Crash Worship

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Today’s weird band is yet another suggestion from one of our greatest sources of weird band lore, our buddy Treiops, who also designed our bitchin’ double-neck guitar “W” logo. Treiops recently reminded us about a band he saw back in the ’90s called Crash Worship, which sort of took the whole neo-pagan tribal vibe espoused by events like Burning Man to its logical extreme. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say most former members of the now-defunct Crash Worship (aka Adoración De Rotura Violenta, or ADRV) probably think Burning Man’s gotten pretty lame at this point. Too many safety rules. At a Crash Worship show, safety pretty much went out the window.

Crash Worship started in the mid ’80s in, of all places, San Diego, where a couple of percussionists named Markus Wolff and Simon Cheffins got together and started making music inspired by their shared love of early industrial/experimental bands like Throbbing Gristle and 23 Skidoo. Originally, the band was purely a studio project, but eventually, their live shows would grow to eclipse their recorded output—most of which is, to be honest, a lo-fi mess of post-punk/industrial jam sessions with lots of distorted guitar and tribal drums and not much in the way of recognizable songs.

But oh, those live shows. A Crash Worship concert might begin with the band entering the venue from the street, pushing its way through the audience with mobile drum kits and fire dancers, then assaulting the spectators with strobe lights, fake (or possibly real) blood, wine, whipped cream, ice cubes, smoke, green Jello, small fireworks and god knows what else. Two de facto frontmen, JXL and Fat Jack Torino, served occasionally as vocalists but mainly as “audience manipulators,” running through the crowd to hand out little gifts (fruit, hand percussion, etc.), exhort the wallflowers to get off their asses and dance, and rub various viscous substances on the half-naked bodies of any willing (or sometimes unwilling) participants. People got naked, people got dirty, people got injured. Mostly, the barriers between audience and performer broke down to the point where nearly everyone there felt like they were not so much at a show as participating in some kind of ancient ritual. “I reverted to a PRIMAL state,” is how one witness described it. Whether you believe that or not, it’s pretty clear that a Crash Worship show was a totally unique experience.

Throughout the ’90s, Crash Worship continued to perform throughout the U.S. and Europe, although their reputation for leaving behind a horrible mess meant that fewer and fewer venues were willing to book them. The band also went through numerous lineup changes, the most significant apparently happening in 1996 when Wolff and some other key members quit. After that, a newer member of the band named Quintron seems to have taken a more significant role—in one interview, he even referred to himself as the “leader” of the band, even though Cheffins, JXL and Fat Jack were still part of the group. Quintron’s elaborate puppet shows would now often serve as a prelude to the rest of the group’s show—puppet shows he later developed further with his partner, Miss Pussycat, as part of their New Orleans-based “swamp-tech” act.

By 1999, Crash Worship was finished, leaving a trail of blown minds and tamer projects by various ex-members in their wake. (See below for links to some of them.) Unfortunately, very little video of Crash Worship shows exists, and most of what’s out there is of pretty poor quality—although it’s probably impossible to capture the vibe at a Crash Worship show anyway. Video can’t breathe fire in your face and pour chocolate syrup down your back. Still, this clip gives you some sense of the chaos.


About weirdestband

Founder of Weirdest Band in the World. Enabler of Jake Manson's binge drinking.

Posted on October 16, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. The guy who dragged me to my first CW concert was a good friend of mine who was a musician who had a degree in classical music — he was a classical pianist who wrote symphonies for orchestras and whose favorite composer was Debussy. But he also had a mo-hawk and was a leather and stud clad 90’s Orange County neo-punk and he played a lot in the San Diego and San Fran punk club scenes, which was where he became friends with members of CW. There were 7 of us nutty-ass musicians — my punk friend and some weird chick I never saw before or after, his jazz bass playing brother and his ever-high girlfriend, his sister and her drummer boyfriend (who was my drummer and fellow philosophy major, which is how I ended up in this mess in the first place) and me — crammed in my Dodge Omni, heading from Orange, CA to LA to a major club (the Whiskey, I think?? dammit) to “experience” Crash Worship. I had the “honor” of being designated driver that night, so I was sober for the whole thing, which is NOT the best way to enjoy a CW concert. Of course, all of my friends were high and/or drunk before they even got in my car. We got there a couple hours before the show started, and got in because we were “with the band”, so we camped right in front of the stage. Anyway, the opening acts were really lame — some post-punk act, and some weird anti-pop chick, and a leftover post grunge metal band that was so bad that my drummer friend was trying to pick a fight with their drummer DURING their set, yelling “you suck” and throwing beer at him while he was playing. The later it got, the more scary looking the crowd became. And they were ticked that the “lame” pay-to-play bands were chewing up the CW time. The whole crowd seemed drunk and stoned and really_scary_looking. Now understand — I was an Iron Maiden/Queensryche/Judas Priest influenced metal singer — a body builder with hair below my butt and meat cleaver earrings, so I set a high bar for scary. This crowd was SCARY. LA scary. Lots of leather, lots of spikes and studs and metal poking out of their faces and other body parts, lots of torn denim and loose fitting sleeveless t-shirts.

