Agony Shorthand

Friday, May 05, 2006

For my money, this was the last of the truly classic pre-1976 proto-punk bands to be comped and released on LP/CD. I’m talking about a set of revelatory, eye-popping releases that started with the ELECTRIC EELS“Having A Philosophical Investigation With The Electric Eels” LP, through SIMPLY SAUCER’s “Cyborgs Revisted”, and on and on until Anopheles Records put out this fantastic set of December 1975 recordings from Chickasha, Oklahoma’s DEBRIS in 1999 as “Static Disposal”. These are the bands that popular thinking once and frequently said “didn’t exist” during the supposed wasteland of 1970-75 rock and roll, and I was raised & suckled on the unquestioned assumption that, outside of Roxy Music, the Modern Lovers, Captain Beefheart and a few others, out-there, raw & bent rock-and-roll died for five years before being resurrected by The Ramones. Late-period Velvets and Stooges and MC5 notwithstanding, of course. (Actually the common consensus in my youth was that it was England’s Sex Pistols that resurrected the form, not the Ramones. Right!).

Anyway, DEBRIS have a nice little page over on MySpace that explains the mystery of a band so experimentally robust & bold that they sounded like a fucked-up meld of MX-80, THE GIRLS and PERE UBU – even before the first two of those bands really got humming. From said page:

“The town of Chickasha, OK, might seem an unlikely birthplace of a seminal experimental proto-art-punk band set on pushing the boundaries of rock. In the face of indifference, and even redneck hostility, and lasting only a year, Debris' forged a small legacy with its D.I.Y. ethic and improvised playing style. Charles Ivey and Oliver Powers played various instruments in various bands for several years before the summer of 1975, when they approached drummer Johnny Gregg for a new band. Debris' was quickly launched and by September, they had the first of the four live gigs of their short existence. Their chaotic performance style and dark, quirky sound — influenced by the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, Captain Beefheart, as well as English glam rock — did not endear them to their Oklahoma City-area audiences. At one such show, a Battle of the Bands competition where 50 bands vied for a new sound system, Debris' came in dead last while a cover band took home the prize.At the same time, they took advantage of a 1,590-dollar promotional package from a sound studio, which provided ten hours of recording time and a 1,000 LP pressing. With the lofty ambition to "cut the ultimate record of the decade," they recorded material in two sessions in mid-December and the record was pressed several months later (since released on CD as Static Disposal with much bonus material). The band started to mail it out to various record labels and rock magazines as a demo in hopes of getting a record deal and to more fully realize their project. With early negative reviews and no local support, Debris' disbanded, ahead of their time and in the wrong place. Within a year, more favorable press appeared and CBGB even offered them a gig and a chance to cash in on the burgeoning New York punk scene, but it was already too late.”

One of the things to note about this set – which contains the aforementioned promotional package recordings + a bunch of rehearsals, 21 tracks in all – is that while no single track is as throttling & instantly memorable as, say, “Heart of Darkness”, “Havana Affair” or “Oh! Those Sweet Bananas” (to name three contemporaries), all are white-hot slabs of dark, psychedelic drug punk, all weird & chaotic in their way but eminently listenable & approachable despite some challenging vocals. The spoken-voice songs, “Witness” in particular, are amazing. The singer takes on the persona of a stream-of-consciousness street-corner ranter who’s leagues ahead in IQ than you are, but who’s also hopped up on goofballs & barely able to spit a recognizable sentence out. A nice effect for sure. Certainly, in addition to Beefheart, these guys definitely noshed on some late 60s acid punk, as well as on some acid itself. Today we take for granted that raw & strange music such as this can easily reach all corners of the United States, even the globe itself, but in 1975 I’d have to reckon that you were one pretty far-gone music freak to actively be seeking out these sounds in Chickasha, Oklahoma. And to then internalize them & spit them out in such an inventive & bizarre manner – wow wow wow. Great collection. The original CD’s nearly gone, a CD-R version is available directly from Anopheles, and if you wanna hear the final, documented, great proto-punk band, you might want to think about grabbing one.