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‘American Supreme’: Suicide regurgitate hip-hop clichés on brilliant post 9/11 concept album
01.04.2019
08:11 am
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I don’t recall much of what I was doing when Suicide’s American Supreme came out in late 2002, but it definitely wasn’t listening to that particular album. Don’t get me wrong, being a big Suicide fanboy, I duly bought it, but it only made it into the CD player one time until a few weeks ago. I was not initially impressed and I just filed it away… for sixteen years. The opening number “Televised Executions” begins with scratching, a repetitive slap bass-style riff that sounded like a discarded Red Hot Chili Peppers jam and a fairly commonplace hip-hop sample (“The Champ” by the Mohawks). The hoary turntablisms and primitive drum machine beats would not have been out of place on a Schoolly D rap from 1986. What was this? I guess you could say that I didn’t understand it. 

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Critics were decidedly mixed about American Supreme. Q magazine wrote: “They’ve unfortunately discovered dance music several years too late.” Pop Matters said: “American Supreme accomplishes little more than tarnishing their chrome-plated punk and sending it on a winding downward spiral.”

At AllMusic.com, Andy Keller wrote:

Is American Supreme—the first Suicide album in a decade—an update, a return to form? Yes and no. Those who hang on Alan Vega’s every streetwise grunt and growl will doubtlessly be pleased as punch with the results, as will anyone who hasn’t heard any music that has been recorded since 1990. Perhaps the strangest twist about this record is how much of it sounds more crude and antiquated than the duo’s first two albums, which were released over 20 years prior to this one. Those two albums did what few groups had done prior, and this one recycles hip-hop and dance beats that were recycled many times over by the mid-‘90s. The opening “Television Executions” is the worst culprit, using turntable scratches and a bounding late-‘80s funk groove that the Red Hot Chili Peppers would scoff at. It would be expecting far too much for Vega and Martin Rev to deliver something as revolutionary as those first two albums. A more realistic hope would be for this album to not be an embarrassment. Thankfully, due to Vega’s sharp-as-ever observations (he still sounds ornery and underfed), they narrowly escape that pitfall.

I can see why he felt that way. It’s a not unreasonable first reaction to American Supreme and is it similar to my own. But neither one of us got it.

For whatever reason (loyalty?) I never traded in American Supreme at the record store, even as I neglected to play it even one time during the intervening years. A few weeks ago, wanting something “new” to listen to in the car, I grabbed the CD and took it with me. Listening to “Televised Executions” again, I immediately recalled why I didn’t like it the first time. It was annoying, but I let it play. By the end of the song, I had started warming up to it. It was not only annoying on purpose, it was annoying with a purpose, something I’d failed to grasp.

As the next few songs played, what Martin Rev and Alan Vega were trying to do began to dawn on me. Lyrically the album is a reaction to 9/11 and the World Trade Center going down in Alan Vega’s own backyard (he was a longtime resident of lower Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood). His words reference sulphurous skies burning forever and being obliterated by a flash of blinding white light. It’s still the patented stream of consciousness ranting we expect from Alan Vega, but in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda attack his imagery became understandably even more violent and apocalyptic.
 

 
But then I got to track six, “Wrong Decisions” and at that point finally realized that it was my own powers of critical assessment that had fallen short of the music and not the other way around. Yes, my first reaction to hearing this album back in 2002 had been one of “they’re over the hill” after being confronted with the hackneyed hip-hop samples instead of the expected power drones (Martin Rev was about my current age when it was recorded I should probably inform the reader). How wrong I was. Listening to American Supreme in 2018, my ears had at last caught up to what they doing.

“Wrong Decisions” is, perhaps, now my #1 favorite Suicide number. What? Is it even better than “Ghost Rider” you ask? Than “Frankie Teardrop”? Than “Rocket USA”? “Mr. Ray”? I’d have to think about that, for a very long time, but it’s certainly up there with those classics. However it’s “Wrong Decisions” that I would DJ with. I mean, I can’t imagine DJ’ing, ever again, without being armed with this track. This is the heavy artillery.

But before you play the embedded sound clip of “Wrong Decisions” below, please play a couple songs that inspired it first.
 

“Different Strokes” by Syl Johnson.

Syl Johnson’s 1968 raver “Different Strokes” has been sampled by a lot of people. J Dilla, Mantronix, KRS-One, Michael Jackson, Wu Tang Clan, De La Soul, NWA, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, Kanye West, Jay-Z and countless others. It’s been, if anything, oversampled and should probably be given a rest, if not a proper burial. But here, in the hands of Martin Rev, “Different Strokes” becomes something else entirely, a flabby, pulsating, gurgling—but still funkier than neckbone—backing track for one of Vega’s wildest lyrics. The ULTRA LOW frequency sampled bass line turned my car into a bouncing lowrider and the speakers strained to keep up with it. Who the hell released a song with this much bottom end in 2002? Who had the subwoofer big enough to accommodate such a sound back then?
 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.04.2019
08:11 am
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‘A Short Movie About Suicide’
07.20.2016
09:14 am
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November 1970 poster for a series of Suicide shows at “A Project of Living Artists” on 729 Broadway

