Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon

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Subterranean Modern (1979). Sleeve art by Gary Panter.

As often happens, one post leads to another, and the next thing you know there’s a themed week happening, so here’s something more about Tuxedomoon. Subterranean Modern was a compilation album released by The Residents on their Ralph Records label in 1979. The idea was to showcase The Residents along with three other groups from contemporary San Francisco, all of whom were underground acts, hence the “subterranean” title. Three of those groups—Chrome, Tuxedomoon, The Residents themselves—have since developed cult followings; hard-rock outfit MX-80 Sound seem a little ordinary and out-of-place in this unique company but then that’s the nature of the compilation album. The Residents wanted each group to provide an interpretation of I Left My Heart In San Francisco but none of the others were very interested; Chrome’s offering, which lasts all of 27 seconds, is hilariously contemptuous of the idea, a squall of riff and vocals that fades in then quickly fades away. Cartoonist Gary Panter illustrated the cover which is also given the Rozz Tox seal of approval. For more about Rozz Tox, whose enigmatic presence can be found on other Ralph Records releases, see this.

I’d already heard Chrome and The Residents when I bought Subterranean Modern but this was first place I encountered Tuxedomoon’s music. Chrome, who appear on the back cover wearing their Clockwork Orange droog outfits, contribute two tracks that are as good as anything on their early records, Anti-Fade and the chugging Meet You In The Subway for which they made a video filmed on the city’s BART platforms. I listened to those tracks, and the Tuxedomoon ones, much more than the rest of the album. With the exception of the pieces by MX-80 Sound, everything on the album has since been reissued on other compilations (Tuxedomoon’s tracks are on the Pinheads On The Move collection).

The following is a two-page feature about the album and the four bands from the NME for 17th November, 1979. I don’t know whether this was Tuxedomoon’s first UK interview but it says it’s the first interview given by Chrome which gives it some vague contemporary relevance. Helios Creed recently re-formed Chrome, and played a show in London earlier this month. There’s also a new Chrome album, although for me Chrome proper requires Damon Edge, and he died in 1995. (Thanks to Gav for saving the pages!)

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I LEFT MY ART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Checking out the West Coast’s Avant Garde by Michael Goldberg

ralph.jpgSAN FRANCISCO—The true avant-garde is never accepted, barely tolerated. The public has no use for ideas which challenge society’s preconceptions.

Certainly the outright hatred which was heaped on The New York Dolls and, later, The Ramones and Sex Pistols—all groups who spat on the status quo of their times—attests to the difficulty of pushing a radical concept on the public. And those groups were merely returning to the basic, raw values which great rock and roll has always maintained.

So imagine the difficulty of developing and maintaining a style of music which has little, if any, solid tradition to fall back on. In San Francisco, a city where the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship and Steve Miller can sell out the largest of stadiums, an avant-garde underground has been hanging on, etching out the meagrest of niches so that it can continue a dogged pursuit of rock experimentation.

Carrying the torch for “outre” music is San Francisco’s Residents and their parent companies, Ralph Records and the nebulous Cryptic Corporation. For nine long years, the Residents have relentlessly persisted, bowing to no one as they explore a sonic universe of their own devising.

In the wake of The Residents’ relative success—though the group is still practically unknown in their hometown, they have been received by a rather large cult spread out across the U.S. and Europe—other equally unique and esoteric groups have been attracted to San Francisco.

Realising that there is strength in numbers, Ralph Records gathered together three of the most uncompromising bands in San Francisco (and possibly on the West Coast): Chrome (with roots in L.A.), MX-80 Sound (who migrated from Bloomington, Indiana, last year), and Tuxedomoon (whose core members came from Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois), and convinced them to join The Residents (originally from Shreveport, Louisiana) in a joint project. The project is a compilation album, Subterranean Modern (Ralph).

Continue reading “Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon”

Weekend links 29

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A Folies Bergère dancer, c. 1909.

