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In Defence Of...

Suck & Let Go: In Defence Of Electroclash
Luke Turner , September 6th, 2011 11:48

Ten years after the release of Fischerspooner's 'Emerge', Luke Turner looks back at a much-maligned form, and picks ten of his favourite electroclash bangers

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I can still remember the first time I heard 'Emerge' by Fischerspooner. It was a Monday night at Trash, where I was a regular for much of the early years of the past decade. From what I recall, DJ Erol Alkan had managed to get hold of The End's lazer system, and the beams cut through the fag smoke as this warm, burbling synth built and built, a nonsensical pseudo-Teutonic lyric (now heard in much of Cold Wave) over the top, before a massive chorus kicked in. I don't think anyone really knew what the track was – this was largely pre-blog, pre-Myspace, and most people I knew spent their hard-earned on one quid pills and going out rather than records – but it made the room erupt. 'Emerge' now occupies a space as both the peak and perceived nadir of the short-lived movement in electronic music that became known - and derided – as electroclash.

It was hardly surprising that for me electroclash was the entry level into electronic music, which I'd abandoned for arch guitar music aged 16. Trash began as an indie night, but one that, via a strict door policy, turned away the lager-spilling lads who usually ruined such establishments with their Liam Gallagher-ap(e)ing dancing. This open-minded, mixed crowd and the kind of exuberant decadence that goes hand in hand with the Monday night club night was the perfect incubator for the electronic music that Alkan was starting to play. It was a club where your sense of belonging opened the mind to the new music being played. The Trash ritual, cocking a snook to the notion that Monday night was for staying in, was to get dressed up, knock back a bottle of Martini, and go and dance, hard, for three or four hours, in the full knowledge that getting up at half seven following three hours sleep in order to be at one's desk at 9am might be tricky. To my mind, it was never about hanging around preening, though when the hardcore fashionistas suddenly appeared it was a bit odd – I especially recall one top hatted chap with a cigarette in a ludicrous one foot long holder.

Yet although it was arguably that sort of thing that led to electroclash's eventual dismissal, to attack it for its connections to fashion is to miss the point. Fashion people went to clubs like Trash, Nag Nag Nag and Our Disco, rather than the clubs going out of their way to court them. Like all scenes, electroclash was a name that was rammed across an actually rather diverse set of music, from the disco-tinges of Felix Da Housecat, the marriage-counselling-gone-wrong goth of Adult., the europop of Ladytron, the neo-industrial Terence Fixmer. These were not artists lacking in pop nous, and in fact sat brilliantly (in the clubs and on my stereo) alongside what was a golden age for the mainstream, with the Neptunes, Missy Elliot, Destiny's Child, N.E.R.D., Outkast, Kelis, Sugababes, Justin Timberlake, and Girls Aloud all releasing tight, electronic snappers. And that's without the more obvious crossover groups, Basement Jaxx or Daft Punk. The dialogue that permitted Missy to sit alongside Peaches, Timberlake with Fischerspooner, Kelis with Adult., is the evidence that electroclash was never about snooty elitism: it shared with the mainstream a sense of class and bumping sexuality that, over the past decade, has been eroded by the rise and rise of the telly talent show.

What also did for electroclash was not its self-ghettoisation in fashionable clubs in London. Instead, it was the gateway media – music press, radio – and its conservatism and suspicion of anything flambouyant, outré, or European. Electroclash unfortunately coincided with its antithesis: the rise of the more sellable garage rock revival, and its obsession with scruffy, blokey groups like Jet, The Vines, The D4, The Von Bondies, The Dirtbombs, The Datsuns, The Hives; and thereafter UK indie skiffle in the forms of The Libertines, The Others, The Holloways, Special Needs... the list goes, depressingly, on. With guitar music once again on the rise, there was little appetite for the occasionally daft, high camp antics of the electronic movement of the time, and it was denied the oxygen tent of mainstream coverage.

