Weird Band of the Week: The Verboden Boys

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Lots of punk bands go through members faster than they go through safety pins, but usually it takes them a decade or three to rack up truly impressive, Social Distortion-like numbers. The Verboden Boys, however, have amassed a small army of members in a much shorter span of time through a method far more intriguing than the usual drug overdoses and “creative differences”: They’re a franchise punk band, with chapters in cities all over the world.

Founded in 2015 by Dennis Tyfus, a Belgian artist, musician and head of punk label Ultra Eczema Records, the original Verboden Boys chapter was based in Antwerp and, as far as I’ve been able to tell, played one gig — with Tyfus on “too loud vocals and synth” — before breaking up. But fear not, for that one performance — all 14 minutes of it — lives on thanks to the Internet gateway to immortality that is YouTube.

Tyfus’ franchise concept behind Verboden Boys lives on, too — sort of.

Originally Tyfus laid down some ground rules each chapter had to follow: no songs longer than two minutes, all songs had to pull from the same list of titles (though beyond the titles, they could apparently sound like pretty much anything) and all chapters had to perform on the same day. Amazingly, he appears to have pulled off that last rule on May 18, 2015, the date of the Antwerp chapter’s first (and only?) performance. A Verboden Boys playlist on YouTube, put together by the Tapeways label, is full of performances by other Verboden Boys chapters apparently playing on that same day, mostly elsewhere around Antwerp (the Deune and Borgerhout chapters) but also in Melbourne, Montreal and, of all places, Easthampton, Massachusetts. I spent three years in grad school not far from Easthampton and I can assure you that even though the Pixies got their start in that corner of the world, it is one of the least punk-rock places you can imagine. So rock the fuck on, Easthampton chapter of The Verboden Boys. You’re like a punk-rock Alamo out there amidst the leafy splendor of rural New England.

Since 2015, there hasn’t been much activity in Verboden land — with one notable exception. Earlier this year, The Verboden Boys’ Belfast chapter released an album called Band From Reality (The Complete Demos) that takes the basic template of Tyfus’ original — shouty, over-driven synth-punk — and amps it up roughly 5,000 percent, until almost every track is just a few seconds of shrieked vocals, short-circuited synths, blast beats and random noise. The whole thing can be listened to in just over 17 minutes — or seven if you skip “Never Die,” the 10-minute closing track that’s basically an ambient, post-coital comedown from the violent ear-fucking of tracks like “Homeless With a Drum Machine” and “Nazi Synthesizer.” Among the things they’ve tagged it with on Bandcamp are “terrorcore” and “synthetic hypergrind,” both of which are pretty apt descriptors.

Verboden Boys (Belfast Chapter) were introduced to us by Chris Storey from Doggy Bag Records, the label that had the balls to unleash this stuff upon an unsuspecting populace. Even Storey wasn’t quite sure what had become of all the other chapters, but noted that, “to my knowledge, the Belfast chapter is the most unhinged.” We’d have to agree.

If you’re interested in starting a new Verboden Boys chapter of your own — well, you can probably just go ahead and do it. Asking permission isn’t very punk, now is it? But if you want to be all up-and-up about it, you could try sending a message to Dennis Tyfus via his label as ultraeczema@hotmail.com. Who knows? Maybe if enough new chapters spring into action, he’ll even revive the Antwerp original.

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Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon

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Even in a genre where having multiple aliases is practically a job requirement, few hip-hop artists have cycled through characters as frenetically as Kool Keith. Over the course of his 30-odd-year (emphasis on “odd”) career, he’s rapped under the names Black Elvis, Big Willie Smith, Dr. Dooom, Keith Korg, Poppa Large, Mr. Nogatco and (my personal favorite) Underwear Pissy, to name but a few. But his weirdest and most beloved alter ego is the one under which he recorded his now-classic debut solo album, Dr. Octagonecologyst, in 1996: Dr. Octagon.

