Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Minimal Wave: Making the Old New Again

Written by Emily Westerweller
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There is a context for listening to a record and then writing about it. At my desk, in front of my computer, with coffee on a Sunday morning is not the best time or the ideal place to hear Futurisk’s “Lonely Streets.” When I first heard the track, I was transported to London or Berlin, or perhaps, back in time—to the '80s, in a nightclub, on the dance floor; my coffee cup became a drink with ice and my cardigan became something way more exciting. The song is from the electro-punk-pop Florida band’s 1982 record, Player Piano, which was reissued in 2010 by the Brooklyn label, Minimal Wave, in correlation with the band’s thirty year anniversary. The band’s singer and founding member, Jeremy Kolosine, is a British expat and was still a teenager while recording. Richard Hess and Jack Howard complete the lineup. 

There is a context for listening to a record and then writing about it. At my desk, in front of my computer, with coffee on a Sunday morning is not the best time or the ideal place to hear Futurisk’s “Lonely Streets.” When I first heard the track, I was transported to London or Berlin, or perhaps, back in time—to the '80, in a nightclub, on the dance floor; my coffee cup became a drink with ice and my cardigan became something way more exciting. The song is from the electro-punk-pop Florida band’s 1982 record, Player Piano, which was reissued in 2010 by the Brooklyn label, Minimal Wave, in correlation with the band’s thirty year anniversary. The band’s singer and founding member, Jeremy Kolosine, is a British expat and was still a teenager while recording. Richard Hess and Jack Howard complete the lineup.

Futurisk fell off the radar in 1984, so until very recently they had only been known to obscure record collectors and synthesizer enthusiasts such as DFA co-founder James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), who after coming across one of their records included the Futurisk song, “Push me, Pull You (Part Two),” on a DFA compilation in 2003 put out through Paris boutique Colette. Minimal Wave also released a separate reissue of the single in May 2011 of the above mentioned song, “Lonely Streets,” on their sublabel (specializing in 12” vinyl pressings) Cititrax. The album features remixes from the likes of: Chris Carter (of Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey); Tom Furse (of the British band The Horrors); Prince Language (DFA, Editions Disco); and the UK’s Complexxion. Noting the Chris Carter remix of his song, Kolosine said it “is one that I would have dreamed of doing in 1982, had we had the time and funds and equipment,” hence putting a new twist on a vintage band or, as the description on the Minimal Wave’s Web site says, taking “an old sound in a new direction entirely, giving Futurisk’s 'Lonely Streets' a modern shake-up through a remix package from current artists.”

So what exactly is the label Minimal Wave and why are they reissuing Futurisk? The label itself focuses on music before 1987 and was started in 2005 by Brooklyn DJ, recording artist, (and one of the initial pioneers of New York City’s East Village Radio) Veronica Vasicka. “Minimal Wave” as a term was invented by Vasicka and derives from the late '70s/early '80s when teenagers took a DIY approach to recreating the “New Wave” sound; as in, instead of being produced in a fancy studio, these kids were doing it themselves without any expensive equipment. The label was started to preserve this minimal sound, as the bands’ initial releases were on cassette tapes and sometimes less than fifty copies were made. So in other words, Vasicka wants the music to reach a larger public and find a new audience. The records put out are re-mastered and re-packaged, preserving what was, but adding some modern artwork, and as a result some of these previously lost/rare/forgotten bands re-formed, played live, and made and recorded new music.

Vasicka’s introduction to Futurisk was when she heard one of their songs on a mix tape, and was drawn in by their genre-bending sound (mixing disco and synthesizers, incorporating drum machines, while still being true to their punk roots). She says, “They weren’t afraid to evolve, creating unique music that challenged the way that electronic music was viewed at the time.” The “Lonely Streets” remix project came together after Vasicka was working with Kolosine on transferring the 1980s audio files and was impressed that the sound quality had been preserved. She decided to ask her friends and music associates, who were fans of the band, to remix and was pleased with the results, especially when Chris Carter came on board.

Since the ‘80s can be an underappreciated and sometimes misunderstood decade (some of the obvious examples being the stereotypical: big hair, spandex, shoulder pads) it’s nice to think of these kids in their bedrooms or basements (the drums on Player Piano were recorded in a bathroom) creating a whole new genre of music that could have been lost if they weren’t re-discovered, dusted off, and polished. Minimal Wave’s Web site itself reminds me of going to one of my record collector friend’s houses and thumbing through their records. I never heard of most of the bands; they did all the work for me in finding them, but I like what I hear. Other Futurisk songs worth checking out include: “Army Now,” “Meteorite,” and “Split Second Decision.” So with that being said, I’d personally be most tempted to buy Player Piano where you can find those tracks. And since I can’t find my way to a dance floor right now, I guess I’ll have to have a dance party in my living room, because even though the music was made in basements, it’s meant to be heard.

For further information check out their site Minimal Wave, or follow them on Twitter here. You can also listen to Vasicka’s weekly East Village Radio Show here. For Minimal Wave's sister label Cititrax, go here; and for Futurisk, check them out here or LIKE them on Facebook here

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