Friday, October 02, 2009
Every now and then it's fun to surprise Stagg with a band I saw that he never heard of. Stagg and I love a lot of music in common. The major music we have in common is rap. For years he was really the only other person among my friends who listened to rap as much as I did. We also both love Prince. But he wasn't really into punk...but his best friends in school were so he is well familiar with bands I love. Sometimes we just sit and have a beverage and reminisce about various concerts we went to. I am jealous he saw NWA and he is jealous I saw The Clash.
Isn't it weird when you get into a band and then they break up? It's like so heartbreaking especially if you feel they were a growing band and you have this feeling of music that will never be made. I was really into a band from D.C. back in the day. No, really way back in late 80's. I saw Nation of Ullyses perform in 1991 at a small club at the corner of Queen Street West and Niagara in Toronto. I thought they were fucking amazing and they had a look and sound that was so cool and fascinating.
Nation of Ullyses also seemed to be part of the culture that has a secret history. It's like unless you're part of a certain scene or generation...you don't hear or share or even understand why some people would believe the things they believe. I recently was introduced to a similar kind of subculture this month. I have always beeninto Hinduism and Buddhism and am more or less a recovering Buddhist of sorts. Okay, surely the worlds worst Buddhist...but it's there. And the influence of some prime concepts of Hindusim and Buddhism crossing over to counter-culture and mainstream culture has always been an interest of mine. For example a couple of years ago a fellow re-worked some basic concepts of Hinduism particularily about the "ego" and published a hugely popular book that became an Oprah selection. (A New Earth) Our Pilsen bookclub is not reading a book this month but instead watching a movie.
D.C. post-hardcore of the late '80s and early '90s, while undeniably awesome, could be a bit dire. Mapping out an exciting new musical territory informed by the energy of punk, the dedication of hardcore, and the tunefulness of pop, but doing it with furrowed brows and studious frowns, many D.C. bands of the era came perilously close to overdosing on earnestness. Which is why the Nation of Ulysses were so welcome. Fronted by the insistently sartorial, perfectly-coiffed, and unnervingly charismatic Ian Svenonius (Sassy Magazine's Sassiest Boy In America, 1991), the Nation of Ulysses were a five-man army spouting a revolutionary youth manifesto founded on sleep deprivation, parent destruction and insurrectionary separatism. It sounded cracked and brilliant, the product of over-caffeinated punks down with Situationalism, Futurists, Constructivists, classic soul, and raw garage power.
According to Svenonius, who has since fronted Cupid Car Club, The Make-Up, the Scene Creamers, Weird War, and most recently Chain and the Gang, and who graciously sat down with DCist recently to discuss the Nation of Ulysses, “The Nation of Ulysses really started as an ideological program before we ever struck a note of music…. We were really different…. We had a gang sensibility. We all lived together. It was more of a cult than a band. It was explicitly a political party. We were explicitly modeling ourselves on something like the Vice Lords, a gang from Chicago that became a political party.” From here
Nation of Ulysses' music was noisy and manic, but they also had a strong free-jazz influence. The group embodied a rejection of the 60's and 70's music and styling by rejecting drug use and advocating that punk youth dress nicely and sensibly. To this end, the liner notes of 13-Point Program to Destroy America states the band's aim "To dress well, as clothing and fashion, are the only things which we -- the kids -- being utterly disenfranchised, have any control over." Much of the band admitted to not knowing how to play their instruments well, stating "All you need is a concept. There's no reason you have to sound like Led Zeppelin."
Nation of Ulysses described themselves not as a rock 'n' roll group in the traditional sense, but "as a political party" and as "a shout of secession." Explaining their intent, Svenonius said "it's basically a new nation underground for the dispossessed youth colony. It's all about smashing the old edifice, the monolith of rock and roll."
