[DARK SYNTHS] Even if you didn’t know the members of Vice Device play in a band together, you could probably guess just by looking at them. Seated in a booth at Liberty Glass in North Portland, Bobby Eagleson and Andrea K—who declines to give her full last name—sport stylishly severe coiffures. Outside of Eagleston and Devin Welch’s matching maroon sweaters, everybody is wearing black.
The band says the color coordination is accidental. But, fashion aside, common tastes brought the Portland trio together. When Eagleson and K met around 2007, it was years before the current revival of dark, synth-driven post-punk kicked off. The two found themselves geeking out over then-obscure punk offshoots, like minimal synth music, German New Wave and coldwave. “It wasn’t like you could just pick up a comp,” K says. “It was exciting when you would find other people who were into that kind of music.”
K and Eagleson spent years trying not to sound like the groups that had inspired them. “We’d write a song that sounded like this band, and then like that band, or just was not good,” K says. At the same time, the duo felt their mostly electronic project lacked some vital organic element. The addition of Welch on bass helped. But the real breakthrough came in the form of funky old analog gear: a German drum machine, multiple keyboards and a “crazy, unruly beast of a synthesizer.”
“The types of synthesizers this band uses were designed to emulate traditional instruments,” Welch says. “When they’re employed in a way that’s, you know, not the types of sounds that are in the instruction manual, there’s a lot of potential to do really strange sounds.”
“Strange” is one way to describe the sounds Vice Device is making. Others include grim, gloomy, glowering and, in spite of it all, terribly alluring. On the material Vice Device has released so far—an excellent 2012 EP, Breathless, and a split 7-inch with locals Hot Victory—the band deftly treads the line between New Wave pop and No Wave experimentalism, melding danceable rhythms with dissonant synths, noisy effects and at least one squalling sax solo.
“Vice Device, ultimately, is writing songs that resemble pop songs,” Welch says. “But within that framework, there’s room for a lot of interesting things to happen.”
As the band continues exploring the dimly lit nooks of pop structures—it’s currently working on a new EP—the new wave of darkwave doesn’t look to be cresting anytime soon, and for Vice Device, that can only be a good thing. “People have more of a palate for the sort of thing that we’re doing,” K says. But for music nerds like K and Eagleson, the popularizing of their once-esoteric fandom has some drawbacks as well. “Now,” Eagleson says, “everyone’s looking for the same records as you.”
SEE IT: Vice Device plays Rotture, 315 SE 3rd Ave., with Void Vision, Pressures and Futility, on Monday, April 8. 9 pm. $5. 21+.