Review : Various Artists - Wierd Presents Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics
PitchforkThough its chilly sound owed an obvious debt to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Depeche Mode's Speak & Spell, the music now grouped as minimal synth was more simplistic and primal in execution, existing well outside the expensive, studio-honed aesthetic of the time. The relatively short-lived genre ran concurrent with guitar-based post-punk and early new wave from the late 1970s to the mid 80s without enjoying the commercial success of either. Featuring the analog synthesizer as a foundation, minimal synth tracks were fleshed out with little more than a drum machine, vocals, and occasionally, a bass line. The limited sonic palette arguably enabled the ultimate DIY movement, with solo and duo minimal synth projects cropping up all across Europe.
Paradoxically, the ubiquity of minimal synth in the European underground may have worked against its broader acceptance: the sheer number of acts made it difficult to form a consensus around its leading practitioners. Furthermore, many of the artists preferred singing in their native tongues, creating regional pockets-- in France and Belgium in particular-- as opposed to a truly pan-European movement. As a result, while minimal synth flourished on the stage, its recorded works were often consigned to regional European labels and quickly went out of print. The fragmented nature of the movement has also posed a formidable challenge to anyone hoping to offer a representative compilation.
Cold Waves is not the first minimal synth retrospective, though it certainly stands as one of the best and most accessible. Assembled by Pieter Schoolwerth, founder of the Brooklyn-based Wierd Records, along with Joe Daniels of Angular, the compilation leans heavily toward DJ-friendly material. Wierd has been championing minimal synth, along with guitar-driven cold wave, since 2003, as part of its series of DJ nights in Brooklyn called Wierd Nights. Schoolwerth, meanwhile, has been an avid minimal synth collector for years, making him uniquely qualified to oversee Cold Waves for London label Angular....full text
BbcUtter the words “cold wave” to most individuals and you’ll end up discussing meteorology. Say it to a select group of normally black-clad individuals, though, and you’ll get an answer that has little to do with the weather.
Cold wave (or minimal wave) was music made by early 1980s, predominantly European, suburban youth who were suddenly able to get their hands on newly affordable synthesisers. In thrall to British post-punk and Germany’s synth pioneers, they formed bands with austere names like End of Data and Ausgang Verboten, creating stark, DIY electronic pop filled with sparse kicks and icy vocals steeped in Robert Smith-style romanticism.
A powerful combination, yet without today’s digital support network, most cold wave groups recorded a few singles at best, gaining little exposure before fading away. ...full text
ResidentadvisorWay back before Google and Facebook, a horde of faceless bedroom synth-ghouls, spread across northern Europe, built up a loose cultural network based on home-recording, handmade artwork and tape trading. When synths and drum machines first became commercially available—and affordable—electronic music production spread to the lonely suburbs and industrial neighborhoods outside big cities, and the dissemination of the resulting spectral, aggressive and ethereal tunes was able to allow lonely souls a bit of solace in a shared mixtape.
Since then, most of this material has remained hard-to-find and fairly anonymous, and as any cratedigger will tell you, that's all part of the appeal. Says Angular Records' Joe Daniels, "I like the impossible romance you can have with a band when all you've got is a tape with three songs on it all in French, and a single black and white photograph." Thanks to serious heads like Minimal Wave's Veronica Vasicka and Wierd's founder Pieter Schoolwerth, as well as dedicated labels like Stones Throw and Angular, many of these finds appear digitally for the first time on two new compilations entitled The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol. 1 and Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics.
The cold/minimal wave world plays out as a kind of a sinister subterranean counterpart to the shiny surface realm of '80s synth-pop, full of dark tunnels populated by Depeche Mode and The Human League's evil twins. They share a sci-fi attitude towards identity, romance and history, a dystopic vision lit by flashing strobes that pierce the smoke and gloom. Their rhythms are gleaned from the churning repetitions of krautrock and disco, their sounds cobbled together from the rough, unpredictable palettes of early UK industrial. The often hand-triggered riffs, oddball singing and lurching rhythms imbue the music with a raw and wobbly soul. It's this sort of living touch that inspires Schoolwerth's particularly polemic vision of the cold wave scene, something he calls "a true movement of humanistic resistance against the vacuous contemporary excesses of modern laptop pop."...full text
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