PINK SKULL with HEADMAN, NASTY NAV and SHIT LA MERDE at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), Saturday (September 20). $15, advance $10. 416-516-8677.
The 00s have been a decade of vindication for those of us who spent much of the 90s going to raves after spending the evening at punk rock shows, hiding our dual lives from our purist friends in both camps.
Even though Julian Grefe may have fantasized about leading an edgy electronic band like Pink Skull back then, he likely would have been greeted by blank stares had he tried to explain the concept of house music crossed with psych rock and edgy punk attitude.
"That line between the scenes was absolutely there, and it was very visceral. There was a harsh demarcation," Grefe recalls from his Philadelphia studio.
"In the mid-90s it was very frowned upon in the hardcore scene to go to a rave all night and take ecstasy. It was absolutely not cool. On the flip side, the electronic guys were not interested in punk rock and hardcore at all. It was really nice in the early 2000s after many years to be finally vindicated by the rise of people like Miss Kittin on the one side and bands like the Liars on the other."
Pink Skull began as a studio project and DJ collective but quickly mutated into a full-on band. Recently, they've been writing as a group - jamming out grooves in the studio and then editing them into cohesive compositions. However, the earlier work was mainly just Grefe, which forced them to buckle down to figure out how to approximate the recordings in a live setting.
"It's kind of tough to try to reconstruct a bunch of one-off sounds that took hours to fine-tune in the studio, but I've got to say it came off pretty well."
Unlike many live electronic acts, Pink Skull tend to stay fairly close to the original arrangements. They still leave some room for improvisation, but the overall structure of the songs is locked down in advance, which keeps things concise and focused.
"It can be a bit of a tightrope. When you're doing druggy, groove-oriented electronic music, it can become this kind of self-aggrandizing wankery that goes on for much too long."
These dark, tripped-out grooves sometimes evoke elements of industrial music as well as some of the feel of Krautrock bands like Can, but they have more than enough electronic thump to work as dance music. This kind of vibe has only recently become hot and marketable, a situation that may have its roots in the backlash against the mainstreaming of both punk and rave culture that happened at the end of the last century.
"I hate to use the ‘e' word, but in the mid-90s when emo started, it wasn't the MTV-o that it is now. It was less whiny, less pandering, more jagged, more in the vein of Drive Like Jehu. Now it's Nashville songwriters making really wretched pop punk songs."
You can't really blame the punks for ditching their guitars for laptops, or for that matter, the DJs for trading their trance records for obscure post-punk discs. Somewhere in that crossover, the transgressive nature of both cultures has been renewed. Having said that, we're now on the verge of that scene being co-opted in the same way, which in theory will open up channels for something even more unexpected.