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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Bill Hsu presents … early 80s/90s San Francisco post/ art/ punk/ noise

Among long-time San Franciscans, there’s a lot of nostalgia for the 80s to early 90s: rent was cheap, things were falling apart, and every block seemed to have a crazy gallery (like the legendary Kiki), colorful cafes to hang out at (like the late lamented Bearded Lady), performance spaces hosting insane splatter projects (by the likes of the Sick and Twisted Players), or wacky band. This was also a city in the throes of the AIDS epidemic (protease inhibitors weren’t available till well into the 90s), dealing with the effects of the Loma Pieta earthquake, with regular ACTUP/Queer Nation actions and massive protests against the first Gulf War. It didn’t look like things would get better any time soon, but people made and did beautiful things, and partied.

Simon Reynolds, in his essential book on post-punk, Rip It Up and Start Again, devotes an excellent chapter to the San Francisco (freak) scene. I’m a big fan of the better known bands (Tuxedomoon, Residents, Chrome, etc), but there are some poorly documented groups that made some fine music, that’s finally showing up online. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed.

 

Minimal Man

Discogs page
Myspace
Wikipedia entry

 

 

Formed by leader Patrick Miller when he moved to San Francisco in the late 70s, Minimal Man made some fine noise rock in its early days. (Later songs can sound somewhat like Gary Numan.)

 

 

 

Trial

Discogs page
Sean Reveron’s appreciation

 

 

I never caught Trial live; their shows were supposed to be real events. The thick tribal percussion and guitars remind me of a more political Crash Worship.

 

 

 

Glorious Din

Discogs page
Some articles and miscellaneous info

 

 

Probably one of the more straight ahead postpunk bands in this post, kind of Joy Division meets shoe gaze, more angular and with hazier guitars. Very tasteful.

 

 

 

Stickdog

Facebook page
Discogs page

 

 

Stickdog actually started in Iowa (sounds like there was quite an Iowa-Bay area exodus in the 80s), but moved to San Francisco after releasing their 2nd lp on SF’s Alternative Tentacles label. Love the thick dark guitar sound, and metallic percussion.

 

 

 

Tragic Mulatto

Wikipedia page
Discogs page

 

 

One of those short-lived Bay area legends, with a big sludgy spastic sound (often compared to Butthole Surfers), horn section, Flatula Lee Roth’s operatic wailing and outrageous chaos onstage.

This was probably their (ahem) hit:

 

 

Live:

 

 

 

Beatnigs

Beatnigs wikipedia page

 

 

Beatnigs was of course Michael Franti and Rono Tse’s band, before Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead. I remember a really electric live gig with a stripped down lineup at the late lamented I-Beam; unfortunately the youtube live clips mostly have terrible sound quality.

 

 

 

Mudwimmin

Discogs page

 

 

After Tragic Mulatto, Bambi Nonymous re-emerged as Mudwimmin’s drummer. Their early 90s gigs were always a glorious explosion of noise and burlesque, with their thick viscous sound, odd arrangements, and on-stage antics. This gives an idea:

 

 

Luckily they actually recorded a couple albums before disappearing.

 

 

 

Ovarian Trolley

Discogs page
Trouser Press page with snarky Ira Robbins text

 

Ovarian Trolley slipped in at the tail end of this time window, anchored by the Hall sisters on drums and vocals, and Buck Bito on guitar. Ira Robbins hates their stringent, cutting sound; I love it.

They haven’t performed regularly in decades. But they can still play:

 

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Bill Hsu has put together a sonically fantastic — and even educational if you’re so inclined — gig and bit of a history lesson for us today. I hope you will attend, and I really hope you will chew any related fat with Bill in your comments today. Thank you, and hugely thank you, Bill! You’ll have noticed that this p.s. is very short and is not a real p.s. at all. That’s because yesterday afternoon I got really ill, high fever, shaking uncontrollably, sweating, freezing, bedridden, the whole shebang. And I am still quite wiped out this morning. I just can’t do the p.s. today, I’m sorry. I’m going to try to push this intense flu or whatever it is through me today and be back in my the p.s. driver’s seat tomorrow. I’ll try my best. Apologies. Again, please talk to Bill (and to each other and to me if you want) today. Hopefully see you tomorrow.

20 Comments

  1. Dennis, Sending good get-well-yesterday vibes your way. Rest and fluids, my friend. No joke. Do it.

  2. Yikes! Chill out and feel better. I’m hoping it’s just a bad cold.

    I had heard of the better-known SF bands Bill mentions in his intro (Chrome, Tuxedomoon) as well as the punk bands from this scene (Flipper, Crime, Avengers), but the only artists I’d heard before were the ones on Alternative Tentacles (Beatnigs, Tragic Mulatto) who got some college radio airplay while I was in high school.

