5 Questions: Katie Alice Greer

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Katie Alice Greer is a force of nature.

As the charismatic vocalist for Priests, Katie commanded the stage with a fire, energy and unpredictability that ensured every live performance was seared into your memory.

When the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of last year, it prompted fans to ask — what’s next? Katie decided to opt for a major life change by moving to the West Coast. The passion that always ignited Katie on stage continued to drive her to create and explore in her new environs.

Since moving from DC to L.A. in the early part of the year, Katie has released two EPs and a stunning cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic, “Play With Fire.” She is currently working on what promises to be a must-hear solo album — no doubt infused with the wild creative abandon that has long been her hallmark both in Priests and in her own previous solo material.

With Katie playing a special livestream show for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Aug. 7th via Twitch, I took the opportunity to ask her new life in L.A., her evolution as a solo artist and how she is staying positive in a world that is trying its best to keep us all from feeling that way. Read on…

1) You relocated to L.A. not long before the COVID-19 pandemic. What prompted your move and what has L.A. life been like for you in these strange and scary times?

KAG: I moved across the country and got about 2 weeks of what was previously normal Los Angeles life before we all started staying home. It’s been a strange time. I moved here to continue making music. I love DC and now I love Los Angeles too. It’s a great city for what I’m working on these days because so many other people are working in creative fields. My life is probably similar to most other people’s these days– I tend to stay home, I mask up when I go out for groceries or a jog. I keep in touch with people by phone. I try to spend time in nature regularly because it really brings me a sense of peace. I also try to meditate once a day. And I’ve been making a lot of music. I just try to keep in mind that reality is really stressful right now– for everybody — and do whatever I can to not add to it for myself or anybody else. Let’s go easy on ourselves. And try to have fun when it’s possible.

2) Even though Priests is on indefinite hiatus, you still run Sister Polygon with some of the members. What has that experience been like, especially with you now living on the other coast?

KAG: It’s mostly the same, really. Daniele and I complement each other well. Daniele’s brain works in ways mine never can.  We’ve slowed down our release schedule for the time being. I’ll have some news soon about a new imprint I’ve been working on.

KAG – “Play With Fire” (Rolling Stones cover)

3) I’m curious to learn more about your creative process as a solo artist versus being in a band. You released an inspired cover of the Rolling Stones “Play With Fire” in February and two EPs in March. How do you see the way you make your own music evolving now that you don’t have a full-time band as well?

KAG: Limitation and restriction are essential for how I make stuff. I love making music by myself as much as I love making it with other people. By myself, the limitations are very technical. I’m not a great musician. I’m not being self-deprecating, it isn’t my strong suit. I don’t care that much. Not that I don’t respect musicianship, if anything I deeply respect it and just know it’s not ‘my role,’ I write songs. I know my way around the instruments I need, and can usually have more proficient friends play parts I write, if need be. I usually incorporate the recording process into the songwriting, instead of writing the song first, and then recording. Recording, for me, is like an instrument, and definitely the one I’m most proficient in. But I mostly consider myself a songwriter and maybe a producer, depending on the project, and a performer. With others, the restrictions are determined by the group. What fits in the center of the Venn diagram of the different interests of those involved? I really love that as well. I’ve been writing with a few friends during quarantine, sending tracks back and forth. I love that whatever we come up with sounds unique to the collaboration, and not necessarily like something either party would write solo.

I’d like to finish the record I’m writing and release it. I was hoping to put a live band together out here in Los Angeles before covid-19 struck! Maybe someday we’ll be able to perform for live audiences again and play music with others. I would definitely want to be playing live shows with a band for most of the new material I’m writing.

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4) What’s your take on livestreams? Has it been difficult to adjust to performing for a virtual audience?

KAG: This will be my first where I’m playing music, so I don’t know yet. We hosted an SPR variety show a couple times at the beginning of the pandemic so I have a little experience as a livestream host. I thought it was really fun and started getting the hang of it, like compiling news analysis to read between guests and stuff, but it was super time-consuming and I’ve often had a hard time prioritizing my own work and realized this was continuing that pattern. I like the idea of connecting with people from the comfort of my home. I’m interested to see how it changes my performance. It seems hard to feel stage fright staring at myself in a phone, but I imagine I’ll feel a little silly which is fine.

5) These are dark and scary times we are living in for a multitude of reasons. When you look at the state of our world, is there anything that gives you hope for the future?

KAG: I have a hard time with this one. Some days I read the news and just feel really, really bad. I’ve been reading a lot of political theorists from the past and in different parts of the world, seeing how their thoughts and experiences navigated them through tough times. I have a feeling I go to demonstrations for the same reason people go to their house of worship if religious. I feel so deeply moved by people coming together. I’ve seen so much thoughtfulness and concern for others when I’m out marching. People keeping enough distance, wearing masks, handing out masks to others, hand sanitizer, snacks. Feeling my own sense of personal politics evolve is always exciting to me, and I really love seeing it in my friends too. It’s certainly strengthened my resolve in my own political beliefs. I am deeply moved by the number of people who have surveyed the toxicity of our reality and instead of giving up, spitting in the face of evil and cruelty and saying, “hell no.” We’re in a renaissance of social movement— labor resistance, human rights and environmental protection. It is truly profound to see people organizing to create a reality they actually want to be a part of. I’m not usually a person who puts much stock in electoral politics, but we have to consider how completely eroded our houses of government have become by decades of electing lawmakers to look out for corporate interest instead of people. So I am also right now inspired by the work of organizations like Justice Democrats, and the kinds of candidates they’ve so far successfully gotten into office. I want to see more Cori Bushes in Congress in the next few years, and I’ll do whatever I can to help make that happen.

Listen to and purchase Katie’s music on her Bandcamp page, follow her on Twitter and Instagram. And catch her WFTBO livestream show Friday, Aug. 7th at 10pm EST via: www.twitch.tv/WFTBO

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5 Questions: Luke Stewart

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Luke Stewart is one busy musician.

The multi-instrumentalist splits his time between a dizzying number of bands. So many, in fact, that trying to keep up with them all would prove challenging for even the most ardent Discogs contributor.