Produced by Dan the Automator, who would go on to work with everyone from DJ Shadow to Gorillaz to Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom project, and featuring turntable wizardry by DJ Qbert of Invisibl Skratch Piklz fame, Dr. Octagonecologyst sounded like nothing else happening in hip-hop at the time. Over trippy sci-fi beats that were as likely to sample Kraftwerk or Bartok as Whodini or Kurtis Blow, Keith rapped seemingly stream-of-consciousness nonsense that, upon closer examination, revealed the mythology of his Dr. Octagon persona: a shapeshifting alien surgeon and gynecologist from Jupiter, with green and silver skin, sent to Earth to perform medical experiments on humans and bang the occasional nurse. It’s surreal, filthy, funny and as dense with pseudo-scientific jargon as a William Gibson novel.

Ever restless, Keith killed off Dr. Octagon just a few years after Dr. Octagonecologyst with a new, harsher character, a deranged serial killer named Dr. Dooom who murders Doc Ock in the first 40 seconds of his “debut” album, First Come, First Served.  Keith stepped back into the Octagon, so to speak, with the The Return of Dr. Octagon in 2006, but Dan the Automator and Qbert weren’t involved and the good Doctor, unhappy with both the production and his label at the time, disassociated himself with the album before it was even released.

But this week, the dynamic trio behind Dr. Octagon reunite to bring us Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripulation, the first proper Octagon album in 22 years. Are they as unhinged as ever? Damn right they are.

A little more about Kool Keith, for those not familiar: Born Keith Thornton in the Bronx in 1963, he came up in hip-hop’s formative years as part of Ultramagnetic MCs, whose 1988 album Critical Beatdown is one of those records you probably know even if you think you don’t. Even in those early days, he was always considered slightly unhinged — so much so that when he once joked during an interview about spending time in a mental hospital, everyone assumed he was serious. In addition to being a dizzyingly nimble rapper, he’s also a gifted producer and multi-instrumentalist — and of course he does all that under yet another pseudonym, Number One Producer. He allegedly once said that because of all his otherworldly alter egos, “I don’t even feel like I’m a human being any more.”

Speaking of those alter egos, it’s worth noting that Dr. Octagon is hardly Kool Keith’s only outlet for weirdness. He’s also explored sci-fi themes under his own name (for example, on Black Elvis/Lost in Space, his only major label album), dabbled in cannibalism and necrophilia with his horrorcore group Thee Undertakerz, and indulged in some serious scat play as Underwear Pissy — remember him? (“Leave a bag of horse shit on your dresser” has to be one of the greatest, most random threats in all of hip-hop.)

Moosebumps is streaming over at NPR (we’re sure Ira Glass and Terry Gross are big fans) and available for pre-order (or purchase, depending on when you’re reading this) here. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with an amazing video from Keith’s last solo album, 2016’s Feature Magnetic. This track, “Super Hero,” features another brilliantly weird rapper called MF Doom, one of many MCs Keith has influenced over the years (a list that also includes Eminem, Busdriver, Del the Funky Homosapien, Atmosphere and even Insane Clown Posse — and yes, Keith has played the Gathering of the Juggalos).

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David Liebe Hart

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If you were a fan of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, you’re probably familiar with this week’s weird artist. But what you might not realize is that David Liebe Hart, with his puppets and quirky lo-fi songs about aliens and insect women and staying in school, was not some surreal creation of that most surreal of late-night comedy shows. David Liebe Hart is a real live person, and to this day he’s still making his wonderfully weird music and even weirder music videos.

An actor originally from the Chicago area (where, he says, he was abducted by aliens as a child) and now based in Los Angeles, Hart had a few small television roles early in his career on shows like Good Times, What’s Happening and Golden Girls. But he became best-known in the L.A. area in the 1990s for his musical puppet act, which he performed around town as a street busker and on a local cable access TV called The Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can still watch some of Hart’s early cable-access performances, which are fantastic.

So Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim didn’t exactly pluck Hart out of obscurity when they put him on the first season of their Awesome Show in 2007; he was already a cult figure around L.A., on par with other eccentric Hollywood fixtures like Known Actor Dennis Woodruff and Thai Elvis. But they were smart enough to just point a camera at him and let him do his thing, showcasing his menagerie of puppets, his slightly out-of-control baritone bray of a singing voice, and some of his most outlandish songs. He’s probably still most famous for “Salame,” the tune with which he made his Awesome Show debut (accompanied by his most famous puppet, Jason the Cat), but for our money, Tim & Eric scored Peak DLH with “I’m in Love With an Insect Woman.”

