notekillers: something wicked this way comes

Philadelphia experimentalists, Notekillers first aired here on SibLINGSHOT ON THE BLEACHERS on August 7, 2008. Approximately one year after Art Decade brought them to my attention in a post on which founding guitarist, David First dropped in out the ether to oblige in an impromtu Q & A.

Loosely associated with the No Wave scene, Notekillers opened for fellow Pennsylvanian, Glenn Branca at Hurrah\’s in NYC some time in late 1979/early 1980. Despite an instrumental sound clearly ahead of its time, the group released one single on their own \’American Bushmen\’ label and promptly fell below the radar.

Formed in the Bicentennial year of 1976 by long term friends First and Barry Halkin – as peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter marched up from Georgia to claim New Hampshire in the primaries – Notekillers duly recruited Stephen Bilenky on bass and stepped out to perform their newly rehearsed material to a largely resistant string of Philadelphia clubs. The prevailing climate was one of spiralling inflation and recession. Production was on its knees and Carter was forced to bail out the Chrysler Corporation when things turned bad up in Michigan.

The noise Notekillers promoted offered no respite. Dispirited by the antipathy which greeted bookings, the three sought refuge in a basement belonging to Bilenky\’s father and immersed themselves in a regime of constant rehearsal. Their perseverance delivered occasional breaks – local opening slots for New Jersey\’s The Misfits and, significantly, DNA – but nothing approaching a record deal. After three years weathering a storm of relative disinterest, Notekillers remained unsigned.

Allegedly, the group was pencilled in as support for Sid Vicious in February of 1979; a singular opportunistic note which soured when Vicious OD\’d a week before the scheduled show. Just out of Riker\’s and playing on the spoons.

Never pin your card to a junkie in a game of snakes and ladders.

At the end of their collective rope, they pooled their resources and opted to record and print a single on a strictly limited run.

Without proper management or the surety of a contract, the group – now four with Thomas Johnson on congas – caught a ride to the Big Apple and set about shopping their vinyl to a handful of independent retailers.

Ed Bahlman of 99 Records in Greenwich Village liked what he heard and booked Notekillers as support for Glenn Branca, but failed to let First in on his own emergent label.

Inexplicably, their unique take on experimental music was somehow lost in the sonic assault initiated by \”No New York\” and culminating in the Noise Fest held at White Columns in June, 1981, at which Notekillers were conspicuously absent.

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 [sic] at some gig at Hurrah’s (which I missed)… 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…\”

David First – 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 retrospective CD; released on Moore\’s Ecstatic Peace label the following year.

Featuring material culled from \”2-track reels, dusty cassettes and an 8-track\”.


\”…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…\”

A fortuitous development. Not No Wave, precisely, but something ambitiously dissonant and oddly melodic both. And all the more compelling for it. NOTEKILLERS: THE ZIPPER from \”The Zipper b/w Clock Wise\” 45 (American Bushmen) 1979 (US) NOTEKILLERS: CLOCK WISE from \”The Zipper b/w Clock Wise\” 45 (American Bushmen) 1979 (US)



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