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Maywa Denki

Novumichi Tosa of Maywa Denki

We’re cheating a bit with this week’s “band,” which is really more of a multimedia art project. But music is an integral part of the Japanese “art unit” Maywa Denki, so we’re giving them a pass.

Maywa Denki specializes in creating what co-founder Novumichi Tosa calls “nonsense machines”: mechanical objects that may or may not serve some useful purpose, but achieve that purpose in absurd or impractical ways. Their most famous creation, which Novumichi is brandishing in the above photo, is a note-shaped musical instrument called an otamatone, a made-up Japanese word that sounds (intentionally, we presume) quite a bit like “automaton.” You play the otamatone by sliding one finger up and down the instrument’s neck to hit specific notes, while squeezing the instrument’s “mouth” to control volume, tone and pitch. They come in various sizes and, in the right hands, can be made to produce all sorts of different (but always vaguely silly) sounds:

Maywa Denki has mass-produced some smaller versions of the otamatone, which has helped spread its popularity and led to some pretty great YouTube videos by other musicians. But the otamatone is just the tip of the nonsense machine iceberg. Maywa Denki has an entire product line called Tsukuba dedicated to ridiculously elaborate (but, usually, easy to play) musical instruments, like a set of six guitars played via a pedal organ and a “rhythm-making machine” that’s basically just a series of on/off switches attached to a turntable, all of which can be worn like a keytar.

Most of Maywa Denki’s larger instruments haven’t been mass produced, for obvious reasons, but Novumichi and his brother, Masamichi, occasionally take their nonsense machines out for concerts—or, as they like to call them, “product demonstrations.” Dressed in DEVO-like matching blue jumpsuits, the Tosa brothers and their assistants put a dizzying array of different machines through their paces in the service of creating music that is, surprisingly, pretty catchy and accessible. Videos don’t quite do the whole spectacle justice, but this Slovenian clip is one of the better ones we could find:

More recently, Maywa Denki have launched their own fashion line, Meewee Dinkee. Naturally, they produced an indecipherably bizarre video to promote it:

Sadly, most of the coolest pieces in the fashion line are already sold out. But we have no doubt the brothers Tosa are already hard at work on their next art “products.”

Our thanks to reader Frederick for posting the Meewee Dinkee video on our Submit a Band page and sending us plunging down the Maywa Denki rabbit hole. We’d like to dedicate this otamatone video to you, sir!

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Mr. Vast

Mr. Vast

So as usual, we got something wrong when we first wrote about this week’s weird artiste, the inimitable Mr. Vast. We said he’s from Germany. But that’s not quite right. He is apparently based, at the moment, in Germany. But he’s British. His accent should have tipped us off, but we were probably day-drinking again. Anyway, our apologies to the entire nation of Great Britain for not properly crediting you with bestowing Mr. Vast upon the world.

Mr. Vast is the alter ego of one Henry Sargeant, an actor, musician and performance artist whose previous musical project was (or maybe still is—they’re still releasing music and Sargeant might still be involved) a jokey crew called Wevie Stonder. He relocated to Germany in 2005 and took a break from Art to become a Dad. (Not that those two occupations are mutually exclusive, but the hours are pretty brutal in both.) He returned to music in 2012 as a solo artist called Mr. Vast, making what I shall tentatively describe as tongue-in-cheek New Wave electro-glam-pop until somebody comes up with something catchier to describe his bizarre but surprisingly infectious tunes.

At his best, Mr. Vast reminds us a little of our current favorite Australian weirdo, Kirin J Callinan. Like Callinan, there’s something highly theatrical and fully formed about Mr. Vast, like he’s already a rock star and the world just hasn’t discovered him yet. Also like Callinan, he’s capable of being both unabashedly pop and slightly avant-garde, often in the same song, and doing both in a way that feels both fully committed and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Take, for example, “Teflon Country,” which might be a country-fried psych-rock parody, or it might be actual country-fried psych-rock, albeit one with a junkyard dog impersonation in the middle of it:

That’s from Mr. Vast’s one and only album, by the way, a brilliant, 14-track opus called Grievous Bodily Charm that we pretty much can’t stop listening to. It’s got sci-fi Afro-pop workouts (“Process of Illumination”), fuzz-toned heavy rock freakouts (“Henry the 8th”), Groove Armada-style downtempo makeout music (“Elemental,” which contains the high-five-worthy lyric, “The sangria made me angrier”). You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud and decide for yourselves if it’s a masterpiece. We’re leaning towards yes, but it might be the sangria talking.