“Insect Woman” is amazing for a lot of reasons, but my favorite thing about it is probably how clearly Hart is in on the joke. Though some Tim & Eric fans seemed to react with alarm upon learning that his act existed outside the show (sample YouTube comment: “The realization that Tim and Eric met a crazy man and put him in front of a camera makes you a little sad”), I think part of David Liebe Hart’s genius, if you can call it that, lies in his ability to simultaneously embrace the absurd elements of his act and also fully commit to his underlying messages. He doesn’t really care whether you take him seriously or not; he just wants you to believe the aliens are out there — and to stay in school. It’s like Wesley Willis meets Space Alien Donald meets Sesame Street.

Since the sad demise of the Awesome Show, DLH has been keeping busy. He’s released numerous albums, written a book of poetry, played the mayor of Chicago in a B-movie called White Cop, launched his own podcast (“Adventures With David”), and done a national tour fronting a punk band. Since 2014, he’s teamed up with a new musical collaborator, Jonah Mociun, who’s given his songs a more fully produced, jaunty electro-pop sound. He’s also continued to embrace his silly, self-deprecating side; songs of his most recent album, Space Ranger, include “I Caught My Pecker in My Zipper,” “No Sex Since ’94” and “I’m Not a Hoarder.” (And we have it on good authority that, yes, that really is his apartment in the video for the latter track.)

But to this day, it’s when Hart sings about aliens and outer space this his weird light burns brightest. We’ll leave you with the totally cosmic video to another track from Space Ranger, “Space Train,” which features a fellow eccentric by the name of Tennessee Luke. According to Mociun, who wrote to us recently to share some of DLH’s latest stuff, Luke “believes he controls the weather with his mind.” Needless to say, we’re already fans.

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Clown Core

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Last week, a video surfaced on YouTube of a band called Clown Core performing a song called “Hell” inside a porta-potty. It went viral in a matter of days, getting reposted by Adult Swim and written up on various metal sites, because it is awesome. Here, judge for yourself:

Did you catch all that? The horror movie synths, the industrial beats, the death metal vocals, the Kenny G interlude? Can you grasp the sheer, unadulterated genius of it all? Maybe you better watch it again just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. We’ll wait.

Although prior to last week, hardly anyone (including us) was aware that Clown Core existed, the duo has actually been around since at least 2010. That’s when they released their self-titled debut album, which features 13 similarly unhinged ditties with titles like “Diarrhea Inferno Welfare Burrito” and “I Ate a Luna Bar and My Dick Fell Off.” It’s available on Spotify and iTunes, where it’s listed under “Children’s Music.” What’s remarkable is how fully formed the whole Clown Core concept seems to have been, even back then. Mostly using just sax, keyboards and drums, the duo mix punk-rock, death metal, jazz and plenty of comic relief (the Benny Hill theme shows up at one point, and there’s also a death metal cover of “Deck the Halls”) to create a sort of cartoon version of Mike Patton-era Mr. Bungle by way of Moon Hooch. They’re clearly not taking any of it seriously, but they’re also clearly very good musicians — which just makes it all that much funnier.

“Hell” is from Clown Core’s just-released new album, which is called Toilet, presumably because these guys were smart enough to realize that Porta-Potty is a terrible album title. It’s an even nuttier, more tightly wound hodgepodge of abrasive sounds than their debut, with more dubstep-like synths and death metal vocals and song titles like “Google Your Own Death” and “The Area 51 Snack Bar Sucks.”

So far there are no clues as to who’s behind the clown masks. Aside from their two albums, their online presence is limited to a YouTube channel and a Twitter account that’s less than a month old (and already three times more followers than us — thanks a lot, Internet). [Update: They also have a Facebook page.] We’re not even sure where they’re from, although the fact that the Porta-potty in the “Hell” video has a SoCal Industries logo suggests that they’re based right here in Southern California. Maybe they’re a spinoff of our favorite local masked electro-punks, Fartbarf? Although last we checked, no one in Fartbarf plays sax. Maybe it’s a couple of the guys from Kneebody — the jazziest track on Toilet, “Truth and Life” (also, at 2:44, the longest), actually sounds kinda like Kneebody in places.

