Genre of the Week: Electroclash
by Craig Short (Music Industry), published November 27th 2016
Peaches (Merrill Beth Nisker)
The music scene has always been full of tiny artistic pockets. All it takes is a small group of likeminded artists, a splash of good luck, and willing fans, and before you know it a Scene has evolved. This is where we get gems like vaporwave, witch house, and lots of other genres that probably seemed very cool at the time. This week, we’re featuring…
Key artists: Peaches, Chicks on Speed, Fischerspooner, Le Tigre, Goldfrapp
Peak years: 1999-2003
Tracks to check out: Chicks on Speed’s Kaltes Klares Wasser, Ladytron’s Seventeen, Peaches’ Tombstone, Baby, Fischerspooner’s Mega C.
It’s inevitable that every large-scale musical movement will have a revival just about 20 years after its death, when the music changes from “out” to “retro”. By applying this trend to 80s synthpop and DIY punk, we came out with the beautifully named electroclash, a bold new genre led by predominantly female artists that combined the glossy, reverbed synths and machine beats of 80s pop music with a noisy punk aesthetic and subversive, often explicit spoken-word vocals. The result was something that made you want to dance and express your sexual freedom, but angrily and with great concern for the world’s oppressed minorities.
Electroclash is interesting on its own as a reconstruction of the sounds of the 80s, but it was the lyrics that drew the most attention. The genre became a vehicle for aggressively sexual poetry with strong gender-queer and feminist elements that was as interested in being shocking as it was in provoking thought. Brash song titles like “Megacolon” and “Shake Yer Dix” might seem constructed purely to disturb anyone with a conservative attitude toward, ahem, personal affairs, but it was for a good cause. Electroclash provided a strong, affirming voice for gender fluidity, sex positivity, and social change. In an era when the battle for LGBT+ equality was still struggling to catch on in mainstream media, this was a genre years ahead of its time.
It’s easy to look back on electroclash as a flash in the pan. It’s certainly not much in the public eye anymore. A lot of the songs sound hopelessly corny today, and the genre became dated by nature when it embraced the sounds of the 80s. But the battles being fought by these bands in 2002 are still being fought today (Le Tigre spoke out against racially charged police violence in 2001, and Peaches has been a voice for the gender-fluid community since about the beginning of time). It’s also worth noting that electroclash is still being produced. While many bands gradually abandoned the genre or fell apart, some of them, like Peaches, are still going strong.
Perhaps electroclash was ahead of its time, but there’s no need to worry. I count about 5 more years before the revival of the revival happens, so maybe then we’ll see if the world has finally caught up.