From free jazz and “punk jazz” to drone and ambient and even electronic music and indie rock, Luke’s vast discography reveals the interconnectivity between genres and sub-genres that are viewed all too often through silos.

How is it that one musician can have such a prodigious output – both from a recording and live performance standpoint — and cover so many different styles?

The answer may lie in the one thread that runs through all of Luke’s work: a creative restlessness and desire to connect through pushing sonic boundaries.

As if his music projects don’t keep him busy enough, Luke is also an events organizer, radio DJ and writer. In recent months, Luke has been the driving force behind a number of livestream performances, most recently at Rhizome.

With Luke set to play a special livestream show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, June 5th, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions via e-mail. As you can see below, our interview covers everything from what drives him creatively to his thoughts on the DC music scene’s role in fighting institutional racism and white privilege. Read on!

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1) You are a multi-instrumentalist, a radio producer, a writer and an events organizer, most recently with Rhizome. You also play in a TON of different bands. Clearly, you are someone who lives and breathes creativity. I’m curious to know – what drives you?

Luke: The motivation to explore and be in tuned with myself, my family, and those around me. The journey of exploring the history and legacies of the Music, and creating with that in mind.

2) Luke, one of the things I admire most about you is how engaged and supportive you are with the different communities that make up the larger DC music scene. As someone who is not only a person of color, but a prolific musician who is connected to so many different black and brown artists, what has this scary and uncertain time been like for you?

Luke: Yes I have been lucky to be able to interact with and support scenes all over the place. For what I do, the community is not DC confined. Its worldwide.

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3) DC’s music scene has a long history of protest, fighting for equality and combating injustice. What role do you see our local music scene having today in fighting back against institutionalized racism and Trumpism, while raising awareness about white privilege? Or maybe I should instead ask – what role would you like it to have?

Luke: Its a difficult thing for me to explain because it might be complex. DC has continuously changed since I’ve been active in music. Virtually none of the people I started out with are living in DC anymore, even playing music anymore. Very few of the people I saw on the scene even 5 or 6 years ago still live in DC or even play music.
When you ask about institutionalized racism, in the context of music, we have to think about the racism that has been institutionalized in DC’s long history of protest, fighting for equality, and combating justice. Its a microcosm in many ways of the contradictory nature of the non-profit industrial complex. THIS IS DC. Everywhere is affected by the mentality of government.  It establishes the social dynamic and how people even interact. That’s why sometimes I honestly feel discouraged at how distracted the scene can be. But I am proud of a lot of the work that has been done and hope that one day DC can be the truly radical city it needs to be.

4) It’s not just the sheer number of bands you play in that makes you an impressive musician, it’s the scope of styles. Six Six, your project with Anthony Pirog, is on the abstract ambient side, while Blacks’ Myths could be characterized as “punk jazz” for lack of a better description, then there’s your bass and saxophone work in indie rock collective Laughing Man, your electronic music with bands like Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind, and your own solo work. And I’m just scratching the surface. How did you get so good at flitting back and forth between such disparate styles and modes of music?

Luke: Just being open. Not limiting yourself.

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5) One of the few bright spots during this frightening time are the livestream shows being hosted by musicians such as yourself. What has it been like for you to make the leap to playing virtually – and how important have these shows become to you as a source of connection?

Luke: Firstly, a Livestream is NOT a concert. I think it is useful to think of the platform as a singular thing, completely separate from the experience of going to a venue and seeing a concert. With that being said, I think there are numerous creative possibilities with livestreaming, and I feel encouraged and inspired to incorporate it into the things I do.

Listen to and purchase Luke’s music on bandcamp. Check out his solo record “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier” here, Blacks’ Myths (his bass and drums duo with percussionist Warren Crudup) I and II, and Six Six, his ambient collaboration with Anthony Pirog, here

While you’re at it, spend some time visiting the excellent Atlantic Rhythms bandcamp page. And check out Luke’s personal website and his CapitalBop page.

And don’t miss Luke’s livestream set for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, which can be viewed online at: https://www.facebook.com/wftboDC/

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5 Questions: Insect Factory

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In many ways, the spectral drones and ambient textures that guitarist and sound guru Jeff Barsky conjures up as Insect Factory are tailor-made for these times.

The music of Insect Factory forces us to slow down, reflect and focus our attention in a different way — much like the COVID-19 pandemic itself. Insect Factory invites listeners to push the pause button on their hurried existence so they can lose themselves in an immersive sonic world that is both meditative and atmospheric.

In March, Insect Factory released a three track EP, “Distancing,” that perfectly encapsulates why Jeff’s compositions are so well suited for this strange experiment of social isolation we are all participating in.

The fact that Jeff has continued to make music as Insect Factory while taking an active role in some of DC’s most potent bands, speaks volumes (no pun intended – really!) about his commitment to his art.

With WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE continuing to hold monthly music listening events in a livestreaming format, we have invited Insect Factory to perform a special set for our Friday, May 1st show. We couldn’t be more excited!

I got in touch with Jeff to learn more about what it’s like to make and perform his music in this strange new era. Check out our interview below…

You’ve been making music as Insect Factory for over 10 years, even as you’ve played an active role in other noteworthy bands like Mock Identity (RIP), Time Is Fire, and most recently Bed Maker. Would it be fair to say that Insect Factory scratches a creative itch that your other projects do not?

Jeff: Yes – it does, but maybe not in the obvious ways that might be the easiest to grab onto. While I do have collaborators, Insect Factory is driven by me. I’m not interested in new pedals, new far out sounds – not interested in being the loudest, the noisiest, the quietest – those extremes aren’t interesting to me. I just really approach this as being a guitar player and trying to express or share some type of meditation that hopefully reaches a hypnotic level for people so that we can reflect. Sometimes I am an audience member to myself and allow myself to see where it will go.

Playing songs with other projects, because of my style of music making – with a lot of improvisation and freedom and looseness – aren’t incredibly different. But from a more general standpoint, it’s nice that this project can start and stop whenever I feel like it. It exists during performances and then disappears. When my bands are in busier or more demanding times, I tend to do Insect Factory less.

