Written by: Dave Cantrell
What amazes is not how quickly time passes but rather that its swiftness so often surprises us. Literally not a day passes where some comment in the vein of ‘Wow, that sure went by fast’ isn’t heard in some context by every one of us, if indeed it isn’t us ourselves uttering it in some breathless moment of disbelief. You’d think by a certain point our perspectives would shift to where we’d be shocked to realize how long it took some interval of time to pass (not counting the last hour of school or work or whatever other realm of daily tedium one might be trapped in), but no, it seems we’re destined to be forever tricked by time and its sleight-of-hand ways. So, please allow us here at the post-punk desk to join in the chorus: “Y’mean it’s been a year since the last NEXT list appeared?!” Well, yes, we’re afraid it has been and for that we, inevitably, apologize, especially as that one was actually a double NEXT to make up for the fact that the interval preceding it had been so preposterously long. Now, it’d be nice and all to declare that we’ll return to our next NEXT duties in due time – like, say, in six months – but let’s privilege naked honesty over wishful thinking, shall we, and presume that NEXT 16 will also, almost certainly, not crop up until about this same point in our upcoming trip around the sun. And besides, though we agree that having it appear sooner would be great, it should at the same time be noted that conjuring a new score of darkwave bands just as the calendar (for those of us in the northern latitudes, anyway) turns toward longer nights and deeper shadows seems, upon reflection, wholly appropriate. That said, let’s get to the new twenty. It is, after all, about time…
ALTAR DE FEY (San Francisco)
It’s often said in the course of these quick bios that a band’s or artist’s appearance is long overdue here at NEXT so we may as well get that out of the way straight off: in terms of the NEXT list, Altar De Fey’s appearance has something of a timeless poignance about it. Formed originally in the early 80’s by anchors Kent Cates (guitar) and drummer/percussionist Aleph Kali, playing all their city’s legendary nightspots of lore – including, of course, Mabuhay Gardens – they made such of a name for themselves via just their live performances that their disbandment in 1985 left enough of a hole in the dark hearts of the Bay’s goth-leaning tribes that their sudden return to the spotlight to play a local festival in 2011 was met with an almost ‘second coming’ swoon. Now expanded past that first return’s two-man iteration to a four-piece (Bay Area stalwart Skot Brown on bass, the transfixing Jake Hout on vocals), Altar De Fey not only sound undiminished but if anything doubly inspired by the reception they’ve been accorded upon their resurrection. To which we can but say, ‘long live Altar De Fey!’
And, not to sound immediately like a droning echo, but here’s another entry that, were there any sense or grace in the world, should have popped up on NEXT long ago. Arnaud Lazlaud, AKA Xavier Paradis, DBA Automelodi, having been ‘at’ this since the mid-aughts, has by now not only established themselves as a charter member of the post-Depeche synth generation but as well among its most masterful practitioners. How they’ve eluded inclusion in this feature is both a mystery and an embarrassment but that aside, ‘better late than never’ has never sounded better than this. And the kicker? Lazlaud/Paradis/Automelodi are set to tour the US in 2020 [details here]. Merveilleux!!
