It was the 15th anniversary of “Pranks!” - just one
of the wacky books put out by ReSearch, that cutting edge hipsterzine.
Vale, editor and publisher, was also known for his punk journal
Search & Destroy, from which ReSearch (get it?) surfaced. There
was a time when a few of Vale’s books had to be on your shelf
if you were pierced, tattoo’d, owned a punk album or were
friends with someone who fit this description – the books
noting Burroughs, Ballard, Throbbing Gristle, incredibly strange
trashola movies or modern primitives of branding and scarification
fame hanging on hooks like A Man Called Horse.
This event: “A Night of Industrial Music” on Dec. 5, 2003, at the
Lab on 16th Street. I had the pleasure of taking a teenage hipster of my own,
an informal foster son now making the transition to independent living by staying
in the front room of the flat I shared with my wife. I had been Dion’s
legal guardian at a Tibetan Buddhist summer retreat, an annual event where
I had known a number of kids over the years; sharp, bright artistic types,
as one might expect, the definite hope for a future that seemed otherwise grim.
Suzi & I had no kids of our own by design, and since both of us had the
maturity of teenagers, we seemed to draw them. Dion, a young black man from
L.A. with virtually zero interest in hip-hop and an incredible thirst for all
things Beat and beyond, was one of them - a bass player with chemically straightened
hair altered into an anime cartoon of sharp angles, a kind of African-American
Astroboy with horn rim glasses.
From my own era, I’d played Dion Pil’s Second Edition and a compilation
of my favorite local art band of the 80’s, Tuxedo Moon’s Solve
et Coagula. He’d played me a variety of synthesizer bands and I was amazed
how much it sounded like what I was listening to back then, his with names
like the Icarus Line, Wolfeyes, and the Rapture.
The woman at the door took my money and told me to hold on to
my ticket – I “might
win something at the raffle” because I was all dressed in black. I appreciated
her humor when I turned to see the room full of people dressed in black. Upon
further inspection, many were my age, around 50, with the attendant decay of
graying hair and paunches.
Yet there was the mysterious young all-in-black raven-haired
femme fatale in the corner by herself. “There’s always one,” said
Dion. He was right. Unapproachable, serious, waiting. She was
tired of waiting before
much of anything happened and left - perhaps more of a review than anything
I could say.
I chatted with editor Vale, whom I’d really only known personally since
the 21st Century (some Burroughs footage of mine might show up in an up-coming
ReSearch DVD). I introduced Dion as we looked over the table of Vale’s
wares, including back issues of the seminal punk newspaper that Allen Ginsberg
had helped start with $100.00. Vale surreptitiously took our photo as I leafed
through a Bob Flannagan book, masochist performance artist now deceased. Vale’s
wife Marian flew around the room with a drink, getting things started.
Above Vale, maybe original to the Lab itself, 3’x3’ mosaic-style
portraits of Timothy Leary (gaunt with final cancer, bearded skull philosopher)
and Albert Hoffman, accidental inventor of LSD (recognized only in context,
unassuming bald scientist). Closer inspection showed the images were made up
of big sheets of acid blotter. Dion didn’t know who Timothy Leary was.
He had, however, read Ginsberg and Burroughs, and knew of Kerouac and Ginsberg’s
Tibetan guru Chogyam Trungpa. Natural selection was already thinning the wheat
from the historical chaff, it seemed.
I asked Dion to write his own impressions on the evening because it seemed
a natural evolution from many of our conversations and music exchanges:
Aftershock, to remember the ReSearch event held in the Lab, a space complete
with an elder elite bent on recovering sounds from their past, and attempting
to chronicle new. Least, whatever penetrates jaded ears, or to say more flattering:
weathered. More connected to current musical reverb, my duty to inform the
seniors of these recent bands sharing genre threads brings to mind a few.
