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Cold Waves & Minimal Electronics Vol. 1 Tim Burrows , March 29th, 2010 11:56

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Chris Petit's remarkable new film Content, a companion piece to his late 1970s road movie Radio On, positions the director driving away from a past that is gaining on him, as he narrates over footage of car journeys, road after road. In it he offers up the internet - the way it ensures an ever-present past, how it detaches each of us from one another - as a reason for 21st century sorrow.

It might be the reason that the songs of Cold Waves and Minimal Electronics Vol. 1, an album of songs by little known European acts - with a one American and one Canadian thrown in for good measure - sound so prescient. Unearthed by Angular's Joe Daniel and Pieter Schoolwerth of Brooklyn label Wierd, the majority of these tracks were recorded on the edges. It came into being isolated in European suburbs between 1980 and 1986, away from the media invented glamour and glitz of the city. Today they sound like future echoes of current feelings of a similar disconnect, caused by the dominance of technological communication which increases with each tweet.

'Polaroid/Roman/Photo' by the French group Ruth is the song most imbued with this sense of melancholy. The whirr and click of a Polaroid camera in action begins the song and a beautiful, slightly sombre trumpet and flute harmony closes it. The beat plods along steadily, with unforgiving purpose. It is a mindless, robotic slump boogie, a club-friendly riff on technology-as-crushing benefactor, which anticipates a future where the act of pose-as-performance, once the preserve of a modelling elite, has segued into the everyday. Where the camera has become an ubiquitous companion, the wall-posted photograph a consistent reminder of a very recent past.

Despite the icy, clinical connotations of the term cold wave, translated from the French la vague froid, this is a profoundly human album. Laden with brass these are organic creations that act as a kind of reappraisal for analogue synths and drum machines over digital music software. French group OTO's 'Anyway' careers deranged like an electronic freakbeat outfit willed on by a sax-less James Chance. Manu Moan, singer in Swiss band the Vyllies, wails about the devil over metronomic beat and troubling keyboards on 'Babylon'. Italy's Jeuneusse d'Ivoire's 'A Gift of Tears' begins like a fragile Joy Division dancefloor filler re-imagined by Neu! before soaring along a dream-like freeway.

"Radio On," Chris Petit said recently, "ended with a car 'stalled on the edge of the future', which we didn't know then would be Thatcherism." The irresistible melancholia that pulses through the Xeroxed saxophones and cold-steel synths of Cold Waves... feels like a European reaction to the unstoppable rise of consumerism, as well as a music made in anticipation of the walled-in existence that technology has since brought into our lives. We have made suburbs of ourselves and the only road out is on the dancefloor.

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William
Jun 19, 2012 7:42am

Such music would probably not appeal to the mass populace, which is addicted to mainstream, over produced pop. The same album would also not be popular back in the 80s, which means this album would unlikely find mass appeal.

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