Tag 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.

art vs craft

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about art and craft. They seem as if they should be interchangeable terms, as they go together so often in our language. Yet it is only art that we apply the term “fine” to. The “Fine Arts”: drama, music, writing, visual arts, etc.

This, to me, exemplifies the difference between art and craft. I believe Art is based in talent, a calling to create. It begins as a gift of creativity, an ability to transubstantiate emotion and thought into something others can experience. Creating something is an astonishing process, one Elizabeth Gilbert called, “Big Magic” for a reason.

Craft is more achievable to me than art. Craft is when you practice crafting something. It is ironic we call a craftsperson an “artisan”, a word that conjures up images of a handcrafted product. Craft is what we associate with making things, with shaping and perfecting aesthetics, perhaps, but ultimately with a functional product. That may be something as prosaic as a clay bowl, or as decorative as jewelry, but it is a tangible, functional item meant, mostly, for use.

In an age where so much work is now knowledge based, where does that leave us for craft? Are we no longer artisans? I believe that means we have to adapt our ideals of craft to intangible work. Knowledge work is now a craft. My expertise in digital marketing and in business is my craft. It is the work that produces something functional which I practice every day.

Art, however, remains art. The arts have always been a form of knowledge work, producing intangible, cerebral creations. That has not changed. That’s what makes art, the idea of transforming neutral, bland materials into full neural responses. And still – every art is also a craft. There is talent involved in art, but how does one become adept and skilled at transforming that talent into a chosen medium, unless one practices? That’s where art and craft dovetail again, in the requirement for practice, repetition, that constant refinement and polishing of words the same way a blacksmith would polish and re-shape a sword. It’s the challenge of making something that’s as perfect when formed as it was in it initial ideal. Without the same practice one would apply to a craft, art has far less impact and may not even be viable.

It is hard to create art in a form that one isnt innately familiar with. When I noodle on the piano in free-form mode, I still use music theory to pick out the harmonies and chords. I still calculate the relative minors and majors, dominant sevenths, diminished minors. I couldn’t create without that framework.

So an art must be practiced like a craft. Craft can also, at its most practiced, become art. Once an artisan has the practice of creation down, they can take it to the next level, embellishing and decorating, stretching the medium into something extraordinary. This is where craft becomes art, where the statements and thoughts, emotions and intellect, are added to a piece to make it resonate in our minds instead of merely functioning.

What are my arts and what are my crafts? I see writing as a craft. I see my work as a craft. I see music as my art, although I work at it like a craft. No matter what the medium though, I feel the same part of my brain light up when I translate a thought into a medium outside my brain. When I have the right answers at work, when I have just the right word for a blog post, when I hear music in my mind and replicate it on a keyboard, it all hits my brain the same way. It lights something up in me. Whether it is art or craft, do we not all need to have something that lights each of us up?

Perhaps I am thinking about this too hard. Arts and crafts are what each of us have, on some level, to make us extraordinary. It’s what lights our brains up and, if we practice hard enough, we can even extend that to other people and their brains. Both are miraculous that way.

six year symbol:iron

Paul and I are celebrating our six year anniversary this month. While our real celebration is happening on the 22nd, our actual date was the 8th (For those of you who didn’t remember that, you should have checked your reusable shopping bag we gave out at the wedding). March is also special to us because it is the month we met. We met on the 18th, a date I only remember because it is the day after the St Patrick’s Day my sister met her husband.

So how do we celebrate our anniversary? This year, we are going to see Gary Numan! You know, the guy who sings that “Cars” song, which is actually really atypical of his work. His newer albums are all a mix of synth samples and filtered guitars, and the latest one is amazing. Some of it sounds so much like Nine Inch Nails. good Nine inch Nails, Downward Spiral era – that I had to check to see if they had the same producer. (They do not). But there’s a good reason I hear the similarity, in sound and tone: Trent Reznor loves Gary Numan, and actually had him guest performing at the “farewell” tour in L.A. Years ago. What happened there was all the old school fans – who were all goths – went crazy screaming and singing along with “Down In the Park”. The newer, KROQ era fans mostly seemed confused. But Pretty Hate machine is heavily built on Gary Numan and Skinny Puppy, and Gary Numan falls squarely into that dark, melodramatic sound I am hopelessly addicted to. (See also:Depeche Mode)

Paul was actually the one who picked this up and started working through the last ten years of Gary Numan tracks. So we have been listening to his newer work together. So when tour dates came out, I suggested it for our anniversary. Paul actually lit up and said he would like to go. And it just happens to be the same night as Salvation, who we may be able to make an actual night of it if we can stay awake past midnight.

