Friday, November 1, 2013

Village Voice, June 8th 1999

by Simon Reynolds

My favorite contemporary American singer-songwriter is Oliver Chesler, a/k/a The Horrorist. A thoroughly modern minstrel, Chesler pens tunes like "Mission Extacy," a hilarious tale of the amoral things Manhattan club kids will do to get drugs, and "Wet and Shiny," a Devo-like ditty about robo-dancing in an advanced state of hallucinatory delirium.

Folks, that's my kind of Americana. But Chesler doesn't strum a guitar; he twiddles a vintage Electrocomp-101 synth and a Cubase VST sequencing program. His mission is to bring the story-song to techno's non-narrative flux of energy pulses. In contrast to the blank impersonality of your average electronica imprint, Chesler's label Things To Come (249 West 26th Street, Apt. 2A, NYC 10001) is all about communication. Releases come with inserts covered with lyrics, illustrations, and Oliver's meditations on various topics.

Although a few Things To Come tracks date back to the late '80s (shortly after his professor dad lugged home some synthesizers when the college scrapped its music department), Chesler didn't start serious musicking until he got swept up in New York's early '90s rave scene. Blown away by the bombast of Belgian techno, he began to record for the Brooklyn hardcore label Industrial Strength.

Early Chesler productions like Disintegrator's "Lock on Target" and DJ Skinhead's "Fucking Hostile" helped define the emergent ultra-hardcore sound called gabba. By 1994, New York's hardcore scene had dwindled down to small, scary parties— zombie ravers on angel dust twitching to distorted 200-bpm kick drums. Chesler's tunes of this period, such as "I Get the Coke" and "Fists of Pride" (released under his Temper Tantrum alias, one of over a dozen), competed in an international contest for the nastiest and noisiest gabba record ever.

Now, though, Chesler's opted out of that dead-end race. The music he's making on Things To Come is still hardcore, but it's midtempo and melodic, characterized by cavernous reverb, slimy synth textures, and macabre cadences. He calls it doomcore. And Chesler's not alone in his vision quest— he's found allies in Marc Acardipane (a/k/a The Mover) and Miro (a/k/a Reign), Frankfurt-based producers making atmospheric hardcore, "music for huge space arenas."

My favorite Chesler tune, "Move: Don't Stop!" from The Future Crusade EP, is a collaboration with Miro under the name SuperPower. With its militaristic bass pump, regimented beat, and domineering vocal, "Move: Don't Stop!" harks back to that moment in techno's evolution, circa '91, when the mood at raves started to resemble a rally more than a party. Ecstasy generates a will-to-belief; the mega-rave collectivizes that fixated fervor, but ultimately dissipates it into an intransitive trance. But what if someone tried to focus that energy, make it transitive, give it an objective? Could rave's amorphous massive be mobilized into an army? Chesler compositions like "Dark Invader," a stentorian dirgestomp, and "Into the Moonbeam (Arena Mix)," all deathswarm synths and whipcrack snares, transform rave's bliss-rush into blitzkrieg.

But doomcore isn't so much a flashback to a 1991 rave era that's long gone; it's more like the soundtrack for an imaginary new subculture— Gothic Rave. All is revealed in "Run for Your Life," the hilarious title track of the new Horrorist EP. Over frenetic quasi-jungle syncopations and stereo-panning analog-synth blare, Chesler plays the bug-eyed doomsayer, warning America to take cover because "a billion Gothic Ravers are falling from the sky/Wearing big pants/And trying to suck our blood." Gothic Ravers also lurk "in secret record shops/Sucking on amphetamines/And plotting their plots."

On the first Things To Come EP in 1996, Chesler expressed eagerness to play Gothic/industrial clubs, and called for the return of "16th-note bass mania" (an allusion to the chittering Moroder-esque bass pulsations that motored the "industrial disco" of Front 242 and DAF). Industrial, a/k/a Euro Body Music, is a crucial if rarely acknowledged source for techno; Chesler himself says he's "never recovered" from seeing Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb play New York the same week. He reckons Goth and industrial kids are a better audience than drugged-out ravers— they listen closer, they're more loyal and culty. And make no mistake, Chesler wants followers; he'd like to be where Reznor and Manson are, performing with gigantic video screens, merchandise concessions in tow. Accordingly, Chesler's been flirting with major labels; he, Miro, and Acardipane may also be forming their own gabba-morphing-into-rock supergroup.