Now what the hell does this disolved punk free-jazz band have to do with a movie our bookclub is discussing next week you ask? Well...because in some ways Nation of Ullyses was a "concept" band. They mixed idealistic and political values with their music and fashion and hopes. Recently there is another set of musicians doing a similar thing. In the oddest way...part of me is attracted to this kind of multi-tasking type of group because...let's face it...it reminds me of Buckaroo Banzai!!! Buckaroo Banzai was a physicist, a neuro-surgeon, a martial artist and a rock star! Yeah baby!
And lo and behold...maybe Ben Stewart is a little bit like Buckaroo Banzai.
Who is Ben Stewart you ask?
Hierosonic is an unsigned self-proclaimed "hybrid rock outfit" band composed of singer/guitarist Ben Stewart, guitarist Jarred Cannon, bassist Mike Stang, keyboardist Chad Adams, and drummer Mark Bohn.
Hierosonic, the "hybrid rock outfit" was formed in November of 2002 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Hierosonic was originally composed of Ben Stewart - singer/songwriter, Chris Bulick - guitar, Brandon Krotser - synthesizer/keyboard/backing vocal, Mike Stang - bass guitar, and Mark Bohn - drums. Hierosonic quickly became a popular local band. In 2003 the band recorded their first album, The Vision Cliff.
By the summer of 2003, Hierosonic was able to participate in the Battle of the Bands produced by Street Wise Promotions. The competition consisted of over 400 bands across the country. The band received the most votes and won the competition. As a prize, Hierosonic was able to play at the 2003 Lollapalooza in Seattle, Washington. They were able to play alongside with bands such as Jane's Addiction, Audioslave, Jurassic 5, The Donnas, Incubus, and numerous other bands.
After Lollapalooza, Hierosonic kept a lower profile. They toured closer to home, in states such as Ohio and parts of New England. However, by 2004, Hierosonic was looking into making some changes. The band ousted guitarist, and replaced him with their current guitarist, Jarred Cannon. Cannon had been in other local bands (Evensong), and had been a friend of the band prior to joining. From here
Okay...so here you have a "hydrid rock outfit" which osunds almost like either William Burroughs would come up with or Buckaroo Bonzai. The singer, Ben Stewart has been making movies with his brother and posting them on YouTube. Kymatica is the movie we've watched for our book club. It takes place over 9 YouTube installments making it an hour and half long. For the first two segments...I had a few problems with the choice of words they used for the narration. I believe the writers should have avoided words that are heavily rooted in "the establishment". I don't think the writers should have concerned themselves with aligning their opinions and spirituality with science. They use a lot of concepts which may or may not be scientifically "true"...and I think it weakens the feeling of getting into the movie...at least it did for me at first. Stagg however said he didn't have a problem with the narration in the beginning. So it was just me.
Kymatica is an interesting use of media to discuss the way social constructs might have influenced the way we live, think and even, question authority. I love it that these guys are out there trying to make something very very difficult. It is not easy to make a spiritual informed movie and avaoid it being preachy or cultish or corny. I would compare Kymatica to the movies What The Bleep, Contact, and Fearless although it is by far no where as professional or focused as those films...but it is a very interesting project.
Kymatica represents a counter-culture that has been building in North America at least since the 50's influenced by Herman Hesse, Howard Zinn, William Burroughs and New Age and popular cross overs of Transcendental Meditation and Indian Gurus. Is there a revolution going on? Is it possible that spiritual investigations about "the ego" would gain more attention via YouTube? As far as I can tell between two or three sites which play Kymatica a 100,000 viewers have watched all 9 segments. I think the movie has to be watched like any movie by playing the whole thing at once especially as the weakest installments, in my opinion, are the first three segments. The movie becomes more sucessful as it goes along. I think Ben Stewart, who is interviewed in last couple of reels is a compelling personality. Maybe not quite Buckaroo Bonzai...but damn I have a lot of respect for what he is trying to tackle. I'd really be interested in hearing if any visitors here check out this web mini-phenomenon. How do you feel about what the film suggests? Are the film makers sucessful in their goals? Does the movie make sense either intuitively or spiritually or politically to you?
You can watch the entire movie at YouTube or Facebook....here is the first segment...