Rome, October. I sit in the shadow of the Vatican, listening to Vatican Shadow. Those passing by either ignore me or stop to watch the pale kid dressed in black, sitting cross-legged and swaying to a rhythm they cannot hear. A woman screams at a man, her arm outstretched as he walks away quickly to the slow-churning Mythic Chord pulse of “Cairo is a Haunted City”. As the shadow fades and the ethereal chug of Andy Stott emerges, I become aware of something that I never thought possible: I have become a fan of techno.
As a post-goth, my formative tastes were shaped by a scene that, despite pretensions to open-mindedness, is extremely rigid in a lot of ways (as are most subcultures). Oftentimes in the goth scene, there’s a lot of nonsense where you designate yourself a certain kind of goth based on which kind of boots you wear or how much you like cats or elves or whatever. A goth picnic is a bit like a comic convention, only slightly less depressing. One thing is certain, however: if you’re a proper gothy-goth, you do not like techno.
There’s something of a good reason for that. Most of the EBM that gets pushed by clubs is essentially either Eurotrash hardstyle with bad goth poetry over the top, or some jock in black covered in fake blood, making interchangeably misogynistic songs about different swear words. Many goths refer to fast, repetitive electronic music of any kind under the blanket term ‘techno’, in the same why that Marilyn Mason and Bauhaus might be the same thing to the average person on the street. It’s foolish, of course, especially when you consider how many goth idols like Alien Sex Fiend, Psychic TV and Fad Gadget were never afraid to advance their sound through new dance mediums, but then nobody has ever accused the goth scene of sensible forward-thinking. By the time I bothered to learn what ‘proper’ techno was, I was in my late-twenties and past the point when hardcore raves could have drawn me in. To me, techno had always been boring, and I didn’t see that changing.
It’s because of labels like Hospital Productions that, in recent years, I’ve adjusted that view—up to a point. The trick was attaching the structure of techno to industrialized aesthetics and trusted names, which I admit is something of a cowardly way to approach a new genre—though who doesn’t love the comfort of the familiar? Names like Prurient, Whitehouse and Tropic of Cancer were already ingrained inside my musical soul as trustworthy; all keywords to open the doors to Vatican Shadow, Cut Hands and Silent Servant. Each new aspect brings with it an old one, while expanding the aural horizons to something even more menacing and trance-inducing. Before, I had only seen techno as a straightforward way for normal people to shift around without having to think, a succession of cold tracks that maintain the same level throughout the night. No peaks, no changes, no soul.
Now, however, I begin to see it as a tool for ritual. Tribal gatherings brought to the dancefloor, satisfyingly difficult yet still connecting to the feet on a primal level. Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination, with its minimalistic synths and infections dance patterns, was the easiest pill to swallow, which is perhaps why I found myself returning to the grim military-radio vibes Vatican Shadow’s Ornamented Walls more often. It was more of a challenge to find something to connect with, and I love to challenge my ears. Black Mamba combines the difficulty and danceability of both, provided you have a taste for tribal occultism. To my ears it’s the perfect blend of the experimental sounds I was weaned on and the nightlife bass that sustains my restless feet.
If techno is something that you, too, view in a rather dim light, perhaps the key isn’t to illuminate, but to darken further. Pick a release from any of the bands I’ve spoken of here. Listen to them, but don’t think the word ‘techno’. Think: industrial. ritual. magick. bleak. beautiful. night. Think majesty. Think of your God, or lack thereof. Just think, and you will find something in here to take away your expectations.
Read an edited version of this recommendation in the new issue of Electronic Beats Magazine—out today.
Photo: Dominick Fernow, from A Lie Must Tell A Single Story