Nozinja

Nozinja

We’re back! Sorry we’ve been away for so long. It’s coming up on six years since we’ve been doing this blog and I’m not gonna lie to you: There was awhile there when we were both seriously considering calling it quits. I mean, how many more weird bands can there really be out there? A shit-ton, I’m sure, but we’ve officially reached the point where 99.9% of the emails and comments we get are for shit that’s fucking awful and/or not that weird. So separating the cream from the curdle has actually gotten more difficult as our audience has grown. I know, I know…boo-fucking-hoo, right? At least our audience has grown, so we must be doing something right. Right?

Anyway, starting this week, I solemnly swear that I will post a new weird band every week again, just like the good old days. Andy will pitch in too, sometimes, but he’s got a fancy new job that pays him to go hang out at Coachella and shit, so he won’t be around as much. But your old Uncle Jake here is gonna start driving this blog like a stolen Ferrari again…at least on the weekends.

So to get us back in the swing of things, I figured some good party music was in order. So allow me to present to you Nozinja, inventor of a whole new genre of music called Shangaan electro that is like dance music for hummingbirds. Seriously, I’m winded just listening to this stuff.

Nozinja, whose real name is Richard Mthetwa, is from a part of South Africa called Limpopo, which is a long-ass way from Cape Town, home base of our other favorite South African oddballs, Die Antwoord. Limpopo is in the far northeast of South Africa, next to Botswana and Zimbabwe, and it’s mostly rural and dirt-poor. Among the many native peoples living there is a group called the Shangaans, who are known for the xibelani dance, an insanely fast dance that kind of looks like a cross between a hula dance and twerking. Shangaan electro, pioneered by Nozinja and other local musicians, basically took the rhythms of the xibelani dance, sped them up even more, and replaced traditional drums and other instruments with lo-fi synths and drum machines. And presto! A crazy new dance music genre was born.

Shangaan electro is so great, it probably would’ve gone worldwide eventually. But Nozinja sure helped jump-start that process. Using the money he’d earned from running a chain of cell phone repair shops, the budding Dr. Dre of Limpopo went all-in on a home recording studio and began cranking this stuff out. He even made a few goofy, low-budget videos that are all the more awesome because, against all the screen-saver graphics and random shots of backup singers dancing in what we assume is his front yard, Nozinja’s still sporting his cell phone repair shop owner wardrobe. He looks like he wandered in from a Ross Dress for Less ad, but he’s still got more swag that a thousand shitty gangsta rappers.

Such brilliance couldn’t remain undiscovered for long…and sure enough, Nozinja signed to Warped fuckin’ Records in 2014. Yes, that Warp Records, home to Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin. Not surprisingly, in his first video for Warp, “Tsekeleke,” he’s sporting a much more stylin’ wardrobe.

Nozinja’s debut full-length album, Nozinja Lodge, comes out on Warp on June 2nd. We cannot fucking wait. We’re gonna strap on our xibelani skirts and dance to that shit like hummingbirds.

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Puddles Pity Party

Puddles Pity Party

Do clowns freak you out a little? Yeah, me too. Which is why seeing Puddles Pity Party, starring a hulking, unspeaking clown named Puddles, definitely made me uneasy. But I powered through. I’m just glad I wasn’t one of the several audience members he tormented throughout the show—including one guy in particular who was clearly freaked out by clowns. Man, Puddles really went for the jugular with that poor bastard. He’s like a cat who picks out the most allergic person in the room and curls up in their lap, purring happily.

Puddles is the creation of a six-foot-eight singer from Atlanta named Michael Geier, who used to be part of an all-clown band called Greasepaint. When Greasepaint went their separate ways, he took Puddles solo, rebranding himself as the “Sad Clown With the Golden Voice,” singing covers of pop songs in a mock-operatic style that contrasted sharply with his white facepaint and hulking frame. His most famous song is a cover of Lorde’s “Royals” that you’ve probably seen by now:

But that track just scratches the surface of Puddles’ repertoire. He also does a mean Leonard Cohen:

And here, perhaps most impressively, he mashes up Celine Dion and Metallica:

That’s his assistant, Monkey Zuma, in that last video. For some reason, when I saw Puddles here in L.A. at the Troubadour, Zuma was not in attendance. Maybe she got sick of being paid in bananas.