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My favorite description of Insect Factory’s sound comes from an interview you did with Washington City Paper several years ago. You said, “I think that Insect Factory is like taking a pop song and slowing it way down so that a second lasts for 20 minutes.” It’s this idea of slowing things down to reveal hidden sounds and the spaces in between — something Insect Factory does so well. But it also touches on the fact that you’re a musician who plays experimental music who isn’t trying to willfully distance himself from the elements of pop music, even though Insect Factory is pretty far removed from it. How do you see it?

Jeff: I remember that interview. I still see it this way. Pop music isn’t something to run from. It’s not far from what I’m doing at all. As far as “influence” goes, I don’t really think we control what influences us as much as we may sometimes think we do. I think our brains are probably conditioned greatly to this western idea of resolution in art – with books and movies and music – and even listening to some far out experimental music, we probably seek out chords or melodies or notes that resolve or ideas or motifs that resolve in some fashion. Textures can resolve. As can dissonance or ways that we use timing or rhythm or volume. And I think this is related to pop music, which frequently wears “resolution” on its sleeve in a way that other forms do not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still unconsciously seek out that feeling where we can find it or grasp onto it.

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Insect Factory released a three track EP in March called “Distancing.” Even though the tracks were recorded in 2019, they strike me as perfectly suited for these strange and scary times we’re in. The three tracks on offer – “Warm Clouds,” “Slow Motion Bloom,” and “Politics of Distance” are all very different from each other, with “Politics of Distance” sounding especially alien and foreboding. What can you tell us about recording these pieces last year and having them recontextualized for these COVID-19 times?

Jeff: The sounds of the tracks weren’t really meant particularly for these times. I tend to just record hours and hours of music, and then go back to see what fits well together. I don’t really hit “record” with the intention of making something releasable. I don’t really know why I picked those three, or what seemed to flow to my ears with them all. It probably just represented a need or feeling I had, and the context of later March was different from now – there was more “newness” to this situation in my mind. Even though there is still obviously a lot of uncertainty. Which is maybe why I picked tracks that felt disconnected in some way. I’m not sure.

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You recently participated in a compilation of alternative music being made by musicians all over the world under quarantine. What can you tell us about that?

Jeff: Campbell Kneale wrote to me and asked me to contribute to this comp. He lives in New Zealand and is responsible for decades of beautiful sonic explorations. One of his many projects, Birchville Cat Motel, released probably over 30 or 40 records of gorgeous droney music: https://campbellkneale.bandcamp.com/album/chi-vampires

The artists are of the noisier variety and the comp includes many friends and people I’ve shared bills with in the past: Howard Stelzer, Brendan Murray, Rambutan, RST (who shared a split 7″ with Insect Factory 8 or 9 years ago). Howie Stelzer is also contributing some really, really cool sounds to the new Insect Factory LP.

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For my last question, I wanted to touch on a recent Facebook post of yours that I especially appreciated. You said that you enjoy seeing all the social media sharing of images of favorite records and films, but did not like the instruction to just show the image and not share comments about them. You said what we need now is more connection, not less. I could not agree more. What’s it been like for you to connect with others at a bizarre and uncertain time of shared isolation? Do you see any positives coming from this weird experiment we’re all in together?

Jeff: Thanks for appreciating that. Online connection isn’t really connection without the people there being able to really, truly connect. Which happens in person. One of the first things I did after this presidential abomination several years ago was to delete Emoji off of my phone. I just felt like that could be one small personal contribution to help people hear each other. Not sending a picture of a sad face or happy face, but to actually do the work to express more. What’s more salient – sending a picture of a confused Emoji face, or saying, “This thing happening in the world or in that article is confusing to me. Let’s talk.” I have a lot to say as a school teacher about positives right now. And I use “positives” as a way to talk about how we can move forward after the virus, but not as something synonymous with bringing joy or good. It has ripped the band-aid off of our understanding of pervasive inequity. Specifically economic and racial disparity during the virus, the inequity of access to food, technology for school, personal space, employment opportunities, and it goes on and on and on. Kids of color or lower economic status worry far more frequently about their parent still going into work, yet this worry and risk is not shared by all. I think that more people are waking up to this. Corona did not create these conditions; these conditions were always present and right now we are shining a flashlight on it. Donate to organizations like http://www.Mannafood.orghttp://marylandcasa.org/, or whatever you can find. There are people and organizations doing the work.

Could not agree more Jeff. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful interview.

Catch Insect Factory’s set at the WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE livestream show on Friday, May 1st at 10pm EST. You can view the show on the official WFTBO Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/wftboDC/

Listen to and purchase Insect Factory recordings on Bandcamp, follow Jeff on Twitter and don’t forget to “Like” Insect Factory on Facebook.

 

5 Questions: Pen Palindrome

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Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. The coronavirus has transformed our world with all three.

It’s vital, of course, that all of us play our part — practice social distancing, donate to nonprofits helping to respond, look for ways to volunteer and offer support to loved ones, friends and strangers alike. But just as vital is keeping ourselves psychologically and emotionally healthy. One of the best ways to do this is listen to more music — specifically, the music of DC singer-songwriter Pen Palindrome.

Pen Palindrome has become something of a crutch for me these past few weeks. The talented singer-songwriter, aka Ava Mirzadegan, specializes in crafting delicate songs of introspection, wistfulness and longing. There is a sadness that pervades her music, and yet I find her songs to be strangely uplifting.

In these scary and strange times, Pen Palindrome has helped me find my center.

When I was faced with the dilemma of how to move forward with WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE’s 16-year anniversary celebration, I knew exactly the right artist to play for us. Thankfully, Ava was up for it. She will be our first livestream performer via our now monthly Zoom music showcases.

The Marx Cafe, like most bars and restaurants, has lost its main source of income and is struggling to pay its bills. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched, and a big focus of the 16-year anniversary showcase — and the next few — will be supporting the Marx Cafe to keep it running.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ava about her journey as a songwriter, and how this new phase of social distancing has affected her and her ability to make art (and a living). Read on…

1) Can you tell us a little about your journey as a music maker? When did you start writing songs?

