Friday, December 20, 2013

der Tanz-Kaktusz LP (2013)

 Living for the Depression, or, Der Tanz is proof that Punk still Matters (despite everything)

In case you've had your head up your ass the last coupla-5 years or so, we're living through one of the largest crises of capitalism since the Great Depression. It's triggered revolutions in the Global South, and has robbed us children of the (over-)developed world of a future even more thoroughly than our own apathy and drug habits woulda, all other things being equal. It's debatable whether Hungary is part of this over-developed world, but it's certainly produced some of the best commentary on the situation, musically speaking, in any case.

Misery, frustration, desperation: one can sing about these things, certainly, but few bands manage to (let alone WANT to) sound like they feel. Budapest's der Tanz does. I haven't heard anything this menacing all year, and enraged frustration has rarely sounded so fiercely, joyfully vibrant. Marxists, nihilists, ponx and others have written a lot bout how not having a future creates a freedom of its own: witness the history of punk since 1977, or how much the working class of the U.S. achieved in the 1930s, as opposed to, say, the 1950s.

Well, this LP is further proof that there's still worthwhile work to be done, here, among the ruins of our lives and dreams.

Der Tanz has obvious references: The Birthday Party, Pere Ubu, Bauhaus, and so on. But unlike most bands mining the whole post-punk biz, der Tanz uses these references as a starting point to do whatever the fuck they want. The result is a series of expansively suffocating soundscapes, that drag you in and pummel you around. Squalling feedback, a singer who sounds like Nick Cave on a good day, and looping, now-ya-see-me-now-ya-don't bass: these are the building blocks for der Tanz's sound.

 There's something here that goes far beyond instrumental components, though. The album was recorded live and has all the limitations of such: der Tanz makes a virtue of this. Take "Over your cities grass will grow": it opens with a plodding beat and stumble-bumble bass, with the singer's incoherent rumblings hovering above the din. Behind the noise is, well, nothing: it sounds like the band is playing in a soundproof bunker deep beneath the concrete of a major city as grass grows above them. "The Garden" is even better: nothing but a metronome until someone starts gurgling bloody murder over it, then silence. Eventually, something quite close to a conventional song fills that void, before jerking into a piledriver piece of industrial terror.

Writing sometime around the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Brecht posed the question:  "Will there be singing in the dark times?" He immediately answered himself with the retort, "yes. About the dark times." Der Tanz isn't an anarchopunk band, they're not subject to democratic centralism, and they no doubt have exactly NO snazzy answers to Lenin's eternal question, "What is to be done?" But holy hell, are they masters at exploring the depths of our collective squalor without ever once whining about how oppressed they are, or ever once being obvious, and hence sentimental, about it. Sentiment, as any good Leninist knows, is the death of all true politics, and der Tanz-whatever else they are-are an effective political band, exactly because they do not sing of such.

Rarely have I heard an album so politically charged, so of its moment, without ever once making an explicitly ideological point. Der Tanz's debut LP is a perfect explanation of why punk is still a worthwhile mode of expression, even as it puts 99% of all punk I've heard in the last 15 years in the shade.

 This is the only album I've heard in 2013 that could slug it out with Dirty Beaches' Drifter/Love is the Devil for best LP of the year. They're night and day, of course, but both address the same question: What do you do with your life when your future has been taken away from you?

Listen to one of the answers HERE. THEN FUCKING BUY IT, JERKS! 


  1. Dude, I've been meaning to post this album for months, never quite sure how to explain how it sounds to me. You hit the nail fuck-square on the head, makes me want to take another stab at writing em up -- though it's hard to imagine conveying them as well as this post does.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, it took me a long time to review it, for the same reasons. Do your own review!