Goth is hardly the wild beast it once was. It’s certainly had an interesting ride, though, from its early days of ’80s glammy punk weirdness, vampire rock-and-roleplaying in the ’90s on into futurepop and misogynistic bro-dustrial in the ’00s (with a resulting old-school revival backlash, naturally). On top of this, there are all the post-modern, Internet-led aspects which the more stodgy parts of the scene won’t admit exist but that bring in new kids and keep le darq scene shambling about in the underground.
Of course, it’s good to step into the light once in a while. That’s what the giant festival Wave-Gotik-Treffen is for: a chance to gather in large groups with friends, purchase expensive black clothes in massive halls, and then wander up and down the main streets posing for photos all day. Okay—that’s a bit uncharitable. WGT often has a killer lineup, including this year which had a bunch of great stuff. Orphx and Youth Code, for example, topped my must-see list. But the fancy-dress aspect is not really my vibe. I get it, goth these days is mostly a social/fashion scene for a lot of people, but a hot’n’horny EternaTeen like myself needs something less capitalistic and more apocalyptic.
I’ve been frequenting the WGT on and off for the last ten years, but I tend to stick to its bastard offspring—the parties that have sprung up at the fringes, enticing festival-goers with promises of dancefloor delights. If you’re looking for something different at the I’m Different Festival, here are three highly recommended alternatives that I stumbled into drunk at 3 am, each of them showcasing different sides of the dark music scene.
Leipzig’s most decadent queer-wave party embodies the glam side of goth, with plenty of leather to go along with that lace. From the body-jacking EBM of DAF to modern party bois Schwefelgelb, the music is prime-cut electro with a distinctly European edge. G+T organizer Zacker No wanted to give the queer community a WGT headquarters, where dark hearts could dance to the heroes they loved in a welcoming environment. “It’s a cliché that all goth people are open-minded, tolerant and thoughtful/profound,” Zacker told me. “Not to mention the absurd sexism that pops up here and there with some bands. I think it is still important to provide a kind of ‘shelter’—not encapsulation, but a place where you can smooch safely and flirt and dance without any risk whether you’re male, female, homo, hetero, trans or above and beyond.” Glitter + Trauma lives up to its name—expect to leave covered in glitter and sweat, not all of which will be yours.
Not a party as such, but the last two years have seen this relatively new Leipzig club elevated to a must-visit location for fans of power noise, industrial techno and generally evil electronic sounds. 2015 saw a collaboration with Berlin’s Sabbat that brought together powerful modern acts like Monica Hits The Ground, Shaddah Tuum and Phase Fatale with the transgressive synthpunk drag of Petra Flurr. The DIY community vibe of the venue (it was basically built from scratch by punks) combined with their tasty Kirsch Audio soundsystem and labyrinthian floor plan make IfZ the perfect stage for dark debauchery.
GPP is almost as much of a Leipzig institution as WGT at this point, having existed in various forms since 2000. This multi-day mini-festival is loosely based around ‘old-school’ aspects of the scene: deathrock, coldwave, minimal and so forth ooze across the fog-shrouded dance floor as strobes illuminate a sea of backcombed mohawks and painted leather jackets. As much as I enjoy a good Bauhaus bounce on occasion, it’s been some time since these sorts of sounds and styles excited me—but as lovingly as the lineups are curated, that’s not really why GPP is exciting. It’s the queer, OG punk ethos that fuels it, the camaraderie that runs deep in both the attendees and the staff. The sense of danger exists alongside the kind of close-knit community rarely seen in parties, much less festivals. It’s more powerful than anything you’ll dose your body with over the weekend, and it’s what keeps me coming back. No expensive wardrobe required.
“As if!” – Ancient proverb, Sweet Valley High
Examining music culture can be tricky when you’re involved on a professional and a personal level. For me, experiencing the evolution of a music scene I love makes me quick to defend its cultural relevance. And that’s especially true in a time when micro-genres proliferate exponentially, when one moment something’s a hashtag darling and the next it’s the target of endless snide references.
Witch house is a prime example of this phenomenon. I haven’t heard it mentioned in any sort of serious way until i-D approached me for an interview about Internet subculture. Discussing the role it played, not only in the context of a culture emerging predominately online, but also as part of a larger and pre-existing “dark” scene, led me to think about one of the genre’s great flag-bearers, willing or not: SALEM, and their monolithic LP King Night.