Anyway, if you’re not too scared of clowns, I highly recommend treating yourself to the epic sing-a-thon that is Puddles Pity Party. Just be warned: This is one clown that likes to get into the faces of his audience. Especially the ones who look like they might be scared of clowns.

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Donny Varper is a “Material Boy”

Donny Varper

Nicaragua’s leading gay alien Madonna impersonator Donny Varper is back and bringing the crazy in a new video we can’t stop watching. “Material Boy” starts with Donny wandering the desert in harem girl drag and ends with him crucified on what appears to be the rhinestone-encrusted dollar sign from a D-list rapper’s chain. Also, there’s something on his crotch we can’t quite identify—although not being able to identify things in the crotchular area on Donny Varper is kind of a given. Basically, it’s what we were hoping the Madonna Grammy performance would be like, instead of whatever that vogue-ing matador bullshit was she laid on us instead. At least at the BRIT Awards, they got to watch her eat it.

The video can’t be embedded. Why, Donny, why?! Don’t fear the embed. But fine, you can watch the goddamn thing on YouTube.

Donny keeps promising to answer some of our questions…and oh yes, we have questions…in a video interview, if we can just get our shit together and send him some damn questions. It’ll happen eventually, we promise.

Mission Man’s new video just gave us the warm fuzzies

Mission Man

We haven’t been posting as much lately, I know. What can I say? Life shit. But when our old Ohio hip-hop pal Mission Man tweeted us his latest video, we just had to share it with you folks out there in Readerland. (By the way, don’t panic: Mission Man did not die in 2012. That’s just a copyright date range in the above graphic. He’s alive and well and still rockin’ the mic.)

MM’s vid for “Love, Funk and Soul” makes us happy, and not just because it features more cowbell. Mainly, it gives us a case of the warm fuzzies because it proves what we’ve long suspected, but seen precious little evidence of: Mission Man has fans. In the clip, they can be seen taking selfies with him, partying with him, throwing snowballs at him, and, at around the 1:08 mark, getting up onstage and dancing with him. Dude’s grind is definitely starting to pay off. Let this be an inspiration to us all.

Spookey Ruben

Spookey Ruben

If there was any justice in the world, Toronto’s Spookey Ruben would’ve become a weirdo superstar in the mid-’90s, around the same time it was actually still possible for eccentric bands like Primus and Ween to sell millions of records and gain some mainstream recognition for their offbeat brilliance. Ruben came on the scene with a similarly brilliant debut album in 1995 called Modes of Transportation Vol. 1 that should’ve achieved Chocolate and Cheese-level notoriety. But the album came out on the crap-tastic TVT Records, a label that has screwed up the careers of everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Lil Jon over the years, and that was apparently no less kind to Ruben. For reasons we haven’t been able to discern, they decided to release his second album, Modes of Transportation Vol. 2, only in Japan, which had the not surprisingly effect of causing him to drop off most folks’ radar everywhere except Japan. Well-played, TVT.

Fortunately, Ruben has persisted, continuing to release new music through his own label, Hi-Hat Recordings. He even managed to get back the rights to all (or at least most) of his old TVT material, and has plans to do a 20th anniversary reissue of Modes Vol. 1 later this year, along with a new album called Modes III that he just successfully funded via Indiegogo.

Ruben got his start playing guitar in D.C. area punk and metal bands as a teenager, before moving to Toronto to go to film school. His hardcore roots occasionally surface in his solo stuff, especially when he lets rip on the occasional shred-tastic guitar solo, but mostly his music exists on a folk/pop/psych-rock axis somewhere between Ween and XTC. It’s catchy and polished, but always takes unexpected twists and turns, either with goofy lyrics, cartoon sound effects, unexpected stylistic shifts, or even just in the way Ruben’s melodies often cut against the grain of his chord progressions, making tunes that are at once bright and oddly dissonant, like Beach Boys songs heard from a passing train.

