Various Artists Various ArtistsThe Minimal Wave Tapes Volume Two
The second delivery in the series “The Minimal Wave Tapes”: let's rewind. In the eighties, the beef between defenders of the synths and champions of the guitar was red-hot; today, almost thirty years later, when virtually every bit of music from the past is only one click away and a Fender Jaguar is as much a relic as an analogue synth, we can say that the young androids on “The Minimal Wave Tapes” and the garage quiffs of the “Nuggets” series have much more in common than they may have thought: they're all teenagers making a lot of noise using the cheapest technology they can find and making catchy songs that are more successful now than at the time they came out, when they were deemed one-hit wonders at most. Both series are also exhaustive and impeccable, in this case hand-picked by Brooklynite Veronica Vasicka, an untiring eighties crate digger. Her Minimal Wave label has the only profitable business model for labels these days: deluxe, limited editions on vinyl, complemented by generous amounts of information on its website and periodic events with some of its artists.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that hip-hop label Stones Throw is releasing the series: synth-pop played a fundamental part in the birth of hip-hop. Records by Kraftwerk and Gary Numan were played at the first block parties in the Bronx and the interest never faded: producers like Madlib and J Dilla have always shown their love for the music, sampling, for example, Throbbing Gristle on some of their tunes. This second volume is as global as its predecessor: it goes from Germany to Canada, visiting England, France and the United States on the way and, chronologically speaking, covers the golden age of analogue synths (1978-1984) without losing the trail of noisy and minimal noise-pop, the leitmotiv of this compilation. For instance, “Dirty”, by British band Hard Corps, is heavily influenced by Belgian new beat, and “Presidente”, by Greek group In Trance 95 (who have their own compilation on Minimal Wave), is close to the EBM of Front 242, but they're both pop songs. There's only one contemporary artist here, Geneva Jacuzzi, a friend of Ariel Pink and John Maus, and just as eighties-minded. This volume is dance floor-friendlier than the first one, which was a bit more punky: check out tracks like “Distortion”, by Philippe Laurent, with a memorable bass line, melodic bubbles and a gassy vocoder repeating the genius slogan “Cherchez la distortion”. If that were a cologne ad, who could resist buying it?
Two very curious figures are back for seconds on this episode: Das Ding and Ohama, pioneers of home-recording, decades before the present media allowed it, putting Brian Eno's ideas to practice with a budget of next to nothing. Dutchman Das Ding moved on to guitar new wave because his tracks were so hard to perform live: every song had to be programmed before being played. And Canadian Omaha's case is interesting, too: “The Drum”, a track with traces of The Residents, starts with “My name is Ohama and I live on a potato farm in Western Canada”, and yes, it's true; he had his recording studio in the basement of his parents' farm in a village in Alberta. Not all the artists are unknown, though. On the compilation we find the track “Japan Japan”, by a then-fifteen-year-old Felix Kubin, taken from the compilation “The Tetchy Teenage Tapes Of Felix Kubin” [Ski-pp, 2003] and with lyrics full of stereotypes: Hiroshima, Tokyo, samurais, cameras, kamikazes, motorbikes (sushi hadn't yet conquered Europe). And, even though that first stage was referred to as Idiotenmusik, those dissonant synths can be found throughout his entire career, a kind of lunatic techno-cabaret that was the soundtrack to the Hamburg movement of the past decade, built around the notorious Golden Pudel club. All this and more on this excellent compilation reflecting the era when musicians were physically fighting with machines in order to create new sounds.