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Rockbitch

Rockbitch

We get a lot of submissions from bands that like to perform in various states of undress, up to and including full genital exposure. It will not surprise you to learn that 99% of these bands are dudes. Guys love whipping it out in public, and doing so in the name of rock ‘n’ roll stopped being a transgressive act a long time ago. When Blink-182 does something, it’s officially no longer any big shakes.

For women, it’s different. Thanks to our society’s inherent sexism and double standards, female sexuality is still taboo in ways that male sexuality is not. So the fact that a band like Rockbitch ever existed is a fairly remarkable thing.

Rockbitch was a British hard rock group that emerged from the ashes of another band called Red Abyss. From the start, Red Abyss embodied many of the same principles that later came to characterize Rockbitch: It was female fronted (though the drummer, and occasionally other members of the revolving lineup, were men), communal and sex-positive. But compared to Rockbitch, Red Abyss’s lyrics and stage show were comparatively tame: “We were hiding our lifestyle behind a facade,” reads the band’s official bio, written by their guitarist, Lisa “Babe” Wills, “self-censoring our natural behaviour.”

Part of the problem was that, while fans and promoters encouraged and even rewarded outrageous behavior by male rock bands, they tended to frown upon similar antics coming from the ladies of Red Abyss. “Male bands with whom we were sharing a stage would perform screaming out their fake rebellious bullshit about sex and satan — then insult us to our faces saying that we shouldn’t be fucking all those men and women in our dressing rooms, and did our parents know how we behaved?”

Red Abyss also encountered straight-up sexism at every turn: booking agents refusing to deal with their female manager, male sound guys and venue employees assuming they didn’t know how to play their instruments or outright sabotaging their sets, venue owners insisting on handing the money to a male roadie rather than to a female band member. “We were, bluntly, being treated like shit.” This, by the way, wasn’t happening in some pre–women’s lib Mad Men past. This was in the ’90s.

Eventually, the women of Red Abyss had had enough. They became the darker, heavier, more sexually aggressive beast called Rockbitch.

For a few years, up until they disbanded in 2002, Rockbitch was probably the raunchiest band on the planet. Many of the band members performed naked, or nearly so. Songs like “Fistfuck” would be acted out onstage. During every show, they’d toss a “Golden Condom” into the audience and invite whoever caught it, male or female, to come backstage and fuck several members of the band. (“Babe” Wills liked to point out that, of everyone who ever caught the Golden Condom, the only ones who would chicken out were the men, some of whom apparently assumed it was a joke. Rockbitch’s in-your-face female sexuality was, and still is, highly intimidating to many men. Including, we must admit, us.)

None of this was done for shock value, at least not primarily. As outlined in various essays and manifestos on the band’s website, Rockbitch’s mission was to destigmatize female sexuality and sex in general. And hard rock seemed like the perfect vehicle for doing so. “When a woman can’t even strip to the waist and play a bitching, head-down guitar riff, have her lead singer fuck her with a strap-on whilst a stage surfer licks her feet without authorities wanting to ban over 18’s from coming to see it — well, what has the world of rock and rebellion come to!?” their website playfully asks. (And no, that’s not an exaggerated description of their live show.)

By 2000, Rockbitch’s lineup had become all-female: founder/matriarch Amanda “The Bitch” Smith-Skinner on fretless bass, Julie Worland on vocals, Lisa “Babe” Wills on lead guitar, Luci the “Stage Slut” on rhythm guitar, Nikki Fay on keyboards and Jo Heeley on drums, plus two or three “Sex Magick Priestesses” who danced and facilitated some of the sexual rituals. The band’s former lead guitarist, Tony “The Beast,” stayed on as the band’s manager and producer — no doubt in part to run occasional interference with sexist bookers and venue owners.