Ultimately, though, who cares who’s behind Clown Core? Let’s just enjoy the fact that while I was writing this post, they released a second video, this time for Toilet‘s skittering title track. It also takes place inside a SoCal Industries porta-potty — but this time, the porta-potty has moved! What does it mean??? (Also, trigger warning for anyone who was molested by a clown as a child.)

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Xylouris White

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This photo and artwork: Anna White. Banner photo above: Manolis Mathioudakis.

You might think a drum kit and a lute are insufficient tools when it comes to creating completely original, holy-crap-what-is-this music. And in the hands of most humans that would probably be true. But Georgios Xylouris and Jim White are not most humans.

The unlikely duo first connected in Melbourne, Australia in the ’90s, where White had an instrumental rock trio called Dirty Three and Xylouris fronted a group called Xylouris Ensemble that showcased his unique approach to the music of his native Crete — mixing it with Irish folk music, as well as more modern elements — and his chosen instrument, the laouto, a long-necked, eight-stringed lute. In traditional Greek and Cretan music, it’s typically a supporting instrument, used mainly for rhythm and texture — but Xylouris can shred on that thing like a cross between Andrés Segovia and Chris Thile.

Jim White, in some ways, also plays the drums like a lead instrument — or at least explores their melodic and timbral possibilities more thoroughly than most rock drummers. His incredibly expressive playing has backed everyone from Nick Cave to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. But he didn’t begin working with Xylouris until 2014, when the duo released their first album as Xylouris White, Goats — an apt title, because there’s something voracious about the way they explore every little cranny and crevice in the space where their two styles of music overlap. The sound of the laouto keeps them rooted in Greek and Cretan folk music, but from there they go flying off into atmospheric post-rock, Indian ragas, drone, psychedelia, jazz, and the vaguely medieval sounds of neoclassical folk and darkwave. It’s not music that immediately strikes you as “weird” per se, but the longer you listen, the harder it is to describe — which is as good an overarching description as any of the kind of music this blog is dedicated to exploring.

Xylouris White just released their third album, Mother, and I think it’s their best work yet, with more of Xylouris’ powerful vocals and a sort of moody, post-punk, gypsy trance vibe that contains echoes of everything from Ravi Shankar and Gábor Szabó to Dead Can Dance and Robby Krieger’s guitar parts on “The End.” It’s eerie and beautiful and incantatory and doesn’t sound like it could possibly be the work of just two musicians — but after seeing them live this week (they’re playing Zebulon here in L.A. every Monday this month — for free! — and on tour through May), I’m pretty sure that Mother contains very few overdubs. Between White’s graceful yet octopus-like command of his kit and the crazy overtones and drones Xylouris can get from his lute, the two of them can generate quite a racket.

Though they have an undeniably fascinating sound, I honestly didn’t consider adding Xylouris White to the Weird List until I saw this video for “Only Love,” one of the most rockin’ songs on Mother. Between the Primus-like opening riff and the goofy animation (my favorite part: when something like a goat mosh pit breaks out) courtesy of director Lucy Dyson, it’s definitely one of the most eye-catchingly absurd clips I’ve seen in recent memory.

I’ll leave you with Xylouris White’s other recent music video, for the Mother track “Daphne.” This one’s only weird if you think it’s weird for old ladies to dance alone in fields, which you shouldn’t. With any luck, we’ll all be able to bust moves like this well into our twilight years. (Also, those old ladies are Jim White and George Xylouris’ mothers. So show a little goddamned respect.)

Side note: Back in his native Crete, Giorgos Xylouris is folk music royalty. His father is Antonis “Psarantonis” Xylouris, a renowned lyra player (a smaller, three-stringed cousin of the laouto), and his late uncle was Nikos “Psaronikos” Xylouris, a singer and lyra player whose music became a soundtrack and inspiration for the youth protest movement that eventually brought down the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. Giorgos (or George, to his English-speaking pals) is known in Greece as Psarogiorgos. We’re not sure what the “psaro” prefix means but presumably it’s some kind of honorific bestowed upon members of the Xylouris family who have achieved a certain level of awesomeness. (Giorgos’ children, who perform with him in Xylouris Ensemble, don’t appear to have earned it yet. But give them time.)