We’ll leave you with a few videos, because that’s how we do it. First up: An extended experiment in toast physics called “Buttercide.” For the record, this is one of Mr. Vast’s weirder tracks, so if you can’t hang with it, don’t give up on him yet.

Next: The far funkier “Ease & Speed,” which we maintain is best described as Gary Numan meets Professor Elemental (I think last time we said Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, but hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).

And finally, here’s a glimpse of Mr. Vast live and in concert. Well, it’s not so much a glimpse as a bit fat fucking eyeful. Not since David Byrne has oversized costumery looked so sexy.

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Zayde Buti bows down to the magic bean in “Sacred Chocolate”

zayde-buti-chocolate

Do you love chocolate? I know I do. But it turns that all this time, I’ve been an amateur chocolate lover. In his new video, Zayde Buti demonstrates how it’s really supposed to be done.

Zayde describes “Sacred Chocolate” as “the newest addition to my ongoing artistic exploration of food issues. As the title suggests, ‘Sacred Chocolate’ explores reverence for food (in this case, cacao) and the ceremonial art of eating.”

So next time you’re scarfing down a Snickers, remember: Eating chocolate should be a goddamn ceremony. Sing that Snickers bar a little song before you devour it. It’s what our ancestors who first harvested the mighty cacao bean would have wanted.

“Sacred Chocolate” is also available on Zayde’s Bandcamp page for a mere $0.99. Which is a penny less than what they charge for a Snickers bar in the vending machine at my office. So it’s a bargain. And listening to it over and over again won’t make you fat. Or will it?

Dispatches from Tronland: The Emotron’s Facebook posts are works of art & shit

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Photo by Erik Kirk

We kinda lost track of our old pal The Emotron for awhile there, but lately the man known to his daddyTron as Kyle Knight has been posting up a storm on Facebook. We keep checking to see if there’s any, y’know, Emotron news we can share with y’all, but really, all of his posts kinda read like the work of someone on a killer combination of Red Bull and shrooms—you know, the kind of high where they’re just talking non-stop and at a certain point you give up trying to figure out what’s real and what’s hallucinatory bullshit and just enjoy the ranting and raving for its own sake.

So: Did The Tron really take a massive shit onstage in North Carolina last week? Is he really selling jewelry for infants? Did he really perform a gig with Cowboy Troy in his dad’s backyard? Fuck if we know, but whether any of it happened or not isn’t the point. The Emotron’s Facebook posts are their own reward. Behold:

I’m kinda bored tonight. I think I will go around town & find some baby’s ears to pierce. any mother who lets me pierce their baby’s ears starting tonight & any other night in the future=will get a free pair of Emotron earrings! I’ve also got some nose rings for your baby & shit!

I never thanked The Kickstand, Treasure Fest, and the fans of Charlotte NC for coming out to see me take the biggest shit ive ever taken. It took me nearly my whole set to shit out 4 days worth of shit.

cowboy troy is coming over to my dad’s house tomorrow. come over Tuesday about 7-9pm. turn into that neighborhood off the Locust Grove Hwy. my dad isn’t gonna do his old style tron performance, but he will bring out some of that dmt he shared with Capt’n Beefheart at The ATL pop fest of 1970.

Why was it such a big deal that Chipper Jones hooked up with a Hooters waitress back in the day? I say hell yeah! Hit that…..it’s all pink on the inside & shit.

I could go on, but really, just follow the fucking dude on Facebook and enjoy the ride.

Emotron, we heart you, man. You are the box of chocolates to our Forrest Gump. When are you coming back to LA? This time, we’re not gonna miss your show, dammit.

