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The Devil’s Jukebox: Why Big Stick is the greatest rock n’ roll band OF ALL TIME (if you ask me)
10:31 am



The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that Big Stick might be the greatest rock n’ roll band OF ALL TIME. I mean, I can’t think of anybody better. Could the Beatles write a song as visionary as “Do Not Rape My Sister At the Municipal Pool” or as nuanced as “Girls on the Toilet”? Well, even if they could’ve they certainly fucking didn’t, I’ll tell you that much. Big Stick did.

Big Stick slithered up from the NYC art-rock underground in the mid-80s like brightly colored lizards, worlds apart both stylistically and sonically from the noise-damage darlings of the junkie punk scene they emerged from—Pussy Galore, Reverb Motherfuckers, White Zombie—or their high profile big mean daddies in Sonic Youth, the Swans, or Foetus. Sure, they were just as druggy, and probably even snottier than their deathtripping brethren, but they had style, and a sense of showmanship long abandoned by the then-reigning Feedback Mafia. Sorta like the more playful, less genocidal version of Jim Thirlwell and Lydia Lunch, John Gill and Yanna Trance were a live-work-fuck-kill together couple who brewed up their crazed sonic schemes in their very own secret headquarters, explaining little and revealing even less. They performed wearing elaborate masks, and all known press photos were similarly mysterious affairs, shrouding their true identities in a veil of feathers and wigs and antlers. It was crazy but sexy, and the secret-squirrel gag was the perfect compliment to their bizarre cut and paste electro-skronk.

The music that Big Stick played simply did not exist before they did, and whether directly or otherwise, their dizzying, junkdustrial, urban warfare psychedelia was the seminal first step in what became a whole host of so-hip-it-hurts rock sub-genres in the ensuing decades. Their abrasive pastiche of distorto-punk guitars, drawling slacker-rap, and cheapjack drum machine beats was pretty much the blueprint for the electroclash movement that made Satanic superstars out of Peaches and A.R.E. Weapons. The concept of a two-man (or woman) primitive blues-punk racket, pioneering when Big Stick did it, is now a guaranteed recipe for at least fifteen minutes of rock radio-baiting success. Disco punk was their thing too, way before Electric Six took a trip to the gay bar.  If being a dozen years ahead of your time was at all profitable, then Gill and Trance would be zillionaires by now. But it’s not, is it?

More after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
The Nihilist Spasm Band invented noise rock in 1965
09:07 am



Back when most kids their age were in the throes of Beatlemania, an octet of Canadian art-nerds calling themselves The Nihilist Spasm Band rewired the whole notion of popular music for their own twisted ends and created one of the most alarming cacophonies imaginable, especially when you consider they formed in a musical landscape dominated by Elvis, the Beach Boys, and Herman’s Hermits.

There were a couple of unique elements at work with Nihilist Spasm. For one, all of their music was improvised. Aside from vocals, everything they recorded was a first (and last) take, and every live performance is spontaneous. No piece has ever been played twice, at least not in the same way. Secondly, they created their own instruments, or at least modified standard instruments until they were thoroughly unrecognizable. Perhaps their most infamous re-invention is the electric kazoo. Retrofitted with hearing-aid mics stuffed inside its tinny shell, the tuneless bleating of this unholy creation is one of the band’s greatest gifts to humanity.

Their first widely-released album, 1968’s No Record, is a wild, ear-searing wall of chaotic fuck-noise that seems impossible given its time frame (Harry Partch meets The Boredoms was a pretty original concept for the era, you must admit). Naturally, it became a murky underground cult favorite quietly influencing 80’s noiseniks like Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten, and KK Null. In fact, they were (and still are) huge in Japan. Well, relatively. They call them the “Rolling Stones of noise” there, at least. In 2000, there was even a documentary released about the band. I mean they’re still completely and hopelessly obscure, sure, but they had a few pops of fame here and there.

And here’s the really crazy thing: they’re still together. Fifty years on and the band still tours with an almost all-original line-up (two members of the founding group, Hugh McIntyre and Greg Curnoe, passed away in 2004 and 1992 respectively), and still play blindingly loud on crazy modified scream machines made to confuse and terrify in equal fistfuls. They’ve opened for Sonic Youth and jammed with REM and if the recent announcement of their upcoming Sonic Protest Tour is any indication, their reign of chaotic improvised terror isn’t over yet. Not bad for a group of 70-something Canadians who still haven’t learned how to tune a guitar in 50 years.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
The Black Metal Antiquarium is the Internet K-hole of teen metal mayhem
11:30 am



