Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bush Tetras / Tribute to Laura Kennedy

Vintage Bush Tetras: Pat Place, Dee Pop, Cynthia Sley, Laura Kennedy (RIP)
Tonight I found myself in the cheesy bowels of Bowery Electric in Manhattan, in the front row watching Bush Tetras sprint through an inspired set of their classic material in tribute to their recently departed original bassist Laura Kennedy. It was a loose, heartfelt performance and it provoked my thoughts. The act of being in a band is an extremely tribal one and an event like the one I witnessed tonight reinforced my notion that when the dust settles, the band itself remains at the core of the ritual when all the hangers-on recede into the woodwork. The crowd was small, but did it really need to be bigger? No.

I first heard Bush Tetras in 1987.  I remember saving my kiddie allowance to get a copy of their excellent ROIR live cassette release "Wild Things" at my local record store. The band were the direct offspring of the original New York no wave scene, with guitarist Pat Place having done time in the classic lineup of James Chance's Contortions. The group were somewhat more dancefloor friendly than the archetypal no wave bands, but maintained a challenging mesh of dissonant, bracing guitar over a bouncy foundation of rock-solid drumming. One of the first things that hit me about Bush Tetras' sound was the unique vocals of Cynthia Sley: her lascivious, off-key yawp is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it proposition and it definitely took time to grow on me. The ROIR tape was full of evocative monosyllabic titles like "Damned", "Voodoo", "Jaws", "Rituals", "Enemies" and "Stare". This was dark, squalid fare. I was hooked.

After their auspicious live debut in February 1980, Bush Tetras quickly rose to the top of the NYC club scene hot on the heels of their debut 7" on 99 Records featuring the hauntingly minimalistic, Billboard-charting hit "Too Many Creeps".  Within a year of forming, the foursome toured Europe and the US extensively. The walloping "Punch Drunk", taken from a live Februrary 1981 UK performance included on the obscure compilation album "Still Swimming" (Stiff Records US), showcased a new-found muscularity and confidence in their sound. Their sketchy, unfinished-sounding 1981 studio EP "Rituals" (Fetish/Stiff Records) was even "produced" by then-Clash drummer Topper Headon. They seemed destined for some degree of stardom, but things started to fizzle out (as sometimes happens to the best of them) around 1983 when the original rhythm section departed. Bush Tetras never made a full-length album in their prime, but luckily numerous compilations of various live and studio tracks exist, including the excellent compendium of rare tracks, "Tetrafied" (Thirsty Ear).

Laura Kennedy. Photo by Joe Stevens

The band reformed in the mid-90s, cutting a grunge-tinged record for Tim/Kerr Records. Soon after, Laura Kennedy was permanently replaced by fledgling four-stringer Julia Murphy and the group continued to re-emerge sporadically, with a significantly higher profile during the last half decade or so. Unfortunately Kennedy fought for a long time against health issues stemming from Hepatitis C, so many of the BT's recent performances took on a benefit-themed air. She passed away on November 14, 2011 in Minneapolis.

One major thing I noticed about Bush Tetras tonight was their inextricable link as friends. They hilariously argued on stage about the set order like brothers and sisters fighting at the dinner table, shooting volleys of eye-rolls and snickers instead of mashed potatoes and peas. In performance, each member of the band operates in their own private microcosm: on either end of the stage, Pat Place wrenched obtuse clusters from her guitar while wandering around impatiently while Julia Murphy headbanged relentlessly, coaxing out angular ostinatos in careful controlled gestures. At the rear position, Dee Pop smashed his drums with barely controlled fury and frontperson Cynthia Sley intoned her macabre lyrics, swaying autonomously with eyes closed or laying down colorful accents on various percussion. The short, but excellent set included "Cowboys In Africa", "Making A Mistake", "Boom", "Too Many Creeps", "Can't Be Funky", "Voodoo" and "(You Taste Like) The Tropics". The music was very driving and loud. Luckily, Dee Pop never forgot that drums exist to be punished and when one does so, rock and roll tends to come roaring out of them a lot easier!

The audience mostly consisted of friends of the band. It was a definite tribute event for Laura and not a routine "gig". I felt lucky to be there. The band's music and legacy are important to me and I was glad I could pay some respects, as meager as that might be (incidentally, I did donate to Kennedy's medical costs a few years ago). After the set, I mostly sat there alone and pondered quietly, despite the fact that it might have been an excellent chance for me to hob-knob with various luminaries and cognoscenti. Ultimately, I don't really try to force myself on people. I'm fine being alone. I'm used to being on the outside looking in. I don't want to insert myself in other people's scenes unless they want me there, and if they want me there, they'll let me know. I'm fine being a bystander in certain situations like this. I too operate in my own weird little microcosm, but sometimes it intersects with others.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bhob Rainey/Weasel Walter Duo

A free stream/download of an edited version of the concert Bhob Rainey and I played together recently in New Orleans. Following are Bhob's notes:

"Weasel and I probably would have met, anyway, but the person who introduced us was our mutual friend, Bill Pisarri (RIP). In fact, the only time we played together prior to this outing was in 1999 with Bill and Greg Kelley (Greg and I drove 36 hours straight from a gig in San Francisco to make that show on time. It was at Myopic Books in Chicago. Total fee: $0. It was worth it. We also recorded two short tracks in Bill's apartment immediately upon our arrival, both of which appeared on our first Intransitive release, the title of which is too long to repeat here).

Anyway, Rob Cambre set up this show for Weasel and I at the Mudlark Public Theatre in New Orleans. Probably two of the ten people who heard about it thought, "That's an odd pairing," and by virtue of having that thought, they sucked for a short period of time. I mean, in 1999, there were plenty of people who thought that I was the quietest saxophone player ever, while an equal amount of people thought that Weasel was an enormous asshole (=not quiet, intelligent, musical, etc.). Chalk it up to those people being naive, but it's 2011 for Xmas's sake. Is there no intellectual progress in this civilization?

Anyway, this is what we did at the Mudlark. We like it. It's got a nice structure. We'd do it again. I hope you enjoy it, and Weasel probably hopes so, too."
released 20 December 2011 - Bhob Rainey - soprano saxophone/Weasel Walter - drums with Cree McCree - inciting and critique

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weird Records I Bought in High School

In my teenage years during the late '80s, I was in a unique historical position to gain knowledge about real alternative music. I was in the right place, at the right time. Before the dawn of the internet, most of the tips I had on strange culture came from solitary research, primarily through various books and magazines. I was glued to reference tomes like the concisely crititcal "Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records" and a bunch of other telephone-book thickness, dry-as-toast books whose titles now escape me. Compendiums of writing by people like Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs also contained big hints and clues as did magazines from the obscure (Forced Exposure, Chemical Imbalance, Butt Rag), middle ground (Option, Alternative Press) and newsstand (SPIN, Rolling Stone). I would spend hours at the public library looking for references to weird bands. If I came up with anything interesting, I immediately jotted it down for future use. I still have several notebooks I started around the age 11 which are devoted exclusively to lists of personnel and their discographies. From this obsessive research I was able to quickly discern a trajectory of development running through many genres of modern music. Instinctually, I was interested in dissonance. I wanted to hear "the wrong notes". I was equally interested in modern classical cacophony, wild free jazz, atonal no wave and anything else that sounded like a total mess. It all made sense to me and I craved hearing as much this stuff as I could find. Most other people were happy with whatever mainstream crap was foisted on them I but I always needed more than that. Luckily I took the initiative to look for it all.

