Do androids have nightmares? It’s a question sci-fi author Philip K. Dick implied and electronic music has long explored, up through industrial, acid house and today’s darker EDM. But at the same time, that obsession has lost some of its vim, stretched somewhere between ‘80s goth tropes and festival-goers looking for the next bass drop. Time to fill the void.
That’s the mission of L.A. Dark United Underground’s maiden all-live event this Saturday, May 2, at the Black Castle south of downtown. Featuring industrial metal outfit Psyclon Nine, co-headlining with the cyber glitch of Android Lust, the dark electronic mini-festival is meant as a beacon for several fragmented scenes. Gregory Cahill and Matthew Setzer, the partners behind the gathering, have also summoned the drum ‘n’ bass of Falling Skies and the Cambodian-styled Indradevi, the modular synthesis of Joy Through Noise, and the moody synth-pop of Carved Souls.
“The goth industrial scene is very insular,” says Setzer, who also performs as a live band member of Skinny Puppy and London After Midnight. “I’ve been to goth clubs all over the planet, from Japan to Russia. You’re going to walk in there and you’re still going to hear Front 242, Sisters of Mercy, the same five bands.”
"That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this," says Cahill. "There are a ton of new underground bands and sounds and we wanted to introduce people to that in a new way.”
L.A. is no stranger to goth and industrial. The two genres have long captured the city’s imagination. These days, staples like Das Bunker, Bar Sinister, Malediction Society and Release the Bats feed the shadows. Much less appreciated is goth industrial’s relationship to acid house; the two genres have evolved in parallel, as far back as Joy Division’s post-punk. Many forget how much L.A. raves absorbed goths and new wavers in the ‘90s: Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV performed in 1992 at the legendary Shiva’s Erotic Banquet at the infamous La Casa; breakbeat maestro Uberzone started out as the industrial act Death Method; German noise shapers Einsturzende Neubauten played one of their favorite shows in 1984 in the Mojave desert and, along with San Diego’s Crash Worship, prefigured desert raves and Burning Man.
“All this music started in the warehouse,” Cahill says, drawing a DIY lineage between the cousin scenes. “Industrial music started in people’s basements. Over the last 20 years there’s been such a movement into night clubs and big corporate festivals, it’s left a void and it’s created a need for this type of experience.”
For the two friends, both in their early thirties, it was drum ‘n’ bass that tapped them back in. “When I moved to L.A., that’s really when I got introduced to drum ’n’ bass, jungle and dubstep,” Cahill says, who moved here from Boston. He cites the long-running drum ‘n’ bass club Respect and old school L.A. DJs from the ‘90s like the legendary R.A.W. (real name Raoul Gonzalez, who also records dubstep as 6Blocc) as big influences.
“Drum ’n’ bass is the cockroach of electronic music,” Setzer echoes. “It will survive every trendy nuclear disaster.” Other techno artists inspired the two, including Praga Khan and Daft Punk. “One of the best shows I’ve ever been to was Daft Punk,” Setzer says. “It was at the L.A. Sports Arena and it just killed. It just killed. It was off the hook.”
“I had a friend in high school,” Cahill says, charting his own journey between rock and electronica. “He was like the one kid in the entire school who listened to Aphex Twin, The Crystal Method, The Prodigy and Orbital, and all this stuff. Everyone else was into Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam. So this kid turned me onto all this cool British shit, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, the Hackers soundtrack, the Spawn soundtrack, all those ‘90s techno soundtracks. At the time, the thing I loved about it was the possibilities seemed limitless....it was total experimentation.”
Nina Boneta, who performs as Joy Through Noise, hails from the industrial side of the equation, throwing experimental techno and modular synth shows called Celebrate Everything, featuring artists like Kid 606 and Skinny Puppy’s cEvin Key. Performing live with Tempest and Electribe modular work stations, her music invites volatility versus laptop precision.
“When I started with circuit-bent instruments, that was very tangible because I would put my hands on the circuit board and it would create a certain frequency that would be different than someone else who would put their hands on the circuit board,” says the L.A.-based musician. “On a fundamental level we are electricity. I felt the machine, the actual hardware, the circuits, translating the electricity of my soul.”
In some ways, the moodier side of electronic music reflects our evolving cyber selves — the thrill and anxiety of wearables, drones and all. In fact, much of the best electronic music ever made revels in edgy melancholy, from Gary Numan's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" to Depeche Mode's "Stripped."
“I don’t necessarily identify with making dark music,” Boneta explains. “But I’m very deep. When you go really deep into sound, it’s essentially like you’re going deep into the void, which is before anything was created.”
Tripping out to the abyss is just a start. With electrons buzzing away in the darkness, nightmares can go anywhere, from a machine hell to a clear dawn beyond. The trick is going deep and confronting demons old and new.
“The one universal thing every living organism on the planet understands is pain,” Setzer says. “When you exemplify that in music, whether sorrow or sadness, it can speak to people in a very deep way and straighten things out.”
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Tickets for L.A. Dark United Underground on Mary 2 are available via Eventbrite or at the door in limited quantity.