When electroclash took over the scene from New York to London to everywhere else that mattered at the turn of the Millennium, confrontational Detroit duo ADULT. had already begun resuscitating the darker aesthetic and lyrical tenets of 80s Euro-electro. Yet while so many of their peers were churning out opulent kitsch-deesko, Adam Lee Miller instead conjured a sonic palette which was jittery, foreboding, and cold but sensual, as front-banshee Nicola Kuperus wailed lyrics about human corruption, psychological emptiness and, well, all manner of everyday anxieties. (Indeed, they named a 2003 album Anxiety Always.)
They went on to transcend any genre classification, and to establish a signature brand of Teutonic techno-metal-pop. No surprise, they’re really big in Germany. Nicola also became a prominent art photographer, noted for the rather gruesome humor of her “death scene” tableaux.
Now they’re back with their first new album in four years, edifyingly titled Detroit House Guests – and due for release March 17 on Mute. Indeed, they invited several of their most bellicose, uncompromising musical friends – including Michael Gira of Swans, Douglas J. McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb, and Light Asylum’s awesome Shannon Funchess – out to their Motor City studio for what turned out to be some very electrifying recording sessions.
Highlights? Gira and Kuperus forcefully chant “Nonsense / No sense” over the eerie buy absorbing dissonance of “Breathe On”; McCarthy’s haunting baritone lends a portentous edge to the infectious, Depeche Mode-like synth pop of “They’re Just Words”; and Funchess unleashes her feral beast on the sinister-but-groove-heavy “We Chase the Sound.” In the overall, Detroit House Guests impressively exhibits the astonishing breadth of their creative purview, while seemingly following a clear thematic arc.
We caught up with the pair for a chat about cultural overload, public vs. private persona, and, of course, anxiety.
Tension has always been your stock in trade, huh?
NK I think so. And anxiety.
There’s a lot of anxiety now.
ALM It’s interesting, we’re putting together our live set – and we were shocked by how these songs written during the Bush era still sound so current.
NK As artists, we were always there to speak for the disenfranchised.
There’s a lyric on the album, “All that we perceive might be otherwise / These words that you say might be all lies.” It’s pretty spot on for our current situation.
NK It is, but these are things that we’re always dealing with. The day Trump came into office, we were jamming to Dead Kennedys and Crass – and it’s amazing how relevant those albums are still.
ALM I also think that Nicola writes lyrics that are very open ended – that can shift as the state of the nation shifts.
Worringly, though, there seems to be nothing provocative happening in music right now.
NK & ALM I agree.
There’s the theory that technology has taken over for culture.
ALM Well, we’ve been watching this CNN program that goes through the 60s, 70s…and the first 80s episode is all about television. Plenty of people thought TV was going to kill culture and make everyone mindless. But I don’t envy the young now, because I don’t know what that must be like – for everything to be on all the time. And everything is so public. It has to be exhausting at a level that I don’t think people completely understand yet.
NK And people now feel that everything they do is important; they feel entitled to the attention.
Everyone just says what they’re thinking without actually…thinking.
ALM If you would have told me that our President would be tweeting at five in the morning…how did it get to that level of pervasiveness?
Shannon Funchess is incredible, isn’t she?
NK She is a powerhouse. Just to have her in the studio and to listen to that voice, that power coming out of her…it’s really inspiring.
Despite all the guests, though, the album feels remarkably cohesive.
NK It is a real journey in sound and in narrative, yes.
It’s especially great to hear Douglas McCarthy on a couple of songs. Nitzer Ebb arguably got ghettoized by the “industrial” tag. But they’re much more important and influential than they’re given credit for.
NK Absolutely. They always challenged their audience, and that’s what we are always trying to do.
There’s the lyric, “This is the way the body works.” And both bands have always explored the mind/body divide – the battle between the physical and the psychological.
NK The past couple of years I’ve been interested in the concept of the “front stage” and “back stage.” The author Erving Goffman wrote a book called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, about how we all have a front stage physicality, and a back stage that’s more psychological.
With all the cultural clatter of these modern times, how hard is it to stay important and relevant?
NK That’s a complicated question. You always have to promote yourself as an artist – it’s just different now. Ultimately you have to keep working and just do good work.
Does this record still represent ADULT. being an oppositional force? Do you hope that you can still rouse people?
ALM Certainly we do. We still put absolutely everything into what we do.
Finally, how did depressed Detroit suddently become the new cool place?
NK I’m not sure how cool it actually is. But being in Detroit we never have to compromise anything we do – because we live insanely cheaply. So artists can support themselves here. But even Detroit, like so many other places now, is on the verge of that, “Will it keep its integrity?” moment.