By 1985, I was financially able to start buying a few of my own records here and there. The radio wasn't really cutting it for me anymore. I was too curious about the big universe of the underground scene out there. Luckily my podunk Illinois town had not one, but THREE killer record stores. One of the greatest aspects of record stores during the '80s was the phenomenon of the cut-out bin. Most records have always had a point where they just don't sell anymore, so the label would eventually be stuck with a lot of bulky stock that would never go anywhere. So, the labels would dump their overstock for pennies on the dollar to a cut-out dealer, just to get rid of it all. What this meant was, you could go to any record store - underground or mainstream - and find all these cool, weird sealed LPs for a few bucks that nobody wanted. Nobody, except for me, of course. I remember going into a totally square, corporate chain store in 1989, and buying a Dils live record for a dollar, for example. Hilarious. They didn't know what it was, and certainly didn't care. It was junk that just came in the box from the cut-out distributor as far as the store was concerned. Those were the days!

Trouser Press Guide: MEMORIZED
The 229-CLUB doubled as a very cutting edge place to buy punk records in addition to being a teeny-bopper new wave juice bar. My friends and I would meet there and play SST singles on their jukebox, taking frequent breaks to make fun of the goth wussies dancing to early Ministry or Yaz. Around 1985, I saw the epic 1981 new wave performance film "Urgh! A Music War" and I was blown away by the diversity and uniqueness of all the bands featured in the movie. Even the shitty ones were great! Something about the rawness of the music being performed totally live - watching all these musicians break an actual sweat - connected strongly with me. The highpoint for me was a totally crazed performance by the Cramps. Seeing their battle-scarred, monstrous looking singer Lux Interior lose his mind in front of a frothing crowd of drooling cretins was unlike anything I had ever seen. I immediately went out and bought their first album "Songs The Lord Taught Us" (IRS Records) and devoured it whole. I also spent a lot of time waiting for a specially-ordered copy of the "Urgh!" soundtrack to come in. For a while, 229-CLUB was a dependable source for locating records of bands I saw during those seedy, weary hours of late night cable TV. For example, I paid a paltry $2.99 for a copy of The Residents' twisted "Third Reich and Roll" LP (Ralph Records) after seeing the pioneering video from the album. Nobody else was interested: I just walked into the store and there it was, waiting for me! My first James Chance, Chrome, Eno, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Magazine and Gun Club LPs came from that same lowly, neglected bin. The store also stocked many of the great early ROIR cassette releases by The Contortions, 8-Eyed Spy, Television, Bush Tetras, Glenn Branca Richard Hell, Einsturzende Neubauten and the like. I believe I still have receipts for some of these purchases laying around in the archives. The mere acquisition of some of those records became serious landmarks for me at the time. One year, my grandmother asked me what I wanted for Christmas and sent her with a laundry list: The Birthday Party "Junk Yard", Sonic Youth "Bad Moon Rising" and Lydia Lunch "In Limbo". She did a pretty good job. They didn't have a copy of "Junk Yard", so the clerk recommended "Prayers On Fire" instead. Fair enough. By early 1987 or so, 229-CLUB shut its doors. I remember the last time I went there, after it had downscaled to another smaller location, and I bought a Chrome/Bauhaus videotape from them for a few bucks. It was a bittersweet moment, but luckily there were other places around to suss out.

Another store in my hometown featuring a wider scope of genres was the venerable Appletree Records. One might buy prog, jazz or mainstream rock records there in addition to the punk/new wave stuff. After the decline of 229-CLUB, I quickly installed myself at Appletree as the resident "young kid who knows too much about music". At one point I had typed up a flier featuring a list of records I was dying to hear which politely asked anyone who saw it to make me copies (featuring stuff like John Coltrane's "Ascension", 1/2 Japanese's "1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts", the Mars EP and other crazy shit I had read about). This sheet went straight up on the wall of Appletree Records, however I got no response. Ha ha ha. I was pretty desperate. There were a lot of records you would hear about and just couldn't find, no matter how hard you tried. Those were different times. My first Albert Ayler record (.99 cents!) came from that store as well as slabs by Material, Art Bears, Killing Joke, Lounge Lizards, Dead Kennedys, James Blood Ulmer, Flipper, Last Exit, Blurt, Shockabilly, Johnny Thunders, Pussy Galore and more. I would occasionally special order vinyl there, like the Antilles label stuff (Slits, "No New York", Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society). I remember how psyched I would get when some crazy record I was looking for wound up there by chance. I recall barely containing my excitement when a sealed copy of Ornette Coleman's "Body Meta" surfaced in their bins for $3.99. I was buying all kinds of straight retail stuff there too like Stooges and Captain Beefheart records, early Frank Zappa remaster cassettes on Rykodisc and not-so-hot contemporary releases on the Shimmy Disc and Caroline labels. Give me a break, okay? Back in 1988, you had to buy the new Live Skull record! There was not much else coming out that didn't suck! The store had a lot of weird imports and I now kick myself for not snatching up some of the choice items. I remember finding Essential Logic singles and stuff like that in there for a few bucks a piece, but you couldn't buy it all, especially not on my meager budget. At one point I blew a chance to work there because I was a bit too naive and honest when it came to the "morals and integrity" section of their application. Adolescent note to self: instead of telling the truth, tell your employer what they want to hear when you want to get the job. Check.

