October 15, 2002, Tuesday


POP REVIEW; Where Sounds of the 80's Provide a Starting Point


What does electroclash mean? The term describes a genre of songs that borrow heavily from 1980's hits, with synthesizer bass lines, simple beats and deadpan vocals. It also describes a social scene; an electroclash party is an excuse for hipsters, drag queens, punk rockers and aspiring pop stars to come together for a night of dancing.

On Wednesday night at Webster Hall, ''Electroclash NYC 2002'' brought together some of the leading D.J.'s and performers associated with the movement. It was the start of a three-night festival and the start of the Electroclash tour. While the D.J.'s kept their sets short and full of hits, many of the live performers found a simpler way to keep people interested: they wore very little clothing and sang about sex.

The headliner was Felix Da Housecat, from Chicago, who had the good fortune (and perhaps the good sense) to move from house music toward 1980's pop at just the right moment. Felix is a meticulous producer and his club hit, ''Silver Screen (Shower Scene),'' which was heard more than once on Wednesday night, matches a catchy spoken vocal to a lush, cascading electronic pulse.

When he gets behind a couple of turntables, however, Felix's approach is much more casual. His hourlong set was too short for him to build up any momentum, although everyone sang along when he played ''Personal Jesus'' by Depeche Mode.

The night's most effective D.J. performance came from 2Many DJ's, two brothers from Belgium who delight in playing songs their audience knows but doesn't expect to hear. They opened their set with a frantic rush of genre hopping: first the techno-punk iconoclast Green Velvet, then Felix Da Housecat, then the Cure and then the Rapture, a New York-based post-punk act.

The D.J. sets were separated by brief live performances that aspired to the goofy glamour of old music videos. The best-known of the live performers was an all-woman trio called W.I.T., which stands for Whatever It Takes; the three showed up in matching gold dresses and lip-synced a song of their own that went, ''Ooh, I like it/Tell me that you like it.'' Mount Sims offered more in the way of distraction: two extraordinarily flexible dancers in Day-Glo underpants squirmed around on the stage while the leader fiddled with a laptop and sang inane lyrics.

The concert also featured no fewer than four white female rappers, all of whom reduced love and lust to a series of anatomical slogans. The most entertaining was Avenue D, a local duo. The two women shouted lyrics that let potential lovers know exactly what they wanted, and they wore barely-there outfits that made it easy for them to turn their demands into dance moves.

''Electroclash NYC'' is supposed to be a celebration of pleasure, but New York City isn't quite as hedonistic as it may seem in music videos. And so when Arthur Baker, the veteran producer who helped invent electro, started his D.J. set around 3 a.m., he found himself playing to a mostly empty dance floor. It was a Wednesday night, and people had to be at work the next day.

Published: 10 - 15 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 4 , Page 3