It was a night of dark wave synth-pop acts—musicians whose sounds and performances not only blurred the line between singer-songwriter and producer, but gave us Angelenos an electro beacon for something profound beyond the hypnotic singularity of our cellphone glow. Spearheaded by Lust For Youth, it was a also a night that properly introduced me to the noise/punk/electronica sound coming out of Copenhagen and other pockets of Scandinavia. Just as Ty Segall and cohorts here on the West Coast are constantly collaborating and intermingling themselves into one huge rock ‘n’ roll collective, so is Lust For Youth along with bands like Iceage, Lower, Vår, Puce Mary, and Hand of Dust. While Segall’s sonic quest seems to trace elements of blues, rock, proto-punk and psych, Lust For Youth’s seems one of exploration (and maybe reconciliation?) between post-punk, experimental noise, ambient, and house. The results are both sinister and sublime.
The full moon was keeping me going, its light beaming like the sun in the clear, black sky as I rumbled into downtown on fumes. The doorman at the entrance gave me blue and pink bracelets and I went into the cold theater space, mostly empty with a few kids moping around the fringes of the stage. I sat on the floor by the sound booth trying not to think about how burned out I already was by that point. It was one of those days that wouldn’t end. Even a beer would’ve put me to sleep. (I couldn’t see the coming darkwave that was about to engulf and reinvigorate me.)
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Soho Rezanejad to set up and start playing. I stood up front since the crowd was sparse and people were still trickling in. Bathed in red/blue light, her black hair flowed in the artificial wind (she had set up a small fan) along with her thin, white robe with doily cuffs. It was just her voice and phantom keyboard on that stage, and she had everyone sucked into her performance after a few songs. With only an EP (titled Idolatry) under her belt, she was drawing from a small well of songs, but one that ranged from the sentimental pop dance tune “Terms” to the house thumping title track. Like every act that night, she exhibited true theatrics, not hiding behind some self-aggrandizing set-up. The difference between this kid of electro and your run-of-the-mill EDM is the difference between Tantric sex and sport fucking. No need for a drop here—just follow her voice like the white rabbit guiding you through a dark kaleidoscope. She won us over, there were cheers, whistling, and ecstatic howls. I turned around still expecting to see a relatively empty dance floor but instead saw the place filled back to the bar. I don’t think I’ve seen the Teragram fill up that quickly during the opening act.
L.A.’s own Drab Majesty grounded the night with familiarity (however bizarre). Drab Majesty, aka Deb Demure, aka Andrew Clinco, isn’t your typical local rock act. For one, s/he’s the only thing around putting an icy face on the goth rock genre and making it his/her own, taking it into dreamy states of pop. I first saw Deb at L.A. Psych Fest where s/he was alone on stage, switching from playing a left-handed/ upside-down red “666” Fender Strat to working a digital interface. This time, there was a face-painted bandmate working the dials, leaving Deb freed up to play the guitar and wail to us through that ethereal, harlequin visage. After an instrumental overture, Deb sauntered out gingerly holding an oriental umbrella, before taking his/her place at the mic. The torso of a Greek porcelain statue was propped in the background. A priestly orator giving a sermon, Deb connects analog to digital in dark crystal beats and distorted power riffs. You get the suspicion there’s something deeper to this act. Sure, Drab Majesty’s sound may be what you’d get if Genesis P-Orridge pissed on cassettes of The Cure’s Greatest Hits and wrung out the tape to serve in a jeweled chalice at Midnight Mass as the blood of Christ while John Hughes montages played on a jumbotron above—but there’s so much more to it than that. By embodying both masculine and feminine aspects, he transcends both, giving us transmissions from some nonhuman intelligence. I heard some chatter around me about how Drab Majesty should get a drummer, but that would take away from the focus of Deb’s prophetic performance. If you pay attention to the new LP’s insert, you’ll read the words, “All songs were received, written, and recorded by Deb Demure in various dungeons and domiciles in Los Angeles.”
As Marshstepper was setting up as the stage fell to pitch black, the place at this point was packed with everyone from baroque pop boy princesses to studded leather femme goths. I wasn’t familiar with Marshstepper, and it seemed like it was going to be a typical DJ set. Little did I know it was actually JS Aurelius and Nick Nappa, members of the notoriously riotous Destruction Unit. Like Drab Majesty, their drone machine signals sync with those coming out of Copenhagen. Meditative techno industrial noise pulsed at us in black hole frequencies while a looped clip of deep space engulfed the entire stage, creeping into the crowd, eradicating performer-audience barriers. One big planetarium of cosmic horror. Flashes of light broke up the darkness. Sometimes Nappa’s face was obscured by a white Kubrickian party mask while he crawled around the stage growling into a mic. His manic androgynous creep antics had girls swooning. Aurelius held it down at the controls with a Mona Lisa smirk as they invaded our DNA, recoding it in preparation for something like the coming futurist apocalypse.
I haven’t gotten too heavy on Lust For Youth, but I know their discography is already a daunting one, certainly exploratory. What grew out of a bedroom solo project from producer Hannes Norrvide, Lust is now a three-piece along with members Loke Rahbek and Malthe Fischer, and they’ve just released an atmospheric new LP Stardom. As was the trend that night, there was no drummer, just a guitar and synth bass machinist while Norrvide was left freewheeling crooner at the mic, effortless swagger in a basic jacket, basic jeans, a basic hat (a sentiment foreign to Angelenos that says, “we couldn’t give a shit about what you’re wearing if we tried”), occasionally throwing on some black shades over shoegaze eyes. Lust brings a new sincerity to the catchy, ironic spirit of new wave. As it’s professed in Stardom’s description on the Sacred Bones site, “Compassion restates beauty for a time of crisis and clickbait […] Lust For Youth are affectionately vicious, and vulnerably sharp. They are the anticipation of the comedown as you come up on the best you’ve ever been offered from a bathroom stall. This is the spectrum: a low you know, and a dizzy new height.” Though it was a great set, I felt it was a rare night where the openers triumphed. If you’re bummed you missed it, you should be!
Photos: Todd Anderson