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Cold to the Touch 

What makes Detroit's first couple of electronic music (neuro)tic?

Adult. crafts tunes you can whistle through your gas - mask.
  • Adult. crafts tunes you can whistle through your gas mask.

In Adult.'s world, we are all human wrecks, nausea is as common as breathing, gluing eyelids together is preferable to viewing the banal horror we call life, love is impossible, pressure suits are part of the wardrobe, paranoia reigns supreme, and the body is a repository of repulsive molecules. For proof, check out these lyrics from "Side-Swiped" and "Skinlike" off 2001's Resuscitation: "Touching things, touched by others/Makes me scared, makes me wonder"; "When I touch your skin/I feel like I have to wash my hands/Just when I think I'm in control/I fall apart again." As Adult.'s bassist-keyboardist Adam Lee Miller puts it, "We're not open, warm, and fuzzy types with strangers."

Adult.'s music is always looking over its shoulder, stealing furtive glances out of the corners of its eyes, fearful that it may betray a sentimental feeling. It's uptight, like a lot of early-'80s New Wave and electro were (not surprising, at a time when Reagan's finger hovered near the nuclear trigger). According to singer-keyboardist Nicola Kuperus and Miller, you'd have to be crazy not to be neurotic. So titling their second album Anxiety Always (released in April on their own Audio Ersatz imprint) makes perfect sense to the duo.

But when interviewed, the two members of this husband-and-wife Detroit band seem like a personable Midwestern couple -- who just happen to traffic in scarily detached electro rock. (Both have fine-arts degrees too; Kuperus's stark photos lend every Adult. release an alienated, Robert Longoesque quality.) Kuperus's vocals -- in contrast to those of such divas as Whitney and Mariah, who ululate the word "love" for five minutes -- have less warmth and inflection than the canned voice telling you the time and weather over the phone.

There's almost a panic-stricken quality about Anxiety Always that, both members say, reflects their personalities.

"But at the same time, we put 'We Know How to Have Fun' on [the album]," Miller says.

"Because," Kuperus protests, "people think we're robots, and we're not."

We thought that song was facetious. You were being sincere?

"We were being playfully sarcastic," Miller explains. "People can't believe we like to go up north [in Michigan] and commune with nature. We were getting tired of this view of us. How did our musical persona become exactly who we were? So we wrote that song."

That said, Adult.'s music doesn't exactly inspire bucolic visions. As did '80s forebears the Normal and Devo, Adult. explores the latent grooviness of stiff, tense rhythms while crafting tunes you can whistle through your gas mask. If you've ever seen Detroit's grim landscape of abandoned buildings and rusted-out automobiles, Adult.'s sound will instantly click. But the group's new songs, Miller asserts, are moving in a messier, more analog-oriented direction. "We're unplugging a lot of the MIDI cords and playing the lines now, and not quantizing. We're definitely loosening up. We were so programmed in the beginning."

Speaking of beginnings, Adult. has been steeped in the DIY underground electronic scene since the mid-'90s. Consequently, Miller and Kuperus are used to controlling every aspect of their careers. But with their popularity growing exponentially, they couldn't possibly continue to handle everything, so late last year they hired a PR company and a booking agency -- their first such move since forming Adult. nearly seven years ago.

And that's when the anxiety really hit them. All these plans for touring and giving interviews had to be made; much more was at stake now. And on top of this pressure, the staunchly liberal Adult., along with most sentient beings, was experiencing the anxiety instilled by America's run-up to the Iraq war. "We liked the title [Anxiety Always] because it had so many meanings," says Miller. "We try to do that with our lyric writing, too; never have one [interpretation] for it, so people can personalize it and internalize it."

"We do have a lot of strong views on politics and social things," says Kuperus. "But we're not the kind of band that wants to spell it out. I don't want to be preachy. That's the great thing about the Dead Kennedys' lyrics: They're serious, but humorous, too."

They credit their strong work ethic to their Midwestern background. Miller grew up in Indianapolis and moved to Detroit in 1989; Kuperus spent much of her childhood here in Cleveland and, after several moves, settled in Detroit in 1993. Within the Motor City's fertile electronic-music scene, Adult. has found contentment -- by not fitting in anywhere.

"We get respect from everyone," says Miller, mentioning the notoriously secretive techno collective Underground Resistance; techno-star Carl Craig's label, Planet E; and techno-luminary Richie Hawtin's company, Plus 8. "And at the same time, we're doing a split 7-inch with the Dirtbombs. We exist in all these different worlds, and we get along with everybody, because we don't get involved in scene politics."

Given that Adult. is based in the city that's largely responsible for techno, does the band see its music as a reaction to the smooth functionalism permeating most of that genre?

"Our music has always been reactionary to things that are going on," says Kuperus. "When we started, it was definitely a reaction to the idea of faceless techno. Now it's been a reaction to people wanting to pigeonhole us."

One such pigeonholer -- electroclash ringleader Larry Tee -- tried in vain to get Adult. to join his fashion-victim protegés on the last Electroclash tour. Adult. also rejected Tee's pleas for material to put on his Electroclash mix CDs. Stymied there, Tee sought to license remixes Adult. had done for other artists. When LA-based Moonshine Records requested tracks for yet another Electroclash comp, Miller replied, "What's the matter, Moonshine, can't you sell any more trance records? NO FUCKING WAY."

"They didn't counter," Miller relates.

Finally, we must ask the burning question on everyone's mind: Why do you place a period after your name?

"As Andy Warhol said, 'When you look at my paintings, there's nothing behind them. What you see is what you get.'" Miller explains. "We thought the period somehow encompasses that quote. We're not some fancy vaudeville act onstage. We get up there, we play our music, we believe in it. You either love or hate us." Period.

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