Horrorist songs like "Heed the Word" and "I Declare" hint at something of a messiah complex. Chesler wants to recruit people for what he calls "The New Direction," and dreams of starting his own "world political party" (ideology yet to be formulated). "It's better to believe in anything at all— whether it's right or wrong," he says. "You're better off believing than not believing." The vision may be blurry, but the will to power comes through loud and clear: The Horrorist wants to rule his own little "Bassline Empire." Thing is, he's got the B-lines to do it.

Groove, 2000 (?)

by Simon Reynolds

Cleancut and clad in black, a demagogue stalks the stage of The Tunnel, the famous Manhattan techno club. His name is Oliver Chesler, also known as The Horrorist, and he's performing a PA to celebrate the fifth release on his label Things To Come. Brandishing an arc-light that gives an eerie
glow to his face, Chesler heralds "the New Direction" and demands "can you take the
pressure?". The kids roar back in the affirmative.

The music that strobes out of the Tunnel's stacked speakers and subsumes the dancers in a phosphorescent frenzy represents a style that  Chesler calls Gothic Rave---an updated version of early Nineties techno at its most bombastic and populist, combined with songs and story-telling. It's a bit
like Green Velvet's idea of "folk music for the rave scene". Like Curtis Jones, Chesler is a genius at writing and reciting narratives that fit the weird energies of techno without detracting from or domesticating its posthuman intensity. His songs are hilarious vignettes of drug fiend depravity and drug-fuelled delirium. In "Mission Xtacy", two club kids tell a series of lies to close friends in their quest to procure Ecstasy: "cos we were on a mission... cos we like fuckin' drugs." "Run For Your Life" goes from demented visions of millions of Gothic ravers "falling from the sky" or lurking "in secret record shops/sucking on amphetamines and plotting their plots", to grandiose delusions: "I am the essence/Of overwhelming doom."

Strangely Chesler doesn't perform either of these classics at the Tunnel, nor his biggest tune, "One Night in NYC"--a true tale about an under-age, out-of-town girl and a seasoned club kid who plies her with E and then "fucks her all night". Three years on from its original release as the title track of the first Horrorist EP, "One Night In NYC" is a tune that just won't die. Its latest surge of popularity in Europe comes thanks to a remix by Chris Liebing. Having already wracked up a total of 10 thousand sales in its original and multiple remix versions, "One Night" now looks likely to be picked up a major label (Universal and Polydor are both bidding) for European release.

And that's fitting, because Europe is where it all starts for Oliver Chesler. A massive fan of Euro Body Music artists like Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb, Chesler was turned onto techno by the Belgian hardcore of the early Nineties. When he first started going to Manhattan techno parties, he thought the music was nothing special. "Then T99's "Anasthasia", came over the sound system, and it just hit me. I thought 'I'm going to make thisstuff now.' The Belgian sound was just so powerful. Everybody tries to leave that stuff out of history. I'm so sick of hearing about the same three idiots in Detroit. Who cares? It's not relevant to what I do or to most people's idea of what techno is."

Maybe it's the Nietzchean influence of Euro Body Music, but Chesler's experience with the drug side of rave culture is different from most: not so much love/peace/unity, more Titantic self-aggrandisement. "I wasn't into dancing so much as ranting and raving about myself. Ecstasy took me back to when I was 17, before I knew right and wrong. I had a crazy six months where I did everything I wanted to do. I don't think drugs are really practical in everyday life, but it would be great to take an E and be in control of some country, do know what I mean?"

With this Front 242-style "tyranny for you" attitude, it's not surprising that Chesler gravitated towards hardcore, the most power trip oriented of techno subgenres. In 1992, he started out doing stuff with Lenny Dee's Brooklyn-based label Industrial Strength--proto-gabba classics like Disintegrator's "Lock On Target" and DJ Skinhead's "Fuckin' Hostile". Soon he was recording tracks for multiple labels using some 13 alter-ego names, and flying over to DJ and perform in Holland, France, and other gabba-loving parts of Europe.

By 1994, New York's own hardcore scene had dwindled down to small, scary parties--zombie ravers on angel dust twitching to the 200 beats-per-minute, distorted kick drums of tunes like Chesler's own "I Get The Coke" and "Fists of Pride" (released as Temper Tantrum). Gabba's still banging its head against this dead end, but Chesler's opted out of the international race to craft the nastiest and noisiest record ever. In 1996 he started Things To Come to push a new sound: shaped by the hardcore years, but midtempo and tuneful, characterised by ominous melodic cadences and frequent use of the human voice. Chesler wasn't alone in his vision quest--he had kindred spirits in the German producers Marc Acardipane and Miro, plus their French ally Dr. Macabre (also known as Renegade Legion and Lunatic Asylum). Until recently, all three recorded primarily for the Frankfurt-based cluster of labels that includes PCP, Dance Ecstasy 2001, Cold Rush, Powerplant, and many others. Then Acardipane split from PCP to form his own Hamburg-based label, PCP-Acardipane, and took Miro with him.

