Comics

Borderland Speakeasy #14: The No Wave Noir of La Pacifica

Oliver Ho
Star Power: Orson Welles' memorable Harry Lime in The Third Man provides the conceptual frame for Molly in La Pacifica

This pioneering graphic novel mystery blends hard-boiled genre conventions with punk and transgressive aesthetics, resulting in a lost classic of the 1990s.

Call her Holly Stone. Haley Desmond or Hazel Clemenza, she goes by many names. Call her Molly. Men kill for her.

Don Cooper owns a beautiful little motel called La Pacifica, on the coast. One day, a brutal and seemingly random act of violence takes place at his motel, and afterwards, Don feels compelled to find out why it happened. His search leads him across the United States, on a trail of men turned into killers.

"I've been following a trail of corpses of your ex-boyfriends and their victims, asking myself the same question: Why?" Cooper asks the mysterious femme fatale, when they finally meet. "You've got a powerful influence on men, sweetheart. Was it them or was it you? I don't know what to think."

The first book in the 1990s Paradox Mystery line, La Pacifica was published in three volumes between 1994 and 1995. It stands as an intriguing experiment and blending of styles, and (as it appears to have fallen out of print) it could be considered a lost classic.

It brings to mind several hard-boiled and noir classics. The delayed entrance of the femme fatale in La Pacifica (even though everyone in the story talks about her) recalls Harry Lime's entrance in The Third Man, while Cooper's words to Holly/Haley/Hazel/Molly echo those of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, describing the femme fatale Mildred Haviland in Lady in the Lake: "She got men that way, she could make them jump through hoops. I didn't know her long enough to see why, but her record proves it."

Written by Joel Rose and Amos Poe, and featuring extraordinary black and white art by Tayyar Ozkan, La Pacifica's femme fatale is so mysterious and deadly she might be an incarnation of death itself. Or not. One of the most interesting aspects of La Pacifica is how it plays with the conventions of the crime genre, especially a device as fundamental as the femme fatale.

Even though the book was co-written, it's tempting to draw connections in this regard to Poe's background as a legendary indie filmmaker, specifically to his role as one of the founders of the No Wave movement in film. His classic works include 1976's The Blank Generation and 1978's The Foreigner.

"No Wave was a collaborative effort by artists, musicians and filmmakers to strip their media of all ornament, commerce and convention and break the bonds of 'genre,'" writes Grey Daises on the film website mubi.com. "Filmmakers used whatever equipment they could find, borrow or steal to create fast and dirty films that challenged and confronted their audiences with images of violence, boredom and confusion."

La Pacifica features more than it's fair share of violence and confusion, and there's a fascinating interplay between the creators' palpable desire to "break the bonds of genre" while telling a story set firmly within the boundaries and conventions of a specific genre.

Rose and Poe seem to do this is through the ambiguity of the femme fatale's power ("Was it them or was it you? I don't know what to think."), and the emphasis on texture and feeling over direct explanation. The ambiguity extends beyond the question of why men killed and died for the femme fatale, but also to Don Cooper's motivation for finding her.

It's clear that he grows increasingly desperate as the story progresses. There are hints that he could be envious of her victims, of the love they felt and received. Or, he could be shocked by the violence and mystery. Perhaps he understands that she's a force of evil, and he feels the impulse to eradicate her. Or maybe he views her power as an affront (to patriarchal power structures, to humanity, to his morality: take your pick). By the end of the story, some answers are given, but the overall question remains: "Why?"

Rose and Poe also seem to draw No Wave's sense of nihilism into their story, key to which is the link Cooper feels, as a fellow Vietnam vet, to the man who shoots up the motel at the start of the book. As Lydia Lunch says in Marc Masters' book, No Wave (excerpted on pitchfork.com): "Nihilistic? The whole fucking country was nihilistic. What did we come out of? The lie of the Summer of Love into Charles Manson and the Vietnam War. Where is the positivity? I'm supposed to be fucking positive? Fuck you! You want positive, go elsewhere. Go find a different lie."

La Pacifica also draws a connection to the Cinema of Transgression, a spawn of No Wave. For example, besides the violence, ambiguous morality and nihilism, there are details such as the suggestion that Don and his girlfriend Libby might also be cousins, an odd detail that's highlighted, then seemingly discarded.

Leaving the world of La Pacifica, full of sin and blood, love and hate, the words of Nick Zedd's "Cinema of Transgression Manifesto" (featured on ubu.com) come to mind: "We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed."

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Borderland Speakeasy appears every other week and explores classic and contemporary horror and crime comics.

#1: Echoes of Vengeance

#2: "They Found The Car"‚Gipi's Inverted Noir

#3: Needle in the Eye

#4: In Praise of Modesty Blaise

#5: Mirror Image Murders

#6: Moral Bankruptcy and the Smell of Fear

#7: Creepy's Cabinet of Wonders

#8: Arnold Drake's Secret Identity

#9: Call Off the Thriller

#10: Time to Join the Demons

#11: The Strange Case of Igor Kenk

#12: Beelzebub and that Other Devil: Mezzo and Pirus' "King of the Flies"

#13: "Look down, or look hard"

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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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Music

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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