The History of Rock Music: 1976-1989

New Wave, Punk-rock, Hardcore
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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)

Between Acid-rock and Industrial Music


(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")

Free-form psychedelia 1982-88

Artistically speaking, it is likely that the most durable works of the psychedelic renaissance came from the musicians who focused on free-form jams rather than the song format. They were mostly isolated, fiercely independent, and influenced by both the classical avantgarde and free jazz. The foundations had been laid in Britain by Throbbing Gristle and, one generation later, by Zoviet France, Hafler Trio, Coil and Lustmord.

From his Connecticut base, self-made psychedelic omnivore Wayne Rogers practiced his Jimi Hendrix fixation in a number of different projects. The records released under the moniker Crystalized Movements (1), starting with Mind Disaster (1983) and particularly This Wideness Comes (1990), were simply pretexts for narcissistic and logorrheic guitar shows. Vermonster's third album The Holy Sound Of American Pipe (1992) experimented with drones and eastern meditation. BORB's second album Blast Off (1993) was self-indulgent jamming of an even higher magnitude. Magic Hour (2), a collaboration with Galaxie 500's rhythm section of Naomi Yang and Damon Krukowski, yielded the best results, particularly their second album Will They Turn You On (1995), which contains Passing Word, and the four live jams of Secession '96 (1996). These were epic tours de force of schizoid psychedelia, drenched in Hendrix's delirium tremens, in raga-like crescendos, in mind-expanding distorted drones and in hammering space-rock riffs.

In Wisconsin, another lysergic visionary, Richard Franecki, dealt a fatal blow to the song format with the cassettes and records of his project F/I (1). His best Hawkwind and Chrome impersonations were found in the extended relentless space jams anchored to heavy distorted riffs and pounding drums of Space Mantra (1988) and Paradise Out Here (1989). He then formed Vocokesh (2) and proceeded to apply analog electronics to raga-rock, interstellar Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead's acid-rock, particularly on the enigmatic and imposing Smile And Point At The Mountain (1995) and on the more ethnic Paradise Revisited (1998). By the time of The Tenth Corner (2004), Vocokesh had also incorporated free jazz and raga.

The Sun City Girls (1) began as one of the humblest and most underground acts of Arizona, and one decade later had become one of the most pretentious and prolific acts in the world. Their releases of the early 1980s were limited-edition cassettes. The first records, such as Grotto Of Miracles (1986) and Torch Of The Mystics (1990), were still amateurish, but began to develop the concept of a cosmic psychedelic hard-jazz-rock fusion. Later releases featured more professional performances but were mostly improvised and not edited, thus making an art out of self-indulgence and filler, as proven by the sprawling jams Ghost Ghat Trespass (1996) and Cameo Demons (2000).

Later into the decade, titanic Arizona guitarist Jesus Acedo and his Black Sun Ensemble (2) attempted a more radical revision of psychedelia, replete with nods to space-rock and free-jazz. The instrumental scores that were collected years later on Black Sun Ensemble (1988) and Lambent Flame (1988) were visionary works with few precedents. Mental insanity kept Acedo from fully developing the material that appeared on Hymn Of The Master (2001), mostly composed several years earlier.

San Francisco's giant of psychedelia was former Chrome's guitarist Helios Creed (3). He had little in common with anyone else. Superior Catholic Finger (1988) and especially Last Laugh (1989) were orgiastic maelstroms of galactic glissandos, ripping distortions, hallucinated vocals and demonic tempos, while electronic instruments injected industrial soundscapes in the mix. His sadistic synthesis of early Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Neu, Popol Vuh and Hawkwind led to the delirious Boxing The Clown (1990) and to Lactating Purple (1991), his most violent and hostile work.

Japanese noise-core, 1987-89

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Japan's rock was more than "alternative": it was "anti". A sadistic passion for chaos and noise led to "noise-core", the radical sound of Japan's holy triad.