Klaus Nomi

Today’s weird band…or rather, weird artiste…was suggested by a reader named Aaron, who notes that New Wave opera singer Klaus Nomi was “most defiantly a awesome weird guy.” True dat, Aaron! Even if you meant to say “definitely,” there was also something defiantly weird about Mr. Nomi, too.

Klaus Nomi was an opera-obsessed gay kid from Bavaria, which is sort of the German equivalent of being from Alabama. He moved to Berlin as a teenager to attend a music conservatory and work at the Deutsche Oper where, legend has it, he gave impromptu concerts for his fellow ushers while they were sweeping up after the shows. But he didn’t really fit in with either the Berlin opera community or the gay nightclub scene (which wasn’t used to drag queens singing arias), so like many of the world’s great freaks, he finally washed up in New York City. The year was 1972.

By 1978, Nomi was finally making a name for himself in the East Village art scene, performing arias in a melodramatic counter-tenor and even more melodramatic costumes, engulfed in smoke bombs and sci-fi sound effects. His reputation eventually caught the ear of David Bowie, who invited Nomi and one of his backup singers, Joey Arias, to perform with him on Saturday Night Live in 1979. You can watch clips of the performances over on this site, and marvel at how much tamer pop music is these days (yes, even you, Lady Gaga).

The SNL appearance changed Nomi’s life. Not only did he borrow the oversized plastic tuxedo look Bowie sported and make it his signature outfit, he also scored a record deal and released two albums, Klaus Nomi (1981) and Simple Man (1982), before his AIDS-related death in 1983. He was 39.

Nomi’s music was a bizarre and totally unique mix of original pop tunes done in a campy, New Wave style, avant-garde covers of oldies like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and operatic pieces–his set closer was an aria from the 19th century French opera Samson and Delilah. You could call him a trail-blazer, but really, no one’s quite followed the trail he blazed. Everyone from Morrissey to Jean Paul Gaultier has acknowledged him as an influence, but really, there just ain’t that many pop/New Wave opera singers in the world. Klaus Nomi was probably a one-time deal.

Here’s a clip of him performing his most famous tune, “Nomi Song,” on French TV. Purists might prefer the original “Nomi Song” video, but the picture and sound quality are a little better on this version.

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The KLF

(Photo originally appeared in Details magazine, 1991; article available here)

Today’s band was suggested by a reader from Belgium (worldwide, baby!) named Steve V., and it may surprise some of our American readers. Here in the States, The KLF are mainly remembered (if they’re remembered at all), as just another of that pack of seemingly indistinguishable bands who cashed in on that weird moment around 1990 or so when house music was actually getting played on the radio. But trust us, these guys were not in the same league as MARRS and C+C Music Factory. They may as well not even have come from the same planet.

The KLF originally started as a British hip-hop group called the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, then morphed briefly into a deliberately lame proto-house group called The Timelords, whose one and only single, “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” was a piss-take of pop hits that, perhaps inevitably, itself became a massive pop hit. A mash-up of the Doctor Who theme with Sweet’s “Blockbuster!” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part Two,” “Doctorin’ the Tardis” went to No. 1 in the UK in 1988 and reportedly sold over one million copies. Its success inspired the Timelords/KLF duo, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, to write a book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which dispensed such we’re-kidding-but-not-really advice as “if in a band, quit” and “watch Top of the Pops religiously.” (The book is out of print but you can read most of it online here—or shell out $89 $170 to a greedy Amazon reseller here.)

Drummond and Cauty probably could’ve scored a spot here on TWBITW as The Timelords solely on the basis of “Doctorin’ the Tardis” (and its video, which is one of the most hilariously amateurish artifacts of ’80s pop music), but they didn’t stop there. Instead, they reinvented themselves yet again as The KLF, an acid house group that specialized in what Drummond (aka King Boy D) called “pure dance music, without any reference points.” The KLF went on to become one of the most successful dance acts of the era, releasing a string of increasingly bizarre Top 10 hits in 1990 and 1991 that combined elements of acid house, rock, pop, hip-hop, gospel, ambient electronica and even country. (Their last single, “Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs),” featured guest vocals by Tammy Wynette.) They called it, a bit cheekily, “stadium house”—and they were indeed successful enough with it to fill their fair share of stadiums.