But because the concert is still two weeks away, I wanted to do something this weekend. So I tweeted the host of Darkwave, the classic alternative and goth show that runs on SiriusXM:

requestfordarkwave

Also, I added some background to explain why this song is significant. And then because I mentioned them, I was immediately retweeted by Bar Sinister:

methusbandbarsinister

The DJ responded right away!

yougotitgreatstory

To which I thought I would remind SiriusXM that the reason they get their money is because I greatly enjoy being able to listen to three hours of classic goth every week:

whyikeptsirius

(Well, that, and I get the CBC on Sirius for when I’m driving to and from Pennsylvania. And I like listening to the Lithium station and reliving the good parts of the 1990s)

So on Sunday night, Paul and I actually tuned into the live stream at 10pm…only to find the show at its tail end. It was scheduled for 10. I checked the listings: 10pm EST. Why it was already over by 10:30, I have no idea. I had been looking forward to the romantic moment when the DJ would dedicate a song inspired by a swamp monster as a tribute to our love.

(It’s not really about a swamp monster:)

So tomorrow, we will listen to the Darkwave podcast on demand, once we get through work, the parent teacher conference, and our general existence as adults. And we will remember the two most important dances of our life to “Swamp Thing”. One: the night we met, eight years ago, when Paul FINALLY came over to ask me to dance. And two: the day of our wedding, six years ago, when it was our first dance together as husband and wife.

Happy anniversary, my love.

Why so serious?

Paul and I were glad to end up in NYC for many reasons. Not the least of these is that there is still a goth scene here. Goth is a dying subculture, after all, in a quite literal sense. In cities all over America, clubs are closing and in places where the subculture wasn’t strong to start with, it hasn’t taken much to wipe it out entirely. And while my husband and I do not feel like we need to be hardcore goths every single day, there are times when we just want to wear our stompy boots and black outfits and dance with each other to that particular strain of melancholia that is goth music. Hence, we are happy to live in New York, the birthplace of American goths, and one of only a handful of cities remaining with a dedicated scene.

And so, we have been trying to explore the goth scene, and trying to understand where we belong in it. In Los Angeles, we knew all the promoters and clubs. We followed DJ Xian, with her synth pop and steampunk scene. We went to Das Bunker, with its three rooms of hardcore industrial, retro EBM and powernoize. And we went to Bar Sinister, Los Angeles’ longest running, privately owned goth club, which was predictable in the best way possible in that it always looked and sounded like something out of a dystopia, plus it had both a live band playing outside and a dance floor. (I saw Shiny Toy Guns there. Before they were cool)

We have found some clubs we really like in the process. Two weeks ago, we went to Necropolis, in the basement space of a club in the Lower East Side. We were early, and walked in before midnight to a DJ a little older than us, playing a mix of what we could only describe as real goth, first-wave goth, classic goth rock from before the culture started evolving and splitting into sub genres in the 1990s. It’s a style of music we know, and like, but not a genre where we know any artists beyond the big, popular, bands that are still staples of clubs everywhere – bands like Virgin Prunes or Christian Death, or, most recognizably, Sisters of Mercy.

The second DJ who came on was playing music that was more from what we think of as “our era”: Rosetta Stone, London after Midnight. I bounced off the floor when he threw in an EBM dance track: Icon of Coil’s “Dead Enough for Life” (it had been so long since I’d heard it that I didn’t remember the song title, even though I was happily singing along). But after that oneindustrial techno track, it was 1990s goth rock – not a synthesizer, sample or drum machine to be heard.