At the time of King Night‘s release, it was hard to imagine that this LP would be the definitive statement from the trio, and that the barely-formed witch house scene was already collapsing inward on itself with too many triangles and too little imagination. While the witch’s influence can still be felt in certain quadrants of Our Underground Scene™, it never became strong enough to stand on its own outside the confines of the computer screen.
But when King Night first came out, it was as though anyone in New York with a passing interest in sonic witchery was buzzing off the hook. I remember buying a copy of the album with some friends and rushing back to listen to it, our XXXL black hoodies flapping behind us like druid cloaks. Friends called friends. SALEM’s world of dirt, decay, thuggery, and foggery was like sweet syrup. It was like Beatlemania for freaks.
Among the assembled listening party were a few deathrockers, some Burning Man types, and a girl who looked like she blogged about sweaters for a living. By the time the booming nihilist bass of “Sick” began rattling the windows, most of us were swaying together like ghosts. There was a feeling in the air of a zeitgeist being captured, of underground being dissolved and reborn in mutant form: a blackened amalgamation of shoegaze, murky Southern hip-hop, bleakness and noise shaped into melody. It felt new, and as a kid who wallowed in the gothier sides of post-punk without being around in its heyday, it felt amazing to be at the center of something emerging that truly spoke to me.
That was five years ago. These days, it’s rare that the frequencies of King Night pass through my speakers. The last time I was inspired to revisit it was when Fred Durst heard SALEM, which admittedly dampened the excitement a bit (while increasing it in other, more mean-spirited ways). I can’t remember the last time I sat down and thoughtfully listened to the record all the way through.
The time has come once again. I’m going to *in Butthead from Beavis & Butthead voice* “set the mood” in my room, slip on some good headphones and the proper SALEM-listening outfit (Damir Doma Sissy’s Cloak from an opera house garage sale, 17th century calfskin hierophant hat under three layers of black chintz, licensed Gandalf replica pipe, ceramic wading boots with heel-activated strobelights, a plastic bag to keep Doritos farts in because I have a girl over, some other stupid bullshit I can’t think of) and give it my undivided attention. From this sentence until the next, imagine that about an hour and a half has gone by.
There’s something to be said for time-lapse perspective. Upon hearing King Night for the first time, what excited me most was the dichotomy of hearing rap over searing darkwave synths and wailing choirs. As someone who grew up in the goth scene and was drawn to Tupac as much as Virgin Prunes, this combination felt truly vital to me. It was like watching a chapter from my dream diary being born, and what was even more incredible was how close to the mainstream it all was—this wonderful, dreadful stew of sounds being incorporated into pop culture, something I’d never have pictured as a teenager.
SALEM’s hip-hop leaning moments still retain a lot of power simply for how sparse and lo-fi the production is. It’s the same element that drew me to underground hip-hop, particularly Southern DIY cassette culture. Cuts like the slouching, minimalistic “Trapdoor” as well as older material like “Sipitcut” are sloppily enjoyable listens partly because of how blown-out and raggedly punk they feel. It’s as if nihilism festers not only in SALEM’s lyrics, but even in their attitude toward the medium of music itself. While many critics of Jack Donoghue’s pitch-downed rapping argue that it amounts to a form of cultural appropriation or even audio blackface, my stance follows three lines:
1. The pitch-shifting has nothing to do with trying to ‘sound black’, but rather is an extension of his love of DJ Screw.
2. It sounds like shit when he doesn’t pitch it down.
3. It sounds cool when he does.
This time around, what stood out to me the most—aside from how easily the massive drops on “Hound” could be converted into a hellish EDM banger—were the tracks featuring Heather Marlatt’s vocals. There’s a striking elegance and even subtlety to these particular songs that sets them apart, in particular the mildly-named “Traxx.” Skittering hi-hats float awash in a void before being consumed by the looming bass. What sounds like workout weights crash down distantly in a rhythmic beat, like a steel door closing behind you. A high synth melody swirls and reaches out to the ear in a liquid rush. It’s strange; I feel as though “Traxx” is one of the most overlooked songs on the album, but hearing it again makes me feel like it’s potentially one of the best darkwave songs ever recorded. In fact, I’ve been whistling that damn chorus melody for the last fifteen minutes, and I suspect it won’t be the last time I do. Fuck my life and the lives of my neighbors (extremely loud whistling fan here).
