Discover more from Herb Sundays
Herb Sundays 83: The Dare
The NYC Sleaze bellwether shares the morning after goods
“These are for Sunday morning but I really listen to them at all hours of the day. On planes, the train, walking around Manhattan, on the way home from parties. There’s a softer side to The Dare that hasn’t been seen yet and I think these songs may hint towards it. I put some classic cuts on here (Magnetic Fields, Belle and Sebastian, Jens Lekman) as well as some of the softer things that have piqued my interest recently (Avalon Emerson, Isola, that Primal Scream track). Songs for the day after, for when the Advil kicks in.” - Harrison Patrick Smith / The Dare
Harrison Patrick Smith is a musician, producer, and DJ who lives in NYC. His previous music project, formed in college while in Portland, Oregon, was called Turtlenecked which bears some of the traces of his current style. His star has risen quickly following his pivot to the one-man project The Dare. I don’t have an official bio but Samuel Hine’s piece for GQ filled me in:
As recently as December, he was a fill-in teacher at a private school in the West Village, getting pranked by sixth graders by day and DJing until 3:00 am at night. Now, he gets clocked by twentysomethings just about every time he comes into Manhattan from the East Williamsburg apartment he shares with two roommates. That leveling-up has just hit a new peak: Republic Records, home to Taylor Swift and Drake, has signed The Dare to a record deal, following a bidding war that drew in several major labels.
Smith has been anointed as the face of “Indie Sleaze” (the IG of the same name claims that era died in 2012), his small regular DJ night Freakquencies at the Lower East Side’s Home Sweet Home bar is a big known thing now, and he apparently has cosigns from Phoebe Bridgers, Matty Healy, and Charli XCX.
Smith is the leading figure in the indie sleaze revival, a movement that has polarized the internet, but more importantly, fueled a new wave of downtown personalities and parties. What started as a fashion micro-trend—“a messy amalgam of ’90s grunge and ’80s opulence with a slightly erotic undertone,” as Vogue put it—now seems more like a reflection of modern anxieties and ambitions. The aesthetic flourishes of this aughts redux are secondary to the sharp tinge of nostalgia young people feel for the subcultures and communities that defined life in the very recent—but spiritually distant—past.
The Dare’s look is also pure 2002, or pure 2002 Hedi Slimane for Dior. The black suit is a recognizable meme and a style that could be pulled from one of Slimane’s ‘00 diary entries even. He has since been captured by Slimane on film. It’s ostensibly the same black suit that James Murphy cannily wore 20 years back. Indeed, LCD Soundsystem is the project that The Dare is most often said to be apeing, which is probably true. But culture signals have changed but the suit remains, and if Murphy is the most powerful black suit wearer of the ‘00s indie music scene, it was partially because of its irony. Murphy didn’t look like a Dior model with his neckbeard/record collector grouchiness, but ever the astute culture hound, he was channeling something deeper, perhaps in homage to Robert Longo’s Men In The Cities (1979-1982), the series of charcoal and graphite drawings of photographic portraits of Longo’s artist and gallerist friends, both a symbol of downtown cool and a yuppie send-up. The cycle continues.
The Popcast did what is probably my favorite take on The Dare, and believes his star is not going to crash any time soon. My thoughts, which veer slightly from theirs, are that the Indie Sleaze genre/hashtag is intentionally a sort of a catch-all for all things the aughts, a mechanical claw that is choosing choice bits here and there from the early ‘00s Electro revival which has been maintained as Electroclash (sorry to my fellow old heads, the name stuck, just like IDM), the corresponding NYC rock explosion (see Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011), and Blog House (or maybe even just music blogs in general?) or post-French Touch electronic dance and New Rave which fused the hissy compressor Disco of Imperial Era Daft Punk to serrated synths, albeit with a messy hedonic glamour which could be argued was the last major organic youth aesthetic before Facebook’s 2006 lifting of college-only users (“now your mom can see your party outfits!”) and 2007’s advent of the iPhone and its implacable camera which helped usher in the social media/celebrity blitz to follow.
For evidence of this change, see the UFO spotting-grade clips of Daft Punk at Coachella 2006, one of the last performances I heard more about than I have seen, to witness this transformation to the Now era. Or better yet, pre-order Herbfriend Gabriel Szatan’s forthcoming book After Daft: Daft Punk & The Rewiring of 21st Century Culture and follow his Substack for a better take I’m sure.
