Weird Band of the Week: Bull of Heaven

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How far can you push the boundaries of music until it becomes just noise? Plenty of our favorite experimental bands and composers, from John Cage to Stalaggh/Gulaggh have toyed with this notion — but none have taken it to more extreme lengths (literally) than Denver ambient noise/drone duo Bull of Heaven.

Over the course of more than 450 releases (and counting), Bull of Heaven have put out billions of hours an infinity’s worth of their eerie, glacial soundscapes — challenging not just listeners’ attention spans, but in some ways the very concept of music composition itself. When one of your pieces takes 3.343 quindecillion years to listen to (a “quindecillion,” by the way, is 1048, or a 1 followed by 48 zeros), are you really writing music or just a mathematical abstraction of music? Can you actually compose a piece of music in a shorter time than it takes to play that piece of music? How often, if at all, does the music change over those 3.343 quindecillion years — and at what point does it cease to matter, since there will be no humans left to listen to it, and perhaps not even a universe left to listen to it in? The mind reels — as does my syntax when attempting to describe this shit.

Bull of Heaven’s music isn’t completely uniform — there are forays into doom metal and psych-rock and sound collage and even jazz. But this five-hour excerpt from one of their most well-known experiments in interminability, a 1,453-hour release called The Chosen Priest and Apostle of Infinite Space, gives you a pretty good idea of their preferred sound, which tends to resemble the squall of noise the amps make at the end of a Sunn O))) concert, time-stretched into eternity.

If you lost interest, oh, about 24 minutes into that, don’t worry — you’re far from alone. The most exhaustive cataloger of Bull of Heaven’s music, a long-suffering fan called Hakita on RateYourMusic.com, frequently sounds less than enthused when describing the duo’s more long-winded efforts. “Could use more variety, especially since it’s one week long,” he/she writes about The Wicked Cease From Struggling, “but I didn’t hate listening to the [63-minute] excerpt.” (Helpfully, Bull of Heaven often release “excerpts” of their longest pieces, so if you’re too lazy and/or mortal to make it through the full-length, you can at least get a taste.)

The guys behind all this cosmically creeping doom are not some academic aesthetes who teach aleatoric composition at NYU or some shit. One, Neil Keener, is a hardcore guitarist who achieved a modicum of renown with an Illinois band called Planes Mistaken for Stars. The other, Clayton Counts, was a DJ turned mash-up artist whose greatest claim to fame before Bull of Heaven was Sgt. Petsound’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a 2006 Beatles/Beach Boys hybridization that earned him a cease-and-desist letter from EMI (and which included the excellent song title, “I’m Fixing It, Dayhole”). They met in Chicago and later launched Bull of Heaven together in Denver — where, sadly, Counts died of an opioid overdose in 2016, only eight years after launching the project.

For a while, it seemed like Bull of Heaven might have died with Counts. But just a couple months ago, Keener released a new BoH album called Fight Night for the Ghosts of Heaven, so it appears he plans to keep the project going as a solo venture, perhaps in tribute to his late bandmate. Fight Night is, by Bull of Heaven standards, a downright conventional affair, clocking in at a mere, relatively non-repetitive 36 minutes, broken into what sound like discrete, song-length chunks. But it’s beautiful stuff and every bit as eerie as the duo’s earlier work.

It’s worth noting that Counts was such a prankster that when he died, many of his friends assumed the whole thing was an elaborate joke. As a young man in Texas, he achieved some local notoriety for his constant prank phone calls to conspiracy theory jag-off Alex Jones, then a public-access cable wingnut in Austin. So it’s likely Counts was yanking everyone’s chain a little when he composed, say, a 50,000-hour piece called Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws that consists of little more than fluctuating pulses of static and noise. It would take nearly six years to listen to Like a Wall in its entirety — six years in which Counts and Keener released many more billions of hours of music, much of which has presumably still never been heard by anyone, because who in their right mind has made it all the way to hour 49,999 of Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws?

