When I was 12 years old the world around me was resolutely rural. It was neither ruggedly rural or dramatic pastoral, neither Brokeback Mountain or Emmerdale. It was anticlimactic agriculturalism that was fucking boring. So, like all 12 year olds, I looked to other worlds for a way out of mine, and like all 12 year olds, I changed my mind about what world I wanted to inhabit on a weekly basis. There was something out there, I was sure of it, something that wasn't this. But this isn't about me. This is about something that existed, very briefly, 4000 miles away in a city I only knew through film and television. This was something glamorous and dangerous and vibrant and sexy. This was electroclash.
For those of you who either weren't there, or weren't, like me, devouring the NME in 2002, electroclash was a short lived moment in time when it seemed like the whole planet was fixated on a group of producers who made sleazy, affectedly-disaffected electro that sounded like a marooned Drexciya with vocals provided by a chain-smoking model who looks like she really, really hates you. To an outsider like myself, it was achingly cool and incredibly seductive. It was outrageously and intentionally arty, a prime example of the power of performativity. There were huge parties and huger record deals. Names like Kitty-Yo and City Rockers and Sleazenation and Chilly Gonzales meant something. It was a pure form of escapism, hedonism as a means of self-vanquishment. Basically, a lot of good looking people got together to do a tonne of drugs and have loads of sex and dance to some electro records.
Electroclash arrived at a pivotal point in club culture history. Here in the UK, the superclub was still lumbering around the landscape, emitting the boneheaded burps of unreconstructed laddishness. The superstar DJ was still a very real thing, and hordes of clubbers trooped into cavernous venues weekend after weekend in search of the kind of thrills that only Fatboy Slim playing the hits at Gatecrasher can offer. Things had to change. They did. That change came from Europe.
In 1996, Helmut Geier, who'd later become known to most of us as DJ Hell founded a record label. That label was International DeeJay Gigolo Records, and without it, there'd likely never been an electroclash scene for bedroom bound losers like myself to daydream about. Over the years, Hell's Teutonic powerhouse became the imprint for anyone out there making steely acidic electro and techno, with the likes of Der Zyklus, Princess Superstar, and Tiga zipping in and out of the roster. Even Jeff Mills put out an EP on Gigolos. For a while, thanks to their easily available but awfully covered compilation CDs, Hell's imprint was the easiest way to keep abreast of all things electroclash. This was, remember, a more innocent time, and we didn't even have MySpace, let alone Twitter, so the only way to look like you knew what terrible, terrible look Hell was rocking back then was to either go to clubs or buy the records.
While history hasn't looked back so kindly on everything that came up through the Gigolo client list, one double act still look like an incredibly shrewd investment. Cloaking creativity in the language of commerce seems anathema, but this was electroclash baby, it was all about the trappings of wealth and playing around with the concept of affluence. Which, in real terms meant that you got to prance around in leather pants and a feather boa. This was modern cabaret! Anyway, that investment came in the shape of two French producers: Michel Amato and Caroline Herve.
As Miss Kitten and the Hacker, Herve and Amato crafted records that absolutely stunk of electroclash. They were gaunt, minimal, stark things, records that were about the stock exchange and the holy trinity of caviar, champagne, and backseat blowjobs. In other words, they were exactly the kind of thing that sounded great when played in dingy sweaty little clubs to crowds stuffed to the gills with art school drop outs. It was deadpan and debonair, grotty and gregarious. It was the sound of a world that seemed impossibly other, impossibly suave, impossibly grubby, and the pair's material still stands up today. Aside from Tiga and the elephant in the room that's staring me straight in the eyes from behind diamond encrusted aviators, Miss Kitten and the Hacker were the biggest stars of a scene that was determinedly shiny. This was the sound of the Europe of the future. Or rather, this was the sound of the Europe of a future that ended in 1986 and was preserved, perfectly, forever, in aspic.
It wasn't just Hell's gang making waves on the continent. An American expat DJ, producer and promoter named Larry Tee moved to Berlin after nearly a decade of working with RuPaul. I'm not sure if these two facts are linked, but there you go. Tee, a man who looks like Keith Harring shot by Terry Richardson, actually coined the term "Electroclash" so you have him to thank for this article. Having DJ'd at legendary NYC nightspots like Twilo and Palladium, Tee packed his 12"s and jetted off to the German city, establishing the Berliniamsburg night, where he played the records that went onto be the big hits you'd hear down at Trash in London, a year or two after.
In 2001, Tee threw the first Electroclash Festival, held at various venues across the ever-trendy Willamsburg area of New York. Featuring the likes of everyone's favorite saucy aunt, Peaches, a pre-fame Scissor Sisters, and, errr the Detroit Grand Pubahs, it was probably the coolest thing to happen since the last time downtown New York was suddenly the coolest place in the world, which is something that seems to happen every few years. There was another act involved too, and that act was the one and only Fischerspooner.
I'd talk more about Fischerspooner but Fischerspooner are the kind of mythical being that doesn't make sense when brought into the realm of the corporeal. Fischerspooner are an idea, and probably always were. I refuse to believe that the duo, which consisted of flamboyant frontman Casey Spooner and and Warren Fischer, were ever really an actual thing, despite the records, despite the shows and the Concorde flights and the rumours and the wigs. They can't have been. They were a joke that got out of hand and ended up with a Ministry of Sound record deal. They were, and still remain, electroclash's most memorable act. For most people, they were electroclash. They even got on Top of the Pops. Twice! One time introduced by none other than Richard Blackwood! Richard Blackwood! Fischerspooner! Together at last!
