For the last 10 years, San Francisco label Dark Entries has been unearthing rusty and out of circulation cult electronic records and giving them a new life outside their few hundred plays on YouTube or nostalgic Discogs comments.
The label does release new records from the likes of Miss Kittin, Bill Converse and Bezier, but if there’s an ultra-rare cold- or minimal-wave cassette from the early 80s that deserves a wider audience, it’ll at least be on Dark Entries’ radar.
The latest artefact to get a lick of paint is New Face by Cologne electronic duo Stratis – their second album released on tape in 1983. Formed by Antonio Stratis and Albert Klein in 1981, Stratis had ambitions beyond the rudimentary DIY ethos of other European electronic acts, whose one-finger synth riffs and lo-fi aesthetic was transferred from punk’s three-chord manifesto. As well as sleek synthpop and Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave), the pair channelled the swirly prog of Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre, motorik grooves and cosmic jazz – all of the above in the future-funk album opener ‘Technotown’.
The record shares more with minimal sci-fi soundtracks or the visionary electro of Juan Atkins’ Cybotron, whose album Enter was also released in 1983. And it’s also worth noting that ‘Techno’ wasn’t yet a genre, and ‘Technotown’ came out three years before Kraftwerk’s ‘Techno Pop’ and two years before Atkins’ iconic line, “Techno’s here to stay” on Model 500’s track ‘Future’.
But while Kraftwerk wrote futuristic high-concept utilitarian hymns celebrating the man-machine interface, and Atkins was also in thrall to technological progress, Stratis weren’t so positive in 1983. The track ‘Humanly Possible’ snakes along on a morphine-drip New Beat bassline, while the history of conflict in objects is chronologically charted out in one-word bullet points – “Stone… stick… dart… knife… dagger” etc, through various guns, tanks, warships and World Wars, before the inevitable atomic bomb and nuclear arms race between the USA and Russia.
New Face’s futuristic sci-fi edge is most prominent on the album’s seven-minute centrepiece ‘Mystery Trip’, with its skittery synth effects evoking retrofuturist images of chunky mainframe computer terminals and CRT displays, and swelling synth chords that recall Simple Minds’ epic instrumental ‘Theme For Great Cities’. ‘Foggy Weather’ is another despairing look at the human race, imagining the angels coming to Earth to “show us how to live… to show us how to love”, all over a cosmic space disco slow jam.
It’s not all dystopian gloom though – you’re never too far from a jazzy synth lead solo that’s straight from the Herbie Hancock Future Shock play book (another 1983 belter), and ‘Die Kur’ is a full-on new wave electro-pop dancefloor track. It’s a hint that even though Stratis and Klein had issues with the human race at the time, they were elbows deep in wires, trying to make sense of new music technology and at least embracing that particular future.