But even if you view Bull of Heaven less as a band than as some elaborate art prank, it’s a pretty great one. And hidden somewhere deep in the recesses of the prank are some very profound thoughts about the nature of music and time and life and death and eternity and all kinds of other heavy shit. It also makes you question your own limitations as a consumer of art and just as a person living in the world with deadlines and responsibilities and bodily functions and other things that interfere with your ability to absorb, in a single sitting, even a relatively brief Bull of Heaven piece like the 24-hour Even to the Edge of Doom.

By the way, since for obvious reasons YouTube can’t possibly host much of Bull of Heaven’s catalog, the band has helpfully uploaded most of it to their website. My computer can’t play some of the longer pieces — like At the Tide’s Edge, I Lie, whose running time is just notated with an infinity symbol — but your mileage may vary.

I could go on about some of Counts and Keener’s many other, even more esoteric experiments — like their releases that are listed as having negative running time, or their untitled series, in which they released thousands of short pieces identified only by 32 digits each of hexadecimal code. They’ve also released an interactive piece of music that doubles as a calculator and MP3s that can be converted to RAR files that contain other MP3 files, like musical Russian nesting dolls. But I’d rather just leave you with the most batshit Bull of Heaven release I could find in my admittedly all-too-brief search through their catalog — this one-hour excerpt from a 59-hour piece called Vicious, Cruel, Incapable of Remorse, which sounds like a hungry tape deck mangling The Residents. And this one final thought: We often say that deceased musicians achieve immortality through their music, but I would argue that Clayton Counts has come closer to attaining that immortality than anyone. We’ll be listening to his music forever — literally.

P.S. Our thanks to Mr. Gredo and the Crushing Fetish Band for suggesting we add Bull of Heaven to the Weird List. You weren’t the first to suggest them, Mr. Gredo, but we have short attention spans and you were the first to successfully explain to us why it was actually worth our while to at least attempt to listen to a 5-hour YouTube upload.

P.P.S. We’ll be taking some time off this week to celebrate that odd American tradition of eating insane amounts of turkey in honor of our colonially rapacious past. But we’ll be back with more weirdness next week. For that, we hope, you can all be thankful.

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Weird of the Day: Tessa Makes Love, “Spente Le Stelle”

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Remember when American news show Inside Edition got a New York-based Russian musician named Tessa Lena to explain Little Big’s “Skibidi” video? Well, it turns out Tessa is a pretty great weird artist in her own right. She releases music under the name Tessa Makes Love, including a 2013 song called “Spente Le Stelle,” subtitled “Sexual Objectification Is Very Boring.” The accompanying video has racked up over a million views on YouTube — I’d like to believe because it’s a great, groovy track and Tessa’s operatic vocals are amazing, but I suspect her equally amazing body paint had something to do with it, too. “The jury is still out on how many people realized that the video was a satire making fun of sexual objectification,” Tessa admits on her website. Unfortunately, satire is usually lost on the folks who are doing the objectifying.

More recently, Tessa has released a full-length album called Tessa Fights Robots, a bizarre and brilliant mix of glitchy synth-pop and Tiger Lillies-like punk cabaret that explores the dehumanizing effects of technology on our increasingly data-driven times. She also a blog, also called Tessa Fights Robots, in which she shares her thoughts on everything from rape culture to Americans’ peculiar love of cultural stereotypes to the way political ideologies have taken on the rigidity of religious dogma. It’s heady stuff and well worth checking out — especially if you actually picked up on the fact that “Spente Le Stelle” is satire.

David Liebe Hart hangs in the graveyard for his “Haunted by Frankenstein” video

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David Liebe Hart can make just about anything seem like a good time, from collecting model trains to getting your pecker caught in your zipper. So it’s not surprising that in the new video for “Haunted by Frankenstein,” which he released just in time for Halloween (sorry we’re two weeks late to the party, DLH), he turns a visit to the cemetery into a one-man party. Watch.

Good times, right? “Haunted by Frankenstein” is from Hart’s amazing new album, For Everyone, his collaboration with Half Japanese’s Jad Fair and Jason Willett, which is loaded with similarly off-kilter moments of pop surrealism. The video, I’m pretty sure, was shot at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, although don’t quote me on that — especially because wherever it was filmed, I bet they didn’t have a permit.

