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Adult. is an odd name, to be sure. Particularly for a duo that wouldn’t necessarily be role models for Middle American kids — their humor is black, their lyrics troubled, their ethic is firmly rooted in punk rock. Add the full stop to the end of their moniker and you’ve stumped most adults. But this is just surface stuff; actually, the very name Adult. reveals a wry irony, one that blends otherwise mutually exclusive genres.
See, Adult. is a self-proclaimed “dance punk” act, a term co-opted from the cover of an XLR8R magazine. It’s a term that hasn’t been heard much since Eno produced the first Ultravox album.
“It works on two levels,” explains Adam Lee Miller, the bassist, guitarist and programming half of the married duo. “It describes the two styles of music, dance and punk. But I like the fact that dance is before the word punk, because there’s still more dance than punk.”
The genre-meshing makes sense. Here is an essentially DIY duo garnering international accolades and releasing their own records on their own label while coming up through the electronic community.
After embracing the rock band and skateboarding ethos as a kid, which was followed immediately by a healthy dose of art school, Miller cut his teeth and twisted knobs with the mid-’90s synthetic duo Le Car, a deceptively simplistic Tinker Toy response to the otherwise lush and soulful output from Detroit’s techno brigade. Miller also co-founded the DIY label Ersatz Audio in 1995, and did a solo project called Artificial Material.
But it was Miller’s coupling with the more punk rock-oriented and art school-trained Nicola Kuperus, who has a fondness for the Dead Kennedys and like-minded subversives, that changed the direction of his music. Hence, Adult.
“I like to think of myself as a female Johnny Lydon or Genesis P-Orridge more than I would consider myself like Celine Dion,” says the fetching front woman.
And judging by Adult.’s conceptual, off-kilter images that accompany their work, it’s no surprise that nearly every release thus far on Ersatz Audio — now run by both Kuperus and Miller — has the stamp of Kuperus’ often-imitated-but-never-duplicated photography, featuring scenes of pretty people in ugly situations. Her work goes lengths to establish a visual identity for Adult. and Ersatz Audio.
Music for pleasure
A trademark of the Adult. look and sound, despite the name’s obvious porno connotation, is that Kuperus comes off as anything but a flirty front woman. She’s forceful and autonomous, sexy and exuberant, detached and theatrical. Her presence plays into a notion that any great punk band can relate to — a search for raw energy. Said search has led the band to a more live live show.
Though the duo has always mixed actual instrumentation with geek laptop technology, Miller says he wants to move toward a more spontaneous show. “We kept playing more and more live shows. One day, we had gotten our live shows so tight that at the end we both thought, ‘Well, that was really boring.’ There was no way to make mistakes anymore.”
Miller has taken to playing more bass and guitar live, and Kuperus brings a new level of energy to the stage. The average Adult. crowd has come to witness a live act not only seeking to convey their art, but to engage in an exchange with their audience.
It’s a progression that follows an overall growth: While their earlier releases might find them in closer company with electro, Anxiety Always finds them sidling up to early angst-ridden pioneers the Normal, Cabaret Voltaire and Wire.
“When we started Adult., we wanted to make music” — Miller starts to say, only to have his wife finish his sentence — “that you either love or hate. We have so many different interests in music, there’s not just one kind of music that we like.”
“Blank Eyed, Nose Bleed,” a cut from their first proper studio full-length, the just-released Anxiety Always, doesn’t exactly scream of candy-coated pop. The music itself subtly resembles the sound of cutting tools being sharpened, ones we can imagine designated for some ungodly deed. On “We Know How to Have Fun,” Kuperus asserts herself with oddly dark and militaristic themes. This may be electronic-based music, but there’s something very sinister lurking underneath.
Perhaps the closest the new disc has to a hit single is “Glue Your Eyelids Together,” a song whose lyrics defy their poppy context. “Because we thought that song was our most pop of any of them,” explains Miller, “we wanted to make sure it had disturbing lyrics. The kind of lyrics that your mom responds with, “‘Glue your eyelids together? What’s wrong with you?’”
The album title is more a reference to the circumstances surrounding the creative process than anything. During the writing stages of the record, Miller recalls the plans that were being made which included plotting a 20-date U.S. tour, their biggest headlining one yet. “We were doing everything from planning ahead on invoices for money to booking a tour with our booking agency — we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to write an album!”
Dancing in the streets
During this interview, a major-label inquiry dropped into answering machine purgatory. “Hey, this is [so-and-so] from [a major label], I just read a great review of the new record and wanted to chat.” Both Miller and Kuperus roll their eyes as they listen. “Never a major label. Never,” asserts Miller, who later concedes that if Adult. were offered the right terms, that is, complete control over the music and the visuals, they might reconsider.
As we all know, the timing could not be better now for a band from Detroit. And the momentum for Adult. has been building exponentially since their appearance at the 2000 Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Adult.’s most loyal fans reside stateside, although word is scattering across the UK and Europe. Even No Wave experimental trailblazers the Residents are fans of Adult. Still, regular name-drops on the pages of UK music weekly NME or on the MTV Web site are scarce.
What is it about Detroit that Adult. adheres to?
“People just like music here, and that’s what I’ve always liked about Detroit,” Miller says. “And because so much good stuff has come from here, it’s like a high bar that you’re trying to at least come close to. And that’s inspiring.”
Adult. will perform with label mates Magas and Goudron at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit) on Saturday, May 17. For information, call 313-833-9700. Look for their tour-only preview of the new limited edition, clear vinyl “Controlled Edition” 7-inch. Surf to www.ersatzaudio.com.
Liz Copeland writes about electronic music for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.