Posted in music on February 28, 2013

by Joshua Strawn

Xeno & Oaklander last night at WIERD (instagram by daniellehoward)

You may know Josh Strawn through his work in current projects Azar Swan and Vaura but he was also an integral part of WIERD and, before that, a fan of the music. Strawn has played the weekly party with three separate projects (Vaura, Religious to Damn, Blacklist) over the years, so he was able to add some special insight about last night's final WIERD Wednesday event and it's place in the current NYC scene. Strawn's thoughts are below. - Fred Pessaro


It's only because Wierd existed that we can now look back to the early 2000s and marvel that dark independent music then was basically Interpol. Now you can't throw a rock in Brooklyn without hitting a kid that knows that, even if Pet Sounds was a historically radical record, only the first Clan of Xymox album is real. A lot of them even know who Twilight Ritual is, which is bizarre. When Pieter Schoolwerth, Gilles LeGuen, Glenn Maryansky, Sean McBride (and eventually me, among a few other notable progenitors) all started congregating at Southside Lounge, playing minimal synth and cold wave records and seeing who could still argue cogently about philosophy after fourteen drinks, I don't think any of us knew what it was going to grow into. As far as we were concerned, we were just the black flies in the ointment of an indie rock regime we despised. It wasn't quite right, as far as we were concerned, that it was OK for movies to be brooding, serious and cerebral like Bergman and Tarkovsky but music had to be painfully self-aware, and/or have a sense of humor or self-effacement. It felt like you had to be some variation on Woody Allen with a guitar to be taken seriously by the establishment indie music press. We thought it was time for the chess-playing Death with synthesizers to get a fair audience.

We were all painfully aware of what goth had become throughout the 1990s: spooky dolls, mainstream industrial rock, weak Tim Burton films, and dyed-blue dreadlocked types wearing goggles, platform boots, and cheap-looking PVC to go out and dance to music that basically sounded like La Bouche with an unlistenable male vocalist. In this sense we were elitists, and it would be hard to apologize for having been that way. There are different kinds of elitism. Some focus on the eliteness of people, and and that couldn't be further from what we were about. The Wierd thrived on nothing if not inclusion of people. But it was elitist in the sense of a standard of excellence in art that most people then could have been forgiven for assuming never got anywhere near so-called dark music. It was about creating a space for ourselves and for the like-minded to make a particular kind of music that was basically unacceptable at the time.

What Pieter and Wierd accomplished was, with the benefit of hindsight, nothing short of a radical feat, because what took hold locally spread nationally and in some cases even internationally. In America it amounted to an expansion of the average music listener's palate to include sensibilities of French, Dutch, Polish, German and various other European music that had previously been laughed off as "pretentious." In Europe, it amounted to a sense that Americans were finally realizing that music had a history that wasn't geographically confined to the contiguous United States and Great Britain. It did take years, and having been in the first band on the label, I can testify better than anyone: at the beginning we were still just the new goths on the block. But today, it's just a given that music that sounds like a rip-off of Xeno & Oaklander (because it is a rip-off of Xeno & Oaklander) will get legitimate attention from legitimate music outlets and DJs that are more likely fans of Autre Ne Veut than VNV Nation will spin it. In other words, your music is now allowed to sound like Béla Tarr films look. We didn't cater to the establishment indie music press, we forced them to accept us. Today, you can start a band in Michigan that's inspired by Absolute Body Control and reasonably expect that you might get covered in Pitchfork.

Wierd was a conservationist mo(ve)ment. I say conservationist because to call it conservative would be bizarre and inaccurate, given the libertinism of the parties and creative spirit of the artists. Obviously Wierd wasn't anti-technology or anti-Internet: the label and party ran a Facebook page and website; the bands had Bandcamp pages and sold tracks on iTunes. It was more about having your cake and eating it too, about placing a higher value on the IRL, even if we knew digital abstraction was an unfortunate fact of contemporary life. It thrived on the belief that seeing Martial Canterel's virtuosity while the fog machine filled your sinuses was not only better than seeing the Youtube video, it was downright important.