Also, since I just read the sad news that Stan Lee died, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that David Liebe Hart also now exists in comic book form. His superhero character is called Heartman and you can buy issue No. 1 of his adventures (illustrated by 48 different artists, including DLH himself) in the ArtByLiebeHart.com store. Excelsior!

Rammstein announce first-ever stadium tour

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Two things that are hard to believe: First, that it’s been nearly 10 years since Rammstein‘s last album, and second, that a band known for its over-the-top, pyrotechnic-heavy live show has apparently never done a proper stadium tour before. But in 2019, both those things are set to change.

Less than a month after guitarist Paul Landers casually let slip in a gear interview that the band was working on new music, the German industrial demigods confirmed via their website that not only will they drop a new album next spring — their first since 2009’s Liebe ist für alle da — but they’ll be supporting it with a massive European stadium tour, with stops in 25 cities (full dates below). What will a stadium-sized Rammstein tour look like? Probably something like this, only with even more fire.

As far as the new music, Landers told MusicRadar that the band has been working together in one room, rather than tracking all the parts individually as they’ve done in the past. “We’ve decided to make the record more of a band-unit recording than a bunch of guys playing separately,” he said. “We’ll have to see how it all ends up on the record, but the basic idea is you are hearing a band playing … you could say it’s inspired by our live sound.” In the news post announcing the tour, they also mentioned that they’re working with an orchestra and choir. So it sounds like Rammstein fans are in for something epic.

Tickets for the European tour went on sale today and it looks like several dates are already sold out, so get your ass over to the Rammstein website if you want in on the action. (No tour dates for the rest of the world yet, unfortunately, except a couple dates in Mexico around New Year’s Eve.) Full dates below, right after Till and the gang rock your faces off with this live clip from Hellfest in France in 2016. That spark-shooting bow-and-arrow contraption really ought to be available in the Rammstein online store, don’t you think?

12/31/2018 Puerto Vallarta, Explanada Hotel Secrets
01/02/2109 Puerto Vallarta, Explanada Hotel Secrets
05/27/2019 Gelsenkirchen, Veltins-Arena
05/28/2019 Gelsenkirchen, Veltins-Arena
06/01/2019 Barcelona, RCDE Stadium
06/05/2019 Bern, Stade de Suisse
06/08/2019 Munich, Olympiastadion
06/09/2019 Munich, Olympiastadion
06/12/2019 Dresden, Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion
06/13/2019 Dresden, Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion
06/16/2019 Rostock, Ostseestadion
06/19/2019 Copenhagen, Telia Parken
06/22/2019 Berlin, Olympiastadion
06/25/2019 Rotterdam, De Kuip
06/28/2019 Paris, Paris La Défense Arena
06/29/2019 Paris, Paris La Défense Arena
07/02/2019 Hannover, HDI Arena
07/06/2019 Milton Keynes, Stadium MK
07/10/2019 Brussels, Stade Roi Baudouin
07/13/2019 Frankfurt am Main, Commerzbank-Arena
07/16/2019 Prague, Eden Aréna
07/17/2019 Prague, Eden Aréna
07/20/2019 Luxembourg, Roeser Festival Grounds
07/24/2019 Chorzów, Stadion Śląski
07/29/2019 Moscow, VTB Arena – Central Dynamo Stadium
08/02/2019 Saint Petersburg, Saint-Petersburg-Stadium
08/06/2019 Riga, Lucavsala
08/10/2019 Tampere, Ratina Stadion
08/14/2019 Stockholm, Stockholm Stadion
08/18/2019 Oslo, Ullevaal Stadion
08/22/2019 Vienna, Ernst-Happel-Stadion
08/23/2019 Vienna, Ernst-Happel-Stadion

Haunted Garage’s Dukey Flyswatter is having brain surgery and needs your help

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Dukey Flyswatter in action at the Long Beach Zombie Walk in 2013

[Update: If you can’t make it to the show, there is now also a GoFundMe page to help Dukey with his medical expenses. Give copiously!]

“22 Centimeter Brain Tumor” sounds like the title of a song by Hollywood horror-punks Haunted Garage, and who knows? Maybe someday it will be. But for now, it’s the grim reality for lead singer Dukey Flyswatter, who discovered he had the tumor last month, but powered through a slew of Halloween-related Haunted Garage shows anyway, like the unstoppable splatter-punk beast that he is.

