CLAPS won’t leave the basement

The synth trio CLAPS details their origins in new wave, the benefits of house shows and breaking down the barriers of electronic music.

Claps, a local Dark Wave, Post-Punk band play a dark, minimalistic style of synth pop music that is comparable to acts such as New Order and Cold Cave.

Jaak Jensen

Claps, a local Dark Wave, Post-Punk band play a dark, minimalistic style of synth pop music that is comparable to acts such as New Order and Cold Cave.

Joseph Kleinschmidt

Jed Smentek founded his band after buying a retro synthesizer off of Craigslist. To form CLAPS, he’d need the inspiration from the ’80s synth to build the moody minimalism his band is known for.

“The ARP [Axxe] was pretty much the whole reason we started a band,” vocalist Patrick Donohoe said. “We found one on Craigslist for 300 bucks.”

“That was my hobby,” Smentek said. “My whole life was looking on Craigslist.”

Smentek invested his time searching for the right synth for a type of minimalism he wanted to recreate through the ARP Axxe. “New Science,” the band’s first EP, showcases this pop sheen partly inspired by new wave pioneers John Foxx and Fad Gadget. But CLAPS still left room to grow.

“At that point we were so new in what we were making, we didn’t really know what we wanted to sound like,” Donohoe said.

Goth and post-punk sounds also influence the band, possibly a testament to Donohoe and Smentek’s short-lived streaming radio show at the University of St. Thomas. With the band’s latest album “Glory, Glory,” a dark dirge encompasses most of the record where clean sounds once dominated. Instrumentalist Sara Abdelaal moved from the synth to the bass for even more possibilities.

“When we started ‘Glory, Glory’ and the tail-end of ‘Wreck,’ we felt like we were coming into something that was ours,” Donohoe said.

The singer partly credits the evolution in adding rougher elements, ditching the simple perfection for more organic performance. Seeing CLAPS live now represents an entirely different experience than listening to the band’s recorded output.

“So much synth in electronic music is not live-based,” Smentek said. “It’s like someone does something on a computer, and then they put the computer up and they’re like, ‘Here’s my song.’”

In the age of laptops in the increasingly commercialized electronic dance music scene, the analog synthesizers CLAPS embrace forge an opportunity to break the wall that a computer brings.

“That’s really never what we ever wanted to be,” Smentek said. “When we write music, it’s like we’re performing.”

CLAPS prefers the basement of a house as their stage, where even the most electronic and scientific sounds they acquire never feel sterile. The pulsating synths feel more alive among cramped partygoers than bar attendees anyway.

“I kind of hate the idea of being a band that just hangs out in the greenroom and plays the venue,” Abdelaal said. “I think that people who go to basement shows are more into music. Or maybe just drinking.”

The three strive for immediacy in performance and songwriting, something they’ve developed through a longstanding relationship — Donohoe, Smentek and Abdelaal all work in visual effects together outside the band.

Through “Glory, Glory” and the forthcoming “Lies White Lies,” the synth trio gives off a collective gloomy disposition. Where the former played into a heavy spiritual aesthetic, the new album joins the clinical instrumentals with a slightly more optimistic outlook. But Smentek insists that the seriousness never interrupts the fun.

“It’s not like an artist who pours their soul into a painting and it becomes a process that can be exhausting,” Smentek said. “It’s not like that.”

Abdelaal relates the purpose of CLAPS to the band’s penchant for playing impromptu house gigs: “I just think we got into writing music that would be fun to play in a basement.”

Although the bleak lyrics Donohoe sings on stage give off a sinister atmospheric haze, CLAPS remains infectiously danceable, without solely relying on ’80s revivalism.

“We’re having a good time being sad, I guess,” Smentek said.