Monthly Archives: September 2011
It might not be obvious at first, but the distance between classical music and techno isn’t that great. Both are predominantly instrumental forms of music. Both layer sound in complex ways that go far beyond melody, or sometimes do away with melody altogether. Both think those avant-garde minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley are pretty dope. Techno and classical may play in different sandboxes, but they definitely share a shovel occasionally.
Still, the lengths Brandt Brauer Frick go to in order to combine the two genres seem a tad extreme. The first time we heard about these German cats, they were still pretty much building their minimal techno tracks the old-fashioned way: with lots of loops and programmed beats, albeit ones based mostly on acoustic sounds. But they were clearly interested in playing with people’s expectations of how such sounds are created; in the video for their track “Bop” (pictured above), they cloned themselves several times over to create an imaginary orchestra, playing the track’s hypnotically repetitive piano, percussion and even a well-timed rain stick with robotic precision.
But not content to stop there, BBF went ahead and created a ten-piece chamber orchestra called the (wait for it) Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble to recreate their tracks live, with no loops or programmed sounds at all. Even after watching two videos of the Ensemble in action, I still can’t decide if it’s a cool idea or not. I mean, on the one hand, it’s pretty damn impressive that these musicians—including a harpist, cellist, trombonist and whatever you call a tuba player (tubist?)—have the restraint, rhythmic sense and technical prowess required to produce the layered, percussive sounds of techno with mostly acoustic instruments (they sneak a Moog in there, but still). On the other hand, well, isn’t this what drum machines were invented for? I’m just not sure if it adds anything to my enjoyment of the music. It’s like watching a master sculptor carve an IKEA table.
But judge for yourself: Here’s a clip of the BBF Ensemble rehearsing a handful of tracks, including two (“Teufelsleiter” and “606 ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll”) from the first BBF album to feature the Ensemble, Mr. Machine, which is out on !K7 Records next month. What do you think…brilliant techno/classical fusion, or pointless technical exercise?
Have you ever wondered what the missing link is between the Misfits and GWAR? Us neither, but a reader named Jeremy just found it for us and posted it on our Facebook page (and hey, while we’re on the subject, go over to Facebook and “Like” us, will ya? I know, it’s annoying, but you never know…maybe if you do it, we’ll give you a pony). The band is called Haunted Garage and they appear to have taken the fine art of covering your audience in fake blood and real slime to heights that would probably leave Oderus Urungus clutching his codpiece in a fetal position. Okay, maybe not, but they were pretty fucking gross, is what I’m saying.
Haunted Garage were part of the L.A. underground rock scene from around 1985 until 1992, although they’ve done a handful of reunion shows in the years since. They only released one album as far as we can tell, a lost nugget from 1990 called Possession Park, although they also did the soundtracks for a lot of horror and sci-fi B-movies like Nightmare Sisters and The Dead Hate the Living!
The band was started by a B-movie actor and screenwriter named Michael Sonye. Among the credits on his IMDb page: Dorm of the Dead, Terrors From the Clit, Hollywood Chainsaw Bartenders and of course the immortal Troma classic Surf Nazis Must Die, which I’m pretty sure I watched in a bonghit haze back in high school and even then thought, “Wow, this sucks.” For Haunted Garage, Sonye made up an alter ego named Dukey Flyswatter who’s sort of a combination of Iggy Pop, Glenn Danzig and Dr. Frank N. Furter. The band apparently started out playing cover versions of songs from classic horror film soundtracks, but eventually started coming up with original tunes with titles like “Torture Dungeon” and “Brain in a Jar.” Their sound is usually described as horror punk, although Dukey also used the term “splatter punk,” which is a lot more evocative, don’t ya think?
Haunted Garage shows were highly theatrical and sometimes destructive affairs. A bio on the band’s MySpace page claims that their final show, at a long-gone Hollywood dive called the Coconut Teaszer, ended with the crowd tearing down the sprinkler system and girls getting their tops ripped off. Up onstage, most of the blood, gore and mayhem was faked, but sometimes the band could cross over into full-on freakshow territory. Dukey, for example, is famous for attaching mousetraps to his face. (And if you clicked on that link, I apologize. That’s gonna be a tough image to shake, huh?)
There’s a cool “video profile” of Haunted Garage on YouTube, which also introduces such other memorable band members as their drag queen guitarist, Gaby Godhead, their rat-loving drummer, Stiff Slug, and the “gore-gore girls,” who provided the eye candy. But the video that we felt would give y’all the best taste of Haunted Garage in all their gory glory was the one below, featuring a sort of necrophiliac love song called “Dead and Gone.” Stay with it till around the 2:30 mark, when it really takes a turn for the freaky.