It might seem strange now, but before electroclash clubbing was largely divided down genre lines. It was one of the things that broke down those boundaries. Unfortunately, this probably also led to an excess, post-Soulwax, of the habit for creating mashups of any old tunes – a brilliant idea when deployed tactically and sparingly mid-set, but bracingly naff when overdone. I remember seeing a flier for – I think – a Club Mashup in New York that featured a list of all the randomly bashed together tracks you could expect at the night.

It's a shame that there hasn't really been anything of electroclash's ilk since. The bloghouse movement that followed electroclash forwent glamour in favour of simplistic drug monkey electro tweaking, while for all its brilliance you could hardly call dubstep flamboyant. As filesharing has proliferated, clubbing as form of musical discovery has declined, and genre-hopping nights have become overly neophilic and far less artfully curated. There is one group, though, who have mined the best of electronic music's history for a glorious mince through glamorous pop, and that's Azari & III, whose debut album will surely be towards the top of the Quietus Best Of 2011 poll. Going to see them live recently was reminiscent of those great nights out of ten years ago, a room with an even gender balance, well-dressed men and women, gay and straight, a fair few off their rockers and, most crucially, all dancing. Having said all that, anyone who wears their sunglasses at night is a prodigious bellend.

Luke's Fruity Favourites: 10 Electroclash Bangers

Fischerspooner - 'Emerge'

Depending on who you ask, Electroclash's high or low point. Despite some enjoyably grand statements, a sublime cover of Wire's 'The 15th' and ludicrous live performances, Fischerspooner were a flop. Nevertheless, they retained a terrific sense of humour. I remember seeing them at a Norwegian festival in the middle 00s, playing to a rain-drenched crowd who had gathered in anticipation of the night's next set, from bafflingly successful cardigan folkster Erlend Øyé. Fischerspooner's awareness at the plummeting of their own stock was rather commendable, with cries of "hello Olso" echoing across the baffled Scandinavian multitudes.

Felix Da Housecat - 'Madame Hollywood'

Felix Da Housecat not only managed to create one of the bangers of electroclash with this sublime track but, in Kittenz and Thee Glitz released its best, most coherent long-player. Lyrically it dealt with the electroclash staples of fame, limousines and magazines that cost more than a tenner, but also packed a harder punch.

Golden Boy with Miss Kittin - 'Rippin Kittin'

Another of electroclash's plus points was the number of female artists who were at its fore. Principle among these was Miss Kittin, who turned up on vocals with Felix Da Housecat, The Hacker and this pulsing, nocturnal and mournful collaboration with Golden Boy.

Adult. - 'Hand To Phone'

To my mind, Adult. were always engaged in a brilliant subversion of gender roles in electronic music. In their hands, the female vocalist was not fitting the accepted roles of the coquette or sultry diva in front of man-made music. Instead, Nicola Kuperus seemed to wear the trousers. And, possibly, a strap-on. Kink and electroclash were never far apart.

Soulwax - 'NY Excuse'

Already famed for their As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 mix album, the arrival of Soulwax's joyful belter 'NY Excuse' was even more exciting than that Trash debut of Fischerspooner's 'Emerge'.

Tiga & Zyntherius - 'Sunglasses At Night'

One of the bigger tracks of the time, with lyrical subject matter that became something of a stick to beat electroclash with.

Miss Kittin & The Hacker - 'Frank Sinatra'

Again, one of those tracks that explored a world of right nostril nose bleeds and farting around: "in limosines we have sex / ever night we have friends / nice / suck my dick / so nice / Fronk, Fronk Sinatra / suck my dick / lick my ass". Who ever said electroclash didn't have a sense of humour?

Ladytron - 'Discotraxx'

Ladytron, with their biology degrees and Kraftwerkian aesthetic, were an altogether classier proposition, and 'Discotraxx', from the 604 album, is pure TV tower-through-the-mist, sinister policemen in 1983 brilliance.

