What is it about Sarah Bernat–with her Janet Jackson headset microphone and chainsaw-buzz guitar–and band mate Alex Lukas playing a labyrinth of synthesizers that’s so damn special? To really get it, you need to see them—in the form of their band Bad News— live to experience their upfront industrial intensity. But if you slept on their recent cross-country tour, the good news is “Nice Things” (their 7-inch on SF's Sleep Genius Records) is due September 24th (and pressed on a delicious slab of silver vinyl).
Explosive, twisted, hypnotic, yet hardcore, this is the single that will cut right through you and take no mercy. Consider them both SF- and LA-based (Bernat expresses it best by calling herself a “multi-metropolini”) because being from one place is “boring,” she says.
While industrial music isn’t new (the legend in his own right Trent Reznor recently gave us a taste of the old at Outside Lands), you do get a sense that they’re at the cutting edge of the scene’s resurgence, but unafraid to take us back to the roots of the genre in order to propel the whole thing forward.
“Consider us early to the future,” says Bernat. “The sound we’re making has some dark, Midwestern Rust Belt roots.” Not surprisingly, places like Kansas City and Omaha were particularly warm to them on the tour. Audience members even sang along to tracks like “Decay.”
A former Midwesterner myself, (Bernat moved from Columbus, Ohio) I asked what Detroit was like from their perspective. “I guess that city is on the country's mind right now,” she says. “It is pretty much the picture we as a country have collectively imagined as being ‘the apocalypse,’ and I suppose it's only a matter of time before more American cities begin to follow suit.”
They stayed with a friend there who recently bought two houses in the city on the cheap. “His houses are like many in the area— dilapidated and exposed to the elements.” She describes his bathroom where she had to squat over the seatless toilet, and was able to see the “trash-filled basement” through a hole in the floor.
Those dismal touring conditions seem to match their music, but seeing them in their element on stage is another way they’re able to express the coldness and raw emotion heard in their music. Bernat contorts and takes charge as her eyes roll back inside her head, while she strums ferociously, conquering the audience. Lukas almost appears to be hiding on the sidelines (his eyes do the same as hers) but he’s literally manning machines; he's a virtual wizard of gadgetry, orchestrating what looks like a chaotic amount of chords from the audience’s vantage point.
He says to achieve maximum velocity on his DX7ii synthesizer that he has to “physically pound or hit the keys.” This adds to the volatility of their spectacle, but he adds that this equipment is crucial to the band and “can’t be retired,” even as it’s taking a beating, broken keys and all.
Their synthesis of machine, wo(man), and music evokes the human condition as Bernat explains their approach, from her standpoint, isn’t exactly withdrawal (the cliché being rigidly programmed electronics and monotone vocal) but more of a “ fraught” display of emotion.
You can vicariously taste their "multi-metropolini" lifestyle by taking a road trip to LA. There, they perform with Kim Gordon’s (of Sonic Youth) latest project, Body/ Head, September 12th at the Echo and will have advance copies of the new single available. Or you can sit around and wait for a future return show in the Bay Area, where you’ll just have to see for yourself why Bad News is so good.
Get a taste of their sound here.