My favorite contemporary American singer-songwriter is Oliver Chesler, a/k/a The Horrorist. A thoroughly modern minstrel, Chesler pens tunes like “Mission Extacy,” a hilarious tale of the amoral things Manhattan club kids will do to get drugs, and “Wet and Shiny,” a Devo-like ditty about robo-dancing in an advanced state of hallucinatory delirium.
Folks, that’s my kind of Americana. But Chesler doesn’t strum a guitar; he twiddles a vintage Electrocomp-101 synth and a Cubase VST sequencing program. His mission is to bring the story-song to techno’s non-narrative flux of energy pulses. In contrast to the blank impersonality of your average electronica imprint, Chesler’s label Things To Come (249 West 26th Street, Apt. 2A, NYC 10001) is all about communication. Releases come with inserts covered with lyrics, illustrations, and Oliver’s meditations on various topics.
Although a few Things To Come tracks date back to the late ’80s (shortly after his professor dad lugged home some synthesizers when the college scrapped its music department), Chesler didn’t start serious musicking until he got swept up in New York’s early ’90s rave scene. Blown away by the bombast of Belgian techno, he began to record for the Brooklyn hardcore label Industrial Strength. Early Chesler productions like Disintegrator’s “Lock on Target” and DJ Skinhead’s “Fucking Hostile” helped define the emergent ultra-hardcore sound called gabba. By 1994, New York’s hardcore scene had dwindled down to small, scary parties— zombie ravers on angel dust twitching to distorted 200-bpm kick drums. Chesler’s tunes of this period, such as “I Get the Coke” and “Fists of Pride” (released under his Temper Tantrum alias, one of over a dozen), competed in an international contest for the nastiest and noisiest gabba record ever.
Now, though, Chesler’s opted out of that dead-end race. The music he’s making on Things To Come is still hardcore, but it’s midtempo and melodic, characterized by cavernous reverb, slimy synth textures, and macabre cadences. He calls it doomcore. And Chesler’s not alone in his vision quest— he’s found allies in Marc Acardipane (a/k/a The Mover) and Miro (a/k/a Reign), Frankfurt-based producers making atmospheric hardcore, “music for huge space arenas.”
My favorite Chesler tune, “Move: Don’t Stop!” from The Future Crusade EP, is a collaboration with Miro under the name SuperPower. With its militaristic bass pump, regimented beat, and domineering vocal, “Move: Don’t Stop!” harks back to that moment in techno’s evolution, circa ’91, when the mood at raves started to resemble a rally more than a party. Ecstasy generates a will-to-belief; the mega-rave collectivizes that fixated fervor, but ultimately dissipates it into an intransitive trance. But what if someone tried to focus that energy, make it transitive, give it an objective? Could rave’s amorphous massive be mobilized into an army? Chesler compositions like “Dark Invader,” a stentorian dirgestomp, and “Into the Moonbeam (Arena Mix),” all deathswarm synths and whipcrack snares, transform rave’s bliss-rush into blitzkrieg.
But doomcore isn’t so much a flashback to a 1991 rave era that’s long gone; it’s more like the soundtrack for an imaginary new subculture— Gothic Rave. All is revealed in “Run for Your Life,” the hilarious title track of the new Horrorist EP. Over frenetic quasi-jungle syncopations and stereo-panning analog-synth blare, Chesler plays the bug-eyed doomsayer, warning America to take cover because “a billion Gothic Ravers are falling from the sky/Wearing big pants/And trying to suck our blood.” Gothic Ravers also lurk “in secret record shops/Sucking on amphetamines/And plotting their plots.”
On the first Things To Come EP in 1996, Chesler expressed eagerness to play Gothic/industrial clubs, and called for the return of “16th-note bass mania” (an allusion to the chittering Moroder-esque bass pulsations that motored the “industrial disco” of Front 242 and DAF). Industrial, a/k/a Euro Body Music, is a crucial if rarely acknowledged source for techno; Chesler himself says he’s “never recovered” from seeing Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb play New York the same week. He reckons Goth and industrial kids are a better audience than drugged-out ravers— they listen closer, they’re more loyal and culty. And make no mistake, Chesler wants followers; he’d like to be where Reznor and Manson are, performing with gigantic video screens, merchandise concessions in tow. Accordingly, Chesler’s been flirting with major labels; he, Miro, and Acardipane may also be forming their own gabba-morphing-into-rock supergroup.
Horrorist songs like “Heed the Word” and “I Declare” hint at something of a messiah complex. Chesler wants to recruit people for what he calls “The New Direction,” and dreams of starting his own “world political party” (ideology yet to be formulated). “It’s better to believe in anything at all— whether it’s right or wrong,” he says. “You’re better off believing than not believing.” The vision may be blurry, but the will to power comes through loud and clear: The Horrorist wants to rule his own little “Bassline Empire.” Thing is, he’s got the B-lines to do it.