Thursday, August 7, 2008

notekillers: pennsylvania experimental noise

collage by ib, adapted from Two Big's original design for airport/ants 45, 2006.

original notekillers (in no order): david first; barry halkin; stephen bilenky.

Just over a year ago now, Mike from Art Decade put together a spectacular post on Philadelphia group, Notekillers, about whom I was - equally spectacularly - ignorant. The experience, on hearing their 1978 debut single for the very first time, was fairly momentous. Hairs did indeed stiffen on the back of my neck. Not only did their unique sound stand on equal footing with experimental punks, Pere Ubu and Television - in particular their 1975 Ork 45, "Little Johnny Jewel" - but the influence on later bands like Kim Deal's Breeders and Steve Malkmus's Pavement was immediately apparent.

Of particular interest, too, was the discovery that the peculiar instrumental sound of Notekillers did not originate in NYC, but - in common with outsiders like Ubu and the Stooges before them - germinated and blossomed among blue collar industrial 'wastelands' operating on the margins of American society as peddled to the rest of the world on the back of favoured media presentation.

industrial highway PA 291.

A genuine candidate for "the one that got away".

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth singled out Notekillers '78 45 on its tiny indepedendent imprint as being one of the defining releases of the period in a Mojo magazine interview in 2000/01 and David First - original guitarist with the group and primary song writer, now residing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn having relocated there in 1984 - happened on the published article and decided to make contact. This led to Moore being drafted in to the frame as executive producer on a Notekillers - formed in 1976 - retrospective CD released on Moore's Ecstatic Peace label the following year, featuring original songs culled from "2-track reels, dusty cassettes and an actual 8-track".

Thurston Moore:

"I first picked up the Notekiller’s 7” 'The Zipper' b/w 'Clock Wise' in 1978 at 99 Records on Macdougal Street. I bought it because they were the opening band for Glen Branca at some gig at Hurrah’s (which I missed). Plus the band name was pretty killer. the single blew my mind - total no wave speed psychosis with some outer region chops going on. All instrumental and wicked hot. Never got a chance to see them and sometime around 2000 I was asked to make a theoretical mixtape for Mojo magazine and included this jammer in there. Lo and behold David First, a member of the long lost troupe and now an accomplished practitioner amongst the downtown NYC experimental crew, emailed me somewhat stunned that anyone would remember even know about the notekillers at all, something he relegated to the past but which always held a strong note in his heart. So it was decided to compile a Notekillers CD with the aforementioned 7”, an unreleased test-pressing only 7”, live tracks and demos. An amazing CD of a band so on top of their game as far as ripping guitar and odd-school time signatures. So ahead of it’s time that Notekillers have since reformed and killing it once more."

Adding to the general excitement, David First dropped in to comment on Mike's original post and very generously filled in some blanks for the record, providing links offering a gratefully received update on the reformed Notekiller's current activities.

If you get the opportunity, be sure to go and see Notekillers live. Just leave a comment to let me know how good they were.

The b-side remains for me the killer track.

NOTEKILLERS: THE ZIPPER from "The Zipper b/w Clock Wise" 45 (No Label) 1978 (US)

NOTEKILLERS: CLOCK WISE from "The Zipper b/w Clock Wise" 45 (No Label) 1978 (US)


BUY NOTEKILLERS 1977-81 CD (Surefire Distribution)


ib said...

Hey, nathan nothin,

Thanks for the positive comment. I was beginning to wonder if Notekillers were playing to an empty house here. The tumbleweed has been blowing in on the back of my last few posts!

David First and gang produced one of the most gratifyingly off the wall singles of the punk era. There are some other gems to be found on the retrospective CD which make it an almost essential purchase.

As for the 7" which thankfully did see light of day first time around, "Clock Wise", especially, is a crucially compact side of genius. So ahead of its time, it's staggering.

Your driver said...

"Of particular interest, too, was the discovery that the peculiar instrumental sound of Notekillers did not originate in NYC, but - in common with outsiders like Ubu and the Stooges before them - germinated and blossomed among blue collar industrial 'wastelands'"

Actually, there was quite a lot of this kind of music in the industrial wastelands. Contrary to what you hear in New York and LA, those cities are not hotbeds of talent. I'm thinking of two Indiana bands, MX-80 Sound and The Dancing Cigarettes. MX-80 had a little bit of success in The UK, but remained obscure over here. The Cigarettes were local faves who never broke out of the Midwest.

My friend in the California desert is a lifelong friend of John French, 'Drumbo' of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. The Magic Band came from some bleak and dreary little towns in the high desert outside LA. When someone asked French how they developed their unique style he said something to the effect that, because they came from such an isolated backwater, they didn't know what was expected of them, so they just made something up.

If you ever get a chance, listen to 'Five Pillars of Soul', by John Wilkes Booze. They're a fairly obscure and quite original recent band from Indiana.

I mostly like little towns and obscure places because I am lazy and do not want to compete for a spot in the metropolitan centers, but it's a hell of a kick when you meet someone completely original in what is supposed to be an unlikely place.

I should also say that not every talented person is desperate to make it big. Sometimes artists just want to do what they do and it is often easier to do that away from the horrors of the entertainment biz.

ib said...

Well, of course, this is true; which brings me back to my dialogue with you a while back regards Ohio - both Cleveland and Akron.

The main point I was making here was with regard the focus afforded New York - and London, too - throughout 1977-78. Very much a media driven thing, small towns, and even entire countries, were consequently ignored.