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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Schlock Jocks

by Philip Sherburne

Cheat Sheet: Schlock Jocks


Horror-movie aesthetics have been creeping -- excuse the pun -- into electronic music for a while now. The trend makes sense on a number of levels. For one thing, electronic music has been getting darker since the beginning of the decade, as artists across the spectrum, from ambient to techno to electro pop -- Zola Jesus, Sandwell District, Holy Other, Haxan Cloak, Raime -- experiment with the sooty tones and oppressive atmospheres of goth, industrial and post-punk.

Equally important, though, is the contemporary tendency that Simon Reynolds has called "retromania": a shift in emphasis from genius and authorship to curation and connoisseurship, in which past subgenres and musical movements, no matter how small or fleeting, become fodder for imitation and reinterpretation. Seen this way, the vintage soundtracks by artists like Goblin, Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter and Alan Howarth are ripe for the picking. Many of them were out of print for years and are just now beginning to become available digitally, sparking interest from a whole new generation of listeners. Formally, too, their queasy analog synthesizers, slippery funk and faint whiff of kitsch are right in line with contemporary tastes.

Many of the artists currently working this seam of B-movie gold don't make any secret of their influences. The Pittsburgh duo Zombi named themselves after the Italian title of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, famously soundtracked by Goblin. Paris' Zombie Zombie took a similar route -- and, lest there be any doubt, released an entire record of cover versions of John Carpenter's themes from Halloween, The Thing and Escape from New York. As for the Not Not Fun artist Umberto, both his name and the cover art to his Prophecy of the Black Widow show a clear debt to "Giallo," the Italian genre of thrillers and slasher flicks.

Just this month, there's a considerable uptick in the activity of these new-school "schlock jocks." Andy Votel, who runs the excellent reissue label Finders Keepers, released The Applehead Crepaxian Interligne Mixtape, chock full of doomy synthesizers and bloody-mawed prog, on the Red Bull Music Academy Radio website; on Record Store Day, Zombi's Steve Moore will release his soundtrack to the 2005 documentary Horror Business.

To get you up to speed -- well, zombie speed, anyway -- with the new thriller chic, here's a selection of albums from Zombi, Steve Moore, Zombie Zombie, Umberto, Ensemble Economique and Zombie Zombie member Etienne Jaumet, along with a few classics from Goblin and John Carpenter to help set the tone.