The Screamers may have never released any music, but their punk legacy lives on through the rough bootleg tapes and high-energy video recordings that have resurfaced over the years. And lest not we forget the lingering rock appropriation of Gary Panter’s notorious “screaming man” logo. When citing them as a major influence, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys once referred to the electro punk outfit as “the best unrecorded band in the history of rock ’n’ roll.”
A raucous force of dystopian, feral energy with a timely, but uncanny absence of guitars, The Screamers set into motion a new era of punk rock and showmanship in the few years that they existed as a functioning band. In its heyday, they were considered the biggest band in Los Angeles without a record contract, known to sell out multiple nights at the Whiskey a Go-Go and headline the Roxy (something previously impossible for an unsigned band).
As forward-thinking as their synths were futuristic, The Screamers, led by the eccentric frontman Tomata du Plenty, weren’t interested in putting out just a record. Nearly predating MTV, the band envisioned its full-length debut to exist strictly in video format. Not only would it allow them greater control over the aesthetic and message being conveyed, but if the TARGET videos were any indication, it would’ve been really fucking cool. Sadly, The Screamers dissolved before the rest of the world was able to catch up with them.
But it was video that also ‘killed’ the synthpunk stars. In 1979, The Screamers teamed up with Dutch filmmaker Rene Daalder for a series of mixed media, highly theatrical live shows. In doing so, Daalder and Du Plenty had hoped to develop their idea of a music video concept, but it didn’t necessarily pan out. What did result, however, was the 1986 sci-fi art punk musical, Population: 1.
Using footage shot over the years layered-in and chroma-key’d with additional scripted content filmed at Tomata’s Hollywood Blvd apartment, Population: 1 is one man’s rambling hour long monologue at the end of the world. Du Plenty stars as mankind’s sole survivor, who has somehow survived both a nuclear holocaust and a bizarre plague-induced suicide pact. Restricted to his personified fallout shelter reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Tomata presents a distorted, beatnik memoir depicting his time on Earth and the final vestiges of civilization.
Part warped history lesson, part devoted tribute to his lost love Sheela (Edwards), the hypothetical narrative is sprinkled with musical numbers throughout and plenty of impressive punk rock cameos. See if you can spot appearances by members of Los Lobos, Penelope Houston of The Avengers, Vampira, Carel Struycken (the giant from Twin Peaks), El Duce, Al Hansen, his grandson Beck (the Grammy Award-winning musician), among many others.
While drummer K.K. Barrett and synth assassin Tommy Gear of The Screamers had some hand in the making of Population: 1, many believe that Daalder’s involvement with the band was what inevitably brought its demise. Soon afterward, Tomata du Plenty would shift focus to his art career, before passing away in 2000.
Is an inevitable nuclear annihilation upon us? Watch ‘Population: 1’ in its entirety below:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The punk rock portraits of the Screamers’ Tomata du Plenty
Punish or be damned: LA punk legends The Screamers live at the Whisky A Go Go, 1979
The Screamers logo has been stolen for a (Billy Idol-themed?) novelty firework