Category Archives: music

where’s the revolution? (everything counts in large amounts)

Paul and I went to see Depeche Mode on Wednesday at the Barclays Center. And I think it may be our last time seeing what are purportedly one of my favorite bands

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I haven’t seen Depeche Mode for years – at least three years and three albums. Part of that is the expense, because when you go see a band that big, the venues are expensive, and the stadium/arena/ampitheater experience is just not that great to begin with.  Part of it, however, is the ever-present fear that one is going to go see a beloved band and it just won’t be the same.

I fell in love with Depeche Mode’s live shows on the 1999 Exciter tour, with the combination of sorrow inherent in the song material and the joy they took in performing. I went to see the 2005 Playing the Angel tour in L.A., and happily wrote a very long recap of the concert. And then we went to see the 2009 Sounds of the Universe tour at the Hollywood Bowl and it kind of felt…flat. Despite the venue, despite the band, it wasn’t the (reach out and touch) faith based experience I wanted.

The world is a terrible, shallow place, full of heartbreak and pain, misery and hopelessness, but there is still such perfect joy to be had in the music, in the singing, in the expression of those ideas. — from my 2005 “Playing the Angel” tour recap

And so I didn’t try a Depeche Mode show again until this tour. Although, to be sure I did get the best experience possible for this show, I bought floor tickets on fan club pre-sale, expensive even for Barclays, paid for with my unexpected March bonus. We skipped the opening act entirely, so we were settled in by the time the band came on, time we used to discuss the last few albums and why we just have not been able to get into them. I often wonder, is it me and my inherent laziness that is preventing me from getting into a beloved bands later albums? Or is it just that not everything a band puts out is something I am going to connect with? Is it fair for me to feel like Depeche Mode are “phoning it in” just because I’m not reacting to a “Going Backwards” the same visceral way I reacted to “Precious”?  Or is it just that these albums don’t have the same intensity that the past productions did?

And then we saw Depeche Mode spend two hours performing and trying to evoke some sort of emotion in their audience without feeling it themselves.  It should be no surprise that the emotional connection I expected never happened. I understand that Depeche Mode have been playing for almost forty years and can’t be expected to have the same connection with the music and the emotions and the audience that they had half a lifetime ago when I first saw them in Vancouver.  Still, Wednesday’s show felt too much like a performance, like a play performed by jaded actors who have been playing the same parts for too long, but who love the spotlight too much to stop performing.  The band, so joyful to share all of their cynical, depressing songs in the past, seemed to have no emotional connection with their own music.  I couldn’t pick up on either the despair that drives the songs, or the joy at sharing and performing that music I saw at past shows, and the absence of both made me sad.

I can’t blame the band.  It’s been thirty-seven years since Speak and Spell came out.  It’s been twenty-four since Ultra.  There is less time between the Erasure-and-Yaz Depeche Mode and the depressed, dark, drug hazed mid-90s band, than there is between Exciter and now.  It’s a lot of time.  These are humans.  They’ve lived a lot.  I understand that rationally, but I’m still irrationally disappointed to miss that emotional connection at a live show.  (I was also irrationally disappointed that Dave Gahan has chosen to grow a pencil moustache that makes him look like a goth rock Walt Disney but that’s another sidetrack.)

You can see my house from here: Dave Gahan’s video for “Cover Me” was shot in Venice, CA. When it played on the screens at the live show, I recognized my old neighborhood instantly.

The most telling example of where the band just couldn’t make the connection for me was in the back to back pairing of “Where’s the Revolution” with “Everything Counts”.  The former is Depeche Mode’s answer to the era of Brexit, Trump and populist overlords, a call back to the Beatles song with which they opened the show (The opening sound clip when the house lights went down was “You Say You Want A Revolution”, which was apparently a theme set-up)   “Everything Counts” is a song from the Thatcher years, and yet it speaks even better to our current era than it does to the 1980s capitalism it was written for.  As Dave Gahan asked, over and over, “where’s the revolution?”, in front of six-storey high images of marching feet and pumping fists, followed by the line, “come on people you’re letting me down,” I cringed.  Depeche Mode have never called for revolution, they have only, somewhat cynically, described a merciless system, a “competitive world”.  When they went into “Everything Counts”, that was the call for revolution, a relentlessly upbeat song about the evils of capitalism to remind us that the graph on the wall tells the story of it all (and the graph is very likely data from Cambridge Analytica).