Last year, Ruben took time out from his solo work to front a power-pop band called AAA Battery. They did a song called “Jenna” that’s not really that weird, but the video is fun.

He’s also been putting that film school experience to good use with Spookey Ruben’s Dizzy Playground, a comedic short film series that has guest-starred folks like Ariel Pink and Feist. They’re all pretty hysterical, but our personal favorite is “Natural Born Grannies.”

We’ll leave you with two videos from Modes of Transportation Vol. 1. First up: his catchy, keytar-fueled ode to fast food, “Wendy McDonald.” Bet this is Zayde Buti’s favorite Spookey Ruben song. Don’t stop watching before the xylophone solo or you’ll miss out.

Next: The song and video that’s probably Ruben’s masterpiece, “These Days Are Old.” Remember, before you judge: Everybody in the mid-’90s had bad hair.

Many thanks to Sarah Dukakis at Hi-Hat for sharing Spookey with us.

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Weird Live Review: Sparks

Sparks at the Ace Hotel

It’s not every day you get to hear music by any band on our Weird List rendered by a 38-piece orchestra. It’s even more remarkable when that band is Sparks, the quirk-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, and even more remarkable when the focus of the event isn’t one of their more symphonic efforts like Lil’ Beethoven but their 1974 glam-rock opus Kimono My House, which featured nary a string section but plenty of fuzzy guitar solos and Russell Mael’s swooping falsetto vocals at their most mock-operatic.

The Mael brothers first gave Kimono My House the orchestral treatment last December in London, and decided to follow up those shows with a similar two-night run in their hometown of Los Angeles. The setting for both performances was the suitably stately Theatre at Ace Hotel, formerly the United Artists movie palace, a spectacularly ornate room with Gothic decorations nearly as elaborate as the music from Kimono My House.

As I usually do these days, I wrote the full review of the show for my day job over at L.A. Weekly. So you can read my full account on their site. Suffice it to say that while the orchestral reimagining of Kimono My House, most of the highlights (for me, anyway) came in the show’s second half, when they played an assortment of songs spanning Sparks’ amazing four-decade catalog. And at least one of those highlights involved a monkey. (And no, I’m not referring to Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. Although he did insert himself into the proceedings. I’m still not sure how I feel about that Sparks/Franz collab.)

Harmony Bay

Harmony Bay

While we were away, an old reader called Sick Nick resurfaced and alerted us to the existence of this duo from the Czech Republic called Harmony Bay, which sounds like the name of a company that makes aromatherapy gift baskets but, in this case, is actually a couple of guys who make crazy, spazzy experimental comedy metal that sounds sort of like a cross between Naked City, Pryapisme and Mr. Bungle. Who knows, maybe the scent of their matching black and multi-colored suits has aromatherapeutic properties, but we suspect it just smells like a couple of sweaty Czech guys.

Anyway, their music is truly something special: cartoonish but also extremely technical, headbanging and hilarious. We have no idea what the songs are about, since they’re all in Czech, but we assume the lyrics are as surreal as the music.

You can hear a whole bunch of their tunes on this Czech website called Bandzone, but to get a complete earful and eyeful of Harmony Bay insanity, look no further than the video Sick Nick shared with us, “Palindrom lučního koníka.” Oh my god, the vocals alone. These guys are amazing.

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Weird Live Review: Cattle Decapitation

Cattle Decapitation

Photo by Vince Edwards/Metal Blade Records

Well, I finally experienced my first Cattle Decapitation show and I must say, they exceeded my expectations. They’re a bit less weird than I was led to believe — the whole extreme vegetarian thing isn’t such a big part of their shtick anymore, as half the band members now eat meat — but they’re a super-intense live act. Especially frontman Travis Ryan, who has a death growl that can peel the paint off the back wall. Listening to him roar, shriek and gibber over Cattle Decap’s deathgrind onslaught is like hearing Mike Patton do vocals for Cannibal Corpse.

My full review is over on LA Weekly, so check it out. And fear not: We’ll have an update on their forthcoming album right here on this here blog as soon as details emerge. (I learned from a label publicist that they begin recording later this month in Denver, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. Well, that and the fact that the new songs they played during last night’s set sounded, at least to my untrained ears, exactly like what you’d expect from Cattle Decapitation.)

