It was October, 2000 and I had a strange design gig I probably didn't deserve at my tender age, but this was the tech-bubble. At the time I was based out of Chicago, but was working for Discover Card on their animated Times Square billboard. In the rotation of ads and branding, we included a list of (largely free) shows that were happening around town, in cooperation with Time Out New York. When visiting NYC, I got to have lunch with the Time Out reps, scoring a press pass off them to see the Wire reunion gig at Irving Plaza that night.
No amount of Wire fandom prepared for what was about to happen. Opening for Wire was the Finnish electronic duo, Pan Sonic. The lot of aging punks, anxiously waiting to see their heroes, were having none of it. I don't know if it was a regular part of their set, but from my perspective in the balcony it seemed Pan Sonic got so annoyed with the loud, disinterested crowd they let loose an unfettered howl of feedback girded with a steady pulse of concussive kick drums and stood there, arms folded staring scoldingly at the geezers now covering their ears, for what seemed like 10 minutes.
At that moment, I was a fan.
Over the next few years, Pan Sonic (and Mika Vainio's solo work) grew to epic proportions in my personal sound-world. I soon discovered their work stretched back to the early 90s—which would have been far too cool for a teenage version of me. Sometimes you just have to come things when you are ready. Mika's albums frequently ranked among the best of their year and class. Pan Sonic were my gateway into Suicide's oeuvre—more than Spacemen 3—via their album with Alan Vega, Endless. They worked with people as varied as Merzbow and Charlemagne Palestine. I've listened to Pan Sonic's Kesto repeatedly, which, when you consider it's a whopping 4CD set, is no small compliment.
With news of Mika Vainio's passing, I've been returning to my favorite albums. Surprisingly, all of those (for me) are recorded under the name Ø. This solo project could was just as menacing and intense as his work in-or-out of Pan Sonic, but also nurtured and sustained an utterly unique, crystalline beauty imbued with a meditative sense of patience. I've tried to convert many electronic-averse friends to Vainio's camp with his inspired cover of Pink Floyd's Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
I saw Pan Sonic only once more, in NYC again (this time in much more hospitable environs), headlining a show at the Lower East Side's Tonic club. It was a master class in live sound sculptin. With the simplest of tools, volume and cross-fade, they could turn solid walls of sound into intricate tracks and compelling beats. An oscilloscope was projected on the wall and was a perfect visual accompaniment to this deceptively simple work. I've always said Mika's work does not sound like electronics more than electronica; it's the sound of someone making music out of raw electricity.