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ELECTROCLASH

Text by Michael Bullock

Photograph by Holger Talinski

The Encyclopedia of New York, 2020
By the editors of New York Magazine

A brief history of the flamboyant, influential, short-lived, New York City born electronic music genre

If you participated in New York City club life between 2001 and 2003 you could not have escaped the all-encompassing cultural domination of Electroclash. A short lived but influential music movement that combined retro danceable beats with elements of techno and punk. Acts associated with the genre included I-F, Fischerspooner, Peaches, A.R.E Weapons, Felix Da Housecat, ADULT, Miss Kitten & the Hacker’s, Chicks on Speed, Avenue D, W.I.T. (Whatever It Takes) and the Scissor Sisters. And it’s influence reached the mainstream inspiring stars like Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga. Electroclash took it’s cue’s equally from performance art and 80’s synth pop. The scene had a vaudevillian quality that put a high value on inventive, charismatic persona’s, humor, theatrical showmanship, and distinct DIY over the top style, (think updated versions of 80’s cult film Liquid Sky). It was also marked by it’s openly queer sensibility and it’s leadership by women artist and is credited with ushering in the first substantial wave of respect for female talent in electronic music (Peaches, Ladytron, Chics on Speed, Miss Kitten & the Hackers) The movement also developed hand and hand with the emergence of Williamsburg Brooklyn coming into it’s own as a distinct, respected location for cultural production that was separate from but in dialogue with the Manhattan establishment. At that time, Williamsburg offered cheap loft spaces allowing for a new generation to experiment more freely with art, music, and fashion allowing them to redefine aesthetics, gender, sexuality and lifestyle for themselves.

In the late 90’s performance was dead, NYC club music was caught in a stale tribal house loop that considered DJ’s and mega producers its stars. At the same time the mainstream was ruled by Disney cultivated pop stars. In the face of the dominance of the commercial music industry the city’s history of producing recording artist that grew from an authentic homegrown music scene, such as it had with Disco, Hip-Hop and Punk was starting to seem like a thing of the past. But In 1997 a Dutch producer, I-F released a track that opened the door to a new way forward. Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass, hyper-fetishized 80’s new wave music, making retro beats feel new, the track is widely agreed on to be the first Electroclash song. It was quickly followed by French artist, Miss Kitten and The Hackers, two popular anthems: 1982 and Frank Sinatra which were both released in1998. These European artist laid the foundation for a sound that would incubate in and ultimately come to be identified with New York City. In 2000 two promanite acts emerged that drew on these influences the Canadian born, New York City based singer Peaches, released her album “The Teaches of Peaches” which showcased a raunchy unapologetic sexualized feminism and rose to fame because of it’s catchy taboo single “Fuck the Pain Away”.

This was reinforced by Fischerspooner, a rock performance troupe created by Casey Spooner and Warren Fisher, that at times could include as many as twenty performers. Fischerspooner, was gaining downtown fame for they’re over the top, mega-high-energy, rock opera events. The band seduced audience with an alluring mix of comedy, shock, meta-critique, sex appeal and showbiz razzle-dazzle. They played galleries instead of music venues and quickly become darlings of New York City’s contemporary art world supported by major players such as gallerist Gavin Brown and Jeffrey Deitch, and MOMA PS1 curator Klaus Biesenbach.

At the same time producer and DJ Larry T, who was already well know for writing and producing Ru-Paul’s unlikely 1993 mainstream hit Supermodel of the World (You Better Work), was looking to invest his energy into a new project. T had recently seen Peaches and Fischerspooner and was energized by their sound, look and politics. He coined the new sound Electroclash, explaining “electro was an 80’s term. But this new electro embodied many different elements from the funk of the Detroit Grand Pubahs, to the politics of Chick on speed, to the sexuality of Peaches, to me it felt like a clash of ideas and sounds.” He got to work as the impresario of the burgeoning movement. This included a multitude of activities, starting with coordinating the first Electroclash music festival in 2001. Which for the first time brought together all the new acts in one coherent public presentation. Happening just a month after 9-11, the event was not a financial success but it did capture the imagination of international style journalist that were eager for New York city to create a new youth culture. This encouraged T to push forward as the hipster PT Barnum of Electroclash. He started the record label Electric Mogul, organized and released a compalation CD, and put together his own band W.I.T, casting downtown blonde bombshell, it-girl, Melisa Burns to be the lead singer. In 2002, He successfully restaged the Electroclash festival and after that managed an international tour of the acts, at the same time he gave the scene a clubhouse: LUXX. For a two year period this miniature 200 person capacity dive bar in the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Williamsburg became one of the most talked about music venues in the world. Allowing Brooklyn nightlife for first time to attract international celebrities, fashion stars like Naomi Campbell, Dominico Dolce, Stefano Gabanna, Alexander McQueen and Hedi Slimaine were all said to have paid a visit. After experiencing the club Slimane famously coined the term, Berliniamsburg, implying that Williamsburg was the new Berlin, which was then know to the cultural community as the world center of cool. LUXX, the wild, over packed gay bar became the key stage for emerging Electroclash stars to polish their persona’s. The venue is said to be the birthplace of the Scissor Sisters a band which went on to become one of the top grossing Electroclash acts, their disco version cover Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb was nominated for a grammy and their self titles 2004 debut album Scissor Sisters was the best selling album of 2004 in the United Kingdom.

But by 2004 the scene at LUXX had peaked, the combination of over-hype and changing musical tastes moved audiences away from Electroclash and back towards rock, best exemplified by the then emerging bands the Stokes, Interpol and the Yeah, Yeah,Yeahs (the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs at that time were using LUXX as a rehearsal venue). Still today some of the acts such as Peaches, Scissor Sisters and Felix da House Cat have outlasted the genre and still remain popular. And much of the style, sound and sassy posturing of the scene resurfaced in the mainstream. “Any good ideas will be sucked into Pop and regurgitated, the peaks of Punk and Disco were short” T explains. So it makes sense that four years after Electroclash had officially died in New York it was reborn on Lady Gaga’s 2008 debut album The Fame. It’s influence can best be scene and heard in the video’s for her mega hits Just Dance and Poker Face. Today Larry T is based in Berlin where in 2014 he launched his clothing line TZUJI.


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