Rockbitch

Rockbitch

We get a lot of submissions from bands that like to perform in various states of undress, up to and including full genital exposure. It will not surprise you to learn that 99% of these bands are dudes. Guys love whipping it out in public, and doing so in the name of rock ‘n’ roll stopped being a transgressive act a long time ago. When Blink-182 does something, it’s officially no longer any big shakes.

For women, it’s different. Thanks to our society’s inherent sexism and double standards, female sexuality is still taboo in ways that male sexuality is not. So the fact that a band like Rockbitch ever existed is a fairly remarkable thing.

Rockbitch was a British hard rock group that emerged from the ashes of another band called Red Abyss. From the start, Red Abyss embodied many of the same principles that later came to characterize Rockbitch: It was female fronted (though the drummer, and occasionally other members of the revolving lineup, were men), communal and sex-positive. But compared to Rockbitch, Red Abyss’s lyrics and stage show were comparatively tame: “We were hiding our lifestyle behind a facade,” reads the band’s official bio, written by their guitarist, Lisa “Babe” Wills, “self-censoring our natural behaviour.”

Part of the problem was that, while fans and promoters encouraged and even rewarded outrageous behavior by male rock bands, they tended to frown upon similar antics coming from the ladies of Red Abyss. “Male bands with whom we were sharing a stage would perform screaming out their fake rebellious bullshit about sex and satan — then insult us to our faces saying that we shouldn’t be fucking all those men and women in our dressing rooms, and did our parents know how we behaved?”

Red Abyss also encountered straight-up sexism at every turn: booking agents refusing to deal with their female manager, male sound guys and venue employees assuming they didn’t know how to play their instruments or outright sabotaging their sets, venue owners insisting on handing the money to a male roadie rather than to a female band member. “We were, bluntly, being treated like shit.” This happened, by the way, wasn’t happening in some pre–women’s lib Mad Men past. This was in the ’90s.

Eventually, the women of Red Abyss had had enough. They became the darker, heavier, more sexually aggressive beast called Rockbitch.

For a few years, up until they disbanded in 2002, Rockbitch was probably the raunchiest band on the planet. Many of the band members performed naked, or nearly so. Songs like “Fistfuck” would be acted out onstage. During every show, they’d toss a “Golden Condom” into the audience and invite whoever caught it, male or female, to come backstage and fuck several members of the band. (“Babe” Wills liked to point out that, of everyone who ever caught the Golden Condom, the only ones who would chicken out were the men, some of whom apparently assumed it was a joke. Rockbitch’s in-your-face female sexuality was, and still is, highly intimidating to many men. Including, we must admit, us.)

None of this was done for shock value, at least not primarily. As outlined in various essays and manifestos on the band’s website, Rockbitch’s mission was to destigmatize female sexuality and sex in general. And hard rock seemed like the perfect vehicle for doing so. “When a woman can’t even strip to the waist and play a bitching, head-down guitar riff, have her lead singer fuck her with a strap-on whilst a stage surfer licks her feet without authorities wanting to ban over 18’s from coming to see it — well, what has the world of rock and rebellion come to!?” their website playfully asks. (And no, that’s not an exaggerated description of their live show.)

By 2000, Rockbitch’s lineup had become all-female: founder/matriarch Amanda “The Bitch” Smith-Skinner on fretless bass, Julie Worland on vocals, Lisa “Babe” Wills on lead guitar, Luci the “Stage Slut” on rhythm guitar, Nikki Fay on keyboards and Jo Heeley on drums, plus two or three “Sex Magick Priestesses” who danced and facilitated some of the sexual rituals. The band’s former lead guitarist, Tony “The Beast,” stayed on as the band’s manager and producer — no doubt in part to run occasional interference with sexist bookers and venue owners.

