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I.C.R.N. - Industrialised Culture Research Network

I.C.R.N. - Industrialised Culture Research Network

A network is being formed for those engaged in serious research on industrialised culture, primarily industrial music and culture, but also related forms and issues. More details here: http://icrn.blogspot.com


We Rock Like Crazy - The Synthetic Virtues of Electronic Pop

Follow the mainstream media and you¢ll be told that jazz is back. Or is it rock? Or folk? Anything just as long as it¢s not electronic dance music. The 90s are already being written off and quietly buried as an unfortunate aberration. We are told that people want ¡real¢ tunes and emotion again, and that these can only be found in more traditional musical forms. The old prejudices against ¡soulless¢ electronics are becoming respectable again (in fact, they never fully died out, even at the height of the dance explosion). Moreover, rumours are again flying that vinyl production will soon end. Despite attempts to marginalise it, synthetic electronic pop remains closely bound up with ¡now¢, inseparable from the zeitgeist (see how mainstream critics still rush to praise releases like Vitalic, and welcome the return of Depeche Mode).

We Rock Like Crazy (wrlc) label head Martin Kretschmer believes the current semi-acknowledged popularity of the electronic styles he calls ¡cute pop¢ could be a generational factor – “People that grew up with a certain style have now become old enough to do music and reproduce that style and by that grow a new generation of followers of that style.” Certainly, tracks based on the synthetic sounds of the early eighties have never been more influential or appreciated, and Kretschmer believes most of those following wrlc and related labels are in the 25 – 35 age range, i.e., the generation that grew up on eighties electronics. Despite the neo-luddite trends, the electronic sounds of then are being updated and infecting new groups of listeners who seem to find them very appropriate to our synthetic ironic era (and sometimes a welcome escape from its increasing tensions).

The label¢s output is unashamedly synthetic, but neither over-nostalgic nor over-specialist, and certainly not ¡soulless¢ or ¡sterile.¢ In this context, to be synthetic is a virtue that enables rather than precludes expressiveness. wrlc has been operating for just over a year but already gives the impression of a more established operation. It emerged almost by chance from the ruins of industrial label Membrum Debile Propaganda¢s electro sub-label Cabinett. Music that was due for release there has found a home with wrlc and one of its specialist sub-labels, Hausgebrauch. The first release was a 12" by BASTARDS OF LOVE, one of the label¢s most distinctive acts, producers of witty, raw, minimal elektro synthpunk. The next release was the much lighter Bubbleboy by I SATELLITE. These releases set a pattern – not sticking to one style, and, in the second case, commissioning a wide range of remixers. Kretschmer explains that he has a short attention span and does not want to stay too long in one place: “I´m trying to keep one step ahead of myself basically.” He is simultaneously trying to shape and to keep ahead of ¡it¢ - the speed of stylistic change and assimilation. He takes pride in maintaining variety, particularly in the remixes, which operate across strict boundaries and aim at unexpected juxtapositions such as “a Chicago house take on a wave track.” This approach, maintaining interest, is as close as he comes to any manifesto or mission statement.

In fact, wrlc does have a reasonably consistent identity, even if the range of sounds – from EBM to “cute pop”, ultra-light pop to dark coldwave sounds, will confuse some. Coming from a techno background himself, Kretschmer is aware of the risk this entails, that “the label profile might just be too fractured for the average techno head. And the goth/EBM people don´t have record players anymore.” He has a healthy suspicion of scenes in general, but isn¢t interested in free for all sonically correct eclecticism either. One way to get around this problem is the more focussed sub-labels. Whilst wrlc generally deals with more ¡pop¢ releases (though with some very un-pop remixes), Privatvergnügen is for more specialist limited releases, typically issued in editions of 150-300 copies. The other sub-label Petting Zoo is for more experimental releases by artists like the excellent split 10” by the Bastards and Genevieve Pasquier (of heavy industrial group Thorofon). So as Kretschmer says, this operation is one for connoisseurs, “people that know their stuff, that actively search out good music.” This relationship with specialist knowledge is expressed in wrlc¢s own slogan: “Expertise in minimal synth>dark electro>machinefunk>friendly electronics”
He is unafraid to admit that “I need a bit of melody and vocals in my Techno at times”, but seems to maintain a good balance of light and dark. For instance, while some versions of I SATELLITE¢s Bubbleboy will be too sweet for some, Echo West¢s superb version is ultra dark. Alongside the lighter ¡cute pop¢ material, such as the sweet child-oriented Kinderglück compilation, there¢s a strong industrial/EBM presence, including veterans PSYCHE and THE WEATHERMEN. The old EBM veterans¢ politically charged Daytime TV release was their first for twelve years and finds them laying into mobile phones, Bush and other contemporary ills. Other key acts in this style are Solar and those on Hausgebrauch.

Part of the appeal of these artists and releases is that they are unafraid to refer to aspects of electronic music history that until recently were overlooked or even repressed. Listening to them you get pleasant (but not unimaginatively derivative) reminders of early Depeche Mode, Chris & Cosey, D.A.F., and a range of far more obscure synthpop and coldwave producers now being rediscovered. Some of it is deliberately escapist, playful or romantic, but thanks to the range of sounds and remixes even the lighter material eventually comes up against darker undercurrents and a sort of balance is maintained.

The final part of the operation is the wrlc shop, and in the range of stock you see the links with other electronic small labels and micro contexts, including neo-folk and Neue Deutsche Welle (both original and re-created). Here is a whole sector of specialist vinyl and CDR releases, future rarities and classics that could be suppressed by changing fashion and market realities or the threatened death of vinyl. Yet whatever its fate in the present, it seems likely that some of this music will be re-animated in another couple of decades, resurrected by Vinyl on Demand type labels recreating the scene. So even if the best of the new and re-discovered sounds here go largely unnoticed they will exert a continued subterranean influence, and resurface long after the current jazz/rock/folk revivalists find their way to the bargain bins of history.

Key wrlc tracks:

Bastards Of Love – Abmarsch. (Privatvergnügen 02 12" Bastards of Love – II)
Bastards of Love feat. Geneviève Pasquier - Wheel of Passion. (Petting Zoo 01 10" Bastards of Love vs. Geneviève Pasquier)
Bastards Of Love - Rituals Rude 66 remix. (We Rock Like Crazy 04 12" Bastards of Love – Rituals)
Bubbleboy Echo West Remix (We Rock Like Crazy 01 12" I Satellite - Bubbleboy Remixed)
The Weathermen – Daytime TV Remix. (We Rock Like Crazy 05 12" The Weathermen - Daytime TV)