Musically, the band played theatrical, heavy rock, highlighted by Worland’s operatic vocals, The Bitch’s fluid, often funky basslines and Babe’s scorching guitar. Here’s a good example, a track called “Sex & The Devil” that also happens to features a weirdly witchy video, with the Rockbitches cavorting half-naked in the forest:

As you probably got from that video, besides all the sexual themes and imagery, an element of paganism runs through Rockbitch’s music and philosophy — though Babe is quick to point out on the band’s website that they are neither Wiccans nor Satanists. As best as we understand it — and I admit, as a couple of uptight dudes in monogamous relationships, our understanding is probably shaky — they celebrate sex itself as sacred, particularly the acts of cunnilingus and vaginal penetration, which they describe as forms of “cunt worship,” the vagina being the source of all human life and therefore the most sacred component of human sexuality. This worship/celebration of sex extends, paganistically, to the worship of nature in general; although their website stops short of describing many of the group’s offstage rituals, or explaining the full meaning of their many onstage ones (“we are intensely private people,” Babe explains in her “brief and grudging account of part of our belief system”), their are a few photographs showing things like an “earth-fucking ritual” and a “serpent initiation ritual,” suggesting that the cult of Rockbitch is a fairly elaborate one that extends far beyond just the music and sex acts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the authorities tended to lose their shit over Rockbitch. The band was banned from performing at many venues, and their music and album artwork was heavily censored in many countries. It’s not clear what role if any this played in the band’s eventual breakup. but it couldn’t have been easy for the women to tour or get distribution for their music.

Rockbitch only released one studio album, 1999’s Motor Driven Bimbo, plus a live album, Rockbitch Live in Amsterdam; during their brief run, the Netherlands seemed to have been one of the few countries where the band was able to tour on a regular basis. A second album, Psychic Attack, was never officially released but has been widely bootlegged and can be found on various torrent sites. Motor Driven Bimbo is out of print, but copies occasionally surface on Amazon and elsewhere, often selling for $100 or more.

Post-Rockbitch, the band’s full lineup resurfaced in a clothed, less theatrical incarnation called MT-TV. But that group soon disbanded, as well. Amanda Smith-Skinner and Jo Heeley later teamed up with singer-songwriter Erin Bennett to form another all-female band called Syren, but tragically, that group dissolved after Heeley died of breast cancer in 2012. Other former Rockbitch members have, as far as we’ve been able to tell, retired from making music — though according to their Facebook page, they still live and work together as a commune.

We’ve known about Rockbitch for years, but were reluctant at first to add them to the Weird List because to do so seemed sexist. So it was a bunch of women with guitars and their tits out — so what? A bunch of men doing the same thing would be met nowadays with a collective shrug. To add them to our compendium of extreme music felt like yet another example of the very double standard in music that Rockbitch railed against.

But as well researched the band further (while our wives were at work), we decided that regardless of their gender, Rockbitch were truly unique. No other band in history, male, female or coed, ever randomized the groupie selection process as radically as Rockbitch did with their Golden Condom, or made oral sex and vaginal penetration such a routine part of their stage show. Rockbitch incorporated sex into rock ‘n’ roll performance in a way that’s never been done before or since. And as powerful, liberated women, they made that sex a political act. A Rockbitch show was a rock concert, neopagan ritual and radical feminist performance-art piece all in one. And lots of people got laid. That’s the truly awesome kind of weirdness this blog was designed to celebrate.

We’ll leave you one more video, for a track from Psychic Attack called “Breathe.” This appears to be a fan-made mashup of strange naked zombie go-go dance animation and video from one of several concert documentaries made about the band, probably 2002’s Sex, Death and Magick (which, if you’re so inclined, and are over 18, you can watch in full on YouTube).

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Weird of the Day: Empalot, “Jeannot”

Empalot

France continues to be an unexpected wellspring of weird music, especially of the experimental metal variety. Today’s weirdness comes to us from a French reader named Arthur who sent us a long list of bands, including several we’d never heard before, like Empalot, a short-lived side project of French groove metal master Gojira. Empalot might best be described as Gojira meets Mr. Bungle, with maybe a dash of Primus and a smidgen of Sebkha-Chott. It’s heavy and funky and above all, silly.

