Thursday, July 30, 2009


One autumn day in 1983 I was accompanying my parents on a shopping trip to the Short Hills Mall (although my memory is probably faulty, it was more likely Menlo Park). Browsing through the music section of whatever chain bookstore we were in I came across a rather large yet mysterious book called International Discography of the New Wave. I asked my parents if they would buy this for me and they did. I remember wanting to look at it on the drive home but knowing I’d only get carsick if I opened it.

The book was exactly what the title described, lists of thousands of New Wave/Punk/Hardcore/Industrial/Synth-Pop bands and every record they had released, from albums to 12” singles, EPs, 7” singles, cassette only releases and bootlegs. Lists of the personnel and how they changed over the years and the other bands the individuals may have been a part of. The text was set in that CRT typeface that even in the fall of 1983 seemed both ancient and futuristic at the same time.

Throughout my High School years and beyond I’d spend countless nights reading about these thousands of bands, many who only released one cassette, unlikely to be heard by anyone other than the friends of the band. The idea of this seemed both incredibly lonely and yet empowering. It was reporting from a world I lived in and was familiar with but was still unknown to me.

The entire book was laden with the sense of dread that informed the post-punk years. This book taught me what a band could consist of. A singer and a synth player could be considered a band. And ‘tapes’ could be considered a valid instrument. It was (and still is) a strange sort of Bible that ignored all but Revelations and seemed to document the end of the world. It was my own version of the Dead Sea Scrolls and to this day it still has news and ideas to report that I’d somehow missed before.

Note: After a quick search on the internet I see the book is out of print and selling for $200. Also, leafing through the book tonight I came across the entry for R.E.M., who at the time of the publishing were an obscure band from Athens, GA who had only released the Radio Free Europe/Sitting Still single and had just changed their name to Ego K. Apparently that name change didn’t quite take. Would R.E.M. be remembered today if they had changed to Ego K?

Its strange looking at this book after all that has transpired in music and civilization over the past quarter century. I first started reading/glancing over it as I was just forming my opinions about the world. Although I enjoyed the Burundi beats of Adam & the Ants/Bow Wow Wow and I was getting interested in punk (The Clash, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys) this book was my true introduction to what I later understood to be experimental music and the dreader than dread mindset of the post-millennium era which I would later understand a hell of a lot more than I did the pre-millennium of which it spoke and informed. The same sense of dread we feel in this time of Economic uncertainty (collapse?) and wars in the east existed then in the form of Cold War paranoia and propaganda and economic crises in America and Europe, and the Soviet Union which would collapse in a few years time.

I like to speak of music criticism as a secret history or club where the lesson is more than the sum of its parts e.g. when you read a review of a record you need to understand where the writer is coming from. Everybody’s taste is different. A good writer who dislikes a record should be able to describe the music in such a way that you can determine you’d like the record despite the negative review. This is reading between the lines, understanding the critical codes and symbols within the review. As a teenager reading the International Discography of the New Wave which is, in essence a book of lists with a rare bit of trivia included, I was forced to use my imagination to figure out what most of these bands sounded like with my only clues being band name, song titles, record labels, instrumentation and country/location. And this was decades before the idea of every band in the world having a myspace page. At the time there was literally no way I could ever hope to hear 99% of the bands cited in the book. Yet still I knew.

The practice of Chaos Magick includes drawing symbols of your own devising on a piece of paper to conjure the desired result. The drawing is referred to as a sigil. Perhaps in some way the various entries in the International Discography of the New Wave were sigils. And this is how I knew what a band like Soft Verdict from Belgium may have sounded like. What would Austin Osman Spare think of this? On many pages of the book there were strange graphics of x’s and spirals and strange fish. What did they all mean? More sigils? They were like ancient cave drawings and they added to the mystery and tone and that strange loneliness of the book.