We thought it only fitting that on September 11 (or “America! Fuck Yeah! Day” as I like to call it), we flex our democratic muscles here once again at TWBITW and add a new band to the Weird List that was voted in by you, our freedom-loving readers. And you came out (pun totally intended) in favor of Army of Gay Unicorns. It’s a beautiful thing, really.
Now don’t let the name fool you: Army of Gay Unicorns sound neither particularly gay nor particularly unicorn-like, unless maybe we’re talking leather-daddy gay with a serious power-tool fetish. Songs like “Cranial Fragmentation Unit” and “Disintegration Codec” will take that unicorn horn and skull-fuck you with it till you’re begging for mercy. Then again, “Persistent Vegetative State” is actually kind of soothing and pleasant—though no so much in a gay unicorn way. More like in a morphine-drip, eating-through-a-straw way. Hence the title, I guess.
The dude behind all this is a reader of ours from the U.K. named Richard, who wrote in about a month ago with a link to his music and a question about whether we knew of any good GG Allin tribute bands (we don’t; any suggestions, kids?). To give you an idea of where Richard’s head is at, here’s an excerpt from one of his emails:
“i like to imagine that there’s an alternative universe where every year in vegas they have GG impersonator conventions, with GG’s of all shapes and sizes meeting in their thousands to share the love. and the poopoo. a midget GG dueting ‘bite it you scum’ on stage with a Japanese GG. it’s a beautiful vision that makes me feel sort of fuzzy inside.”
We honestly know almost nothing else about Richard and maybe that’s just as well. Anyone who gets warm fuzzy feelings from thoughts of GG Allin impersonators, you probably want to keep at a safe distance.
This is usually the part where we insert a YouTube video illustrating just how weird this particular band is. But AoGU has no YouTube videos, and that’s okay. A lot of the weirdest bands out there don’t. Their music is so weird that no visual accompaniment is really needed. They probably don’t play out much, either. Which is too bad, because “Army of Gay Unicorns” would look pretty sweet on a club marquee.
Anyhow, to hear more from Richard and Army of Gay Unicorns, head over to his Jamendo page. If you want to jump right into the deep end of his self-described “sonic dirty protest against a world gone numbingly stupid,” we suggest starting with a track called “The Aborted.” Play it really loud and we guarantee your neighbors will never speak to you again.
(Photo lifted from this site)
Today we really should be calling ourselves Weirdest Genre in the World, because today’s band, Mascara (or M△S▴C△RA, if you really insist), is just the tip of a giant iceberg of weirdness called witch house, or sometimes haunted house, or occasionally drag, or even (wait for it) “rape gaze.” Although the band that coined that last term has since disowned it, apparently deciding that no amount of hipper-than-thou ironic detachment can actually make rape seem like a viable metaphor for a new style of music.
So what the hell is “witch house”? It’s a new “micro-genre” (a really pretentious term we just stole from the Village Voice—thanks, guys!) that’s made up predominantly of bedroom electronic producers who combine slowed-down, sludgy beats with ghostly filtered vocals, lo-fi synths, ambient noise and distorted samples of other, often highly recognizable tunes. The results sound like a somewhat cobbled-together combination of chopped ‘n’ screwed hip-hop, goth-rock, darkwave, drone metal and that old Cure cassette you left on the dashboard too long in the late ’80s.
Many of the artists creating witch house protest that they’re not really part of any “scene” or creating music in any particular “genre.” And while it’s true that witch house artists are scattered all over the world, they for damn sure keep Interweb tabs on each other and style-bite with gusto. For example, the vast majority of witch housers (witchies?) mix numbers and symbols into their names or just pick names that are virtually impossible to Google, all apparently in an effort to maintain an air of mystery and underground cred: GL▲SS †33†H, ///▲▲▲\\\, GR†LLGR†LL, oOoOO (one of the godfathers of witch house, actually) and my personal favorite, ▲.
Wait, scratch that: My personal favorite is ▲)╪(▼, which according to their YouTube videos is pronounced “Whispering Sanctity.” Whispering Sanctity is probably some elaborate witch house piss-take, but when your entire scene has already become such a popular Internet meme that it’s inspired its own band name generator, the lines between self-parody and actual parody can get pretty blurry.
The most famous practitioners of witch house are a trio from Michigan called Salem (or S4LEM) who have already become rather legendary for seeming to be almost totally disinterested in being a band. Their somnolent performance at South by Southwest in 2010 is famous for being one of the few documented concerts at which jaded, skinny-jeaned hipsters, who usually passively consume whatever awful shit got at least a 7.8 in Pitchfork, actually booed the band off the stage. They mumble their way through interviews; their first EP was called Yes I Smoke Crack and at least one of the band’s members, John Holland, claims he really does, or did.