As both a turn away from the clinical minimalism of the late Nineties and its equal highbrow bloat (a lot of good electronic records were ruined by the addition of a string section), the culture gave way to a more expressive and DIY focus in music. Similarly, I’d argue the sincerity of the early lockdown also spun off its opposite in Dimes Square, a scene forebear of Indie Sleaze, or a sort of imaginary scene of downtown literary types with “dirtbag left” leanings and deep Letterboxd knowledge. The Dare’s 2022 breakout tune (he only has four released in this guise) “Girls” is very much a good record. It is well-built, post-pandemic, inclusionary dance-pop which has just enough fangs to rankle the olds but is dumb enough to be an anthem, and while it won’t be going on any of my future Herb playlists, and maybe anyone else’s, I trust that it will endure.
I think some of the pushback against Indie Sleaze is that it’s not a “real genre” (none of them really are I suspect) and that understandably after a cultural renaissance in the past decade, old-school hetero lust feels a bit dull. More importantly, it begs the question “Why would we dig up some of these bones?” The symbols of the ‘00s including Terry Richardson’s overblown Yashica T4 exposures now carry the fingerprints of predation, and the sex-positive / body-positive American Apparel clothing brand and its campaigns do the same. So why would we want to reverse the clock, even though 20-year nostalgia cycles are de rigueur in music and culture? I’d argue we don’t, nor do young folks who have helped lead the charge on a moral re-uptake either, but kids do want to party, so here we are.
I've gotten a few verbal side eyes from the people I’ve told The Dare was doing a Herb. I don't know Harrison personally and haven't conversed with him directly, but I reached out to his manager to ask for a mix back in February as I was intrigued by the project. I like the graphic and musical discipline including his look and I’m also interested in scene generation, either real or imaginary, and how it manifests. I see The Dare as sort of an avatar or allegory in itself/himself and I knew I could dig into it into it here in the ‘Stack. A lot has happened since then: A publicized major label deal (which feels like a throwback in itself) evidenced by a score of wheat pastings I encountered in Midtown the other week and the requisite critical pushback. More importantly though for this newsletter though: “Can he cook?” The playlist he shared suggests he can. It’s a more stately affair than his recorded work and shows reverence for songcraft with an insouciant streak.
It’s too early to pick favorites perhaps in this new genre but a scene needs many artists, and it’s anyone’s guess what happens next. A quick spin on the NYC Beat playlist by the very good Perfectly Imperfect crew reveals cuts like "Drugs In The Bathroom" by xJermsx (on the compelling Music Website label) which takes me back to the Electroclash days in its dumb-dumb fun, but also more cinematic emerging talent like Lebanese-Palestinian artist Thoom, who I am bullish on to be a breakout artist. As I tried to get at in my Death Of Canon piece, we would be fools to take this stuff too seriously or worry about its credibility. Maybe what The Dare lacks in irony is a feature, not a bug. A lot of the music on display is intentionally dumb, but this is by design. The Minimal Techno I liked in my mid-20s was dumb too, it just had a deep V-neck on and although it shared the hedonism/decadence of Blog House it escaped scrutiny due to its Berlin-informed grey chromatic scale. Electroclash was kinda shit too, in that most of the inherently good music from the period wasn't trying to be “electroclash.”
Similarly, I remember my local record store guys goofing on Interpol's debut EP saying it was a Joy Divison ripoff, but every generation if they’re lucky, gets a chance at their version of a thing just like this is an LCD for now. It’s easy to forget Murphy was a dance music interloper too who was switched on by an ecstasy pill given to him by producer/DJ David Holmes (who coincidentally produced the Primal Scream song on this Herb mix). There is always someone cooler than you out there, we are all downstream.
DFA’s early vision of dance was a Gen X-led approach, steeped in rockism and obsession with knowing the proper reference or the correct record to play next. This served as a critical template that was replicable and vivid. If we are going to criticize the new Sleaze then we’re at fault for not comparing this iteration of pop dance to ten years ago, which was the moneyed EDM era, one I would argue is a worse outcome for dance music. I may be a little less critical than Herb 32 Simon Reynolds, but he lays down an exacting memory of the time in 2011 via Wired:
Pitbull's #1 hit “Give Me Everything” is the perfect example of the banging and bingeing party-hard sound that’s got 2011 in a strangehold. “I might drink a little more than I should/tonight.”, “grab somebody sexy/tell them ‘hey!/Give me everything tonight’,” “I can't promise you tomorrow/But I can promise tonight”, “etc etc. But the sleazy come-ons are draped over pop-trance, the most sexless, sterile, Teletubbies-innocuous form of dance music.
