Lately, we’ve been ridin’ this down-home Folk/Americana/Indie wave in the Queen City music scene. Jake Speed. Wonky Tonk. Frontier Folk Nebraska. Wussy. Fairmount Girls. Gul'durnit, we love ‘em!
Maybe it’s our hospitable river-town tendency to have a big, open heart for such middle American tunesmithery. Maybe it started with our love for the Ass Ponys and their AltCountry ways back in the ‘90s. Who knows?
Nothin’ wrong with any of this, mind you. But I’d like to take a moment on this here blog to clue you into a small contingent of freaky, confrontational local bands from the past that were the furthest thing imaginable from such comparatively downright friendly musical acts.
I have to admit with a certain degree of shame that I myself was just made aware of many of these bands by the grace of Jim Blase at the Shake It record emporium. In the course of my typical hungry-eyed flipping-through of the records in the basement while I was there last Friday, I happened upon an old LP by largely forgotten NYC post-No-Wavers (and Sonic Youth pals) Live Skull. (Incidentally, it was Live Skull’s live album, Don’t Get Any on You.) Being the shitty-‘80s-underground-Rock obsessive that I am, I shrugged, slipped it under my arm and proceeded to the counter, grabbing a Black Flag DVD along the way.
Shake It co-owner Jim rang me out. He picked up the Live Skull record, flipped it over, gave it a quick squint and pointed at a tiny photo of a marquee on the back of the sleeve, which was peppered with an array of live shots of band members in profile with instruments in hand and the smoke machines churning out a massive fog. It read: “FROM NYC: LIVE SKULL with BPA.”
He asked me if I’d heard BPA. I had not. As I would soon learn, they were a Cincinnati band and part of a little collective of sick-minded southern Ohio goons on a label called Hospital Records, which was operated here in Cincinnati by Uncle Dave Lewis, who also played in a few of the Hospital bands and was later involved with the first incarnations of the Art Damage radio show.
Dismayed that he’d "probably never sell ‘em anyway," Jim slipped me a copy of the BPA anthology CD, Maybe Use My Knife, and Auto Glamour Sound, A Hospital Records Compilation. Both of them are Shake It-released chronicles of a short-lived era that lasted from the late ’70s through the mid-‘80s. It was a time when cantankerous, noisy shit-kickers from here in the Tristate area finally laid down a representative skid mark on the '80s U.S. D.I.Y. Art Punk/Post-Punk underground scene on behalf of Cincinnati, Ohio. Of course, they were the scourge of the city back then (when most people were way into Thruster).
In short, both CDs are absolute must-hears. The sheer level of creative, abusive guitar contortion that BPA smears across their dub-inflected, evil-Devo-meets-the-Pop-Group, wacked-out-tribal rhythm coupled with their deranged/disturbing vocal deliveries on songs like “Thorazine Cheerleader,” “Late Nite TV” and “Forensic Dentist” are incredible to behold. BPA's overall sinister and claustrophobic yet obviously unserious and fun-loving vibe perfectly captures the simultaneous frustration and self-destructive glee of Midwestern life.
The Auto Glamour Sound bands are pretty mind-blowing too. The comp starts out with the tortured beach-Ska of Cincinnati's Qi-zz and gives way to more guitar abuse and bizarre lyrical themes that meet stark, repetitive rhythms on songs by Cointelpro and 11,000 Switches (who once played a guerrilla show at the Taylor Park War Memorial in Newport after breaking into a power supply box with bolt cutters). A couple of these groups were from out of the area but backed by Hospital, and they're equally brain-melting: the sublimely fucked-up, pre-Riot-Grrrl racket churned out by Florida’s Teddy and the Frat Girls (listen to the musical castration of "I Owe It to the Girls" and tell me you aren't a changed man ... or woman) and the hypnotic primordial clamor produced by Dayton proto-Industrialists Dementia Precox.
I could keep going on and on about this stuff, because it really excites me, but CityBeat covered these CD re-releases when they came out back in 2005. You should read Brian Baker’s excellent, far-less-scatterbrained article, which is archived here.
Infinite thanks to Jim for hipping me to this stuff, which I probably never would have been aware of were it not for that silly Live Skull record. If you're a fan of anything Noise, Experimental, Killed-by-Death-style Punk or Post-Punk, do yourself a favor and stop in at Shake It sometime and buy these damn CDs already. They're excellent, timeless and totally unexpected pieces of left-field Cincinnati art history, of which there is already precious little.