Oliver Chesler, Alex's older brother, walks into the bedroom with his girlfriend, Julie. They're laughing about a drug binge that ate up the better part of last week. "After three days," Oliver yells, slouching down onto the bed, "I decided, we can't do this anymore! I look over and Julie's crying -- because I'm the one holding all the coke!"
"I did not cry!" Julie giggles.
Oliver, Alex, and Matt -- electronic artists who perform under the monikers the Horrorist, Acrosome, and D.J. Satronica, respectively -- launched their own record label, Things to Come, six years ago, after a handful of producers dubbed their work too "dark and strange," in Oliver's words.
Oliver's best-known song as the Horrorist, "One Night in NYC" -- a creeped-out tale of a girl's first encounter with the Limelight, ecstasy, and sex -- is relatively unknown in America but has the distinction of being banned by every radio station in the United Kingdom (nevertheless, it hit No. 1 on the German dance charts). Alex, who often performs in a mask made of white gauze and plastic eye-bubbles, makes a hybrid of techno, gothic, and industrial over paranoiac vocals -- a genre he calls, somewhat jokingly, "terror-core."
While Oliver, 32, supervises the business aspect of Things to Come, Alex and Matt both have other careers outside the label. Matt, 28, is "a product-development manager for wireless community services," and Alex is in his sixth year at Columbia, getting his Ph.D. in neuroscience. "Generally," says Alex, "I stay up until four in the morning working on music, wake up at nine, and then head off to the lab. And then do the whole thing over again."
"Alex has a lot of skill," Matt says. "He just injected his lab partner with a retro-virus. He's really skilled at giving cancer to his friends."
"That was a bad day," Alex says, taking a long swig of beer. (No, they're not kidding.)
"So maybe it's upwardly mobile bohemia," Matt says. "I was punk rock when I was younger, and people called me a sell-out for getting a job. But I don't feel bad about working a job, because otherwise I couldn't afford the equipment to do my music."
"You're not a 'sell-out,' " Alex says, laughing. "You're a 'buy-in.' "
"No regrets!" Matt yells. "I sold my soul, but I don't want it back!" He slugs down some Jagermeister. "I spend all my money on the record label. I spend $300 every two weeks on records, and even more money on equipment. So I'm broke all the time, even though I make a good salary."
"I just started the label so that I have clothes to wear," Alex says, zipping up his black Things to Come hoodie.
"Really?" Matt says. "I thought you did it to get laid."
"Things are definitely getting better," Oliver says. Oliver's trying to put his finger on what's inspiring so many people to charge ahead with their creative projects, whatever they might be.
"In past times of terror, like in the eighties, fashion and music responded," he says. "It's like how an abused child will piss his pants. The governments of the world are like parents, and the people are the children. The artists are the organs who sometimes unknowingly show the signs of the parental abuse for the society. It's now -- what? 2002?" Alex and Matt laugh and nod. "Sorry -- I must have Ozzy syndrome. I swear I wasn't dyslexic two years ago."
He clears his throat and says, "Now you can feel the nineties are finally fucking ending. I hated all the grunge and the hip-hop and the darkness. It was terrible. I always felt bad."
"The people in Williamsburg are just as much assholes as they are in Manhattan," Matt says. "But here, the first question is 'What do you do?' The second question is 'What else do you do?' And the third question is 'How much money do you make?' "
A few weeks after our interview, Matt gets laid off from his job. "Unemployment's great," he says, laughing. "I think everybody should do it. I've actually started writing my own songs now. It's really not so bad -- I didn't like anybody that I worked with, anyway."