There are over 7500 bands listed in the book. They represent 30 countries including Iran, East Germany and ‘Red’ China. While at first glance 7500 seems like a large number, to think they are spread out over such an area as large as the Planet Earth demonstrates how unusual it was for a punk or new wave band to exist. In the late 1980’s and early 90s I worked at a market research firm in Westfield, NJ making phone calls to people around the United States, surveying them about their radio listening patterns. You could always tell if they lived in a rural area based on the name of the street they lived on. The more colloquial the name of the street was, the smaller the town was. Calling these people late in the evening (we’d call until 10pm local time) I’d picture an empty house with one light on; I could picture the telephone as it rang, hanging on the wall in the kitchen (illustrations of log cabins and birds on the wallpaper). Nobody home. Probably spending the evening at the local bar. And even now I can remember trips in a plane, flying at night over rural New England seeing a couple of houses lit up while looking out the window and then nothing for miles. This is the impression I get while reading discographies of these obscure bands. Bands that needed to travel a distance if they wanted to find a like-minded band. It showed a sense of commitment that may never be witnessed again in the United States and Europe.

Reading about these bands now, over 25 years after the fact, an odd sort of terror can come over you as you are reading about a time that no longer exists. Pre-internet could be Before Christ considering how much the world has changed. We are reading in this book about a dead time. An analog time that is gone and when we picture it we can only see it in sepia-toned images. Like the aged pages of the book I’ve turned so many thousands of times.

-Rich Kimball

Monday, July 27, 2009


CD REVIEW: //TENSE// memory cd (2009 desire records)

discussion between sharpe james (THE SPIES) and jen & rich kimball (FISKADORO) at the 423 gallery this evening.

sharpe: someone needs to notify the systems of romance blog about these guys.
jen: "give me back my life/it belongs to me"
rich: may i have some more wine please? thank you.
sharpe: i think they played with WILDERNESS last year. that makes a terrifying sort of sense.
rich: dread.
jen: they'd probably 'get' our cover of seconds. if you know what i mean.
rich: we sure do jen... we sure do...
jen: "i never want to sink down to your reality"
sharpe & rich: yeah!
rich: i bet this band still uses land lines.
sharpe: work hard short life reminds me of the first 1000 HOMO DJ'S 12". that is a good thing.
rich: i have a theory (i've told this to jen) that the original european synth bands from like 1979-1984 were so convinced of that idea that WW3 would be fought in the european theater that all of that music was about that. see PETE SHELLY's homosapien video and even the let me go video by HEAVEN 17. yeah, seconds may have been about the JFK assassination but it was so much more than that. people seem to forget that for several years we were convinced the end of the world was only minutes away. i think that feeling is coming back.
jen: this reminds me of THE THE song on the some bizarre album (1981) which i don't really think sounds like THE THE. and also THE LOVED ONE, so they definitely have a good techno history behind them. also the title reminds me of no name no slogan (ACID HORSE), plus they kind of sound like that, going back to the alan jourgensen thing.
sharpe: are //TENSE// retro-futurist?

perpetual swim: "you walk the corporate ladder/be all that you can be/when money is all that matters/you sacrifice your individuality"

rich: i feel like i'm in my room in cranford nj in 1984 listening to the seton hall radio station (WSOU-FM) at 1 a.m. this is before it went metal and single-handedly destroyed college radio.
jen: [audible gasp] you are such a hater. i love the metal WSOU.
sharpe: i really can never get tired of dub echoes on the vocals.
rich: it's got that same sonic terrorism feel the MARK STEWART & MAFFIA as the veneer of democracy starts to fade record had yet it sounds nothing like it. it's both scary and beautiful.

rich: when our digital cable freezes up, for a split second i think its due to an electro-magnetic pulse and i instinctively start waiting for the flash and the explosion.
sharpe: have you ever seen the movie threads?
jen: (talking about //TENSE// again) its brand new its retro. its awesome.
sharpe: they lose points by having back to back songs start with the letter L. but if that is going to be the worst mistake on this...
rich: i think i heard one lives in houston and the other lives in new york city. but i could be wrong. as we all know my sister knows stephen merritt. i think he'd be scared by this band but you know i probably don't know what i'm talking about.
jen: listening to this recording reminds me of why THE MAGNETIC FIELDS went so horribly awry.
rich: thank god there are no guitars on this. have i told you how sick i am of the guitar lately?? the next person that says FISKADORO reminds them of SONIC YOUTH gets a punch in the mouth. no offense to sonic youth... we love them but...
sharpe: this is the music we need to be playing when we burn down the offices of goldman-sachs.
jen: is it apocalyptic enough? yeah, i think it is.. i think it is...
sharpe: do you guys have any weed?

