Suicide, the seminal New York noise-techno-punk duo, are finishing an album of new studio material, their first since 1992’s Why Be Blue. Originally scheduled for a spring 2002 release, the set will now likely surface in the fall.
“The album’s basically done,” says singer Alan Vega. “We’re still playing with a couple titles, and we may change a couple things like the length of a beginning or the length of an ending — minor stuff.”
According to Vega, who together with Suicide keyboardist Martin Rev antagonized a generation of guitar-wielding punks in the Seventies and laid the groundwork for the wave of synth-based bands that followed, a new record was in some ways “inevitable,” but would have been impossible earlier. “Before September 11th,” Vega says, “we had started a new album after ten years of not doing anything. And all of a sudden, after the attacks, we just couldn’t do it the same way. I couldn’t sing to the music in the same way.”
“The circumstances of the world changed,” Rev explains. “We always had some feeling about that, though, and in some ways now it’s closer to what we were instinctively feeling and saying all along. That things weren’t right in some way.”
To foreshadow the upcoming release, and to mark the closing of Vega’s sculpture installation “Collision Drive,” the pair characteristically strutted and spasmed their way through a set of primarily new songs last month at downtown New York City gallery Deitch Projects. The set was in some ways a return to roots for the two, who began their career together more than thirty years ago in a similarly cement-floored downtown loft.
But in other ways the show could not have been more different from the aggressively antagonistic live gigs Suicide have since been mythologized for.
“There were things about that gig that smacked of our old shows,” Rev says, “like the concrete floors, the big open space, the art. But it’s never going to be exactly the same. Ironically, the stage is one of the sanest places in the world. It’s one of the most relaxing, freest places. It’s like a vacation now.”
“Years ago they were throwing all kinds of things at us,” Vega picks up. “I’ve had concussions, had my nose broken by skinheads in England. Now when we do a gig we think maybe we can get out alive. And sometimes it used to be doubtful. We were truly hated.”
But no longer. On the strength of two tremendously original self-titled albums, from 1977 and 1980, both recently augmented with rarities and reissued by Mute Records, Suicide have been canonized by the successive generation of New York City indie/art bands. Those groups — from Luna to A.R.E. Weapons — have in turn whet mainstream appetites for the New York City Punk aesthetic and lore. As a result, Suicide are now firmly a piece of punk’s romanticized creation story, and readily referenced, if rarely understood. So any music they make now or in the future — e.g., their forthcoming album — inevitably originates in a cultural place far different from where they began: From somewhere within not only the “acceptable” but also the “elite”; from somewhere not unlike exclusive downtown art gallery. And it is released to a knowing, open-armed audience.
“People come to our shows now because they know of us and they like us,” Rev says. “In the early days, the audience didn’t know anything, and they expected us to be this five-piece guitar band, just because that’s what they were used to. We were hitting them on all these levels of surprise.”
But Rev insists that the band has changed neither with nor for its audience. “Now people just expect us to be ourselves, which is easier. It makes us freer to do the things we want to do . . . We never played for the audience. We played to give the audience what we wanted to give them, what we wanted to hear. We were doing what worked for us then, and now we’re doing what works for us now.”
The opener at Deitch, a new song called “Wipeout Beach,” leaned heavily on a kicked-out R&B beat, and proved that what works for Suicide now is not so unlike what worked for them on classics like “Cheree,” “Frankie Teardrop,” and “Ghost Rider” — the only old song dusted off for the occasion.