Now, as Dukey prepares to get that fucking thing taken out of his skull (he undergoes surgery Dec. 10th), he needs your help. I’m not sure what his insurance situation is, but even when you have coverage, shit like this can get expensive in a hurry. So his friends are throwing a little benefit party for him here in Los Angeles at Cafe NELA on Saturday, Dec. 1st. Our friends Radioactive Chicken Heads will be on the bill, along with Gitane Demone, Fifi and Haunted Garage, because of course Dukey’s playing his own benefit concert. Did we mention he’s unstoppable?

It’s my understanding that tickets for this epic night of punk rock and brain tumor-stomping will be a mere $10, though I’m sure larger donations will be gratefully accepted. For those of you not in L.A., I’m not sure how you can donate — I’ll find out if Dukey has a GoFundMe page or something. [Update: Now he does have one. Big ups to Pat Rowan for creating it.] He’s been a friend of the blog for many years and an L.A. living legend for longer than that. He deserves all the support we can give him as he fights through this.

Here’s a link to the benefit’s Facebook page again in case you missed it.

Is it in poor taste to end this post with Haunted Garage’s “Brain in a Jar”? It is? Good, because bad taste is what the inimitable Mr. Flyswatter is all about. Rock on, Dukey, and see you at Cafe NELA. Weird Nation has got your back.

Deadlift Lolita

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Howdy, weirdlings! It’s Election Day here in America, and I’m sure I speak for many of my fellow ‘Muricans when I say I will be spending the day distracting myself from the sorry state of our democracy by avoiding the news and de-stressing with as many non-American diversions as possible, like Scotch and whatever crazy shit they’re listening to in Japan these days. Which bring us to our weird band of the week: a kawaiicore duo called Deadlift Lolita.

If you’ve already guessed from the above photo what’s weird about Deadlift Lolita, then congratulations — you figured out that one-half of the duo is not actually Japanese. He’s an Australian who goes by the name Ladybeard. Did you also guess why he calls himself that? Man, you’re on a roll!

When I first heard about the existence of Ladybeard, I was inclined to dismiss him as a foreign carpet-bagger — probably some failed musician who jumped on the kawaii metal bandwagon after it blew up internationally thanks to genre progenitors Babymetal. Then I read a story about him on Narratively that traced his Ladybeard persona back to at least 2009, when the writer (who mistakenly credits Ladybeard with inventing kawaiicore — at best, he might have coined the term, but whatevs) spied him rocking out at a death-metal concert dressed in a full nurse’s uniform. Further research (by which I mean that I, uh, looked up his Wikipedia page) revealed that he’s apparently been cross-dressing since he was 14. So I misjudged you, Ladybeard. You are not a bandwagon-jumper but in fact a full-blown weirdo who just didn’t find your calling until you moved to Japan and became the world’s most improbable kawaii idol.

Ladybeard, whose real name is Richard Magarey, studied drama in South Australia before moving to Hong Kong and finding work as a martial arts stuntman and, later, a professional wrestler. Does he still wrestle, I hear you ask? Damn right he does, and he looks adorable doing it.

After moving from Hong Kong to Tokyo in 2013, he broke into the music biz with his first band, Ladybaby. Musically, if we’re being honest, they were pretty much a straight rip of Babymetal, except one of the three girls was replaced by a giant white dude who looked like a ‘roided-out Aphex Twin in pigtails and sang like Chris Barnes.

Not surprisingly, Ladybaby went viral everywhere the headline “Bearded Cross-Dressing Pro Wrestler Fronts J-Pop Metal Band” might get clicks, which is to say pretty much everywhere. More surprisingly, they were a hit in Japan, too, which isn’t always kind to culture-crashing foreigners but was immediately charmed by this ridiculous gaijin dancing around in polka-dot dresses and grinning like Andrew W.K.’s long-lost, gender-non-conforming cousin.

Well, mostly charmed — in that aforementioned Narratively article, Ladybeard admitted that he sometimes got static from male idol fans who were jealous that he got to traipse around with his young female bandmates. “When I was in Ladybaby, they’d give the girls a present at the signing session, then whisper something like, ‘Eat shit, you dirty foreigner,’ in my ear,” he said. “Then those same people hated me when I left the group.”

