Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Die Warzau

Die Warzau - we're not sure if these were the first white guys with dreadlocks, but we'll let them live anyway...Made up of guitarist/synthesist/singer Van Christie and drummer/vocalist Jim Marcus, the Chicago synthwave act Die Warzau was initially signed to Fiction Records (longtime home to The Cure and distributed stateside via Mercury Records in this instance) largely on their envelope-pushing live reputation as a performance art group and also since their sound seemed to mesh with the sensibilities of the underground industrial scene starting to stir around in the clubs of the Windy City.

Following 1988's Disco Rigido, Die Warzau next surfaced on Atlantic Records in 1991 with Big Electric Metal Bass Face, a more streamlined release that found the duo moving away from the classic "industrial" sound towards a more dance-friendly and melodic sound, equal parts dance, funk, and pop with a "rock" lean to the sound and occasional interesting blasts of atmospherics in the mix. One could almost say that Die Warzau were set up to serve as the "bridge" between the industrial underground and the pop/rock mainstream. Alas, their timing wasn't quite right, and their album managed to find an underground audience over time but never broke beyond that level.

This intoxicating, sample-heavy formula was then perfected on the band's third album, Engine, which found a release on Chicago's world-famous Wax Trax! label in 1995, long after ex-label darlings Trent Reznor and Al Jourgensen had managed to bring industrial music into the mainstream at the major label level. For Die Warzau, Engine may not have been a platinum payday, but it definitely felt like they had come home: following their twin major label efforts, which were pretty much at total odds with the rest of the mainstream pack around them, Engine was a natural fit for a label like Wax Trax!, whose catalog almost certainly inspired a fair amount of the duo's earlier works.

EngineIt probably didn't hurt the finished product that the duo had also accrued a lot of production experience in the intervening years since Big Electric Metal Bass Face. For a while, the name Die Warzau became more synonymous with "remixing" and "special thanks to" credits than for their original music as they worked with such grassroots-level electro-rock luminaries as Sister Machine Gun, Machines Of Loving Grace, Pigface, Revenge, Gravity Kills and KMFDM (not to mention some even higher profile remix work for Björk).

Engine also contained what many consider to be Die Warzau's shining achievement: the hazy techno-rocker "All Good Girls," which became a remarkable success for the band at college radio and dance clubs. A great snapshot of the duo's rich palette of influences, "All Good Girls" was also prominently featured (along with a bevy of other Wax Trax! heavyweights) in the Jeff Goldblum horror film Hideaway, which didn't wind up being that much of a career break as the film failed to take flight with audiences despite rather eerie depictions of damnation and torment that set up the supernatural basis of the thriller.

Following nine years in the scrap pile of disbanded acts fed up with the record industry, Die Warzau suddenly reformed as a quartet (featuring new members Abel Garibaldi and Dan Evans) and issued a new album on a different Chicago label called Pulseblack Records in October of last year. Titled Convenience, the new album finds Die Warzau moving even farther away from their not-quite-industrial roots towards a sound more reminscent of Depeche Mode. There is also a revisitation of "All Good Girls" in the new album's closing track, "Shine," though no word as of yet as to whether it measures up to the original (Sadly, I don't have any mp3s available from this new album at the time of writing this article, though a song from this release is available for streaming at their MySpace page).


Karl said...

They'll be playing Sept. 13 at some place called the Lime Spider in Akron

karl again said...

also, I'm going to see Gang of Four here is Pittsburgh which should be cool

vbc3 said...

Hey there! Long time no see. How goes life in the Iron City?