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emcecil on 07/09/2012 at 03:00PM

Dress Up As Natives: "You Had to Be There"

DressUpAsNatives_frontreducedThey shared bills with contemporaries like the Five, Carsickness and the Cardboards, but unlike those bands, Pittsburgh's Dress Up As Natives sounded every bit a "lost" UK DIY act.  Boasting jumpy rhumba-bass, thorny guitar and flippant vox, it's hard to believe that this all-female quartet's sole 45 (Public Records, '82) originated in America's formative Rust Belt punk scene.

But, hey: It did.  This odd outfit actually began as the Non-Stops, a similarly wavey group with a co-ed roster.  "The Non-Stops were basically the original Natives with someone named Rebecca playing bass," said Gina Cotton Simpson, former keys player for DUAN.  "Rather than kick her out, they all quit on her and restarted the band to form Dress Up As Natives."

That was sometime in '81, and they'd already forged their own sound through shows at the now-legendary Electric Banana, gigs in Market Square, occasional road trips to Ohio and West Virginia -- and through frequent practices at the Krishna House, where Simpson once lived along with members of the Five and Carsickness. 

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emcecil on 06/16/2012 at 10:30AM

Blow Away Your Troubles: A Note on Martin Newell and the Cleaners from Venus

Cleaners_3resized_1334821703_crop_550x671Martin Newell missed UK punk.  Or, rather, it missed him.  "I felt that punk was a party which had been partly my idea," he told me through recent e-mail correspondence, "but which I then ended up not going to because it was already too crowded."

He'd skirt the party's periphery some years later, through various in-roads in the late '70s and '80s, but he'd already been making music years before young, excited Brits would shrug off glam-rock hangovers and coalesce into their own units, such as the Damned, the Clash and, of course, the Sex Pistols.

Indeed, before glam flamboyance rolled over to punk's increasingly rabid trappings, Newell was already a seasoned player in the heady bacchanal popularized by Slade, the Sweet and Mott the Hoople.  At 20 years of age, he served as the frontman to Plod, a raucous glitter group who played often to great response, recorded a series of clap-and-stomp "hits" in '75, then folded due to what he now characterizes as "a dodgy record company."  (Italy's Rave-Up Records issued the recordings on LP some 35 years later.)  At Plod's demise, he wasted little time in joining another group, Gypp, and they continued to mine glam territory, now tempering it with prog-like exploration.

Their exploration was largely on-stage, however.  "Gypp was a great live band," said Newell, "and a brilliant bunch of guys. I'd just had three years on the road with them and was very frustrated with not being able to spend time recording."

Exacerbating that frustration with Gypp's slim recording schedule was the band's lack of positive critical reviews -- of which there were some, but not enough -- and as the '70s wore on, Newell found himself through with Gypp, done with life on the road.  But not with music altogether.

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emcecil on 05/17/2012 at 03:45PM

Digital Stimulation: An Interview with the Units' Scott Ryser

Daily_texanSuicide may have lit the torch in the mid-'70s, but one could argue that by decade's end, its carriers lived on the other side of the country -- in San Francisco.  Sure, L.A. had the Screamers and some other odd ducks.  But SF hosted an impressive number of bent bands who used synths, tape machines and other electrical apparatus to extend punk's mutated left end by leaps/bounds.  Informed by avant garde composers and performance artists, fueled by apocalyptic abandon and paranoid pop twitch, groups like Tuxedomoon, Nervous Gender, the Residents, Factrix, Minimal Man, Chrome, and Pink Section would release timeless slabs of aggresively bizarre noise -- as would the Units, whose Digital Stimulation LP (415 Records, 1980) remains a personal favorite.  The album's a lush and moody salvo if there ever was one, and I was thrilled to ask former lead synth player and vocalist Scott Ryser (right) a few questions about the band and its M.O. by e-mail last week.

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the units, analog synth, punk
emcecil on 01/26/2012 at 06:52PM

Demo to London: The Handgrenades / Sponsors Story

Handgrenades, 1978In '79, the Handgrenades issued what would become the best UK DIY punk single not actually from the UK: their "Demo to London" b/w "Coma Dos" 45, self-released in an undetermined quantity on the band's unnamed imprint.