Ava: My musical journey began when I was a kid, starting piano around age 6 and constantly singing with my older sister in the house and then eventually in school choirs. We used to write songs halfheartedly, and throughout my youth I wrote to process emotions. In high school I started to take writing a bit more seriously, writing songs on both guitar and piano. But it wasn’t until college that I actually felt good enough about my writing to share it with anyone. I spent a long time wishing I could write better or trying to figure out my style.

2) I love that you once described your music as “ambient rock that you can take home to meet you family.” How important is it to you to make music that connects with listeners outside the DIY underground music community?

Ava: I love that description too! Honestly it’s extremely important to me because although I’m deeply invested in the DIY community now, I was a little late to it. I have loved non-commercial music for a long time but the first time I attended a house show was in college. It just goes to show that it can be a little scary to engage with even the things you love if you’re not feeling like you fit into that space.

3) This might sound strange, but as melancholic and introspective as your songs are, I find them to be very comforting, especially during the scary and uncertain times we’re in. Listening to “Anna I’m Sorry” is like wrapping myself in a warm sonic blanket. Do you find comfort in your own music?

Ava: Sometimes! I generally find the most comfort in the process of making them, but I’d be lying or a bad musician if I said my own music wasn’t comforting to me. The whole point for me is to create the thing I’ve been searching for sonically, so I always try to write what would feel good to listen back to. (Also, thanks for saying you find comfort in it! That’s so sweet and I’m so glad to provide even a sliver of solace.)

4) Can you share with us how the COVID-19 crisis has affected you? And importantly, how people can support you?

Ava: I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family, and while I’ve been working more on music-related things, I’ve been able to work part-time and live at home while writing, recording, playing, and hosting shows. However, all of my music gigs, including a tour that I booked myself, have been cancelled. And my supplementary gigs have also been cancelled due to the virus.

I was planning to move back out on my own this summer, but now that I am without any income, I’ll be looking at an even longer time getting back on my feet. Supporting me could be through listening/buying my music on bandcamp, supporting the record label I just started with a friend called Oof Records (we have our first comp tape out now!), telling your friends about my music, or booking me to play virtual shows. The more I am able to keep myself involved in music while I’m holed up in my house, the better I will personally fare through all of this.

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5) Lastly, it looks like we may be in this livestreaming phase for several months if not longer. How do you feel that our connections with others are now taking place in the virtual world? Do you see any upside?

Ava: I’ve spent quite a bit of time having long-distance friendships with all of my dearest friends in NY and also with my family abroad. But while I’m used to the digital correspondences, what I’m not used to is the additional emotional weight hanging over all of us. Everyone I know is having a hard time, and it shows.

While it’s lovely to spend time with friends, and even to watch my favorite musicians live-stream, I think it’s also important to prioritize time spent outside. I try to go on a walk every day and spend even a short amount of time away from my electronics, because I tend to feel dissociative when i live through a screen.

The upside is definitely that I’m finally talking with people I’ve always wanted to spend time or collaborate with and we may actually have room in our schedules now to do it. But I’m doing my best to not put too much on my plate just because I’m unable to socialize. It’s important that we recognize and honor that this is a heavy time. It’s not vacation or an artist retreat… people are dying and losing their jobs constantly.

There is hope, however, and joy to found in all of it. So I’m grateful for everyone still making art and choosing the light.

Thank you very much Ava!

Support Ava by purchasing her music through the Pen Palindrome Bandcamp page, and don’t forget to “Like” her on Facebook and follow her and her label on Instagram.

Don’t forget to check out Pen Palindrome’s live set tonight via the WFTBO Sweet 16 livestream party. For more details, including the Zoom code, visit the FB event page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

YouTube Mix: March 2020

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Japanese electronic pop weirdness? Check. Parisian pop pleasures? Yup. Dark and moody RnB electro dripping with thick analogue synths? We got you covered. And then there’s the more avant-garde stuff like Henry Cow and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Plus, we’ve got rampaging lo-fi punk rock in the form of Erase Errata. Something for everyone then. Or nothing for someone.

We proudly present this month’s WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE 10-track YouTube Playlist with commentary courtesy of Rick Taylor and guest dj Richard P. Happy listening!

5 tracks from WFTBO DJ Rick Taylor…

Yellow Magic Orchestra — “Behind the Mask” (1979, Alfa)

Rick: “Japan’s answer to Kraftwerk!” is usually how Yellow Magic Orchestra is described. And to be fair, there’s more than an smidgen of everyone’s favorite German robots in the YMO sound. Regardless, this is hugely compelling stuff.

Miharu Koshi — “L’amour Toujours” (1983, Yen Records)

Rick: A rare example of a cover that’s better than the original. French synth pop iconoclasts Telex may have written “L’amour Toujours” but Japan’s Miharu Koshi perfected it.  The more I hear Miharu Koshi’s work in the 80s, the more I want to keep listening.

Clio — “T’as vu” (2019, Un Plan Simple)

Rick: A delectable slice of French indie pop that glides with an effortless cool that only the French can do. Addictive and wonderful.

Psychic Mirrors — “Midnight Special” (2013, Peoples Potential Unlimited)

Rick: Haunting and moody RnB for late-night listening. Psychic Mirrors is a fantastic 10 piece band from Miami that somehow ended up making a record for a boutique DC-based label called Peoples Potential Unlimited.

Nite Jewel — “What Did He Say” (2008, Gloriette Records)

Rick: It’s hard to believe this record is already 12 years old! Rather than offer my own comment, I will simply point to something one YouTube user said: “this sounds like something you’d hear on some forgotten radio station driving through the middle of nowhere at 3am.”

5 Tracks from WFTBO Guest DJ Richard P…

As our favorite British comedians once said, “and now for something completely different…”

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Henry Cow — “War” (1975, Virgin)

Richard: Henry Cow was one of the first bands that worked towards eradicating my conception of musical genres, combining modern classical, free jazz and rock into anti-capitalist prog noise. This song includes some of my favorite vocals by periodic collaborator Dagmar Krause.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 — “A Lamb’s Lullaby” (1996, Communion Label)

Richard: This poppy and hypnotic song is good choice for adding noise to one’s next Christmas mix.