Musically, the band played theatrical, heavy rock, highlighted by Worland’s operatic vocals, The Bitch’s fluid, often funky basslines and Babe’s scorching guitar. Here’s a good example, a track called “Sex & The Devil” that also happens to features a weirdly witchy video, with the Rockbitches cavorting half-naked in the forest:

As you probably got from that video, besides all the sexual themes and imagery, an element of paganism runs through Rockbitch’s music and philosophy — though Babe is quick to point out on the band’s website that they are neither Wiccans nor Satanists. As best as we understand it — and I admit, as a couple of uptight dudes in monogamous relationships, our understanding is probably shaky — they celebrate sex itself as sacred, particularly the acts of cunnilingus and vaginal penetration, which they describe as forms of “cunt worship,” the vagina being the source of all human life and therefore the most sacred component of human sexuality. This worship/celebration of sex extends, paganistically, to the worship of nature in general; although their website stops short of describing many of the group’s offstage rituals, or explaining the full meaning of their many onstage ones (“we are intensely private people,” Babe explains in her “brief and grudging account of part of our belief system”), their are a few photographs showing things like an “earth-fucking ritual” and a “serpent initiation ritual,” suggesting that the cult of Rockbitch is a fairly elaborate one that extends far beyond just the music and sex acts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the authorities tended to lose their shit over Rockbitch. The band was banned from performing at many venues, and their music and album artwork was heavily censored in many countries. It’s not clear what role if any this played in the band’s eventual breakup. but it couldn’t have been easy for the women to tour or get distribution for their music.

Rockbitch only released one studio album, 1999’s Motor Driven Bimbo, plus a live album, Rockbitch Live in Amsterdam; during their brief run, the Netherlands seemed to have been one of the few countries where the band was able to tour on a regular basis. A second album, Psychic Attack, was never officially released but has been widely bootlegged and can be found on various torrent sites. Motor Driven Bimbo is out of print, but copies occasionally surface on Amazon and elsewhere, often selling for $100 or more.

Post-Rockbitch, the band’s full lineup resurfaced in a clothed, less theatrical incarnation called MT-TV. But that group soon disbanded, as well. Amanda Smith-Skinner and Jo Heeley later teamed up with singer-songwriter Erin Bennett to form another all-female band called Syren, but tragically, that group dissolved after Heeley died of breast cancer in 2012. Other former Rockbitch members have, as far as we’ve been able to tell, retired from making music — though according to their Facebook page, they still live and work together as a commune.

We’ve known about Rockbitch for years, but were reluctant at first to add them to the Weird List because to do so seemed sexist. So it was a bunch of women with guitars and their tits out — so what? A bunch of men doing the same thing would be met nowadays with a collective shrug. To add them to our compendium of extreme music felt like yet another example of the very double standard in music that Rockbitch railed against.

But as well researched the band further (while our wives were at work), we decided that regardless of their gender, Rockbitch were truly unique. No other band in history, male, female or coed, ever randomized the groupie selection process as radically as Rockbitch did with their Golden Condom, or made oral sex and vaginal penetration such a routine part of their stage show. Rockbitch incorporated sex into rock ‘n’ roll performance in a way that’s never been done before or since. And as powerful, liberated women, they made that sex a political act. A Rockbitch show was a rock concert, neopagan ritual and radical feminist performance-art piece all in one. And lots of people got laid. That’s the truly awesome kind of weirdness this blog was designed to celebrate.

We’ll leave you one more video, for a track from Psychic Attack called “Breathe.” This appears to be a fan-made mashup of strange naked zombie go-go dance animation and video from one of several concert documentaries made about the band, probably 2002’s Sex, Death and Magick (which, if you’re so inclined, and are over 18, you can watch in full on YouTube).

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Army of Gay Unicorns wants you to start 2015 “Concussed and Terrified”

Army of Gay Unicorns

Since the traditional way to start a New Year, at least around my house, is with lost keys and a raging hangover, I figured we should start off 2015 here at Weird Band HQ with a track that evokes Jan. 1st in all its skull-splitting glory. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the aptly named “Concussed and Terrified,” the latest cold shower of noise from our old pal Richard, aka Army of Gay Unicorns. If you by some miracle do NOT already have a hangover, crank this one up and it’s the next worst thing.

Happy New Year, weirdos!

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