The single is a killer.  It was also once a source of profound mystery -- to collectors and wayward punk geeks, at least.  Omitted on the sleeve are the band's roster, their location and where they recorded their material, and the only nuggets of information profferred are a production credit attributed to Bob Levitan and the word "phonographix." Given this anonymity, and in light of the title and subject of "Demo to London" -- not to mention the otherworldly cut-up cover art, production, vocals, and musicianship (or lack thereof) -- many took the band's provenance to be London, or perhaps the outskirts of Manchester.  The flip's manic "Coma Dos" sheds even less light on the single's origin, and the listener's left with a clang-punk artifact of the highest random order, reminiscent of contemporaries like Swell Maps, the Petticoats, Desperate Bicycles, so on, so forth.

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emcecil on 12/16/2011 at 10:38AM

Art Is Dead: Exploring the Comic and the Cosmic with Phantom Payn

SWScan00029Jürgen Gleue is done with music.  He quit sometime in the mid-'90s.  That's when he gave his instruments and equipment away to local musicians in Hannover, Germany.  He hasn't played a note since.

"And now," Gleue said when I spoke with him on the phone some months ago, "I have the comics for recreational purposes."

Much like the songs he recorded in his various outfits -- most notably, the legendary 39 Clocks, and his solo project, Phantom Payn -- his comics are playful, sardonic and, above all else, hallucinatory.  He self-publishes them in runs of 50 or so, then hands them out to friends, acquaintances and strangers in the streets of Hannover. 

"But why comics?" I asked.

"I like the way small fanzines relate to larger magazines, especially in terms of subversion," he returned.

Subversion's always been a big part of Gleue's life, especially in terms of art.  Or as he calls it, "primitive art, a sort of anti-art."  From the early '70s through most of the '80s, he and co-conspirator Christian Henjes/C.H.-39 took immense pleasure in crafting crude, provocative ditties like "Stupid Art" -- noisy and anthemic tunes that borrowed as much from the monkeyshines of Dada as they did the repetition of the Velvet Underground and the rank confrontation and canned beats of Suicide, whose live show directly influenced the Clocks' antagonism.  They played often, despite -- or because of -- threats from angry crowds, cross words from prestigious artists (Joseph Beuys) and a hefty influx of drink and drug.

Such chaotic creative tension couldn't last long.  Impressively, though, their self-proclaimed "psycho beat" endured until '87 or so.  And when the smoke cleared, J.G.-39 started recording moodier solo efforts under the name Phantom Payn.

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emcecil on 12/02/2011 at 10:55AM

"Hit and Run": Jack Ruby (Finally) Rides Again

Jack ruby"It's weird," says Robin Hall, erstwhile vocalist of formative NY punks/no-wavers Jack Ruby.  "But I actually thought we should have hit records."

They didn't, of course.  How could they?  As early as '74, the toothsome quartet was making quite a racket in Lower Manhattan -- too much racket, really, and the Bowery bohemes flocking to see Television and the New York Dolls were unsure of a band that seemed to thrive on sheets of schizophrenic noise.  Robin and his bandmates considered groups like Television and the Dolls distant peers, and they hoped for some sort of recognition in the Lower East Side, but it was clear that Jack Ruby didn't fit.  They couldn't, and didn't want to.

"Bands like Television had their thing, which wasn't what we were doing," says Hall today.  "We had our own way of doing things.  It was more like, 'If everybody's doing that, let's do this.'" 

Contrarian and abrasive as they were, Jack Ruby had something.  Some of their songs sounded familiar -- at least for the first 30 seconds or so -- borrowing riffs and rhythms from the Stooges, the Velvets, the MC5, various hard rock and garage bands.  But there lurked an unhinged, paranoiac collage of amphetemine noise in each of their tunes, due in no small part to drummer Randy Cohen's cracked synth and manipulated sound loops, not to mention Boris Policeband's equally squalid electric viola.  While Hall would sneer through his lines and sniff at imaginary jailbait, guitarist Chris Gray wiggled out strangulated leads, and Cohen and Policeband attacked their respective instruments, building a mountainous scraping cacophony atop what began as a fairly planar rock/roll number.  In some cases, the sonic bedlam would prove too heavy and unwieldy for the song itself to support, and it would disintegrate abruptly. 