Peaches - 'AA XXX'

Another of the great albums of the time was Peaches' debut The Teaches Of Peaches. Again, it pulled off the trick of combining sex, dry humour, and high camp with fierce, simple electronic backing. Peaches was a superb live performer too, and I well remember an early, intimate gig where she whipped the crowd into such a state things became rather... frisky all round.

Add N to (X) - 'Plug Me In'

Although electroclash was big in the UK's Metropolitan nightspots, there were few artists who actually hailed from the country. Ladytron were Liverpool based, and Add N to (X) flew the London flag, though they were arguably more on the fringes of the movement. Still, as 'Plug Me In' ably demonstrates, they were partial to wheezing synths and the saucy.

Terence Fixmer - 'Body Pressure'

Appearing on DJ Hell's International DeeJay Gigolos CD Five compilation that was seen by many as the key LP of electroclash, this pounder links the genre with the sterner sounds of EBM and techno. Mr Fixmer is still active, making excellent sonic grot with Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy.

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Sep 6, 2011 3:55pm

Add N to X were not electroclash...they were electroblash:)

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Sep 6, 2011 4:06pm

Where's Vitalic Pony EP, David Carretta's Dominiation EP, Christopher Just's I'm A Disco Dancer?? Shocking omissions, worse than FACT's top ten electroclash list from a few years ago. Shake my head...

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Sep 6, 2011 4:08pm

I used to go mental to the Crossover cover of I Am The Fly by Wire in Trash.

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Sep 6, 2011 4:19pm

In reply to Ben:

just listened back to it, pretty terrible. The sound system in the end was often deceptive.

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Charlie Frame
Sep 6, 2011 4:30pm

I dug out an old electroclash-esque mix I got sent around 2003 and I must say it still sounded fantastic! Lots of really fast electro dance tracks, lots of futuristic melodies, and nothing like the latter half of the decades electro-informed pop. I still remember dance mags in 2001 saying "all this electro revival stuff'll blow over by Christmas". How wrong they were. Incidentally, it's all about Two Lone Swordsmen's "Tiny Reminders".

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Luke Turner
Sep 6, 2011 4:35pm

In reply to Ben:

Damn, used to love that one too

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Sep 6, 2011 8:20pm

This is all sounding magnificent. I fucking loved electroclash. BTW, was Har Mar Superstar considered electroclash? I think he was. Another joke artist who, actually, I really enjoyed. Flamboyant, ridiculous and a lot of fun.

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Danny Liar
Sep 6, 2011 8:20pm

Reading between the lines, I'd say that Luke got dragged out to a club a couple of weeks ago, did a cheeky pill & then realised he was the oldest person on the dancefloor. The horror, the horror. Did he write this article during the ensusing comedown, because it certainly reads that way?

p.s. No David Carretta? Tsk tk.

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Chris Etches
Sep 7, 2011 7:58am

I would, rather cheekily, like to add my own small input to Electroclash, a rather silly vocoder cover of Fever.

It actually did quite well, got a fair bit of Radio1 play and was big in Greece (so I was told anyways). And if anyone's interested there's probably a warehouse in Cardiff somewhere with about a thousand copies gathering dust.

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Sep 7, 2011 9:29am

In reply to Charlie Frame:

Tiny Reminders is a fucking AWESOME record. I know what record I'm sticking on when I crawl in from work tonight...

Also: Dexter "I Don't Care".

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Sep 7, 2011 10:04am

A marvellous piece, well written, evoking memories of wanton vacuity and unbridled excess. I think Romo attempted something similar on a smaller scale four years earlier and was even more derided. Maybe we have the idea that guitar music is to be taken seriously while electronic music is not real music hardwired into our brains from the evil babyboomer generation, and only the enlightened break free of such cobblers. I'm constantly amazed how pervasive this attitude still is when I deign to walk amongst normal people.

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Jonny D
Sep 7, 2011 10:25am

Monday’s at Trash, Wednesday’s at NagNagNag (Is Jo Jo De Freq still going?) Friday’s at OurDisco and Saturday’s at Bugged Out. Amazing times, great genre-bending music. Sigh. They don’t make them like they used to.