It seemed The KLF could do no wrong. Until Drummond and Cauty got bored with their success and, in one spectacular public gesture, chucked it all.

In February of 1992, The KLF were scheduled to perform at the BRIT Awards, England’s answer to the Grammys. Instead of their usual rap/rave stage show, Drummond and Cauty brought in a punk/grindcore band called Extreme Noise Terror to play a thrashed-out version of the KLF hit “3 a.m. Eternal,” which climaxed with Drummond, grinning and supporting himself on a crutch, breaking out a machine gun and firing blanks over the heads of the stunned audience. As the band left the stage, an announcer declared, “The KLF have left the music business.” Later that night, The KLF left a dead sheep at a BRIT Awards after-party with a sign hung around its neck reading, “I died for you—bon appetit.”

Not content to stop there, Drummond and Cauty took the almost unheard-of step of deleting their entire back catalog. All albums and singles by The KLF, The Timelords and the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu remain out of print in the U.K.—although last we checked, The KLF’s final album, The White Room, is still available in the U.S., presumably because the duo’s contract with their American label, Arista, didn’t allow for catalog deletion. (But Arista’s parent company, Sony, just folded Arista into RCA Records, so it will be interesting to see if White Room stays in print.)

But wait! Drummond and Cauty took it a step further still. Still flush with cash from their days as pop hitmakers, they decided to take one million pounds in cash, nail it to a picture frame, then shop it around to various art galleries under the title Nailed to the Wall. Then, when no gallery would agree to show the work, they took their million quid to a remote Scottish island and burned it—all of it, in £50 notes—in a fireplace, filming the whole thing. The film they made about the whole project—including the creation of the K Foundation, a satirical arts foundation that also awarded £40,000 to the “worst artist of the year”—is called Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid and can be viewed in its entirety on Google Video. It’s a pretty fascinating document. (The burning starts at around the 13:45 mark.)

We could go on about these guys: How they came out of retirement in 1997 in old-man makeup and motorized wheelchairs, giving a single performance of a remixed version of one of their old songs titled “Fuck the Millennium.” How they invited a bunch of journalists out to the island of Jura (the same island where they later burned their million quid) and made them all dress in ceremonial robes so they could film an elaborate ritual centered around a burning wicker man and called the whole thing The Rites of Mu. How they once traveled to Sweden hoping to persuade ABBA to let them keep an uncleared sample on their debut album, 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). (ABBA refused to meet with them and insisted that the album be withdrawn from sale—Drummond and Cauty, ever the pyros, burned a bunch of copies of that record, too.)

But really, we think nothing sums up how completely mental these guys were than this video for “America: What Time Is Love?” It’s got everything: Vikings! Rappers! Stadium house beats! Shredding guitars! The lead singer from Deep Purple! Yes, there really was a time in pop music history when this song could go Top 10 in eight countries.

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*Note: The Library of Mu domain name expired the day we published this. It’s a conspiracy! Which would sort of make sense, because The KLF loved conspiracies. They were big fans of The Illuminatus Trilogy.

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Paska

Today’s band was suggested to us by a reader named Alex. Big ups to him, as the kids like to say, because the one-man rock ‘n’ roll wrecking crew known as Paska (Finnish for “shit”) is as weird as they come. It’s like if someone shoved Bobby McFerrin so far up G.G. Allin’s ass, he started spouting punk-rock a cappella covers of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Paska is one Ari Peltonen, and his entire shtick is that he performs and records, very, very badly, with just his voice–no instruments, no overdubs, just one clearly unhinged individual sing-screaming highly condensed, barely intelligible versions of songs like “Ace of Spades” and “Love Me Tender”, interspersed with the occasional really bad mouth guitar solo, random drum hits and whatever other noises he can muster in between sloppy gasps for more oxygen. Oh, and he does perform a few originals, too, like “Pain in the Ass,” “Sex Is Shit,” and my personal favorite, “I Fucked Myself and Fell in Love.” Been there, my Finnish brother!