Sadly, Empalot seems to have only existed for one album, Tous aux Cèpes, before disbanding in 2003 or 2004. Their live shows were apparently quite the spectacle, with the band wearing giant masks and helmets and songs interspersed with “mini-plays,” according to their Wikipedia page.

Maynard James Keenan is even sicker than you are of waiting for Tool’s new album

Maynard James Keenan

So I guess the title of the last Tool album, 10,000 Days, was a guesstimate of how long it would be before they put another album out. Seven years later, we’re still waiting. Was it something we said, guys?

Now even Maynard James Keenan is expressing his impatience with his perfectionist bandmates. “I wait for them to bring music to me,” he recently explained in a Rolling Stone interview. “They tend to go back over and over stuff. It’s a long process. For a person like me, it can be a very tedious process.”

In the same interview, he added, “You can only help support their talent so long. They don’t have to go through it 700 times. They can trust that first thought. But that’s their process, so you gotta let them do it.” I think we can all agree that the subtext of this statement is clearly, Fuck your process! Let’s put out another record! But kudos to Maynard for being at least somewhat diplomatic about his foot-dragging cohorts.

You can read more of the Rolling Stone interview here, but if you’re a big Tool fan, I must warn you, it’ll probably just bum you out. But then, you already knew it sometimes sucks to be a Tool fan, right?

Drunken Forest

drunkenforest2

I guess we have a lot of readers in Brazil, because for the second time, a band from the land of Carnaval and Christ the Redeemer is the winner of our monthly Weird Band Poll. And unlike previous Brazilian winners Skull and Bones, he’s actually pretty good. Meet Biaggio Vessio, aka Drunken Forest, and prepare to be wowed by some serious guitar chops.

Vessio, a São Paulo native, started Drunken Forest as a band project in 2009, but went solo in 2012. So far, he’s really only released four tracks, on a self-titled EP that covers a lot of stylistic ground in 11 scant minutes. The music of Drunken Forest isn’t hit-you-over-the-head weird, but it’s definitely unique, mostly thanks to Vessio’s guitar style, which cuts on a dime from melodic finger tapping to metalesque shredding and back again—as if Kaki King were trading licks with Kirk Hammett. Even in this early, lo-fi video, you can tell the man knows his way around a six-string.

You can download the Drunken Forest EP for free from Bandcamp. For a little taste, here is the album’s most frenetic track, a smash-cut tour through progressive metal, post-rock, bossa nova and jazz, all set to Zappa-esque mutating time signatures. Vessio plays everything except the saxophone. So yeah, he’s got some serious percussion chops, too.

So congrats on winning our poll, Biaggio! We hope to hear more Drunken music from you soon.

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Sebkha-Chott

sebkha-chott2

I have to admit, when we started this blog, I really did not think France would be in the running for Country With the Most Weird Music. I was pretty sure it would come down to a three-way tie between America (because we rule), Japan (because even their pop music is weird), and Norway (black metal!), with maybe some former Soviet Republic like Estonia as a dark horse candidate just because they were cut off from western culture for half the last century. But France is killing it, man. Between Igorrr, Rockets, Ghedalia Tarzantes, Magma and now Sebkha-Chott,  the Frogs are cranking out crazy sounds faster than blocks of stinky cheese.

Sebkha-Chott were recently brought to our attention by a reader named Sean Buckley. We really hope Sean becomes a regular around here, because Sebkha-Chott is fucking gold. It’s like if Frank Zappa, the Residents, John Zorn and Slipknot drank all the absinthe in Paris and started a Magma cover band. Only weirder than that.

There’s very little info on the web about Sebkha-Chott that isn’t in French and/or translated into English so bad it’s like performance art. Here’s how their Wikipedia page describes their live show:

The atmosphere in Sebkha-Chott’s show is quite particular: the absurd basement is such that the content might not be taken seriously, though, the audience sollicitation is so strong (especially when the audience doesn’t react spontaneously) that kind of an embarrassment or even mistrust might occur. Whatever might be the audience reactions, Sebkha-Chott’s Kourt lays on them to build the show. Each concert thus is a unique event, as neither the setlist, nor the speeches are defined by advance. Still, there are some never-changing things: the shows open on a triumphal incoming of the Kourt (since 2007), which quickly leads to Tyrant’s speech, and they end up on the death of every member of Sebkah-Chott’s Kourt, killed by the Tyrant, mainly.

