A Journal Of The Dark Arts
It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.
Not as it was to live
but as it was remembered.
It will be the past
We’ll all go back together.
Everyone we ever loved.
and lost. and must remember.
It will be the past.
And it will last forever.
It always seemed like such a shame that the futurist tendencies of synthpop and electronic music in general were co-opted by market forces, starting in the early 80s. From the wide-open, alien possibilities of having the building blocks of sound and high quality real world recordings at our fingertips – as grist for the mill and clay for our potter’s fingers – the Wild West of weird and wooly synth records and beatific beat machines slowly succumbed to become just another Suburbia.
Rather than breaking open music theory, form, and structure, synths and drum machines were used to merely emulate already existing sounds, and in a sub-par way. (Think about those old MIDI emulations of French Horns or that cymbal crash that always sounded like a jaguar’s roar.)
Rock’s attempts at incorporating electronics were just as abysmal for the longest time, usually with some tacky synth or beat tacked on to make them seem ‘with it’ or ‘cool’, like a Dinosaur Corporation bringing in a green screen to get hip with the youths.
Occurrence are the duo of NYC playwright Ken Urban and Kansas City’s Cat Hollyer. Together, they mine the entire history of electronic rock – from Kraftwerk-ian electro to steely, grim post-punk, to rave damaged acid workouts, digital dysmorphia, and light ‘n airy dreampop.
As noted in Patrick Phillips’ poem “Heaven”, quoted at top and printed on the lovely inner sleeve for the vinyl, Occurrence are not trying to emulate or recreate the past, and that’s what makes The Past Will Last Forever so successful. Trip-hop, one of the closest sonic touchstones for this electro duo, were hellbent on sounding ‘current’ or ‘futuristic’, and ended up doing exactly the opposite. The great-but-not-perfect Sneaker Pimps got the recipe closer than most, but ended up sounding like some talent show hopefuls or an alt-rock band with some SONY breakbeat drum loops beneath Kelli Dayton’s silken vocals. Something similar happened with many Trip Hop 2.0 bands – like Laika, Morcheeba, and Hooverphonic.
What started out striving to sound real ended up sounding anything but – the aural equivalent of early CGI.
The past is a wide open, undiscovered country to explore on The Past Will Live Forever. Perhaps both musicians had a personal need to redefine their history as both, coincidentally, happened to be going through divorces at the time. Once sunny memories become painful and tormenting, as anyone who’s ever gone through a breakup can tell you. Rather than wallow, Occurrence explore what’s come before, and end up defining the present in the meantime.
Album opener “The Things I’ve Always Liked I Now Hate,” serves as battle cry, setting the tone for this wonderful LP with lovelorn, shadowy vocals, courtesy of Hollyer, over sturdy techno beats and glassy house synths. What might’ve sounded like bad darkwave, at the turn of the millenium, instead sounds fresh and vital – the sound of making it work, of taking what you want from the past and discarding the detritus. The burbling squelching acid synths and breakbeats could be the sound of the omnipresent circuitboard artwork from the late ’90s but here it’s offered as commentary and critique, updating Sneaker Pimps’ “Spin Spin Sugar” for the smartphone generation. “A Bruised Ivy Grad,” proves once and for all the band aren’t merely miming the past, bringing in an all-too-modern digital dancehall house beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Ekoplekz production, or a new Drake cut for that matter.
The B-side of the vinyl acts as spiritual manifesto for The Past Will Live Forever, leaping into the future and landing smack dab on the present. “Skin For The Win,” is a lonely synthpop number told from an automaton’s point of view, lamenting its inability to grab a beer after work like “one of the regular guys”. It also reads into the post-Blade Runner exploration of what it means to be human, and what it is to be a machine, as the “Humans” are more robotic than the simulacrum, controlled by tiny glowing screens. There’s also a dark, subversive message to the tune, with the robot requesting “a skin to stretch across its frame,” to fit in. “The Sadness Sure Gets Me,” might be the album’s most striking, definitive moment, with dystopian soundbites on modern living layered over disturbing, disjointed digital noise. The Pain Of Being Pure At Heart‘s Kip Berman guests, providing one more clue to why you need this record in your life. Millennial bands exploring the intersection of lo-fi electronics and populist songwriting – like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Crystal Castles, or The XX inevitably emerge from the shadows and murk of lo-fi production and sensibilities, but most of them seem to lose something in the translation. While the hygenic sound might earn them more bodies on the dance floor, they alienate many of their earlier fans in the process.
Occurrence embrace the screens, making the technology front-and-center to the process and making for a much stronger record because of it. This is what it might sound like if John Foxx were to become interested in post-dubstep beats and riddims, marrying the tough factory sounds with his trademarked blurry, antiquated sounds. This is what it might sound like to crawl through the screen – like The Ring in reverse – fall asleep and dream.
The stunning graphic design from The Dan Pecci Company, with blurry xeroxed inner sleeve art, finalize these themes and make for a cohesive concept and beautiful artifact, meaning you’ll want this on wax, for those that dig artful futuristic sounds.
Watch The Video For “What I’ve Always Liked I Now Hate”:
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Want to see me spin vinyl in person? Come to Turn! Turn! Turn!, at 8 NE Killingsworth, from 7 to 11 PM, where i’ll be DJing The Dreaming Dirt, in conjunction w/ Freeform Portland, (and maybe getting up and playing a song.) I’m booking the next couple of months for DJ gigs, as well, so get in touch if you’re looking for vinyl or digital DJing in or around the Portland area.
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.