By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
The title of brooding post-punk quartet Blacklist's debut CD nicely sums up their darkly romantic worldview, but Midnight of the Century also serves as a rallying cry for the band's fledgling NYC-based label. Founded by Pieter Schoolwerth in 2006, Wierd Records—spelling intentional—specializes in music as lyrically ominous as it is sonically austere: Though some dismiss it as a mere revivalist tribute to '80s goth rock, the imprint actually casts its net far wider, hailing international phenomena like France's guitar-driven Cold Wave (derived from Joy Division and the claustrophobic, steely production of Martin Hannett) and the synth-based Minimal Electronics movement.
"In the U.S. and England, it's an uphill battle for people to even find this music," Schoolwerth explains. "Because the original Minimal Electronics and Cold Wave bands never made it here, this music is just incredibly unfamiliar." The label head, a respected visual artist by day, has taken it upon himself to introduce Americans to these dark sounds via a small but burgeoning family of contemporary acts, including Miami's Opus Finis, Martial Canterel, and, of course, fellow Brooklynites Blacklist. Midnight eschews either genre's formal trappings: While Blacklist did offer a faithful cover of seminal Cold Wave band Asylum Party's "Pure Joy in My Heart" on an early EP, the full-length's icy sound and quaking bottom end is counterbalanced by a more inviting, anthemic impulse, epitomized by surging lead single "Flight of the Demoiselles."
The band largely owes its existence to Schoolwerth, who, along with future Blacklist drummer Glenn Maryansky, began Wierd as a series of DJ nights at the Southside Lounge in 2003, providing a regular social outlet, an escape from art-studio solitary confinement, and a chance to share his enviable stacks of rare vinyl. What began as an informal weekly ritual for a handful of Williamsburg residents eventually morphed into a series of elaborate events staged throughout the city—everywhere from painting studios to proper rock clubs to an old World War II ship anchored in the Hudson—and featured live performances from artists who shared Schoolwerth's vision. At one such party, Maryansky met Virginia transplant Josh Strawn, Blacklist's future frontman. Wierd even played host to the band's very first show in 2004; both Strawn and Schoolwerth credit a community "driven by live performance and supporting your friends" for the band's development. "It's everything that the Internet can't be," their label head explains. "Flesh and blood, which is very rare in this day and age."
Strawn hopes that Midnight, Wierd's most accessible and rock-oriented release, can serve as a point of entry for those curious about the label and its musical roots. "Instead of taking all these little weird things I like and making something really weird," he explains, "it's kind of an interesting thing to me to try and take all that weird stuff, send it into the center of the universe, and hope it changes the orbit of everything."
The Wierd Party is held every Wednesday at Home Sweet Home; it hosts Blacklist's CD release party May 27