BEDLESS BONES (Tallinn, Estonia)
If anything has defined this NEXT business as it’s evolved over the past five years or so it would, we think, be the word ‘expansion.’ Though the very first one of these – sans the adjective ‘NEXT,’ of course – featured a handful of artists that edged toward the electronic fringes, the overwhelming majority, good as they were/are, hewed more or less toward the more traditional guitar/bass/drums alignment. And, truth be told, there was a predominance of such back in 2012 or whenever it was but since then, in ever increasing numbers, the avant values inherent in machine-assisted production have become ever more evident (as a glance at more recent NEXTs would confirm). So much so that, here in the fall of 2019, it can be difficult for any synth-centric concern to stand out. Bedless Bones (in the person of Kadri Sammel), it must immediately be said, faces no such problem. Intriguingly difficult to pinpoint genre-wise – ghostly warm-blooded coldwave gone fetchingly IDM? Something like that – but nonetheless compelling of texture and construction, the work of Bedless Bones belies their relatively recent emergence, a fact perhaps at least partly explained by the statement whispered in small type on their website: I belong to the future / I hail from the past
BLIND DELON (Toulouse, France)
The project of one Mathis Kolkoz that becomes a trio live with the addition of Théo Fantuz and Coco Thiburs, Blind Delon has been on NEXT’s radar pretty much since they began in the year of our dark lord 2016. Mostly of course that’s down to the deeply thrumming post-punk grooves coming out of their particular coldwave cave but another factor helping garner attention has been Kolkoz’s output. We don’t know about you but to us 2016 doesn’t seem that long ago, yet in that brief duration between then and now this Blind Delon character has issued a mini-album, a full-length, ten various 12″ and 7″ efforts plus a digital-only EP, and the truly ridiculous thing is, we suspect we’re forgetting a title or two. None of which would mean whatever the French word is for ‘squat’ were it not for the fact that the quality never flags. On the one hand, an artist that prolific kind of freaks us out, but on the other it makes us, in some weird way, proud to be human. Whatever, we’re grateful.
BRAGOLIN (Utrecht, Netherlands)
Currently the duo of Edwin van der Velde and Maria Karssenberg (Isolde Woudstra having departed after debut album I Saw Nothing Good So I Left was released in 2018), Bragolin, though in a sense having only just begun, already seem unstoppable. There are times where the quality that strikes us first and foremost about a band is their innate resilience, a kind of pulsing irrepressibility and this little unit most certainly embodies exactly that. Smart, compact, synth-driven songs that tend to catch in your consciousness with an effortless tenacity, Bragolin’s are the type tracks that inspire poetic visceral responses that register in a moody nether world between pop hypnotics and dark obsessions of the soul. That their name derives from the Italian painter Giovanni Bragolin, best known for his paintings of crying little boys is both intriguing and, frankly, a little disturbing. At the very least, however, it turns out that boys indeed do cry.
EYE STEAL (Toronto)
One of the extraordinary things, we think, about the current generation of darkwave artists, is the extent to which they eschew most of the traditional routes of publicity and promotion. A hard-wired response, we suspect, to the very life events that shaped their character, artistic and otherwise, it’s nonetheless rather inspiring to witness nearly an entire movement pursue their art for that simplest and most utterly compelling reason: they have to, they have no choice. While without a doubt such devotion, to one degree or another, is precisely what’s driven artists to create since forever, there’s often something singularly obsessive behind the pursuits of many musicians in this particular realm that this writer has personally encountered over the past eight years. If forced to speculate, I’d describe it as the gleam of madness that keeps them sane, or anyway as close as they’re going to get to that basically functioning state. Whereas this may or may not be true of Remi Monroe, operating under the guise of Eye Steal (though the ES Facebook page gives certain clues we’re not far off), the work itself, in its determined energy and delicate arcs, speaks eloquently to those age-old anomalies, the conundrums and contradictions, of existence. One can’t help but be moved by fragile passions let loose with such fearless grace.
Virtuosic. Mesmeric. Incomparably consistent. Maddeningly talented. These are all just words and phrases but to our mind Hélène de Thoury, the sole proprietor of the Hante. enterprise, may as well just go ahead and attach little ®’s to each one of them, so unfailingly captivating (there’s another one) are her compositions, whether they be conceived for this solo venture or for her other project (with Amandine Stioui), past NEXTers Minuit Machine. Taking the cold wave template gifted her by virtue of her birthplace and subtly embroidering into it both a cinematic glow and a dark classicist pop bent, the resulting product reflects an aesthetic that’s peerless to the point of untouchable, an opinion made manifest by this year’s release of fourth album Fierce, as well-named an album as you could hope to find.”A new Nico in our midst,” this magazine’s reviewer (ahem) said, and in truth we fear we were underselling her.