The third cornerstone was a bizarre local institution tagged Toad Hall, which was a three-level affair in a house run by a couple of old weirdos, one of which was long rumored to have had a sex-change operation. They sold comics, movie posters, books, porn mags, old board games, video tapes, records - any kind of superfluous collector garbage you wanted/needed. I originally started going there around '84 or so, looking for cheap copies of '60 Jack Kirby Marvel Comics, but eventually realized they had some cool records there also. When I was young, my parents were reticent to let me go in the place alone. It was a bit creepy. I would head there on Saturday afternoons by myself and scour their basement for jems, emptying unlabeled and unpriced boxes of vinyl and spinning whatever I found on their crappy listening station turntables. In '87, I was absolutely dying to hear more James Chance and one afternoon I just waltzed in there, and used copies of the first Contortions and James White and the Blacks records were just sitting there for four bucks each! The musty used record shelves at Toad Hall were where I got some serious back history research done. I was digging out battered old Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Hampton Grease Band, Black Pearl, Last Poets, MC5, Funkadelic, Godz, Blue Cheer, Pere Ubu, Massacre and Material records - you name it. Lester Bangs would have been proud. My serious 8-track collection started there too after finding some '65 Coltrane, King Crimson, Yoko Ono, Beefheart, Mothers of Invention and other cool stuff like that. The real motherlode came in 1988 when I was on the prowl for free jazz. One day a ton of new boxes sat on the front table of the shop. Like a magnet to steel, I was drawn towards them. The jerk who hung around the store acting like he worked there (you know the type), told me to move along and that there would be nothing interesting to me there. I said, "how do you know?" He just smirked. I began to dig through the crates and my eyeballs just about popped out of my skull. Here were hundreds of classic free jazz records, and I had the first dibs! I frantically grabbed a bunch of the gems and sheepishly went to the counter to ask how much I was going to get wallet-raped for them. The guy at the counter, looked them over, shrugged his shoulders and said "four bucks each". I almost passed out from relief. I walked out of there with a clean copy of  Sonny Sharrock's BYG record "Monkey Pockie Boo", a sealed copy of Ornette's "Science Fiction", Don Cherry/Ed Blackwell's "Mu Part One" and Archie Shepp's "Fire Music" for less than 20 bucks. I would be back in that place week after week for years, plunking my chump change on the counter and stocking up on Pharoah Sanders, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, Sun Ra, Roswell Rudd, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jazz Composers Orchestra and that sort of thing. At the time, their normal jazz stacks were full of '70s Miles Davis records too, so I was buying funky used copies of "On The Corner", "Get Up With It" and "Agharta" for a few bucks each. Back then, you couldn't even give those records away. Toad Hall was continually getting in some extremely obscure used items. I don't know how they got there, or who the hell from my town might have bought them the first time around! Two complete mystery records were L. Voag's "The Way Out" and "No Cowboys" by Prag-Vec. I bought both of these because they sounded interesting, but it would take years and years to figure out what they actually were and who they were by. There was very little access to this kind of information back then. Imagine liking a record a lot and not knowing who it was by! That used to actually happen. For years after I left town for college, I would continue to return sporadically to Toad Hall and root through every last nook and cranny looking for one last hidden nugget.
My 1989 NMDS want list. None of these were in stock. EVER.
Another surefire source for underground releases back in the era was mail order. Essentially, one might spy a provocative ad and then send a few bucks or a self-addressed stamped envelope to get some kind of catalog back. I was ordering direct from labels like ROIR (the hallowed cassette-only label), Subterranean Records (home of Flipper and other West Coast noisemakers) and Ralph Records (The Residents, et al.). A lot of the weirder, more non-idiomatic music I was looking for came from tuned-in independent music hubs like Systematic and NMDS. Their catalogs were like bibles to me. I would absorb the descriptions of the groups and their releases, chewing it all up and carefully determining what to send away for with my paltry allowance. You always had to send a big list of alternates to these places and hope you got what you wanted because generally most items went in and out of stock at random. It was always a big kick to get that box of LPs in the mail, opening it and digging through to see what came. Sometimes the distros would even throw in free stuff for kicks. I was ordering early Elliott Sharp records from Systematic for cheap as well as various unknown noise rock stuff. NMDS, founded by Carla Bley and located in New York City, sent me a massive catalog with a Keith Haring cover one year, supplying me with a direct line to bizarre slabs by Ornette Coleman, DNA, Borbetomagus, Kip Hanrahan, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Jayne Cortez, Sedition Ensemble and more. I think the place was bankrupt by '89 or '90, but browsing through their catalog these days, is like scanning a rare records list. Oh, if I had only bought those Arthur Doyle and Milford Graves records when they were only 8 bucks each!

I am glad I came to age in an era which didn't offer instant gratification. I learned how to seriously search for things and also how to truly savor them once they were found. In terms of recorded music in the Western world, these are bygone concepts. Culture is suffering from cracked-out short-attention deficit and it's hard to say if things will ever come back around. It is difficult to convey to younger people the feeling of what it was like to have to be so vigilant and intrepid to locate the music you really wanted to hear . . . the process isn't necessarily superior to how things work now, but it's what I know.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ugEXPLODE Influences #3: The Pop Group "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?"

Left: The original Pop Group lineup: Gareth Sager, Mark Stewart, Bruce Smith, John Waddington, Simon Underwood
The Pop Group sprung frothing with iconoclasm from dreary Bristol, England in 1978. Typifying the embryonic "post punk" ethos, the band extended the range of DIY outrage past the narrow limitations of rock and roll through Situationist-inspired chaos as well as heavy jazz, funk and dub influences. Comprised of five idealistic, reputedly arrogant teenaged boys, the group quickly made a splash in the UK press, landing high-profile tours with Patti Smith and Pere Ubu.

Despite the fact that their band name would eventually ring totally ironic, the early sound of The Pop Group was indeed still related to pop music forms - a briskly executed blend of melodic, jangling rock over a busy, syncopated rhythm section topped by singer Mark Stewart's delirious howl. The subject matter during their early period tended towards vague, philosophical matters of individualism and injustice in society - i.e. a concerns of intelligent adolescents looking for something greater than what their own surroundings might readily offer. They laid down their first John Peel session in July 1978. The recording engineer at the session, Bill Aitken recalls:
"The Pop Group were the most obnoxious bunch of prats I ever had the misfortune to record. Their instruments sounded bad, they couldn’t play in tune or in time, their act (I refuse to use the word songs) was crap, and like many acts of the punk / new wave era, they were arrogant beyond belief. I remember working hard to get the backing tracks to sound respectable – and when the band came in for a playback the reaction was to inform me by means of a high volume harangue that “You make a shit sound!” The drummer then went on to insist that I make him sound “like David Bowie’s drummer”. I didn’t even bother debating the issue with them. Because they were so bad, they overran the double session. We only just got the backing tracks down by the early hours of the morning, and had to arrange another session for remix. I was pleased, because I was dreading the mix, and hoped that they would not have the time to turn up for the second session. On the remix session, just as I was about to lay down the first track on 1/4″, the band turned up. They asked if they could hear the track before I laid it. The reaction was predictable (“the sound is a load of shit!…. etc). Anyway, as I played the track through again, trying to decode from the bullshit around me anything valid that might help get the recording more to their liking, the vocalist leaned over, pulled up the “lead vocal” fader to levels that were technically overloaded and artistically crass and said – “I want more vocal”.
For a joke, I grabbed the fader and said “oh … you mean like this!” – and I proceeded to wank the fader up and down furiously in time with the music. I fully expected to savour the satisfaction of insulting them all, but to my amazement, the reaction was “hey …. that’s great!!!!” Stung into action, I compounded the lunacy of the situation, and so I started doing the same alternately with the bass and drums and – not content with screwing around with the levels – I started to put the most ridiculous eq on everything, and to feed-back the delay lines and reverbs to each other – almost to the point of oscillation. Looking back, I suppose the band had a point. If I hadn’t done something ridiculous to distract the listener, the Great British public would have been that much more aware that what they were witnessing really was a load of crap. Anyway, to add insult to injury, the following week the Melody Maker referred to the “amazing John Peel tapes” in reviewing the Pop Group – and I was told that on the strength of my tapes, the band had managed to get themselves on the Patti Smith tour. This was the only time I remember a BBC session getting a positive review in a music mag! What a travesty! It was about this time that I started thinking about making a move to earn a living outside studios. The whole punk thing was a joke for me, and I became very disillusioned with some of my colleagues at Radio 1, who seemed to be succumbing to the “king’s new suit of clothes” syndrome. I think the passing of time has sorted out the wheat from the chaff. Who remembers the Pop Group? For that matter who remembers Patti Smith?"
Who remembers Patti Smith or The Pop Group? Well, who remembers Bill Aitken? Who remembers ANYTHING at this point? Recently the Pitchfork-friendly alt-pop act St. Vincent a.k.a. singer Annie Clark has been performing a faithful cover of The Pop Group's first single "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" live, having even played the song on a recent broadcast of the Jimmy Fallon Show. In a Youtube video from a Texas gig, Clark asks the audience "Who has heard of The Pop Group?" Two or three people cheer (sounding like sycophants, ready to salute anything coming of Clark's mouth) and the rest of the crowd is dead silent. After the song is finished, the audience, as predicted, applauds ecstatically for it, no differently than the songs preceding and following it. Is it a surprise that a large audience of pop-culture addicted sheep haven't dug back very deep into the history of music? No. Of course not. Clark herself was only born two years after the group disbanded, and a fuck of a lot has happened since. It is perfectly evident that a minor, defunct band like The Pop Group might be quickly relinquished to the annals of music trivia. It is conceivable that Annie Clark herself only heard of the group after one of their recent reunion performances at various All Tommorow's Party festival functions. Will the people leaving the St. Vincent show wake up the next day and go listen to a Pop Group record? Who fucking cares! The history of great art is not the history of mass popularity and it was clear that the ultimate destiny of The Pop Group was one of extreme artistic non-compromise.