Kazuyuki "KK Null" Kishino was the epitome of Japan's noise guitarists. After the two noisecore suites of Saishiyu Bushitsu (1985), Null formed Absolute Null Punkt with Fushitsusha's drummer Seijiro Murayama, a project that defined Japanese free-industrial-noise improvised music on madcap works such as Ultima Action (1987). Zeni Geva (2) indulged in dissonant and gloomy orgies, in the tradition of early Swans and Big Black (but with no bass), on albums such as Maximum Money Monster (1990), Desire For Agony (1993), and especially Total Castration (1992). Null's solo work, notably Absolute Heaven (1994) and Ultimate Material II (1995), continued to straddle the border between extreme noise and very extreme noise.

Merzbow, the brainchild of Masami Akita, one of the most prolific musicians of all times (not a compliment), was a theoretician of surrealism in music but practiced a form of savage violence that was more akin to a suicide bombing on non-musical works such as Rainbow Electronics (1990), Music For Bondage Performance (1991), Venereology (1994) and Tauromachine (1998).

The Boredoms (2) of guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto and vocalist Yamatsuka Eye were clowns as well as scouts, imitating/exploring Faust's anarchic stream of consciousness on Soul Discharge (1989), Frank Zappa's most childish gags on Pop Tatari (1992), the Residents-like nursery-school bacchanal of Chocolate Synthesizer (1994), and so on. They eventually condensed their aesthetic vision into the 64-minute madcap merry-go-round of Go on Super Roots 5 (1995), the seven "super" tracks of Super aR (1999), the nine-movement suite Vision Creation Newsun (2000) and the hypertribal suite Seadrum (2004).

No less terrible than the three more famous acts, Juntaro Yamanouchi's Gerogerigegege released the devastated uber-punk scum-idolizing affronts of Senzuri Champion (1987), Showa (1989) and especially Tokyo Anal Dynamite (1990), containing 75 brief songs, emphasizing their passion for defecation and masturbation.

Music for the Death Factory, 1987

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

When psychedelic music became overly abstract, it basically became identical to industrial music, especially its original formulation by Throbbing Gristle: white-noise soundtracks depicting the psychological horror of the industrial society.

The most radical implementation of this aesthetic was carried out in New Zealand by Dead C (15), the collaborative project of Michael Morley and Bruce Russell. The primitive, guitar-based cacophony of DR503 (1987), still related to the lo-fi pop school of the era, evolved into Trapdoor Fucking Exit (1990), which harmonized raga-rock, acid-rock, the Velvet Underground's Sister Ray and the Grateful Dead's Dark Star, and into the improvised chamber psychedelic jams of Harsh '70s Reality (1992), whose rhythm-less, droning, electronic soundscapes evoked both Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music and Gordon Mumma's sonic scupltures. More anti-atmospheric improvisations surfaced on The Operation Of The Sonne (1994), containing three apocalyptic jams (notably Air). If Brian Eno invented music that should not be listened to, Dead C invented music that is impossible to listen to. However, blurred shapes of ballads appeared behind the thick, magmatic mist of White House (1995), one of their most emotional "sculptures", Repent (1996) and Tusk (1998). They always excelled at abstract chaotic noisy narratives such as Speederbot on Dead C (2000), Forever on New Electric Music (2002) and Garage on Future Artists (2007).

Morley's project Gate (2) indulged in hyper-abrasive and dilated ballads on Dew Line (1994), but progressively morphed into the gentle, languid computer-generated electronic music of The Lavender Head (1998).

Russell's long-standing collaboration with violinist Alastair Galbraith, A Handful Of Dust (1) was best represented by the two lengthy improvisations of The Philosophik Mercury (1994) and by The City of God, off Jerusalem Street Of Graves (1998).

Bruce Russell's trilogy of solo albums, Project For A Revolution In New York (1998), Maximalist Mantra Music (2000) and Painting The Passports Brown (2001), focused on the atmospheric quality of his extended compositions for distorted guitars and bedroom electronics.


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