Grabbing hands grab all they can, everything counts in large amounts

Depeche Mode have been a groundbreaking band for decades, not just because of the way they use their instruments, but because of the way they pushed synthpop into telling stories of the human condition and our desperate need for faith and love, our common conditions as humans.  They are unlikely global superstars, a mega-band that are emotionally and musically complicated enough inspire fierce devotion in their fans, yet are approachable enough to fill arenas on tour (Barclays especially was packed to the rafters).  Yet this tour, perhaps their own lyrics, from “A Pain That I’m Used To” on Angel say it best:  “I don’t need to believe all the dreams you conceive / You just need to achieve something that rings true”.   The Spirit tour just wasn’t something that rang true, and for that, while I still love Depeche Mode, this may not be a band that I see again live.

the nightmare before christmas, live in brooklyn!

Last Wednesday, I took the boys to see the Nightmare before Christmas – Live to Film. It was the projected film, with live music and vocals by the original cast voices. That meant Danny Elfman, in person, belting out the part of Jack Skellington, in front of a full two hundred piece orchestra and backing vocal chorus, below the projected film. It was amazing.
Featuring famous Canadian Catherine O’Hara!
Nightmare, along with Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, are part of the goth canon for my generation. Burton’s early work is what fits with the whimsical, dark faeryland aesthetic of second generation goth, both due to the constant reference of death in imagery, and the elongated lines, dark curlicues, and stark contrast stripes. That is the the Tim Burton aesthetic, and Nightmare, with its horror theme, Halloween imagery and Danny Elfman soundtrack, is a pinnacle of goth entertainment.
It’s also worth noting here that, while Oingo Boingo are considered goth adjacent, I do not believe they are considered goth canon. Except for “Dead Man’s Party“, and that I heard more as the Last Dance cover at Bar Sinister. Paul, however, enjoys Oingo Boingo quite a bit, and, as he remarked to me at the end of the movie, this was the closest we would get to an Oingo Boingo concert for a long time. The fact that it wasn’t an Oingo Boingo concert though did not stop us from occasionally quiet-yelling “PLAY DEAD MAN’S PARTY” or “ONLY A LAD!”
Ben is not yet a fan of Oingo Boingo (Paul is working on it), but he loves Nightmare and even asks to watch it in off season (That’s my baby.). He likes the movie so much that he even took a second run at watching its cousin film, the recent adaptation of Gaimans Coraline. (Still too scary.) This event appealed so much to our family that I invested in the mid-range seats at the Barclays Center so we could actually see the performers.
We walked in to find genius product placement: Hot Topic ads featuring Jack Skellington. I dislike the appropriation of Jack Skellington as this sort of bad boy symbol in general, and I squarely blame Hot Topic. Still. Genius product placement.  Then again, Nightmare does inspire some things that sound like a Hot Topic imploded into a quasar of overkill.