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Luke Turner
Sep 7, 2011 10:39am

In reply to jeres:

Like This Post

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Sep 7, 2011 10:58am

Honorabel mentions to

Ladytron - 17
Crossover - Exenstive Care
Tiga - Hot In Herre
Kylie - I Can't Get You Out Of My Head

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Charles Ubaghs
Sep 7, 2011 11:01am

I do miss Fridays at Our Disco. Now excuse me, I have some wrinkle cream that needs applying

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Sep 7, 2011 11:29am

Electroclash was a New York & Berlin movement, all about (punk)attitudes and lots of drugs. It started around 1997! It was pretty much over when the London "Hype Police" got involved!

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srt8 bro
Sep 7, 2011 11:48am

electroclash was sort of like dance music's answer to glam rock, wasn't it? back to basics sound from the decade before last, mixed up with a bit of showbiz glitz and pop appeal.

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Sep 7, 2011 12:01pm

@freakz: I don't think Luke's list is meant to be a definitive one - merely his, personal, favourites. By all means suggest your own tips, but don't have a go for the list not being the be all and end all of Electroclash.

I was living in Newcastle at the time and it all seemed so exotic to me. The closest we had was the bi-monthly Dirtbox night and the New Rock Revolution-leaning Alcatraz. Reading about Trash and NagNagNag and Optimo seemed like another world.

I tended to keep up to date (as far as was possible) through compilations/mixes, such as Tiga's American Gigolo CD, Erol Alkan's Bugged Out mixes and the odd CD they gave away on the cover of Muzik. This period also co-incided with MissAMP's writing in Careless Talk too.

If I was to highlight any artists not included in Luke's list, yeah, Vitalic would be up there, plus Gonzales and the seemingly-forgotten Kiko, whose Midnight Magic LP deserved all the plaudits that were (mis-guidedly) thrown at the second Daft Punk album.

The flamboyance and media attention might have left electroclash, but that doesn't mean that the music disappeared. It just seemed to morph into the existing, and slightly more splintered sounds of techno (and the minimal techno revival), electro, Italo-disco and chiptune.

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Sep 7, 2011 12:07pm

In reply to Charles Ubaghs:

Our Disco was great

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Sep 7, 2011 12:21pm

Woah, jesus... If one of the admins could delete all but the last of my multiple posts there (and this one, afterwards), that'd be appreciated.

Sorry - on a crap connection on my mobile.

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Luke Turner
Sep 7, 2011 1:06pm

In reply to CP:

CP, that is quite a Munchausen

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Sep 7, 2011 1:10pm

In reply to marckee:

Yep, you're right, my original post was a bit harsh. I wrote it with a hot head, my apologies Luke! It's an excellent article that echoes my thoughts and brought back a lot of great memories. But seriously though, no Carretta or Vitalic?? ;)

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Dr Up
Sep 7, 2011 1:50pm

Smashing article, this.

Electroclash was a lot more important than history has deigned it to be, if you ask me. Having been 17 in the summer of 88 and still listening to the Wedding Present, acid house pretty much passed me by and it took until I started hearing Fischerspooner, Tok Tok Vs Soffy O, Adult and Jacques Lu Cont in his various guises before I even realised this was a 'scene' and finally took the plunge headlong into electronica and dance music (from which I've never looked back).

I'm clearly far too old to go clubbing nowadays (and probably was back then too), but that period of about 2001-2004 was a golden age - there were brilliant tunes every week to discover and I found myself buying more vinyl then than at any time since the 80s.

The City Rockers Futurism compilation and the Miss Kittin Electroclash mix from Muzik encapsulate everything good about the scene and are still absolutely vital.

Luke - if you can track down Fischerspooner and see what the hell they're doing these days (Entertainment actually isn't that bad), then you'll cement your official legend status.