Pre-Analysis: Revisiting King Night made me think about how we hype artists and styles nowadays, particularly in the field of music-related writing—only to put them to the side in favor of another drop in the constant stream of new information that we’re inundated with on a daily basis. Contemplating the detritus of hype gone by reveals its lasting influence on newer musicians and its current manifestations, even (or especially) when the rubble seems less relevant than ever. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on what drew you to a once-buzzy band or musician in the first place and the transient nature of many modern listening habits. If nothing else, re-evaluating old beloved albums can occasionally provide some interesting samples. That’s why all my Death In June MP3s have DMX barking on them.
Post-pre-analysis: After all this time, does King Night still reign? As an influential album, certainly. I’ve received more SALEM-clone promos than I care to count—which isn’t many, but it would still take a while to sort through the emails and I just don’t care to. As repeat home listening, I’d say it’s best kept portioned out in select doses. It’s still got a lot of great tracks (and a couple of not-so-great ones; I think the liner notes spell “Boar” incorrectly) and to my ears, long inundated by just about any sound you’d care to describe as “dark,” it remains both the high point of a short-lived genre and a beautiful, hateful slice of experimental audio.
Final penalysis: What the hell was up with the video being about a truck.
In this feature taken from our new Summer, 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, we arranged a meeting of post-dubstep and electro-goth minds. Above: Austra (left) and Mount Kimbie (L-R: Kai Campos and Dominic Maker) both photographed by Hans Martin Sewcz in Berlin.
Second albums: with very few exceptions, respectable musicians have to make them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially not for acts whose debut releases have critics’ expectations for follow-ups sky-high. For Kai Campos of post-dubstep reformers Mount Kimbie and Katie Stelmanis of shadowy electro-goths Austra, however, the hype has been less of a double- edged sword than for most. Keeping their safe distance from the flighty sensibilities of their respective scenes, both have managed to make impressively unself-conscious second LPs with a focus on analog electronics. In the case of Mount Kimbie’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, this has meant moving away from the limitations of exclusively computer-based composition and plug-in abuse towards a poetics of imperfection offered by electric instruments and hissy outboard gear. Oh yeah, and the human voice—an instrument whose potential for perfection the classically trained vocalist Katie Stelmanis has actively sought to temper on Austra’s recently released Olympia. Here, the two let us know where they’re at and how they got there.
Katie Stelmanis: Kai, in terms of the UK music scene, dubsteb and garage belong to a culture I’ve been watching and glorifying from afar and obsessing over—especially growing up in a place like Toronto and coming from a classical music background. I’d be interested in knowing how much of the music you make derives from being part of a scene. Or is it a more independent thing?
Kai Campos: I grew up in a really rural part of England where there was no real music scene of any kind. So most of my alternative music education came from the radio, especially John Peel and Gilles Peterson. I would always tape them—especially John Peel because he played such a diverse collection of music. In a sense I took it for granted that people listen to music like that. But I think, by definition, you make music to fit a certain context. The thing is, our music never really worked in clubs, so you wouldn’t hear it in places we went to. We’ve only been in London since late 2006, so that was kind of the start of the end of what was interesting in dubstep. When we made our first LP, we were starting to lose interest, really. We actually decided to stop playing club shows for that very reason: playing before or after a DJ just sucked every single time. We just had to recontextualize what we were doing. It had nothing to do with what was going on around us. And since we’ve started Mount Kimbie, we’ve not been at home so much, so I’m not so clued up as to what goes on. We’re good friends with musicians, but there’s not much of a sense of community. Or rather, there is a community, but it doesn’t have much to do with what we do artistically.
KS: I’m curious to know what it was like making your second record, as that one’s always associated with certain difficulties. I know I didn’t feel any pressure making Olympia, because there were so many things I wanted to change from the first one.
KC: It’s remarkably similar for us actually. We finished Crooks and Lovers what feels like ages ago and then we felt like we were done with that kind of music; we’d said about as much as we’d wanted to say, really. And then we toured it and that was the longest I’d ever gone without writing music. When we stopped touring we dropped off the radar a bit, which was good for us. We didn’t have a label because our deal with Hotflush was over at the time—after two EPs and an album. It was a very amicable thing. But I will say that dealing with hype isn’t always easy. We want people to like the music and for it to be a success and to have this as our jobs. It’s important to make good decisions. But it’s all stuff that comes after you’ve made the record.
KS: I don’t think Austra ever really got too hyped. That’s why I never felt like we had to live up to hype or some idea. With Olympia, we just wanted to do something bigger. We toured Feel It Break for so long that the songs became something very different on the road, which was a good thing.
KC: I think being onstage is sometimes the only place where you can hear how other people hear you music.