Obviously the band was ready to overturn the musical establishment and the above sort of heated reaction to their fiery modus operandi was proof positive. The three songs from the July '78 Peel Session ("We Are Time", "Words Disobey Me" and "Kiss The Book") are tightly played and highly musical, especially for such young musicians. The mixing style of the session is indeed a few shades more extreme than the sort of slick, straight-ahead balance a typical BBC session might consist of, but the group would soon push the concept of recording-studio-as-instrument much, much further. Signed to American Warner Brothers subsidiary Radar Records, the first official releases by the band appeared during Spring 1979 including the full-length album "Y" and a single featuring "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" backed with the John Cage inspired noise/dub track "3:38". Produced by renowned Reggae icon Dennis Bovell, "Y" strikes a very tentative chord. In a recent interview with Pop Group multi-instrumentalist Gareth Sager, he intimates that Bovell took the job just to make money and that neither he or the band really knew where the other party was coming from. The end result is definitely a bit of a reverb-drenched, muddy mess, albeit an endearing one. Bovell's experimental, dub-tempered production style adds an alien, disembodied air to the band's more straight-ahead numbers and pushes their experimental soundscapes like "Blood Money" and "Savage Sea" straight into outer space. There's something a bit soft and sentimental both sonically and lyrically about the music on "Y" - perhaps the lads were still feeling a bit positive about their world and its potential? 
By November 1979,  any residual sweetness or reticence left was extinguished by the excoriating "We Are All Prositutes" single, released on burgeoning independent UK label Rough Trade. Bassist Simon Underwood - who would go on to found the more mainstream white-funk unit Pigbag - had been replaced by the more agitprop-minded Dan Catsis, who also played in the punk/funk/experimental band Glaxo Babies. "We Are All Prostitutes" begins in a jumble of vocal muttering from guest artist Tristan Honsinger, before the band slices into a caustic, angular funk groove wound tightly around thin guitar cacophony, synthesized hand claps and Stewart's irate, distortion-clad vocal sloganeering. Chaotic outbursts of saxophone, organ and cello appear at random moments and fight the other instruments for space in the dense mix. The Pop Group are now truly playing as if their lives depend on it and this sound is exhilarating. The b-side "Amnesty International Report on British Army Torture of Irish Prisoners" is a fascinating instrumental track beginning with a colorful, Beefheartian tattoo from drummer Bruce Smith and ending in a free improvised threnody over which Stewart morbidly intones a brief, atrocious vignette of political dehumanization. The piece is absolutely dense with detail and dread. This is the sound of a band ready to burn everything to the ground.

The Pop Group's second album "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?" appeared in March 1980 on Rough Trade. For some reason this insane, iconoclastic dervish seems consistently overshadowed by the (barely) more "accessible" debut. The first album is tentative, lazy and unfocused, whereas the second is a sharply edged shank of desperation, lashing out wildly in a uniform frenzy of rabid idealism. A gauntlet is immediately thrown down by the haunting black and white cover art featuring two naked children sharing an innocent kiss in the scorched earth of the Third World. Perhaps this is the greatest, most romantic metaphor for the mission of The Pop Group: young and doomed children trapped in a world they didn't make, trying to find a single glimmer of hope in the darkest situation possible. Contained in the original issue of the LP was a series of large newsprint posters chalked full of more bleak agitprop collage, emblazoned with the irate lyrics of the songs contained. Mark Stewart's focus on "For How Much Longer" encompasses nightmarish images of anguished Cambodia, human rights violations, stealing from the rich, police brutality, pop culture as an accessory to genocide and social indoctrination. The Pop Group were clearly no longer about "fun". They were willing to make polarized, simplistic manifestos about the human condition and that is exactly what makes this music so utterly powerful. It is morose, astringent and relentless on every level, drunken with anger and impulsive incoherence. "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?" is the sound of a band that didn't care if their message "dated", but sought to live each day as its last on the brink of possible nuclear armageddon.
Poster insert from "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?", 1980.
"For How Much Longer . . ." opens with a slice of audio verite of what sounds like Indonesian monkey-chant, or kecak, which starts slow in iteration and builds into a frenzied constellation of voices from which the volcanic rhythm section of Catsis and Smith explode into "Forces Of Oppression". During the blistering funk assault of "Forces", Sager manically switches between abrasive guitar and wah-wah-injected reeds, interjecting skronk and squeal at odd, disruptive intervals. Taped snatches of a TV news report play at one point. There is an amphetamine-fueled thinness to the production here, which contrasts greatly to the soothing lushness of "Y" - it's fair to assume The Pop Group lorded over producer Dave Anderson in order to achieve this strained, unique sonic result. One of the most defining features of the sound is Bruce Smith's piercing, penetrating drumset tone, particularly the acid slashing of his high-hat accents.

"Feed the Hungry" follows at a slower tempo, bolstered by persistent tom-tom rumble, envelope filtered wah-bass and jags of reverbed feedback and guitar noise. Subtle layers of piano arpeggios bubble behind the track. The band is operating from a premise of RHYTHM AND NOISE: the symmetry of their flinty, forceful grooves are constantly rendered lopsided by the various aural violations from Sager and tandem guitarist John Waddington. Over the top, Stewart continues to essay on the vast discrepancies between classes. "One Out Of Many" is an experimental track largely built upon noisy free improvisation laid over the stunning 1972 proto-rap recording "E Pluribus Unum" by The Last Poets. The band is so disinterested in the limitations of their format that they have gone so far as to feature someone else's recording as their own! Obviously this is out of total reverence, as The Last Poets' wrathful decree mirrors the same kind of outspoken radicalism The Pop Group aspired to. "Blind Faith" continues the sort of speedy hate-funk as the opening track, featuring cacophonous organ clusters, more lashings of intense guitar skronk and a thrilling tempo change in the middle section before suddenly crossfading into a chiming, seemingly unrelated coda of guitar harmonics.

The title track is a sinister funk workout which wouldn't seem out of place on a '73-'75 era Miles Davis record if it weren't for Mark Stewart's impassioned bellowing, rising and falling in unruly shifts of volume over the top. The piece is more spacious than any of the previous ones on the record, all of the instruments taking turns dropping out to reveal haunting spaces of electronic ambience before horrific plagues of noisemaking blast the listener once again.  At the end of the track a burbling synthesizer strolls through the stereo field as Stewart succumbs into a defeated whisper, trailing off into a tomb of final silence. "Justice" follows in a relatively bouncy mode as Stewart demands, "Who guards the guards? Who polices the police?" He demands political justice for the use of excessive force by the men who control the Western world on a local and international level and posits that someday they might come knocking on our doors if we don't act out. Mark Stewart, then in his teens, was obviously trying the best he could to utilize the music as a platform for social consciousness, as confused and pretentious as it can seem. This extreme idealism could only come from a youth and it is potent and unguarded in its effect.