You’ve seen it everywhere. The crudely-drawn goat that graces the cover of the first Bathory album is quickly becoming one of rock n’ roll’s most ubiquitous images. It’s the new Ramones t-shirt. And like the famous four’s memorable circle logo, the Bathory goat is often worn by folks who have never even heard the beastly sounds on that grisly 1984 album Bathory has endured because it’s so brutal, so inhuman, so extreme that it was literally shocking upon its initial release. It was the first real declaration of black metal war, the opening salvo in an ongoing campaign to kill Christianity (and false metal) dead with leather, spikes, and minor chords played a thousand miles an hour. Although Bathory was an actual band, it has always been identified by one character, frontman Quorthon (RIP). If anybody is responsible for ushering in the age of black metal darkness, it’s him.
Quorthon, early 80’s, looking more glam than grim

But was Quorthon just a frustrated glam-rocker? I’m sure there are snowy, fjord-y pockets of Earth out there where I could get hung, drawn and quartered for even suggesting such heresy, but if the Black Metal Antiquarium is any indication, around the the time of the first Bathory album, ol’ Tommy “Quorthon” Forsberg was into Motley Crue just as much as the rest of us were. It’s just one of the many compelling nuggets in this loosely knit collection of videos and photos that paint a vibrant, bloody, and occasionally hilarious portrait of the earliest days of black metal, from its creaky 80’s proto-black beginnings to the alarming wave of murder and mayhem (and Mayhem) that engulfed the scene in the 1990s.
Mayhem in their rehearsal space, late 80’s, clearly getting into the spirit of things.

Inspired largely by the cartoon Satanism of 80’s Brit metal-punks Venom, Scandinavian black metal exploded in the early 90’s with misanthropic bands like Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, and most infamously Mayhem, the most dangerous band in the world, a shadowy outfit with an extremely thorny history that includes self-mutilation, suicide, and cold-blooded murder. And this is while most of them were still teenagers!
Mayhem’s Euronymous, who would later be murdered by his own bandmate, Varg Vikernes.

What’s particularly exciting about the user-generated Antiquarium is that it is curated and archived by bands and fans who were there at the time in places like Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and South America, the epicenters for musical extremities throughout that tumultuous decade. That’s helpful, because it’s sometime difficult to tell one 17-year-old Norwegian kid in corpsepaint from another, particularly when the source is a blurry fanzine photo from 1992. Of course, it does sorta seem odd that this would happen on a Facebook page. In a better, more noble world, photographs of doomed Mayhem guitarist Euronymous sporting a half-shirt and a gross catfish mustache would be locked away in a forbidden vault somewhere, pressed between the pages of an arcane tome bound in human flesh. And maybe someday they will be, but this is still pretty cool for now.
While relatively sedate at this point—the millennial take on black metal (ambient BM, “Red” BM, “Blackgaze,” etc) is decidedly less psychotic than their 90s era counterparts—historically it is still the most overtly homicidal/suicidal rock genre ever created. And that’s not even counting all the burned churches and desecrated gravestones. It is a history of outright war against humanity, littered with beatings, bleedings, hate crimes, stone-cold murder, and painful, shrieking noise. And as the Antiquarium proves, through old photos, flyers, demo covers, zine pages and fuzzy shot-on-VHS video clips, it was created mostly by dopey teenage kids smearing their faces with clown makeup and aping their fave Venom and Black Sabbath records. It’s always good to remember that even the cuddliest kittens are hiding sharp claws.

Here are a few especially juicy entries..
These pre-teen monster-mash goofs would grow up to become Brazilian thrash metal masters Sepultura.
Emperor are now considered one of the most progressive black metal bands and vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn is one the most well-respected musicians on the scene. But in 1990, when the band was called Xerasia, he was just another teenage dirtbag ripping off Alice Cooper.
Black metal’s goth-goblin Mortiis, back when he preferred housedresses and bathtub suicides to elf ears and leather wings.
More metal mayhem (and Mayhem) after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
Retro wonderland: exploring the postmodern aesthetics of ‘90s Taco Bell interior design
09:23 am

Pop Culture


Taco Bell in Las Vegas, NV courtesy of @heycomet‘s instagram
The year is 2017, you’re driving across the country and you’ve decided to pull over at a random offramp for a quick bite. You’re not familiar with your locale, but you see a familiar restaurant and you’re hungry so you put your better judgment aside and walk into a Taco Bell. As soon as you enter you are instantly transported 25 years into the past, a time capsule of early 90’s interior design. You are standing in one of the very last Taco Bell franchises that have not yet succumb to the horrible, present day faux-Tuscan make-over.

It was the Milan-based Italian design and architecture company The Memphis Group and their fun, colorful, geometric, postmodern aesthetic that were responsible for this specific style of design. The Art Deco and Pop Art movements collided in all their concepts throughout the 1980s. By the time the 1990s rolled around the style had become so mainstream and widely popular that it could be seen all over television, such as on shows like Saved by the Bell where the gang from Bayside High School hung out in a similarly wacky diner called The Max.

Los Angeles-based interior designer Jared Frank of Topsy Design explains just how quickly Memphis trends trickled down into popular culture. “On TV you could find it, most noticeably all over MTV, which was postmodern not just in design but also in its very style of programming. Another thoroughly postmodern show in both design and concept was Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The Simpsons flirts with it. And of course, every coked-out ‘80s movie about a movie producer, record executive, or radio deejay is guaranteed to show sets that look like Otho from Beetlejuice was asked to design an office space.”