KS: That’s true, because you also rarely know what format people are listening to you on. I’m imagining people listening with headphones . . .
KC: If you’re lucky! I think most people do it over laptop speakers and only listen for thirty seconds before, like, making a comment about it on Facebook or Soundcloud.
KS: At least you have good radio. I’m very jealous of the radio you have in the UK.
KC: They do their best to make it worse. Was radio an important thing for you growing up?
KS: Well, I came to making electronic music by accident when I was nineteen or twenty. I came out of the classical world and wanted to write orchestral music, which I then started to do with MIDI. But in Toronto, nobody was doing that. There was an insane amount of pressure from people to play “real” instruments. All I heard was, “Your voice would sound so pretty on these types of sounds.” But there’s been this massive cultural shift since then.
KC: I was playing in bands for a while until around sixteen when I had a really good teacher who taught me about multi- track recording on a little tape deck. From that point on, after I figured out how to overdub, I asked myself, “Why would
I ever be in a band again?” Then I started making really, really bad electronic music for around the next ten years. Now it’s come back full circle. By the way, I hope I didn’t disappoint you before about the “scene” in London . . .
KS: It makes me happy, because now I don’t have to be jealous. But I feel like I would never even be part of it anyway because
I’m not super into club culture. I’m a homebody. I love dance music and electronic music but I rarely experience it in a club.
KC: There are a lot of people like that—especially DJs and producers over here. DJs obviously have to go to the clubs to work, but a lot of them wouldn’t be there if they weren’t working.
KS: Are you guys into mostly analogue stuff or do you do a lot of programming and plug-in work?
KC: Our first set-up was almost all digital, but with this album, all the mixing and mastering was analogue. I think before you make the leap, the difference is not something you hear that much. But then you notice them in certain contexts. And even if there’s only, say, a ten percent difference when using digital, I wonder why anybody would sacrifice that ten percent.
KS: It’s one thing to sacrifice ten percent of a sound for a single instrument. It’s an entirely different thing when you do that for all instruments.
KC: Yeah. And lots of software today leaves little to no room for it to be misused. Loads of moments on our last record were just accidents. We were abusing our equipment—pushing it to do things it wasn’t designed to do and that’s when you find your own unique voice.
KS: I feel like there’s been a big shift towards analogue recording methods recently, at least amongst artists I’ve talked to. Five years ago they were like, “I can do everything on my computer in GarageBand! It’s amazing!” And now, suddenly, they’re feeling very different about the sounds they use. Now everybody has access to a laptop, so you have to try harder to make something different.
KC: These things really do go in circles. When you’re younger you end up making sweeping statements about what you’re never going to do, but I try not to do that anymore.
KS: Ten years ago I used to say I could never identify with folk music. But these days I absolutely love it.
KC: What do you love about it?
KS: The songwriting and the way that artists are really communicating a story, like the last Perfume Genius record, Put Your Back N 2 It. I used to pay much less attention to lyrics, but now it’s become an important part of what I focus on as an artist.
KC: There have been times in the past where I could sing along to an entire album and still not really know any of the lyrics. When we were writing the songs for this album, there was a lot of space where the vocals should be, but we didn’t want to have an album featuring a bunch of different people. I had all these ideas for the vocal parts and because I’m a bit of a control freak, I just ended up doing it myself. That was quite a new thing. It wasn’t particularly scary because it felt like the right thing to do. I felt like with this record we just had to put more on the line. Honestly, I really enjoy the vocal performances where people can’t sing. Even though I sometimes wish I had gone for singing lessons before. But it is what it is. Now I know that for the next time.
KS: I love non-singers, though I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, and I’ve been criticized for singing “effortlessly”. That’s an aspect I’ve also heard in other singers: great voices that do absolutely nothing for me.
KC: It’s like with equipment: when people don’t know how to use it, it’s interesting. I like using something before I’ve read the manual. It’s like a route to . . . yourself.~
Read the entire issue of the Summer 2013 edition of EB Magazine below, and watch a video of Austra’s performance from EB Festival Cologne 2012. Read Daniel Jones’ review of Olympia here.
Rather than operate as a music news source, Electronic Beats operates as a music information source. We want to share with you; we want you to know what we’re hearing, what’s reverberating our cochleas and sending broader vibrations throughout our bodies, and by extension our audio-addled souls. Down with that? Welcome to Editors’ Choice.
Lisa Blanning (Online Editor)
Ben Aqua – “Ass Kicked Later”
The Austin-based producer—you might have heard his track with Zebra Katz “Red River”—comes correct with a fresh-sounding club roller using a Missy Elliot vocal sample as a hook.