Wild Billy Childish And The Musicians Of The British Empire – “Snack Crack” (2007, Damaged Goods)

Richard: Astonishingly prolific multidisciplinary artist Billy Childish has produced similar lo-fi garage punk in a wide array of projects, but this anti-consumer culture pop song is continually relevant.

Cerberus Shoal – “Rain” (1995, Stella White)

Richard: Melodic and driving post-punk from before this band became folkified, teamed up with Alan Bishop, or evolved into the Gira-produced Fire on Fire.

Erase Errata – “Giant Hans” (2006, Kill Rock Stars)

Like what you’re listening to and want more? Check out WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE every first Friday at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC 20009)

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5 Questions: Coven Tree

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(photo credit: Claire Packer)

There is something deeply unsettling, yet strangely soothing about the music of DC duo Coven Tree.

Local musicians Hannah Burris and Alexia Kauffman may play classical instruments (viola and cello, respectively) but the duo make music together that is anything but traditional.

The combination of Hannah’s melancholic viola and Alexia’s stately cello cast a gorgeous spell of somber melodiousness. Add to this some genuinely odd electronic elements and the end result is like the soundtrack to a surreal yet highly emotional scene in a David Lynch film.

But as moody and unsettling as the music is, I find it somehow strangely comforting. This is especially the case in a live context. Every time I have seen Coven Tree perform, I find myself completely immersed in the duo’s strange sonic world. Coven Tree make “strange” a wonderful place to be.

If you are looking to check out the band for the first time, allow me to recommend the duo’s split EP release with Tadzio on Blight Records. The two tracks on offer are arresting, beautiful and odd in a way that is rare for music these days.

With the band set to play the March 2020 edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, I got in touch with Hannah and Alexia to learn more about their remarkable project.

1) How did Coven Tree form? What can you tell us about the name?

Coven Tree: We have played together in various forms for years – we started playing together in Teething Veils, and have worked together as a classical duo, and on various recordings of other DC bands. In 2018 we decided to try writing our own music together and see how it would go. We started with the goal of trying to play our first show at Rhizome that year, and we did, at the Sonic Circuits festival.

As far as the name – we threw around a lot of ideas, but the first song we actually started playing around with when we were beginning this project was the Coventry Carol – an old English traditional song that we really love and had played as a classical duet. We really liked how it morphed and changed when we added our drones and electronic elements and our sound developed through playing around with that song. Coven Tree comes from that song title, but also we like the witchy aspect of splitting the word Coventry into Coven Tree.

2) Your compositions are unconventional to say the least, particularly with the blending together of experimental viola and cello with electronic elements. What is your process for writing music like? Has it evolved since you’ve been working together?

Coven Tree: It has been a pretty natural process – very experimental for us. Where previously we played together with just our classical instruments – viola and cello, in Coven Tree we have added (and continue to add) pedals to manipulate our instruments, as well as electronic synthesizer sounds. Writing involves improvisation and experimentation, figuring out what sounds interesting and good to us. One of us might bring a seed of a song to practice, and then we just play with it, maybe over many rehearsals, to land on what sounds good to us, but often songs can sound different in subtle ways from performance to performance as there’s still an element of improvisation with some of our music live.

3) When do you feel most creative? Or do you find there is no rhyme or reason to feeling creative or not?

Hannah: I do not find there is any consistent trigger for my creative output, but having pockets of time is necessary, whether by myself or while tossing around ideas with Alexia. However, I am often inspired by hearing unusual music, whether it is similar to what I might play or not.

Coven Tree Tadzio split EP cover

4) Last fall Coven Tree released a split EP with Tadzio on Blight Records. How did that come about and what was it like recording the tracks “No Land” and “Coventry Carol.”

Coven Tree: We recorded “No Land” and “Coventry Carol” with no concrete plans of a release. We recorded with our friend Ben Schurr (Blight Records) who we had both previously collaborated with, and really clicked with him. He made the recording process so smooth for us and he really “got” and supported what we were trying to do. After the tracks were mixed he said he would like to release them on Blight as a split tape with Tadzio, and we were thrilled with the idea.

5) As dark and foreboding as much of Coven Tree’s music is, I always come away seeing your live show with a sense of calm. Your music has a healing affect on me that I greatly appreciate. What moods/feelings/emotions do you want to convey with a Coven Tree live show?

Alexia: Thank you so much, Rick! I really just go into a show with the intent of being as present and in the moment of creating as possible, and trying to be as in sync with Hannah as possible. Some songs do have a power greater than me or us though, I think. When I’m playing some of our songs I kind of feel waves of energy and feelings wash over me from the music, which then goes back into the music, kind of an amazing flow. I can feel physically tired at the end of playing but also internally energized from the music and the energy in the room. It makes me happy to know the music has a calming and healing affect on you.

Be sure to check out Coven Tree’s split EP with Tadzio on Blight Records. You can listen to and purchase their music on Bandcamp, follow them on Twitter and “Like” them on Facebook.

And check out Coven Tree’s live show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, March 6th!

March2020

 

5 Questions: Katie McD (Bacchae)

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(photo credit: Megyn Elyse)

There’s a good reason why DC punk quartet Bacchae has garnered a lot of attention in our nation’s capitol over the past few years. Even when Bacchae is at its most spastic and aggressive, the band never loses sight of what’s most important: the quality of the songs.

The band’s love for a well-constructed song owes a great deal to the talents of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Katie McD, who writes the bulk of Bacchae’s material. Katie’s songs remind us that punk can be far more varied and quirky than the monochromatic, pure aggression style of yore. Punk can even be — dare I say it — fun.

And yet — McD’s lyrics sting with a power and purpose that is as undeniable as her Dischord forbearers. Take the track, “Read,” for example, which is about an all-too familiar experience for women: being chatted up by someone who just won’t leave you alone. “Read my lips, I’ll tell you now,” McD declares, “your words are sick; your face is foul/I think it’s time this asshole knew/I do not exist for you!”

