This may be one of the warmest springs Detroiters can remember — but 23-year-old DJ and Something Cold founder Justin Carver is keeping it frosty with the best — and weirdest — coldwave minimal synth this side of the Atlantic. Billed as a social club and roving dance party, Something Cold has been popping up at Detroit venues since 2009. But let's not confuse this with the next Funk Night or Haute to Death.
Since its inception almost three years ago, Something Cold has evolved from intimate DJ events to eerie and dystopic live performances featuring local, national, even international names in coldwave and minimal-synth — Martial Canterel, Crash Course in Science and Mueran Humano, to name but a few.
Yet Midtown and Michigan Avenue hipsters have shied from SC — the music's a little too cold and industrial, the bands show punk rock coifs and analog synths not beards and guitars, and the crowd, although varied (you'll see goths, suburbanites in Uggs, curious hipsters and middle-aged dudes), can't dance and don't care. See, Something Cold claims it's all about the music — screw being seen. That's how Carver likes it.
Carver talks of coldwave's genesis and its absence, until recently, from American music.
"The scene never really existed in America or was known about, even during the wake of it in the early '80s," Carver says. "It's kind of an offshoot of the post-punk, Factory Records sound where people took the echoing bass, the Joy Division, Crispy Ambulance sound and they just applied a DIY aspect to it. It usually came from small suburban cities in Belgium, France, some in Germany. It was mostly in central Europe that it kind of flourished, and I think a lot of that was because the area around them was very industrial and they were just kind of yearning for something more."
The birth and rising popularity of stateside indie coldwave labels, such as Wierd Records and Minimal Wave, has prompted people to wonder why, after more than 30 years, coldwave is enjoying a U.S. resurgence.
There are plenty who'd be happy if it never resurfaced — in this country or anywhere. After all, coldwave isn't exactly "feel-good" music. Carver likes to joke that no one has ever gotten laid after a Something Cold event — the music just isn't sexy. Instead, the appeal of the coldwave sound lies in its brutally stripped-down, minimal electronic composition, the effect of which is a kind of cold and distant-sounding anti-melody.
Carver says the prevailing sense of anxiety we feel about the state of our economy mirrors the bleak economic climate and prevailing Cold War tensions in Europe during the late '70s and early '80s — often cited as key influencers of the coldwave sound, which helps explain its recent rise in popularity.
"The music is more resonant now," Carver says. "We're not in the best economic climate. People are uncertain about their future, and I think that cold feelings are starting to come back."
But before Carver embraced the "cold feelings," he was just another high school DJ spinning old goth and post-punk at bars he wasn't old enough to get into. It wasn't until he saw Martial Canterel, a contemporary minimal-synth artist, live at the Contemporary Art Institute, Detroit, that the sound became his focus.
"Seeing Martial live was kind of like people in Manchester seeing the Sex Pistols," Carver says. "I thought, 'I'm going to go throw away everything I have and start anew. This is where it's at. This is so cool.'"
The show at the CAID did more than introduce Carver to coldwave—it also introduced him to the founder of Wierd Records, Pieter Schoolwerth, who happened to be the DJ that night. Before becoming one of the leading coldwave minimal-synth labels in the world, Schoolwerth's Wierd Records started out as a weekly dance party in New York City showcasing coldwave tunes, not unlike Something Cold.
After the Canterel show, Carver struck up a relationship with Schoolwerth and began planning his own happening in Detroit. Much to Carver's delight, Schoolwerth was happy to give him advice on how to book bands, plan parties and market them in Detroit.
"I started asking [Schoolwerth] for advice," Carver says. "How did you start? How did you market it to people? He has always been really helpful. All the new Wierd releases, he'd send them to me. I'd always do release parties for Automelodi, Led Er Est, all the Wierd bands. He's an inspiration to me. He's a hero. He's done it from the ground up."
Carver is no slouch himself. After two years, his SC parties are the destination for minimal-synth in Detroit. This past winter, he spent time pooling resources, rallying Something Cold contacts and friends, and overseeing production of the label he'll launch this spring, called, cleverly, Something Cold Records.
Like other American coldwave labels, Carver plans to reissue old 'wave songs that have sat dormant for years while investing in new minimal-synth artists.
The label's first release, a compilation that features Ze Dark Park, Martial Canterel, Solvent and others, is slated for May. The comp's intended to build awareness of Something Cold both as a label and as a party. The next release, and the first artist release, will be a contemporary minimal-synth band out of Chicago called Valis.
Given Carver's relationship with Schoolwerth, the transition from roving dance party to record label is a fairly natural progression. "I'm really excited about [starting Something Cold Records]," Carver says. "... I just think it's the next step."
Carver says coldwave enthusiasts are stumped as to why minimal-synth has been slow to rise in the Midwest until now. The Midwest, Detroit in particular, Carver says, is an ideal location for his label.
"The Midwest is so post-industrial and cold," Carver says. "It's had such hard times and I think that this is the most fruitful environment for [coldwave minimal-synth] ... I personally think that minimal-synth is more the soundtrack to Detroit than techno is. Techno started off really cold and distant-sounding but compared to where techno went from there ... it kind of just got a little stale ... and it lost its identity. But minimal-synth always stuck to a very personal, romantic sound ... It's also very paranoid, dystopic and just kind of shaky. And I think that sums up the city of Detroit. There's so much hope in it, but at the same time it's just very cold and aware of itself and its history."
Carver doesn't mind if Something Cold never becomes the next "place to be" in Detroit; more than anything he simply wants it known that Detroit is a modern city with a thriving coldwave minimal-synth scene.
"I'd be completely fine if [Something Cold] doesn't become the next big Funk Night or Haute to Death," Carver says, grinning. "I just want it to be known. I want it to be out there. I want people to know that Detroit has this option ... I want people to know that we're just like any other city. We have a thriving industrial scene. We have a thriving minimal-synth scene ... I'm never going to stop doing [Something Cold] because we're not pulling in 400 people at each show. I believe that it needs to happen. It simply needs to exist. As long as I'm collecting records and booking shows, they're going to be happening here."
The next Something Cold event features Featureless Ghost and Liable for Abuse on Sunday, April 29 at the Magic Stick, 4140 Woodard Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7665; magesticdetroit.com
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