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.
One of 2012’s most revered techno records was originally nowhere to be found in the techno section. Dominick Fernow, the former owner of East Village black metal and experimental noise emporium Hospital Productions, was known more for his copious, decade-long blackened noise work rendered as Prurient and for his turn in Cold Cave, when he began to release ludicrously limited edition cassettes as Vatican Shadow. And while those original tapes are long gone, Vatican Shadow’s Ornamented Walls was an abrading listen, oft-times mentioned in the same breath as fellow Modern Love labelmate Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems and Silent Servant’s Negative Fascination (incidentally released on Fernow’s Hospital Productions imprint). Like those albums, Vatican Shadow was brutal in its beats and beautiful in its power drones, unsettling at its core. Physically, it throbbed and blurred vision like a migraine in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
And what was once the side gig now bleeds through to Prurient, as the three long, trance-inducing tracks that comprise Through the Window feature the throbs that similar propel the relentlessness of Vatican Shadow. Whether the label affixed to Fernow’s music (as Prurient or Vatican Shadow or 20-odd others) reads as black metal, power noise, goth, industrial, darkwave, etc., his explorations have always been at the extreme. Prurient dwells not in the red on the Volume Unit meter, but at the negative space beyond red, into what’s beyond the threshold. Fernow’s productions push into purple and black, much like Australia’s new extreme heat temperatures map.
A burst of new color can be made out under the fluorescent lighting of Pete Swanson’s Punk Authority EP cover art, the result of graffiti and magic-markering on an unconscious body. Of Pete himself, we’re meant to presume. The onetime member of duo Yellow Swans, Swanson has played with his image since pursuing solo work. His telltale black cap graced 2011’s Man With Potential, albeit atop a mop head.
(And of course, there’s the Noise Park portrait.) On the left shoulder blade there’s a red tag: “Sext Me.”
Sonically, his music has moved from chars of noise to something more considered, but still as bracing and exhilarating as his previous work. “There was a period of time when I was still in Portland where friends were exploring techno and Johnny Jewel was still DJing in Portland,” Swanson told me recently. “I really see my work in dialog with whatever I'm around so it makes sense that those things would seep into my work. My influences were no longer noise but other pop or dance oriented artists. I just have a super noisy way of making music.”
Swanson’s set-up for Punk Authority centers around a modular synth riced through pedals and reel-to-reel tape machine. “Punk Authority is a specific study in what was possible with my touring setup,” he said. “I was turning these brief, sharp sounds into a swirling mass of high pitched tones, then used the kick drum to anchor the more dispersed elements. The tension between the seemingly-decentralized and overtly-centralized passages was very satisfying.”
Swanson recently celebrated the EP’s release with a show at the Bunker in the concrete walled backroom at Public Assembly. If Swanson’s half-hour set drew from the EP, there’s no way of knowing, as he unleashed a maelstrom of shrieking circuits and distorted kicks. Kinetic and physically present in a way few sets -- DJ or live -- can match, Swanson had metal extremists and techno heads enthralled. At one point during the whiplash show at 2:30 am, I paused and counted out 35 beats within 15 seconds, equivocal to about 140 BPMS. Only, I realized instead it was the threshold for as fast as I could keep count, a noise beyond easy measure.
Prurient's album Through the Window is out now via Blackest Ever Black.
Pete Swanson's EP Punk Authority is out now via Software.