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Herb Sundays 62: Veronica Vasicka
The NYC-based Minimal Wave founder and DJ shares a life's catalog of favorites.
“The idea behind this mix was to create an assemblage of music I have loved through the years. I discovered some of these tracks when I was in high school, at a time when I was making lots of mix tapes. Many of the songs here inspired my label, Minimal Wave. Some I had the opportunity to release, and they have become classics. Through making this mix, I realized that countless records from my collection do not exist on Spotify — sourcing from their library presented an exciting challenge.” - Veronica Vasicka
Veronica Vasicka is an NYC native (born on Coney Island and growing up in Greenwich Village/Upper East Side). She is a photographer, musician, DJ, and founder of the record label/community Minimal Wave (for old/reissued music) and Cititrax (for new music). Minimal Wave is the name of Vasicka’s first record label, but the words have come to represent a genre of sorts that stretches between a myriad of styles from Cold Wave, Post-Punk, Industrial, and Synth-Pop. Artists like In Aeternam Vale, Oppenheimer Analysis, Martin Dupont and Deux have gotten a second chance at glory with Minimal Wave, while she’s helped new acts with her Cititrax label including Marie Davidson, An-i, and Broken English Club.
As temperatures drop where I sit, I find it’s important to lock in on the music that fulfills me and renews my spirit. The hand-crafted electronics and steely melodic sound of Vasicka’s favorites carry a sense of adventure that is romantic and mournful, like a hopeful love letter to some distant crush in a darkened part of Europe. Vasicka’s taste (in both her labels, and her mix) is what could be described as “cold” electronics sharing a common thread of skeletal rhythm boxes, icy synths, and disaffected vocals plus moody Cold War origins. This sound has kept a safe space in my personal taste and Vasicka is a major arbiter in the sound’s exhuming. But what’s not immediately clear from the aesthetics of Vasicka’s taste world of artists is a beating heart full of melody and sincerity.
“In the 90s, this music was considered weird and no one wanted to write about it. But this underground sound which wasn’t viewed as cool back then survived the rest of the music from the era. I don’t understand what precipitated the change in people’s minds and when the change occurred exactly. Suddenly, weird 80s/90s industrial, wave, experimental, and synth pop became cool.”
Vasicka’s roots in communicating her musical taste start with her teenage years making mixtapes and then as a founding member of the famed East Village Radio (imagine the Lot Radio decades ago) where she hosted a weekly radio show for over a decade. She currently hosts a monthly show on NTS, every first Tuesday, and is a staple DJ on the circuit of festivals such as Sonar, Primavera, Atonal, Dekmantel Mutek, and Sustain Release. Her playlists and radio shows are a great way to tap into this passion for the newly informed.
Her penchant for collecting obscure and long-forgotten gems, often released on hyper-limited cassettes in editions of a couple hundred, forms the basis of Minimal Wave. The best outcome for most of these projects, often hailing from towns in Belgium or France, in their early ‘80s incarnations was the inclusion on John Peel's famed BBC radio show and finding small distribution via printed zines, etc. As an archival project, the Minimal Wave label began in 2005, when Vasicka reissued the work of Oppenheimer Analysis, a UK duo (who first met at the 1979 World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton, naturally). The process of getting the music to sound as good as possible is just as interesting as the re-discovery of the music. Here’s Veronica in Interview Mag on the process of “baking tapes” back to life:
VASICKA: Well, in many cases, these acts released songs on tape in very limited quantities–and the quality wasn’t very good. So, when I reissue these songs, I also re-master them. With Oppenheimer Analysis, it turned out that the band still had the master tapes. So, Martin from the band and I baked the tapes to restore the quality.
NIKA: You baked them?
VASICKA: [Laughs] Yes–it’s a weird technique but it works. If you bake tapes at a certain temperature–I think it’s 130 degrees–something happened to the magnetic particles, so you can restore them. The key is to do the transfer to digital while it’s still warm. If it’s done right, the new digital version will actually improve upon the quality of the original. If you do it wrong, though, the tapes will melt!
There’s an irony that music is about science that needs science itself to resuscitate itself. There’s also the magical idea of saving something from loss or ruin, or that these “lost tapes” which have gained moisture (and a beautiful patina) over time, are actually deteriorating. The binders/glue in magnetic tapes holding the iron oxide or magnetic coating to the tape are falling apart, which often has rendered this music unlistenable. The label functions as a rescuer of these would-be lost feelings and micro-documents of the home recording boom.
The enduring appeal of this sound is that there is an urgency that profiles as “punk” but is also sensual, in that the music is homespun and deeply personal. In the way that analog photography has depth and character, this music, literally punched into tape has a tangibility that carries a certain gravitas. This carries on to the listening experience or in what YouTube comments tell us “one can almost smell the burnt plastic and feel the hot breeze coming from the inside of the synths. it's magic.”
Alongside other labels who commit a portion of their catalogs to reissues, imprints like Dark Entries and Dais Records, Minimal Wave/Cititrax have come to inform a new generation and act as a community to a certain type of listener. For Ghostly even, this emotive coldness resonates and has roots in our Detroit adjacent environs in the early days. There has always been a strong goth/industrial/new wave heart to Detroit nightlife (watch this video if you don’t believe me) and it wasn’t uncommon for our early ‘00s parties to end in Joy Division’s “Transmission” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as closers, with the dancers singing along to the sound. Records we’ve released by artists like ADULT., Charles Manier, Xeno & Oaklander, and Solvent have formed a fifth column of Ghostly musical inspirations alongside hip-hop, indie/shoegaze, techno/house, and ambient.
Enjoy this fantastic mix as I am now. I’ve already saved a bunch of tunes here to keep warm for the winter. Veronica’s playlist is as thrilling as expected and reads like a personal creed: What’s lost may be found again.