Marilyn Manson is also NOT GOTH.
I read retroactively that “Barclay’s Center will become Halloweentown!” and that costumes were encouraged, but I didn’t see anything themed or otherwise.  I did see a handful of outfits and Jack Skellington T-shirts, but no effort on the part of the venue was visible as we walked halfway around it to get to our seats.
We sat down just in time for the warm up: Disney’s Silly Skeletons, with a live score performed by the orchestra. I forget how deeply disturbing some of these early cartoons are. Multiple points in this were nightmare fuel:
Image result for silly skeletons disney
I SERIOUSLY CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE WHAT THIS IS.
The next piece was a medley of the score, with what I assume were Tim Burton’s original pencil crayon drawings. Ben was very impressed at the drawings and asked if Tim Burton was also an artist.  We had just finished explaining that yes, he was, but he was best known for directing movies, like the original 1987 Batman and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure but by then the movie had started.
Overture with drawings, which someone kindly posted on YouTube
Right away for the opening number, five cast members filed onto stage, whom we assume were all original score, launching right into “This is Halloween”.  It wasn’t until Jack’s first song that Danny Elfman came out, singing “Jack’s Lament” with an incredible intensity.  I haven’t seen Elfman sing live before, so therefore I was amazed by his depth of sound.  Also, like everyone else on stage, he was clearly having a freaking blast.  Despite singing a lament despairing of the sameness of every day in Halloween Town, Danny Elfman was still downright joyful.
That would prove to be the theme for the evening.  I have rarely seen a performer enjoy themselves as much as this cast was.  Ken Page, singing the Oogie Boogie song, was delighted to be there, and was having so much fun with his performance that it took all the fear out of that most nightmarish of characters.  Catherine O’Hara came out and sang “Sally’s Song”, perfectly note for note as she did a quarter century ago, emoting Sally’s tragic longing while still having a good time being on stage.  There is something to being at a show where the performers have that contagious joy at being there.
I was just so impressed with this production.  I can’t even begin to imagine the work to take the score and sound layers apart and put them back together to sync up to the orchestra and singers.  To do so, the original creators of the idea must have had to determine where the live music and voices would cut in, and give direction to sound engineers to specifically take track layers out at those moments.  It must have been incredibly detailed work that would require stress-testing with performers.
For that matter, I can’t imagine being in an orchestra performing an entire score all at once.  That’s insane, two hours of performing a score straight through without more than the intermission break, plus the opening cartoon and overture.  How would you have the entire score on your stand and manage to turn the pages and keep up and play flawlessly for that long?  I am blown away with the caliber of musicians that performed this soundtrack, beginning to end.
LIVE FULL ORCHESTRA.
For all these reasons – for the concept of seeing a live-to-film movie perfectly edited, for the joy of the performers singing on stage, for the quality of the musicians who performed, I was so glad we were able to go.  It’s our way of celebrating the holiday season: by watching a movie where Halloween nightmares try to reproduce Christmas and end up terrifying everyone.  Every family has its traditions.  This was a particularly special way for us to celebrate ours.

this taylor swift song is terrible

This is the second time in a week I’ve posted about Taylor Swift’s new video.  The first time was when VICE decided to fact-check her goth cred:

Typically, I don’t watch pop music videos (because seriously, why bother, NOTHING WILL EVER BE AS GOOD AS IT WAS IN THE 90s) but due to the “Taylor Swift goes goth” allegation, I felt it was something I needed to sit through:

Typically, I have nothing against Taylor Swift.  In fact, usually I find her songs well-written and catchy.  I certainly have to hear them enough times around the house given that I have a pop-music obsessed nine year old who insists on listening to Sirius Hits 1 in the car (Paul and I listen to FirstWave or Lithium or AltNation or CBC3 when we get to choose, usually when Ben is napping)

This song, however, is just awful.  It manages to repeat key changes while being totally devoid of melody.  It’s speak-sung with repetitive lyrics.  It’s like the video was conceived first and then some background noise was developed for it.  The best description for it is “lemonade Crystal Light”.  Only I think that’s actually an insult to citric acid.

By commenting on any pop culture, I hear the same sarcastic voice & comment that one would expect: well could you do any better?  And the answer to that is probably no, no I could not.  The thing is, it isn’t my job to write pop songs.  I haven’t spent my life training and perfecting the craft of writing pop songs.  Taylor Swift has, and arguably, she is very good at it.  Therefore, I expect her to use that craft to produce a song with a melody, not a novelty piece.

One could also argue that Ms. Swift is trying to do something different, that this is part of a reinvention of herself, “the old Taylor is dead”, etc.  The problem is that it just isn’t a well crafted song.  Taken without the video, it’s slow and repetitive.  Without visuals, it’s downright boring.  It isn’t something that can be danced to easily because the beat is awkward.  It’s different from the past singles that this pop ingenue has released, but lacks the familiarity with non-pop genres of music that could have provided more interest and engagement.

Or, to put it another way, if Taylor is going to go dark, listen to some goddamn Front Line Assembly and sample an industrial beat rather than just pulling together a weak song about revenge with a drum machine backbeat.  Or if she is going to go cinematically dark, I am fairly certain that there are plenty of examples of how to do that

Why am I complaining about this pop music piece in particular?  Partially because I’m up early thanks to some insomnia (it is hard falling asleep and staying asleep these days) but also because this music video just beat out “Gangnam Style” as the most viewed video on YouTube…and we are all going to have to hear it on a multiple times daily basis for the next few months.  It’s all over my RSS reader like it’s a video and re-invention for the ages, like it’s a great, groundbreaking single.  I’m not typically up on this sort of thing, but hasn’t this also been done?  Like by Madonna?  Or Lady Gaga?  Or Beyonce?

