The Anniversary

Echoes Turns 20


Echoes came out too late. At this point, it’s a matter for the historical record, and there’s no point in even arguing. The Rapture had a moment, and then they missed that moment. The band recorded their totemic single “House Of Jealous Lovers,” the song that would become the big-bang catalyst for the whole hipster dance-rock movement of the early ’00s, sometime around 2000 or 2001. They sat on the song for a year, uncertain whether it made sense for a punk band to drop a track that veered so fully into the club-music lane. The single eventually came out, and it set the world on fire. People were ransacking stores to find that 12″, and nobody had it. “House Of Jealous Lovers” never even charted in the US, but it went platinum on Soulseek and Kazaa. The Rapture made a furious album that built on that momentum, and then they sat on that for another year. By the time they finally released Echoes, 20 years ago today, millions of other baby dance-punk bands had emerged. So it goes.

But what a fucking album. What a surging, spitting, fire-breathing record. “House Of Jealous Lovers” was a glorious fluke, but only in terms of its timing. With that song, the Rapture took anxiety and fear and chaos and clangor, and they turned it into party music. The song came out at the exact right instant, and it captured imaginations. With “House Of Jealous Lovers,” the Rapture and the DFA, their soon-to-be-famous collaborators, pushed the reset button on the American rock underground. As someone who was out in indie rock clubs three nights a week during that stretch, the change was volcanic, and it was almost immediate. Clothes got tighter. Haircuts got sharper. Cocaine dealers had a very lucrative couple of years.

The story was that the Rapture taught indie kids how to dance. That’s not what I saw. Maybe that was true in whatever wack-ass cities everyone else was inhabiting, but I’m from Baltimore, and the indie kids there were already throwing down. If you went to see the Dismemberment Plan in Baltimore in the pre-Rapture era, “Do The Standing Still” did not apply. But there was a change, even in Baltimore. New sounds were coming in. Disco basslines. Rave keyboards. Flinty shards of angular guitar had been there for a while, but they started landing on-beat, which was new. The Strokes were a big media phenomenon, but I don’t remember that band affecting the way people made music in dank, bombed-out Baltimore warehouses. After “House Of Jealous Lovers,” though, you could wander into one of those warehouses and dance to Blondie records in between White Mice and Lightning Bolt sets. I don’t think anyone would cop to the Rapture changing their listening habits — that wouldn’t have been a cool thing to admit — but the evidence was there.

The Rapture were always more of a warehouse-noise band than a magazine-hype band; that’s why it was so exciting when they started getting magazine hype. The Rapture started in late-’90s San Diego as part of the extended universe around Gravity Records, a label that specialized in frantically abrasive hardcore punk. In bands like Antioch Arrow and Swing Kids, singers would wrap mic chords around their necks and throw themselves on the ground, thrashing around on punk-house basements and screeching like dying weasels. The Rapture frontman Luke Jenner was shaped by that kind of primal temper-tantrum music, and he never really stopped being that kind of singer. The members of the Rapture were music nerds with wider listening habits than that, and their 1999 debut Mirrors, released on Gravity, is a whole lot glammier and more rhythmic than what most of their peers were doing. But they still sounded like a product of their time and place.

Thanks to a burned-down house, the Rapture briefly relocated to Seattle. They never really became a Seattle band, but the move did put them on the radar of Sub Pop Records. The Rapture signed to Sub Pop, and they used their advance money to buy a van and move to New York. James Murphy, a former noise-rock sound engineer who was attempting to reinvent himself as a dance producer and man-about-town, saw the Rapture at an early New York show, and he fell in love. In Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom, Murphy remembers, “They weren’t saying, ‘Hey guys, hope you’re having a good night.’ There was none of that. It was like after the show they were going to jump into a sewer. And they were fuckable.”

James Murphy and his DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy essentially adopted the Rapture. They got the guys in the band places to live and jobs at the Plant Bar, a tiny hangout with an absurdly expensive sound system. (This was the dot-com bubble era, when there was a lot of money flying around lower Manhattan.) Through the DFA, the members of the Rapture, who were still young, got very into dance music. When the DFA guys found out that the Rapture already had a Sub Pop deal with a tiny recording budget, they offered to record the band for free, as long as they could have the right to release some remixes.