That’s right — Ladybeard eventually left Ladybaby, which makes sense when you’ve got fans telling you to eat shit, I guess. What makes less sense is that Ladybaby tried to carry on without him — first calling themselves “The Idol Formerly Known as Ladybaby,” which at least sounded like a cool nod to Prince, then going back to calling themselves just Ladybaby, which makes them the Van Hagar of kawaiicore as far as I’m concerned. Ladybeard, meanwhile, went off and started a new group called Deadlift Lolita with a fellow bodybuilder and pro wrestler named Reika Saiki, and even though their sound still owes a lot to Babymetal, their overall presentation is spectacular. Here, for example, is the video for their debut single, “Six Pack Twins,” which is like a glorious cross between J-pop, Wrestlemania and a protein shake commercial.

Since then, Deadlift Lolita’s music and videos have only gotten weirder — the outfits more outlandish, the music more hyper-caffeinated, the guitar solos more shred-tastic (courtesy of Isao Fujita, who they poached from Babymetal), Ladybeard’s vocals more cartoonish. He breaks out a bizarre falsetto on “Pump Up Japan,” whose video features what I’m assuming are some of his and Reika’s fellow pro wrestlers. Side note: I have zero interest in American wrestling but Japanese wrestling looks ah-mazing.

Sadly, much as David Lee Roth’s solo career languished while everyone rushed out to buy Van Hagar CDs, Deadlift Lolita so far has failed to catch fire the way Ladybeard’s previous group did. The video I’m about to leave you with has a mere 157,000 views a year after its release, while the new Ladybeard-less Ladybaby video has racked up five times that many clicks in just a few months. Maybe people are already over Ladybeard’s kawaii cross-dressing shtick — or maybe they’re just not prepared to accept this much cuteness and muscle definition in one package. Either way, nowhere near enough people have seen the insanity that is “Muscle Cocktail”:

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Weird of the Day: Palais Schaumburg, “Kinder der Tod”

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We’d like to dedicate today’s post to new reader Jörg, who pointed out (quite rightly — thanks, Jörg!) that for a site about weird music, we’re sorely lacking in Neue Deutsche Welle or New German Wave — a particularly Teutonic strain of synth-heavy post-punk that arose in West Germany in the early ’80s. It had a brief run of popularity, leading to the crossover pop success of acts like Nena of “99 Luftballons” fame and this guy. But the original, more underground NDW was way too weird even for most Germans to fully embrace it. A lot of it sounds like a cross between Einstürzende Neubauten and early video game music — the kind of video games that might give you a small electric shock every time you lose, maybe.

Jörg was nice enough to send us links to a whole mess of this stuff, but the one that really jumped out at me was Palais Schaumburg, a band from Hamberg whose stuff managed to be both robotically stiff and kinda funky at the same time, in that way only Germans seem able to pull off. Plus, the video below for their 1981 song “Kinder der Tod” (“Children of the Death”*) is the kind of amazing ’80s artifact YouTube was made for. Suspenders and bad perms abound, and there’s a menacing figure encased in black stretchy fabric and a little performance-art piece about how you’ll die if you let anyone steal your flowers, or something. It’s all deadly serious but probably meant to be funny but it’s hard to tell because another thing Germans are great at pulling off is humor so deadpan it makes you feel like there might be something wrong with you when you can’t stop laughing at it.

Bonus fun fact: Palais Schaumburg was the first musical projects of one Thomas Fehlmann, who would go on to achieve greater renown as a member of another excellent weird band, British ambient electronic pioneers The Orb. I would never have guessed there was a direct link between Neue Deutsche Welle and ’90s rave chillout rooms, but there you have one.

*After we posted this, Jörg wrote us and explained that a more accurate though grammatically confusing translation of “Kinder der Tod” is “Children the Death” — from a lyric that translates to, “Children, (the) death is not that bad at all.” Thanks for clearing that up, Jörg! Or making it more confusing, which is probably more in the spirit of Palais Schaumburg anyway.