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Infecticide

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This week’s weird band comes to us from France and was suggested by reader Tropitox. (Thanks, Trop!) We don’t know much about them because pretty much everything written about them on the web is in French and we’re American scum who never bothered to learn a foreign language. But language barriers aside, you can get a pretty good idea of what they sound like from this description on their Facebook page: “Post-industriel-Synthpunk-electrowave-neo-dada calé-découpé.” According to Google translator that last part means “wedged-cut,” which is presumably either a reference to their hairstyles or how they like their pommes frites.

Infecticide’s music is sort of a cross between ’80s synth-pop and the dirty electro of French labels like Ed Banger Records. The weirdest part of their sound is the vocals, usually delivered in French but occasionally in delightfully stilted English, Spanish or German. But it’s less in their music than in their videos that they venture into bizarro territory. We’ll start with “Les animaux sauvages,” which is like a cross between a school play staged by sad-faced French grownups and a rave at a furry convention.

Now that you kinda like them, we’ll drop “Babybelle” on you, which will haunt your dreams:

As far as we can tell, they’ve only released one album so far, called Chansons Tristes (Sad Songs), which you can obtain from the Free Music Archive. While you’re waiting for your downloads, pause to read the hilariously jumbled album description, presumably translated from the French, which helpfully explains that the album’s “fifteen pieces with neo-Dadaist lyrics will leave speechless all spirit unable to go beyond the first degree and enrapture personalities in a displacing way.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

We’ll leave you with one of Infecticide’s more recent videos, a clip called “Petit tricheur” (“Little Cheater”) that attempts to do for garbage bags and bowties what The Ramones did for biker jackets.

The Furby Organ

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We’re cheating a little this week: The Furby Organ is an instrument, not a band. But it’s too awesome for us to ignore. And hey, from a Furby’s perspective, it’s a 44-member band, right? Just one in which the 44 members have been dissected and wired up to do one mad overlord’s bidding — “kinda like The Matrix, but without the bad sunglasses,” as the aforementioned mad overlord aptly puts it.

The overlord is Sam Battle, a London musician and analog synthesizer geek who goes by the handle Look Mum No Computer. He builds all sorts of cool contraptions, like a “mega drone synth” with 100 oscillators and a guitar synth made from a fidget spinner, but his crowning achievement is clearly the Furby Organ, which has justifiably been blowing up all over the internet since he announced the project’s completion with the video below this past Sunday. Some people have been calling it the stuff of nightmares, but we think it’s genius. Judge for yourself.

Keening Furbies aside, I think what I love best about the video is Battle’s infectious enthusiasm for the whole thing. It’s one thing to spend several years collecting Furbies and soldering them into a giant synthesizer, but to present it on YouTube like it’s the greatest invention since the ShamWow is a rare and remarkable talent, indeed.

If you want to support more of Sam Battle’s LMNC projects, we highly recommend supporting him via his Patreon page. He also says he’s collecting more Furbies for upcoming projects, so if you have any of the little critters stashed in a box somewhere in the back of your garage (and who doesn’t?), by all means dig them out and ship them off. Who knows what demented and delightful uses for Furbies he’s scheming up next.

As an added bonus, we’ll leave you with the “Furby Gurby,” another furby-powered analog gizmo that Battle says was the inspiration for the Furby Organ. Once you hear this thing, the Furby Organ sounds less like the stuff of nightmares and more like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of talking children’s toys.

P.S. Thanks to our friend and reader Tommy Salsa for first alerting us to the Furby Organ’s magical existence. As one of the guys who suffered through my attempt to create a Furby bike at Burning Man one year (to no one’s surprise except me, it became insufferably annoying after about 30 seconds), he correctly surmised that I would greet the arrival of the Furby Organ the way Steve Jobs cultists greet the release of a new iPhone.

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