Murphy later said, “The Rapture were supposed to be the vehicle for the DFA’s world domination.” Luke Jenner didn’t love the idea of becoming Murphy’s vehicle, and the two frequently fought. Murphy was, by all accounts, a total dictator who tried to manage the lives of the Rapture guys, as well as the lives of everyone else around him. Jenner pushed back. He didn’t think the sound of “House Of Jealous Lovers” was right. Eventually, though, the song came out, and it landed like a bomb.

It’s still an incredible single — that throbbing bass, that hammering cowbell, that stabbing guitar, those hi-hats that come hissing in from every direction. “House Of Jealous Lovers” barely has any lyrics, and those few lyrics are fully impenetrable. But Luke Jenner howls those words like he’s got bears chasing him. When Jenner wails “shake-dowwwwwn,” he could be telling you to dance, or he could be screaming in fear because someone’s extorting him. “House Of Jealous Lovers” doesn’t sound like dance-punk in the way that the term would soon come to be known. It doesn’t sound like the disco-infused post-punk records that clearly influenced it, either. Instead, it sounds like a great dance record that’s also a great punk record.

Sub Pop didn’t like “House Of Jealous Lovers,” so the DFA guys put the single out on their own label, and that single became virtually impossible to find. Sub Pop did release the next Rapture/DFA collaboration, the just-as-convulsive “Out Of The Races And Onto The Tracks.” It became the title track of the Rapture’s 2001 EP, the only record that they would ever release on Sub Pop. James Murphy was furious because he thought “Out Of The Races” should’ve been the follow-up single. He was right. It’s a total fucking banger, and to this day, it doesn’t have the reputation that it should.

The Rapture spent a year recording Echoes with James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, and it was not an easy process. The Rapture guys weren’t getting along with each other, and they weren’t getting along with the DFA guys, either. In 2006, when the Rapture released their follow-up album Pieces Of The People We Love, I interviewed Luke Jenner and Mattie Safer for the Village Voice. At that point, those guys seemed pretty chill with each other; we split a big plate of nachos three ways. But they were very clear that they’d barely gotten through the Echoes sessions. Safer: “[The DFA’s] great accomplishment with us was not, like, they introduced the Rapture to the cowbell. Their great accomplishment was getting a band that at various points wanted to kill each other to finish an album.”

On Echoes, that sense of conflict shines through. Every element on the album seems to be fighting every other element. Beyond the obvious talent of the people involved, I think that’s why Echoes continues to stand out the way that it does. I had a great time listening to the other New York dance-punk bands, the groups like !!! and Radio 4, but those bands seemed like they were fucking around, trying on these sounds for fun. The Rapture sounded raw and desperate — a Gravity Records hardcore band stuck in an acid house vortex and fighting to get out.

Luke Jenner wasn’t a great rock frontman because he could sing; his voice was an out-of-tune caterwaul that could drive you to drastic self-harm if you weren’t in the right mood. Instead, Jenner was a great rock frontman because he communicated the sense that he was scared and angry and overwhelmed. That passionately freaked-out quality helped give the music its edge, its dimension. In 2006, Luke Jenner told me, “When I listen to Echoes, it just reminds me of being hungover everyday.” (He also said, “I loved it; I was great at partying. You can ask anyone that knew me; I really enjoyed myself.” Shout out to that guy.) The best party music isn’t about having fun. The best party music is about feeling like you’re about to die. Luke Jenner gave that to the Rapture.

Lots of great rock bands sound like oiled machines — like a group of people who have figured out how to vibrate on the same frequency. That was never the Rapture. Instead, the Rapture always sounded like they were trying to knock each other out of their respective grooves. Everything interrupts everything else. Instruments slash and stab at each other. The drums want to drown out the guitars. The guitars want to throw Luke Jenner’s voice through a wall even when Jenner is the one who’s playing the guitars. The occasional bursts of saxophone burn like hydrochloric acid. Mattie Safer’s basslines are ugly and commanding and sick as fuck, and they come steeped in dread. That bass sound is just as important to the Rapture as Peter Hook’s bass was to Joy Division and New Order, but there’s as much repressed anger in that bass tone as there is in everything else on the record.

