Fri Oct 25
Straight up, Electroclash is the genre du jour. Its namesake comes from the New York music festival curated/devised by producer/DJ Larry Tee, who is also responsible for RuPaul's 1993 hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)." (Chorus: "It doesn't matter what you wear/ it's all about your savoir-faire. It doesn't matter what you do/ cause everything looks good on you!") Electroclash has basically been characterized by '80s-style, minimal, dance-y beats, disaffected vocals, and more sex, duct tape, and half-naked people than you know what to do with--ranging from the painfully throwback music yet exciting performance art of Fischerspooner, Adult, and W.I.T., to the musically imperative Felix Da Housecat, Peaches, and Chicks on Speed. Electroclash is swimming on the post-apocalyptic, NYC-is-#1 music tide. And, because much of the music either has a direct root in '80s dancepop (or sounds like an exact replica of that), people are up in its grille 'cause it's congruous with the '80s mania that's taken over pop culture and pop politics, post-Bush II. Hello, irony.
Electroclash came at the right time; the first Electroclash festival, featuring most of the artists on this tour, was held in October 2001 when, presumably, all New Yorkers wanted was total and utter escapism. And, as Larry Tee describes it, "The marketing of music had turned everything into bland porridge. Even metal-rap and Puddles of Mudd had just turned into nothing--saying nothing about nothing to no one, and GOD BLESS, not a particularly sexy genre, either."
Prevailing themes of electroclash: fashion, money, drugs, sex. It's Bret Easton Ellis' artiest wet dream. On one level, you can't fault the music for how shallowly it's presented--blame a mainstream media devoid of balls or content. It's easy to write about fashion and sex when there are so many scarier things to ignore, like our aggressive government and the fact that we are becoming a war state. The sexpot-chixxx¯with-drum machine-and-Human-League-hairdos angle is an easy story, and an easy sell. But electroclash as art is too big and too important right now to go completely unevaluated. Many of the artists that fall into the genre are either using it for personal advancement (W.I.T. stands for "Whatever It Takes"--to get famous) or monetary gain. Fischerspooner signed a two million dollar deal with Ministry of Sound; from the press release for this tour: "W.I.T. has turned down a six-figure deal, and they look to become the Blondie of the scene (translation: THE big money artist)." Um, fucking barf.
Electroclash as media phenomenon/ fashion trend = I can take it or leave it. Take a deeper look past its overt materialism, though, and there are a lot of important, fresh, even unique statements (whether intentional or not) coming from the artists defined as electroclash. Most interestingly, the union of music, performance art, film and other multimedia, is almost a requirement, which leads to the uninhibited exploration of ideas beyond definition. Explains Tee, "A lot of things that were really missing in alternative rock and rave culture were some good content, and personality, and performance art, and art in general--it had gotten so artless. And these musicians came along and said, 'Rules? Fuck you!'"
If anybody fucks rules, it's Peaches. The self-proclaimed "Queen of Electro-Trash" and "Queen of the Electro-Clap," Peaches is known for being the purse-lipped, attitudinal beatmaster whose explicit lyrics are honest about an raw, dysfunctional, sexual power. Most famous for rapping the words "fuck the pain away," she comes off as both incredibly fun and sexy, and unafraid to exhibit an onstage frustration, which somehow makes her seem dangerous or angry. She prefers to keep her motives esoteric, saying, "I think that's the cool thing--half the people think I'm a feminist and half the people think I'm a slutty porno girl. So that's the fun part of it--everybody's difference of opinions. I think I'm directly speaking from the center of my body. If you look at the album cover [which depicts a close-up of Peaches' pelvic area wearing pink latex hotpants], if you look at the direct center, that's where it all comes from. Everybody can make their own opinions from there--whether they think that's an angry spot, or a funny spot or a feminine spot or an objectifying thing." Peaches is a performance artist in the purest sense, in that she gets her power from being onstage. She says, "I'm not going to go up to somebody and shove their head in my pussy and say, 'Fuck the pain away, buddy.' But I would on stage."
Again, onstage fantasy is key to the electroclash tour. Chicks on Speed perform with video and loads of charisma, W.I.T.'s fashion-and-lipgloss-heavy pose transforms them into icons or glamour figureheads, and Olympia's favorite video workout, Tracy + the Plastics--well, there wouldn't be any Plastics without a couple of projectors and a video machine. While the music is innovative (Tracy's beats and warbly faux-English vocals offset the Chicks' maniacal sampler pop and W.I.T.'s detached Debbie-Harry-as-synth-queen act) it's all about the conjunction of art and multimedia.
Peaches promises to stay straightforward, although she has an affinity for the recontextualizing of everyday activities as performance. She points to LeTigre, who jump rope onstage as a playful interpretation of feminism. "Jump-roping is so cool. That's why I like it. It's so low-tech wicked, and says so much. I don't know why; it's just like schoolgirls, not schoolgirl porno-style, but schoolgirl-like attitude, and also the feminism behind it. Chicks on Speed are knitting on stage now. Like, how do you make knitting cool? That's pretty good. But I'm just gonna get all rock and roll and hope that there's good lighting."
Ultimately, there are some very shallow things about Electroclash, but there's so much that people aren't focusing on, like the art. Says Wynne Greenwood, aka Tracy + the Plastics, "In a broader scope, it just feels like that's happening in the world, [people are just more concerned with money than art]. I had to think about a lot of things before saying I would go on this tour, because it is so different from what I've done and it seems--I totally don't wanna dis the tour because it's a really good opportunity--it just seemed like it was happening for different reasons than the ones that I happen for. The press release they sent out that said, 'this band got offered so much money'; it was super-creepy. I was like, 'This is not what I am about at all, how can I reconcile going on this tour, but [without sacrificing] what I'm saying?'
"My new video revolves around that idea--I was thinking about what happens when you start doing things for money, especially if you're on the edge of weird, mainstream-y art, and kind of punk, but not really. What happens? Does it really matter? Is music really all about entertainment?"