    • Hey Steve, what college radio stations did you catch these guys on? Yeah, back before youtube etc, having access to a good radio station could make such a difference…

      • I grew up in Southeastern Connecticut in the mid ’80s. I had access to 3 college radio stations. The best rock show was on the University of Connecticut station, but the Connecticut College station was good as well. There were certain obvious “alternative” bands I heard incessantly then – Husker Du, the Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers, R.E.M., the Replacements, Big Black, Dinosaur (Jr.), the Cure – but the best DJs dug deeper. Unfortunately, they rarely played music more than 5 years old or delved into genres other than rock, but it was then impossible to find albums by bands like Wire or Can and it was not fashionable for rock fans to like hip-hop or (especially) dance music at that point in time. Honestly, if someone had written about the great house music being made at the time in a rock fanzine, most of its readers would have dismissed it as “faggot shit.”

  3. Hi!

    I’m sorry for disappearing a little!
    Get well really, really soon! I hope this flu (or whatever it is) goes away quickly!!

    @ Bill Hsu: thank you for this amazing post! I can’t wait to give it more of my time and undivided attention!!

  4. David Ehrenstein

    December 14, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Get Well, Dennis!
    Bed rest, plenty of liquids — you know the drill.

    Meanwhile. . . MORE good news from Alabama : Doug Jones’ Drop-Dead-Gorgeous Openly Gay Son!

  5. Bill – great post, I have heard of but not heard most of these bands with the exception of Minimal Man who I just discovered recently.

    Dennis – geez, hope you are feeling better by now. Enjoyed the lists the other day as always. Need to go back and make copious notes. I don’t feel like making a list this year, but a couple of standouts are New Juche’s absolutely flooring Mountainhead, Captagon and the birth of Amphetamine Sulphate, your GIF work.

  6. Hey Dennis, thanks for the chance to share some old music that I enjoy. Sorry to hear about the flu/cold thing; hope you feel better by the time you read this. I’ve found hot baths to be helpful as well.

    Thanks for the appreciative comments, everyone!

    Bill

  7. Jeez, Dennis, get better. Don’t work. Sleep. It’s the medical miracle.
    Bill Hsu, I’m sorry I can’t look through all this now, but golly. This is a totally new world for me. (I’ve been listening to Handel all morning.) But I’m eager. And so impressed. xo

  8. Hey DC, It’s been far to long! Had lunch with Dom Lyne today and that prompted me to drop by here. Sorry to see that you’re sick. Hope you’re feeling better soon. Marc. x

    Bill Hsu, great post dude and thanks for the noise! Especially the Beatnigs.

  9. Bill Hsu – thanks for these, had great fun going through them

    DC – rest well buddy, hope you feel better soon! X

  10. @Dennis,

    Hey, man,

    Get well soon!!! I hope you’re back on your feet as soon as possible!!! Please, please take very good care of yourself. I *HATE* the flu; it’s just horrendous; so I really, really feel for you. Take lots and lots of Vitamin C and liquids, make sure your bedroom is completely dry and at medium temperature and rest, please.

    I’m sending you the very best of the best wishes and huge hugs,

    A.

  11. @Bill Hsu,

    Thank you so, so, so very much for such a Great and Glorious post!

    *LOVE* it!!!

    All the best,

    With gratitude, appreciation, respect and friendship,

    Armando.

  12. @ Bill, thank you so much for this roundup of undiscovered (to me at least) SF noise. The live footage is really something.

    @ DC, rest easy and be good to yourself x

  13. For me, Stickdog are the big discoveries of this day. They seem very much a product of their time – I hear Swans, Sonic Youth & Einsturzende Neubauten in them – but they transcend just sounding like the sum of our influences. Michael Franti carried “Television” onto his next group, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and he’s the one artist from this scene who has had something like mainstream success.

  14. Marc, Amphibiouspeter and Armando, glad you’re enjoying the oldies today!

    Bernard, when are you coming out west again?

    Black Acrylic: I’ve only seen about half of these bands live; yeah you only get so much from the records.

    Steve, I hadn’t put on my Stickdog records for years, when I made the post. They sound so good, after all this time.

    Bill

  15. Yeesh, bummer about the illness. Get well soon!

    Bill – I’ve just been getting into Chrome and Mink Deville, so this collection is a cool surprise. Crazy how diverse this scene was at the time. I’m digging Glorious Din and Tragic Mulatto. The latter seriously reminds me of this group called the Stickmen that played in Philly around the same time.

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