HUMAN ABFALL (Stuttgart, Berlin)
With the word ‘abfall’ meaning, literally, ‘waste,’ there’s not much doubt as to where this quartet is likely coming from in terms of world view, and indeed that assumption is reinforced by the fact that the band themselves embrace the ‘punk’ designation and nothing more, but the music they’ve released over the years – their demo appeared on Bandcamp in 2012 – betrays a taste beyond. Often at least passingly experimental while also yoked with some devotion to established 1977-derived tropes, the tension between those two tendencies produces the type results that lands them on a list like this. Adventurous, with no time for trends or, it would seem, any reflex toward ‘fashionable,’ the quartet, who we hope are prepping for their next album (most recent, Form & Zweck, from which the attached video, arrived 3½ years ago), have about them an intractable spirit we find quite compelling. While you join us in that wait for the next LP, may we suggest a Bandcamp trawl through their back catalog. It’s a most rewarding primer.
THE INK BATS (Oakland)
In one respect, Gertrude Stein has never been more irrelevant. As regarding the ‘scene’ as it currently exists in that other City by the Bay, there’s more ‘there’ there than they know what to do with. As evidenced by the very fact of the Near Dark Festival that just wrapped its third year last month, Oakland is, well, batty with darkwave and all its various offspring and offshoots, and among the most representative – and deeply loved – are the Ink Bats. The five-piece, which either has no one leader or has a quintet of them depending on where your utopian mindset is on the day you catch them live, adds to keyboardist Zo Guthrie, drummer Andrej Puhlovski, and rhythm guitarist Josie Dot (all of whom share vocals, Josie being primary), ex-Dead Souls bassist Davey Bones and guitarist Rodney Horihata, ex of Chrome, the latter of which we have to finger as a possible prime suspect in the unique (and wildly riveting) psych-tinged repertoire that marks this band out as the innate innovators they are. And though we’re always keen to hear the next album from any band we love, it’s that added ingredient – designed, as it is, to at least mildly disorient – that has us double keen for the follow-up to 2017’s Loss.
I TPAME I TVRAME (Tirana, Albania)
First off, no, we don’t know how to pronounce this band’s name nor, perhaps, does anyone else exactly as our efforts to feed it into various Albanian-English online translators turned up zilch (or “hiç” should you find yourself in that fair country). That said – however unsayable – this haunted duo, comprised of Franc Kurti and Dina Hajrullahu, with their synths and creeping bass-fed dread, have, since 2016, been putting DJs, darkwave aficionados and European festival audiences in the curious position of falling in love with a band whose name both elevates and challenges the very concept of the glottal stop. That said (or…oh, nevermind), we all will nonetheless persist, as their way of channeling the inner thoughts and rhythms of the dark ghost spirit are narcotically irresistible.
OK, so you’re right, we’re not confident about this band name pronunciation either (Klās’-eh, we’re guessing) but we are deeply certain that few bands seem to better catch the angsty zeitgeist that we suspect permeates the German capital like a maundering fog than does Kleze.e. Capturing a vibe caught in a web between mournful and harsh may not be an easy proposition on paper but in practice, this trio of Filip Pampuch, Daniel Moheit, and Tobias Siebert have been managing it with aplomb for something like ten years now. Reason to migrate to Europe #4137…
It’s not in the least bit uncommon when creating these NEXTs to encounter an enigmatic shroud in the place of biographical information and that was certainly the case with electronic wizard Kontravoid, who holds such cards close to his no-doubt-black vest insofar as social media and his Bandcamp page are concerned. Fortunately, there’s Google (which, surprisingly perhaps, we don’t often have to turn to when compiling these features), which informs us that this first-caliber, EBM-infused, electropunk musician is the alias of one Cameron Findlay, Toronto-born but resident these days – and for a while, we suspect – of Berlin. All that said, the white plaster-masked artist is another instance of this column failing to some extent in its core duty, as Kvoid has been a audible/visible presence (however, what else, enigmatically) since the beginning of this decade. Coolest thing, speaking personally? The first Kontravoid release is a live set named for the date of said set, 11/11/11, which happens to be this writer’s wedding anniversary. Fate, I beckon you not, and yet you appear…
LA MÉCANIQUE (Montréal)
There can be little doubt, by this point in this edition, that the coldwave influence has never been stronger overall and that, even as Paris still reigns – quite rightly, after all – Montréal can at the very least, in this regard anyway, consider itself the Paris of Canada. Of course, like any major metropolis, there are many scenes stretching across countless genres and sub-‘s in the former Ville-Marie, it would nonetheless be surprising if any had risen in their respective niche to the prominence as the demimonde synthetique has over the last ten to fifteen years, and though a relative newcomer – La Mécanique first stirred to life in 2016 – the work Francis Nothingwater has produced defines the city’s unofficially official undercurrent. As per their early-80’s goth influences, La Mécanique present as a somewhat weightier proposition than the phrase ‘synth-based’ might ordinarily suggest, never shying away from the stridently political when necessary. Anarcho-synthwave, then? Could be, yes, but we’ll just stick with ‘f**king great!’