    So Crash Worship was finally setting up to play about 45 minutes late and the already scary and now completely packed crowd was really restless. Then we saw the police and fire marshals walk on the stage. Further delays, rumors spreading, concert was going to be cancelled. Uh,oh, here comes a riot, I thought. And I’m stuck at the front with my bass player friend’s girlfriend who was VERY drunk and about to pass out and I have NO idea where the rest of my friends were. I could hear the conversation between people from CW and the fire marshal. The show could go on if there were NO pyrotechnics and no fire. CW pleaded their case, but decided it was better to go ahead without the pyrotechnics than to cancel the show. The deal was struck and I breathed a sigh of relief. News spread fast about the deal. People started yelling things like “You suck, pig!” and “Get out, pigs!”, but thankfully the cops decided to ignore them and left.

    Five minutes later, IT began. . . From the back of the club, the dancers and drummers came, and the sardine packed crowd parted to let them through. I guess usually the fire dancers were in the front, but instead half naked girls and drummers and tribal dancers carrying smoke machines danced from the entrance of the club at the back to the stage in front, singing something unintelligible and loud, the beat reminiscent of tribal warriors about to take the next city that belongs to them. To make them bend to their will. As they danced through the crowd, there were some dancers dousing the crowd with what appeared to be blood, water and wine. They chanted something about cleaning us, preparing us. And then they climbed on the stage. And the drums got louder. A tribal 3/2 beat that sounded as if the high school in Smells Like Teen Spirit had a marching band began to bang, and more unintelligible screaming came from the leader, goofy hat and all. Loud distorted guitars rang out, and what sounded like a distorted slide guitar. Sort of. It kind of didn’t sound like a guitar at all, but I know a guitar when I hear one. There were no keyboards or bass that I could hear, and it certainly wasn’t music as classically defined. And I never understood a single word that either “singer” screamed into their heavily distorted mics. The only way to tell that one song stopped and another began was a quick break in the drums before slightly changing tribal beats. Once the music started, the crowd pressed forward. And began to sway. And I had no choice but to sway with them. They swayed on the beat: back and forth, to and fro, side to side. Smoke pouring out from the stage in every direction, blood spattering from above. In the dense smoke, I found a step by the stage that I deposited my friend’s girlfriend on, and then sunk into the crowd. Sober, but somehow not. Aware, but unable to determine where I was going. I could not see because of the smoke. I could not hear anything other than the din of the music. But I could smell the different incenses in the smoke, as well as the pot some of the crowd was smoking. A plate of fruit went by, and a girl pressed a cube of melon to my lips, which I ate. The crowd moving, slinking, a part of the band. A girl I did not know grabbed my butt from behind. I saw her smile, but could not speak to her louder than the crowd. I also could not resist her hand or others, male and female, as the crowd began to grab each other. It was insane. I decided to stop fretting, just succumb and enjoy the moment and be like the Romans. I don’t know how many people were feeling me up, and my very long hair was apparently pleasurable as many, many people touched it and ran their hands through it. It was this crazy sensation of sensory deprivation by sensory overload. Hundreds of people writhing, moving, pulsing back and forth, molesting one another while the music played. Several of the women were now topless, but the smoke was so thick, I couldn’t see much. But you could feel everything, and touching everything seemed to be the thing to do. There were many things pleasant to the touch, and no one resisting the touches. And the blood and water and wine kept coming, and the drums and the distorted guitars kept playing and I let myself get carried away in the rush of it all. One of the topless girls with lots of piercings and a can of whipped cream ended up in my arms — she offered me a taste of well-placed whipped cream, which I took, and then she kissed me deeply for a few minutes, then disappeared in the crowd and I never saw her again. Then as suddenly as all of the insanity began, the crowd parted again, the band slowly marched out the front and the lights came back on. The smoke cleared slowly, everyone appeared to be fully dressed and the spell was broken. People looked normal again and the club cleared. I was still sober, but felt like I had just recovered from a heavy buzz.

