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Interview with several people including Peter Koppes about "eighties bands" Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 October 1998
Originally published by Philadelphia City Paper at The Church, Jesus and Mary Chain, Gary Numan and Bauhaus?back with a vengeance.

by a.d. amorosi

The Wedding Singer was the '80s, right? Poofy hair, thin ties and happy songs by Thompson Twins and Kajagoogoo surely defined the new wave.


What defined the '80s and all it meant to me and my ilk was the scene where a beaten-down Adam Sandler shares a moment with Drew Barrymore by picking up his flanged electric guitar and singing about the love he lost.

"I'm laying in bed feeling melan-choly," he wimpers softly before he's roused to screaming -begging?someone to "fucking kill me pretty please" and hoping the girl that left him "fucking chokes."

That's my kind of new wave: Dark. Decrepit. Sleazy. Sad.

In the last eight months the less-than-shiny sounds of the '80s have been celebrated in new releases and tours from Dead Or Alive (Nukleopatra), upcoming projects from Siouxsie and Budgie of the Banshees, The Church (Hologram of Baal) and the magnetically influential Jesus and Mary Chain (Munki). Along with new records and wildly successful tours from Gary Numan (Exile) and Love and Rockets' original inception, Bauhaus?godfathers of the respective genres of electronica and goth rock?both have released the entirety of their catalog along with a dozen compilations of unreleased, live and remixed material?to say nothing of tribute CDs. By November Depeche Mode, electro-daddies of the dark new wave, will celebrate noir-ness with a tribute CD (Music For The Masses), a dour-est hits package (Singles 86-98) and a stadia tour that hits the Spectrum Nov. 1.

Why all the fuss over these spidery men and women in black, these bearers of dark clouds? Several reasons. One is that popular artists like Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor and Smashing Pumpkins have readily admitted their love of the likes of The Church, Numan, Bauhaus and Depeche many times over. Two, label executives, especially those at smaller independent labels, are of the age where looking back means basking in fishnets and black lipstick. And three, the music, for all its oft-misinterpreted savagery and anti-sentimentalism, is yearningly romantic.

"Gary Numan wrote us saying he used to be a famous musician? as if we wouldn't remember

Ali O., Cleopatra label director of publicity, can't even remember how many Gary Numan CDs her label has released this year?The Fury, Sacrifice, Live Dark Light among them?let alone all the other dark '80s artists the label has put out like David J., Heaven 17 and Gene Loves Jezebel. Cleopatra is one of the most forceful proponents of dark new wave as well as quirky '70s progressive and gothic rock sounds. When Gary Numan chose to make a comeback in the States, he contacted Cleopatra with an e-mail saying what a big fan he was of the label's twisted output.

"He wrote us saying he used to be a famous musician?as if we wouldn't remember," says Ali. "We were his biggest fans.

"I never thought when I was 18 that I'd be working for Dead or Alive," adds the 29-year-old. "Everyone here, including label boss Brian Perera, is in their late 20s to mid-30s. We're regurgitating what we've loved since we were adolescents."

Regurgitation must be profitable. On the whole, Ali says Cleopatra's numerous '80s compilations sell between 20,000 to 60,000 units.

The now-21-year-old Beggars Banquet label is in the same position. Based out of New York and London, the label, home to Numan, Gene Loves Jezebel, Bauhaus and the Fall when they were in their prime (remember Numan was a No. 1 chartmaker with "Cars") is currently rereleasing their catalog with great success.

"The fans of these acts?the goths in particular?are incredibly loyal," says Lesley Bleakley, who has been with Beggars Banquet for 10 years. "You don't just see old sad fans either. You see young fans who are equally enthusiastic."

One particular band that has drawn rabid enthusiasm from fans and musicians alike is Australia's The Church. Since 1980, singer/lyricist/bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper and guitarist Peter Koppes have molded a surrealistic morass of sinewy melody that is the sweet slumber of The Church. With each album?from the blunt, jangly pop of Heyday (1988) to the slow-brooding shoegaze of their new Hologram of Baal (Thirsty Ear)?The Church carefully turn the pages of a magically mysterious book.

Calling from a tour stop in Minneapolis (The Church play the Troc October 8), Koppes says he credits The Church's lasting power to the fact that they've consistently broken from routine with solo projects, production stints and self-managed labels. Still, their songwriting process is identical.

"We may be exactly the same people we were 20 years ago," laughs Koppes. "We've been applying the same method of writing, playing and affecting that we used on Heyday. That well is so fruitful, so full of continued promise, it will never dry up."

Koppes is responsible for the sensual Robert Fripp-like twists and Byrds-like jangling that make Hologram and million-sellers like Gold Afternoon Fix (1990) so spectacularly lush. He quit The Church in 1990 because he was tired of identifying himself as a "band guy" after a decade's worth of material. Working with Kilbey and Church drummer/producer Tim Powles on a series of projects (including a solo CD on his Immersion label), Koppes brought a sense of off-the-wall experimentalism back into The Church for their latest album.

"I broke a sound barrier," says Koppes of tunes like "Louisiana" and "Anesthesia," in which the somber string and bell sounds come strictly from guitar. But on ambient soundscapes like "The Great Machine" and "Ricochet," Koppes says, "You can't tell from whom each sound is coming. It's ego-less." Koppes says these mini-revolutionary developments are what keeps them vital to longtime fans, new fans and the bandmembers themselves.

"I think our stuff?our lyrics, our art?is mind-expanding, yes, but it can be communicated easily to everyone. And has been."

When I spoke to Bauhaus' Peter Murphy several months back he was amazed at the wealth of warm feeling their return generated, especially from live audiences. Koppes can't believe the dedication of fans?Internet and otherwise?who've gathered the most intimate details of The Church's career and made them into an artform. Whole Web sites and fanzines?most particularly and Wheaton, MD's fantastic color 'zine Lexicon?have been dedicated to the bands and the genre.

"I love The Church," says Lexicon's managing editor David Richards. "It is because of bands like them I started publishing Lexicon. Because Rolling Stone and Spin never bothered. So much of this music, especially the darker stuff, is so loved by kids who are a little down on themselves.

"We're gloomy and mopey and goth rockers and we're proud of it," says Cleopatra's Ali O., who's preparing for the label's "return-to-roots" with The Black Bible, a four-CD primer of the finest of early gauzy gothic rock sounds compiled by Philly's own Athan Margoulis.

"It's a perfect starter kit," says Ali. "And I should know. I'm a doomer who lived for Bauhaus and Siouxsie. In the same way that Nirvana got labeled the godfathers of grunge and had to deal with it, people like Bauhaus have had to live with the fact that they've had a foreboding influence on scores of people."

Lesley Bleakley, who comes from the north of England, says that she, too, was profoundly affected.

"I used to live for Bauhaus and the Southern Death Cult. Their music was so strange and romantic. Quite frankly, I don't see that sort of passion in new music anymore. Do you?"

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