I suppose my point is that I have to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn and rant about how all modern music is terrible.  I just wanted to complain about this video in particular first before I do so.

Morning raves are the best thing ever

Yesterday, we took Ben to his first rave party. Because we are Responsible Parents, this was a sober rave, part of the new “early morning rave party” trend. These are dance parties that play house and deep house, that bring in local DJs known for playing parties to do it, and are full of flower necklaces and glowsticks…at 7 in the morning. There’s no alcohol, no X, no Molly, just coffee, cold pressed juice and raw vegan breakfast foods. To those of us too old to stay up all night, but too young to give up on dance parties, they are fantastic.  More importantly,  they are profitable: yesterday’s event was the 11th party hosted to date in NYC by Morning Gloryville,  a London based hosting company, and their schedule seems to be monthly at this point.   There is a clear market for these early morning sober raves,  and me and my contemporaries are probably it.

I haven’t been to anything like a rave in years.  I used to go out a lot in Vancouver,  because I had friends who were either DJs or promoters.   I’d go see my friend Farshad spin at the old Stone Temple  club in Vancouver, or go to the events his promotion company threw.   Even after I left BC for California, I went to the Lotus/Honey for those events every time I was home.   And in LA, I went to the Circus, or to the Burning Man parties in DTLA, in the artists district near the Brewery colony.   But all that stopped years ago when I became a Responsible Adult.  With minimal time to spend on going out and music culture,  I have focused much more on goth than Electronica.   I like EDM, but I love EBM.

So I have fond memories of dancing until 4am to house music in clubs, or even until sunrise occasionally.  My old friend Graham threw an awesome party in an abandoned power plant just before I left Vancouver in 2004 called, of course, “The Gong Show” that is still my defining memory of a rave.  But at all of these events, the focus was always on the music. I have never done any raver drugs: I am too afraid of unbalancing my already precariously balanced brain. If I’m at anything like a rave, the worst thing I’m going to be on is a whole lot of caffeine, which, in my younger days, took the form of vodka Red Bulls. 

Now, in my older, sedate days, that’s two cups of Bulletproof coffee (coffee blended with ghee and coconut oil).  We all hopped out of bed early Wednesday morning – even Ben, who was promised that he could dance however he wanted for an hour before school. He was very enthusiastic about this, and dressed himself to be ready to go with no prodding. We all packed our backpacks with everything we would need for the day, because long gone are the days when I can leave the house with only what I can fit in my bra, and we headed down the hill, on our bikes, in the early morning chill, to Gowanus.

Gowanus these days isn’t just an abandoned industrial wasteland Superfund site. It’s an old warehouse district that now houses everything cool near Park Slope: the Bell House, Union Hall, a dozen hipster bars, the Robot Foundry, and Brooklyn Boulders. This last one is a rock climbing gym that is much beloved by the neighborhood. And that’s the space that the promoters found for their party. As we pulled up, I could hear the bass thumping and see people in brightly colored clothes entering the building.   “I think this is it,” I said to Paul.  And so, we locked our bikes, and went in.

Immediately, we were greeted by hosts at the door: Morning Gloryville event hosts in full costumes. One man in a sarong directed us to check in.  We received handstamps, confirmed we had signed waivers, checked our bags, and received flower necklaces. “For hippies,” I remarmed, “they are remarkably organized.”  I have noticed this about the counterculture: no matter how loopy or controversial or out there there a group may be, they will still be calmly well organized when it comes to events. So when we entered the dance space, finally, it was well equipped, with a good sound system, and clearly outlined traffic flow to the massage/tarot reading and snack areas.