Oh, I forgot to mention: This is one of those bands, like Magma (or GWAR, for you Americans who don’t know who the fuck Magma are), that has invented their own mythological backstory. Every member of the band plays a role in a made-up world called Ohreland:

The “Tyrant” is Wladimir Ohrelianov II, who also plays six-string bass and does most of the vocals…although in past incarnations, they had additional vocalists with names like Mustach’Man, Cap’n Roses and Hrabe Black Sebbath.

The sort of combination executioner/court jester is Souv Ponky Ponk, who plays sax and occasionally sings in unintelligible gibberish…or it might just be French with a really, really weird accent—what do we know?.

Then there’s the excellently named Yüla Slipobitch, who is some kind of combination prostitute/dominatrix/second-in-command to Wladimir the Tyrant…oh, and she plays drums, machines and “tubular bells,” which we always thought was just the name of a particularly ridiculous prog-rock album but is apparently also, at least in France, an actual instrument.

Over the years, they’ve had various other members, all of whose actual identities remain a secret. Our favorite one is Tupac Promo, who we think might be a puppet and speaks something called “Moron Language.” Which is probably easier to understand than French.

Each performance by Sebkha-Chott is a “stopover” by visitors from the planet Ohreland. Sometimes the visitors from Ohreland don’t arrive all at once; sometimes they take over mid-show. Here’s an example.

As freaky as that was, the band’s latest video tops it by approximately five gajillion miles or so. I know it’s 15 minutes long, but watch the whole thing and I swear you will not be disappointed.

Oh, one last nice detail: Sebkha-Chott record all their music, artwork, videos and stage projections using open source software and release all their shit for free under something called a free art license. So yes, you can download all five of their albums for free from various sources. Here’s their latest one, which is called Ne[XXX]t Epilog. [Note: That link has been updated, at the personal request of Tupac Promo…see his comment below. We don’t wanna burn in hell, Tupac.]

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Dir En Grey

(Photo: angst-im-wald)

What’s up, weirdos? Sorry I’ve been letting Andy hog the site lately with his weak-ass indie pop hipster shit. I promise we will tilt the balance back in favor of punk, noise and metal in the weeks ahead. (Organic veggie instruments, dude? Really? But I digress.)

This week’s band was suggested by a reader named Kurtis, who reminded us that there’s more to Japan than Lady Gaga wannabes wearing headdresses made out of popcorn. Japan has also produced its fair share of pretty extreme and seriously awesome metal over the years, and Dir En Grey is about as extreme and awesome as it gets.

Dir En Grey have been around since the late ’90s and changed both their look and their sound several times over the years (Japanese bands seem to get bored with staying in one genre for too long—see also, ironically, Boredoms). They started out as a “visual kei” band, which basically meant hard rock with lots of elaborate costumes, crazy visuals and music videos that were a mix of anime, goth and cyberpunk. They’ve since toned down their image a bit (hence the biker gang look seen above, circa 2007), but their music has, if anything, gotten weirder. Their latest album, Dum Spiro Spero, kind of sounds like Tool meets My Chemical Romance meets Queensryche meets Napalm Death: alt-metal, screamo, grindcore and prog rock all fighting it out like superheroes in a Japanese action comic, with lead singer Kyo’s crazy vocals (dude can death-growl with the best of them, then unleash an operatic falsetto close to Mike Patton’s) leading the way.

But where Dir En Grey’s weirdness really shines is in their videos, some of which are disturbing enough to make Rob Zombie sleep with the light on. You know how the original Ring was 10 times scarier than pretty much any American horror movie ever? Well, your average Dir En Grey clip makes Marilyn Manson look like Mr. Rogers. Warning: You may need to increase your Xanax dosage after viewing this.

