Gary Panter’s iconic Screamers logo
High-quality recordings of the Screamers, the legendary LA synthpunk band fronted by the late Tomata du Plenty, have always been elusive—the band’s entire audio legacy consists of demos and live recordings. So this crisp, color, clear-sounding video of the Screamers’ May 1979 engagement at the Whisky a Go Go is a real treat.
By this point in the Screamers’ career, the band was working with director Rene Daalder, who shot the Whisky shows. Part of the reason the Screamers never recorded an album is that Daalder convinced the band to forget about the LP format and make a “video record” instead. Of course, they never got around to doing that, either. Drummer K.K. Barrett, keyboardist Paul Roessler (the brother of Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler) and Daalder provide a bit of context in the L.A. punk oral history We Got the Neutron Bomb:
K.K. BARRETT: Following a nine-month hiatus the Screamers returned to the Whisky in May ‘79 for six sold-out shows over three nights. We augmented the regular lineup, which now included Paul Roessler on keyboards, with two violinists and a backup singer named Sheila Edwards, sometimes known as Sheila Drusela.
PAUL ROESSLER: [The Screamers] thought they’d never really be able to capture the experience of the Screamers just with recordings. They wanted to do film and video years before MTV. They hooked up with Rene Daalder, but in the process it broke up the group, after he tried to turn it into something that was no longer a rock band.
RENE DAALDER: We were assembling a sort of repertory company that would become the cast for the movie Mensch, which would take place in a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-like German expressionist setting. Musically it was going to be a reinterpretation of the original Screamers material. The cast would be the Screamers, Penelope Houston of the Avengers, and many other stalwarts of the punk scene, as well as Beck’s grandfather, Fluxus artist Al Hansen. As we were waiting for everything to come together I directed a bunch of videos art-directed with great economic resourcefulness by K.K. We didn’t have the financing for the movie, so we were reduced to shooting scenes on and off. It seemed high time to do some live shows again after a nine-month hiatus.
Tomata and Sheila kiss during “I Wanna Hurt”
The Screamers gradually disintegrated over the next few years while Daalder directed du Plenty in the ill-fated movie Population: 1, not a project beloved of the surviving Screamers (Roessler: “It’s retarded”).
“I Wanna Hurt”
The rest of the Whisky footage is collected in this YouTube playlist. If you haven’t seen the Target video of the Screamers’ set at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens, you will want to put that in your nervous system immediately.