Home Sweet Home is an unmarked basement bar on the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown near the Lower East Side. There are a few stuffed birds and rodents displayed in a glass case underneath the bar, as if the owner originally wanted a taxidermy-theme before leasing the bar out to the New York rock underground of the early 2000’s. Past the bar, the DJ deck overlooks a dancefloor alight with a disorienting discoball glow and hazy with automated fog. For a while there was a tacit understanding that after a certain hour you could smoke at the bottom of the entrance stairwell. Still, Home Sweet Home is too self aware to be considered actually grimy: you wouldn’t buy cocaine here, although if you already had some this would certainly be a place to do it. On the right night, first time patrons may very feel they have walked into a song from Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights.
Every Wednesday night, Wierd Records hosts Coldwave night with live music and dj sets. Coldwave refers to both a French born variant of darkwave as well as a new batch of Brooklyn based bands like Cold Cave, Light Asylum, Led Er Est, and Xeno and Oaklander among others (some of these band names hit the nail on the head a little too directly, I think). A scant eight or nine years after the great Joy Division/New Order boom that launched a million indie (as opposed to electronic) dance nights, it may seem strange to have such a blatant Ian Curtis vibe cycling back into vogue. You get the sense that the LES never really moved on, though, and Home Sweet Home certainly feels like an appropriate hub. Additionally, these bands are taking on the ole Factory Records sound with the contemporary approach of the Italo disco and lo-fi acts that have been rampant in popular DIY music for the past few years. Light Asylum, my favorite of the batch, have already cultivated a commanding live presence, and on the demo for “A Certain Person” (streaming on their myspace page) they make gloriously good on their promise to sound like “Ian and Grace making babies.” Grace Jones, that is. Just listen to that chorus.
Other times, the neo-coldwave sound doesn’t progress as far beyond its heavy-handed influences. “Just stop with the low budget Joy Division crap,” was my initital reaction to my friend who introduced me to this stuff. These bands are still in their early stages and are working through their growing pains on the stage. They already have a supportive scene and receptive audience, and I’m expecting to hear some interesting things. In the meantime though, here’s a few classics of the sound that I can’t really foresee being topped.
• Clan Of Xymox - Stranger
Like “Blue Monday” but more operatic and well, Dutch. Pretty much defines the Darkwave sound and points towards house music.
• A Certain Ratio – Do the Du (John Peel Session)
This song and band is admittedly outside the darkwave/coldwave domain, but “Do the Du” is a terrific example of how to inject the Ian Curtis vocal thing with some necessary levity. Splitting the difference betwen jangly post punk bands like Josef K and Orange Juice and starker Factory Records (which they were on) fare, the jouncy disco beat supplies the song with expressiveness by emphasizing the tonal shifts in singer Simon Topping’s low register. Soul Jazz re-issued this Peel Session rarity as a 7” in the early 2000s, memorably featuring a “hipside” and the “flipside.” The sleeve is pretty classic, with profiles of the five band members, four shirtless white yobs and a well dressed, sunglasses-sporting black gent.
KaS Product were a French electronic duo whose work from the early 80’s is the touchstone for the coldwave sound. Their track “So Young but So Cold” can be considered an anthem of sorts for the scene. In this video for “Never Come Back” they take the coldwave tag seriously and perform in an unheated warehouse (you can see singer Mina Soyoc’s breath!).
Finally, Stones Throw recently released The Minimal Wave Tapes, Vol. II, compiled by Peanut Butter Wolf and East Village radio personality Veronica Vasicka, and featuring the old, rare stuff. It’s pretty great and serves as a timely supplement to the rise of Wierd Records/new coldwave.