"There Are No Spectators" is a downtempo, reggae-like construct, washed in delay and reverb, with scraping violin touches and some pained falsetto from Stewart. Bruce Smith leads the track with the kind of ticky-tacky African-influenced percussion colors he would also use when doing double-duty in the ranks of the seminal punk-cum-world band The Slits. Ultimately, Smith was the musical linchpin around which the Pop Group's music revolved. His endless theme-and-variation approach to rhythmic pulse is hyperactively ingenious, making everything he recorded early on into a sort of garrulous drum concerto. His manic fills and offbeat accents are a constant source of surprise on the Pop Group recordings and helped transform what might have been rote post-punk into something truly special. Stewart proclaims "Escapism is not Freedom!" He's right. Whereas the band may have begun as a trojan horse, trying to infect the pop scene with their revolutionary virus, eventually they became so radical on every level it pushed them out of the mainstream straight into the fringes. People use entertainment as a salve, but at this point The Pop Group are preaching to the converted, a gaping sore on the face of complacency.

"Communicate" is a wild slice of harmolodic improvisation probably influenced directly by Ornette Coleman's 1976 recording "Dancing In Your Head" (Horizon Records). It has the same sort of tumbling melodic bass, repeated melodic fragments and quarter-note stomp factor as the original, but the obnoxious saxophone squealing, found tape inserts, synth
The Pop Group circa 1979: Waddington, Catsis, Sager, Stewart, Smith
accents and bizarre mix pushes the piece into new territory. The album closes with the deceptively jolly "Rob A Bank", featuring some perky trumpet by an unnamed guest. Extolling the strategy of good old Robin Hood, The Pop Group call for a redistribution of wealth. The song ends unexpectedly with a sudden tape edit.

The Pop Group did not gain a wider audience through "For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?" How could it have? It was completely uncompromising, brutal, dissonant and frenzied. This is rarely what the average person wants from their "entertainment". What they succeeded in was creating great art, unlike anything before or after it. The band went on to issue a split single with The Slits as well as an excellent compendium of live, demo and outtake recordings called "We Are Time" (Y Records, 1980). "Where There Is A Will There's A Way" (from the split) and "Amnesty Report" (from "We Are Time") both sound like they came from the same sessions as "For How Much Longer . . .", as a bookend to this particular saga.

During 1980, the group continued to tour Europe as well as playing a show in New York. The swansong of the band came in late October 1980 at a huge outdoor show protesting cruise missiles at Trafalgar Square in London with Killing Joke headlining. Stewart split off from the group to pursue his political interests for a while before re-emerging a few years later with his more electronic/production based group Mark Stewart and the Maffia. Sager and Smith focused more on the purely musical end with their long-running free-jazz tinged group Rip Rig and Panic (which later morphed into Float Up CP) which featured a rotating cast of characters including Neneh Cherry. Waddington and Catsis went on to form the mild punk/funk combo Maximum Joy.

The band (minus John Waddington) has played numerous gigs in the last few years and is threatening a new album one of these days. Of course the reincarnated Pop Group could never match the fully-adrenalized,  hormonal eruptions of their prime, but it should be interesting to see how relevant they can be in the midst of this modern milieu. Hopefully they have some new insight or outrage to add to these decrepit new end times. Youth is not everything. 

ugEXPLODE Influences #1: The Electric Eels

ugEXPLODE Influences #2: Top 10 Roxy Music Songs and why

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ugEXPLODE Gig Update #2

Friday December 16, 2011

CELLULAR CHAOS (plays first)
$7 - 21 + OVER - DOORS 8PM/SHOW 9PM

pictures from previous CELLULAR CHAOS SHOW BY Justina Villanueva

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weasel Walter Hott Mixx Club #3: Weird '70s

For one year between 2004 and 2005, I created a little mix-cd club. Here is edition number Three from the series. Thanks to Phil Plencner for re-posting it:

1. Sir Lord Baltimore - “Hellhound” (1970)
From the s/t debut album by this HEAVY new york group. Pretty much all of the songs on the album are about how mean women have been to the screaming, pcp-inflamed drummer. Their second album sucks, so beware.

2. Carmen - “Bullfight” (1973)
The archetypal glam/flamenco/prog group. Make that the only one. From their debut "Fandangos in Space" (". . . and wearing an outfit of lace!"), this incredibly ambitious, warped group weaves an epic tale of loss and redemption through man vs. beast ritual. The band made two other records before going financially (and creatively) bankrupt and the bass player leaving to join Tull and taking the sexy girl keyboardist with him. They had contact mics on the stage floor so their "footwork" was amplified . . .

Gatefold of Carmen's excellent glam/prog/flamenco epic "Fandangos In Space"
3. Amon Duul 2 - “Ladies Mimikry” (1973)
From the progressive group's "glam" album "Viva La Trance". Sort of a weird precursor to the Contortions white-ampheta-funk stylings with kermit the frog on vocals. This band is better known for its psychedelic jamming, but I love this album the best, with its strange, succinct "pop" vibe! (well, at least for them it's pop.)

4. Streak - “Bang Bang Bullet” (1973)
An english glam obscurity featuring two guys that went on to the equally unknown (to us) Arrows and another guy who played in the early punk band the Vibrators. It's impossible not to like this bouncy little tune. Naturally, the lyrics are replete with some not-so-subtle innuendo.

5. Goblin - “Witch” (1977)OK, this is kind of a late year, but this fucked noise-rock comes from the "Suspiria" soundtrack. These guys are italian.

6. Mirrors - “Another Nail In The Coffin” (1975)
Masters of disaster: The Swee
One group from the mythic Cleveland pre-punk axis featuring Jamie Klimek and Paul Marrotta (also of the Styrenes and Electric Eels). Fine Velvet Underground influenced guitar skronk, this track surfaced on a CLE magazine comp CD that came out about a decade ago and is difficult to find these days. This song might have popped up later on something, but I'm not aware of it. (This track was actually recorded in the mid-80s, but let's pretend it was made in 1975, just for kicks.)

7. Sparks - “Lost and Found” (1974)
Killer B-Side to "Amateur Hour", this is one of my favorite Sparks songs, period.

8. Le Orme - “Contrappunti” (1974)
Some wonderfully angular Emerson, Lake and Palmer inspired italian prog from "Beyond L'eng", a comp of middle period trax by these guys who started out psych and went total Little River Band after the mid-'70s. Basically "Beyond" seems to have all of their great trax, so skip the rest.

9. Dictators - “Two Tub Man” (1975)
Hamburger-rock off the debut album "Go Girl Crazy". What more can I say. Including Ross the Boss of later Manowar infamy. Not-on-this-album Dictators bassist Mark "The Animal" Mendoza went on to play in Twisted "fucking" Sister. The only other good song on this record is "Master Race Rock", trust me. It's not about Nazis.

10. Sweet - “Burning/Someone Else Will” (1973)
Fucking blistering live track from the Sweet's new year's '72/'73 show. The beginning of their laughable misogyny-rock outbursts (which usually come off sounding more pathetic and desperate than oppressive), this song features the haunting chorus "if we don't fuck you, then someone else wiiiilllll!" You won't believe your ears.

11. Simply Saucer - “Electro Rock” (1974)These Canuck rockers successfully melded Hawkwind heaviness with Eno's bleeps and bloops as well as a late Velvets pop sensibility before it was in vogue to do so. From their posthumous album "Cyborgs Revisited".

