Back to the Future

Decisive Pink’s Ticket to Fame

Ticket to Fame, the debut LP by avantpop duo Decisive Pink, isn’t likely to take them far. But the band’s refusal to follow the playbook for success gives the record a staying power that hit-minded music rarely achieves.

Looking to the past. Checkpoint Charlie billboard, Berlin.

It’s immediately apparent that Kate NV and Angel Deradoorian had a lot of fun making it. Although both are strong-willed musicians with impressive track records as both solo artists and members of influential groups – Glintshake for Kate and the Dirty Projectors for Angel – their talents mesh perfectly here.

This synergy has allegorical significance since Kate (the composer Ekaterina Shilonosova) grew up in the former Soviet Union and Deradoorian in the United States, though her family ties to Armenia give her a strong connection to the former as well.

At a time when cultural exchange between the superpowers is almost as limited as it was during the Cold War, the fact that these two artists could make an album together in the electronic music hotbed of Cologne inspires optimism when it’s exceedingly hard to come by.

This hopeful message is powerfully reinforced by the contents of Ticket to Fame, which take us back to the electronic music that emerged in the wake of the 1960s, when keyboard arpeggios and clipped, tinny drums were heralds of an exciting future.

Many people recognised the dystopian potential of computer technology back then. But no matter how dark cyberpunk narratives got, they could never dispel the promise of a world in which anything and everything would be subject to digital manipulation.

That attitude now appears naïve. We know too much about what can go wrong.

Nevertheless, it was no accident that people accused of being deviant gravitated to records that seemed to be ahead of their time.

We have to remember that the post-human existence we tremble before today was once preferable to a life in which even minor change is hard to come by.

In 1980, the stand-off between the communist East and the capitalist West seemed likely to continue indefinitely, and with it, the cultural stagnation that had taken root on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Listening to Ticket to Fame reminds us of the childlike wonder that those beeps and burbles of early electronic popular music once exemplified.

The first single and album opener, “Haffmilch Holiday”, calls to mind the lightheartedness of early Kraftwerk, when the band’s use of electronic instruments still came across as a novelty. “Destiny” nods to Mike Oldfield’s extremely influential score for The Exorcist.

The album’s penultimate track, “Dopamine”, reminds us that the keyboard-heavy sound of early 1980s dance acts was postfunk as much as postpunk.

Maybe the best track is “Ode to Boy”, which has the buoyant feel of Grimes’ outstanding early work, before her access to obscene wealth led her into a vortex of self-indulgence.

When the chorus from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony asserts itself towards the end, we are reminded of the groundbreaking Moog recordings of the transgender artist Wendy Carlos, who was already suggesting in the early 1970s that new sounds could help usher in a new way of being.

Despite these name-checks, Ticket to Fame is no nostalgia trip.

Decisive Pink’s approach to composition is too complex and too eccentric to produce songs that sound like their famous forebears.

This is the musical equivalent of fusion cuisine, which deconstructs and combines traditions in order to make something surprising and new.

The point is neither to copy the past nor erase it. What Ticket to Fame does exceedingly well is forge a new connection to the past so that we can once again perceive its radical potential.

Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.