I hate the English. When they aren’t busy playing our super-villains or dominating our television, they’re beating the competition in our monthly Weird Band Polls. Three of the last five polls have now been won by Brits, with Ipswich’s Gout Pony claiming the latest victory. How can a tiny nation of tea-drinkers kick so much ass?
Anyhow, Gout Pony have been together about three years or so and describe themselves as half “brilliant, budding musicians, half bearded, bedraggled tramps.” They call their music “trampcore,” so they must really like the word “tramp.”
Their lead singer is a gentleman by the name of Adam Whybray, aka Generation Y Bray. He has a blog called Cage Wisdom that’s mostly reviews of Nicolas Cage movies, and I’m only telling you that because we don’t know very much about these guys and this post would only be about 50 words long if I didn’t throw in a few random factoids. Here’s another one: When we first contacted Adam about Gout Pony being in the poll, he sent us this photo with the comment, “Here is a picture of the only attraction in Ipswich.” Maybe so, but what an awesome attraction.
The rest of Gout Pony is made up of The Saddest Thing (guitars, keys), The Nation (woodwinds, keys, stylophone…and no, I didn’t know what a stylophone was either, but I guess it’s this thing), and Timerous Ham (drums, Theremin). I’m not sure which ones are the brilliant musicians and which are the bedraggled tramps. Actually, after listening to their music, I’m pretty sure they’re all just bedraggled tramps. But hey, that’s OK. Some of our favorite weird musicians were bedraggled tramps, too.
Gout Pony have released one album, an eight-track collection available on Bandcamp called A Family Gouting. It’s all pretty weird, but I think this track captures them at their Goutiest.
They also do a mean cover of “Smart Girls,” from Brian Wilson’s unjustly overlooked hip-hop period:
So congrats on winning the poll, Gout Pony. And don’t worry, we were totally kidding about hating the English. Except One Direction. Fuck those little punks.
British music news rag NME broke some eyebrow-raising news last week: For their next studio project, avant-pop duo Sparks are collaborating with Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand. Apparently sessions have been in progress since April 2013 and should be completed by this summer.
If you think this sounds like a trainwreck in the making, you’re not alone. Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael agrees with you. “If there was a train crash between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks,” the mustachioed Mael brother told NME, “this is what the wreckage would sound like.” I’m sure he meant that in a good way, but still, we’re concerned. Not that Franz Ferdinand are the worst of the early ’00s crop of Brit-rock bands; at least Sparks aren’t collaborating with, say, Razorlight. Alex Kapranos and co. are fine, and even occasionally catchy in a Scottish Strokes sort of way. But they’re not exactly weird or innovative or groundbreaking—so for this pairing to be anything more than a curiosity, Ron and Russell Mael are going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Oddly, this isn’t the first time there’s been talk of a Sparks and FF collab. Way back in 2006, there were reports that Franz Ferdinand was working on an entire album of Sparks covers (which never came to fruition, obviously). Turns out Kapranos and his mates really are huge Sparks fans—so who knows? Maybe working with the brothers Mael will bring out a side of FF we haven’t heard before.
So it seems that while the rest of us were unwrapping presents and/or going out for dim sum this past Dec. 25th, the folks over at weirdo label Electric Phantom were hard at work. They released two Christmas Day videos from their top artists, Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin and Chimney Crow—but they also threw in a twist: Petunia does a Chimney Crow song, and the Chimney Crow does a MacPumpkin song! It’s like that Peter Gabriel Scratch My Back project, except that it’s actually worth listening to.
If you want the full story of how this little project came about, watch this video and all will be revealed. (You’ll also find out which member of Chimney Crow is obsessed with The Residents—I would’ve assumed they all were, but it turns out the other guys are more into horses and stuff.)
But let’s get right to the good bits. Here’s Petunia turning Chimney Crow’s “Teddybear and His Bullet” into a spooky, skeletal hymn:
And here’s Chimney Crow sneaking a nifty little dance groove in under the funhouse nursery rhymes of P.L. MacP’s “Houseplants.” With audio-visual aids, no less!
So thanks for these little surprise Christmas presents, Electric Phantom. We look forward to more of your inimitable weirdness in 2014.
Christmas came early here at Weird Band HQ this weekend, in the form of a brand new video from Chimney Crow, the mysterious electro-pop ensemble with the creepy basement. Previously, the only visual accompaniment for the über-funky “Run for My Life” was some found and highly distorted video of a bunch of B-boys, but now Chimney Crow have created an original stop-motion clip for the track, which features cartoon versions of the Crow crew busting some moves of their own.
