EMP Sky Church, Wed Oct 23, $15/$17.
By now, you've heard of electroclash--the nascent genre characterized by the electronic new wave sounds of the early '80s. No single description fits all the electroclash acts (though most are interested in fashion, art, irony, haircuts, and sex--lots and lots of filthy sex), but at its basis, electroclash is dance music for rock people. The genre celebrates its first birthday this October, presenting the first nationwide Electroclash Tour, which features such bands as Chicks on Speed, Peaches, Tracy + the Plastics, W.I.T., and Larry Tee.
Tee is the movement's Malcolm McLaren. The 43-year-old DJ and club promoter coined the term "electroclash" and organized the tour. Best known for writing RuPaul's "Supermodel (You Better Work)," Tee has been a longtime staple of the New York club scene, and is now the head of Mogul Electro, the record-label wing of the tour/festival. He's a manic ball of witty energy; who looks like a cross between Moby and Elvis Costello. When asked to sum up the past year (Tee's first Electroclash Festival took place last October in New York), he's enthusiastic.
"The most exciting thing about this is how many doors it's kicked down," he says. "Electroclash doesn't give a fuck if you're gay or straight, male or female, black or white. This might be the first genre where sexuality isn't an issue."
Electroclash's gender parity is remarkable, even if on paper the tour looks something like an electronic update of Lilith Fair. With the exception of Tee, all the performers are female. The genre stresses self-consciousness--"It makes fun of things that are wrong, celebrates celebrity excess while making fun of it," says Tee--and the combination of postmodern identity crises with sexuality can create some very sexy (and very funny) music. See Peaches, the Canadian-born, Berlin-residing one-woman burlesque revue, whose record The Teaches of Peaches takes its title from the lyrics of her infectious underground hit "Fuck the Pain Away." Peaches isn't conventionally attractive--at times she looks like Sandra Bernhard cursed with Howie Mandel's hockey hair--but when she's onstage, stroking her beatbox and rubbing the mike between her legs, her sexual energy is heavy and wet. If the caricature of voracious female lust is an act, it's one she plies full-time. Peaches was on tour with Queens of the Stone Age when we spoke, and, having just pulled in to Austin, let me listen to her urinate over the phone. "I like that I can get up there and just be me," she says. "This tour [with Queens of the Stone Age] has really helped me deal with the crowds. In every town, some meathead in the audience will scream, 'You suck.' Lately I've been responding with, 'Yeah, and I swallow, too.'"
Chicks on Speed emphasize art over sleaze. The Munich three-piece play cut-up electro, but are also an industry unto themselves, operating Chicks on Speed Records and a fashion label; they recently expanded into handbags, creating the "Chixel," a knockoff of a Karl Lagerfeld-designed number for Chanel. The Chicks--Melissa Logan, Kiki Moorse, and Alex Murray-Leslie--like the tour because it gives off a different vibe from other performances. "It was such good energy, so much more open than a regular rock show," they say. (The troupe speaks as one.) "Everything, including lip-synching, was okay. There were fashion victims, but even they didn't seem pretentious."
The youngest band on the tour is W.I.T. (Whatever It Takes), a three-piece from Brooklyn. It's been an insane year for Melissa Burns, Christine Doza, and the mutable third girl (they've got a sort of Destiny's Child thing going on), who, since their lip-synched debut of the Cars' "Just What I Needed" at the last Electroclash Festival, have appeared on the covers of Billboard and The Fader--without a release to their name. Burns, whose flippy blond Farrah Fawcett 'do also graces the cover of Ultra Records' '80s vs. Electro compilation, is another Canadian, and Larry Tee's equal in the quip department. "We're the zen essence of girl, a haiku of girl, the nuggety goodness of girl," she says of W.I.T.'s music. "We recorded the record, and I think we've succeeded in becoming more girl than girl." Burns sounds exhausted when she describes her past 12 months. "It's been a whirlwind. I'm still astounded that anyone cares." W.I.T.'s album will be released later this fall on Mogul Electro.
At the Williamsburg, New York home of Mogul Electro (which Burns calls "the Death Star," circling the neighborhood, looking for haircuts to put on stage), Tee's equable about the genre's success. "People just [wanted] music they could relate to, and performers they wanted to have sex with," he says, noting that the genre is so self-conscious, it sometimes seems disposable. "But if electroclash fails, you can bet I'll be on to something else--whatever it is that isn't even on the market yet."