I’m used to second -wave clubs where the DJS play a mix of synth, electro, Deathrock and mandatory classic goth tracks. In fact, a year ago, if someone had told me there were clubs where no one put VNV Nation on the playlist, or where it wasn’t mandatory to play “This Corrosion” once a night, I would have been surprised. After all, I came of age in the goth scene in 2000, in Seattle, which, at the time, was all EBM and electronic industrial and the Metropolis record label. And Los Angeles, much to my surprise and delight, was very similar to Seattle. I adapted fast to L.A., and it was that existng familiarity with the West Coast goth scene that led to meeting my husband at Bar Sinister a few months after I started going back to goth clubs.

But here in NYC, there is no Bar Sinister…or, at least, we have yet to find it. There is no self-stereotyped goth club, nothing that is borderline vampy and campy like Sinister was. The scene here is serious, old-school serious, Deathrock and goth rock and post punk dominate, and there are none of the new goth bands (like my beloved Birthday Massacre) to be heard. My equally beloved rave-influenced electronic dance music is missing, and instead, everything is from a generation I missed entirely. Not by much, mind you – the advent of electronics and synthesizers into goth coincided with my 21st birthday – but it’s still something I never picked up.

It isn’t that I don’t know or haven’t heard of these bands. I know who Mission UK are, or Gene loves Jezebel, or Fields of the Nephilim. I definitely know the Chameleons, because “Swamp Thing” is our song, a late 80s alternative track that my husband liked enough to gain enough courage from to ask me to dance, all those years ago (and we played it at our wedding, and I sang it to Ben as a lullaby). But hearing these songs without a track listing in a club, I can’t identify the artists. Much of it has that melodramatic sound, the melodic, mournful sound of that late 80s/early 90s goth rock. Or it has the sharp edges and asynchromatic nature of post punk, the discordant, minimal bass, guitar and drum around less sung than spoken vocals. ( Paul likes post punk better than I do – it overlaps with his indie rock nature.)

And it has been like that in the clubs we have been to in Lower Manhattan. Maybe its that these clubs are in “Gothtown”, the East Village, Alphabet City and Lower East Side scene that goth came from, and it just hasnt changed since. The only other major variation has been the extremely stompy hardcore industrial club that Paul enjoys, but it is really stompy, like Skinny Puppy stompy. Before my time, and not my variation, either – I was never a rivethead.

It is also a different scene here, in terms of dress and fashion, than it was in LA. The biggest DJ/promoter in LA was DJ Xian, who somehow managed to run and play at multiple clubs. Her influence skewed to New Romantic and synth pop, in clubs like Malediction Society and MODE:M, which was an entire night of music influenced by Depeche Mode. She ran Alice in Wonderland and Victoriana special events: Paul and I spent one NYE at a party called “Theater des Wyrm”, complete with absinthe. This fit my corsets and long dresses style perfectly. I have always been a Victoriana style goth, and my favorite clothes – the ones I feel most comfortable in – are ankle-length, laced at the waist, and high necked, preferably with lace sleeves and visible lacing.

The box of clothes I brought from LA are therefore all skewed to this aesthetic. Yet I don’t see any steampunk or repro Victoriana in the clubs here. I don’t even see much cyber goth, although that may be more due to cyber goth being outdated. (I flirted with cyber goth ten years ago, but even then, my PVC dress was ankle length…and I was never able to get the cyber goth braids and dyed hair I wanted because I work in office jobs)

But while I miss the predictability and the familiarity of the L.A. Goth scene, I am getting used to this more old school version of the goth scene. It’s still a scene, a sound, a style I love. It’s still music I like and enjoy listening to, even if I don’t know it. And that’s why, when I went out with my husband two weeks ago, we still managed to dance for an hour, even though we didn’t know the music by heart. It was music we liked, it was our people, and we could have stayed all night had we not been already tired.

goth cover songs

So the fiance and I were having a discussion about goth cover songs a while ago, and this is my list. These are all goth or new wave or post-punk tracks covered by same. I know I’m probably missing a slew, but I think I did pretty well coming up with 12…and not repeating
myself, OR resorting to considering New Order covering Joy Division.

