100% Silk, Polished Dance Music With Grit Under Its Nails

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

Daniel Martin-McCormick was scrunched up in a Chrysler van, headed to the next stop on tour. Ever since he started playing guitar in the Washington, DC post-hardcore band Black Eyes back in 2001, this is what being on tour has meant: getting in the van, hitting the road and playing for the kids, then getting up and doing it all over gun. The same held true for Martin-McCormick’s next band, Mi Ami.

Only, when he unloaded into Scrummage Vision, a converted warehouse in the gritty West Side Industrial neighborhood of Detroit, he wasn’t lugging guitars, drum kits and cumbersome amps into the space. Instead Martin-McCormick set up his Korg Electribe, a keyboard, a mixer and some pedals to perform as Ital, his set part of a week long 100% Silk tour which just wrapped up on the East Coast two weeks ago.

"Over a bakers dozen’s worth of singles, they commingle nightlife glamour with 3am grit, scuffing up electronic music’s inherent sleekness with a sense of the naïf."

The mini-tour served as a coming-out party of sorts for the LA-based dance imprint (which is a sub-label of the noisy Not Not Fun record label) and its stable of dance music producers. Featuring acts like Magic Touch (fellow Mi Ami member Damon Palermo), Innergaze (the duo of Brooklyn’s Aurora Halal and Jason Letkiewicz), Octo Octa (New Hampshire’s Michael Morrison), and LA Vampires (the alter ego of NNF labelheads Brit and Amanda Brown), they presented a decidedly scruffy (some call it 'hipster house') take on modern electronic music.

“It’s no different from doing tours with a punk band where you hop in the van,” Martin-McCormick says by phone before the Detroit show. “There was none of this: ‘Now that we’re playing dance music we’re going to play the big clubs.’ For me and the others, it’s still DIY like we’ve always done.” So rather than the guitar feedback, screamed vocals, furious rhythms and mosh pits that are the earmarks of most punk rock shows, the audience in this DIY space instead got synths, icy vocals, throbbing basslines, and more elegant dance moves for a night.

In the 2011 calendar year alone, 100% Silk has staked out far different ground from both its parent label --which is known more for releasing esoteric noise music and hypnagogic pop from underground artists like Pocahaunted, Sun Araw, and Magick Markers—and the current electronic music scene. Taking their cues from obscure disco B-side dubs, old Chicago Trax singles and early Detroit house music rather than the en vogue British dubstep and the sleek European dance music currently storming the charts, the 100% Silk aesthetic stands out. Over a bakers dozen’s worth of singles, they commingle nightlife glamour with 3am grit, scuffing up electronic music’s inherent sleekness with a sense of the naïf. “For me, music is about wanting to do something even if you have no idea how to do it,” says Martin-McCormick. “I didn’t understand MIDI or synths when I started, but making dance music always had appeal to me. I feel like making music is about exploration no matter the genre.”

[caption id="attachment_20075" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Ital performs at Brooklyn's Shea Stadium, November 2011. Photo: Adam Tetzloff"][/caption]

For Ital’s most recent single, “Only For Tonight,” he uses an old Candi Staton a capella (deployed most famously by Chicago house master Frankie Knuckles) to build up his own fidgety track, full of warm synths and a slowly cresting beat. Just don’t think that the punk rocker side of Martin-McCormick has been replaced by the house music producer. “Silk is embracing dance music but also keeping their weird sensibilities intact,” he said. “We’re not about to start wearing silk shirts and Armani sunglasses now. There’s just this space for people who are making tracks and people who are into noise can also get into this. The audience isn’t different per se; it’s just a journey that the underground is on.”

And in that manner, 100% Silk is a reaction against an indie music scene that can get too stifling. In the early '90s, it happened when twee-pop Beat Happening frontman Calvin Johnson ditched his guitar and started doing dance parties as Dub Narcotic Sound System out in Olympia, Washington. On the east coast, a similar thing happened when Dischord band Nation of Ulysses disbanded and frontman Ian Svenonius embraced soul and dance music instead of punk rock. That same shift occurred again in the early 21st century when former punk rock drummer James Murphy became enamored with disco and house music and started releasing his own dance singles as LCD Soundsystem. Or when New Jersey noise label Troubleman Unlimited and their no-wave act Glass Candy got into Italo-disco and acid house, creating a dance imprint Italians Do It Better. When indie music gets too staid, cerebral and arms-folded, a backlash towards the dancefloor always occurs.

“I hate indie gigs where everyone is wearing a sweater and no one’s moving, it’s so boring,” says another 100% Silk artist, London-via-Estonia producer, Maria Minerva. “I wanna be moved, emotionally, yes, but first and foremost -- physically.” Her latest effort, Sacred & Profane Love, comes out next week on the label and marks her fourth release for NNF and 100% Silk. “For me, making music has been a process of unlearning and becoming more and more sincere as an artist,” she says via email. After sending her demo to NNF’s Amanda Brown on a whim, she was surprised to learn of the forthcoming dance imprint. “It was kind of too good to be true, because I had so many misfit dance tracks, stuff for which I saw no future.” Being in London now puts Minerva in the epicenter of all strains of modern dance music, and she actively checks out UK Garage, Funky, and dubstep nights, even if such sounds don’t necessarily filter down into her own bedroom productions.

MARIA MINERVA - KYRIE ELEISON teaser from 100% Silk on Vimeo.

Tracks like “Kyrie Eleison” and “Turn Me On” off the new EP are both ethereal and propulsive, with Minerva’s vocals emanating as if in a dream as the beats piston about her, and throughout, Minerva’s idiosyncratic style becomes clear. She might favor the gauzy bedroom productions of someone like Nite Jewel and Kate Bush, but she builds her music for the dancefloor: “When I go out I wear trainers and a gym top and the minute I get in to the party I run straight to the dancefloor. For me, having a good time going out means dancing; I don’t care about pints and conversations and networking.”

So when she recently encountered dubstep producer Joy Orbison, it was a little awkward: “I saw Joy DJing recently and it was so amazing. So after the set he walked past and I just complimented his set. But by then I was all sweaty and red-faced so he just was like ‘uh-huh’ and ran away.”

Shea Stadium photos courtesy of Adam Tetzloff.