Curve's Toni Halliday is the paradigm of the post-post-modern super femme.
By Micheal Powell
JULY 13, 1998: Until recently, being at the right place at the wrong time has been the curse of vocalist Toni Halliday and her partner, multi-instrumentalist Dean Garcia. The London duo, better known as Curve, realized, at the turn of the decade, that dance music could have a punk ethic and that there is a discordant synergy between guitars, keyboards and samplers, long before the techno geeks stopped raving long enough to hop on board.
"It didn't seem like we were doing anything [ground breaking] at the time," Halliday remembers as she anxiously frets over England's impending loss to Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals. "It just seemed like we were making music that we really liked and that sounded good. In retrospect, maybe we were ahead of the game."
Refresh your memory, people.
When the '80s finally abdicated and grunge ascended to the throne of youth-culture cool, dance music had just gone through its own bloody coup d'etat - and craniums indeed did roll. Emerging victorious were the ecstacy-imbibed techno/house Bolsheviks and their homo-dishco allies who usurped control from the gothic/electro-industrialist Mensheviks. (The latter had been irrecoverably weakened by a protracted proxy war on the Manchester front.) It's safe to hypothesize that Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine was actually this close to being this decade's Nevermind, and it makes one wonder if Reznor might have sucked on the shotgun a la Hemingway instead of Cobain.
In 1991 Curve released, in quick succession, three ep's: Blindfold, Frozen and Cherry respectively. This was not Halliday and Garcia's first musical coupling. The two had worked together previously on a short-lived band called State of Play in 1986 and teamed up for Halliday's '89 solo project, both of which were feeble exercises in commercial sterility. Somehow the group overcame its initial mundaneness and evolved dramatically. Combining Halliday's perfect ice-cold vocal delivery with Garcia's impenetrable wall-of-fuzz arrangements, the band's new sound was too dark to be embraced by the "take me higher" techno set, too electronic for the Seattlites and too removed from the repetitive cliches of industrial's flogged horse. However, the innovation did not go unnoticed and a cult of closet Curve fans blossomed.
Undaunted by their fish out-of-water status, the group put out a full-length album, 1992's Doppelgnger, which was trashed by pundits for its comparative lack of luster, and several subsequent ep's fared little better. The band's uphill struggle toward acceptance culminated in the brilliant Cuckoo, which exploded in 1993 and showed that the group still had legs to walk, hell, run on. The album which is about the best modern example of controlled musical anarchy, was darker and harder-hitting than anything the group had done. In true Curve fashion, however, the album was too juxtaposed to the trends of the time. (The grungelites, Hootie and all the little blowfish and, of course, the house heads held sway.)
For Halliday and Garcia, Cuckoo was to be their final cut, or so they thought. "I think we were really depressed people," Halliday reflects. "We thought it was a really good record and it made us depressed that it was ignored. I don't think we were capable as people of getting through that thing. It gutted us - gutted us from the inside - and we couldn't find a way out of that spiraling black hole."
By 1994 Curve had reached a personal and professional standstill and decided to call it quits. They fired the band and Garcia retreated to his family life and studio while Halliday married Curve producer and sometime guitarist Alan Moulder and formed an all-female punk outfit, Scylla. Three years later Garcia invited Halliday (the two remained close friends) to provide vocals for a song he was working on. The impromptu session turned into a six-week collaborative effort that produced 10 songs, four of which landed them a record deal with Universal. "It was the music that got us back together," Halliday says.
Earlier this year Curve released an ep, Chinese Burn, followed by last month's Come Clean, which fulfill the invigorated duo's demand to "move on to something different."
"It's kind of open, there's a lot more air to it," Halliday says about the new work. "There's less guitars and more intricate programming. You can actually hear things now where you couldn't before. The music comes harder at you than it did because there is all that space."
"Bombastic" is the best way to describe Come Clean, which literally jerks the listener's head back with its percussive beat and sonic purity. Yet, Halliday's trademark vocals still cut cold like razor-thin steel.
"I try not to question it too much," Halliday laughs in regards to the source of her rather sinister choice of lyrics. "I think it's my subconscious. In my conscious world everything is all right and I'm quite happy. But it's dark because we hide all the bits that we don't like in there. ... I let all the bile go during the songwriting process, and then I go and make tea."
Admittedly shy off-stage, Halliday strikes an formidable pose in front of an audience. There she is glamour girl desirable, ice-queen stand-offish and seductively confrontational, challenging the audience to give her full attention. This multi-faceted persona has led Halliday to become an unwilling but acknowledging modern-rock sex symbol as well as some people's ideal of empowered womanhood.
"I'm quite protective of my naivete, and I don't want anyone trying to fuck me up. I'm not a victim and I don't give off that poor-me stuff," Halliday says. "I get on stage and become a supremely confident monster."
Halliday believes it is her refusal to succumb to the terminal victimitis that many of her gender peers embellish upon that sets her apart from the crowd. "There's a lot of that thing going around where women are like [sings] 'I'm really fucked up bad ... a victim of society.' And I'm like, 'Oh yeah, you're really good,' " Halliday mocks with a combination of jest and ire. "It's important to demonstrate that you can be strong. It's OK to have a couple of victim-mode songs but not all the time. It's like some psychotherapy textbook study, isn't it? I think the human psyche is much more interesting than that."
It is the disharmonic convergence of Halliday's smarting vocals (not to mention her raven hair and impossibly high cheekbones) with Garcia's driving chaos of clarity that may finally bring the band the attention it deserves. With electronica acts like Prodigy moving their music ever so edgier and the new wave of post-industrialists like Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills making dents on alt-rock radio, the time may finally be right for Curve.
"It's a totally legitimate thing," Halliday says in reference to Curve's reformation and future plans. "We just really needed to re-evaluate our lives. I would recommend that to more bands. Because they are putting out too many records without any thought about it. And people can't be bothered anymore."
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