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"It's not full of sunshine." Fixing his gaze out the window, Carlos Oni could very well be referring to the weather; the streets outside the Gables Diner are still slick and damp from the early-morning downpour. But in fact, he is attempting to describe the music he and Ramiro Jeancarlo, also present for this breakfast interview on a recent weekend, make together as Opus Finis. "Industrial music is not for the faint-hearted," Oni continues. "And neither is experimental or punk music, but that is the music we make."
A casual listener might classify the duo's sound as difficult or even obtuse. True, it features a heavy reliance on drum machines and the analogue synth, an instrument most readily associated with '80s pop pioneers such as Depeche Mode and Soft Cell. But Oni readily admits it's anything but immediately accessible.
But throughout the band's five-year existence, Oni (the group's vocalist and lyricist) and Jeancarlo (pretty much everything else) have labored with the firm belief that experimental, minimal synth music can resonate more broadly, in South Florida and beyond. "There's so much potential in this genre," Oni says of what its practitioners have dubbed "minimal electronics." "It's up-tempo, has strong rhythms and beats. It has a dark allure that I believe people could love if they gave it a chance."
Neither Oni nor Jeancarlo is the most likely champion of this rare, often-misunderstood movement, which emerged from continental Europe in the early '80s. Oni, who has lived in Miami since relocating from Cuba at an early age, studied the harp at the New World School of the Arts. And Jeancarlo's earliest and most enduring love is classical music, which he continues to explore through synth-based compositions under the alias Fioritura.
Nonetheless, both also found themselves drawn to darker, more aggressive fare such as Throbbing Gristle and Zoviet France, and met while attending club nights in the mid-'90s. Sean's 8*, a longtime fixture on the Miami club circuit and frequent Jeancarlo collaborator, fondly remembers the era. "The most famous [club night] was the Kitchen Club, which played '80s and New Wave, gothic and industrial. Back in the day, it was pretty intense," he says. "People dressed up, and when you went there, you felt like you were going to a vampire club or something. But little by little, the culture faded away."
The Kitchen Club petered out, but its demise seems to have only strengthened Oni and Jeancarlo's resolve. Opus Finis remains the pair's primary focus, but they have spearheaded a number of side projects. These include Staccato du mal (Jeancarlo solo), the Siamese Pearl (Oni solo), and Flesh Græy Display (Jeancarlo and Sean's 8*). Another unaffiliated local project by the name of Ronin has also sprung up, towing the line of a similar sound.
Unfortunately, local live performances for all, including Opus Finis, have been scarce. Oni claims he would like to play out more frequently but says finding an appropriate lineup can be troublesome. "It's hard to play with, say, a bunch of glam artists," he says. "It doesn't go well with our sound, so it's tough for us to do shows in Miami, because when we try to do shows, [bookers] want to put us with whoever's hip."
Apparently, South Florida's loss has been New York City's gain. Opus Finis has found ardent support from Wierd Records, a Brooklyn-based label specializing in minimal electronics and French coldwave, a guitar-based movement descended from the icy post-punk of Joy Division. Wierd has hosted Opus Finis on two occasions as part of its club nights in New York, which feature live performances from contemporary bands that embrace the label's ominous aesthetic.
Clips from the Opus Finis appearances posted on YouTube capture a rare intensity and focus. Clad in black, Jeancarlo commands a phalanx of keyboards. Oni stalks the stage, words tumbling out of his mouth as if he's possessed. It's an intensity born of improvisation: Opus Finis shows have no set, no predetermined course or destination.
According to Oni, before taking the stage, he and Jeancarlo ask each other only one question: "How are we feeling today?" Explains Oni: "If I'm feeling a bit off, Ramiro will do a mid-tempo beat, and whatever I'm feeling, well, I'll just say it."
"The songs you heard at our show, you'll never hear again. I don't plan to redo them," Jeancarlo adds. "Whatever came out that day, that's it." Some people might bristle at the prospect of going to a show that promises no rehearsed material, but Oni and Jeancarlo insist the approach forces them to stay fully engaged from beginning to end. It's difficult to argue with the results.
Pieter Schoolwerth, a renowned visual artist and the founder of Wierd Records, is also a vocal supporter of the duo's efforts and has known Jeancarlo since the early part of this decade. They bonded online after they realized they were trading, selling, and collecting the same rare vinyl recordings. "We both buy and sell a lot of stuff online, and we were both very avid about doing parties and DJing our favorite records," Schoolwerth says. "He turned me on to a ton of music I didn't know." They finally met in person in 2004 when Schoolwerth threw a Wierd party in Miami. They have, in Schoolwerth's words, been close allies ever since. Wierd has released tracks from each of Oni's and Jeancarlo's various projects — save for Fioritura — on label compilations, and handled distribution for Opus Finis's debut album, Pursue the Tragic Tune, late last year.