Whether you have visited or just seen photographs of it online, let me be clear: Venice is and always will be a mystery, and trying to solve it remains a futile effort. Romance, art, and sweet sunsets are only one side of the city—the one that looks good featured on a cliché postcard. The most hidden part of her history discloses hundreds of years of political intrigues, blood, revenge, thirst for power, and a handful of fearful places like the small island of Poveglia: a former lazaretto during the plague outbreaks, and now a completely desolate area. While I’m at it, why not mention some bloody rituals and games: la cazza al toro was a local version of the Pamplona bull run where men and women alike were chased by what amounted to old, harmless animals. A public spectacle of bull-baiting involving dogs evolved out this, while in the parish of Santa Maria Formosa, a game of headbutting cats to death as they were tied to wooden tables was also quite common. Amidst the holy reliquaries, the flayed skin of Marcantonio Bragadin stands out.
Given this brief introduction, it should not be shocking that la Serenissima appears to be the source of inspiration for such disturbed art—quite the opposite of serene.
The neofolk band Calle della Morte—who are probably well-known to many of our readers—take their name from another location on which legends abound, as do horror film classics such as Don’t Look Now and Nero Veneziano. Among the artists Venice has been an inspiration for, now Luis Vasquez, better known as the Soft Moon, can add his name. Despite often being described as one of the most promising new post-punk standard bearers, Vasquez has something more than that to say; his new-millennium new wave combines with krautrock, echoes, and dissonant interludes, creeping and brushing hard against one’s eardrums and taking the definition to a new level of rawness.
With Deeper, what remains of the Soft Moon’s post-punk roots is nearing a goodbye. Being welcomed in its place are industrial and techno influences, creating a style that is slightly more fixated on dissonance and noise. You don’t break up a winning team unless the new one is even better, after all, and Deeper actually goes even—you guessed it—deeper than Vasquez’s past works.
There’s little space for vocals amongst glamorous synth lines that seem to come straight out of the 80s and nails-on-chalkboard distortion, but there is enough room left for whispers and screams to push the Soft Moon’s sound further towards extreme. Every one of his records is equivalent to salting old wounds, and Deeper doesn’t mark a difference in that approach. Vasquez gets close to Jack Dunning‘s (Untold) concept of electronic music, but he has something that many other artists can only dream of: an astonishing albeit intangible ability to portray pain using those conglomerates of plastic, metal, and cables we call instruments. There is a ton of aggression behind these tracks, but his focus is never oriented against others. Featured instead is self-harm and depression—the immediate outcome of pain. Deeper is a new visceral plunge into Vasquez’s own life.
Vasquez: ‘I wrote the record in Venice, Italy. I lived there for like a year and a half. It took close to a year to finish the record.’
Journalist: ‘What did you learn about yourself?’
Vasquez: ‘…that I’m fucked up.‘
Isn’t time relaxing and enjoying life in the shadow of San Marco’s campanile well-spent? Clearly not.
‘Inward’, which is forty seconds of chaos rising from below, serves as a brief introduction for ‘Black’. The track’s vocal performance—as a mantra, ‘I don’t care what you say / living life my own way’—alternates with guttural wheezes that are so unintelligible that one likely couldn’t say whether they came out of a human, a machine, or both; this, while a foundation of synthetic drums and dark, rough synths is laid. It’s worth noting how often the Soft Moon has dealt with the subject of suicide, making it shift from recurrent theme to outright leitmotiv. Where lyrics may sound embarrassingly simple—like the two lines mentioned above—they are indeed hiding secrets; the unsaid is more unnerving than what is actually declared, but is nonetheless a very real part of the music’s essence.
‘Far’ and ‘Wasting’ combine for one of the album’s primary climaxes, albeit uniquely in a more minimal manner than one may expect; both have an easy-listening façade due to the immediate presence of stinging synthesizers and an enthralling acid atmosphere. Had they been performed as instrumental versions, they could easily have landed a soundtrack role in a John Carpenter film. ‘Far’ crashes and burns on a reckless drive like the muscle car in its accompanying video, while ‘Wasting’ focuses on a dry, mid-speed striding that gets surrounded by painful electronic abuse. Throughout the whole album, some similarities to Carpenter’s latest amazing Lost Themes may flow in the air, but where Carpenter stuck with his distinctive cold, robotic elegance, Vasquez jeopardizes his own work’s balance while still never missing the point or losing control.
Videos starring Vasquez as the primary character have already appeared for the album and have a similarly dark cinematic approach, staging what looks like a homicide that haunts Vasquez, who is on the run in his car while under the spell of some form of Ludovico technique. The presence of a doppelganger—the driver’s disfigured version which appears at various intervals—might be a metaphor for mental illness, suffering, or even addiction; it’s hard to tell as any answers remain concealed in a visual enigma that is equally pleasing and disturbing, with tones of blue, grey, and electric pink.
The title track evokes the ritual edge that has been so popular as of late in all forms of dark music. The drums develop a rhythm that is fit for going into battle in a post-apocalyptic world under agonizing cries that never cease to scratch and bite. As for the video, the sinister element in the music goes through the roof; following the purest trend of industrial fetishes, the images are portrayed as raw in both quality and content. Men on their knees are tied up as they await execution among tormented bodies, with images of suffocation and hands playing with butcher knives to follow.
Diversity plays the part of the queen on this musical chessboard. In a matter of minutes, the listener moves from old-school industrial mixed with 90’s techno (‘Wrong’) to the kind of song 2015’s Depeche Mode would kill for (‘Try’), and then back to minimalistic dark ambient (‘Without’). Somehow, they all work perfectly together to develop an outstanding vision.
‘Being’, the final track, is a schizophrenic manifesto that starts and ends with the words, ‘I can’t see my face / I don’t know where I am’. It is whispered at the beginning and screamed at the end, reflecting the evolution from inoffensive electronic pop to horribly mutated EBM that turns in flux into the Soft Moon’s purest expression of the noble art of noise music.
The hammering never pauses through the album, but as it varies in style from track to track, Deeper grows bolder. With a demeanor that can only be described as anything but shy and peaceful, Vasquez somewhat arrogantly showcases his ability to merge together industrial aggression and abrasive electronics, leaving black bruises and cutting through flesh. Although it’s inconceivable to dance to these tunes, the final result delivers something reminiscent of Perturbator’s best work, yet in a subtler way—less exaggerated but no less captivating.