By the way, in case you’re not familiar the song’s subject matter: DMT is a very powerful psychedelic substance that we don’t recommend ingesting while watching this video. Or at all, really, unless you’re accompanied by an experienced shaman and maybe an EMT or two.
Like a mono outbreak on prom night, democracy has struck again here Weird Band HQ, and a new Weird Band of the Week has infested our tender, nubile pages. Did that last sentence totally creep you out? Well, this band might, too. Meet Sly & The Family Drone, a British crew whose only resemblance to Sly & The Family Stone is that their leader has spent at least a few years living in a van. Possibly. Or not. What do you want from us, research?
Led by a gentleman called (duh) Sly, S&TFD started out in 2010 or thereabouts as a drums and tape effects noise ensemble, sort of a cross between Crash Worship, Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse and that sound my old Gorilla amp used to make when I would get really stoned and just drag my Mexicaster fretboard back and forth across the face of it for hours. They’ve released some studio recordings, including an EP that just came out this past month called Unnecessary Woe, which is the only kind of woe in a world that has bourbon and bands that sound like Crash Worship.
But they’re best known for their live shows, which involve a shit-ton of drums and lots of shirtless dudes crawling around manipulating effects pedals and oscillators and audience members banging on cymbals and just the kind of general, participatory mayhem that makes any good live show more than the sum of its racket. They also sometimes throw some harmonica in there, just to give it a little of that homeless-guy-busking-at-the-bus-station pizzazz. You probably have to be there to fully appreciate the whole thing, but here’s a video clip, anyway. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch all 51 minutes to get to the weird stuff. It gets weird right out of the gate.
Best line from their official bio: “There is no place for guitars within this band.” It’s about time someone took a stand against all these fucking guitars! Goddamn things are everywhere.
Here’s a track from Unnecessary Woe called “Grey Meat,” which like their live shows was totally improvised. I’m pretty sure you can dance to this one, or at least break stuff.
So congrats on winning our Weird Band Poll, S&TFD! Hopefully this catapults you to enough fame and fortune that you can come wreck some drum kits here in America.
P.S. After we join our fellow Americans in stuffing our faces with turkey and trampling fellow shoppers in a stampede for the new iPads, we’re taking a little vacation time. But don’t worry, this break will be much shorter than our last one. We’ll be back with more weird bands in a couple weeks. Y’all try to stay out of trouble till then, OK?
As promised, our favorite top-hat-wearing weirdo (sorry, Residents…you were this close!) Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin continues to produce bizarre videos for each of the bizarre songs on her bizarre album, Fish Drive Edsels. Her third visual opus arrived this week for the short but startling “Aquatic Plumbing,” and it packs even more weirdness into 87 seconds than her first two videos put together. How does she do it? Magic! And creepy hand puppets. The one starring alongside her in this clip is apparently named Werman.
Petunia and her visual collaborators seems to be going through Fish Drive Edsels sequentially, which means the next video should be for “Green Glow,” a nightmarish nursery rhyme of a song that you can preview below. What surreal landscapes will Petunia wander through accompanied by its beautifully broken music-box melodies? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
This week’s band is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a bunch of untranslated Russian websites. Meet Dvar, a Russian Goth/darkwave/synth-rock band whose music allegedly has the power to ruin people’s lives. Which we hope isn’t actually true, because we’ve been cranking it all evening. So far the cats are all still alive and no inanimate objects have attacked us. But consider yourself warned.
Dvar (not to be confused with Dwarr, another evil-sounding band shrouded in mystery) is probably a duo from Moscow, but that intel is based solely on a single grainy piece of record artwork (seen above) and the fact that their self-released early material seems mostly to have circulated in the Russian capital. They’ve been active since the mid-’90s, but didn’t really begin to attract much of an audience until 2002, when they got some international distribution through an Italian industrial/ambient label called Radio Luxor S.P.K.R. Their first album for Radio Luxor, Piirrah, is hard to listen to alone. Full of ominous, droning synths and strangled vocals allegedly sung in an ancient occult language called Enochian, it sounds like party music for some cave-dwelling race of gibbering, subhuman troglodytes. No, scratch that—if those cave-dwelling troglodytes spawned a generation of disaffected youth who took to piercing their snouts and sewing metal studs into their loincloths, it would be party music for those kids.
