Saturday, December 27, 2003
But for the technicality of it being a 2002 record, Ewan Pearson's remix of Freeform Five's "Perspex Sex" would definitely be one of my records of the 2003, at least top five. It's awfully crass bigging up electroclash this late in the game, but what can I say? Well, a fair bit probably. In many senses electroclash probably is over - I doubt we're gonna see many more Ladytrons, or if we do they're not going to register much. The problem is with the Ladytron Model (not Ladytron themselves mind) is that it's vision of electroclash is one of exclusion, evoking the 80s by surgically removing any impulse within the music that might be confused for being anything else. Hence: stiff pre-house beats, monochromatic electro textures, deadpan vocals, "Blue Monday" to the power of 10.

But while electroclash has frequently been received as (and in many instances actually has taken the form of) a rejection of many of the properties that we associate with dance music - chiefly overt danciness - this has hardly been the whole story. In fact there is a parallel counter-story that runs through this scene, an impulse towards inclusion that marks it out as one of the most unpredictable revivalist genres. Maybe the earliest and best summation of this impulse is DJ Hell's Fuse Presents Hell mix from 2000, which lays out the blueprint for electroclash while simultaneously disrupting it. Yes, Les Liasons Dangereuses are present, as are Frankie Goes To Hollywood (though, as I've noted before, the theatrical histrionics of "Two Tribes" marks it out as something distinctly anti-Ladytron), but so is a hefty, almost dominant brace of early nineties New York house - an Orange Lemon track, some Bobby Kondors, Phuture's marvellous "Rise From Your Grave" etc. plus some early tech-trance from Speedy J.

There's no sense, however, of any real juncture or dischord between the two eras; instead what Hell's mix emphasises is the sense of continuity: the abrasive quasi-industrial textures, the so-stiff-they're-funky beats, the awkward songfulness, the eerie post-human narratives. These attributes have never been the exclusive preserve of electro, or EBM, or acid house, or techno, or ruff New York house, or... but you know the rest. As Green Velvet demonstrated admirably, in Chicago and New York the eighties never went away - they just learnt some new tricks. This is electroclash-as-inclusiveness: the embrace of post-disco pre-house influences not so much a rejection of house as a reassertion of its capacity for machinism in the face of the lame post-French House disco-retread tedium that now dominates the popular conception of what house music is (something to examine another time: was Room 5's "Make Luv" the worst record of 2003? Yes of course it was).

And it doesn't require an antiquarian DJ set to lay out the formula either: Fuse Presents Hell also contains what remains my favourite International Deejay Gigolos track ever, Foremost Poet's marvellous "Pressing On". A remake of their wonderfully gritty early Nu Groove classic "Reasons To Be Dismal", "Pressing On" is like The Juan MacLean with hips, its sexy low-end boom engaged in a love-struggle with blaring electro synths while that endlessly fascinating deadpan voice from the original counts out the manifestations of his bad luck. The track amply demonstrates how much electroclash can relearn from early house - there's a warmth to its brutalist bass undercarriage which gives the track's surrounding coldness an impacting physicality and sensuality that is irresistible. As with much of the actual Nu Groove back-catalogue, "Pressing On" defies pigeonholing by decade; it also sounds tres hot right now (as Matt from Woebot noted a while ago).

What Ewan's remix of "Perspex Sex" does is intensify both ends of its electro-house hybridisation: the pulverising central electro riffs tears through your chest with a terrifying brutality, but the swinging snare pattern, while brutal, is gloriously and unashamedly sexual, an open invitation to shed your clothes. As such it not only straddles that pre-house/house divide in much the same manner as "Pressing On", but in fact makes exploring this divide its entire purpose. There are few more vital artistic impulses within dance music than the attempt to combine sex and robots (especially if the result sounds like sex with robots) because such attempts have the capacity to capture and conflate both ends of one of dance music's most central oppositions - the choice between machinic ossification and lustful interaction. Dance music can be punishing, isolating, its sonics causing the body's surfaces to coalesce and harden into brittle armour. But its hazy blur and sensual friction can also dissolve these same boundaries until the body feels viscerally in touch with all those around it. Enmeshed and enfolded in the robot's embrace, the body feels engaged, engorged and connected, while crushed in a suffocating metal confinement.


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