Synapse Magazine, Vol.2,
November / December 1977
Synthesizers pollute the New Wave.
ScreamersScreamersScreamers Screamers. Um we the people like Punk cuz it's dumb. We like it cuz it's funny. We like it cuz it counteracts pop novocaine. We like it cuz it's unprofessional. But it is kinda predictable.
Like in L.A. you can predict this: If the sign says New Wave, you will probably get, without discrimination and often on the same bill 1) Hard core manic anarchic guitar-bashing Sex Pistols imitations like the Weirdos. Music's not really "new," but heart's in the right place like mid- to late-sixties Who or Count Five louder and faster, all right we like it. 2) Glossy and less interesting attempts to duplicate the preceding and cash in on the "trend." 3) Rank poseurs and incompetents, sometimes having grotesque entertainment appeal.
But there are exceptions. Like Slash, the local punk magazine, sometimes holds benefits to aid its noble cause at Larchmont Hall, and obscure backstreet place more accustomed to holding afternoon lectures on plant care than safety-pin demolitions. So here it comes: The evening starts according to pattern. The Dils bang with almost spellbinding ferocity, stamina, and single-mindedness through their set, pausing only to tell the audience to "applaud or go outside and jerk off." Next up, the Germs chant out their music to a vague beat much like a long-decayed Tarzan soundtrack, while spitting various substances over each other's bodies. The singer (age maybe 17) constantly lurches out into the audience so they can beat up on him. They desecrate the flag. For color, a hall attendant with a bandage over his right eye (previously wounded in action by a flying bottle) retrieves and rescues flag. And at least the attendant means it, this is no show. Germs drummer gets in a fight with a de-motorized audience member. Everybody has a good time.
Then look out, Screamers ScreamersScreamers. For a second it looks like more of the same. Same crazed autistic mommy-I-fell-off-the-water-tower stares. Same flies trapped in vaselined porcupine-quill hair. The robot-convulsion singer even wears a garbage bag. But someting's off balance, and just a quick whip-pan across stage is enough to figure out what it is: There are no guitars. And what's worse, once the music starts, it's not hard to tel that the sound coming out are those of . . . ickkk . . . a synthesizer. Yes, that instrument rated nearly unanimously in the latest popular poll as being furthest from the Vital Roots of the Music. Eeuuww.
Here it comes, big beats, big riffs just like you'd expect from guitars, but with throbbing drones, frantic yelling. Repetitious, loud and unsubtle. Kinda stuff the deaf or this correspondent, for instance, could respond to. Very different. Songs like "Peer Pressure," "Magazine Love," "Going Steady with Twiggy." Androids on culture overdose. The audience doesn't know exactly what to do. Fighting doesn't seem quite appropriate. You can't really pogo to it. Some just kind of stand there, locked in, as if watching TV; with one important difference. They're interested. Others carry on as if nothing's changed, pulling on Tomata's garbage bag and doing what's expected.
"In order to preserve my dignity," says singer Tomata (pronounced much like the standard salad ingredient), "I would have to take off my pants."
Dignity, though, is not the main point. As to popular musical tastes: "People have to evolve or become extinct," observes Gear, jerker of the synthesizer and rhythm generator. The Screamers see their music as being emotional and direct, well off the detached cerebral rails of many of the more celebrated progressive wire crossers.
Top 40? Playing the Forum? Sure, why not. But the so-called L.A. "New Wave" bands? "We despise them," states Tomata flatly. Gear: "It's like being in a wax museum where the figures are quickly melting. We are the only really new musical perspective we've seen in L.A."
By way of grabbing any kind of rare opportunity for exposure in a city where showcases for new music are absurdly few, the Screamers recently hauled Arp synth, rhythm machine, mike, drummer K.K. and electronic piano with envelope follower over to Iggy Pop's house for a demonstration. Impressed, the head Stooge and Bowie crony, having spent too much time in Germany lately maybe, bill-boarded the Screamers with the tag/slogan/rallying cry "Tomorrow's Leaders." Uh, yeah. Achtung, everybody.