SUBTERRANEAN
Hey! Underground, What you got down there???
By Robin Storey
(From Exposure #7, Midford, TX, 1982)


I can still remember my shock (and disappointment) when, at the age of ten (morbid rebel curiosity for the kinder care set), I put on my freshly purchased Clash alb (c. '78) and, instead of whatever I might've been expecting from these leather-clad revolutionaries, discovered a sound which seemed at the time to be not far removed from the cover band rehearsing at the end of the block - rock and roll.

It was months before I understood the connection between the boys in black and girls in safety pins and a music I found not all that new (though "Sat. Night Fever"'s success set the record straight eventually). While the Pistols, Clash, Damned and Dead Boys were seen as chainsaw anti-music by the more mature ears of the disco-weened, my young ears' virginal objectivity did not so fully identify the difference.

As I write this the Clash are sitting comfortably in the Top Ten with their latest single ("Ha, you think it's funny?/Turning rebellion into money?"). While I eventually came around to a full understanding of punk and complete appreciation of the aforementioned groups, I now again see this early music as almost sedate in today's context, as do so many other punks of the era. The most obvious effect of these early bands was their trailblazing effect which took hold later in New York and L.A., eventually spreading across the country and even to Texas (official birth: The Plastic Idols with "Einstein Experience," c. '79).

This pioneering led up to what seems to be the most extreme noise manifesto yet, the post punk anti-music of the very underbelly of California's undergrounds in L.A. and, most heavily, San Francisco. Subterranean Records, Frisco's martyr-cum-savior, has taken the vinyl initiative by releasing literally dozens of plastic testaments to the new noise boom.

The first official recognition given this crew came with "Live At Target" (Sub 3), a now classic comp featuring the best of the worsts: Factrix, Nervous Gender, Uns, and the newborn Flipper. A dozen records later Sub came out with the centerpiece of the (non)movement: "Red Spot."

Within "Red Spot"'s white vinyl were to be found key noise mutants heralding the absolute emergence of unforeseen musical wreckage. Faves such as Animal Things' "It's Dark In Here", the Fried Abortions' "Joel Selvin" ("...we're gonna beat the shit outta you"), and Minimal Man's "Shower Sequence" (perverse "Psycho" takeoff at a wrecking yard) have made this possibly my most borrowed record, and a favorite of the genre. It exists as a symbol of the beginning of the end/future; a must for all considering stepping into the cesspool expression.

The next record to come out from the dark alley was Stefan Weisser (a.k.a. Uns)'s 7" any speed, "Poextensions." This anonymous piece of wax soon develops a personality all it's own, a wonderfully crafted noise product to be played at any speed, depending on the mood, drugs, or time at hand. Pioneered by Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music," the only comparison to be found.

A striking follow up was the first album from Minimal Man, "The Shroud Of," a "cruel joke...digging cliches into the ground." This threesome (aided by seven) compiled thirteen songs varying in speed, density, and bearability, each of which is very, very unique. "Hate-monger" at 10 dB's IS the definition of overbearing noise (as well as can be tied down), and is, to indoctrinated ears, the purest pleasure. This record is a must for any listener, one which will never grow old.

Possibly the most extreme, and definitely most decadent, of these bands, is L.A.'s notorious Nervous Gender. Still basking in the horror of their "Target" contribution, "The Poet's Confession" ("Jesus was just like me / A homosexual nymphomaniac") they released "Music From Hell," wailing on necrophilia, monsters, the (Catholic) church and, quite effectively, life at the Whiskey ("Bathroom Sluts"), the sound of which can most accurately be compared to an electric fly fallen captive to a blender on high to a backdrop of sexual emissions. The French novelist Jean Genet stated that by calling himself the lowest living, a whore, shit, dirt, that he defied all criticism because he could be called no lower. Thirty years after Genet, Nervous Gender have achieved the musical equivalent of Genet's detachment - they are horrific to the point of beauty; he would be glorified.

Factrix then made a very promising live collaboration with the infamous Monte Cazazza which was recorded and later released as Factrix Cazazza's "California Babylon," an "aural document marking spiritual crisis in the wake of a turbulent epoch, the end of the Twentieth Century." "Death By Hanging," "Pro (Charles) Man Son", and "Nancy's Little Gun" highlight this brilliant statement; the only record I know to sound as good, and to be as effective, played backwards as forwards. Also a classic.

PreFix, originally from Arizona, made their contribution with Sub 19, a 7" single. Both songs ("Underneathica"/"Ectomorphine") seem somewhere near normalcy upon first plays but eventually draw the listener into a demented web of mutant primal rythyms laid layer upon layer with the mad-genius production of Tom Tadlock, also of Tuxedomoon and Pink Section production infamy. Very interesting in hearing three instruments (guitar, bass and drums) appear so full and complex, while at the same time remaining minimalist.

After this dark madness and crazed experimentation Subterranean slaps us all in the face with their most recent achievement, Tommy Tadlock's "Body Ad" 45. Both songs on this 7" are clean, childlike dentistry backdrop, to which anyone's mother could do her shopping at the nearest United. The twisted normalcy throws a pale of cold water and works as a scathingly sarcastic cure for those who have delved into the previous vinyl.

These, as well as a few lesser known records (many, including Savage Republic, on L.A.'s Independent Project Records, which specialized in industrial and noise experimentation) represent the best of the dark genre. The bands have virtually no footing in any conventional area; they cannot be confused with any other human product. And the sounds are not fading; rather, more is planned, including new material by Weisser/Uns as well as the legendary Chrome on Subterranean. With each new release bands are becoming more and more abstract and removed from their previous self, in a way so haphazard that direction cannot be predicted; but, without doubt, the future of noise has never been more promising than now.

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