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Jake, this sounds like what me and my friends do when we’re driving home from $2 pitcher night and everyone in the car is too drunk to work the CD changer.” But here’s the difference, my friend: No one would so much as buy you another $2 pitcher to see you and your friends drunkenly butcher the punk and pop classics of yore. Whereas this Peltonen dude has been doing his Paska shtick, and getting paid for it, since the 80s. He’s played major festivals. He’s toured the U.S. He’s released an album (2005’s Women Are From Venus, Men From Anus), an EP and various singles and 7″s. In Finland, he’s either sort of a national hero or public enemy No. 1, or maybe both. At the very least, he has his own radio show.

I think my favorite part of the whole Paska story is that in the early 90’s, Paska “broke up” and Peltonen began staging concerts as various “ex-Paska” members: the egomaniac lead singer was Jeesus, the cheesy organist was Johnny Blue, the disgruntled bass player was Jorma (Finnish for “dick”). Of course, all of these Paska “solo projects” also just consisted of Ari Peltonen jumping around by himself and screaming into a microphone, but that’s the genius of the whole thing, don’t you think?

Alex sent us over a crap-ton of YouTube links to Paska’s hijinks, and it’s hard to pick just one as our favorite. So fuck it, we’ll embed a few. He’s just that awesome.

First off, you gotta start by just appreciating the man’s raw performance skills, or lack thereof–and the fact that yes, he regularly does this stuff in front of attentive, seemingly appreciative audiences. So here’s Paska um, interpreting “Stairway to Heaven”, live and in concert:

Still with us? OK, now here’s my personal favorite: some wiseass edited Paska’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” over bits from the original Queen video. I like to think Freddie Mercury would have loved this, but I know he probably sheds a golden tear in rock star heaven every time it’s viewed:

And finally, for a good long stew in the sauna of Paska’s madness, see if you can make it through a mere 8 minutes (yes, this is only half of it) of his epic version of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”:

You didn’t actually listen to the whole thing, did you? Yeah, us neither. Just knowing it exists is the whole punchline, really.

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Hi God People

They may not have democracy in Egypt, but here at Wierdest Band in the World, we’re getting democratic all over this bitch. Yes, you readers (all 11 of you…thanks y’all!) cast your votes and once again, a band on our Submit & Vote page has been elected to a spot on the hallowed Weird List. That’s three straight Submit ‘n Vote candidates who have made the cut. You guys aren’t getting soft, are you?

But this time, we gotta hand it to you…Hi God People are indeed the real shiz when it comes to weirdness. We’re not even sure how to describe them exactly. Experimental noise ensemble? Hippie tribal performance art? Modern dance troupe that’s done too much acid? We’re stumped.

What we can tell you is that Hi God People are from Melbourne, Australia, and that the two main guys involved are named Greg Wadley and Julian Williams. Wadley teaches computer science at the University of Melbourne, specializing in the study of virtual worlds, and plays in a buncha bands, including one called New Waver that does satirical songs like this reworking of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Williams is a musician and playwright who also has a solo album out called Liquidambar that might actually be even weirder than Hi God People. His label says it reflects “influences from the Beach Boys to John Cage” and judging from what we just heard on his MySpace page, that’s about right.

Other Hi God People people include Dion Nania, who also plays in a band called Panel of Judges, and Dylan Martorell, who makes “improvised electro acoustic music and sound installation” with a group called Snawklor. Then there’s a bunch of folks on the band’s label website who are just listed by first name: Sophie, Jason, Marcus, Nathan (the other half of Snawklor, possibly), etc. It’s just one big happy family of freaks, really.

Oh and one last note: They apparently “borrowed” their name from an old Christian group who released a few children’s singalong albums back in the 60’s or 70’s. We thought they might be making this part up, but we did a little digging and uncovered a few of the original Hi God songs, most of which seemed to have been written by a dude named Carey Landry. Who probably spins in his grave everytime Hi God People does one of their arty hippie freakout shows. To which we say: Amen. (Oh wait, actually, he might not be dead yet. Sorry, Carey! You probably just get really bad stomach cramps every time Hi God People does one of their arty hippie freakout shows.)

