Myocyte #130: October 1 01:oo UTC
Disco and “hard rock” were once poised as arch-enemies but tonight’s mix suggests a continuum where they exist side by side and even cross-pollinate. Postpunk music (new wave, synthpop, hardcore, etc) overlapped disco in ’77-’85 but the genres mostly stayed within their market niches. The first part of the mix skews towards “rock” and the second “dance” but the intent is to imagine them intertwined.
Tin Huey was an Akron OH band that only put out one LP, Contents Dislodged During Shipment (1978) on Warner Brothers. Many would categorize it as prog-rock but it’s also hard-rocking in the manner of fellow Akronites DEVO and The Bizarros. With its emphasis on horns, strident vocals, and sometimes forced-sounding zaniness, it could also be called a “Midwest Oingo Boingo” — though I prefer the Hueys’ music. Guitarist Chris Butler went on to fame and fortune with The Waitresses (“I Know What Boys Like,” “Christmas Wrapping”) but the “auteur” of the band arguably is Harvey Gold, who has a songwriting credit on 7 out of 11 songs.
Tonight’s mix begins with Gold’s “Armadillo” (1978), a 7 inch single release under his own name. The song shifts gears from prog to country to folk to avant garde, reveling in its own refusal to take itself seriously.
(As a biographical note, I have heard that several Hueys were in college at the time of the Kent State massacre and were deeply affected by that event. Much late ’70s “underground” music has an anger and nihilism that took the form of almost militant absurdity. Gold’s and Tin Huey’s singing wears its heart on its sleeve, but sarcastically: the lyrics are smart and cynical and frequently nonsensical.)
Next up is a 7 inch version of Tin Huey’s “Puppet Wipes” (1977), co-written by Gold and Ralph Carney, who also went on to later success, as a sought-after session “reed man.” A catchy, herky jerky DEVO-ish beginning is interrupted by a rockin’ middle section where Gold barks out barely-comprehensible phrases like an enraged street person ranting to himself.
Another cult band of this era is Tuxedomoon, which launched in San Francisco and then relocated to Belgium as arty expatriates. “Driving to Verdun” is a pretty synth dirge from their Belgian phase. This track is followed by Stuart Argabright, who had some club recognition with “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” (“women beat their men,” “the men beat on the drums” etc) from 1984. Tonight’s mix features Argabright’s later score for a 1989 CGI animation made by IBM, “Tipsy Turvy,” demonstrating Pixar-type effects, pre-Pixar. Synthy arpeggios flutter in the background as rubberized dinnerware sneezes, bounces, and crashes around on a tabletop.
Next we briefly detour into some jazzy prog from the UK that was going on at the same time as postpunk and disco and belongs in our imaginary de-genre-fied conversation. Canterbury duo Hugh Hopper and Alan Gowen perform “Elibom” (1980), on bass and keyboards, then ex-King Crimson percussionists Michael Giles and Jamie Muir join Flying Lizards leader David Cunningham for the gamelan-like “Cascade” (1983). These tracks mesh pretty well with Aksak Maboul’s Odessa (1984), another pretty synth dirge with an Eastern flavor, which cycles us back to Belgian art rock.
Rounding out our postpunk exploration are tracks by Chrome (Nova Feeback, 1977), The Bizarros (Lady Doubonette, 1976) and MX-80 Sound (Cry Uncle, 2005). Each features psychedelic guitar wailing and warbling, divorced from the hippie romanticism of psychedelia and placed into a harder, more cynical context. The overall sound of MX-80 changed between 1977 and 2005 from garage rock to pseudo-hiphop, but a constant has been Rich Stim’s relentlessly sardonic vocals.
“Pseudo-hiphop” might also cover the next track, “Let’s Glo” (1995) by Glo, an offshoot project of UK space-rock pioneers Gong. The “Gong vibe” can still be heard in the Tim Blake-esque analog synth sweeps and Gilly Smyth’s whisper poetry but otherwise this is a dance track falling somewhere between later New Order and UK triphop.
The “disco” section of the mix kicks off in earnest with a Chic produced track by Carly Simon (!) from 1982, titled “Why.” Bernard Edwards’ poppin’ funk bass and a haunting melody almost make us forget this is Carly Simon. Next up is some vintage Italodisco, Tullio De Piscopo’s “Stop Bajon” (1984), with a driving beat and catchy horns. And lastly, “disco” gets the deconstructionist treatment in Losoul’s “Remember Your History” (2000), with its various elements — four on the floor kick, bassline, rhythm guitar vamping — broken into segments, layered, and scientifically analyzed in the laboratory of German tech-house.