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Luke Turner
Sep 7, 2011 2:52pm

In reply to Dr Up:

I think Fischerspooner can be booked for a reasonable fee. Tok Tok Vs Soffy O 'Missy Queen's Gonna Die' should be in there too

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Huw Gwilliam
Sep 10, 2011 8:14pm

Dot Allison's second LP was surely one of the highlights of UK-grown electroclash (I word I dislike btw) :)

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Sep 25, 2011 4:49pm

Like Electroclash?? Listen to PATOKAI

Control is a fantasy!

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Oct 14, 2011 7:21am

Sorry but this genre does nothing for me. Give me Sunn o))) and The Melvins any day of the week. :)

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Oct 17, 2011 3:04pm

Ladytron AREN'T and never WERE electroclash. They're electronic pop. Check their Wikipedia page.

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Oct 17, 2011 3:58pm

Extensive Care by Crossover, surely?

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Oct 22, 2011 2:18am

For me the quintessentially Electroclash track I constantly refer back to is Felix Da Housecat's remix of Ladytron's Playgirl.

The mention above to Dot Allison is good although it's not electroclash... One of her songs 'Substance' was remixed in a electroclash way by Felix Da Housecat with Miss Kittin though, and is also pretty lush.

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the pair
Oct 30, 2011 4:02pm it was horrid retro in 2001 and it's horrid today in the form of katy perry and LMFAO and all the other wankers that took the BUZZ THUMP BUZZ THUMP and annoying gary glitter shuffle beats even further into the mainstream. ladytron stood out for writing actual songs and singing as opposed to "talk singing" in a voice that makes the neighborhood dogs howl (i.e. adult.) miss kittin was bearable at times, peaches wasn't and felix was a one trick housecat (see above reference to thumping gary glitter shuffle beats.)

and as the first comment says: add n to x weren't electroclash. they fit more in with the post-rock/idm mixing bands like mum.

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Nov 3, 2011 11:20am

two rules of thumb

1. "if it's on clone, it's not electroclash"
2. "if you're calling add n to (x) electroclash, you're being disingenuous."

there was west coast (NL) acid/electro scene for a long while. nobody outside of mainline europe writes about that, even now, even when 0pn has been dropping names in Quietus/VV interviews.

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Simon Price
Nov 8, 2011 9:39am

Only just seen this. Good stuff, Luke. I was on the Trash/Nag Nag Nag scene too and it's weird that we didn't know each other. You've identified the main Greatest Hits Of Electroclash there (although most people would have gone for a different Ladytron track), although Terence Fixmer is a brand new one on me. You're bang-on about mash-ups, too. I loved a GOOD mash-up, and still do, but the fad sadly HAD to be killed off because there were so many bad ones around. One thing I'll pick you up on, though: The Hives were never "scruffy, blokey"! They were sharp as fuck, with a pure pop sensibility, and spiritually had more in common with Ladytron than with the Von Bondies.

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Nov 14, 2011 6:30am

No love for Soviet? Cretins.

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Big Rich
Nov 14, 2011 1:21pm

Add N to (X) were from Sheffield not London.

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Nov 15, 2011 10:10pm

This music and I really connect, though I am not a fan of labels in fact I detest them, but this music makes me love love and feel true feelings.

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Dec 2, 2011 3:26pm

I always felt that the kinky rock star black leather attitude of DJ Hell and his International DJ Gigolos laid a lot of the foundation for Electroclash.

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Dec 2, 2011 6:05pm

It's a pretty good list. a couple of homorable mentions missing from your list...

Tok Tok Vs. Soffy O : Missy's Queen is Gonna Die
Avenue D: Do I Look Like A Slut
Peaches: Fuck The Pain Away
Soviet: Candy Girl

Long live Electroclash, we hardly ever knew you.

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No Use For Eyeliner
Feb 1, 2013 7:38am

I used to like some of this stuff back in the day but, my god, it all seems so shallow and vapid now. That is, with the exception of Add N to X, who will never sound dated and were far too versatile to be lumped in with electroclash. The article should have listed Chicks On Speed instead.

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