Los Angeles Post-Punk, Vol. 1
17 Pygmies, Abecedarians, Afterimage, Animal Dance, Atila, B People, Beat-E-O's, Choir Invisible, Christian Death, Danny & the Doorknobs, Dogma Probe, Fibonaccis, Freshly Wrapped Candies, Gleaming Spires, Green on Red, Human Hands, Iron Curtain, Kommunity FK, League of Nations, Life After Death, Martyr Complex, Monitor, Nu Beams, Null And Void, Oingo Boingo, Outer Circle, Perfect Imperfect Circular, Plebs, Rand Kennedy, Savage Republic, Shadow Minstrels, Sparks, Standard Of Living, Steaming Coils, Suburban Lawns, The Squad, Wall Of Voodoo, Wet Picnic, Wild Kingdom, Zolar X.
|Suburban Lawns, Janitor 12" (Suburban Industrial, 1986)|
So here's the distillation of my "post-punk" anthology of Southern California bands. I'm having a hard time finding a truly accurate title for the comp, since many of the bands are from the county but from places with very particular scenes, like Pasadena and Long Beach, and a few are from outside of the city altogether (but within a two-hour drive). And to call these "post-punk" bands is not entirely accurate; many of them are "new wave," "darkwave," "deathrock," "art rock," even something like "freak folk." Oh well.
Some older bands are included, like Zolar X and Sparks, since they might be the strongest native influences (outside of Zappa or Beefheart and local groups like LAFMS and COMA) and seemed somehow to respond the post-punk/new wave phenomenon. I've included early tracks by bands that have gone on to produce hits, like Oingo Boingo and Wall of Voodoo, since they just seemed part of the scene back then and are certainly strange enough (and also more original than a lot of the Devo/Cure/U2 etc imitators that I've come across). Some acts, like Missing Persons, Berlin and the Motels, for all their presence on the scene, were quite commercial from the start and are so well known that I've skipped them.
Of special note is the first track, by Wild Kingdom, since this is their only studio track and was released as a flexi-disk insert in a short-lived music magazine called No Mag. It's pretty amazing -- I can't find anything else by them except an appearance on Peter Ivers' New Wave Theatre which isn't very good (but you get an introduction to their eccentric drum kit). The band was almost entirely Chicano, and one of the guys even sports an exaggerated Elvis-pompadour.
Other bands I could only find single studio tracks for are Dogma Probe (who also has a great video), the Beat-E-O's (who kind of remind me of the Homosexuals), and Animal Dance, whose track was retrieved from the Radio Tokyo compilations that appeared in the 80's. Other live, more dissonant, tracks by Dogma Probe appear on their website.
The groups that managed to record and A and a B-side include the Nu-beams (though an entire live bootleg appears on the net) and the Squad (or "S Squad") which I retrieved from the CD of the Keats Rides a Harley compilation. Bands that have 4-8 song EPs to their credit include Shadow Minstrels (this is their slowest, most conventional track but give it time), Plebs (forgive me for this one), In Living Color (a bit of an imitation "Madchester" band in my mind, right down to fake, Richard-Butler-esque English accents), Standard Living (whose track here seems to anticipate that George Michael single I can't remember the name of), Wet Picnic (fronted by the well-known Argentine film composer Gustavo Santaolalla) and Human Hands (though they've put out posthumous LP compilations and have started recording again).
Perfect Imperfect Circular, Bill Shifflette's project after Null and Void, didn't release anything, and though these tracks seem rough, the songs veer from hook to hook, with no looking back, much like the earlier band, if with a little more soul. Rand Kennedy has a lot of comp appearances and a cassette only collection, "Scenes from Redemption," all of which sound roughly like this one -- spoken word over background beats. League of Nations put out a single EP that sounds something like a stripped down Another Green World (an earlier project was titled Oblique Strategy), that is, sans Phil Collins and Robert Fripp. Afterimage, probably one of the more conventionally "post-punk" bands here, only managed an EP and a few singles as well, though their tracks can be found on all sorts of comps.
I'm not sure I can take Atila all that seriously -- their records are terribly under-produced, but they managed to put out two full-length LPs, the first of which, International Sandwich, featured lo-fi imitations of music styles from around the world. Monitor was a weird, Throbbing Gristle-like art collective called World Imitation Productions that decided to become a musical act. A nicely designed .pdf outlining the history of the band appeared somewhere on the web but I can't find it, so you'll have to settle for this. They also have a strange appearance on New Wave Theatre.