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emcecil on 11/10/2011 at 10:19AM

Brooklyn's K-Holes Key Up New Alb

KholesbandpicMy favorite local band, the K-Holes, are currently mixing their as-yet-untitled sophomore LP, due out this coming April.  The second album's sure to be a great follow-up to their excellent debut on Hozac Records, since this local quintent's recent live shows tell of a compellingly primal mix of Scientists-mach-two drudgery, desolate Western twang and incisive punk.  "Window in the Wall," a serpentine number from their upcoming full-length, also speaks of a band that's learned to exercise a bit of subtlety, a gang that's stretched beyond its own boundaries and moved on to grayer, greater pastures.

But, hey, don't let the collected cool of the above fool you -- the K-Holes are still fiery as ever, and New Yorkers can see for themselves this Friday, Nov. 11, at Bushwick's Goodbye Blue Monday, where they'll take the stage with Sediment Club, Monstress, Lobby Art and Geek Skull.

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k-holes, brooklyn
emcecil on 11/03/2011 at 09:29AM

The Marijuana Q: Twistin' One Up w/ Stan Hubbs

Hubbs_cover_lgIt's Thursday.  It's sunny and it's growing colder in New York.  I'm on the phone with Will Louviere, one of the fellas behind Companion Records.  I've never met Will.  He's never met Stan Hubbs.  Neither have I.  And we can't meet him, because Hubbs is dead.

"It true he died from smoking too much pot?" I ask Will.

There's laughter, of course, though not much -- Will's probably fielded this question one too many times since he reissued Hubbs's private-press rock meisterwerk, Crystal, this past summer.

"Well," he says, "that's up for debate.  No one will ever really know the truth on that one.  But if anyone could, it was Stan."

I'd guess as much.  Ever since reading the outlandish marijuana anecdote in the latest edition of Patrick Lundborg's outsider-rock encyclopedia, The Acid Archives, and ever since I've been priveleged enough to pore over the reissue and thumb through its amazing lyric booklet, it's been clear to me that Hubbs was at least a consummate 'head, a dyed-in-the-wool '60s/'70s relic who nailed down an impossibly hazy and lysergic hard-psych recording in '82 -- years after such music was fashionable or fathomable.  He had to be grinding seeds/stems way back when.

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emcecil on 10/13/2011 at 09:54AM

Acute Records Reanimates the Disco Zombies

Disco Zombies - Drums Over LondonIn '79, Leicester's Disco Zombies self-released their debut single: "Drums Over London."  The tune was a strong, driving punk number, a mix of the Buzzcocks' charged pop and Subway Sect's ironic commentary on life in the UK.

But the irony largely fell on deaf -- or dense -- ears.  While the band intended the song as a swipe at nationalist and racist sentiments pervading the UK in the late '70s, many who heard it on John Peel's program misinterpreted its message entirely.  Some complained, requesting Peel remove it from his playlist.  Some embraced the song with little regard for Dave Henderson's acerbic vocal, for guitarist Andy Ross's sardonic lyric, and they took the song as a serious anthem.  Others understood the band's spirited message and appreciated their energetic take on punk, and the Disco Zombies quickly sold through 2,000 copies of their first 45.

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disco zombies
emcecil on 10/06/2011 at 11:42AM

Cheater Slicks: Twenny Years of Toil

Cheater Slicks by Chris Anderson  While some bands manage to slag through endless, soulless recs/tours 20-plus years into their existence, Columbus, OH's Cheater Slicks are anomalous in their insistence to continually evolve -- to remain not only a relevant group, but a damn good one after two decades of artful scree.

Indeed, 2007's Walk Into the Sea (Dead Canary Records) spoke of a gang who'd grown sharper in tooth.  Recent tours and weekenders have been just as fierce as ever.  If anything, the Slicks may be better than they were ten years ago, when most others would've already hit their prime, would've run ragged, recycled same old/same old. 

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