First act immediately I notice common sights, aesthetic points
in the current submerged trends: ties, sport coats,, tight attire,
never forget the black
mop skulls. The two males are aloof in their age, the female has hints of gothic
finesse. All clamors to a new wave with slight abrasive punk influence. Next:
abundance of keys, one guitar in sight: disjointed crude blips scattered along
drone drum machine during their test. Expecting a dirty Kraftwerk clone. Narcissistic
long sound check: 30 min. they eventually begin with tip toe, I don’t
blame them considering the cynicism of ‘been done before’ they’re
up against, wall of sound begins to kick in, drum machine thump thump, indistinguishable
vocals over the F+ punk rock sound system. I’m immediately thinking oh,
dare I say it: electroclash due to the lack of traditional instruments, artists
like Peaches or more directly similar local bay area scene sisters: Crack:
W.A.R, The Vanishing, and Ghost Orchids, though more coarse with the noise
guitar, and all around gritty sound.
The Sixteens were the opening act and we both liked them. “Does this
sound like what you’ve been seeing?” “Yeah, sure,” said
Dion. “It sounds like what I used to see, too.” He was genuinely
surprised. We both were.
They end, next on the bill is a spoken word/stand up performance
complete with mediocre techno backing. Some humorous lines are
pronounced along with interpretive
dancers and simple film projection of military themes. Prostitute appearance
to the harshest non-daydream extent. I’m reminded by the performance
of BARR, man I once saw perform at Los Angeles’ mecca of experimentation,
the Smell (he described himself as ‘talk over beats)’, or more
so connective ramblings with political subjects. Her exit is as instantaneous
as her entrance, ‘moving along’.
This was Monique Magdalena. Her slow peeling off of panties was
reminiscent of Mommy’s Panty Boy, that obscure underground film classic. There were
layers and layers. Still, no jamming of yams up her ass ala’ Karen Finley
or Johanna Went tossing pig’s eyes into the audience, as I had seen in
my day of the Mesozoic Era known as the 80’s. Hard to do anything but
go back to square one if you weren’t driving a nail into your scrotum
skin like Bob Flannagan had done.
The big event of the evening was a band (without name) formed
from the pieces of the Units, Factrix and Tuxedo Moon. Well,
Winston Tong was actually the
only component of Tuxedo Moon, and his role in the 80’s art band had
been relatively peripheral. I had followed Tong over the years – he’d
done some fabulous performance art, even won an Obie for his earlier puppet
theater work, such as “Bound Feet” and “Against Nature.” Later
he contributed some quirky vocals and musical ideas to this truly original
(and personal favorite) band Tuxedo Moon who had to move to Belgium to survive.
I am reminded of Strother Martin’s character Dr. Poe in the film Hard
Times, who drawled “I have a weakness…for opiates.” Such
rumors had long swirled around most if not all involved with Tuxedo Moon. Tong’s
own appearances had gotten increasingly slipshod and “improvised.” His
show at the local Tsunami Festival in the latter 90’s had received such
a bad review they actually posted it at the box office so you couldn’t
get pissed off. I went in anyway and caught Tong in what appeared to be an
early rehearsal with a band and dancers that seemed to barely know each other.
An interesting if outrageously unprepared act. Tong disappeared from my radar
after that, showing up only in an amateur Marin production of the life of Tibetan
saint Padmasambhava. I knew some of the people in this show that was rumored
to be so excruciating that I skipped it. However, I did hear that Winston was
great in a role that he improvised every time he was on stage.
So here he was, at first mysterious and unrecognizable in a black
hoody drifting around the side of the stage. His eyes were riveting.
If he wore eyeliner,
he had just enough to make you wonder. As he took the stage, I gasped. He could
easily be 20 pounds thinner than when I’d seen him at the Tsunami Festival.
Gaunt and vampiric, he began croaking away in a voice he hadn’t seemed
to have bothered to warm up. The distinct lack of any solid beat was not helping
his drowsy, blissful delivery, rubbery in syncopation. Tong looked like he
thought he was doing very well, and the crowd, already tanked themselves, showed
what I could only observe as an enormously overgenerous enthusiasm.
The final act. The main attraction; initially I see a skeletal
figure, the years could’ve had a heart, however it is clear Winston wishes to use
this to his advantage and it works well stretched along the bleak wail that
follows. Appears goth attire birthed a trickle down effect that lingers, black
etc. He encompasses his sound - unfortunately the other members of this rag-tag
do not. No, I’m reminded of hippies, lost in the color disasters of the
early 90’s psychedelic grunge. ‘Alternative’ I suppose? Possibly
too old to care. Winston and his voice seem to be two separate entities, each
without control over the other, sense of clinging unto a younger doppelganger
of yourself hanging from a cliff through vocal chords. I shudder. Meanwhile
the others carry similarly, a dimension to each his own, fragile spinal column
of bass line the only unifying force, awkwardly sawing and ebbing along drowsily.