When Katie McD played a rare solo show at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in Fall 2018, I was struck by how powerful and compelling her songwriting is. Stripped away from other instruments, her songs shimmered with a sparkle and flourish that caught me by surprise. The audience was enraptured. Katie was clearly enjoying the experience.

Naturally, Katie was asked back to play another solo show at WFTBO. To our delight, she said yes. Katie doesn’t do many solo shows. So when they happen, you don’t want to miss out.

To mark this special occasion, I reached out to Katie via e-mail to learn more about her approach to songwriting, her attitudes toward “punk,” and what it’s like to play solo versus a full band…

1) When did you discover you had a knack for writing songs? Were you making your own music before Bacchae?

Katie: I’ve been writing songs since the age of 13. I started recording some of this stuff on cassette tape and later on the computer. Most of these songs are objectively bad. I kept writing for years, but rarely played in front of people because I had horrible anxiety. I think I’m only truly getting a handle on songwriting at this very moment!

2) In what way has working with your fellow band mates in Bacchae shaped your approach to writing music?

Katie: Writing songs with a band is so much better than writing alone because you feel more accountable to finish the songs. It’s easier and faster that going at it alone. I would have never written songs with screaming if I wasn’t in Bacchae; I really love writing dirges and songs that are like, less than 120 in tempo and Bacchae have pushed me to GO FASTER. All of us have very eclectic tastes in music and we share new music discoveries with each other all the time’ listening to music together in the car and discussing it on the way to gigs is one of my favorite band activities.

Bacchae – “Dig”

3) We may have reached a point where the term “punk” is meaningless because it’s been applied to so many things, but what’s your reaction to Bacchae’s music and your own being labelled as “punk?”

Katie: Punk is more driven by ethos that many other genres, and we definitely relish the do-it-yourself part of making music together. Some of our songs are political in subject matter and some sound very hard and heavy. Personally, I’m just trying be genuine and write catchy melodies with interesting lyrics.

4) I know you don’t play live solo shows very often, but what’s it like for you to play without a band compared to playing with Bacchae? Is it something you would like to do more of when you get the chance?

Katie: Playing alone can be very scary; I prefer playing in a band. I’m currently writing a bunch of music alone right now, but I plan on keeping the solo performances pretty sporadic for the time being.

Bacchae with J Robbins

5) You are keeping very busy with Bacchae — I am especially excited about your LP, “Pleasure Vision,” which comes out in March. You worked on the album with J. Robbins. How do you feel about it? At some point in the future, would you consider putting out a solo record?

Katie: Everyone in the band is very excited about Pleasure Vision! We spent a lot of time working on the songs and it feels really good to have accomplished this complex creative project with my friends. I’d like to record some solo music in the future, but I’m moving very slowly!

Be sure to check out Bacchae’s new LP “Pleasure Vision,” which will be released on March 6 on Get Better Records. The first single, “Leave Town,” is now available to stream. You can listen to and purchase Bacchae’s music on Bandcamp, follow them on Twitter and “Like” them on Facebook.

And don’t miss Katie McD’s rare solo set on Friday, Feb. 7th at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE in Mt. Pleasant, NW DC!

February2020

 

YouTube Mix: Jan 2020

The way we see it, 2020 isn’t just the start of a new year, it’s a new decade. A new decade with wide-eyed optimism and perfect vision (get it?). So fittingly, our first WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE YouTube mix of the year is BIG in scope.

Consider all the countries represented. We’ve got Brazil. Germany. France. Japan. Great Britain (of course) and the old reliable U.S. of A. We’ve got dubbed out covers of 60s pop favorites, gleaming synth soundtracks from your favorite gay porno, French punk, German punk and British punk, and then something unbelievably wonderfully delectable from Japan.

As this mix illustrates, it’s a great big wide world out there of off-kilter music, and we’re just skimming the very tippy top. It goes without saying that WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE DJ Rick Taylor and guest DJ Ahmad Zaghal want you to start this new bold era with an equally bold 10-track YouTube soundtrack. Happy listening!

Five selections from WFTBO DJ Rick Taylor…

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Anika — “Terry” (2010, Stones Throw Records)

Rick: When Anika’s self-titled debut album was released in 2010, it seemed to come out of nowhere. How did a Berlin-based political journalist/chanteuse end up working with Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and his Beak> bandmates to make a record of dub-infected, post-punky covers of 60s pop and folk tunes? When the results are as stunning as “Terry,” ours is not to reason why, but simply revel in its afterglow.

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Patrick Crowley — “Somebody to Love Tonight” (1979/2015, Dark Entries)

Rick: Sadly underappreciated during his heyday, the late and truly great Patrick Cowley produced gleaming, left-of-center synth soundtracks for gay porn films, which have thankfully been collected and released all these years later by Dark Entries. Patrick Cowley was equally enamored with experimental classical composers like Christian Wolff as he was with early Moog masters Wendy Carlos and Tangerine Dream, and disco goddess Donna Summer. “Somebody to Love Tonight” captures all these disparate influences and yet somehow feels like something larger.

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Lizzy Mercier Descloux – “Fire” (1979, ZE Records)

Rick: Lizzy Mercier Descloux was a FORCE OF NATURE. Lizzy lived to make art — she not only wrote music and sang, but acted, painted and was a writer. She was instrumental in lighting the punk “fire” in France, but her connections with the NYC late ’70s no wave scene were undeniable (her partner was Michael Esteban, who co-founded the legendary ZE Records label). “Fire” electrifies with its perfect frisson of discordant DIY restlessness and driving dance grooves. Do yourself a favor and check out her reissues via Light in the Attic.

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Saada Bonaire — “More Women” (1984/2013, EMI Electrola)

Rick: Saâda Bonaire has a fascinating story. This German band was the concept of Ralph “Von” Richtoven, a Bremen club DJ who seemed to fancy himself Germany’s answer to Malcolm McLaren. He brought together two female vocalists — his fiance Stefanie Lange, and her friend Claudia Hossfeld — both non-musicians, a German reggae band he managed, along with some Kurdish folk musicians he invited to play along. Somehow, the band managed to get signed to EMI and release a single in 1984 that was produced by Dennis Bovell in Kraftwerk’s Cologne Studios. Pretty amazing, huh? Thanks to a valiant reissue courtesy of Captured Tracks, we now know the group recorded over an album’s worth of material with Bovell that was never released, including the amazing “More Women.”