On Echoes, James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy might as well be full members of the Rapture. They record the band like they’re Pink Floyd, and the album’s sound is light years beyond almost every other band who was trying to make their own “House Of Jealous Lovers” at the time. The keyboards on Echoes aren’t cheap Casios; they’re state-of-the-art modular synths that only giant modular-synth nerds would be able to name. The sirens, the squiggles, the church bells on “I Need Your Love” — it all serves to make Echoes sound vast and cinematic. I used to ride the MTA bus in Baltimore with “Sister Savior” playing in my Discman headphones, and that sound would sweep me away. I’d close my eyes, and entire movies would play out in my head.

In Echoes, I hear more than the combination of dance and punk, which was what so many people took away from “House Of Jealous Lovers.” I hear the Cure and T. Rex and David Bowie. The tracks without rave keyboards, the ones like “Love Is All” and “Infatuation,” aren’t the best songs on Echoes; I would almost always hit skip on the wounded-animal love song “Open Up Your Heart.” But those tracks add layers of depth to the album. They show that the Rapture was something other than a one-trick band.

While the Rapture worked on Echoes, their buzz percolated, helped along by the extremely excitable UK music press. Labels started throwing vast sums of money at the band, and those vast sums of money were what ultimately caused the Rapture and the DFA to part ways. The DFA were working on their own major-label deal, and they wanted to bring the Rapture with them. In Meet Me In The Bathroom, people close to the situation speculate that the other Rapture guys wanted to stay with the DFA but that Luke Jenner did not. Universal ultimately signed the Rapture. In the book, James Murphy says that someone at Universal told him that the label had the biggest market share: “But I was like, ‘What do you know about this band? If they don’t work immediately, you’re going to ignore them,’ which is what happened.”

The split was bitter. James Murphy felt betrayed, and he used his anger to fuel his early LCD Soundsystem records. The Rapture came to regret the deals that they’d signed. In Meet Me In The Bathroom, Luke Jenner says, “Signing your life and your artistic well-being away to someone who doesn’t like music is not a good idea. I spent the next five years in meetings with people who didn’t like music, trying to tell them about acid house.” By the time Echoes came out, the hype around the Rapture had died down, and bands like Hot Hot Heat were putting out records on labels like Sub Pop. Echoes never really stood a commercial chance anyway. It’s too weird, too severe, too intense, too damaged to be a real-world hit. But that’s also why it’s great.

Echoes didn’t exactly disappear into the world. The hype might’ve been gone, but the album still sounded tremendously exciting when it came out, at least to me. I wasn’t the only one. Pitchfork named Echoes the year’s best album. The British TV show Misfits used “Echoes” as its theme song. The Rapture continued to make really good music, though I don’t think their next two albums are anywhere near as great as Echoes. People didn’t really notice.

The Rapture were always a monster of a live act, but whenever I saw them, it was in some weird circumstance. I saw them open for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in a converted movie theater outside Baltimore. I saw them play a free show in the middle of the afternoon at the Apple Store in Soho. I saw them open for Daft Punk at the minor-league baseball stadium in Coney Island, their instruments awkwardly set up in front of the giant tarps that covered Daft Punk’s pyramid. I saw them headline sweaty clubs, too, but the weird shows are somehow more memorable.

Today, the noise and hype and context around the Rapture have all faded away. I don’t see people talk about them too much anymore, except maybe as a kind of preamble to what James Murphy would do with LCD Soundsystem. People should talk about the Rapture, though. To me, Echoes is a classic record, one of the best of its era.

The tension that I hear on Echoes was not sustainable. The Rapture broke up. So did the DFA. The Rapture reunited, but they did it without Mattie Safer; apparently, he and Luke Jenner still don’t get along. Three years after the release of Echoes, Jenner told me, “We never made Echoes so it would rule 2003 or whenever it came out. We made it as a record that we hoped would be good in 10 years.” It’s been 20 years now, and it’s still good.

When Jenner said that, Mattie Safer responded, “Yeah, we’ll always have work 20 years from now on the reunion circuit — us and Miss Kittin and Fischerspooner.” In 2019, the Rapture did, in fact, play the indie nostalgia-fest Just Like Heaven. Miss Kittin and Fischerspooner did not. Neither, for that matter, did Mattie Safer. Maybe the tension was still too much. But that same tension led the Rapture to make Echoes. The album came out too late, but the Rapture did not let their moment go to waste.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from The Anniversary

Please disable your adblocker or subscribe to ad-free membership to view this article.

Already disabled it? Click here to refresh.