Louise Brailey (Deputy Online Editor)
M.I.A. – “Bring the Noize”
Look, I’m as confounded by this as you are. After the iconoclastic mega-pop of “XXXO” and “Bad Girls” nobody really felt like a summer holiday back to 2006. The bone-clattering staccato production and dodgy sloganeering is all well and good, and Switch’s pawprints are all over this thing, but I have a feeling it’s a red herring. Intriguing.
Moritz Gayard (Online Duty Editor)
Vessel – “Court Of Lions” (Prurient Remix)
Extraordinary rework of Vessel’s “Court Of Lions” by Dominick Fernow, better known as Vatican Shadow and Prurient. Roll it, press play, light it up. Relax.
Ashrae Fax – “Pointbreak”
Up for some goth/ethereal/synth pop stuff? Then try Ashrae Fax’s 2003 album Static Crash. You can pre-order the re-release, courtesy of Mexican Summer, here.
Daniel Jones (Contributing Editor)
Kanye West – New Slaves (Brenmar Club Edit)
Brenmar posted this slick, sick remix of Kanye’s politicized anti-consumerist rant (this is the guy whose clothing line sells $300 t-shirts, remember) over the weekend and turned a growling beast into a purring kitten of a track. “For my DJs”, his Facebook page proclaimed, and this DJ couldn’t be happier.
V▲LH▲LL – LIKΣ ▲ NIGHT IN THΣ F0RΣS7 [✞JOhN D3nVΞR✞ C0V3R]
In my wildest dreams of pimping out the idea of witch house around 2009, I never imagined John Denver covers. Is this even witch anymore? What is anything, who knows. Just so long as we can finally move past the ‘post-genre’ term, which is the least sexiest description for music ever. That said, I kind of dig this. My mom does too.
Read previous editions of Editor’s Choice here.
Light a candle. Draw the required sigils. Now, raise your arms above your head and slowly, gently, exhale your soul. You won’t need it here. This is Audioccult, and it’s time to get low. Illustration: SHALTMIRA
DJing when you’re feeling depressed is a weird thing. Of course your mood affects what you play, but also how you respond to the crowd. You can allow yourself transcendence by their presence, or you can remove yourself from them, wrapped in yourself, erecting new constructs around yourself to escape the old forms you had erected before, building and building in a continuous loop—MC Escher working the crowd. Only when you’re faced with the horrible photos afterward do you realize the mistake. It’s this overly thoughtful sort of regret, that thousand-mile mental stare—vacant, stagnant, and even as you recognize it you know it’s the end result of the evening unless you strike quickly. In desperation, you grab the nearest human escape available: “Hey baby, how about we go to your place after so I can use your internet?”
The Quietus‘ track-by-track preview of the last few months of my life reveals a pattern: too many false smiles. Choosing click ->Share and paddling along the surface too often. A declining shift of thought, humor lessened by a need to self-destroy even as I worry about Matthew Lindsay’s writing pushing mine down and calling it little baby scribbles that will never be a grown man’s writing. A bomb-ass editorial sails through the window and calls me Sissyphus before punching me like it thinks Goku would and taking my freelance money. The entropic pounding of Robedoor and Oake form the soundtrack for this tearjerker scene, the musical equivalent of the mocking handclap from God himself. The symmetry is off, Escher askew. Eschew. Gesundheit.
What consumes me is music; it chews me up and silences all else like a Hubba Bubba gag. The divinity is in the details, and through close examination I am Saved. No longer comfy in Nihil, I discard the enormous sweatshirt with the “I Have Given Up” block print (Arial Bold, NOT Helvetica) and I’ve blingee’d my soul to add that diamond sparkle to my eye. There’s a line in the second Terminator movie about NO FATE and if you pause it at just the right time—when you’re utterly obliterated on narcotics—it looks like NO FART. Long past the boredom of the skinny jeans holding in all the horrible stench of my personal pains, I redress my soul with increased personal emphasis on looseness in a post-JNCO world. Take a moment to revel in this rather obtuse mental image. In the URL we’re bombarded with and even perpetuate a false representation of our true selves. Some would consider this a negative, but I’ve found it a useful platform to build off of… that loop again, which can be a good thing. Remember, however, to keep your IRL as healthy as your URL, lest you find your soul eventually consigned to an enormous virtual warehouse filled with dusty links to the “Whip My Hair” video, unclicked since February 2011.~