The news of the death of Alan Vega of Suicide came down over the weekend. As all such deaths do, it has given rise to an outpouring of heartfelt reminiscences, providing an occasion to reflect on what a blazing, contradictory, committed, special band Suicide was. Famously early in defining the possibilities of the term “punk music” (via 1970 gig ads, one example of which is above), Suicide became one of those rare bands you absolutely had to have a reaction to, as they perhaps learned to their chagrin when they accepted an offer by the Clash to open for the London-based punk band in Britain in 1978. Many of the punks in the audience despised Suicide, leading to an incident in Glasgow in which an audience member threw an axe at Vega’s head.

Living up to its name, “A Short Film About Suicide” (2007) lasts roughly 15 minutes. It mostly consists of Vega talking, which is an unimpeachable strategy. The movie opens with Vega recalling the September 3, 1969, gig at the Pavilion on 42nd St. when the Stooges opened for the MC5 and Iggy (and, improbably, Johann Sebastian Bach) changed Vega’s life forever. The movie features Vega and Martin Rev, of course, plus Chris Stein of Blondie, Mick Jones of the Clash, and others. Howard Thompson tells of hearing Suicide’s incredible first album for the first time (mistakenly playing side B first) and then realizing that he absolutely had to put it out in the U.K.

If “A Short Film About Suicide” lasted 5 hours, no part of it would be boring.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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07.20.2016
09:14 am
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Kill the f*ckers: ‘White Man,’ Suicide’s BRUTAL sonic attack on white supremacy
06.23.2016
10:17 am
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Alan Vega, 70s, photo by Paul Zone

I plan to stand behind my front door clutching a baseball bat for the duration of this year’s Republican National Convention, but if I were headed to one of the “First Amendment zones” in Cleveland next month, I would carry a ghetto blaster that played nothing but Suicide’s “White Man.”

Born Boruch Alan Bermowitz in 1938 and married to a Holocaust survivor during the sixties, Alan Vega knows whereof he sings on “White Man,” an obscure late-period Suicide track that deserves a wider hearing. While Vega denounces the legacy of white supremacy in the barest language there is, Martin Rev’s music—drums, a single guitar chord through a tremolo effect and a three-note bassline, punctuated by keyboard noises—corresponds to an inner state between trance and fury.

So far, “White Man” has only been officially released on the DVD One Day + Live at La Loco / Paris, a pro-shot live show from January 2005 supplemented with interviews. (A used copy from Amazon will set you back about $5.) Though Suicide has been playing the song since ‘98 (according to this fan’s timeline), they left it off their last album to date, 2002’s merciless post-9/11 nightmare American Supreme.
 

 
It just so happens there’s video of Suicide playing “White Man” in Manhattan right after the 2004 RNC. The performance falls flat, but Vega’s ad-libbed tirade is much clearer than on the Paris tape:

White man
HRRRRAARUUGHGH white man
Goin’ ‘round the world
Killin’ everybody with a different color skin
Yeah, it’s the American race
Yeah, kill the fuckers

White man
You’re a fucking diseased fucker
You’re a fucking cancer
White man
HUH!

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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06.23.2016
10:17 am
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Suicide: The band that will always sound like the future
03.17.2016
09:09 am
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I was late to the party, but I think many of us were late to that party. Suicide had been playing for about a decade before we started really noticing what was going on—and what we were missing.

When Suicide played in England during the 1970s they were pelted with bottles. The punk audience was horrified by this intense, strange band. This wasn’t punk. This wasn’t New Wave. It wasn’t. This was a glimpse of the future.

I never heard Suicide on the radio. Not once. Or in the record shops that blasted out The Clash, the Banshees or PiL. Or even in the clubs. When I first heard “Ghost Rider”—a long long time after its release—it was a visceral thrill. Mesmeric, powerful, unforgettable.

In fact Alan Vega best described the effect of hearing Suicide from his own experience of hearing Martin Rev. In an interview Vega said that he had never wanted to be on stage. He was a sculptor, an artist, not a performer. He liked playing around with tape machines and noise, sure. He liked listening to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, of course. But the thought of being a musical artist—the thought of performing on stage, I mean—scared him shitless.

Then one night Vega was standing at the side of a stage watching Martin Rev playing jazz funk fusion. Something happened. The sounds cut through him. He was no longer just a spectator. He was possessed. Vega started hitting a tambourine. With every beat he was getting ever nearer ever closer to being onstage. He was no longer scared. He felt alive. That’s almost how it felt the first time I heard “Ghost Rider.” It’s a powerful song.

But back to that night when Vega started slamming a tambourine: Martin Rev turned to him and said “We’re going to do something together.” They would commit Suicide.
 
