I guess ugly clothes are pretty rave
Studio B is one of those Polish nightclubs in Greenpoint where the owners are beginning to sense that there’s money to be made off the neighborhood’s gentrification and that maybe they should start hosting events that’ll bring in people from outside the neighborhood. Judging by the crowd they managed to cram in at last night’s Soulwax show, they’re succeeding; it was hard to move with all the complicated haircuts and leg-warmers in there. The space is cavernous, and there are enough colored spotlights moving around constantly that one of them is always beaming you right in the eye and blinding you. I like it, but it’s exactly the wrong type of space to go see the Klaxons.
The Klaxons are a new band from London, and the British press is falling all over them in the way that only the British press can do. They’re being touted as the standard-bearers of the “new rave movement,” supposedly bringing back 808 squeals and pacifiers and massive illegal parties and everything else that made the late-80s rave scene in England such a massive and unexpected social phenomenon. But beyond some blippy siren noises on “Atlantis to Interzone,” they don’t sound remotely like rave, and that’s a shame. A revival of that massively twerked-up siren-call insanity would be pretty great right now, especially since dance music either seems to be leaning toward cheesed-out swooshy globo-trance or unbelievably boring German metronome-pulse minimal techno. But the Klaxons have basically nothing to do with that stuff, even if they do cover some old rave anthem I’ve never heard. They have more in common with British dance-punk bands like Bloc Party or Maximo Park, except that they’re even less dancey and more uptight than those bands. They do dense and jagged and hectic post-punk, their basslines tangling up with screechy synth-burps and barely-realized choruses more chanted than sung. There’s no rigor and barely any rhythm, and I can’t really imagine anyone really dancing to it.
People certainly weren’t doing a whole lot of dancing last night, when the band got the polite but unenthusiastic response that virtually every opening band gets in this city. Their mess sounded even messier through the muddy sound-system, and they didn’t have a whole lot of room on the equipment-cluttered stage to throw themselves around. It was tough to see them through the dry-ice fog that choked the air out of the club, and their accents were thick enough that I could only catch the odd word or two of their stage patter. But even with all those impediments, they had a nervous, herky-jerk energy that came through mostly undiluted. There are three guys in the band, and I guess they just bring a drummer along on the tour. The other three switch off instruments and lead-vocal duties constantly; there’s no clear frontman. They played for half an hour, or the same amount of time it took me to get a drink from the bar after they finished. As they left some stage, a DJ threw on some swooshy disco-house, and it became pretty immediately apparent that most of the crowd saw them as pretty much just an interruption to the night. I would’ve much rather seen them at an American Legion hall with no stage or lights or smoke machines.
In fact, the Klaxons’ set last night reminded me of no show I’ve seen as much as the American Legion set I saw the Dismemberment Plan play in Baltimore before they got around to releasing an album. The Dismemberment Plan show was better, but that probably had at least as much to do with my age and the show’s setting as anything either band played. Both bands have a sort of fierce, charged-up optimism, a whole lot of ideas without any clear idea how to channel those ideas in any real direction. It took a few years, but the Dismemberment Plan eventually managed to become great. In a few years, maybe the same thing will happen to the Klaxons. Of course, the Dismemberment Plan dudes didn’t wear $35 T-shirts onstage, but I have no idea whether that even matters.