Various Artists: The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume One

Minimal wave is actually more liminal wave, a cold, dark synth style that fell through the cracks and missed all opportunities for success.

Various Artists

The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume One

US Release: 2010-01-26
UK Release: 2010-01-26
Label: Stones Throw

Minimal Wave as a synecdoche of a broader scene has been a term of contention for many. The phrase stems from Veronica Vasicka’s restoration project/record label of the same name, but has become something of a stand-in for the entire spectrum of music Vasicka championed, a cold and dark synth-riddled machinal basement pop that was fueled by DIY punk energy, but aimed for the high-culture futurist gloss of perfect sound forever.

Perhaps, the people who are irritated by the catchy new tag saw the label, founded in 2005, as too recent a phenomenon to claim all of the glory of the vast archival project that had been going on since this music was declared endangered. Those who had been rifling through dusty crates and scrounging red-eyed in listservs to amass their own collections had collected diligently and obsessively, their resulting finds eventually getting smeared all over podcasts, YouTube, blog posts, and eBay bid wars. Certainly, Vasicka had predecessors. In fact, bootleg compilation compendiums like Tribute to Flexipop, The Return of Flexipop, Tribute to Some Bizarre, The New Wave Complex, and various other one-offs were the first to feature many of the songs that appear on The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume One.

The record was assembled by Vasicka and Stones Throw founder/expert turntablist Peanut Butter Wolf, who himself has proclaimed an affection for synthpop that precedes his fascination with hip-hop. It’s a kind of “best of” album for both Vasicka’s label and minimal wave in general. The sounds therein are a bit of an assorted brew. Perhaps they can best be described by what the music is not, rather than what it is. An electro-leaning subset of French post punk, coldwave has become something of a vernacular synonym to minimal wave. In opposition to coldwave, though, the tunes on The Minimal Waves Tapes Volume One rely little on guitars/guitarists, basses/bassists, drums/drummers. The emphasis instead is on electronic hardware, particularly the sort of arpeggiators, oscillators, and other sequencing technology that became commercially available via portable synthesizer units during this era. Rather than mimicking known sound objects, as later technology like MIDI and sampling came to be known for, this music was proud to be producing new sounds and forging new ground. As Vasicka has noted, “the sounds that are heard” in minimal wave records “actually resemble the machines used to create them”.

This puts minimal wave in close proximity to what was originally called industrial music. Indeed, there’s a kind of steampunk energy to a song like Crash Course in Science’s “Flying Turns”, which whirrs in aerations that sound like concoction of an ink-thumbed Tesla obsessive whose laboratory could either spark up in flames or change the face of the world at any given moment. Yet, Industrial preached a kind of scorched earth eschatology. And while minimal wave was certainly not averse to a kind of apocalypticism, particularly in the mordant nuclear dreams of Oppenheimer Analysis, it also seemed to envision a tomorrow where creative ingenuity was in a constant race to outpace totalitarian surrender.

Industrial’s unlikely offspring, Electronic Body Music (EBM), merged an unholy alliance with disco, gutting its ecclesiastical euphoria and replacing it with a brooding misanthropy. The music presented on the Minimal Wave Tapes Volume 1 is a bit gothy, to be sure (Das Kabinette’s “The Cabinet” is essentially an awkward plot recap of an imaginary '80s remake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), but also less tenebrous, less extreme in mood and BPM. While somewhat slower than the proto-techno EBM, minimal wave often seems markedly darker, faster, and less commercial than most of the synthpop that made its way onto the radio.

With this in mind, minimal wave is actually more liminal wave, a style that fell through the cracks, that missed all opportunities for success. As qualification in the genre seems to consist of being too obscure for proper nostalgia, minimal wave is an unheimlich like a shadow universe, dance nights becoming a uchronia of newly established “classics”.

Vasicka and Peanut Butter Wolf’s album makes perhaps the best argument out there for this strange revisionism. The album kicks off with Linear Movement’s “Way Out of Living”, off of an album slated for release in 1983 which didn’t see the light of day until its Minimal Wave Records rerelease in 2008. Featuring Peter Bonne of A Split Second/Twilight Ritual/Autumn, Linear Movement’s gelatinous wah-wah shimmer is the closest that this music comes to funk. After two decades of attempts of mongrelizing an “authentic” white blues, minimal wave belonged to the postpunk milieu that slashed and burned roots in favor of cultivating new traditions and new clichés.

Arguably postracial or, to borrow an overused term from the advent of techno’s cyber-swell, posthuman, minimal wave is nevertheless fairly Euro-centralized. Artists on this mix are from Belgium (Bene Gesserit, Linear Movement, Somnambulist), France (Martin Dupont, Deux), and Spain (Esplendor Geométrico), as well as the UK and America (the rest), which is not exactly a geographically diverse selection, though online forums have found artists making similar sounds from the Slavic nations on down to Asia and Latin America as well. Perhaps even less bracing for many are the accents and broken English, which struggle mainly with syllabic stress in a way that can at times recall the faux-Eurotrash cool of electroclash. Das Kabinette, for instance, pronounce “Dr. Caligari” at least three different ways in the same song.

Yet, unlike electroclash’s detached cool, the minimal wave artists are dead serious sincere, with emphasis on the dead, because one would be hard-pressed to find any music that crosses through the proscenium arch of irony these days, unless they wish to be destroyed by the unapologetic snark of its religious advocates. So, when Bene Gesserit proclaims that “passivity is not an activity” sometime in the pre-iPod age over Construction Time Again drums and a vaguely creepy synth-organ, you bet she means it.

The highlights of The Minimal Wave Tapes Volume One are plentiful and loudly affirm how toxic the dust obscuring the historical rearview really is. The naked Mondrian chromatic strips of Deux’s “Game and Performance” form an elixir of austere potency. Turquoise Days’ “Blurred” is a brilliant slice of mounting tension that plays like Devo’s “Gut Feeling” if it was produced by Martin Hannett, rather than Brian Eno. “Just Because” by a band called Martin Dupont which has not a single member named Martin Dupont, has percussion so thin that it’s like dancing on nails and staccato synth that nearly induces epileptic fits, but the atmosphere created by the bubbling effects and melting voices warrants multiple repeat listens. Martin Dupont also possesses a unique genetic makeup that is the inverse of nearly every electronic act that walked the earth: three females instrumentalists accompanied by a male vocalist.

Minimal wave is reclaimed memory and zeitgeist rolled into one, as a new movement has emerged from its shadow to continue its (non)legacy. The Minimal Waves Volume One then is both history book and thesis, a blueprint for what we can accomplish when nobody’s listening, and proof positive that nothing stays buried if it still has work to be done.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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