Bowery Electric were an American band formed in 1994 in New York by Lawrence Chandler and Martha Schwendener.
Bowery Electric’s music defies easy classification. The duo earned critical acclaim for mixing elements and production techniques of ambient, electronic, experimental, minimal and rock music with ’70’s soul soundtracks, disco, drum and bass, dub and hip hop. They are known for having been at the forefront of “a distinctively American post-rock” and among the first bands to perform live with a laptop, mixer and sampler on stage alongside bass, drums and guitar.
Catching the ears of Kranky founders Bruce Adams and Joel Leoschke with their debut Drop EP in the autumn of 1994, they were among the first bands on the label, following Labradford and preceding Stars of the Lid and Low among others.
The first album Bowery Electric was released by Kranky in mid-1995. No singles were released but “Slow Thrills” was included on Virgin Records’ Monsters, Robots & Bug Men – A User’s Guide To The Rock Hinterland and “Out of Phase” was selected by Pete Kember (Spacemen 3, Spectrum) for The New Atlantis compilation on Space Age Recordings. Bowery Electric was included in Pitchfork Magazine’s “The 50 Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time” and Andrew Earles’ book Gimme Indie Rock: 500 Essential American Underground Rock Albums 1981–1996. “Next to Nothing” was included on Cherry Red Records’ Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995.
The second album Beat was released by Kranky in November 1996 in North America and by Beggars Banquet in early 1997 in the UK, Europe and rest of the world. The single “Fear of Flying” was released with a video directed by Ed Feldman. Beat was a critical success upon its release. Melody Maker raved “Good God, THIS IS IT. My Bloody Valentine can f*** right off, they’ve been beaten to it. There’s gonna be an awful lot of no-clues incorporating hip hop into their sound . . . we can all look back to this LP, which surpassed them all without even giving them a chance”. The Wire praised the album as “genre-defining” concluding “Beat is a benchmark album”.
Beat was reissued as a 20th Anniversary Edition by Kranky in November 2016. Reflecting on the reissue The Wire wrote “the music seemed to emanate out from inside itself . . . from its sleeve, or some unknowable East Coast loft of their shared imagination. The intangible mystery behind Bowery Electric – interviews were non-existent while reviews were almost universally rhapsodic – has only amplified the subterranean legend of Beat over the past 20 years. This music hasn’t aged a bit. The ideas it proposes have no traceable descendants. Beat remains an unexplored road to a wondrous promontory only Bowery Electric have ever reached”.
Vertigo, a remix album of tracks from Beat, was released by Beggars Banquet in 1997 and featured a notable roster of electronic artists including Mark Clifford (Seefeel), Matt Elliot (Third Eye Foundation), Robert Hampson (Main), Colin Newman and Malka Spigel (Immersion), Mark Nicholson (Osymyso), John Roome (Witchman) and Jon Tye (Twisted Science).
After relocating to a former warehouse in Brooklyn the single “Blow Up” was released by Happy Go Lucky in late 1997. “Blow Up” debuted at number one on the NME Vibe of the Week chart and the band was featured on the cover of the section. Forced Exposure observed “”Blow Up” shows a side of Bowery Electric not yet witnessed — a rapid fire drum and bass excursion that will have the dance floor bumping. The addition of jungle into the mix is not to say they’ve forgone their droning beginnings and that use of the drone is exactly what makes “Blow Up” stand out from the crowd and rock so hard.”
The third album Lushlife was released by Beggars Banquet in late 1999. Two singles, “Floating World” and “Freedom Fighter” with a video directed by Tomaz Baltzi, were released. The Austin Chronicle called Lushlife “a morphine drip of an album”. Billboard named the album a Critic’s Choice, surmising “the duo seems to thrive on the thought that opposites attract – bleeding Erik B. & Rakim-flavoured beats into Nick Drake samples into Massive Attack-etched symphonic swirls into Cocteau Twins-hued melancholia”. The album peaked at No. 14 on the CMJ Top 200 chart and No. 11 on the Core Radio chart.
Lushlife was reissued as a 20th Anniversary Edition by Beggars Arkive in February 2019. Freq concluded “Bowery Electric left a perfect legacy, but one that is seriously under-appreciated. The re-issue of this album will hopefully go some way to re-establishing their credentials and showing a new generation what they missed out on. After all these years, it still has the strength to stand on its own”.