Produced by Marc Santo & Scott Newman
Camera by Kevin Scheafer
Edited by Xavi Marrades Orga
Associate Producer: Franz Barosy
Interview by Marc Santo
As one of the founding members of East Village Radio during its pirate days, Veronica Vasicka began collecting obscure and long-forgotten records that fell somewhere between the cold wave, post-punk and minimal synth genres. Not knowing what to classify these bands as, she coined the genre “minimal wave” and set up the website Minimalwave.org as an online resource to share her finds with the rest of the world.
The website quickly garnered a cult-like following amongst record collectors and DJs, and Veronica set out on a manhunt around Europe in search of the music’s original creators. Veronica’s contagious enthusiasm for these artists set the music blogosphere aflame, so she set up the Minimal Wave label to release the tracks of the genre she helped define. Most of the bands featured on Minimal Wave recorded extremely limited copies of their work (mostly in basement and bedroom studios) and were shared with the world through John Peel’s legendary radio show and a handful of underground music mailing lists. The genre can be defined as a stripped down, purer approach to mainstream synth pop and new wave acts like Kraftwerk, New Order and Joy Division.
In addition to running Minimal Wave, Veronica launched a second label, Cititrax, as a way of exposing contemporary synth-based acts as well as obscure house and Italo classics. She can be heard DJing around New York City and every Sunday night at her East Village Radio show, “Minimal Wave.”
MARC SANTO: What is Minimal Wave?
VERONICA VASICKA: Minimal Wave is the record label and web project that I started to archive obscure new wave music. A lot of people recognize it as a genre because the music is characterized by drum machines, synthesizers and sometimes guitars. Most of the bands were active between ’79 and ’86, and when the technology changed and MIDI was introduced, the music became more formulaic and the genre ended. There wasn’t really the genre of minimal wave until a couple of years ago when I decided that all the music I was finding fit somewhere between the genres of minimal synth and cold wave. I started it as a way to archive forgotten bands with music, translated reviews, photographs and scans, but the more I got into it, the more I realized the amount of talent that had been overlooked. In 2004, I was DJing in Brooklyn and started playing a lot of minimal wave tracks that hadn’t come out yet. One of these tracks was “The Devil’s Dancers” by Oppenheimer Analysis and people went crazy for the song. At that point I knew it had to be more than an archive, so I started the label. Today the website is full of discographies, interviews, a music player and an active community of people who join to talk about records and record collecting. My goal with all this is to get the music out to the public and give it a special place in the world.
MARC: How have you tracked down the artists and how have they reacted to re-issuing their songs 30 years later?
VERONICA: I usually start by emailing just to get an idea of where they’re at in their life. Most people are surprised that someone even knows their music and they’re usually interested in doing something. From there we’ll decide on how we should go about releasing their work. Most bands only recorded a handful of cassettes in their bedrooms and that was it. Oppenheimer Analysis was my first release and they had an album with only 200 copies made. Andy Oppenheimer is related to J.R. Oppenheimer, who designed the atomic bomb. Today he’s a nuclear weapons consultant who writes for the BBC. Most of the artists aren’t doing music, but Oppenheimer Analysis are back together and working on music again, which is great.
MARC: Were there American or New York bands making this music?
VERONICA: Most of the action was in Europe, so people from all over the world would send their cassettes to a label in France through a mailing list. Most of the New York bands were on the fringe of the art and the no wave scene and they were making minimal synth music without knowing how they fit into the big picture. The Found Tapes is a compilation I put out that archives North American minimal wave from 1981 to 1986. It features most of the Canadian and American bands that were making this kind of music.
MARC: Is there a minimal wave scene in New York today?
VERONICA: A French DJ named DJ Gilles initiated the New York scene. He’s back in Paris now, but in 2001 he was throwing parties in Brooklyn and the group that surrounded those parties became inspired to create their own music and have been making it the old fashioned analog way. I’ve noticed a lot of bands popping up on MySpace that are using synthesizers and drum machines that sound like they could be from 1985 and it’s really fascinating to see that that’s popular amongst the newer indie crowd. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I think now is the time.
MARC: What is Cititrax and what are your plans for the future?
VERONICA: Cititrax is dedicated to newer bands and other stuff I like. I was going nuts with Minimal Wave and getting hyperfocused on the project. Minimal Wave can sometimes be associated with bleakness and darkness and that doesn’t reflect exactly who I am, so I wanted to express myself through another label. Z Factor was the first band on Cititrax and it’s an old house project from Chicago. Last year Peanut Butter Wolf’s label, Stones Throw, contacted me to do a compilation, which to me was a sign of success because he brought minimal wave to an entirely different audience. That’s what I always intended on doing.