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Haruomi Hosono — “Sports Men” (1982, Yen Records)

Rick: Thanks to my friend Alex Glendening of Deadbeat Beat, I have a new obsession: 80s Japanese electro pop. But not just any Japanese electro pop, mind you. I’m talking about the arty oddball creations and colorful production work of Yellow Magic Orchestra co-founder Haruomi Hosono. “Sports Men” is taken from his 1982 album, “Philharmony,” which has been described as his most boundary-pushing effort. High praise given that Hosono is regarded as one of Japan’s most influential pop musicians and producers. I love how insanely catchy and weird this is!

Five selections from WFTBO guest DJ Ahmad Zaghal…

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Can — “Spray” (1973, United Artists Records)

Ahmad: The classic Can line-up doing what they do best!

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Life Without Buildings — “Young Offenders” (2001, Tugboat Records)

Ahmad: I could have gone with any track on this perfect record and can’t help but wonder what more they could have given us if they stuck around for more than just this one and the live album.

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Rakta – “Flor Da Pele” (2019, Iron Lung Records)

Ahmad: One of my favs of last year. A goth/psych hybrid from Brazil that I’m honestly finding hard to describe precisely.

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Oppenheimer Analysis – “The Devil’s Dancers” (1982/2005, Minimal Wave)

Ahmad: There are tracks I think encapsulate the We Fought the Big One sound and would say that this is one of them.

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Scabs – “Leave Me Alone” (1979, Clubland Records)

Ahmad: One of the hundreds of gems brought to us by the Messthetics comps.

Like what you’re hearing? Head over to the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant NW, Washington DC) every first Friday of the month for WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE, DC’s longest-running monthly DJ night. And be on the lookout for a new YouTube mix of oddball favorites every month!

 

 

 

 

 

5 Questions: Clear Channel

Clear Channel

On first listen, it’s tempting to peg DC quartet Clear Channel as some kind of bastard love child that resulted from a three-way between Ian Curtis, Poly Styrene and King Tubby. Keep listening, though, and it’s apparent the band has a love for something those artists tended to lack: groove.

And do they ever groove. Here’s the thing — it is IMPOSSIBLE to listen to the title track of the band’s debut EP, “Hot Fruit,” and NOT move. Impossible. The track boasts an irresistible rhythm, off-kilter electronics, a killer vocal performance and hilarious lyrics (but more on that later).

That brings me to something Clear Channel specializes in which is an all-too rare quality for DC punk bands: piss takes.

If you’re looking for your next favorite po-faced goth band, look elsewhere. Clear Channel are dark, yes, but they’re also cheeky. Frankly, I find the absence of heavy-handedness on offer refreshing. As their “Hot Fruit” EP can attest, this is a band that revels in fun as much as edgy atmospherics.

But just who are Clear Channel? Perhaps not surprisingly, Awad, MJ, Carson and Don are all involved in other bands and creative projects. But based on how consistently impressive the band’s “Hot Fruit” EP is, there’s a strong argument to be made that prolific artists are more in touch with their muse.

With Clear Channel set to play the first WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE of 2020, I got in touch with the band to learn more about this unusual and intriguing band…

1) What can you tell us about how Clear Channel formed?

First God created weed, then God created bass – and of the bass, God created Mary. Mary was lonely, and so she asked God to sculpt Carson and Awad out of a kick drum and a pair of bongos, and then Don joined and all was right with the world.

2) All of the band members are involved in different bands and creative projects. To what extent does that help or hinder what you do as Clear Channel?

It’s chill. It’s harder because you have less time to jam but it’s also better, because we make more music. Diversifying your bonds, etc.

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3) One of the things I love most about Clear Channel is the band’s playfulness. The title track of your EP “Hot Fruit” features a hilarious line “I’m looking for bananas, show me your bananas, I wanna see bananas, two big black bananas!” Would it be fair to say that Clear Channel is an outlet to let loose and do things you maybe couldn’t get away with in your other bands?

“I pretty much sing about dick in every band I’m in, but this particular line just clicked. We get to just do whatever feels right in the moment and roll with it.” – Awad

4) Speaking of other bands, it really does seem like you eat, breathe and sleep music! What drives you to be as involved as you are?

Our drive to create is pretty natural, and it’s very much who we are. There is no other way and it kind of just is what it is. This is our priority.

5) Clear Channel has played with some incredible bands — from Guerilla Toss and Sneaks and even Ex Hex. What is your idea of an ultimate Clear Channel live show? Have you played your ultimate show yet?

We’ve been so incredibly fortunate to play with some great bands and friends, but in terms of ULTIMATE SHOW, I really want us to do a Clear Channel Cruise one day, but playing the National Mall would be pretty amazing or the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn.

Catch Clear Channel at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW DC).

Listen and purchase Clear Channel’s music at their bandcamp page.

January2020

 

YouTube Playlist: Dec 2019

When it comes to finding the perfect stocking stuffers that surprise and delight, we at the Big One blog will always opt for the gift of new (old) tunes.

But not just any tunes. The 15 track YouTube playlist below has been lovingly curated by WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE DJ Rick Taylor and this month’s guest djs dv8godd (aka Radd Berkheiser) and WronG (aka Ron Getts) to get you through the doldrums of another holiday season rife with seasonal sounds that grate. We’ve even provided commentary for each track.

As you will discover, this month’s playlist has got everything from yuletide-themed oddities (did you know Suicide and Can recorded Christmas songs?), undisputed classics (Talking Heads, Eno, Gary Numan and Prince) and deep cuts from John Peel’s favorite post-punk crates (UV Pop, Crash Course in Science, Clock DVA and more).

Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, there’s no coal for you. Only sparkling sonic gems that will cure even the harshest of Christmas music blues…

Let’s get started then…

5 tracks from WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE DJ Rick Taylor:

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Brian Eno — “Third Uncle” (1974, Island Records)

Rick: Two years before punk was born — never mind what came after — and Eno delivered what still stands nearly 50 years later as arguably post-punk’s most enduring track. It would be impossible to calculate the enormity of Eno’s influence on Joy Division, Bauhaus, Wire and countless others, and I’m not going to attempt to do so here. Instead, I’m just going to smile from ear to ear as I listen to this for the hundredth time and celebrate bassist Brian Turrington’s “accident” of playing in the wrong key (“honor thy mistake as a hidden intention.”)

Miharu Koshi — “Scandal Night” (1983, Yen Records)

Rick: Some of the most interesting oddball pop music came out of Japan in the 80s when singer and keyboardist Miharu Koshi collaborated with producer and Yellow Magic Orchestra founder Haruomi Hosono. The delightfully quirky “Scandal Night” is from 1983’s “Tutu,” their first album collaboration. I love the wide-eyed creativity and imagination on display here, especially the use of a telephone ring as a percussive instrument. The albums these two made together are tops on my list of most wanted reissues.

Crash Course in Science — “Cardboard Lamb” (1981, Press Records)

Rick: The official music video for “Cardboard Lamb” by Philadelphia’s Crash Course in Science. Filmed in New York in 1981, the video was distributed in rock and dance clubs, like Danceteria in the 80’s through ‘Rock America’ video. The song became a club favorite during the early 80s, and it pointed the way forward to much of the harder-edged techno and industrial sounds that were to come. The band is still active, and wildly popular in certain parts of Europe.

Suicide — “Hey Lord” (1981, Ze Records)

Rick: Suicide vocalist Alan Vegan (RIP) and electronic sound wizard Martin Rev were always full of surprises, but arguably their biggest surprise came with this yuletide tune. Suicide’s “Hey Lord” was recorded in 1981 for the ZE Records Christmas album, “A Christmas Record,” which also included holiday themed tunes from the likes of Was (Not Was), Material, Cristina and The Waitresses. Never mind “Silent Night Deadly Night.” Christmas doesn’t get any scarier than Alan Vegas crooning, “Hey Lord, I want to thank you.”

Can — “Silent Night” (1976, Harvest)

Rick: When it comes to Christmas novelty tunes, it’s hard to beat Can’s take on “Silent Night,” which was released as a single (!) in 1976. John Peel didn’t play many Christmas tunes, but this one got some love. And for good reason. Merry Krautrockmas.

 

 

5 tracks from Guest DJ dv8godd, aka Radd Berkheiser:

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UV Pøp – “No Songs Tomorrow” (1983, Flowmotion)

Radd: This is the first single by John White’s early 80s one-man post-punk band from Sheffield, which was actually produced by fellow Sheffield natives, Cabaret Voltaire. White has recently reformed the band and is currently active after a 25 year hiatus, recording new material, re-recording a few older ones, and occasionally performing live.

Clock DVA – “Sound Mirror” (1989, Wax Trax!)

Radd: Another Sheffield act, Clock DVA is Adi Newton, who formed then left The Future (who then went on to become The Human League). While earlier recordings ran from experimental and avant garde to post-punk influenced, Clock DVA eventually found their niche in 1989’s “Buried Dreams,” fully infusing synthesizers and digital production in the creation of science fiction soundscapes like this one.

Minimal Compact – “Next One Is Read” (1984, Crammed Discs)

Radd: Just before Wax Trax! Records fully focused their attention on the Chicago scene and cherry picking like-minded EBM and Industrial that Europe had to offer, the label released a few early standouts from the pack like this track from the Israeli Post-Punk band, Minimal Compact.

Rheingold – “Dreiklangsdimensionen” (1980, Welt-Rekord, EMI Elektrola)

Radd: An early 80s New Wave group from Düsseldorf, following on the heels of an earlier electronic export from the same city, Kraftwerk (though a bit more post-punk and a bit less synthetic than their inspiration) After disbanding due to a lack of success outside Germany, vocalist Bodo Staiger would go on to join up with ex-Kraftwerk drummer Karl Bartos to form “Electric Music.”

Gary Numan – “Metal” (1979, Beggars Banquet)

Radd: Within one year from November 1978 to September 1979, Gary Numan produced a sold-out run of his limited pressing debut album “Tubeway Army”, a number 1 UK charting sophomore release with “Replicas”, and yet another number 1 UK charting third release “Pleasure Principle”, each evolving further from his original punk roots to his newfound love of the MiniMoog.

5 tracks from Guest DJ WronG, aka Ron Getts:

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Talking Heads — “Once in a Lifetime” (1980, Sire)

Ron: They’d already had a few minor hits by the time this started to get play on MTV but this video was the beginning of something else. We kinda knew that David Byrne was weird but it wasn’t until we saw him in this video, dressed like an accountant, dancing like he was having a cocaine-induced seizure, that we really began to appreciate how weird.

Prince — “1999” (1982, Warner Bros.)

Ron: I remember 1983 when MTV used to play music videos and they played this one quite a bit. I also remember New Years Day 1999 when MTV2 played this, literally (literally literally), non-stop, all day. We must’ve watched it 50 times. The video got funnier every time but the song never stopped being awesome.

Killing Joke — “Eighties” (1985, EG)

Ron: This video was my first exposure to Killing Joke. I hadn’t yet heard much “punk” music at that time and the sound and attitude of this lead me down a hundred other paths. It is also worth noting that they’ve continued to make some fantastic music into the twenty-teens.

The Replacements — “Bastards of Young” (1985, Sire)

Ron: This is the greatest music video of all time. From the little band that wouldn’t. The ultimate underachievers. A band that was bound and determined, against all odds, to fail.

Curve — “Missing Link” (1993, Anxious)

Ron: The Eurythmics by way of Ministry. Beauty and noise, perfectly combined. This blend was eventually reduced to a formula that made some other band a lot of money but Curve never really got their due. Or their royalties. In another 10 years, this will be played in grocery stores, just like Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Like what you’re listening to? Check out WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on the first Friday of every month at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, Washington DC 20009)

December2019