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Tool

Greetings and salutations, weirdlings. It’s been a looooong time since we’ve posted anything here and for that, Jake and I sincerely apologize. You see, when we got to our 100th post (yes, this is our 100th post) and our 100th weird band, we had some kind of weird existential crisis over why we started this whole fucking blog in the first place. “We’ve done 100 bands already, and we’re still not famous? Why go on?” we thought. Followed immediately by: “We’ve only done 100 bands? We’ve been at this for nearly two fucking years. Mojo Nixon has probably written 100 songs in that time. Christ, we suck.”

We also agonized over who our 100th band should be. We decided it should be a biggie and even used that stupid new Facebook “Questions” feature to ask you guys to help us figure out which biggie it should be. (And, like, six of you voted…which further deepened our “Why are we even doing this?” existential crisis.) Tool? Primus? Butthole Surfers? Worthy candidates all…but then we found ourselves thinking, “Really? The world needs us to point out that Tool is weird? Fucking duh!” And bam, more existential crisis. And more drinking. (Well, Jake drank. I started mowing down pints of Ben & Jerry’s. It was a dark time.)

Finally, we said “Fuck it. We’ve come this far. Why stop now?” So today, at long last, Jake and I are emerging from our two-month booze-and-butterfat-fueled pity party to tell the world that, yes, Tool is one weird fucking band.

Are we preaching to the choir on this one? Well, yes. But we’re completists and if any band ever deserved a spot on our Weird List, it’s these guys. Really, any band featuring Maynard James Keenan should probably wind up here sooner or later. That guy is a freak. We hear he makes good wine though.

More than Keenan, though, what really sets Tool apart from their prog-metal brethren is their videos. Created mainly by guitarist Adam Jones, they use lots of stop motion animation and creepy visual effects to create some of the most disturbing imagery ever presented by an MTV Veejay. It’s hard to pick just one as their weirdest, but “Stinkfist” has to be high on the list. So enjoy…and we promise we’ll be back soon with more weird bands, including maybe even a few you haven’t already heard of.

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Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

Well, kids, we really missed the boat on this one. A whole bunch of you out there in Weirdo Land have been suggesting almost since we started this blog that we write about Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and we were always like, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get around to it.” And we blew it off, and blew it off, and now Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is no more.  Last week we got an email announcing SGM’s final L.A. show this past Friday, and final San Francisco shows yesterday. “As it turns out,” read the email, “we are being replaced.”

For those of y’all not familiar: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is basically what happens when a bunch of SF art freaks get together and decide to make Dadaist-inspired prog-metal on a combination of traditional and homemade instruments. They were started in 1999 by Dan Rathbun and Nils Frykdahl, who used to be in a band called Idiot Flesh, and also featured members of Tin Hat Trio, Skeleton Key and a dance company called InkBoat. To give you an idea of how friggin weird these guys were, here are the names of some of their other projects: Vacuum Tree Head, Immersion Composition Society, Thinking Plague and Moe!kestra. Wonder which one is “replacing” them?

Supposedly the band was named after an actual museum that burned down in 1916, one founded by a futurist and a “black mathematician” and one that did not allow human visitors. Among the many odd instruments featured in their shows were something called a sledgehammer dulcimer and something else called a “popping turtle.” One of their songs, “Helpless Corpses Enactment,” features lyrics based on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake; another, “FC: The Freedom Club,” uses texts from the Unabomber. It’s all very intellectual stuff, even if it’s being delivered by guys in topknots and what kinda look like neo-pagan prom dresses.

Although SGM have sadly played their last gig, we supposedly haven’t heard the last from them. The same email that announced the last shows also promised some new studio material, a short film and a live DVD compiled of performances from the past six years. So maybe they haven’t been totally replaced after all.

Anyway, here’s their totally bitchin’ and (we think) mostly tongue-in-cheek ode to Satan (or Lucifer, if you wanna get all techincal), “A Hymn to the Morning Star.” Never has pure evil looked so silly.

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