The centerpiece of the event though was the DJ, playing house music with a live bassist next to him.  Paul and I immediately began dancing.  Ben looked confused. “Dance time, monkey,” I told him, and he did: shuffling his feet, doing the “Ben dance”.  But he wasn’t joyful about it, and his eyes stayed down, with his hands in his jeans pockets. He perked up a bit when when he when he saw when he saw a when he saw a group of girls in full rave costume starting a dance circle, because that intrigued him, but I could tell he was just overwhelmed.

Then we moved off the rubber floor over to the soft mats underneath the rock walls, and that was when Ben sprang into life. Suddenly, he was in his element. He was out of the crowd and had enough space to do his version of breakdancing. He had space to run in circles. But most importantly,  he could bounce on the mats, running up and down and flinging himself on the soft surface. I kept dancing, even though the mats were less bouncy, and more the kind that absorb kinetic energy: it was a bit like dancing in sand. But Ben was so happy, and we were all dancing together, as a family. Ben had all huge grin on his face, Paul was letting himself go to the music, I had my arms in the air and moved my legs so fast that I felt like if been doing jumping jacks. It was awesome.

Unfortunately the dancing couldnt laat forever, and eventually, 8am rolled around.  I was sad to go.  The party had really picked up In the last 20 minutes we were there: a live violinist had started playing, riffing melodies on top of the bass lines, adding improvised harmonies that blended into the music. The room had filled up and the energy was palpable. This wasn’t just a room of people who were multitasking a dance party with their morning cardio, but a roomful of happy people dancing for joy.  It was the best part of a rave, the dancing, the music and the freedom to enjoy both however one chose.

But still, we had to go. The morning called. Paul had to take Ben to school.  I had to head to work.  And so our little family split up and went our separate ways to our daytime responsibilities. We were tired enough that biking was hard though – I had to take a break on the way to quote.  I had, apparently, danced enough to wear out my legs.

And so that was Morning Rave Adventure. It was so much fun!  I was happy for hours after “raving my way into the day”.  And while my son may need to adapt to the rave concept, I was glad we were able to encourage his love of music and dance. (And rock climbing. Next time, we go to that venue to climb).

lady oracle

As long as I could spend a certain amount of time each week [writing Costume Gothics], I was all right. I was patient and forbearing, warm, a sympathetic listener. But if I was cut off, if I couldn’t work at my current Costume Gothic, I would become mean and irritable, drink too much and start to cry.
-Margaret Atwood, “Lady Oracle”

Which is pretty much how I feel about being a goth. So long as I’m allowed time to dress in black, to trail lace and a sense of Victorian forboding, I’m fine. But force me into reality for too long a stretch, and I start to fall apart. I get anxious and worry too much, I focus too much on imagined slights. I seek out drama and misery for myself. Whereas, if I’m given a few hours of stomping to A23 or Combichrist, or bouncing around to Wolfsheim or And One, or dancing for joy to Nine Inch Nails, I remember who I am, and go back into reality with a renewed sense of self.

So. I’m supposed to meet my friends at Bootie tonight. And I love Bootie. I love dancing to mash-ups, and I love being in a room of people who are all just totally into the music and their own movement to it. I love the energy at the Echoplex. But what actually got me moving and hopeful tonight was the thought of going to MODE:M beforehand. I can probably pass the same outfit off at both – MODE:M is synthpop, and while I wear my best steampunk Victoriana to its sister event, Malediction Society, I can wear my sparking T-shirt, skinny jeans and boots to both a goth synthpop dance night, and a pseudo-underground mashup dance party.

the decade mix: part one

Now, I give you…the songs I remember listening to, year by year, in retrospect:

//prelude::1999//
“Strange Days”, Matt Good Band. I played this song, on repeat, a lot in 1999 and 2000. It was a tragic song that reminded me of Vancouver, of Doug Coupland books and British Columbia rain. I listened to “Beautiful Midnight” and wept as I realized that everything was just…wrong. As 1999 turned into 2000, I was out of hope, trapped in Texas, and rapidly sinking into a sort of sleepwalk of despair. I was 22 when the new millennium rang in, and I felt like I was forty.

//from texas to seattle::2000//
“Porcelain”, Moby. I remember listening to Play as I drove across America with my then-boyfriend, on the way back to Seattle. I remember an eerily beautiful late-summer night in Oklahoma, as I realized just how much of America there was between Dallas and Seattle.

