Who: Jahn Alexander Teetsov (vocals, synths), Evan Maxwell Grice (synths, programming).
Sounds like: If Suicide decided to make a run at Top of the Pops in the '80s.
For fans of: Depeche Mode, Hot Chip, Phantogram, Factory Floor, Johnny Jewel productions.
Jahn Alexander Teetsov and Evan Maxwell Grice had to leave Washington, D.C., and if you talk to them long enough, they'll tell you all the reasons why. Shitty venues. A music scene too in thrall to its past. Their discontent with being the go-to local support for whatever buzz act happened to be passing through town, and the feeling that they'd never break out of the Opening Band Zone if they stuck around.
"Also," Teetsov says, "we were attracting a crowd of people who like goth music."
In the early days of Pleasure Curses, which Teetsov started as a experimental synth project in 2012, the duo tamped down their pop inclinations in favor of a harsher, more willfully "difficult" sound. It won them a supportive fan base, but one which, after a while, they weren't sure they wanted. "They actively, angrily disliked other music—like, of the bands we'd be playing with," Grice says. "So we had an angry group of friends going, 'You guys did great, but the other bands sucked.' And we were like, 'Hey, we like those guys!'"
A year ago, Teetsov and Grice packed their synthesizers into a van and drove to Portland, a city they only really knew about from reading interviews with Glass Candy's Johnny Jewel. It was a change of scenery reflective of the band's changing sound. Looking to shed the elements that attracted its cult of ghoulish snobs, Pleasure Curses underwent a period of "un-darkening," smoothing its jagged edges and folding bits of hip-hop, disco and '80s R&B into its synth-pop base. It has been a gradual process, but the handful of tracks released so far are polished productions, powered by buoyant, streamlined four-on-the-floor rhythms, pulsing bass and romantic lyricism. They haven't left the children of the night hanging completely, though: "Under the Moonlight," its most recent single, featuring guest vocalist Christen Cappello, is wrapped in enough whispered mystery that it could still fill the dance floor at the Lovecraft.
It's a sound harking back to Portland's electro-pop heyday, when the likes of Glass Candy, Chromatics and Yacht were getting national attention. While all those groups eventually left for Los Angeles, Teetsov and Grice say they still feel the sense of freedom and open-mindedness that nurtured them here, even amid the rising rents and shifting cultural landscape. At any rate, it's better than the city they left behind.
"We pretty actively tried to not have expectations," Grice says of their first year in Portland. "It's easy to get very romantic about your expectations, or you can get very pessimistic. By not doing that, we've been pleasantly surprised in many moments."
SEE IT: Pleasure Curses plays Pulse at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with the Last Artful Dodgr and Wine & Coffee, on Thursday, June 9. 8:30 pm. Free. 21+.