PUSH BUTTON PRESS (Tampa, Florida)
Back in the dark (what else) mists of time when this column/feature/whatever-the-hell-it-is began, Florida did not enjoy frequent parenthetical status in these vicenary countdowns, a somewhat unsurprising statement one might assume given the place’s “Sunshine State” moniker. Over the years, however, driven by the likes of Miami’s Astari Nite and Ars Phoenix (also from Gainesville), that has begun to change, and we’re pretty confident that should there need to be a force that bursts that dam once and for all, it will be Push Button Press. Buoyed by an arrestingly spry melodic charge at every turn, it has occurred to us here at the black lacquered post-punk desk that PBP seems constitutionally incapable of wrong-stepping it, as we’ve not heard an even remotely duff track. Having released their second album last December – from which the below – and looking at a West Coast tour in the spring of 2020, their trajectory would seem to point in only one direction, the arc of which we’ll compare to one of those lifting off from Cape Canaveral, because, well, we’re shameless that way.
RED MECCA (Sundsvall, Sweden)
Among the myriad joys that attend to the assembling of these NEXTs is the inclusion of bands from relatively out-of-the-way – and therefore, by definition, unexpected – locales. Now, while not counting among our few attributes a working command of what is and what isn’t considered a cultural hotspot in Sweden, we will nonetheless hazard a guess that Sundsvall, some 250 miles up the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia from Stockholm, is at least nominally of the latter camp (though it does boast a handful of music festivals including Musicschlaget, a “song contest for groups around Sweden with disabilities”). Not, then, the first place one would go rooting around for practitioners of dark brooding electronica-infused post-punk heaviness that transfixes and moves in equal measure and yet…Red Mecca! Just now, as coincidence would have it, celebrating the release of Truth, their sixth album, it’s worth noting the one aspect of this band that doesn’t surprise even as it delights, and that’s the extent to which they do right by the source of their name, and a thousand cheers to that, at least.
ROSEGARDEN FUNERAL PARTY (Dallas)
Though one would not immediately draw parallels between Rosegarden Funeral Party and Vancouver BC’s ACTORS, the two share at least one characteristic (other than, coincidentally, happening to be on tour together right now): recognizing the crucial role of good old traditional ‘hard fucking work.’ RFG only made their recorded debut – if powerfully, with “Horror Music” – exactly two years ago and yet here we are in October 2019 and the trio’s profile has, over those 24 months, risen exponentially to what one would reasonably expect. Another single appeared in January of 2018 before a third single in April of that year before, in that same month – boom! – dropping like a bomb (or, perhaps more aptly, a guillotine blade) their first album The Chopping Block. All admirably ambitious as a new band goes but it’s the work ethic underlining those releases that truly tells the tale. Frequently on tour, seemingly always writing, we think it can’t be long before Leah, Wil, and Mikka (for it is them) become rightly known as the Notorious RFG. Witty silliness aside, this band is, as they say, one to watch. Don’t miss them should they play within a hundred miles of you.