Hi God People have done a few wacky music videos, but really, their live shows are where the serious craziness ensues. The clip below was supposedly broadcast on an ABC TV “experimental music series,” although when the fuck ABC ever had an experimental music series, even in Australia, we can’t really imagine. Maybe Desperate Housewives never really took off down there.

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Zayde Buti

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Once again, democracy has struck here at TWBITW. Our readers have spoken, and they deemed the most recent entrant on our Submit and Vote page to be weird by the widest margin we’ve ever seen. In fact, if your votes are anything to go by, Zayde Buti might be the weirdest thing we’ve ever blogged about. Either that, or he spent way too much time voting for himself over and over again. (We really should close that loophole. We keep meaning to.)

Including Zayde on The Weird List is a bit of a cheat—not because he’s a solo artist (although some of our more pedantic readers take issue with every solo act we’ve ever listed), but because he’s really more of a performance artist than a musical act. And calling a performance artist weird is a little like observing that kittens are cute. Weird is what performance artists do—and as you can probably tell from the above photo, Zayde certainly comes through on that count.

But music is definitely a major part of Zayde’s act. He’s even got an album out: It’s called I’m Lovin’ It and yes, that’s a McDonald’s reference. You see, Zayde seems to be endlessly fascinated with the advertising slogans and iconography of fast food—that’s actually a Wendy’s wig he’s wearing in his publicity photo. In Boston, where he’s based, he has a one-man show called “Hungry,” and he’s also been known to do guerrilla theatre performances where he dresses up like a Dunkin’ Donuts employee and does song and dance routines for unsuspecting DD customers. It’s all very subversive…or at the very least, it confuses the hell out of the actual employees in pretty entertaining ways.

I’m Lovin’ It is streaming in full on Soundcloud, and it’s worth checking out. If Weird Al Yankovic got together with those guys who do the “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” song and made an entire album inspired by Naomi Klein’s No Logo…well, actually, that would probably be a train-wreck, but I’m Lovin’ It has its moments. Still, for the full Zayde Buti experience, you really have to watch one of his videos. They’re all pretty bizarre, but this one called “Hot ‘n Juicy” really takes the cake. Or burger. Or something.

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Aesthetic Meat Front

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(Photo: Lilly M via Wikimedia Commons)

Hi, kids! How was your Thanksgiving? Did you stuff your face? Good, cuz today’s weird band is gonna put you off your leftovers. You’ve been warned.

The Aesthetic Meat Front is the performance wing of a group called the Asthetic Meat Foundation, which was started right here in Los Angeles by a twisted individual named Louis Fleischauer. The stated aim of the AMF is “ritual against human devolution” or some shit, but really what they mostly seem to be interested in is in coming up with arty, creative ways to do horrible things to themselves in public. If Jigsaw from the Saw movies has a favorite band, it’s these guys.

Now apparently based in Berlin, the AMF like to fill their performances with what Fleishauer calls “human instruments.” This includes some really high-tech gadgetry like homemade EEG machines that turn brain waves into sound—but mostly it just consists of using hooks and needles to wire the performers to various sound generating devices, then yanking the performer’s flesh around and seeing what kind of wacky noises they can generate. Besides cries of pain from the performers and groans of horror from the audience, that is.

Fleischauer’s website has a gallery of some of his more stomach-churning creations. Among our favorites: a microphone inserted under the skin (and then played by essentially mouth-farting onto whatever appendage the performer inserted the mic into—the arm seems to be the most practical) and a “human harp” made by piercing someone’s back with a bunch of wires and then pulling them taut. The AMF MySpace page also mentions something called a “vaginal scissor dance” and honestly, we’re afraid to even ask what that one’s about.

You wouldn’t think the “music”…and yeah, it definitely deserves to be in quotation marks…that comes out of all this would be of much interest to anyone, but you can in fact buy all sorts of Aesthetic Meat Front goodies from A-M-F Records, including something called the Embalmer Tapes that was made entirely from an unauthorized audio recording of an embalming session. Eat your heart out, Matmos!

Anyway, below is a video of Fleschauer and friends getting freaky at something called the Castle Party last year. Don’t worry, it’s not all that disgusting. Just try not to think about the fact that all those metal contraptions they’re wearing have probably been sewn into their skin.

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