Our readers submit a lot of marching bands as possible entrants on the Weird List. Usually, we don’t pay them much attention, because the whole concept of extreme/alternative/punk-rock marching bands is nothing especially new at this point. You got your Extra Action Marching Band, your Mucca Pazza, your Rude Mechanical Orchestra and so on. But something about this week’s band, Itchy-O, stands out from the pack of tattooed punks bashing away at quad toms.
A 30-plus-piece ensemble from Denver, the Itchy-O Marching Band (IOMB) typically begins their performance by entering the venue from the street. Drums dominate, but there are also synths, vocalists, dancers, guitar and bass, and a prominently featured Theremin. Many of the performers wear amps like backpacks, so they can move freely around the venue during the show. There’s usually a giant, dancing Chinese dragon. There are several of those massive, Japanese taiko drums, which are basically the Steinway pianos of the drum world, both in terms of sound and in terms of how much it must suck to haul them around on tour. They wear black balaclavas and often giant sombreros, which makes them look a little like a gang of anarchist mariachis. It all makes for what looks like a pretty insane, sensory overload live show (though we have yet to experience it first-hand ourselves).
With their emphasis on drums, dancers and audience interaction, Itchy-O are clearly indebted to San Diego neo-tribal performance troupe Crash Worship, although their shows are, by all accounts, relatively tame compared CW’s, which famously featured lots of fire and nudity and fluids, bodily and otherwise. To the credit of the group’s founder, Scott Banning, he acknowledges the debt, telling Denver publication Westword that, while living in the Bay Area, he became friends with Crash Worship’s Simon Cheffins, and toured with both CW and Cheffins’ later band, Extra Action Marching Band, though he’s careful to say, “I was never in Crash Worship.”
Banning, a percussionist by trade, initially started Itchy-O as a studio project; his first release under that name, in 2005, he described as “an ambient project made from the layered tracks of animal heartbeats found on vinyl from a veterinarian school.” But as he started organizing Itchy-O live shows, the project grew into a full-fledged band, evolving into its marching-band incarnation by 2010.
Following a 2011 EP, Inferno, the band released its first full-length album, Burn the Navigator, on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles in 2014. Usually, bands built so strongly around live spectacle don’t really measure up in the studio, but tracks like “Dance of the Annunaki” (which appears on both Inferno and Burn the Navigator) are a really cool mix of heavy, syncopated percussion, squelchy electronics and weird ambient noises and vocals — in this case, random bird and jungle sounds.
At other times, Itchy-O go for a sort of tribal black metal vibe, like on “The Merkabah,” which sounds like a bhangra remix of Mayhem.
Pretty cool, right? Still, it’s clearly in a live setting where Itchy-O’s particular brand of percussive mayhem is its most powerful. So we’ll leave you with a live clip from a show they did in 2014 right here in Los Angeles — which we missed, because we are bad at our jobs. Hopefully they’ll be back soon, although touring with 36 people and a hundred or so drums can’t be easy.
Reader Eddie sent us a link to this video by an all-female ’80s group from New York called Pulsallama, a short-lived art-punk ensemble made up almost entirely of percussionists, plus some bass guitar and the occasional horn line (because this was the ’80s, after all). According to their Facebook page, their sound was sometimes described, pretty accurately, as “13 girls fighting over a cowbell” (though they eventually slimmed down to a svelte seven-piece). After opening for The Clash and releasing a couple of singles, they disbanded in 1982.
This song, “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body,” was a minor college radio hit, which is just further proof of something we’ve been saying for years: The ’80s were an awesome time for weird music.
If you want to learn more about Pulsallama, fringe culture experts Dangerous Minds (who else?) have a great summary of the band’s brief career.
We found this week’s weird band right in our own backyard. One of their videos was even partially shot in the parking lot of the 99¢ Only Store right down the street from Jake’s house. Actually, we found them in our inbox from a reader named William, because we don’t get out much. Which might be just as well, because Foot Village is not the kind of band you’d want to bump into in the dark parking lot of a 99¢ Only Store.
Foot Village is a self-described “drum-n-shout assembly” that makes insanely intense music almost entirely out of percussion and vocals. We’ve covered a lot of other drum-heavy bands on TWBITW over the years—starting with the granddaddies of them all, Boredoms and Crash Worship—but what Foot Village does with this limited palette is pretty special. Sometimes their songs are like invocations of dark, primal forces, and sometimes they’re like a schoolyard beatdown after a drug deal gone bad. In fact, one of their heaviest gut-punch numbers is actually called “This Song Is a Drug Deal,” and it has a video that’s like a William Burroughs short story set at a Coachella after-party.
Foot Village’s music would be intense enough on its own, but they have a knack for making equally intense videos, even when they don’t rely on gobs of black paint to make their point. Here’s the aforementioned 99¢ Only Store video, a disturbingly fresh spin on child abduction set to a thunderous war whoop of a song called “New Jersey.”
And finally, here’s a glimpse of their balls-out live show, filmed at L.A. noise-rock mecca The Smell.
Today’s weirdness comes from our new MVR (Most Valuable Reader), a dude by the name of William who emailed us a list a few weeks back of approximately eight gajillion weird bands, most of which were new to us. We’re still combing through William’s list but so far, the one that blew our minds the hardest is an all-drums punk band from right here in Los Angeles called Foot Village.
Now usually, all-drum bands are one baton-twirler away from just being a glorified college halftime show. But Foot Village are punk as fuck. They’re like Lightning Bolt minus the bass or Crash Worship minus the naked hippie dance party.
Turns out they’re affiliated with the Deathbomb Arc label, which should come as no surprise. They’re also the folks behind our favorite noise-rappers clipping. and Black Pus, the solo project of Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale. So yeah, we pretty much have a huge label-crush on Deathbomb Arc at this point. Those guys know how to tickle our earholes.