Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ohio rebirth continues...

Check out this interesting article in the Cleveland Free Times, which went out today. It's nice to see some newspapers finally giving some credibility to the current Ohio lo-fi rebirth.

Addicted To Noise
Ohio-based Underground Acts Square Off At The First Annual Festival 71
By Steve Newton

TIMES NEW VIKING - The band's gotten national attention.
It was 1975 and Cleveland's proto-punk scene was beginning to dissolve. With Rocket From the Tombs' perpetually wasted guitarist Peter Laughner aiming to perfect "Sally Can't Dance"-styled self-obliteration, the Electric Eels terrorizing club owners by way of onstage lawnmower antics, and promising stoner-synth retailers Pi Corp failing to release a proper album, the future of drug-addled Ohio basement gunk seemed bleak.
Luckily, a similar blend of "shit-fi" (as Times New Viking's Jared Phillips calls it) started cropping up in Columbus that year with Raven's Back to Ohio Blues LP and Mike Rep & the Quotas' bleated "Mama Was a Schitzo, Daddy Was a Vegetable Man" 7-inch. The pride of Columbus biker guff, Raven's sole release was a crudely produced acid-blues paean to shooting smack, dirty sex and riding Harleys, with the topic of "getting high" being the main lyrical focus in every song.
In contrast, Mike Rep's earliest singles were inept bedroom snot blowouts evocative of a garage-y pre-Ramones, only recorded with moldering equipment and fueled on more brain-death fumes than all four bruddas and the entire Carbona factory combined. Despite the private-press obscurity of these releases, it's evident in both aesthetic and attitude that the works of Raven and Rep would profoundly influence the underground Columbus sound for the next 30 years.
"I think a lot of bands are still finding influence from the last generation of no-fi Columbus underground rock bands," says Mark Van Fleet of Sword Heaven, which joins Times New Viking, Homostupids, Pink Reason, the Deathers, the Black Swans, Brian Straw, Unholy Two, Necropolis and Sun God at the first annual Festival 71. "If you say "Midwest record nerd/Columbus trash rock,' people kind of have an idea of whom you're referring to."
For maintaining a fecund music scene full of eclectic collaborations and show billings, Columbus takes a less solipsistic approach to networking than most other cities. Instead of retiring, grizzled punk luminaries and tastemakers such as Ron House (Great Plains, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments), Tommy Jay (Ego Summit), Nudge Squidfish and Mike Rep continue to live in the area, recording racket for small-time labels like Columbus Discount Records, and using their iconic stature to assist up-and-coming bands.
"When you go out of town, it blows you away how some people hold the figureheads of the Columbus music scene in such regard," says Psychedelic Horseshit's Matt Whitehurst. "Some people think Jim Shepard was God and that Mike Rep is a wizard, and for all I know, it's probably true."
With Times New Viking, Rep was partly responsible for rekindling national interest in Columbus. An ardent supporter of TNV's cacophonous art-school slop, Rep introduced the band to indie mogul Tom Lax, a propitious event that rejuvenated the groundbreaking yet largely inactive Siltbreeze label, which also released stunning full-lengths by Columbus outfits Pink Reason and Psychedelic Horseshit last year. When Times New Viking signed to Matador Records in late 2006, the buzz encircling the city began peaking like it was 1995 all over again, when Warner Bros. was adding inaccessible local noise/punk bands like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Jim Shepard's V3 and Gaunt to its roster.
"There might be a bit more recognition in the next year or so nationally that there's good music being made in Columbus," says Van Fleet. "I think this has to do with local bands who are releasing music on larger labels and also that quite a few bands are touring regularly and doing national tours. When people do that, it puts a spotlight on where they are from more than anything else."
Van Fleet feels that with the spotlight on Columbus, patronage from national fringe acts has significantly increased. "There are definitely more venues for it now, and 10 times as many out-of-town weirdo bands want to come and play shows here than during the first five years I lived in Columbus," he says.
A healthy assortment of DIY venues, multimedia art spaces (Skylab) and avant-garde dive bars (Café Bourbon Street) have facilitated the scene, and according to Pink Reason drummer Ryan Jewell, Columbus holds the best network of venues outside of anywhere he's been. "There's almost always a stage, PA, basement, street, gallery, living room open where you can play with people who want to check it out," says Jewell.
Comparatively, Cleveland has the same affinity for cracked noise and abrasive shit-rock, with locals such as Tusco Terror and Homostupids often earning the same level of national recognition as the Columbus groups. Yet the lack of stable underground venues and the scene's overall musical disjointedness (which is often intriguing, since few bands in Cleveland actually sound the same) is preventing its fruition.
"It's understandable," says John Elliot of local psych-droners Emeralds. "The productivity and community here are similar, but our city is broke; it lacks the money Ohio State brings into Columbus. Most of us here live on the couch circuit and jam more out of boredom."
In spite of all this, Elliot and others, including renowned writers Julian Cope, Thurston Moore and Byron Coley, insinuate that both private and larger label releases from Ohio's current experimental scene are as exciting and downright exotic as anything from the "proto" heyday of the '70s, and it's only getting better.
"Every kid grows up thinking their hometown sucks, until they build record collections and realize they were wrong," says Elliot. "Eventually everyone comes out of Ohio acting like a maniac."
Let's just hope these maniacs won't pick up and move to New York.
Festival 71: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124, Tickets: $5 advance, $7 day of show

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