Superior Viaduct, the excellent archivist label from whom you got your copies of Hardcore Devo Volume 1 and Volume 2—you DID pick those up, right?—is taking pre-orders for their forthcoming 2xLP rerelease of 1984’s Residue of the Residents, the compilation of outtakes and rarities that housed Residents essentials like “Shut Up! Shut Up!,” “Diskomo,” and their cover of “Jailhouse Rock”. The track listing encompasses both the original release and the long list of bonus songs included in the 1998 CD version Residue Deux, and the package will also feature a fine treat for the übergeeks: a number of never before seen photographs from the group’s first studio in San Francisco, the laboratory/sanctum where the early “Santa Dog” 2x7” (also being reissued by Viaduct next month) and their albums Meet The Residents and Third Reich ‘n’ Roll were recorded. Their early films were shot there, as well.
For the Residents in the early ‘70s, a dedicated, personal studio was no mere luxury, it was integral to the group’s concept and identity. It’s not just that it offered them the ability to maintain their tightly guarded anonymity, and it’s not just about the obvious creative and commercial freedoms that come with ownership of the means of cultural production. It’s that the Residents were intrinsically studio creatures in a way that was almost entirely novel in that era. I quote here from Chris Cutler’s insightful essay in his essential File Under Popular (and I’m putting out the call here for all to see, to whoever I lent my copy of that book—give it back, dammit):
The Residents belong to the story of the investigation of what is productively unique in the medium of recording. They came, not as composers or performers seeking to extend their skills, but as artists, in a crucial sense musically unattached but able to see—indeed fascinated by—the largely ignored potential of the new technology. The Residents were a group born, educated and nourished in the recording studio. And not unconsciously; it was because they quickly recognized what a studio was and how it could be used to compose, construct and carry from conception to completion soundworks that had little or nothing to do with played music that, at the first opportunity, they built their own. It was this insight that gave birth to ‘The Residents,’ and it is an indispensable key to the understanding of their work.
So yeah, dear reader, the Residents are important for reasons that have nothing to do with eyeball masks. They were amid the front guard of a drastic values shift that, among other positive outcomes, cleared a path for the likes of Devo.
Astute readers who also happen to be Residents fans going back a ways may recognize that last shot. That set was used both in their abandoned film project Vileness Fats and in the intro to their video for Third Reich and Roll.
Whatever Happened to Vileness Fats?, part 1
Third Reich and Roll