If you've ever bothered to stumble around the right nav-bar of this blog, you might have learned that I produce a bi-weekly podcast for WFMU called Anti Static. The show focuses on obscure, independent singles that were released during the 1990s, which happen to have been the kind of material I leaned heavily on when I was programming radio back at WPRB. Rather then treat it as an opportunity to re-live some sort of perceived 'glory days', I like to think of Anti Static as a historical look back at the last days of a dying format. My recent post on the Pier Platters record store went into more detail with regards to this idea, so reading that first might give you a better sense of where I'm coming from.
Like it or not, the independently-produced vinyl 45 was the calling card for people of my generation who obsessed over sloppy garage bands. There was a time when I, along with most of my friends, could name half a dozen bands from Urbana, Illinois -- simply because their 45s had been mailed to us in the hopes that we'd play them on the radio. (I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I can no longer do this.) Regardless of whether these records were skronky, arty, or poppy, we thought of them as all being very unlike one another at the time. However, I discovered in later years that as the format disappeared from the collective consciousness, all of those indie 45s from the 90s had gelled into a solitary genre in my memory. Distinctions between the avant noise of Unwound, the seething hiss of Flying Saucer Attack, and the baroque, downer pop of Idaho were no longer important to me. Aided by the functional disarray that dawned on the music industry at the beginning of the 21st century (hello internet), I came to regard the 90s single as a genre unto itself, and that's why I decided to start the podcast. Anti Static is as much a celebration of format as it is a shameless re-visitation of "those halcyon days when mailorder and photocopied fanzines ruled the school."
Notes from the Anti Static Archives is an opportunity for me to zero in on editions of the show where the featured bands might have a good story associated with them, or for which I may have more recently unearthed some associated artifact. For this kickoff edition, I'd like to call your attention to the September 19th, 2007 edition of the podcast, featuring the sounds of Pitchblende, the Mooney Suzuki, and Masters of the Obvious:
- Pitchblende -- Circa 1992, many of my WPRB friends were heavily into what was then being called "Indie Rock", whereas I came from more of a Scott Hall hardcore matinee background. We eyeballed eachother's musical interests suspiciously at first, but when Pitchblende rolled onto the block, we finally had the common ground we needed. Their signature song at WPRB was "Lacquer Box", and most of us overplayed it to the point that crankier members of the listenership actually started calling DJs to complain when they'd air it. Perhaps still being scarred by these memories, I opted for the band's brutal cover of "In the Flat Field" by Bauhaus, which focuses less on churning guitars and more on the ringing harmonics to be found up at the business end of the fretboard.
- The Mooney Suzuki -- These guys stuck around for a while and were poised to be the Next Big Thing during the post-Strokes feeding frenzy that descended upon pretty much every guitar-slinging NYC band. They adopted a full-throttle MC5-like live show in their later years, but I always thought this song (from a much earlier 45) was their best, thanks to its modest nods to simple, Velvet Underground-style hooks. I will forever remember them as the band whose guitarist had been the hand-stamp guy at Brownies throughout much of the 90s, and also for the mind-blowing set they unloaded on a room full of unsuspecting Jonathan Richman fans at the Court Tavern (see above flyer). That show goes down in memory as the hottest and sweatiest I've ever attended, as it was mid-summer, probably in the high 90s, and Jonathan had insisted that the club turn off the A/C for fear of him catching a cold. By the end of his set, most of the males in attendance were shirtless, and some of the women were down to their bras. Such was the splendor of the Court Tavern -- the environment was relaxed and friendly enough to allow such actions without any fear of consequence.
- Masters of the Obvious (M.O.T.O) -- As I mention in the short mic break, I remember exactly where I was when I heard this song on the radio: driving through suburban New Jersey and nearly getting into an accident because I was laughing so hard. All I knew about the band was that they were from Chicago, but when I asked my windy-city friend Jon Solomon about them, he had only an exemplary impression of bandleader Paul Caporino to offer. The single this song came from was called "Hammeroid", which gives you a pretty good sense of the juvenile mentality that permeated M.O.T.O.'s releases. But still, that the same band could shortly thereafter wheel out killer pop songs like "The Places that we Used to Go" or "Meet me by the Flagpole" remains something of an astonishing feat, even by today's standards. M.O.T.O. is still around, still quite prolific, and still writing songs in varying degrees of bad taste. I bid you luck with the hunt.
You can sign up to automatically receive new editions of the Anti Static podcast here. It is also available via iTunes.