If we want to get historical, in terms of its placement in a new decade, I would say The Dare’s “Girls” is closer to Fischerspooner’s “Emerge” (2001, via the era-defining International DeeJay Gigolo Records, then released in 2002 by Ministry of Sound, and again by Capitol in 2003) than DFA’s ascent which came just after. Fischerspooner were the faces of Electroclash in its NYC nascency and the song was a professed rip-off of “Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass” (1998), Dutch producer I-F’s once-in-a-generation electro gem, or the depth charge that unlocked the Electroclash moment (and if I could Song Exploder-ize it here, would show you one of the most exquisite 808 workouts of all time, but alas).
“Emerge” sounds a bit thin now, a tell of its time period’s DAW game, but it had something both familiar and fresh upon its arrival, and a lot of potential energy packed inside it, especially when paired with the theatrical shows and Roe Ethridge photography on its sleeves. I feel the same about The Dare to some degree.
To me, micro scenes like Indie Sleaze or Electroclash (and Vaporwave, Chillwave, Hypnagogic Pop, etc.) are important for scene maturation in that they provide a platform for people to throw parties, assemble DJ sets, and commune under a shared purpose. Electroclash in particular helped put a lot of older music in play from Yello to The Clash to Italo Disco, which got sucked into its vortex of DJ sets, or a powerful source of discovery.
I also love scene-play in that it helps resonate with the less obvious handful of cities. I remember some of the most vibrant early ‘00s cities like Seattle and Omaha. I'm sure there are Sleaze parties going down in random college towns with playlists being feverishly compiled of the era’s gems. These scenes, also allow some degree of cosplay, in that you can put out a single, put your little outfit on, and get up there and be someone for a second. Something I haven’t seen as much since the 285 Kent/Cameo Gallery Brooklyn era.
Still, I understand that The Dare is not revelatory stuff in terms of musical development. The 12-sided die of modern crit and fandom makes this project a hard sell. Kids discovering the city is an inherently annoying thing to watch, but it's a rite of passage. In the space when I requested this mix, journalists have lined up to get their licks in, as is their right. When an interview between Herbs 78 Philip Sherburne and 80 Avalon Emerson, ended with this bit below, I knew my pick was right on the money, the perfect place for a Herb to land.
PS: How has your approach to DJing changed?
AE: … Actually, the last time I played at Nowadays, this six-hour thing, I had an hour playing all these late-’90s, early-2000s, tongue-in-cheek indie sleaze things. Part of me thinks that this indie-sleaze-is-back vibe is a bunch of millennials my age and a little bit older who were constantly shamed by Gen Z: “Your side part is not cool, your skinny jeans are not cool, your music is not cool, the way you like bacon is not cool.” We’re constantly told that we’re old, we’re not cool. So once the “indie sleaze is back” thesis came around, all these millennials were like, “I was fucking cool once, and you agree, you fucking Gen Z guys.”
I’m actually a little bit too young to have a personal memory of some of those songs—I graduated high school in 2007, so I was more into the later 2000s Ed Banger and stuff. But all that stuff holds up: I played the Still Going remix of Austra’s “The Beat and the Pulse,” the Morgan Geist version of “House of Jealous Lovers,” LCD Soundsystem’s “Yeah (Crass Version).” Then at the end you’ve got to play something modern—it’s important to have a dialogue between the present and the past, so it’s not just 100 percent retro, like, “Back in my day it was better.” So I played “Girls,” by The Dare, and it fit right in
PS: You played The Dare’s “Girls”? Avalon, this interview is over.
AE: I’m sorry, I know! But hey, it does bang.
“The most important thing about being an artist is to figure out where you're supposed to be, and who's your audience…Then you sort of catch your time. You have to know and understand the realm of high art and what the boundaries are. Most artists just flounder around and read too many art magazines.'' Robert Longo, 1985