12. Dust - “Suicide” (1972)
More new york heavy from their second album "Hard Attack". The lyrics say it all. Drummer Marky Bell went on to both Ramones-hood and Richard Hell's Voidoids (before landing on the Vegas circuit with the all-new "Misfits" punk nostalgia review) and bassist Kenny Aaronoff (he of the bass solo!) went on to, uh, do a lot of lame session work. There are only two other good songs on this album ("Ivory" and "Ready to Die"), so don't pay more than a dollar for it, unless if you're really into Boris Vallejo.

13. Magma - “Mekanik Machine” (1974)
A wikked single-only track from the French prog masters featuring prime bassist Jannick Top (who achieved his ballsy bass sound partially by tuning his strings like a cello) and master drummer/svengali Christian Vander. This is a bit disco-y for the band, but in a good way. Not in a bad way like their sucky 1980 album
"Merci" though!

14. Debris - “One Way Spit” (1975)
'Debris' killer proto-punk album "Static Disposal
Oklahoman proto-punk rage from their mythic "Static Disposal" album. Just listen. There's nothing more to talk about. The whole album is like this!

15. Jet - “Nothing To Do With Us” (1975)
 A dubious "glam supergroup" (members of Milk 'n' Cookies, various Sparks back-up guys, the original Roxy Music guitarist, and dudes from John's Children) is clearly just totally ripping off Sparks. Since they did it so chillingly accurately, we'll let them live.

16. Residents - “Baby Sex” (1971)
Material from one of the four early pre-"Meet The Residents" album/tapes that never really got released. One can definitely hear the primitive bizarreness of the group budding. Don't ask where I got this. The baby sex track "Kamikaze lady" wound up on "Residue" and the band also did a fairly straight-ahead version of Zappa's "King Kong" for the record.

17. Hollywood Brats - “Sick On You” (1973)
An obscure british rip-off of the New York Dolls that actually improves on the formula. Very trashy and ass-kicking. Fuck guns and roses and their McCartney-covering asses. Keith Moon dubbed them "his favorite band in the world" to little avail.

18. Funeral of Art - “Zivoid is Cuming” (1972)
Early Italian-american acid-rocking by the legendary Von Lmo (drums, vocals) with Sal Maida (Roxy Music, Milk 'N' Cookies) on guitar. A basement demo that appeared credited as a Von track on the out-of-print Spanish double lp reissued of his "Future Language" jam.

19. Electric Eels - “Flapping Jets” 1975
Wrapping it up is another stunning track from the aforementioned CLE Mag comp by these seminal noise-punks. A slightly aberrant, long track for the band replete with totally scathing guitar yowling and hypnotic chanting. I used to live a few blocks away from their rhythm guitarist Brian McMahon. He was pretty cool.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Record Review: Mars "Live At Artists Space" LP

"Am I glad that a previously unheard performance by the iconoclastic no wave group Mars has been issued. YES.

Am I thrilled with the quality of the presentation. NO.

This LP, released by Feeding Tube Records,  features both sets by Mars from the May 6th, 1978 bill shared with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks during the mythic five-day Artists Space festival that essentially spawned the classic "No New York" compilation LP (Antilles, 1978).

Although the press for this release is replete with obligatory hyperbole ("revelatory", "this is Mars at their most glorious", ad nauseam), all you've really got here is a good performance buried in flat, muddy sounding amateur audio and a generic, unimaginative record cover only one layout step beneath a bootleg. (The previous live Mars release sounded like cardboard too, but at least there were pretty colors on the booklet.) The A side was recorded by the gig soundguy Perry Brandston with several microphones run into a portable cassette recorder. The B side was recorded by Lust/Unlust Records majordomo Charles Ball with the same sort of binaural microphone system the group would track their final recordings with. Don't get your hopes up from these technical descriptions though: the fidelity is uniformly crappy enough that one will really have to use some imagination to acheive the mandated state of "revelation" the label promises. Did they honestly listen to this record more than once themselves???

Given the source tapes are old and crudely recorded, we cannot expect that much more, BUT, the second thing I did (after spinnng the disc on my better than decent Technics SL1200 MK2 turntable) was make a 24- bit recording of the disc to remaster to a modicum of listenability. I quickly filtered away the ugly tape hiss and the pops and clicks of the vinyl. Next, I re-EQed the entire program in an attempt to recoup some of the missing treble frequencies innately lost with this kind of source material. The entire midrange needed to be sculpted to remove the blurry muck hiding the "gloriousness". It took a few suspenseful minutes, but after I gave this thing a quick spit and shine, I could actually HEAR what was going on. It turns out the band played well - too bad the sets weren't professionally recorded, because THEN maybe our minds would have been truly blown instead of someone telling us it is supposed to happen.

Truth told, the performances aren't terribly more inspired or lively than the "No New York" studio recordings from the same period, but they do have a slightly more extroverted oomph that does warrant hearing if one is a fan. The fidelity is guaranteed to try your patience though. Good luck enduring all 40 minutes without reaching for a Tylenol.

Don't Mars deserve better? Couldn't the old pre-mastering engineer give the reels just a little more elbow grease or did the producers want this record to turn out crappy as an "aesthetic" agenda? Couldn't we have had slightly snappier graphics instead of a Microsoft Word template with a few photos plunked down on it? Maybe it is asking too much? I suppose we will never know. All I know is this product doesn't do much real justice to a great, underdocumented band.

I would posit that the "revelation" of Mars is best found on the collection of their complete studio releases available on the used marketplace in both vinyl and CD format.

This release is for no-wave completists and those trying desperately to be painfully hip ONLY."

- Stanley Eisen, 12.8.11

ugEXPLODE Artists #2: Cellular Chaos

above: Cellular Chaos at Death By Audio, Brooklyn on December 6, 2011

Cellular Chaos began on the West Coast in late 2006. Around that time, I was just beginning to refocus my energies on the craft of free improvisation after a long layoff, and I had begun to meet some really interesting characters through the graces of bass player Damon Smith. I was itching to play some savage, wild guitar and needed to put a group together to showcase it. The band name came from the opening track of the lysergically apocalyptic Flying Luttenbachers album "Systems Emerge From Complete Disorder". I believe it is a legitmate medical term in its own right, but it originally sprung purely from my subconscious. It's a phrase which simply evokes to me the blind, fractal madness of the universe. 

At a gig earlier that year with Damon, saxophonist Josh Allen (who would appear on my out-of-print "Revolt Music" CD) and guitarist Henry Kaiser, I met the notorious William Winant. William came up to me after the set and said he liked my drumming. I said, "Well, then let's play sometime!" and eventually we did. I first caught wind of his prowess in the early '90s on a fucking insane live demo tape by the Glenn Spearman Double Trio, where the band raged for 90 minutes straight at a pace which made Coltrane's "Ascension" sound like Kenny G. William might be best known for his work with John Zorn on various classical tinged projects as well as a stint as auxiliary percussionist with Mr. Bungle. Needless to say, he is a voracious, bloodyminded technician and performer who is more than ready to go off at a moment's notice. When you need some really ridiculously complex shit played on drums, you call him. He gets thrown on a plane and flown to Switzerland to play Stockhausen and Xenakis and then comes right back home and gleefully stirs up a ton of racket with a sleazy scumbag like yours truly. Mr. Winant is an adherent of the highest and lowest brows possible. He can also play precisely in two different tempi at the same time, and I have it on pretty good authority that his favorite movie is "Jackass 2".

