Zurich, 1994. Along the banks of the Limmat river, on the railway tracks of the disused Letten station, the largest open drugs scene in Europe is in its last year. Federal Councillor Ruth Dreifuss visits the site and meets addicts who lie on the ground, injecting themselves with heroin.
From the Kornhausbrücke, the view looks like a dystopian landscape. Comprising Dolorès and Freddy Van Ballast, LETTEN 94 is a Swiss coldwave duo that takes this mental image of Letten, and more widely of Europe in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a starting point to try to create electronic music which is sometimes aggressive and syncopated, sometimes dark and mysterious. The guitar, putting into relief the railway-inspired rhythms of Van Ballast, commemorates the post-punk movement, while the deep and haunting voice of Dolorès prepares listeners for the clear nihilist tone of their creations.
Released on July 23rd, ‘Empty Landscapes’ has some deeply enigmatic shades that might seem taken from a noir, thriller movie. It’s like you’re expecting something bad to happen, and the goth vocals only come to deepen this feeling. Once you’ve reached the refrain, the action changes at 90 degrees, turning from a rigid, shivering coldwave into a very lively synthpop. You might even notice some instrumental inserts that remember Depeche Mode’s ‘Everything Counts’; and with that being said, the atmosphere surprisingly releases a kind of brightness, of melodicity. ‘Empty Landscapes’ is such a beautiful composition and it develops so many elements that you may not expect due to the coldwave genre’s minimal styles.
Straight out of an 80’s post-punkish track, the production is both nostalgic and danceable. The music video itself adds a vintage and glamorous style to the whole atmosphere. There’s isn’t a huge amount to add in retrospect to this review. Things are quite simple: ‘Empty Landscapes’ is a sprawling, beautiful musical journey through moods and places, separately to sounds and vivid soundscapes.
Dolorès: guitar, vocals
Dolorès, 22, both Bulgarian and Italian, has been studying bass guitar at the conservatory. Despite quite a classical training (jazz), she is a member of several extreme metal bands, including Hellhammer’s Triumph of Death (performed by Tom G. Warrior) and Sacrifizer (both as JL Slaughterwytch). Yet Dolorès has always been drawn not only to metal but also to post-punk music and gothic rock (The Cult), as these genres evoke in her an ethereal nostalgia and melancholy unmatched even in metal.
Freddy Van Ballast: synthesizers, backing vocals
When he was a kid, Freddy, 31, both Belgian and Swiss, discovered not only synthesizers with a freelancer organist but also a classic cinema and, more importantly, the experience of driving by night on illuminated highways around Brussels with his uncle, listening to post-punk, new wave, and early techno music. In addition to experiments in writing and photography, two years ago he began combining these influences with Dolorès in the mountains of Swiss Jura.
Despite the atmosphere set in its songs, LETTEN 94 is a band people can dance to. All tracks were composed, recorded, and performed live, using hardware synthesizers and instruments. Sequencing music on the go enables us to provide the audience with a little bit more than the right dose of reverb, noise, and provocation. It has been ascertained that during live concerts, the band radiated the same energy as a punk band playing in a basement. Fair enough, as this is actually where half our concerts so far have taken place.
Video Director: Normotone
Assistant Director: Amélie Dupré
Operations Assistant: Zoé Scrima
Band photos: (c) Géraud Siegenthaler
Cover photo: (c) Normotone