The creators of this creepy shit claim that they don’t actually come up with it themselves. Instead, it is transmitted to them in their dreams by a creature called Dvar, an angel or demon or possibly both, who takes the form of a giant bee. (Bees figure prominently in most of the band’s album artwork.)
Over the years, Dvar’s music has evolved away from its Goth/darkwave beginnings to encompass everything from quirky 8-bit to quasi-reggaeton to, most recently, avant-minimalist compositions played out on unlikely mixes of synths and what sound like medieval instruments, as if Philip Glass and the guys from Sparks were co-leading a troupe of wandering cyberpunk minstrels. The only constant has been those weird, strangled, Enochian vocals, which even over some jaunty chiptune circus pop kind of sound like they’re being delivered by someone or something on the verge of ripping out your esophagus because it thinks you stole its “precious.”
At some point, either the band or one of their labels began calling their new sound “lightwave.” They also began to be represented on their album covers as Gorillaz-style cartoon characters (complete with bee antennae, naturally), but fortunately they seem to have since dropped this gimmick. On their most recent release, the double album Deii, they’ve taken the much more tasteful route of using Renaissance paintings as album art. Renaissance paintings with bees in them, I might add. Yeah, these guys really like bees.
The origin of the word “Dvar,” incidentally, is a matter of some debate, even among the band members themselves. In one of their few interviews (and the only one, as far as we can tell, that’s ever been translated into English), a Russian journalist asked them if it bore any relation to the Hebrew word “Dvar,” meaning “word” or “thing,” and more specifically to the Hebrew phrase “Dvar Torah,” which translates roughly to “sermon.” This was the answer they gave:
It doesn’t have any connections with Dvar Torah, but all the coincidences evidently are nonrandom, if say more exactly, Dvar Torah means “penetration.” And we already feel this penetration.
Elsewhere in the same interview the Dvar guys says stuff like, “Ignoramus, juggles a saber, can leave himself without hands.” So maybe Dvar speaks to them through the medium of fortune cookies.
Oh, about that whole life-ruining thing: Dvar’s biggest online fan, a Russian Goth dude called (of course) Shadow Angel, claims that within just a few weeks of first hearing an early, self-released Dvar album called Raii, his dog, grandmother and best friend all died tragically. “The strange thing,” Shadow Angel wrote in a review of the album, “while my nearest and dearest ones were gone, Dvar became closer to me”:
Their melodies dyed with new colours and hidden tunes arose from the depths. I started to worship them, while my health started to fade. I lost my immunity and now I can catch almost every disease.
Shadow Angel’s response to all this was, of course, to build the Dvar unofficial homepage, which apart from a Bandcamp page is pretty much Dvar’s only English-language presence on the web. Remember, bands: Afflict a Goth with pain and tragedy and you’ve made a fan for life.
Because we’re a blog about weird bands, we’re obligated to mention the weirdest and most random factoid about Dvar: At some point, some genius (possibly someone at Rolling Stone) started the rumor that Dvar was the secret side project of Michael Jackson. The other, more plausible rumor is that they’re a side project of one of these guys.
As far as we can tell, Dvar have never released any official music videos. (They never perform live, either.) But there are a handful of cool fan-made videos of YouTube, most of which are the work of a superfan called freakrobot99. This clip is fairly typical of his creepy yet amusing output.
This is less typical of both freakrobot99 and Dvar, but it’s too fantastic not to share. Apparently it’s a parody/remix of this near-forgotten piece of YouTube detritus, which was a viral video campaign about the disappearance of honey bees launched by, of all things, Häagen-Dazs. I love bees and ice cream as much as the next sucrose consumer, but I still think I prefer the Dvar version.
P.S. Thanks to reader Robert for suggesting these guys.
We got a little present in our inbox yesterday, and for once it didn’t involve penis enlargement or Russian prostitution rings. Toronto weirdos and former Weird Band Poll winners Barbara have made a short film, and while it doesn’t technically involve any music, it’s too random not to share.
It’s a little story…sorry, a fuckin’ story…about a pair of dreamsters who escape from a sink and wind up exploring the “taupe catacombs” of a shopping mall. If you have no idea what any of that last sentence meant, don’t worry…neither do we.
Watch and be fuckin’ amazed.