Six Novels in Woodcuts: The Library of America publishes a boxed set of Lynd Ward’s works: Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage, Prelude to a Million Years, Song Without Words and Vertigo.

• RIP ace graphic designer Raymond Hawkey. Related: Raymond Hawkey: An eye for detail, and Hawkey’s James Bond cover designs from the mid-60s.

The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, an exhibition at Duke University, North Carolina, features work by 41 artists from around the world, from the 1960s to the present, using vinyl records as subject or medium.

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The Île de la Cité, a steel engraving by Albert Decaris (1950).

Fred Tomaselli will have a new exhibition of his work at the Brooklyn Museum next month.

Socialist Monuments in Bulgaria photographed by Linda Ferrari.

• What would Howard think of the Mythos Art Dildo?

Space is Process, a film about Olafur Eliasson.

Thurston Moore’s Indie Books.

Chris Colfer in a leather bar.

Ephemeral New York.

• Chrome! Helios Creed’s YouTube channel.

Chrome: Perfumed Metal

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Chrome: Firebomb single (1982).

I seem to have spent the past twenty-five years introducing people to Chrome. The world remains stubbornly resistant to their splendour, so here we go again…

Chrome were a San Francisco rock band born in the mid-Seventies, primary members Damon Edge and Helios Creed, ostensibly part of the punk thing but their sound is most aptly characterised by shorthand descriptions such as “Cabaret Voltaire meets Amon Düül II”. A newspaper ad for their Blood On The Moon album bore the legend “New Perfumed Metal”, and Perfumed Metal (the name of a track from Blood On The Moon) is how I tend to think of their blend of chugging riffs, synth squall, distorted vocals and tape collage. Those diverse and contradictory characteristics—perfume, metal—were embodied in the name of their record label, Siren, which finds in a single word reference to erotic mythology and industrial noise. Chrome are/were a difficult band to categorise and describe, so I’m fortunate that Julian Cope has risen to the challenge already with this great potted history and a look at their finest musical moments. Cope’s site also features a lengthy appraisal by another reviewer of their unhinged masterpiece, Half Machine Lip Moves.

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Chrome’s covers were almost all the work of Damon Edge, usually collages with titles hand-scrawled in Edge’s angular script. The Firebomb single above (also the cover art of the 3rd From The Sun album) became the band’s defining image, a lion-head door-knocker transformed into some bug-eyed alien organism by the simple addition of a pair of oversize eyes. Their second album was titled Alien Soundtracks so this is entirely appropriate. As Julian Cope puts it in his usual inimitable style:

So the vibe created is definitely very Sci-Fi, but no gleaming clean surfaces from Beyond The Year 2000 here. It’s a bit like in the original “Alien” movie (also from 1979 coincidentally), where the technology is “advanced” but the space ships are dank & dirty and all the equipment keeps breaking down. Science will not only bring forth smiling nuclear families with robot maids flying around in hover cars, but also ever-more-crowded metropolitan slums and squalor and new designer chemicals to help stave off (or feed?) dread and paranoia. To borrow a term coined nearly a decade later, Chrome’s is a “CYBER-PUNK” vision of the future.

The vision didn’t last for long but then most bands have a golden period of four or five years which is then dissipated in personnel splits or changes in musical direction. Chrome’s golden period ran from 1978 to 1982; longer than most and definitely worthy of your attention.

Official website
Damon Edge | Helios Creed
• Chrome on YouTube: Meet You In The Subway (1979) | New Age (1980)

Select discography:
Alien Soundtracks (1978)
Half Machine Lip Moves (1979)
Subterranean Modern (1979) (compilation album with other artists)
Read Only Memory (1979) 12″ EP
Red Exposure (1980)
Blood on the Moon (1981)
3rd from the Sun (1982)
No Humans Allowed (1982)
The Chronicles I (1982)
The Chronicles II (1982)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer
Metabolist: Goatmanauts, Drömm-heads and the Zuehl Axis
Maximum heaviosity