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The group started out in 1970 as three piece band. The guitarist “who was like a free-sound guitarist and also a visual artist” soon left to make films. As Vega and Rev told Igloo Mag in 2008:

Martin Rev: We knew we weren’t going to keep a band together for that long based on what we did, the amount of space we might have for rehearsal, which was always limited, and the amount of money we had for equipment and the amount we gigs we had. We were starting from scratch.

Alan Vega: We started out with a ten dollar Japanese keyboard that Marty found somewhere. We could hardly get any sound out of it so we started introducing, was it an Electro Harmonix thing like bass boosters and treble boosters?

Martin Rev: Yeah.

Alan Vega: This keyboard would be lined up with five or six of these things and that would jack up the sound because we almost couldn’t get any sound out of this thing. That in a way created the sound. As Marty was saying, it was out of a necessity thing. We had to jack up that keyboard, man, and out came this incredible rush of sound that no one has ever heard before or afterwards. The sound was created just out of necessity and we ran with it, man. It’s also more than that. I mean, Marty and I, we were both hearing electronics. In the late 60s I was already fooling around with just noise, just radio static and shit. It’s our musical taste. We like to hear noise, you know?

They spent years of gigging. Working on their own distinct sound. A psychotic, yelping Gene Vincent vocal over a mix of repetitive pounding synthesiser beats, white noise and menacing throbbing, pulsating psychobilly.

In 1977, Suicide released their eponymous debut album. It took seven years of trial and error to create the songs, then just four short days to record. As Martin Rev told the Guardian last year “We started like sculptors”:

“With a big piece of stone, pure clay, pure sound, big lumps of sound. We started from scratch, and then out of that we carved out the songs. After a year or two, we were playing the earliest, “Ghost Rider,” “Cheree” and “Rocket USA.” Also, when I was finally able to get a rhythm machine, that changed things a lot. I was able to delineate songs more clearly. The first year or two was a pure wall of sound.”

Hard to believe now, but this stunning debut record failed to chart in either the US or the UK. Both countries were too hung up on punk and disco and new wave. Some critics loved the album (as did Bruce Springsteen who made a hit of “Dream Baby Dream” and film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder), but others were literally terrified by their sound.

In the end Vega and Rev won.

Since those heady days Vega has most recently come through a heart attack and a stroke. He still performs with Rev and still produces artwork—last year he exhibited a series of new and old paintings at the Armory Show in New York.

Rev is “always looking for the next cool instrument or pedal. I’m not using software, live, so not everything works for me; I don’t need everything.”

“You bring your life with you….The way you are in the present, what you’ve learned, what you know.”

 
Killer videos to live for from Suicide, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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03.17.2016
09:09 am
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‘23 Minutes Over Brussels’: The legendarily confrontational Suicide concert, 1978
05.20.2014
10:17 pm
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“SHUT THE FUCK UP! THIS IS ABOUT FRANKIE!”
—Alan Vega

“23 Minutes Over Brussels” is a recording of an incendiary performance given by Suicide in Brussels, Belgium on June 16th, 1978. Martin Rev and Alan Vega were opening for Elvis Costello and the audience, let’s just say, didn’t like them very much. In fact, they hated their fucking guts and let them know it in no uncertain terms, including booing loudly, snatching the microphone from Vega’s hands and even breaking his nose!

Suicide hated them back and the result was performance art meets a full-scale riot, perhaps the most legendarily confrontational ur-punk moment this side of Iggy and The Stooges’ Metallic K.O. After Suicide escaped with their lives, Elvis Costello and The Attractions came onstage, but Costello was furious at how the crowd had treated Suicide and played an extremely short set that was also short on pleasantries. The crowd went nuts when they refused to return for an encore and the riot cops were called in armed with teargas.

All in a day’s work for Suicide. When the band toured with The Clash that same year, Vega was physically attacked several times:

“I got my nose busted in Crawley… In Glasgow someone threw an axe by my head! In Plymouth The Nazis got me in the dressing room.”

The Brussels set was recorded on cassette tape by a friend of the duo and it was released as a legit bootleg (with a Berlin show from same tour) and as a flexi-disc. Eventually it got released on CD as a bonus track. Vega and Rev once referred to their music as “punk, funk and sewer music.”
 

 
Below, Suicide on Paul Tschinkel’s legendary InnerTube cable access program doing “Ghost Rider” in 1978:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.20.2014
10:17 pm
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M.I.A.:  Another perspective
07.15.2010
07:51 pm
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Marc can say what he wants about M.I.A.—we’re an anarchist collective here at Dangerous Minds—but I love her. if you ask me, her performance of latest single Born Free on The Late Show with David Letterman positively tore the roof off the sucker. I was absolutely blown away by what she did on that stage. And with Martin Rev of Suicide playing beside her? Playing his synth with his fist? We’re not worthy.
 

 
Kudos to M.I.A. for bringing Martin Rev out on to the stage with her. I found it sad how so few of the blogs, of all the many that wrote about this performance, even mentioned Martin! Kids! What’s the matter with kids these days?!?

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.15.2010
07:51 pm
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