So why dark music? Who cares, really. Of course there's nothing that binds those inclined towards darker aesthetics to this particular anti-abstraction ideal. It just happened that way. It just so happened that a strange band of heady goths found one another. To the outside detractor, the quintessential image of Wierd will always be some droll spooky kids in black plodding around in the smoke and lights to the The Cure. To anyone who actually came and saw, the quintessential image of Wierd is a paisley-soaked flesh pit of fluid sexualities, toasts for no good reason, fist-in-the-air singalongs, and people hanging on one another either out of love or because they were too inebriated to stand up on their own (but probably both). Something about the fact that the music sounded a little sinister made sense to us. It wouldn't have been the same specific mixture of sensation, emotion, and atmosphere had the music on the speakers been chirpy major key guitar pop. We made your Wednesday nights longer and more dramatic, and we made your music smarter and weirder.

I'm watching anxiously to see what happens next. Because while it may not be readily apparent, Wierd was the jagged spinal column on which the ribs and flesh of the rest of the scene hung. Plenty resented it while harboring unspoken affection and respect for it at the same time -- like how kids are with their parents. And just like those kids, they'll see how it is going out on their own. I predict they'll miss their Mama. Pieter was affectionately compulsive about Wierd and the community of people that grew up around it, and quite often that compulsion was contagious. It spread through a community that interacted in physical space. And it isn't that community online is impossible -- it's just that the kind of community that Wierd was is impossible online. Plenty of music scenes toss around words like "family" but scarcely ever do they keep going for as long, or accomplish as much as Wierd did. Because of it I have a brother Mark in Chicago, a baby sister Jeralyn and a cousin Frankie, and that only gets the list started. I'm still not sure if Pieter's my brother or mom, but therein lies the perverse, incestuous charm of the last decade or so. VERY RARE began as a mantra, but hundreds of shows and thousands friends later, it's also a statement of pure fact. So now we bid IT adieu...



Comments (47)

i saw this dude on the street once and he harshed my mellow

Posted by silent drape runners | February 28, 2013 2:44 PM

remember when people who essays like this 20 years after a scene died rather than 20 minutes?

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 2:52 PM

remember when blogs?

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:13 PM

what are cat am i in internet where is burgr king pls help me

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:16 PM

My friends and I tried to strike up a conversation with a girl who was standing outside on line at the venue last night. She said she was unwilling to "bother" to explain what was happening. Like we were too old and uncool to possibly get it. Meanwhile, I have 20+ years of experience on her. Like she's ever seen Clan of Xymox live. Like she's ever been to The Omen in Frankfurt. Like she's ever promoted underground warehouse parties during the birth of the Rave scene. Please.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:22 PM

@322. Maybe you're just one of those annoying people who walks by somewhere with a line and asks people "hey hey hey what's going on here it looks cool is it cool I wanna be cool"

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:27 PM

^ dude that reminds me of when I was standing in lime at Mamouns and this girl was giving me attitude and I was like, "I been to Lebanon and dined in the freshest platters bitch"

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:28 PM

you sound like a bigger douche than the girl that offended you by being bothered by you.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:31 PM

322 - amazing! you have done things that someone younger than you has not. let's make you internet famous

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:33 PM

Maybe she really couldn't just be bothered. Nothing wrong with that.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:34 PM

haters gonna hate. There was more pussy @ Wierd last night then you could shake a meat stick at. I love me some dark hipster hoes dressed in all black.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:35 PM

3:22 here again. You're missing my point. My friends and I were genuinely interested in what was happening and asked a simple question. The line was going nowhere fast. This girl had more than enough time to tell us about it. Instead, she was completely aloof and dismissive.

@3:27, is it really so annoying when someone asks you what you are waiting on line for? Are you really that cool and unfriendly?

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:49 PM

I thought fog machines were bad for synthesizers.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 3:56 PM

No offense against the Wierd scene or their fantastic label...but plenty of people were listening to Dark/Coldwave and post-punk music before their parties started. I think Josh paints a slightly inaccurate picture of the early 2000s.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 4:06 PM

"music that sounds like a rip-off of Xeno & Oaklander (because it is a rip-off of Xeno & Oaklander)"

You do realize the irony of that statement, right? Although they do it as well and reverentially as anyone currently mining the territory, Xeno & Oaklander are merely ripping off various 80s European electronic artists.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 4:14 PM

And likewise no offense to you, 4:06, but at no point in the piece did I suggest that people began listening to Dark/Coldwave and post-punk music as of the start of Wierd! I said (to paraphrase myself) that the party helped disseminate the music to a wider audience and helped it gain a degree of respectability that allowed future artists to make that kind of music with less fear of being consigned to a marginalized niche genre/audience.

Posted by Josh | February 28, 2013 4:16 PM

I'm a little put off by the contempt for 90's goth, and while Wierd is/was fantastic, this article reeks a bit too much of snobbery/unfriendliness for me...

