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
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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