Oh, electroclash. That glorious moment between the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the sound of the European underground was defined by a seedy sort of glamour, simultaneously grimey and glittery in the name of vanity, hedonism, and deliciously louche excess. Pulling both visual and sonic aesthetics from the New Romantics and New Wave and quite literally clashing these with the then current sounds of synthpop and techno, electroclash was a moment that gave rise to some of dance music’s most outrageously cool players and underground icons. Perhaps none more so than the decadent duo of Kittin and The Hacker, both as essential to each other as champagne to blow. With her ice blooded dominatrix delivery and Hacker’s equally as glacial techno stabs, the two would become the style guide for the electroclash movement. Perhaps predictably, like a thick plume of smoke from a Vogue cigarette, it was a moment that was over before it really started, true to its hard and fast nature. Still, Kittin and The Hacker are responsible for some of the most memorable and arguably influential moments in 2000’s dance music. 2001’s First Album remains the ultimate electroclash blueprint, and the vanity of Two may not have instigated a revival, but was eerily accurate in its deadpan commentary on an increasingly self-obsessed post-MySpace generation.
Their first album together in thirteen years, Third Album, arrives at a markedly different time in the world. Self-obsession has merged with self-righteousness online, and the discourse surrounding Eurocentric hedonism seems painfully low down on the global agenda. Perhaps it’s for these reasons that we shouldn’t expect Third Album to hold a candle to its predecessors, for whom zeitgeisty humour and irony is part and parcel of their appeal. That sort of humour would feel obnoxious and out of touch now, and for the most part Third Album avoids lapsing into this sort of space. Instead, it is a perfectly serviceable reunion of creative partners that doesn’t offer any significant conjectures on the current state of high snobiety, nor makes it its business to do so. You know those videos of pop stars looking back at their fashion choices for Vogue and reminiscing over how iconic they were? This is sort of like that.
It’s most palpable on Retrovision, a stylish late album standout that sees Kittin muse on the passing of time and the process of growing older. Beneath a propulsive acid arpeggio and strutting house beat, she offers; “Now we are raving without standing/In the sunset of our life… we lived the dream.” It’s not as maudlin as it sounds on paper, there’s a sense of fulfilment and party-to-the-death defiance here. On Ostbahnhof, she performs an extended spoken word piece about visiting her favourite club over squiggly pads as she contemplates herself fading as the times change. “Line is 2 or 3 hours long at least. And I am not even on the list”, she says, in stark contrast to the iconic “To be famous is so nice. Suck my dick. Kiss my ass” lyrics that introduced her to the world on Frank Sinatra. Ostbahnhof is Third Album’s most poignant musing on the theme of time passing. Listening to Kittin recount something she has “lived a thousand times” (and that we have often lived vicariously through her) from a new point of view makes the retrospective quality of Third Album all the more potent.
Miss Kittin the dominatrix returns on Malade, but this time she’s chanting about toxic masculinity instead of robot man-machines. But while the gaze may have shifted, the music isn’t anything new for the duo. Its sound is still rooted in Italo kitsch and vintage techno, which kind of unsurprisingly dates it. It’s strange to think that a style once impossibly fashionable could sound so out of mode. Though, considering that electroclash essentially morphed into the dead pan lyricism and anti/capitalist attitude of hyperpop and bubblegum bass, it makes sense that our brains have rewired to associate this formula with fresher sounds. Elsewhere on Third Album, there’s a dadaist absurdity to tracks like La Cave which don’t entirely make sense but sound kind of cool. Kittin barks in distorted French at the track’s end, “this track is really quick. Something that will screw everything up. What a crazy thing.”
For a genre so invested in the decadence of youth, Third Album is an exercise in the acceptance of its eventual demise. It’s the acceptance of time passing, of styles changing, of growing older and looking back at the legacy you’ve created (or haven’t). In this sense, it’s a departure from Kittin and The Hacker’s otherwise frivolous body of work but an entry into their canon that will likely come to be appreciated as time goes. In the present moment, something feels out of place, almost as if Third Album has arrived just a few years too early.
Watch the music video for Ostbahnhof from Third Album below.