Posted by dixie | February 28, 2013 4:16 PM

4:14, Xeno & Oaklander are no more "ripping off" their forebears than any artist who makes good art but has traceable influences. Do you think John Foxx reached out to them because they did such a great job "ripping [him] off?" Or because he saw in them a worthy extension of the aesthetic he helped inaugurate? I go with the latter.

Posted by Josh | February 28, 2013 4:25 PM

I kind of feel that some of the people who grew up with Wierd in their 20's is compared to others growing up with The Green door nights and The Bank Goth nights in the 90's.

I Had my wierd in the 90's and I think it's awesome that the next decade had theirs at Wierd. it's sad to see a night go like that because our scenes do fade and this is a good one to keep. I did attend a few nights there and it brought back to me my fun goth industrial memories and I got to see some pretty amazing bands on the way.

Cheers to seeing what's next for The Wierd.

-Stay Wierd

Posted by Jenna | February 28, 2013 4:48 PM

P.S Well Written Josh.

Posted by Jenna | February 28, 2013 4:56 PM

Josh - Believe me...I'm not trying to pick a fight with you but I think the logic you use in your 4:25 comment is a bit circular. Perhaps the bands you allude to as ripping off Xeno & Oaklander in your article are simply using them as a "traceable influence" (or more likely, are simply influenced by the exact same original 80s music that Xeno & Oaklander are clearly influenced by).

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 6:21 PM

p.s. Also, is Gilles LeGuen still around? To this day, I still cherish the various mix CDs I got from that crazy Frenchman over ten years ago!

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 7:41 PM

Great music, smallish venue. Sad to see it go. Anything else happening?

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 9:01 PM

Weird wasn't important and didn't have much impact beyond a few dozen people. It was interesting and those kids were passionate about it, yes. But it won't be remembered.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 10:55 PM

i'm glad you had fun dancing bro, just don't claim to be a progenitor anymore. it's way gauche.

Posted by Anonymous | February 28, 2013 11:35 PM

Josh got it right. Wierd brought a full assortment of great new artists to check out. Before I heard of Wierd I didn't know there were any current bands like this. Wierd opened a whole new world of music to me. I am thankful of this, and sad that I haven't had a chance to travel across the country to see a show there (which I was planning on doing this summer). Too bad!

Posted by Brad | March 1, 2013 12:51 AM

Some of the events and groups at Wierd were OK but derivative as hell although some of them were not kidding themselves possibly about where they got the influence from but man was the snobbery there pathetic.

"that the party helped disseminate the music to a wider audience and helped it gain a degree of respectability that allowed future artists to make that kind of music with less fear of being consigned to a marginalized niche genre/audience".

Thats amazing the lengths you go to boast about an inclusive party scene regurgitating past music.

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 1:50 AM

for the last time it's spelled WEIRD!!!! do you have spell check!!!

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 12:39 PM

I don't understand what's snobby about the DJs at WIERD giving out cds/sharing playlists/etc. Was it because you didn't recognize anything and didn't bother to ask about it? If I liked something I heard there I inquired about it immediately and they were happy to share the wealth, so to speak. I think one of the DJs even has a website where he uploads his entire collection. I've gotten into a lot of great stuff via this party over the years, and will forever owe a debt to it.

Those saying the party wasn't relevant outside a small minority are missing the mark completely: just listen to many of the bands being championed these days. Bands like Light Asylum, Zola Jesus, Cult of Youth etc. and now all the Captured Tracks/Sacred Bones/Mexican Summer kind of bands that get coverage here played some of their first shows at WIERD and were inspired by both the music played there as well as the community vibe of the party. Meanwhile, there have been similar nights cropping up all over the country and in Europe that pay homage to the night and have a similar aesthetic.

While WIERD won't be the last of its kind, it was certainly among the first, and no amount of anonymous slagging will change that. Long story short- haters are going to hate, and WIERD will definitely be missed.

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 12:45 PM

Wierd was a tremendous boon and a great ally to many new bands, DJs, and partygoers alike. Will never be forgotten.

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 12:50 PM

12:39 for the last time the misspelling is intentional!!!! do you not pay attention every time you leave this comment!!!

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 12:54 PM

^ trolling, pal

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 1:00 PM

That scene was pretty over a year and a half ago, at least. Glad they knew when to end it.

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 1:23 PM

fuck you josh

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 4:19 PM

4:19, you're just jealz.

