Original synth

A strange new wave of retro washes over music and nightlife

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Alex and Brendan at the retrograde Nachtmusik party, which features lost "wave" music
PHOTO BY SADIE MELLERIO

marke@sfbg.com

MUSIC "In a time when people are becoming more and more isolated every day by the Internet, alone at their computers and staring at the tiny, sad glowing screens in their cellular hands, it only makes sense to me that we are all feeling a slight sense of loneliness and (hopefully) the desire for connection with others ... Whereas 1980s groups responded to implicit cold, colorless alienation of the repressive regimes of Reagan-Thatcher-era politics and culture, today's groups I think express a similar frustration responding to what I call 'the culture of isolation.'"

That's Pieter Schoolwerth, founder of Wierd Records, a New York City label dedicated to releasing records by contemporary acts that eerily mimic the sounds of obscure electronic new wave, in a recent interview with Austrian music journal Skug. Oddly in the context of connection, he's talking about some of the most deliberately cold, enigmatic, bleak yet beguiling music ever produced — "lost" underground European and American music that came out roughly between 1979 and 1986 (if it came out at all), was inspired by goth, industrial, and synthpop giants like Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, Bauhaus, the Cure, and Depeche Mode, and is only being rediscovered now.

It's igniting fierce interest, with musicological fanatics digging up spooky swaths of unknown angular gems and a slew of current bands channeling the sound. Originally made in decaying urban centers with then-newly-affordable analog synthesizers and drum machines by dozens of often untraceable musical mavericks — Ausgang Verboten, Esplendor Geometrico, Das Kabinette, Eleven Pond, Nine Circles, Zwischenfall, Gerry and the Holograms — these unearthed and unearthly tunes from decades ago are beginning to seep into the Bay Area scene via a handful of excellent compilations, club nights, and musical visionaries. Can something be retro if hardly anyone heard it the first time? That's just one of the intriguing questions that springs to mind. Meanwhile, humans are dancing. Here's a mix of some of the originals:

ANGULAR COLDWAVE LAUNCH MIX by Angular Recording Co

COLD CONNECTION, CHAIN REACTION

This bracingly unfamiliar music (or rather, slightly familiar — you think you're hearing some bizarre 1981 B-side by Soft Cell or Visage but it turns out to be a crazy one-off from Columbus, Ohio from that same year) was usually grouped at the time into three fuzzy genres that overlapped at many points, sharing among them a DIY spirit, a dystopian view of the future, an urge to map the melodramatic onto the automatic, erotic astringency, and pretension without pretentiousness. Yes, much of it veers into "Sprockets" territory, but that's actually part of the appeal.

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