The Faint / The Hussy / Digital Leather


  • Categories: Rock
  • Event posted: April 15, 2014
  • Last updated: Sept. 16, 2014

Event details

Omaha, Nebraska, 2001. For a select assemblage of musicians and their fans, there was no better time and place. More specifically, it’s the city and year that gave us Danse Macabre.

Due to a number of factors, most notably the Internet’s ability to build a global community at the click of a button, it’s unlikely that we will ever again experience a next-big-thing local music scene the way we saw places like Athens and Minneapolis blow up in the ’80s and Seattle explode in the ’90s. And when we look back at the time when music was still consumed in physical forms, Omaha will probably be remembered as the last city where a homegrown scene was developed organically with the assistance of local garages, basements, studios, clubs, and labels.

The Omaha scene that we’ve come to know and love reaches as far back as the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that the rest of the world got hip to what was going on in the middle of America. Around this time—actually, almost exactly 10 years to the day that this is being written—I headed to eastern Nebraska with the magazine that I once edited, DIW, and we did our best to chronicle what we considered to be the most exciting and vibrant hotspot in the country. Sure, part of the appeal was that a city known mostly for a bajillionaire, the College World Series, and mail-order steak was suddenly dumping a huge pile of awesomeness into our record collections, but just as impressive was the fact that unlike most regional scenes, none of these bands sounded like the other. It was also difficult not to appreciate that despite the glaring spotlight on the town at the time, the family that made up Saddle Creek Records—in some cases actual siblings, but mostly just childhood friends—seemed to be taking everything in stride. No enlarging egos, no jealous backstabbing, just a group of hardworking Midwesterners happy to be sharing their music and stories with a world that had finally started to listen. Though Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst had already achieved some commercial success, by the summer of 2002 the top dog in town was The Faint, thanks to the record that you now hold in your hands.

Though unquestionably confident and completely realized, Danse Macabre wasn’t the album anyone could have expected from the band that debuted in 1998 with Media, a perfectly fine post-hardcore record that, aside from the personnel that made it, has nothing to do with anything else in The Faint’s catalog. After shocking everyone but themselves with the retro dance-rock found on the following year’s Blank-Wave Arcade—the first to feature synth player Jacob Thiele—the group solidified its place in the underground’s upper echelon with Danse Macabre, a dark-wave masterpiece made well before the ’80s became a ubiquitous touchstone for contemporary bands with keyboards. In fact, it could easily be argued that the one-two punch of Blank-Wave Arcade and Danse Macabre helped usher in the era of the modern dance-rock act, predating bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and Bloc Party. From the middle of nowhere, The Faint had crafted a sound that was suddenly seemingly everywhere.

Whereas Blank-Wave was a raw exercise in bringing The Faint’s ecstatic basement shows into the studio, Danse Macabre was a sleek, shiny vehicle meant to evoke bumping Berlin dance clubs. Never mind that they could only dream of German techno while putting up with Cher remixes nearly 5,000 miles away at Omaha’s gay bars, the only places in town offering even close to what the guys wanted to hear when they went out.

There isn’t a single reason why Danse Macabre is considered part of Saddle Creek’s holy trinity (along with Cursive’s The Ugly Organ and Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning), but rather a whole host of them: the perfectly aggressive synth lines, Todd Fink’s (née Baechle) menacingly effected vocals, the infectious dance beats, the intriguing bits of industrial and goth, and, at the heart of it all, strong songwriting featuring the kind of minor-key melodies that make singing along inevitable. Engineering and production by Mike Mogis as well as the addition of death-metal guitarist Dapose also helped raise the bar. And then there’s the concept, replacing Blank-Wave’s sexually charged atmosphere with the attitude that you should DIY before you D-I-E. Or, as a wise guidance counselor once said: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. After all, some of their heroes were punk-rock do-it-yourselfers like Fugazi and Sonic Youth.

“We thought about the Dance of the Dead, the Danse Macabre, being the working-for-a-living people going through these choreographed motions while they’re working,” says Thiele. “They’re doing a really stiff, boring dance that they don’t realize. We decided at some point that that was the Dance of the Dead.”

The guys took their own advice, quitting their day jobs and focusing all of their energy on the band. They also decided not to work with any of the major labels that came sniffing around after Danse Macabre, and Saddle Creek similarly decided to keep things on a smaller scale. It meant that the next big thing never got as big as expected, yet it resulted in Omaha never being forced to compromise its art for the sake of commerce.


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