To the Max with Minimal Wave | Music for the Masses | October 1, 2012

Veronica Vasicka started the Minimal Wave label from her New York bedroom in 2005. In the seven years hence, she’s unearthed a treasure trove of electronic music rarities and jump-started interest in the chillier corners of synthesizer-based music. Minimal Wave Tapes ,Vol. 1, a compilation of these sounds that she curated with hip-hop producer extra­ordinaire Peanut Butter Wolfe for the Stones Throw label, landed on many critics’ best-of lists (including this writer’s), and Vasicka shows no signs of slowing down—broadcasting a weekly Minimal Wave radio show, issuing new albums by Felix Kubin and J. Rocc’s Minimal Wave Edits, and DJing around the world. Mogul or ­music scholar? How about both.

MM: Describe the Minimal Wave genre for an audience that has limited (or no) exposure to this music.

Veronica Vasicka: Minimal Wave is essentially the underrepresented, more experimental, obscure side of New Wave. The Minimal Wave bands existed as part of the underground, young teenagers inspired by New Wave and punk, who took an entirely D.I.Y. approach to making and distributing their music. They used four-track tape recorders to create songs in their bedroom studios and self-released them on cassettes.

The 2005 launch of the Minimal Wave label created a name for the cult-followed genre and became equally as important in the sound’s preservation as its future development. Mainly dedicated to music that predates 1988, most Minimal Wave artists would have otherwise remained hidden in history, forgotten aspirations left only on small cassette runs.

The Minimal Wave artists predominantly created music with analog synthesizers and drum machines. Rather than shying away from the nature of the synthesized sound, their music placed an emphasis on its inherent artificiality. What resulted was stripped-down, bare-bones New Wave.

What was the moment where you thought, “I’ve got to get this music more exposure”?

The label began quite spontaneously. Originally, my plan was to form an online resource for Minimal Wave music with cassette scans, song samples, flyers, memorabilia, band biographies, videos, and a forum. I registered the domain ­ in June 2004. The term came to me spontaneously one day while listening to these coldwave and minimal synth cassettes from the 1980s.

The original plan for Minimal Wave shifted overnight. I was DJing out one night in [New York City] and played “The Devil’s Dancers” by UK band Oppen­heimer Analysis. The crowd went wild over it, asking what it was and where they could buy it. Seeing that the music held the same potential it did some 30 years ago was a huge turning point for me. It was still waiting to be discovered.

Minimal Wave Records gives great care and attention to each release as a physical artifact. Why is this important to you in a time where we’re bludgeoned with digital?

The physical artifact is an important aspect in the preservation of this music, as it was an inherent part of its original form. Discovering a band once was a tactile experience: opening a cassette or record for the first time, looking at label art and liner notes while simultaneously listening to the music was an entirely different experience to that of today. It wasn’t instantaneous like a download link is. A certain amount of effort and passion needed to be put forth to discover the music, so only a few people actually knew about it. I think it’s important to bring back this enriching user experience as essential to a higher quality of life.

Besides the compilations—especially Minimal Wave Tapes—what other albums would you suggest for libraries wanting to dip their toes into your label’s catalog?

For Minimal Wave releases, I suggest the Oppenheimer Analysis EP, which we have re-pressed several times now due to its popularity. I also recommend any releases by Philippe Laurent, Sympathy Nervous, In Aeternam Vale, Futurisk, Das Ding, and Deux. These artists were true pioneers and quintessential to what Minimal Wave is all about.

And beyond the releases on your label, if a library is looking to get some of the leading lights of the Minimal Synth/coldwave sound, who are some of the artists to start with?

Bands like Experimental Products, Ceramic Hello, and Iko ’83 are all historically important. As far as new material, definitely check out projects like Boan, Streetwalker, Innergaze, Xeno & Oaklander, the KVB, and Tropic of Cancer.

What are recent notable Minimum Wave releases?

Some recent label highlights include The Hidden Tapes compilation and the Orgelvärk compilation of Swedish tape music, the Hard Corps Clean Tables Have To Be Burnt LP, and the In Aeternam Vale Dust Under Brightness LP and 12″ .

Tell me about the upcoming remix project with (hip-hop artist) J. Rocc. What do you see as the sonic or aesthetic commonality between hip-hop and Minimal Wave?

We just released the first set of remixes by J. Rocc via the Stones Throw label. This all happened very spontaneously; he had heard the compilation tracks and felt inspired to remix them. So he just went ahead and selected ones he wanted to remix and ended up doing just that. One day he played them for Peanut Butter Wolf, who thought they sounded great and in turn ended up playing them for me. I agreed, as this was an interesting take on how to make these tracks more DJ friendly, and we decided to release them as a series of two 12″s. The second 12″ will be out at the end of August.

There’s a lot of crossover between Minimal Wave and hip-hop. I think it mainly has to do with the simple song structures and sounds themselves. Many of the same drum machines and keyboards were used so there are inherent similarities based on those sounds. Aesthetically, both genres’ strengths lie in pure expression and rely less on complex production techniques.


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About Matthew Moyer