Ah, the fetid smell of subterranean success! Adult.'s Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus aren't getting any of the good stuff yet. No weeklong stint on Conan. No New York Times Sunday Magazine fashion spread. No supping on hummingbird tongue and golden caviar at Bob Guccione Jr.'s private retreat in Belize. Instead, the duo's rise to fame on the Detroit electropop scene has resulted in fans pelting them with thousands of unsolicited tapes: Ersatz Audio, the label they created to release "the forgotten sound of tomorrow," got flooded with the kind of demo dookie they'd gladly have crossed the universe to avoid.
"It was amazing!" Kuperus exclaims by phone from Detroit. "We'd just get all this shit! It was like, why did you even send this to us?"
Miller adds, "We'd get stuff that sounded like Saturday Night Live parodies of what we're doing--funny joke party music. It got to the point where getting demos was very disheartening. It was like, does anybody really listen to what we do?"
For those who haven't been listening, let's press rewind: While Adult. certainly have their '80s antecedents, they match their backward glances with the sound of robotic feet marching ever onward. The group is far more interested in teaching old synths new tricks than in merely recombining the musical elements of yesteryear in ways that would never have worked when then was now (apparently, doing the latter is the only way to score those Times fashion spreads). Their project is aimed toward the future: "When we first started," Miller recalls, "we asked ourselves what Detroit stood for, and came up with one word--innovation."
Maybe "renovation" is more like it. Adult. look back toward the confrontational futurism of William Burroughs, as well as that of theorists like Sol Yurick and Paul Virilio: They envision an era of permanent war, with a populace that--narcotized by mass media and the parasitic state--mindlessly conspires to consume every last resource on the planet, destroying their world and themselves in the process. In other words, the Security State devolves into a Suicide State--unless somebody stops it.
On their latest, Anxiety Always, album-opener "The Cold Call" provides a perfect introduction to Adult.'s subversive strain of synthetic sleaze: With its rubbery, dissonant synths and perversely dubwise drums, the track could easily accompany an alien porn film shot in a reptile morgue. It oozes the kind of sinister, end-of-the-line energy made famous by Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. In fact, Kuperus's vocal delivery echoes the neurotic bark that Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder deployed to harrowing effect in the late '70s and early '80s. And lyrically, "People, You Can Confuse" could find its way into a ménage à trois with Throbbing Gristle's "Persuasion" and "Convincing People"--though, with Kuperus yelping, "People, you can confuse them" repeatedly, the track might be Ari Fleischer's morning mantra.
Adult.'s affinity for early English industrial music aligns them with the pioneers of Detroit techno: Cabaret Voltaire devotee Derrick May and Throbbing Gristle fan Carl Craig. Such founders were in a perfect position to observe the coming dystopia--they were there already. Detroit was invaded more frequently by U.S. troops (four times) in the 20th century than any foreign country was. By the '80s, the city was dead--an empty burnt shell. But while Adult. share early Detriot techno's apocalyptic vision and fondness for Roland gear (especially the TR808 drum machine, whose intrinsically faulty clock mechanism gives it a surprisingly human feel), their synth patches run a bit colder and their beats less syncopated than those of their forbears. They never fully embrace early techno--perhaps because, despite its occasional forays into noiseland, the genre was never very confrontational. As William Burroughs might say, it was too innocuous to be truly dangerous. The absorption of four-on-the floor dance strategies into the mainstream has robbed them of any subversive power they might have once had. And, frankly, nobody on E (or vodka and Red Bull!) is going to be interested in dismantling the mechanisms of corporate/state control.
While the duo express admiration for the giants of techno, they're most enthusiastic about a markedly less tame pack of neighbors: Wolf Eyes. "They're making the real punk rock of today," enthuses Kuperus. It's easy to understand the duo's fondness for their feral friends. The TG-emulating lupine futurists could easily play Throbbing Gristle to Adult.'s Cabaret Voltaire, and both bands seem bent on reinventing the praxis of the information war that washed up on the shore when industrial music went showbiz in the mid-'80s. (Adult. could use a few subliminal messages here and there, though--nothing gives a track subversive torque the way subliminals do.)
Unlike most technocats, Adult. have no interest in the mainstream, despite what their relative accessibility suggests. They've seen too much electronic music become the property of hooting barbarians in the past seven years, and they're not interested in flushing themselves down that particular channel. For now, they're retaining control over the means of indie production and distribution through Ersatz Audio--which means they can be exactly as weird as they wanna be. As Miller puts it, "We'll do anything in our power to keep normal people from liking us."
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