veers between extremely well produced minimal and neo EBM tracks and more overtly trashy tracks, but continues to epitomise the better side of the neo(n) retro tendency. Some of these releases came to be marketed as Electro house - a way to make the electro element more palatable and marketable and less intimidatingly ‘serious’ sounding.

Despite attempts to smooth over these rough edges, specialist electro producers like Beta Evers (founder of the Kommando 6 label) continue to produce serious noir electro with a definite coldwave texture. The continuing re-discovery of coldwave is part of the wider re-issuing tendency which has reached a scale unimaginable even in 2003. Specialist labels like Vinyl on Demand and Trumpett supply an insatiable demand for obscure eighties industrial and wave re-issues and young producers continue to construct sonic replicants. Forging a fake 80s original would now be even easier, both technically and in terms of the sheer volume of material into which fakes could merge. Comparatively mainstream music magazines have picked up on the revival of interest and in the last six years it’s been possible to come across discussions of industrial, EBM and other 80s styles in some unexpected places.[i]

Rather than trying to conceal his artifice, sonic prankster VV/M produced a literally fetishistic neo New Beat project, Sabam, which at least temporarily re-animated the sleaziest corner of the eighties electronic spectrum. Despite this, New Beat remains relatively neglected and hasn’t experienced the same level of revivalism. This may be because New Beat’s unapologetic embrace of sleaze is too honestly cynical and appropriate to our times for even the Trash and Nag Nag Nag contingents.

Still engaged in their underground guerrilla struggle against what they see as this Global Darkness, Bunker Records are retreating ever further back into the shadows, releasing 1 or 200 edition vinyl copies, and compromising their underground purity by creating an instant market for speculative record dealers. Nevertheless, some very fine underground electro continues to leak out from the Bunker.

What all this proves is that stylistically the eighties are far from over and that there is now a series of ‘eternal’ and ‘neo’ eighties sounds, which continue to morph and develop and which it seems no amount of exploitation, cynicism or over-exposure is able to kill off. It may be that as recession turns to depression and mass social instability becomes ever more present, the glitzier core of neo(n) retro will fall away, but since most of the original archetypes driving the scene emerged in the period of mass unemployment and the Cold War, it may be that intensifying crisis only intensifies the sharpness and relevance of eighties electronic aesthetics.

1 comment:

Thomas Bey William Bailey said...

Hi Alexei-

perhaps this is an odd place to get in touch with you, but I wanted to interview you for a forthcoming book, which will touch on some of the same issues of nostalgia and retro-futurism you deal with in this excellent piece.

If you get a chance, please contact me at core (at) tbwb (dot) net. Some info on my first book and assorted writings on post-Industrial electronic culture are also available at that domain. Thanks for your attention,
Thomas Bailey