High concept, or maybe just high, posi-fatalist goth-trance “darkwave” outfit VNV Nation’s mooning would probably seem cheesy even to the preppie meatheads who frequent Webster Hall. Formed in London, temporarily relocated to Toronto, and most popular in Germany, the duo—vocalist-programmer Ronan Harris and beat-maker Mark Jackson—are Eurotrash like a bag of moldy brie and baguettes sitting on a Champs Élysée curb. And therein lies their genius: While the U.S. obsesses over baby-mama drama and ’80s-retro art-fop frippery, the EU gets medieval on your azz with operatic death metal and VNV Nation’s self-described “orchestral passion.”
And let’s not forget trance’s theatrical build and release. Once glum industrialists, VNV Nation have plugged into this soft-textured, house-beated brightness. Of Futureperfect‘s 12 PC-composed tracks, Harris—commanding, doleful, and without much range—sings on seven. The German indie-chart hit “Genesis” unintentionally references his Peter Gabriel vocal proclivities; in the beginning, typically foreboding digi-strings swoop, and astronaut William Anders nasally recites, “For all the people on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message”—cue neon staccato synth figures—”God created the heaven and the earth . . . and God said . . . and God said . . . let there be light”: pound pound pound pound.
This 1968 Christmas Eve message from lunar orbit encapsulates VNV’s classically industrial ambivalence about technology: Men stranded by progress in a void without warmth or sound mark the birth of a savior who redeemed the world created by his father. “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring,” crew member Jim Lovell said at the time, “and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.” Like discos. Still, planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing we can do.
“Wearing the Melancholy: This Dungeon’s for Hire, Even If We’re Just Dancing in the Darkwave” by Michael Freedberg