Later on, Damon called me and said, "Hey, remember that guy Mark Miller? He's playing a gig with Fred Frith and Larry Ochs." Yes, I did remember Mark Miller. He was one of the great drummers on the classic, early John Zorn and Elliott Sharp records. In fact, years earlier, I ran into Elliott in New York at a record store and asked him, "Whatever happened to Mark Miller?" He did tell me Mark was on the West Coast, but it didn't concern me much, considering I was still living in Chicago at that point. Mark was a bit of an enigma but we quickly made friends with him and he was clearly relieved that there were some local people interested in what he did. We got along well because we all craved unhinged outbursts of cacophony and artistic violence. You see, Mark had a bit of a reputation for being a crazed wild card of a player back in the old days. He was notorious for (literally) playing with fire on stage and even went as far as lighting off a quarter stick of dynamite at a legendary gig at the Kitchen in the early '80s. Mark's avant-rockist sensibilities helped him cross over into the early New/No Wave and he had played with many of the key luminaries in the New York scene. I eventually wound up compiling the extant recordings of Mark's old NYC improv/no-wave/what-the-fuck band Toy Killers.

The first Cellular Chaos gig was an unrehearsed affair which took place at 21 Grand in Oakland, California on November 17, 2006. We just cranked everything up and went for it. The two drummers bashed away against the bleak, disjointed modernist scrapings of the bass and I raged on top of the whole mess, fingers flying recklessly. It may not have been a great success musically, but rather a basic statement of intent: a salvo of blind, weird rage delivered at claustrophobic volume and density.

This quartet would play four more gigs over the course of 2007 before falling by the wayside. I tried to incorporate a bit of structure and conduction into the fracas, but it seemed that this pack of wild animals was beyond any notion of "rehearsal", tightness or order. We made a lot of noise, but it seemed like the thing had run its course. It didn't seem like anyone really considered it to be a particularly good band, but we did it for the fuck of it and left it at that. As such, Cellular Chaos laid dormant for a while. Mark, Damon and I would do some similarly incendiary gigs in 2008 under the Toy Killers tag . . .

An excerpt from the final performance of Cellular Chaos Mark One in San Francisco, CA on September 25, 2007.

I relocated to New York City in the Winter of 2009, thoroughly bored with the waning West Coast music scene and looking for new challenges. Somehow, somebody asked me if I wanted to do something on a gig with modern black metal band Liturgy, Providence grungesters White Mice and local cult heroes Little Women and I immediately said yes, despite the fact that I didn't really have a band yet. I figured a week was enough time to do so! I had sat in with the nutzo jazz-spazzes Talibam! a few times after my New York arrival and figured their rubber-limbed drummer Kevin Shea had what it would take to bolster my guitar outbursts, so I asked him to sign on. I needed a bass player - quick. I racked my brain trying to think of somebody interesting or out of the ordinary, when I remembered that a friend from my early Bay Area days had been living in NYC for a while. I called Ceci Moss and said, "Ceci, you own a bass, don't you?" She replied, "Yes, but . . . ". I said, "Don't worry about it! Just bring it and I'll tell you what to do!". Ha ha ha. She hadn't touched the thing in years, but I knew she was smart, had good taste and would get the point. I was right.

The three of us got together and I managed to spontaneously spit out eight loose, cue-based structures for us to jam constructively on. I think we had one more brief rehearsal before the big gig. It was moving fast, but we were making the decisions and moving, with no trepidation. On January 15, 2010, Cellular Chaos Mark Two hit the stage at Death By Audio in Brooklyn with a new manifesto. The end result was raw and underdeveloped, but got the point across. Were initially mining some kind of explosive fusion of no-wave deconstruction and free-jazz energy spew . . . this approach would become much more defined later on.

I was hankering to get to work and start developing a real set, so after the debut I asked Kevin when we'd be able to practice next. He quipped, "Um, let's see . . . May!" Yes, dear reader: four months later. I love Kevin and his scrappy, bizarre sticksmithy, but I knew he would be way too busy to commit to the kind of research and development I knew could make this concept bear out, so I started trying to think of a replacement. Andrya Ambro from Talk Normal was suggested to me by somebody for the slot. She was interested and had the right sensibility, but she was similarly preoccupied with tour duties so it didn't work out. I then realized the answer was right in front of me. I needed somebody who could deal with tight structure as well as rabid freedom. Somebody who would show up at least once a week and put in the time. Somebody who wanted to kick ass. I had been playing with Marc Edwards for years in the idiom of free jazz, but would he play in a "rock band"? It turned out he thought it was a good idea, so the three of us began to formulate the next step.

We re-emerged on April 8, 2010 at Silent Barn in Queens, louder and more vitriolic than before. Initially, Ceci really wanted to push the volume level, so we cranked it up beyond comprehension creating a serious wall of white noise. At certain points during the show I became so manic that I actually lost my mind briefly and began the tradition of our invading the audience, gleefully obliterating the line between performer and onlooker. We were still very raw musically, but once again, we issued our manifesto without fear. I knew part of our role in the scene would be to do the shit nobody else was doing. We needed to be crazier, more confrontational and more in the moment than the rest. We had to offer sounds and structures nobody else would touch. We were going to push beyond mere "competence" into a riskier, less defined realm. What we were going to attempt was messier, bloodier and more uncertain than what the competition was offering and we knew it. We were going to dare to fall flat on our faces in an attempt to break some barriers.

During the summer and fall of 2010, we stepped up our performance schedule, annihilating various dumps like Shea Stadium, Matchless, The Charleston., Death By Audio, Coco 66 . . . basically any shithole that would let us play, taking absolutely anything we were offered. We went up to Easthampton to open for the newly reunited Arab On Radar and opened a bill with Thurston Moore and Bill Orcutt in Brooklyn. Ceci and I both started making vocal noises at this point, her, muttering feline gibberish and me, grunting and groaning like a caveman. We started tightening up our early material and trying to hit all the marks with more clarity. I struggled to work out various issues with my equipment - The amp I used early on really wasn't cutting it tonally or volume-wise, so I disasterously burned through a few others before settling on the ballsy, crude rig I use now.

Almost a year after our New York debut, we played another gig with Liturgy topping the bill and all the hard work of the previous year began to seriously come to a head. We had played a lot of shit gigs to nobody and we mercilessly ground through our songs over and over force to them to grow. Finally we were beginning to emerge as a serious contender. Still, something was missing: we needed a lead singer. I felt like neither me or Ceci could really commit to being a dedicated front person - we needed to really focus on our playing. We wanted somebody to focus all this power and energy and hurl it into the audience with all their might. This search would turn out to be a much more difficult task than I ever dreamed of. There was only going to be one right person and finding her proved to be neither quick or easy.

During the first half of 2011, our sound began to morph away from epic guitar-solo-ridden freakouts to more succinctly structured post-punk-type song forms. It just felt right, so we did it. I was starting to envision Cellular Chaos as a kind of pop trojan horse: what if a glam rock band came from an LSD universe where all the notes were wrong and the effect was more nightmare than dream? Sounds like a plan to me! The Sweet as managed by Jodorowsky! ABBA on DMT! What could possibly go wrong with this?

The more we progressed, the more I craved a lead singer for the group. I had put the word out, but I knew exactly what I didn't want: male "extreme" vocals. You know, angry white guys yelling at the top of their lungs. I'm OVER IT. Of course, I've been in bands with some of the best angry yelling white guys in the business, but these times demand something a bit different. How about some actual singing? How about decipherable words? It's what I need and want badly to hear right now. Many angry white guys offered to yell in front of our band, but they were all kindly declined. The search continued. We asked a few random women to try out, but they were all either too busy to bother or too disinterested in our volatile aesthetics.