Posted by Anonymous | March 1, 2013 5:28 PM

Anyone who claims the people involved in Wierd were/are snobs obviously never attempted to talk to anyone there. While I was intimidated the first few times I went to Wierd, I finally had the courage to speak to Pieter in 2007. That night he introduced me to everyone in the bar so that I would always know someone any time I came back. He also came into my work the next day and handed me the few releases Wierd had at that time as well as 14 mix cd's that he had burned from his personal collection to DJ with. As a DJ and record collector myself for a while at that point, I had never met anyone that open and forthcoming about the rare and hard to find music that they loved. Still haven't. I was living in New York in the early-mid 2000s and it was not easy to find out about every band I discovered through a Flexi Pop comp but Pieter spent hours emailing with me about music and alerting me when cool things were for sale cheaply on EBay. All because I happened to be passionate about the same music that he loved. I could go on for hours about how the community at Wierd transcended my wildest dreams of the New York I had read about and had been searching for since I arrived in 2002. But if you didn't like the music or attend the party then there is no way you could possibly understand what it meant to those of us who did. The stories I have of friendship, love, belonging, discovering amazing
music and bands are literally the stuff that all the books and documentaries about NYC in the 80s-90s are made of. I grew up dreaming of a place where I would meet like-minded people who loved the same strange stuff as me. And after years of not finding it, I believed it couldn't possibly exist anymore. The first time I walked into Wierd at Southside Lounge in 2005, Pieter was playing "Up The Down Escalator" by The Chameleons and in 2011, the night before my 30th birthday, I saw ChameleonsVox perform "Script of the Bridge" live at Wierd. If that doesn't describe an amazing full circle once in a lifetime moment to you, then you couldn't possibly understand any of this--don't even try--call me what you want but it breaks my heart to bid Wierd goodbye....X

Posted by Jeralyn | March 3, 2013 9:49 PM

The stories I have of friendship, love, belonging, discovering amazing

Posted by two way radio | March 5, 2013 4:30 AM

...yo seriously 4:19 "fuck you josh" is the most fantastically honest comment I've gotten on anything BV has posted about anything I've done. So parsimonious! Absent of any effort to be clever or humorous (and, thankfully, absent of the word "gauche") it merely states its simple-minded animosity. There may be hope for you yet.

Posted by Josh | March 5, 2013 11:19 AM

although the above article is a bit self-important, wierd was a special and unique night. i was never part of that scene but loved the music and saw many great gigs there. i'll remember it fondly.

Posted by Anonymous | March 5, 2013 12:27 PM

lol i like a lot of the music that gets associated with this but the self-aggrandizement (and subsequent anxious sweaty-fingered keyboard-jockeying by dude and his friends to save face in this comment thread) is hilarious

yeah man, thanks for introducing me to coldwave, never heard of that scenearoo before.. truly pioneers of a fucking generation

pet sounds beats the shit out of anything clan of xymox ever did btw

Posted by Anonymous | March 5, 2013 12:46 PM

hahaha oh man the comment at 12:45 which i am sure is **TOTALLY NOT** "josh" or someone who is friends with "josh" laying the smack down on "anonymous comments" while proceeding to unleash a deluge of anonymous worship praise

"yes, and let us not also forget to take credit for captured tracks, one of the most successful independent labels of our time, which was built from the ground up by a guy who has nothing to do with us."

why, because beach fossils did a shitty cover of the wake once? just lmao

Posted by Anonymous | March 5, 2013 1:04 PM

Why is everyone so mad? Wierd was the best!

Posted by Anonymous | March 6, 2013 5:05 PM

Don't bring Bela Tarr into this hipster shit

Posted by Anonymous | March 6, 2013 5:10 PM

12:46 and 1:04 (likely the same person, or as they accuse, one dissenter and his buddy) are obviously missing the point. Wierd didn't make the music way back when and isn't the only party to promote it, but it did have a hand in bringing it to attention. Deny all you want, dipshits.

Posted by Anonymous | March 14, 2013 4:03 PM

Does anyone know where I can reach the band ANTHONY'S REVENGE which played at the Wierd Records party at Home Sweet Home in (March?) 2010?

Posted by Peter | March 16, 2013 12:52 PM

for some reason wierd stopped being amusing after I quit heroin

Posted by Anonymous | March 23, 2013 1:48 PM

I thank you for having this up !!! It so made my day!! (: awesome stuff, cool gig.

Posted by Panzer | September 21, 2014 8:10 AM

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