For a certain brand of young musician, a revolution came in the form of a movie called “Drive.” The stylish 2011 thriller starring Ryan Gosling wasn't a huge hit, but its brooding, '80s-inspired electronic score touched a nerve with a new generation of synthesized players drawn to its waves of emotional sound. They were ready to break from the sharp edges and intensity of modern dance music.
“It's become a new aesthetic,” said the producer and DJ known as Baron Von Luxxury. “We're all fascinated by the rise of electronic music culture, but we feel a little bit outside.”
That new aesthetic will be center stage Thursday at Complex in Glendale in a night of music curated by Luxxury, whose real name is Blake Robin. The four-act lineup is headlined by Story of the Running Wolf and will include live sets from Luxxury, Let Em Riot and D/A/D.
The lineup is “a lot of bands that have a great love for '80s synth-pop,” said Luxxury, and most share an admiration for the music of “Drive” and its evocative electronic tracks from Kavinsky, Cliff Martinez and Johnny Jewel of the bands Desire and the Chromatics.
“That was a sound to a lot of ears that was sorely needed,” Luxxury added. “After years of banging 130 [beats per minute] electro, it was nice to finally hear something closer to 100 bpm or less: slower tempos, a lot more thoughtful, a little dreamier, a little less explicit. But nobody wrote a manifesto saying this is what we're doing now.”
Many in his corner of the dance floor don't much identify with the now-mainstream “EDM” (electronic dance music) label, said Luxxury, who calls Giorgio Moroder's torrid 1977 production of Donna Summer's “I Feel Love” his favorite recording of all time. He said the labels “dream wave,” “nu disco” and “chill wave” are more fitting.
The Los Angeles duo Story of the Running Wolf began making music before “Drive” was released, but feel a genuine connection to the emotional aesthetic found in its soundtrack.
“L.A. is the centerpoint for this genre,” said Jeffrey Chernick, drummer for Story of the Running Wolf. “It's a hotbed of people who want to dance.”
Added singer/synth-player Josh D'Elia, “It's really cool to start to see other bands have not only electronic sounds, but that '80s new wave influence. The visuals that accompany the music are very '80s-inspired. All of a sudden there is this little underground world starting to pop up.”
The band's Complex set will be “straight, nonstop dance music. All of the high-tempo, high-energy, synthy” songs, closing with the single, “Stratospheric,” said D'Elia.
While obsessed with the retro-modern sounds that first emerged in the '70s and '80s, the duo took their name from stories D'Elia's grandfather told him as a boy. They were tales populated with wildlife and Cherokee Indians, and one day his grandfather told him, “Your name would be Running Wolf.”
“There seems to be a lot of tribal, primal energy in the EDM world, the [Burning Man] scene — there's people dressing up in costume at the festivals, wearing tails and hats and fur and feathers. It's this awesome self-expression. The name hearkens to that wildness too,” explained D'Elia, on the phone from Brooklyn during the band's first U.S. tour.
“Some people think there is an artificial quality to synthesizers. It's all perspective. You can get real warm human feelings and experiences from the music, even though it might be coming from synthesized sounds.”
British electronic-pop act Depeche Mode is an example of that contrast, owing its longevity to finding the humanity amid the keyboards and computers. “Their music was always synth-heavy, but they had such heart and emotion in the music. It comes back to the songwriting. So much of the music talks about love and life and death and faith,” said D'Elia, whose music with Story of the Running Wolf can be found on iTunes, Soundcloud and Facebook.
For Luxxury, his synthetic pop found some human inspiration and amusement in a notorious magazine photographer, releasing a song called “Terry Richardson.” In the accompanying video, Luxxury is dressed to look remarkably like the grinning photographer.
“I was obsessed with him for a while because he's simultaneously a dirt merchant but also very legitimate in the eyes of the straight world,” said Luxxury admiringly. “He gets commissions from Vogue and shoots music videos for Miley Cyrus now. He's pulled off a neat trick, which is to be both the highest of the high-brow and the lowest of the low-brow at the same time.”
In his spare time, Luxxury reaches even beyond the sounds of early dance music to uncover funk in surprising places, remixing songs by the likes of Foreigner and Simon and Garfunkel as part of his ongoing “Luxxury edit series.” The musician works with multi-track recordings of popular songs sent to him or found online and reinvents them as dance music.
His goal is to reimagine the songs using the original tracks without adding the usual production tricks and effects of contemporary remixes, which he said tend to sound alike. He extends the “cool parts” and “uncovers the layers” of sound underneath, finding gems within rock songs no modern dance fan would otherwise have any interest in.
He's also reedited songs by Madonna, the Bee Gees and David Bowie, and his next release will be of the Eagles' “Hotel California,” which Luxxury calls “one of the all-time uncoolest songs ever.”
“I've turned Don Henley into a bit of a robot,” he said of the Eagles singer. “He's vocodor-isized.
“It makes it more of a classic, vintage disco feel to a lot of these rock songs,” he said. “I wanted to make it possible to play really uncool songs — in other words, Foreigner's version [of “Urgent”] isn't one that any of my friends would ever DJ. But they might DJ my version of it.”
Where: Complex, 806 E. Colorado St., Glendale
When: 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24
More info: (323) 642-7519, complexla.com
Follow Steve Appleford on Twitter: @SteveAppleford.