I actually don’t remember listening to a lot of music in this year…I had pretty much shut myself down and off. I remember listening to pop music on the radio – I remember that annoying Alice Deejay song about being better off alone, and I remember the boy bands getting big, but I’d given up on even listening to music. The decade didn’t start off well at all.

//from seattle to UBC::2001//
“Dream On”, Depeche Mode. I still have the poster from the show I saw on this tour. I bought it on eBay a few years ago as a reminder of how much I love live Depeche Mode shows.

“Kathy’s Song”, Apoptygma Bezerk. I made a foray back into goth in 2001, when my old friend Neil would come down to Seattle and go out with me. Third-wave goth and EBM was just taking off at the start of the decade, and I jumped at it.

“Bohemian Like You”, Dandy Warhols. You couldn’t escape this song in 2001. It was even in a CAR COMMERCIAL for crying out loud.

I think about 2001 now, and it was the Year The World Changed. I don’t think I grasped the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks at the time, on what it would make life like in America, much less the rest of the world. But at the time, I was distracted – this was when I joined the AUS, after all, and met some of the people who would become my dear friends for a long time. The moment I went back to UBC was the moment that my life shifted back onto the course it was meant to be on. Everything went clear; everything was right. I remember going to Whistler that year for the AUS retreat and thinking, these are my people. I’m home. Everything’s right. It would take me another year to finally shake off the rest of Texas, to free myself from Big Scary Mike, to really get back to being me. Which brings us to…

//from ubc to seattle and back::2002//
“The Oaf (My Luck Is Wasted)”, Big Wreck. This is the song I think of when I think of ACF 11, since Big Wreck were a headliner that year. I remember hearing this song a lot on the radio in the days leading up to the show.

“In Repair”, Our Lady Peace. First of all, hello, CANCON. But this actually was a sad summer for me as I wound down my three-year relationship with Big Scary Mike. I spent most of the summer on my own anyways, picking up extra credits at the UW and working on the Argosy boats. I’m still friends with my crewmates from that summer, and have joyful memories…but in between, I was dealing with a horrible breakup, and it was always in repair.

In the fall of 2002, I came back for my last year of college determined to tear it up and make it count. I moved into student housing on campus and proceeded to have a whole series of Wacky Adventures in Vancouver. I loved Vancouver. I loved UBC. I was able to go home to Victoria once a month, had my sister nearby on campus, and had a slew of friends I was with all the time.

in vancouver::2003
“Breath”, Nelly Furtado/Swollen Members. This was a catchy song, dammit. I remember listening to it while biking around campus, or working out in the T-Bird gym. Also, CANCON. It was upbeat, featured an ACF band, and was all over the radio stations in Vancouver.

“After All”, Delerium. I bought “Chimera” as soon as it was released after hearing this song. It had that slightly mournful quality I’m always addicted to. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Silence”, but this was a totally different sound. It also turned into one of the songs I listened to endlessly while recovering from yet another difficult breakup that summer.

2003 stands out in my mind because it was the last semester at UBC, and the year when I knew everything was right again. I had a fantastic second semester of the school year. I genuinely loved my classes, and was thrilled with the subject matter I was studying (I had advanced seminars in history and political science). My student council work, and my work on the Fair, was all done with the same dear friends I went on spontaneous roadtrips to the States with. Even after graduation, I stayed in the orbit of the University, moving just off campus into Kitsilano, continuing to play Ultimate on weekends, go for walks at Jericho Beach, and hang out at Fiction. I started my first job out of college on Bowen Island, at a company that moved to North Van after a month, and had the most gorgeous commute I’ve ever had in my life, over two bridges, twice a day. I was completely in love with Vancouver, and adored living there, but was able to go home to the Island whenever I wanted for a weekend. I lost the last of the Texas weight gain through careful diet and spinning classes, leaving me thin, young and single. At the time I knew life was pretty awesome; looking back now, I know it was fantastic. I wish now I hadn’t let that summer’s breakup with my last-semester-of-college boyfriend throw such a cloud over it, but I was twenty-five and only just realizing why they call it a “broken heart” (it’s because the sadness is so extreme you actually physically feel it, for the record.)

Three years down, seven to go…who knew this would be such a long process?