In May 2011, German filmmaker Nicole Wegner contacted me to appear in her documentary "Parallel Planes" as a subject. She wanted to interview me, but also desired to make footage of one of my current projects in action. I arranged for a live recording session at Colin Marston's Menegroth studio in Queens on May 12, 2011 and her crew shot us raging through a short set of our best compositions. I took four tracks of those tracks and released them as the demo which streams above. This reflects the apex of our pre-singer live sound rather well. We simply tore up the place like a gig and I'm sure the upcoming film footage will confirm this.

I had been looking even more actively for our leadperson, even resorting to that traditional cesspool of kooks and losers known as CRAIGSLIST. Originally, I tried to tell just it like it is, something to the effect of 'No Wave band looking for appropriate female singer. You are smart and think the music scene sucks and want to do something different'. Nobody bit but a few guys who obviously knew what I was talking about, but didn't fit the bill for obvious reasons (dna-related). I dumbed down the ad description even further and the floodgates of cluelessness flew open. I don't know why, but the majority or people responding were either: 1) more guys, 2) egregiously tasteless soul-mama-acoustic-guitar-coffeehouse hippies or 3) completely talentless people who neither had any ability to convince me they even could be in a band if they wanted to or any evidence that they should be taken seriously. Essentially, I humored most of the candidates and said, "Go ahead and listen to the demo and get back to me if you're interested." Nobody did. Ha ha ha. Good! I'm glad they didn't. I fantasize that some of these people become famous some day so I can say, "Oh yeah, Lady Gaga? She answered my ad for a Cellular Chaos singer."

We slogged on during the fall of 2011, rehearsing, writing new material and playing some rowdy, devastating gigs locally. At one point I was added to a Facebook group called "Ladies of Experimental Music NYC".  Being a non-lady, I was curious why I was added and emailed group leader Thermos Unigarde to ask. She responded saying she knew I was in the scene and that if I could pass along an invite to anybody I knew who would be interested, that would be great. Of course I would oblige. Suddenly I realized, "Wait . . . I'm looking for an experimental NYC lady to be in my band, so I posted a weary solicitation for a singer there. A week went by and my post was met with radio silence. I bumped the thread with one simple word: "crickets . . ." Within minutes, somebody named Admiral Grey brazenly retorted "Let's jam, hippy." A challenge! It turns out that Admiral and Thermos used to play together in the chilling synth-punk group Glass Lamborghini. I was immediately intrigued. Not only did Admiral get the aesthetic, but she had a real voice and musical talent to boot.

Needless to say, after some minor delays, Admiral Grey finally got together with the three of us and we set about revamping our musical agenda. Her debut leading the band took place a few nights ago (video at the top of the page) and we are looking forward to more mayhem in the near future including a show at Cake Shop in Manhattan on December 16 with Child Abuse, Controlled Bleeding and Little Women. We will soon record an ep which will be released next year. Watch out, because Cellular Chaos is going to get you.

- Weasel Walter 12.08.11

Monday, December 5, 2011

Contortions Errata #1 - X Magazine Benefit 1978 video

Below is an expressionistic film entitled "X Magazine Benefit" from 1978 by Alan Moore and Coleen Fitzgibbon.  Recorded on March 12, 1978 at Millenium on 66 E. 4th Street in  New York, NY.

X Magazine Benefit Colab 1978 from Coleen Fitzgibbon on Vimeo.

ugEXPLODE Live #1: Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group 11.23.11

Here are some excerpts from the Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group gig at the Stone in NYC on 11.23.11. In addition to the core trio of Marc, myself and Marcus Cummins on soprano saxophone, we had special guests Sabir Mateen (tenor saxophone) and Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet, flugelhorn). Watch this and get your face ripped off.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Where Have I Been? ugEXPLODE update

Hello friends. I haven't upped anything to the blog in a while because I've been busy doing some other stuff. One of my major projects right now is the memorization of all the notes for the Behold...The Arctopus February 2012 live sets. The band - with me as new drummer - has been rehearsing for a solid two years now and we're getting ready to finally bring our hard work to the stage. The material is a step forward in gnarliness for the band and I think people who dug the late Luttenbachers material will hear a lot of interesting things in it. It is definitely more cruel and dissonant than the previous material by the band. I will be playing my ass off like never before on this stuff. It should be good. When you hear it, you will understand why we had to rehearse for two years straight!

I recently did a spate of local gigs, including a trio set last night with Henry Kaiser and Elliott Sharp. The video below is an excerpt from the opening of the concert. Fans of these guys' most intense work will enjoy the music we made. We were loud and showed no mercy. Both guitarists got space to show off some of their sickest chops. A good time was had by all.

There are two great shows this Monday and Tuesday at Death By Audio in Brooklyn. The Monday show will feature the debut of a new group of mine featuring Matt Nelson on tenor saxophone and Evan Lipson (Satanized/Normal Love) on contrabass. We play kick-ass free jazz with composed elements. The other acts on the bill are a first-time pairing of Mick Barr and Marc Edwards (neither of these guys are strangers to the ugEXPLODE roster) and headlining act Dan Peck Trio, featuring Dan on tuba, Tom Blancarte on contrabass and Brian Osbourne on drums. Expect some serious abstraction and a LOT of notes at this gig!

On Tuesday, Talibam! headlines. Jon Irabagon/Mike Pride/Mick Barr will also tear up the stage. Cellular Chaos will reveal their new secret weapon on this night. I promise New York will never be the same after this. Also on the bill are a new project with ex-Liturgy drummer Greg Fox as well as intermission music by the loveably jingoistic, old-timey patriot-rock band American Liberty League (featuring Tim Dahl, Kevin Shea and David Earl Buddin). This show will be quite novel and irritating. Attendance is mandatory.

There are a lot of releases brewing for this Winter and next year. ugEXPLODE will be issuing excellent studio releases from Philly/NYC brutal prog artists Normal Love as well as the Pittsburgh based future-skronk duo Microwaves. The rumored End Result compendium is still on the table - it will probably be a massive two-disc set and we still have to go through the selections, master it all and create the artwork, so it has been a bit slow going. I guarantee this release will blow minds though. It will be worth the wait! Next year will probably see studio debuts by QUOK (feat. myself, Tim Dahl and Ava Mendoza) as well as Forbes/Young/Walter. I have some ideas for more archival No Wave releases, but I'm going to keep that stuff on the down-low until it's all properly negotiated. There will probably be a Cellular Chaos single soon too.

Non-label stuff coming soon includes a killer live release featuring myself, Paul Flaherty, C. Spencer Yeh and Steve Swell on Not Two Records. Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans will track a new studio album next year (featuring some compositions) and will appear in Europe in May 2012.  The Flying Luttenbachers' epic, penultimate album Cataclysm (featuring Mick Barr, Mike Green and Ed Rodriguez) will see its first ever vinyl issue as a 2LP set next year on Gaffer Records. The package will be special and there will be some bonus live tracks. I recently played bass on a marathon session of the band Scarcity of Tanks featuring Matthew Wascovich, John Morton (Electric Eels), Jim Sauter (Borbetomagus) and some other heavy hitters. Two albums worth of material will be issued on January 22, 2012 and another full-length release produced by myself will follow later in the year. The stuff is brutal improvised rock with more character than you can shake a stick at, topped by Matt's oblique texts. It's the most out and frenzied stuff the band has made and it will definitely appeal to those looking for some high-energy rock weirdness.

Okay. Enough for now. Back to work!

- Weasel Walter, 12.04.11