Maybe we should have dedicated this whole post to Salem and their uniquely burnout version of witch house, which really does sound like it was created by a bunch of druggy Midwestern kids who stumbled on this sound by accident because their only reference points were Dirty South hip-hop, stoner metal, Top 40 mall music, and their own sad, pathetic lives. But there’s something kind of crass and obvious about Salem’s music that I just can’t get past. Listening to a song like “Redlights” is like trying to eat one of those horrible fast-food mash-ups like a taco pizza or a Philly cheesesteak burger or Potachos—all those delicious elements should add up to something tasty, but instead it’s just confusing and kinda gross.
So instead, we’ll focus on this other witch house band who call themselves M△S▴C△RA, if for no other reason than because they have at least one song (in the vid below) that, even by witch house standards, is insanely creepy and sounds like it was made by gravers in the midst of a ketamine bender that included back-to-back screenings of the Blair Witch movies. [Update: The old video was taken down, so we've swapped it for another track called "Sonnambula." Thanks to reader Lesa for pointing out the dead link.] We also get a kick out of the fact that, based on the performance videos on this site, the M△S▴C△RA dudes actually appear to be happy witchies. At least the one who’s not wearing a mask keeps cracking a smile. And unlike most witch house, a lot of their stuff is actually uptempo and even kinda dancey. (By which I mean, “doesn’t suck.” By which I also mean, “Yes, nearly all witch house sucks. A lot.”)
We know almost nothing about M△S▴C△RA, but that’s par for the course with your average witch house band—except for Salem, they’re all a giant pain in the ass to research. We can tell you that they have an EP out called Black Mass, they’re apparently based in (or at least near) New York, they have some association with the AMDISCS label, and they’ve collaborated with another witch house artist called Ceremonial Dagger, whose official witchie handle is so symbol-ridden we can’t even begin to figure out how to render it. (You can see it here.) [Update: Turns out M△S▴C△RA—or Mascara, as he’s disappointingly calling himself these days—is the work of a dude from Orange County, California named Shane Shumate. He’s now less into witch house and more into dark hip-hop and dance music. Less weird, but probably pays more bills.]
So ladies and gentlemen, prepare to have some M△S▴C△RA smeared across your face. Make sure all the lights are on before you hit the play button.
P.S. Big ups to one of our readers, Spoon, for suggesting that we cover the witch house scene. We were aware of its existence, mostly because of Salem, but until Spoon suggested we check out GL▲SS †33†H and ///▲▲▲\\\ (aka Void, apparently), we hadn’t fully appreciated its weirdness.
Ready for a little trip back into the vaults, kids? Back in 1991, Saturday Night Live saxophonist Lenny Pickett released this now super-obscure and hard-to-find album with his band, the Borneo Horns, which consisted of him and two other sax players (Steve Elson and Stan Harrison), plus a drummer and occasional additional horns. Now, while they’re hardly the only predominantly sax-based band that ever existed (see also: World Saxophone Quartet and one of our favorites, the skronk-tastic Little Women), they’re arguably the funkiest. A typical Borneo Horns joint sounds like a cross between James Brown, a New Orleans parade band and the theme music from Benny Hill. You can’t decide to whether to dance your ass off or laugh your ass off—and both are probably equally valid responses.
I was lucky enough to see the Borneo Horns in college back around the time the album came out (which I swear was in ’89, but Amazon.com has it listed as ’91 and I was admittedly drunk a lot back then) and let me tell you, they could rock it out. Pickett is mostly famous these days for those wailing high notes he squeezes out as that week’s SNL host bounds onto the stage, but he’s also got an amazing sense of rhythm and syncopation. He got his start playing in the horn section of funk band Tower of Power and that stuff is clearly in his blood.
These days, it’s hard to come by much information about the Borneo Horns, let alone their actual music. The one and only Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns album is out of print and will set you back upwards of $200 for a used vinyl copy. The blog Music Hertz has a good little piece about the album, and you can hear several Borneo Horns tracks on Lenny Pickett’s sorta cool, sorta annoying official website. But beyond that, the genius of the Borneo Horns has been mostly lost in the mists of time. Which really has me kicking myself, because I used to own a cassette copy of Lenny Pickett with the Borneo Horns and I have no idea where it is now. I purged most of my cassettes years ago, so it’s probably gathering dust in a Goodwill somewhere.
Fortunately, some kind soul did post this one Borneo Horns track on YouTube, so we can share some of Lenny’s funky magic here. Cooler than the SNL theme music, isn’t it?