A synth-obsessed label turns four
Minimal Wave celebrates a birthday at Kiss & Tell.
Tue Dec 1 2009
Given the passage of time, childhood obsessions almost always fade. A fascination with dinosaurs is reduced to a few plastic brontos on a high-schooler’s bureau; a prized collection of seashells morphs into a box of de facto paperweights and ashtrays. Occasionally, a youthful infatuation leads to something more—be it a lasting hobby, a meaningful career or, just maybe, a very cool, highly respected record label that’s celebrating its fourth birthday. In this case, that label is Minimal Wave, devoted to releasing obscure, largely European synth music produced from the late ’70s through the mid-’80s. Founder Veronica Vasicka is celebrating with a DJ set at this month’s Kiss & Tell affair.
“Do you remember WLIR?” Vasicka asks, referring to the beloved Long Island radio station that was a lifeline to many lonely new-wave fans throughout the ’80s. “When I was in seventh grade, I used to record mixtapes off of that station. I had a mixtape from every single month for a long time, all marked 'May 1986,’ 'June 1987’ or whatever. That station actually played fairly obvious stuff, but it led me to find out more about these bands. And just the sound of those bands really intrigued me.”
Unlike most tweenage romances, Vasicka’s affair has blossomed. Its consummation began with the launch of East Village Radio in 2003, when Vasicka, the online station’s original program director, hosted Minimal-Electronik Plus. Around the same time, she was searching for a name for a website to serve as a clearinghouse for her favored sound—obscure, spare and often dark, with drum machines, sequenced synth lines and deadpan vocals figuring predominantly. “I had this collection of Dutch magazines from the early ’80s, and they kept using the terms minimal electronics, new wave, coldwave and a bunch of others. I kind of thought there should be a term that covers all this music, and I thought minimal wave could be it. When I registered the website, I was able to register the name.” The site, minimal-wave.org, now serves as both a scene forum and the label’s online.
One thing led to another. “Through the radio show, I was getting sent all this music that had only come out on tape and had never really been released,” Vasicka recalls. “I would play an artist; they would google themselves, see that I had played their song, and then they’d write to me. And I would always tell them, 'Well, if you have more tracks, send them my way!’ It turned out these people had lots of tracks, most of which had never been released.” Minimal Wave, the label, was born, with its sublabel, Cititrax, releasing newer music and some killer house material. Vasika’s East Village Radio show has been rechristened Minimal Wave as well.
The Minimal Wave story, it seems, is just beginning. Peanut Butter Wolf, the CEO of the esteemed, funk-oriented Stones Throw label, is a fan—a big fan. “Apparently, he had been buying one of each of the label’s releases,” Vasicka says, “and one day he just got in touch with me and said, 'I really like this stuff. Let’s work on a compilation.’ I was like, 'Um, sure!’ So Stones Throw is doing a sort of best-of anthology of the label’s releases, which should be coming out as a CD, double LP and digitally in January.”
The moral: Kids, hold on to those dinosaur models, seashells—and mixtapes.