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.
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.
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.
(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.
Today’s weird band is yet another suggestion from one of our greatest sources of weird band lore, our buddy Treiops, who also designed our bitchin’ double-neck guitar “W” logo. Treiops recently reminded us about a band he saw back in the ’90s called Crash Worship, which sort of took the whole neo-pagan tribal vibe espoused by events like Burning Man to its logical extreme. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say most former members of the now-defunct Crash Worship (aka Adoración De Rotura Violenta, or ADRV) probably think Burning Man’s gotten pretty lame at this point. Too many safety rules. At a Crash Worship show, safety pretty much went out the window.
Crash Worship started in the mid ’80s in, of all places, San Diego, where a couple of percussionists named Markus Wolff and Simon Cheffins got together and started making music inspired by their shared love of early industrial/experimental bands like Throbbing Gristle and 23 Skidoo. Originally, the band was purely a studio project, but eventually, their live shows would grow to eclipse their recorded output—most of which is, to be honest, a lo-fi mess of post-punk/industrial jam sessions with lots of distorted guitar and tribal drums and not much in the way of recognizable songs.
But oh, those live shows. A Crash Worship concert might begin with the band entering the venue from the street, pushing its way through the audience with mobile drum kits and fire dancers, then assaulting the spectators with strobe lights, fake (or possibly real) blood, wine, whipped cream, ice cubes, smoke, green Jello, small fireworks and god knows what else. Two de facto frontmen, JXL and Fat Jack Torino, served occasionally as vocalists but mainly as “audience manipulators,” running through the crowd to hand out little gifts (fruit, hand percussion, etc.), exhort the wallflowers to get off their asses and dance, and rub various viscous substances on the half-naked bodies of any willing (or sometimes unwilling) participants. People got naked, people got dirty, people got injured. Mostly, the barriers between audience and performer broke down to the point where nearly everyone there felt like they were not so much at a show as participating in some kind of ancient ritual. “I reverted to a PRIMAL state,” is how one witness described it. Whether you believe that or not, it’s pretty clear that a Crash Worship show was a totally unique experience.
Throughout the ’90s, Crash Worship continued to perform throughout the U.S. and Europe, although their reputation for leaving behind a horrible mess meant that fewer and fewer venues were willing to book them. The band also went through numerous lineup changes, the most significant apparently happening in 1996 when Wolff and some other key members quit. After that, a newer member of the band named Quintron seems to have taken a more significant role—in one interview, he even referred to himself as the “leader” of the band, even though Cheffins, JXL and Fat Jack were still part of the group. Quintron’s elaborate puppet shows would now often serve as a prelude to the rest of the group’s show—puppet shows he later developed further with his partner, Miss Pussycat, as part of their New Orleans-based “swamp-tech” act.
By 1999, Crash Worship was finished, leaving a trail of blown minds and tamer projects by various ex-members in their wake. (See below for links to some of them.) Unfortunately, very little video of Crash Worship shows exists, and most of what’s out there is of pretty poor quality—although it’s probably impossible to capture the vibe at a Crash Worship show anyway. Video can’t breathe fire in your face and pour chocolate syrup down your back. Still, this clip gives you some sense of the chaos.
- Crash Worship official site
- Crash Worship on MySpace
- Interview with Simon Cheffins
- Interview with Markus Wolff
- Waldteufel official site (Markus Wolff musical project)
- Extra Action Marching Band site (Simon Cheffins’ musical project)
- Morricone Youth site (percussionist Dreiky Caprice’s musical project)
- Crash Worship partial catalog on Amazon.com
Okay, we really went into the vaults for this one, kids. Cromagnon was a project formed in the late ’60s for the influential ESP-Disk label, which put out some of the wildest, most freeform music of the era, including albums by the Fugs, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and even the godfather of the psychedelic era, Timothy Leary. The official story behind the band is that it was started by a pair of successful pop songwriters named Brian Elliot and Austin Grasmere who wanted to do an experimental album. When they approached ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman about the project, he allegedly asked what their theme would be, and when they replied, “Everything is one,” he gave them the go-ahead.
At this point, the story gets a little murky. Supposedly, Elliot and Grasmere decamped to some kind of hippie commune to record with a group of musicians known only as the “Connecticut Tribe” that may or may not have included future members of The Residents and Negativland. Whoever they were, the Tribe helped Elliot and Grasmere record a single album under the Cromagnon name. Originally released in 1969 as Orgasm and later reissued as Cave Rock, it’s an absolute mind-fuck of a record, a dadaist/tribal freakout combining primitive percussion and musique concrète; creepy non-verbal groans, grunts, chants and shrieks; bagpipes; Hendrix-esque blasts of psych-rock guitar; Brian Wilson harmonies; sampled radio broadcasts; and a whole host of other sounds whose origins are impossible to discern. At the time of its release, it must’ve been enough to send even most the tripped-out “Revolution No. 9” enthusiasts scurrying back to their parents’ Johnny Mathis records.
The mystery of the Connecticut Tribe’s identity, and the complete lack of any further Cromagnon releases, has helped fuel the myths and rumors surrounding the group. Even the identities of Elliot and Grasmere have remained somewhat enigmatic. Who were these alleged bubblegum hitmakers turned hippie/freakout psychonauts? And why have we heard nothing further from them since 1969?
Well, we can’t answer that last question, but thanks to the crack team of researchers here at TWBITW, we can shed some light on the true story behind Cromagnon. Turns out the “Connecticut Tribe” wasn’t a hippie commune at all, but a bunch of dudes from a ’60s pop-rock group called The Boss Blues (plus various friends, guest musicians, and even people who just happened to be passing by the studio when they needed an extra pair of hands to bang on stuff). Elliot was the band’s producer and Grasmere was their lead guitarist; you can see a picture of the band’s full lineup, including the late Grasmere, on this guy’s page (you’ll have to scroll down a bit, but it’s there). In 2002, the three surviving members of The Boss Blues–Sal Salgado, Peter Bennett and Vinnie Howley–gave an interview with Connecticut radio station WXCI where they talked at length about Cromagnon and the recording process for Orgasm (which was in fact not recorded on a hippie commune, but mainly in a makeshift studio in New York City). In 2009, some kind soul transcribed the interview for the ESP-Disk website, so the band’s history is now laid out for all to see. (Sorry, everyone who was really, really sure The Residents were actually behind the whole thing.) The interview is long but well worth reading for anyone who’s at all interested in the band; it also features MP3s of most of the tracks from Orgasm, so you can hear for yourself just how off-the-deep-end these guys got.
Sadly, both Grasmere and Elliot–the latter of whom, the other guys admit, was the principal architect of the Cromagnon sound–have passed away, so despite the occasional reunion-tour rumors, we’ve probably heard all we’ll ever hear out of this strange little footnote from the psychedelic era.
As far as we can tell, this video for Cromagnon’s best-known track, “Caledonia,” is not an official one, but it’s pretty awesome nonetheless. Trippiest use of bagpipes ever? We’re gonna say “aye.”
P.S. Special thanks to WTFmusic.org and their deliriously exhaustive catalog of weird music for turning us on to these guys.