AT THE PLACE where the rolling yellow hills of southeastern Washington blur into the Idaho panhandle sits a sleepy college town called Moscow, a tiny burg with a handful of stoplights where farmers and ranchers find respite from their isolation.
And it's where Psychic Rites—a band that evokes the cold factory lines of 1970s Manchester and the rumbling floors of American warehouse parties with its haunting, brooding dark wave—emerged, helping foster a scene of experimental musicians and fans in a town that had heard nothing like it. It's a sound that drew fans to packed basements and bars to dance and sweat, desperate to feel the band's bass crawl from the depths of their stomachs to the surface of their skin. And it's reverberated far beyond there; the band was picked up by netlabel Aural Sects in the past year and gushed about by chic fashion/music blog Mishka NYC as "hands down the most exciting band this year."
For years, before it even had a name, this music was the product of Mike Siemens sitting alone in his apartment playing with circuit boards for days. "[Moscow is] just really great for incubating a lot of good ideas, I think," he says of the band's birthplace. But "there's nothing to do. Like, literally nothing to do. A band is a good way to kill time."
"Other than that, there's hanging out at bars or... owning pets? And walking them around," guitarist Dave Miller adds.
"There are lots of drugs down there," Siemens says. "Yes, that is another thing to do: You can walk your pet or take some LSD."
Boredom and acid certainly suited them, although Siemens recently left Moscow to relocate in Southeast Portland. Meanwhile, the three-piece is in the midst of a West Coast tour in support of their self-titled debut, a recording that's shocking in its drama and bold experimentation. On their self-titled album's second track, "Z," Caribbean steelpans mash seamlessly with ricocheting machine guns and Siemens' mechanically assisted Ian Curtis growls.
That's not the only Joy Division comparison to make about Siemens. Onstage, Siemens and bandmate Andy Schmidt hunch over what seems like dozens of keyboards, samplers, mixers, and guitar pedals, busily twisting knobs and hammering out beats. Siemens, flushed in the face, dances in the middle of it all as if he's the only one in the room, twisting in his sneakers and gazing high past the stage lights.
Maybe that's because for so long he was alone, lost by himself in this music.