I think its safe to say that the pseudo-genre of electroclash has run its course. All things considered, it was an odd beast. Was it, on some unconscious level, a hostile retort to the extremely unsexy DJ culture that reigned across electronic music throughout the late ‘90s and very early ‘00s? Certainly, there’s something very appealing about the workmanlike and egalitarian nature of the artists and DJs who rose to popularity in this period. The fact that folks like the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Moby—to say nothing of the supposed “superstar” DJs such as Sasha, John Digweed and Paul Oakenfold—could have been your next-door neighbor was part of the charm.
But, as with everything, there’s always a backlash. The hip-hop and R&B-drenched two-step/UK garage phenomenon that swept Britain didn’t really catch on Stateside (I’m still waiting for that second MJ Cole album to be released domestically, dammit!), but there was already something else on the horizon. It makes sense that the electronic music community would look back to the ‘80s for inspiration. There was a lot of great electronic music made in that decade, but the crucial fact is that it was made by actual bands who acted like rock stars, with the high fashion looks and fast lifestyles to boot. So they decided that the electro thing was back “in” and people started wearing the retro ‘80s fashions and using the old skool synthesizers.
It didn’t last, obviously. Felix da Housecat’s Kittenz and Thee Glitz was one of the first milestones in the supposed movement, garnering rave reviews and setting the tone for pretty much everything that followed. By the time Felix’s next album, the disastrously titled Devin Dazzle and the Neon Fever hit, the sound had been done to death. Consequently, Devin Dazzle met with some pretty terrible reviews. It only makes sense, if you think about it, and the current crop of conventional retro-rockers blazing up the modern and indie record charts should pay heed. “Retro” movements are good for delivering much-needed kicks in the pants to moribund music scenes, but in terms of prolonged creative advancement, your best bet still lies on the future. Radiohead are still gonna be around in five years, but I’d be extremely surprised if Jet aren’t pumping gas.
But before you write off electroclash entirely, there’s this really cool CD I’d like to tell you about. It’s by a group named Technova and it’s called Electrosexual.
Ironically, it’s not even really an electroclash album. The guy behind Technova is named David Harrow. He’s been knocking around the periphery of the electronic, industrial, and experimental music scenes for over 20 years. He’s worked with everyone from legendary provocateur Genesis P. Orrige to Jah Wobble to Lee “Scratch” Perry to Atari Teenage Riot. He first recorded under the Technova moniker in 1993 at the behest of Andrew Weatherall (one half of the Sabres of Paradise). He’s even got a nu-jazz side project, recording as James Hardway (who has himself recorded enough music to fill a medium-size bin at the record shop). So, he’s hardly your average electroclash punk—he’s been around. He remembers the eighties the hard way: he was there.
But even if Harrow’s intentions may be a bit more nuanced than putting on a skinny tie and dancing around like the Human League, he has definitely crafted a fitting elegy to the genre. Electrosexual is pretty much as bare bones as you can get with electro: there’s hard-pulsing house beats, precise synthesizer melodies, crisp high-cut snares and not a lot else. There are even some sexy vocals, courtesy of a six-foot LA transvestite named Vaginal Davis. I’ll take the ever-sultry Miss Kittin myself any day, but hey.
The album kicks off strong and doesn’t let up. The first track (and first single) “I Could Have Sex” starts with a harshly staccato keyboard riff that sounds like it was swiped from circa 1985 New Order. Davis very provocatively intones “I could have sex with a man / Or I could have sex with a woman / Or I could have sex with myself, again.” It’s pretty obvious where this album sits: Harrow has no interest in playing coy.
Two very well chosen covers buoy the album’s first half. First, Harrow’s cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” is appropriately spacey, if a bit more Erasure-esque than the brooding original. The real gem here, however, is his cover of the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat”, where the new-wave chestnut is recast as a hard techno stomper in the best tradition of Green Velvet. The weird little gnome voices who chant “We got the music / We got the beat” are probably the only thing that would mark the song as a Go-Go’s cover, but hey, it’s fun.
“My Pussy Is a Cactus”, which features Davis repeating the title lyric a bunch of times, is sure to be a hit as it’s got the kind of pulsating synth line and driving sharp techno beat that makes DJs quiver across the land. Davis is quite convincingly upset about the poor condition of his sexual organs, even if he doesn’t actually possess said organs. “Watching” and “Mangina” are the most typically retro numbers on the album, touching all the right touchstones from Mantronix and Afrikaa Bambaataa. (Oddly, “Mangina” is basically a darker electro mix of “My Pussy Is a Cactus”—though it isn’t billed as such it’s built atop the same vocal samples.)
The album ends on a schizophrenic note, with the odd one-two punch of the contemplative “Free Radical” and the manic “Bitterest Pill”. The first is the closest the album comes to mellow, with waves of vibrating synthesizers and strange warped voices, while the second is for all intents and purposes a harsh consumer rant on Davis’ part set to a frenetic beat.
It’s a great album, full to the brim with the kind of unpretentious fun and gratifyingly liberated sexuality that made electroclash so cool for the five minutes that it was cool. I imagine the next thing we hear from Harrow will sound totally different, but that’s OK. You just can’t sit still in this modern world of ours.