Clan of Xymox's darkwave nostalgia is at an all-time high
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order — all of those early New Wave bands that dominated modern rock playlists and John Hughes soundtracks in America in the mid-’80s bring about a certain goosebumps-inducing melancholy and longing for those who lived it or felt it at one point in their adolescence.
You wouldn’t be faulted for not ranking Ronny Moorings’ Clan of Xymox among those gloomy ringers, or even knowing of its presence. The band flew under the radar, the second generation of 4AD influencers after Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance, and played the part as an outlier dealing in a very particular underdog status.
Yet it was John Peel who first referred to the deeper exploration of synthesizers and minor chord progressions of Amsterdam’s Clan of Xymox as “darkwave,” a subset and counter to the new romantics and new wavers on the pop charts. The band's initial single, “A Day,” is requisite goth-rock regardless of hit status. Surely it played prominently at Columbus’ Mean Mr. Mustard's circa 1985.
That single propelled Clan of Xymox past the local club shows in the band's native Netherlands and into a central part of the 4AD aesthetic in Europe and beyond. But Moorings felt there was more for the band and that the boutique label was too confining. He left for a deal with PolyGram in 1988. As such, it may have been an untimely mistake.
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“I hoped for chart success. We had a big label who could make it happen,” said Moorings by email from his current home in Leipzig, Germany. “We worked with a big producer [Peter Walsh of the Simple Minds] and thought we were heading in the right direction. In the end we were still too alternative for the bigger crowd. We had some minor national chart results in the USA, but not big enough to make an impact. Underground is where we operate the best I have learnt from this.”
Regardless of regrets, after dropping “Clan” from the name and abandoning most of the original band, Moorings had the most success in the band’s timeline, scoring hits with Xymox’s “Imagination” and “Obsession” on the dance charts. In opting for overt pop over the steely, morbid drama that first drew attention, there was some retaliation. In retrospect, Moorings' commercial oeuvre on PolyGram records Twist of Shadows and (the forgotten but rewarding) Phoenix was ahead of its time, combining minimal electro atmospheres with glacial, catchy hooks.
By the early ‘90s, amid Moorings’ misguided dalliance with Manchester dance on the next two albums, there had to be a return to normal. “Clan Of Xymox always follows its own course and integrates influences and makes it their own,” said Moorings. “The blueprint of Clan Of Xymox is to combine electronics with live instruments, so it gives wide possibilities to use and mix these into songs.”
Despite never quite making the mark, Moorings has remained firmly independent and prolific, controlling his entire catalog and recording new records at a distinct clip that maintains a foothold in the same circles that celebrated with him from the beginning.
Finishing up a tour on his last album, 2017’s Days of Black, Mooring must have a sense that the energy for the wares he plies is at another crest. He’s perfectly content being the underdog again, living in the shadows and among those who may just mix his legacy up with an unheard Cure song, which, given the fact that he’s also recorded an album of New Wave covers, you might just hear at Friday’s Rumba Cafe show. Mooring seems confident in bringing back that certain nostalgia.
“I have a feeling darkwave is really on the up again,” said Moorings, “and people are kind of tired in Europe listening to the same old beats used in EBM and by industrial bands. People want to hear moody songs again.”
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15
2507 Summit St., Old North
ALSO PLAYING: The Bellwether Syndicate