One of my favorite acts here, Outer Circle, who managed 2 EPs, was fronted by Steve "Spit" Spingola, who appeared on New Wave Theatre as part of an act called Heroic Struggles, which was quite hilarious (it's since been deleted). All of their tracks are really great but for some reason I've only included one. Martyr Complex used to include the "All-American Jewish lesbian folksinger" Phranc, but she doesn't appear on their album; the band also went by the name of Nervous Gender, and featured Paul Roessler of the legendary LA synth-punk band the Screamers, whose videos for "122 Hours of Fear" and "Vertigo," are priceless. Fronted by the legendary, late Tomata Du Plenty, The Screamers never recorded an LP, possibly due to unrealistic ambitions (an interview with Jon Savage).
Danny and the Doorknobs, something of an underground super-band (composed of members of 100 Flowers, The Last, Leaving Trains, etc.), transformed into Trotsky Icepick and a had a career well into the nineties. I'm sure many readers are already familiar with Christian Death, first fronted by Rozz Williams, who then left only to form a band called "Christian Death" several years later while the first one was (and still is, fronted by Valor Kand) active. Kommunity FK only recorded 2 LPs in the 80s but seem to have reformed; they also belong to the "deathrock" category though I'm really suspicious of these taxonomies.
Iron Curtain, a band that can mix leaden drum tracks with depressing lyrics and So-cal harmonies, was an act from Santa Barbara, fronted by Steven Fields who is still active with an act called Cosmic Love Child. "Legalize Heroin," the only track to break the 1987 cut-off date, was a solo track but really feels like Iron Curtain's swan song, and is I think the most accomplished (and enigmatic) thing they released. Null and Void, another one of my favorite acts, released a smattering of LPs, cassettes, singles, etc. of varying quality. I'm still trying purchase a copy of their first LP, which I'll soon snatch off of Ebay. I think some members of this act went on to play with Berlin.
Savage Republic has a substantial discography, mostly long, percussive-heavy, unchanging but atmospheric, Middle Eastern or African tinged instrumentals that must have been amazing live. Their cover designs, titles and general iconography are really great. The poppier, more synth-heavy side of some of their members appeared as 17 Pygmies; this track reminds me of a long-lost 80s band Torch Song who were featured in the same issue of Debut as The Smiths. Green on Red is known as a "Paisley Underground" band, but this track, from their first EP, seems to me strange enough to belong on a post-punk compilation.
The Fibonaccis has a fairly substantial discography and seems to vary between somewhat campy but virtuoso, Casio-keyboard send-ups of traditional music styles and really elegant art-rock songs; with a little more edge, they would have been perfect for John Zorn's Tzadik label or onstage at the Knitting Factory back in the 90s. Another "art rock" act is BPeople, who were among the more visible on the LA scene; Alex Gibson went on to form Passionel and then record as a solo artist. On the fringes are the most "arty" projects, Steaming Coils and Freshly Wrapped Candies, the majority of whose output resembles LAFMS improvs with tape effects. I've considered including more of this type of material but some of it seems so aggressively anti-song that it broke the spirit of the collection.
The Abecedarians were known well enough to catch the attention of Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division) who produced their first single "Smiling Monarchs" for Factory, the flipside of which is "Benway's Carnival" (included here) and neither of which are very emblematic of their work. More typical is the brilliant "I Glide," with its minimal lyrics and subtle transitions in the guitar lines. Chris Manecke used more delay than the Edge, but unlike the latter's band, the Abecedarians thrived on their apsergersy stoicism.
Another band, Gleaming Spires, also benefitted from exquisite production by a UK-associated American, Stephen Hague, on the beautiful track included here. They might best be known for their track "Are You Ready For the Sex Girls?" which ended up in the soundtrack for Revenge of the Nerds and sports a really funny minimal video that can be seen on YouTube. Formerly the Bates Motel, this duo formed the rhythm section to several Sparks EPs; much of their catalogue is still available for purchase at Posh Boy Records.
The Suburban Lawns were probably the first post-punk, or New Wave act, from LA to get national attention when the Jonathan Demme-directed video for "Gidget Goes to Hell" was played on Saturday Night Live in 1979. Their first LP spawned "Janitor," which has a pair of appearances on Youtube, the first a proper video and the second an appearance on New Wave Theatre, in which Su Tissue is practically catatonic behind the microphone. The band split as they were recording their second LP for IRS, which is too bad since the released tracks demonstrated substantial growth in song-writing and production. This band had everything, a legitimate sound, lots of chops, stage presence (Su Tissue was early on the Grey Gardens bandwagon), etc; it's surprising to me the work hasn't been remastered for CD.