S Y Z Y G Y X (Washington DC)
And, I’m sorry, were we just talking about swift and precipitous rises to darkwave prominence? If so, allow us to introduce you to the imcomparable S Y G Y Z Y X (a band for whom, by the way, the spaces between are as important as the symbols they separate). The duo – Luna Blanc and Josh Clark – knowing that they’d make music together almost immediately upon meeting, began doing exactly that seemingly within minutes. The result, starting in April 2018 with full-length debut release Hex’n Equinox, has been a veritable electro-drum’n’bass-postpunk tsunami of wonderfulness. Since then the assault of EPs, mini-LPs and various et cetera’s has been pretty much textbook relentless, all of it also supported by an active touring itinerary, one that finds them next spring ranging from Israel to Germany to, eventually, Portland, in a quest for, well, who knows what exactly, you’d have to ask them, but one that will, we’re guessing, result in some level of worldwide synth beat renown. At the very least, those out there in their path won’t, in the very best way conceivable, know what hit ’em.
There’s an unwritten policy here at NEXT central that those bands we love that already have a fairly vast following don’t, in any practical way, need whatever boost this column provides. It’s why Savages and TR/ST, for two examples, have never made an appearance and why Kælan Mikla is absent from this current iteration. Tempers, it should be said, are themselves on the brink of this status but regardless there are still probably a few of you out there yet familiar with them – NEXT’s primary mission, after all – that the decision to include them here was in the end an easy one, since if there’s any chance you’ve not heard them, that needs to be remedied. Arresting, pulsingly rich in groove and with a dark sultriness that unnerves while seducing, the duo – Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper – have in their work a consistency of purpose that seems designed to destroy resistance. Not that that should be an issue, since resisting this sound would be very foolish indeed. It may have been the care-taking involved in maintaining that deep mojo of theirs that explains the gap in years between album one (Services) in 2015 and the imminent release of its follow-up Private Life here in October 2019. Whatever. ‘Worth the wait’ has seldom been a more accurate statement.
VICE DEVICE (Portland OR)
Finally. Finally finally finally. Since the very beginning of everything – the radio show that spawned all this business (and on which this band was among the first ever interviewees in 2012), these NEXTs, the Out From The Shadows festival, the Shadowplay columns, everything – Vice Device have not only been quite active in the local scene but have garnered rather passionate devotion wherever they’ve gone and for good reason. Intrepid, emotionally intense and innovative, the trio of Andrea Device, Bobby Kaliber and Devin Welch have never wavered in either their vision nor its execution. While minimalist in setup (Andrea and Bobby handling vocals, synths, and synth percussion, Devin a very agile bass), the actual sound they produce contains multitudes, the three of them managing without fail to create the “living textures” that became their debut album’s title. It’s the appearance of that full-length that brings them to this at-last NEXT inclusion, which is a relief since this writer will no longer be subject to the raging internal debates that would occur pretty much every time about whether or not to drop that ‘at least one full-length’ requirement. What was that I said up above about ‘worth the wait’? Double it. Finally…
WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW (Vienna)
Considering how common some version of the ‘it’s about time’ refrain has been throughout this edition, it seems entirely appropriate to end it with a band first formed over twenty years ago. Founded in 1996 by singer Ashley Dayour (the only original member these days joined by Alex Kühmayer, Lazy Schulz, Fork, and Martin Acid and yes there may be some pseudonyms mixed in there), WitS have issued a staggering sixteen albums over the years – seven studio efforts along with a handful of live and best-of and remix albums thrown in – that have appeared both on labels such as Solar Lodge and Echozone and, when necessary, as self-releases, that latter choice, we sense, reflecting the irrepressible drive to just get the music out there no matter what that Dayour and his colleagues never cease to exhibit. We could tell you more, waxing on about their ability to mate the bruisingly honest with the invincibly melodic and their popularity on the thriving European darkwave festival circuit, but in truth, it’s probably best to let this terrific video history of the band answer the curiosity that the YouTube clip below is going to trigger. At the very least they band have provided a most inspiring note to end this edition of NEXT. See you in a year, if not – ha! – sooner.