This week we’re adding another band to the Weird List that many of you have been clamoring for: Steven Stapleton’s venerable experimental/industrial/sound collage project, Nurse With Wound. For over three decades, Stapleton and his many collaborators have been producing some of the creepiest (and, on occasion, funniest) music ever to come out of the U.K.—which, considering the Brits also gave us such influential noise mongers as Throbbing Gristle and Current 93, is saying something.
From their very first album, recorded live as a trio in 1978, NWW announced themselves as something completely different. Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was a jarring mix of squiggly electronics, prog/psych guitar freakouts, primal howls and ominous, ambient noise. Though originally released in a run of just 500 copies, it made quite a splash in the emerging London industrial scene—and not only because of its BDSM cover art.
One of the more interesting aspects of Chance Meeting was the inclusion of the now-legendary Nurse With Wound List, an eclectic, expansive catalog of the band’s many influences, from Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire to Stockhausen and Tangerine Dream—though most of the name-checks were far more obscure than those. A handful of bands on our own Weird List appear, including American rock primitivists Cromagnon and French avant-garde accordionist Ghedalia Tazartes. But overall, I have to admit: When you do a blog like ours, reading through the NWW List is a humbling experience. Clearly we’ve got some catching up to do.
By 1981, founding NWW members John Fothergill and the excellently named Heeman Pathak had left the group, leaving Stapleton to forge ahead as a solo act. Enlisting the help of a live drummer and his friend J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus, Stapleton recorded an album called Insect and Individual Silenced that he himself has since dismissed as “terrible.” Then, after a collaboration with power electronics pioneers Whitehouse (a very bleak and atmospheric record called The 150 Murderous Passions, released with the liner note, “This record may be played at any speed”), Stapleton hit his stride with 1982′s Homotopy to Marie, the album he has since referred to as the first “real” NWW release. Full of tape manipulations and dread, Homotopy became the blueprint for what remains Nurse With Wound’s signature style: abstract, slow-moving, cinematic, occasionally abrasive and even more occasionally terrifying. Depending on your disposition, it’s either music that should only be listened to in the dark—or it’s music you should never listen to in the dark.
As weird as eerie noise epics like “The Schmürz (Unsullied by Suckling)” can get, what really makes Steven Stapleton a world-class weirdo are his twisted and often hilarious spins on mainstream music and pop culture. Take, for example, 1985′s The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion, an early experiment in sampling, NWW-style. Yes, that’s really the cover art on the YouTube clip. And yes, this track really is called “You Walrus Hurt the One You Love.”
Over the decades, Stapleton has released more than 40 albums and countless collaborations (with everyone from Current 93 to Sun 0))) to Stereolab), singles, EPs and compilation tracks, all exhaustively cataloged on the Nurse With Wound website and much of it now available via Bandcamp. More recently, he’s brought back a touring version of the band, with a rotating supporting cast that includes longtime collaborators Colin Potter and Diana Rogerson (Stapleton’s wife) along with newer cohorts like sound collage artists Matt Waldron and Andrew Liles.
It would be asinine to try to summarize a career like Stapleton’s with a single video—all the more so because he hasn’t released any “official” Nurse With Wound music videos. (A few short films have used NWW music, including this one, but they’re not music videos in any traditional sense.) But this fan-made clip for the 2008 track “The Bottom Feeder,” using the stop-motion art of Czech filmmaker Jiří Barta, actually does a pretty great job of encapsulating all that is spooky and brilliant about Nurse With Wound’s best work.
You know that long hiatus we just took? It gave Jake and me some much-needed time to do a little soul searching. I reconnected with my inner child, Jake reconnected with his inner hippie, and we both reconnected with our punk-rock roots. Okay, Jake reconnected with his punk-rock roots; I broke out my old Pink Floyd records. But somehow, both of those things led us back to another classic weird band we’ve neglected for far too long: the Butthole Surfers.