Some art school film projection in the background injects slight anxiety, I’m
told it’s Winston’s, intelligent decision. The bass player, the
most annoying on the eyes of them all, a schoolteacher in an car crash with
some kind of bobbing ‘let’s just jam it man’ sensibility.
Keyboardist ain’t too bad, he wears a suit, safe move. I can’t
distinguish gaps between songs, amorphous movement. Tong moans on. Those too
clueless to understand the mortification at play waltz along in almost a mockery.
My foot refuses to tap. Eventually Winston grasps his dignity and leaves the
stage to the others, little time passes before a drunk presents us with a karaoke
disaster. They finish up and the audience is high school talent-show-merciful.
Only category manages to stick is ‘psychedelic’. Clean way to state: ‘a
mess’. Well, perhaps the terms ‘ghostly’, ‘shapeless’,
and well, ‘frightening’ suffice as well.
We head on home, catching a 33 bus the way I would’ve when I was Dion’s
age. Certain questions came to mind after we talked over the night.
What is electroclash?
There you’ve done it. Ninety percent of the music journalist world immediately
turns upon you in the saloon with aristocratic scorn. ‘Now just where
were you in 2002?’ Los Angeles and New York snicker at you in unison.
Excuse me, well, a collapse of the term: “electro” - a grave digging
of earlier 80’s synth acts - from Missing Persons to Corey Hart. Now, “clash”:
faint lifeline of punk beats through this vein, ‘don’t give a shit’ mind
state, ‘now not then not when’, all the while incestuously sharing
haircuts with early punk styles. Adjectives: decadent, sleazy-horny, snobbish,
ultimately: fleeting. “Is” should be replaced with “was”.
Nice return of hypersexual air to contemporary music. The term-scene-however
you want to call it suffers the fate of hypemongers intent on declaring any
moderately fresh acts as revolutionary. While the scene has marked another
chapter in the tome of electronic music, still suffers the nostalgia lust of
the current 60’s-80’s rebirth mistake. Highly danceable. Trash
and class in flux. Artists?: A.R.E Weapons, Fischerspooner, Whatever It Takes,
Peaches, Adult, Mount Sims. Fashion over substance, minimalism in its most
conceited dress, as short lived as a one nite stand.
What is dark wave?
Ejected prematurely from the womb of electroclash uncoils darkwave. Acts
have yet to define-flesh out the term/scene; however, in description: electronic
beats often highlighted with subtle industrial noise / faux opera vocals. New
wave sensibility/goth wave nihilism. Depeche Mode/Bauhaus/Joy Division the
principal role models. Introspection more possible than it’s electroclash
parent, as understood depression permits. Tearful beats to find your mascara
running on your chin. Artists, again artists? The Faint / XOXOXO / Crack: W.A.R
/ Playgroup / I Am Spoonbender.
Any other pertinent sub-genres?
The meat grinder of journalist cutting edge ache never rests, millions
exist, most interesting as innovative without ’revivalist’ necrophilia;
the current expansion of industrial, dance-punk [although suffering Siamese
dicksuck to Gang of Four] psych metal, noir wave, ambient, IDM [intelligent
dance music], noise, noise pop, screamo, the combinations are as endless & ravenous
as SPIN or alternative press magazines’ appetite.
Thank you, Astroboy & good night.
A couple of days later found us in my kitchen, talking film.
I was giving Dennis Hopper’s directorial career in a nutshell, and mentioned how Colors was
his director’s comeback, for better or worse, after being untouchable
in the Industry for his notorious drug prehistory. It was well directed, but
the plot was basically the old cowboy and the young cowboy (albeit Robert Duvall & Sean
Penn), reworked as old cop/young cop, the elder and the youth.
“ You know,” I said. “Like us.”
Marc Olmsted & Dion