February 7, 2013


R.I.P: Electroclash's Short, Fruitful Existence

Mark Metcalfe
Mark Metcalfe

The big genres—rock, hip hop, dance—aren't going anywhere, but smaller, more niche genres come and go, defining a particular place and time before becoming a musical footnote. In our new feature Obituary for a Genre, we eulogize and resurrect these forgotten musical moments. First up: Electroclash.

Movements and genres don’t just appear out of nowhere. But in 2001, when DJ/producer Larry Tee threw the first Electroclash Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it seemed like the “Next Big Thing” genre sprang wholesale out of the coke dens and late-night clubs of New York’s hipster/fashionista elite. Dubbed by the Stranger as “dance music for rock people,” the genre took over New York, then Europe, then the world in the early 2000s before fading out a few years later as many of its pioneers moved on stylistically.

Fusing techno, New Wave, electro, rap and rock, the music of similar-minded musicians coalesced around Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan clubs. There was the gloriously vulgar provocateur Peaches; the performance art duo Fischerspooner; the French chanteuse Miss Kittin and Chicago DJ/producer Felix da Housecat. With tongue-in-cheek lyrics about glamour, excess, sex and celebrity, the genre soundtracked many a night for fashion-forward hipsters.

And at the center was Tee, who coined the term, ran the popular Berliniamsburg party and, as legend goes, had "electroclash" trademarked. In a 2002 interview, Tee summed up the ethos behind the genre: "It makes fun of things that are wrong, celebrates celebrity excess while making fun of it." (Exhibit A: Miss Kittin & the Hacker's "Frank Sinatra," and its hook, "In limousines we have sex/Every night with my famous friends.")

The nostalgic press release for the 2001 Electroclash Festival now reads like a odd time capsule of turn-of-the-century New York, with Tee proclaiming that "the mainstream may not know who these artists are, but they will in a year or two." Not so much.

But the most forward backward-thinking groups like ADULT. and Fischerspooner mined the drum machines and synths of the early-1980s and blended it with their own unique sound. (Critic Simon Reynolds called it "retro-futurism".) For many of the groups, though, style would always remain on equal footing with substance.

Eventually, any scene built on being seen has a short shelf life, and electroclash, despite U.S. and Europe tours in 2003 and 2004, would quietly fade out as its main artists either switched up their style (Ladytron) or disappeared from the scene (Wherefore art thou, Detroit Grand Pubahs?). The renewed interest in guitar rock (The Vines, the Hives et al.) didn't help much either.

Still, there are more than a few gems from the era. Start with our 12 Artists You Need to Know and go down the wormhole from there.