From about 1985 to 1989, the Butthole Surfers had one of the craziest live shows of any band on the planet. Their lead singer, the eternally manic Gibby Haynes, wore dresses and played squealing saxophone riffs and shouted lyrics into a megaphone. Next to him stood an upside-down cymbal filled with lighter fluid; he would set it—and often, his hand—on fire. Guitarist Paul Leary writhed around the stage like a man possessed. Two identical-looking drummers played standing up, sometimes in perfect unison and sometimes it utter cacophony. Kathleen Lynch, the band’s infamous “naked dancer,” struck spastic poses in time to a strobe light, covered in lurid body paint. Behind the band, overlapping 16-millmeter films layered disturbing and incongruous images atop one another, like a graphic penis reconstruction medical video and, according to one account, “people with Down’s syndrome dancing in top hats and tails.” The whole thing was designed to freak the shit out of the audience, and it usually worked. Here, for example, is drummer Teresa Taylor, aka Teresa Nervosa, describing the Surfers’ shows circa 1985 (from this excellent oral history of the band):
Gibby in those days would take condoms filled with colored dye and put those in his pants so that at some point they would burst and it would look very bloody. He would change clothes onstage during the set a lot. Then he went and bought the first vocal effect and that was a big deal. We had strobe lights, $10 strobe lights, and then we bought a 16-millimeter projector, because we started to make more money. Everything was invested back into the band, so we could have a better show, better sound. Later we got another projector and showed two 16-millimeter films overlapping. The full-on shows would make people puke and scream and run out, that kind of thing. It was what we’d always wanted.
Happily, a ton of video from this era exists on YouTube—much of it lifted from Blind Eye Sees All, a concert film the band shot in Detroit in 1985, but plenty of clips from later years, as well (which is a good thing, because Lynch didn’t add her naked dancing to the band’s spectacle until 1986). Less happily, the quality of most of these videos is shitty, and even under the best of circumstances, an ’80s B-hole Surfers show was almost impossible to film. This is one of the better clips we could find and you still really can’t see anything until 40 second into it:
I’ve somehow neglected to mention the music up to this point, which is stupid because the music was generally every bit as crazy as the stage show. Early on, the Surfers were part of the punk scene, and their live performances definitely owed a debt to the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys. But in the studio, they were on their own trip from day one. Here, for example, is a track off their first full-length album, 1984′s Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac, which owes as much to The Residents or Captain Beefheart as it does to hardcore punk:
Back in ’84, Gibby Haynes achieved his distorted, menacing vocals mostly just by singing by through a megaphone or a toilet paper roll, but over the years he added various electronic effects, until he finally had an entire rack of processors that came be known as “Gibbytronix.” You can’t actually see Gibby in this 1991 video, but you can hear Gibbytronix in full effect:
Over the course of the ’90s, the Surfers devolved into a tamer, “alternative rock” incarnation of their former selves. Kurt Cobain name-checked them as an influence (he and Courtney Love met at a Butthole Surfers show), which helped the band land a major-label deal at Capitol Records in 1992. They even got John Paul fucking Jones (yes, the Led Zeppelin guy) to produce their first record for Capitol, the intriguingly titled but disappointingly polished Independent Worm Saloon. By the time they scored their biggest hit, 1996′s “Pepper,” they were starting to sound kinda like Weezer. But hey, if aging psychedelic noise punks can’t cash out in America, what hope is there for the rest of us? And to their credit, they still play the old weird shit to this day, albeit as a stripped-down four piece with fewer visual effects and naked dancers.
I’ve really only scratched the surface of all that was weird about the Butthole Surfers; if I wanted to, I could go on all night. In their early days, they changed the band name for every show: Ashtray Babyheads, the Right to Eat Fred Astaire’s Asshole, the Dick Gas Five. Their classic 1988 album Hairway to Steven was released with cartoons for each song in place of titles. Fans later deciphered the song titles based on live set lists; the song represented by a rabbit dancing on top of a dead fish turned out to be called “Julio Iglesias.”
But instead of cataloging their every bit of chicanery, I’ll just leave you with a short 1988 film called Bar-B-Que Movie, which starred all six then-members of the band (Gibby, Leary, bassist Jeff Pinkus, drummers King Coffey and Teresa Nervosa, and dancer Kathleen Lynch) and was directed by, of all people, Alex Winter, the actor best known as the not-Keanu guy from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s a spoof of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and…well, just fucking watch it, OK? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never look at your cast-iron frying pan the same way again. There’s a full-on recreation of the Surfers’ stage show about seven minutes in. Enjoy.
- Butthole Surfers official site
- Butthole Surfers catalog on Amazon.com
- The Anal Obsession (fan catalog of every Butthole Surfers show ever, or damn close to it, with set lists)
- Feeding the Fish: An Oral History of the Butthole Surfers (based on Spin magazine interviews circa 1996)
- Butthole Surfers: The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave (a remembrance of ’80s Surfers gigs by Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds)
- Butthole Surfers on MySpace (because why the hell not?)