rich: i think my friend d-jam of the mighty M-LAAB would consider this music thin. i think most music isn't thin enough. this answers that. this is fucking skeletal, its like the x-ray of your body as the flash hits and then you're vaporized. remember the day after? that movie plays like a documentary today!
jen: i love this so.. i'm so mad i couldn't see them last week. i was looking for a job and then i found a job...
sharpe: its sexy. its scary. its apocalyptic as fuck. its music for the times we live in but nobody seems to be brave enough to admit. "body to body. lips to lips." 2009 is 1984. the world ends tonight!
jen: can we listen to some HEAVEN 17 after this?
rich: whatever you want tiger..


Saturday, July 25, 2009


@ mango's houston tx 7-24-09

A THOUSAND CRANES opened up with a brave set of burning incense, sacred drones, guitar feedback and travis kerschen expressing complete and total love for all humanity & animals.. and forgiveness of all abusers and enemies. his vocal style is somewhat reminiscent of jon vance of the legendary late 80s/early 90s hardcore band moss icon. his stage presence is undeniably intense, just staring at the audience through dark glasses while beats and noise envelop us. one of these days they will release an album, and based on the cdr's i've heard, it will be tremendous.
AFTER PARTY is a side project of ralf armin's amazing band dead roses. this was drum machine driven and made me think of the music wire may have made in that 7 1/2 year period between '154' and 'the ideal copy'. they just came back from a short tour and were really strong. this is totally a dance band and i hope to hear more from them soon.
FUTURE BLONDES is based around houston legend domokos. when i started hanging out a few months ago dom was the first person i met. meeting him has opened doors. name dropping him has gotten us bank loans. name dropping him has gotten us better drugs. name dropping him has gotten us locked in an infamous mexican prison. right after i met him he left town for a few months, but he's returned and last night was his first show since coming back. as he chanted like jah shaka in an echo chamber, a guy alternating between a moog liberation and a fucked up spray painted guitar played with drum sticks, and tina from how i quit crack niced up the dance.. it was scary and awesome (in the original sense of the word). this was the band that should've played that scene in 'fire walk with me' where the dialogue had to be subtitled. i felt wasted afterwards. and it was a good feeling.
i had never seen //TENSE// perform but they were really great. a boy girl duo, playing behind programmed rhythms attacking drum pads.. i originally started thinking heaven 17, but ralf armin corrected me saying it was more german than that. think some kraftwerk offshoot i missed out on, the beats were motorik.. maybe a touch of soft cell but way more aggro then marc almond ever got. even when almond was fucked up on drugs. afterwards, the gentlemen half of //tense// gave me a cdr that i'm listening to as i write and its really good. will discuss this in the future.

also, i don't want to neglect mentioning DJ CEEPLUS BAD KNIVES who did a dj set between bands. for some reason this reminded me of the time brandon pkH and i saw sonic boom do a solo spectrum set in nyc w the long lost philly noise band un & a duo of alan licht & loren mazzacane-conners opening. in between those acts dj spooky spun an awesome set. dj ceeplus's set was nothing like (never seen spooky scratch) that but it worked in the same way. i don't believe i'm explaining it well... i'd suggest you see him dj. i mean, that fucked up intro to 'oh bondage up yours' would've been worth the price of admission even if the show wasn't free.

ok. yeah...

-sharpe james



the 423 gallery is an art gallery/library/residence in the sleepy chemical town of lake jackson, tx. located one hour south of houston and a few minutes from the gulf of mexico it is the home of the record label death is a star & the band FISKADORO.

in this page we aim to post art & writings etc by the individuals involved in the death is a star community and also record reviews and show reviews of the houston art-punk scene (for lack of a better term - and we promise never to use it again) which is pretty wide reaching and well dressed. we feel a sort of kinship with this scene and think it is really not documented enough in the local alternative media.

we shall also talk about the end of the world.

-sharpe james