If anyone can claim to have invented the style--what Chesler calls Gothic Rave, and others describe as "doomcore"---it's Marc Acardipane. Recording via over 20 different names (most famously The Mover, Mescalinum United, Rave Creator, Marshall Masters, Pilldriver, and Ace the Space), Acardipane was responsible for the vast majority of PCP/etc releases. Ranging from bonehead gabba anthems to atmospheric hardcore to breakbeat and electro work-outs to what he calls "sick ambient", he's built up a body of work as impressive as Underground Resistance's. Once upon a time, he and PCP were even briefly "hip": Aphex Twin remixed Mescalinum United's classic "We Have Arrived", and Acardipane did a whole bunch of records for R&S. But as rave culture splintered into different directions--jungle, trance, "serious" techno, IDM--Acardipane got sucked into the ghetto of gabba. In Holland, he's still a god to the dwindling gabber tribes; his career anthology double-CD was advertised on television. In Belgium, his Marshall Masters persona scored a gold record with the stomping single "I Like It Loud" and a number 3 pop hit with "Don't Touch That Stereo". "I played on the same bill as the Vengaboys at this Belgian rave," he chuckles.

In his native Germany, though, Marc Acardipane is the forgotten man of techno. Partly, that's because of the now-defunct PCP's strident, intransigent undergroundism, and Acardipane's own cultivation of anonymity and mystique. But it's also because, with the exception of his most blatant anthems like "Six Million Ways To Die", his music is caught in a limbo: between the moronic inferno of Netherlands gabba and the world of "serious" techno. Like Reinforced in the early darkside jungle era, most PCP/Cold Rush music was too "advanced" for its own scene: too "musical" and atmospheric for the gabber kids's drug-determined requirements, yet still too steeped in to the Ecstasy vibe and the hardcore aesthetic for connoisseurs.

The ultimate barrier to Acardipane's access to hipster respect is the way he's kept faith with the gabba audience's craving for "bass", i.e. a pounding, distorted kick drum---the four-to-the-floor "funklessness" of gabba that repels acid-jazz snobs, breakbeat fetishists, and the spiritually goatee-clad everywhere. Unrelenting and monolithic, sure, but the PCP-style kick drum aesthetic is far from monotonous. The piledriving punisher beat is cunningly inflected, alternating between saturated intensity and stripped-down severity. Tracks like Tilt!'s "Pitch-Hiker" and Miro's "Bass Drum Elevation" are symphonies in four-to-the-floor, multi-tiered architectures constructed out of just kicks, claps and hi-hats. Creativity also comes into play with the use of distortion to create the thickest, widest, most voluptuously concussive bass drum imaginable. Acardipane and his buddies get so deep into timbral distortion that the bass drum pulse become a smeared belt of sound, with the percussive impact of each kick muffled deep within a sensuous wall of noise.

Not that the other elements of doomcore's sonic vocabulary are going to win converts from hipster land, either: locust-swarm drones descended from "Mentasm" and "Dominator"; whiplash snares that crackle and sting; synth-riffs that seem to gibber and jeer like grotesque, cackling demons; other synth-textures that are snaky and slithering or clammy and mucus-like; dirge-like gloomy melodies and horror-movie refrains. There's the cavernous reverb that transforms your living room into a giant industrial hangar outside Antwerp circa 1991, or on headphones makes you feel like you're inside the catacombs beneath the frozen surface of Pluto. Hence the slogans that used to appear on the Cold Rush releases: "music for huge space arenas", "recorded somewhere in the lost zones." Apparently Acardipane started out in a punk band that rehearsed in a church--"with hindsight I think that is one of the reasons why I use full, booming, resounding noises in my records" he told hardcore magazine Thunder.

Above all, there's a searing, desolate coldness of sound, creating an atmosphere where you can almost see your own breath in the air. No, I don't see the Kruder & Dorfmeister or Stacy Pullen fans coming round to this style of music nytime soon. But for those who feel it, "for those who know" (as all different kinds of hardcore scenes tend to say), it's one of the greatest rushes around.

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