Which, in a way, is a victory. For a brief moment, way back when, fantasy prevailed over reality. Glamour won. It was all a dream. Electroclash burned too bright to ever really exist in any meaningful way. Trash closed. Princess Superstar vanished. Miss Kitten started making boring dark techno records. Larry Tee started putting out records with Perez Hilton. We'll always have the memories though. Sort of.
Oh, and the records. We'll definitely always have the records. With that in mind, here's the 10 electroclash records you genuinely can't live without
1. Goldenboy with Miss Kitten - Rippin Kitten
We could have picked pretty much anything that Caroline Herve touched in the early 00s—"Silver Screen Shower Scene", "Frank Sinatra", "The Beach", et al, all of which are complete and utter classics—but this is the one for us. It's tender, melancholic, and absolutely perfect for those nights when all you want to do is stare at the rain from your bedroom window and fantasize about going on a needless killing spree with a glamorous French electro producer. Which is what we spend pretty much every other Thursday doing.
2. David Caretta - Vicious Game
Now, I wasn't there, obviously, but I imagine that electroclash was powered by extremely large quantities of extremely good quality cocaine. The best way to replicate the feeling of blasting through a week's wages in a dive bar in Williamsburg with a bloke who danced with Fischerspooner once it to buy some maldon sea salt, give it a good sniff, neck six cans of energy drink and smash this out of the tinniest speakers you can find. It's like 2002 never ended, except you've not woken up next to Terry Richardson and a vintage issue of VICE.
3. Toktok & Soffy O - Missy Queen's Gonna Die
You know how some of us spent a few months last year pretending to really believe that Hannah Diamond was going to be a legitimate popstar rather than a Dazed feature in a funny hat? That was fun wasn't it, and it worked out well for all of us. Toktok & Soffy O, along with the long forgotten W.I.T. (which stood for Whatever It Takes which, to be fair, is a stunning name for a manufactured electropop group that sold approximately six records in 2002) were basically the Hannah Diamond's of the early 00s minus the shit hats and racist mates. They were born too early. The world wasn't ready for them. Still, we'll always have this sublime moment of near-self-parody. Up there, in that other world we all have in our heads, this is still no.1.
4. Hanayo & Jurgen Paape - Joe Le Taxi
Who knew that what Vanessa Paradis' soft-focus pervy-pop classic really needed was a hard as nails, acidic reworking courtesy of Kompakt founder mainstay Jurgen Paape? This collaboration with Japanese vocalist Hanayo is about as grinding as electroclash got — a dirty churning beast of a tune that seems to exist in a vacuum, sucking all the air out of the room, leaving the listener panting with delight. Basically, it's the sound of two brutish lovers going at it on a bed of nails. Or something. Proof if proof needs be that electroclash wasn't all lighter-than-air arpeggios and vocals about blowing cocaine up Tony Bennet's chuff.
5. Tiga ft Zyntherius - Sunglasses at Night
I don't think there were any other electroclash songs sampled by Skepta were there? I was about to call it sleaziest record on this list but that'd be doing the following track a massive disservice...
6. Louie Austen - Grab My Shaft
Louie Austen was one of the stranger by-products of the electroclash phenomenon, which, let's be honest, is saying something. Austen is a 69 year old Austrian crooner. Which means that when the scene took over the (art)world, he would have been in his fifties. Which isn't a bad thing per se, but he was a fifty something bloke who recorded tracks like this with the queen of filth, Peaches, and looked like the sort of bloke who'd get out of breath walking up the stairs. But hey - this was electroclash! If a man in his 50s can't groan about having his shaft grabbed here, then where can he get away with that! Even Soho's been gentrified now!
7. ADULT. - Hand to Phone (Cordless Mix)
ADULT. always felt a bit more serious than their peers, a bit artier, a bit more aloof, a bit less likely to prance around small clubs with a dildo strapped to their forehead. Given that, it's no surprise that "Hand to Phone" is the most Authentic of our selections — a Suicide-y, cold wavey, minimal synth workout with the pre-requisite I Am Very Bored And Very Rich and I Am Stamping On Your Cock vocals. What more could you want!
8. Felix Da Housecat - Madame Hollywood
He might now be known best for being a bloke who didn't get into Berghain, but there was a period when Felix Stallings Jr was everyone's favourite producer. That period lasted exactly three weeks but the still-fantastic Kittenz and Thee Glitz LP is an essential bargain bin purchase.
9. Linda Lamb - Hot Room
Let's take things down a notch. Linda Lamb's one and only hot hit record was a swirling, vaguely psychedelic churner, that replaced electroclash's rinky-dink aesthetic with something slower and sturdier. This is one to save till you're finally alone, after the after-after party's done and it's just you and your wasted life and the hazy memories of all those yesterdays. Love it!
10. Fischerspooner - Emerge
Oh come on, as if this wasn't going to make it in here! When the aliens ransack earth and ask us what the first few years of the millennium were like we'll just play them this. Feels good, looks good, sounds good, feels good too, indeed.
Alternatively, if you're feeling really lazy, just download/burn/stream/buy Miss Kitten's Berlin is Burning mix and a grab a pot of glitter from Poundland.
So, electroclash then: you were Detroit dressed by Karl Lagerfeld and we'll never forget you. Even if you are a punchline.