1. snake river conspiracy – lovesong (original by the cure)
2. cure – world in my eyes (original by depeche mode)
3. apoptygma bezerk – coma white (original by metallica, correct?)
4. NIN – dead souls (original by joy division)
5. voltaire – caught a lite sneeze (original by tori amos)
6. last dance – dead man’s party (original by oingo boingo)
7. placebo – running up that hill (original by faith & the muse)
8. mesh – document (original by assemblage 23)
9. siouxsie – passenger (original by iggy pop)
10. devo – head like a hole (original by nine inch nails)
11. gary jules – mad world (original by tears for fears)
12. cruxshadows – here comes the rain again (original by the eurythmics)

added:
13. regenerator – love my way (original by the psychedelic furs)
14. heaven 17 – don’t fear the reaper (original by blue oyster cult – and I have actually heard that played at the Mercury in Seattle)

I’m burning CD sets with the original followed by the re-interpretation. My favorite covers are those where the song is totally re-interpreted. That’s something I think is present in each of the above songs, that it was re-interpreted in a unique style.

Now, here’s the fun part. The four people to send me the best cover songs I HADN’T thought of (MUST meet the goth association) get copies of said CD sets. Submit your songs & I’ll mail you the CDs. I need to round this out a little more – and no, dream_king, I am
NOT including that Erasure cover of “Lay All Your Love On Me” (even though I love it). Submit your song suggestions in the comments!

data dvd 1: 9voltrevolt :: dead can dance

Right now, I’m in the process of burning copies of my MP3 library. I burned Data DVD 1 of 4 tonight. That’s one of four data DVDs with goth/industrial/RBM/dark techno/dark 80s. I haven’t even figured out what I have in terms of indie/alternative/electronica.

So here’s the list of albums on the first disc. Keep in mind, these suckers are 4GB apiece. And yes, I know I’m missing some Bella Morte and Beborn Beton – but I never said my collection was complete. Just passable. And I do have more cheesy synthpop I’m not including – not to mention the whole Dead Can Dance back catalogue. There’s just only so much music anyone can get through.
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the three month mix

And now, I present: the tracklist of the CD I am burning for the boyfriend for our three month this weekend. That’s three months since we met at Bar Sinister. So here’s what goes on the CD – all songs that fit the relationship, or which have come on when we’ve been dancing together.

1. the chameleons :: swamp thing (because that is what he first asked me to dance to. All together now, folks: awwwwww!)
2. birthday massacre :: holiday (which is what I was listening to on repeat on the way home from the club, and which is his favorite song on “Violet” – it comes up a lot on the playlist he built to run when I’m at his house)
3. siouxsie :: face to face (it’s the only Siouxsie song that seemed remotely appropriate, and I love Siouxsie, and it fits between Birthday Massacre and Sisters of Mercy)
4. sisters of mercy :: dominion (mother russia) (because it is the Sisters track that gets played the most at Bar Sinister, and what I remember dancing to)
5. editors :: blood (we were talking about this album on our first date)
6. covenant :: ritual noise (it’s the new single and I really like it, although I’m considering swapping it out for a Seabound track)
7. depeche mode :: precious (we slow dance to this song a LOT because it’s in frequent rotation at all the clubs right now, and he knows how much I love Depeche Mode)
8. wolfsheim :: once in a lifetime (I love this song, I hear it at Malediction Society, and I think he’ll recognize it from the This is Neo Goth compilation we both own)
9. juno reactor :: god is god (it played on his random MP3 playlist one Sunday and then coincidentally came on when we were on the dance floor four hours later)
10. vnv nation :: standing (because it’s heartbreakingly sad, and I’ve dragged him onto the dance floor every time it’s come on at Bar Sinister)
11. apoptygma bezerk :: kathy’s song (album version) (this song is just perfect, trust me)
12. massive attack :: teardrop (another slow dance song)
13. loreena mckennitt :: mummer’s dance (this came on during a shoegaze set at the Darkroom one night when we were in the middle of a fairly heavy conversation)
14. depeche mode :: judas (because it’s one of my favorite Depeche Mode slow songs)

For a goth nerd couple, this is drippingly romantic. Trust me. Anyone have any other suggestions or comments?