Luckily I was not alone in my nostalgic love of Taco Bell’s past designs. Photographer Phil Donohue (not to be confused with talk show host Phil Donahue) began using film to document the few remaining Taco Bell locations in California that were still home to that beautiful pink, purple, red, and turquoise color combination, artificial plants, and squiggly geometric shapes. “Most of the design from the ‘80s and ‘90s was so quickly discarded for something even more corporatized and mediocre that I wanted to contextualize what was left before it was gone,” Donohue said via e-mail. “Capturing it digitally seemed to only highlight this mediocrity so shooting on film was, for me, the best way to translate this feeling of what the past was, with what is still present. I probably have another year or two before a lot of what is genuinely out there is gone — before everything is stuccoed over or faux-Tuscan.”

Of course, true experts of the postmodern movement will not be fooled by imitators. “In light of Robert Venturi calling out emergent ‘70s architecture as, ‘communication over space’ these Taco Bell interiors are cleanability over communication.” explained Matthew Sullivan of AQQ Design. “Hyper-cleanliness is the designer here—from the impermeable upholstery, to the visible floor drains, down to the drip or crumb channels or whatever the fuck those recesses in the banquets are called. It’s operating room meets diner- super Ballardian. Personally I could never make a value judgment—should be labeled something like disinfranchisementarianism. Looks as fine a place as any to stomp on someone’s face or make-out or enjoy a double-decker-taco-supreme.”

So why did it go away? “Culture eats itself” designer Jared Frank concluded. “Folks then reacted against the exuberance of PoMo and found safety in the corporate style of the ‘90s. And then folks reacted against that with the ‘new sincerity,’ the ‘authentic,’ all those horrible reclaimed wood walls. And of course, Taco Bell followed suit, jumping onboard the latest trends just as they’re flaming out.”

Taco Bell in Milpitas, CA courtesy of yelp user Maria A.

Taco Bell in Anaheim, CA courtesy of @heycomet‘s instagram
More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
Never too young to rock ‘n’ roll: The third grade punk of Old Skull
10:09 am



There’s been much ado—countless articles, TV appearances galore,  a whole movie even—about pre-teen rockers Unlocking the Truth. Which is fine and all, but what if I told you there was another band, decades before, that were even younger, sold more records, toured extensively, and rode a wave of minor rock fame all the way to high school? It’s true. And if Unlocking the Truth knew what happened to ‘em after the band broke up—a saga much grimmer than your average episode of VH1’s Behind the Music—they’d find new hobbies.

Old Skull formed in Madison, Wisconsin when a couple of punk rock dads—Vern Toulon (Missing Foundation) and Robin Davies (Tar Babies)—decided to recruit their sons into the lucrative world of indie-rock. Toulon’s kids JP and Jamie handled guitar/vocals and keyboards respectively, and Davies’ stepson JP pounded the skins. They “wrote” songs about hot dogs and AIDS (most people assume Toulon senior composed the music, but the truth is lost in the mists of time) and bashed ‘em out with impressive energy, if not finesse. Which was fine, I mean, it was hardcore punk made by kids who were in the third-grade.
Naturally, given their age and the general wackiness of the times, Old Skull got snatched up to a label (Restless Records, one-time home of Flaming Lips, Slayer, Mojo Nixon, Fear, W.A.S.P., etc), who released their first album, Get Outta School, in 1989. The pint-sized punks were nine and ten years old by then. They got written up in major mags like Rolling Stone and Newsweek, toured with Flaming Lips and GWAR, made a (low-budget) MTV video, and achieved about as much fame as knucklehead kids playing wonky skate-punk possibly could.

And that was pretty much it. After the drummer was grounded for a month by his parents, the band shuffled the line-up around and took a stab at a (slightly) more mature sophomore album, 1992’s CIA Drug Fest, but by then nobody had the patience and the novelty had worn off. We were all doing the grunge thing at that point. The band broke up and the kids turned into teens and went on with their lives. Sorta.

In the 90’s, the Toulon brothers’ mother died in a train accident. Dad—who had been reduced to panhandling on the streets by the turn of the decade—died of alcoholism in 2001. The orphaned sons rallied and performed as Old Skull in 2005, but death continued to stalk the clan. JP died in 2010 after struggling for years with a drug habit. His brother Jamie took his own life a year later, the victim of chronic depression. And that was the bitter end of Old Skull.
There’s probably a cautionary tale for any pre-teen rock bands out there, although I’m assuming shaky parenting had a hand in the mess that ensued. Still, Old Skull deserve some kinda accolades. It’s not easy being a midwestern punk rock star with a record deal and a lengthy touring itinerary before you’ve even kissed a girl or learned your times tables.
Check ‘em out, after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
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