    My friends walked up to me and they asked me where in the hell I was the whole time. Apparently, they were drinking at a table near the stage and weren’t in “the crowd”, and thought I was nuts for being there. Because I was too cool and too intelligent to be a part of that Crash Worship stuff, I lied. I didn’t mention the fondling, the kissing, the being carried helplessly by the motion of the crowd. I said, “Eh, that was ok. A little monotonous.”

    I drove them home and while they all slept high and drunk in my car, I quietly listened to Queensryche’s Rage for Order on the stereo and daydreamed about kissing that topless girl again. . .

    • What a great story…thanks for sharing! Of all the bands we’ve ever blogged about, Crash Worship produces the best “I remember the one time I saw them” stories by far.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. It brings back so many memories of the shows I saw. What especially struck me in your description (that triggered my own memories strongly) was being lost in the crowd in a room full of haze with no sense of direction or time … and a lot of friendly (and ephemeral) naked bodies. I went to one show completely sober and I swear I went into a trance for an hour and to this day I have no memory of that show at all. My friends said I was dancing in the crowd the entire time. I came back to my conscious senses at the end of the show when the drumming stopped. It was one of the strangest (and most inexplicable) experiences of my life.

  2. I saw Crash Worship at the Unicorn in Milwaukee. I went on a recommendation from a record label exec. It was a crazy show that ended abruptly because the band had people set a fire in the middle of the floor with duraflame logs. This club was a basement shit hole. The own came in screaming about the band trying to burn his club down and screaming that he was going to kill the band. I had been warned about the bands antics the whole time I was making sure I knew where the exits were. I will say the audience was hilariously engaged in the show. So many undulating ladies taking their clothes off. The jumping jacks and firecrackers dropped by agents of the band were mildly distressing. But when I saw them lighting those logs on the floor I knew the show was about to be killed. Really weird experience.

  3. They created total mayhem at the Pine Street Tavern in Missoula, MT around 1995. They lit small rags on fire, and threw non-dairy creamer on them, causing rather significant explosions. My friend received 2nd degree burns on his face and chest. Tim, the bar manager, lifted one of the band members by his neck screaming “the contract said absolutely no fire indoors!”. good times.

  4. I saw Crash Worship many times in various Colorado venues including in junkyards. Every show was unique, intense, and indelible. Every time was different, inevitably dangerous, creative, and always transcendent in the sense that a spell was cast on the audience so that all separation between musician and audience and between one person and the next vanished. This swirling, writhing thing that was happening became the performance and everyone there became melded together so that all distinctions were forgotten and the unfolding of this thing became everyone’s new temporary identity. You didn’t go to listen to crash worship play. You went to abandon yourself into what they had created. We used to call it the closest thing to the Dionysian Mysteries that could be experienced in the modern world. I’m grateful that I experienced what they created … and I’m grateful that no one died at the shows I participated in, because in all that chaos, it could have easily happened. Thank you for bringing back the memories of this great band.

    • Damn, dude. Thanks for describing the show better than we ever could. Seeing as we never fucking got to go. Dammit! We demand a reunion tour!

  5. This is beyond awesome – first result on google for my amnesic search: “90s tribal drum band”! I was just telling my wife about a Crash Worship show in Denver in the summer of ’94. A sandbag, on fire, attached to a rope, being swung out over the crowd from the performer IN the crowd as drummers marched through the joint…fantastic. Well done on this site!

  6. Fans of this band might enjoy Shit And Shine

  7. Hi, I love your article. I was at many of the shows in the 90’s and even had them play at some of my own events (Planet Genius). I wrote and published a book where I talk about them (under a different name) and I also sometimes toured with them in the US and Europe. Wow, thanks for writing this as it took me back to those great 90’s days and how I wish I could get in touch with Simon, Markus, Jason, Cat, Dreike, et al. If you happen to be in touch with any of them please let me know. Thanks again for your article. best, Vanessa

    • Hi Vanessa…thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, we’re not in touch with any of the Crash Worship crew…seems like they mostly scattered. What’s the book you wrote? You gotta hype that shit!

      • Hi Jake,

        Nice to hear from you. Great article again. Loved it! Well, my book focuses on my experiences in the 90’s in California. Its a hyperreal fiction based on three years of my life back then. It’s called ‘A California Girl’ and can be found on Amazon. If you go on my website there is a short description of it. :-) Yeah, you’re right though. I need to market it way more!

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