Shoegaze electronica… personally I pretty much gave up on the genre when in the noughties everyone started mentioning Ulrich Schnauss as its new messiah. To me his material sounded like glorified elevator music that took the lameness of Slowdive’s overrated output to numbing new lows. Later I also held him responsible for a lot of the retrograde ‘nugaze’ that has been rearing its complacent head in the music world in recent years. So my encounter with the wonderful Le Thug has provided me with all kinds of eye-opening and rehabilitating effects. To my mind, the difference between the two phenomena can be summed up in two record titles: the trite romanticism of Schnauss’s ‘A Strangely Isolated Place’, versus the tersely complex brokenness of Le Thug’s ‘Place Is’.
Le Thug’s previous EP, Ripping, was a droney, pulsating and dense affair. Tremolous and whammified, it offered radical experiments in sheer sound and abstracted structures, drowning raspy vocals in a misty mix of guitars and synths.
Keeping its predecessor’s chainsaw guitars, swaying keyboard pads and swirls of feedback and ambiance, Place Is supplements the band’s sound with harder beats and a more poppy sheen. It offers a wonderful combination of the cold crispness of electro with the tuneful dreaminess of pop and the unstable dynamics and spatial expansion of shoegaze. The songs variously echo the incisiveness of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the gorgeousness of the Cocteau Twins, the high-mindedness of Depeche Mode, the infectiousness of New Order, and even, dare I say, the sweetness of a-ha. Tropes of 80s electronic music such as claps, clubby basslines and chiming synths mingle deliciously with the discordant and atmospheric motifs of 80s industrial music, highlighting the often neglected roots of shoegaze in the music of metal bashers and purveyors of intellectual noise such as Coil and Einsturzende Neubauten. And this whole amalgam is sutured together by simple yet deeply affecting vocal melodies that tend to be more embodied and more foregrounded in the mix than those in typical shoegaze recordings.
Le Thug locate themselves between Glasgow and the Outer Hebrides, and with its fat low end, harsh craggy rhythms and exhilarating highlands, their music mixes together the groovy desolation of urban basketball courts with their eternally torn nets, and the forlorn grandeur of remote islands extending inhospitably under heavy skies. It has a peculiar cut-and-paste feel, an air of almost cyborgian futurism, yet it is also strangely retro in that Kubrickesque yesterday’s-tomorrow kind of way. Like a vintage tape echo machine, it laces its repetition with unpredictability and organic growth. This is evident, for example, on the interesting issue of how to end an electronic-based track: only one of the EP’s six songs ends with a fade-out; on all the other tracks, the digitally precise cutting point disappears into a long and evocative tail of throbbing sound.