This week a special guest post from a friend and true radio hero of mine. Scholar and dancefloor dynamo Scott Gardner has hosted Stronger Than Dirt at Austin’s KOOP radio (my old radio alma mater) since the station’s inception in early 1995. German synths and ‘60s British freakbeat, floor-busting glam and modern-day fuzz-pop: Scott’s playlists read like a survey of the world’s rock ‘n’ roll backwaters. Hear him every Saturday night from 8-10 pm (on KOOP radio, 91.7 fm), and check him out this week on Office Naps.
And now for something different. This week’s Office Naps delves into a sometimes maligned and not-too-distant era of music known as ‘90s garage. An umbrella term for sure, it encompasses various styles, from the lo-fi toga punk of the Mummies to the cleaner Mersey-tinged beat of the Kaisers to the swaggering punk of the New Bomb Turks to the alien surf tones of the Bombooras. I pretty much ate it all up at the time (except for the heavier bands like the Hellacopters), and am now in possession of way too many garage records that may not stand the test of time. Local record stores (we still have a couple here in Austin) have consignment bins stuffed with those of other former garageniks. (Word has it, that KBD guru Johan Kugelberg scoffs at the idea that 90s garage records will ever bring much in the world of record collectors. He’s probably right. Sigh.) Still, there are plenty of obscure blog-worthy nuggets out there that deserve a second listen. (Be sure to check out the Static Party blogsite for a sampling of the punkier/DIY side of the garage scene of the ‘90s.)
To that end, I bring you three of my favorites, all of them from the lower and grittier end of the production spectrum, and all of them from Europe. Following the Office Naps format of thematically related records, I hereby create a sub-genre: Continental European ‘90s Garage Punk. I’ll be honest, the designation is pretty much defined by geography, and not so much by a particular “Continental” sound, though when I listen to each of these, they sound to my ears vaguely European. One thing is clear, like their American (and Japanese) counterparts, the numerous European garage punk bands were looking to familiar groups from the past (and present) for inspiration, Sonics, Stooges, DMZ, Mummies, Headcoats. You know the formula, ‘60s garage plus ‘70s punk equals ‘90s garage punk. Maybe an oversimplification, but for the following three bands, it’s right on.
1. Daxls, Chickenshit (Pornogram 1)
Despite the German title of the EP (which translates as “I’m Drinking Myself to Death”) and the German “news” article on the cover, the Daxls were indeed Dutch, hailing from the city of Utrecht. Like many garage bands of the ‘90s they embraced lo-fi production values, but they were certainly no Mummies clones. (Though on the sleeve of their first EP, “The Daxls Go Way Out,” a scantily clad lass is using a “Radio X” toy rocket for purposes of sinful self-gratification, suggesting among other things, a connection with lo-fi royalty Supercharger.) Their sound was boozier, queasier, with more emphasis on the organ and a greater variety of tempo. Their output was limited to a cut on an obscure compilation (“Highs in the Mid-Nineties”) and two EPs.
“Ich saufe mich tot,” the second of the EPs appeared in 1996 in two editions of 200 copies each. The packaging is decidedly DIY, with different colored photocopied wraparound sleeves. Of the four songs on the EP, “Chickenshit” is certainly the most uptempo, and one that suggests that the Daxls might have been an amazing live band. You can find out more about them at their rather amusing Myspace site.
2. Blue Devils, Fooled by You (Makeface RiKordz 001)
The Blue Devils, from Limoges, France, played a decidedly more straight ahead brand of garage rock and roll. Their music was a little bit of Cramps, a little bit of Sonics, and a whole lot of ‘90s punk energy. From what I’ve been able to find out, they released two singles and had tracks on two compilations. “Fooled by You” comes from a 1995 split EP (with another French band, the Mini Cooper Gang) on the Makeface Rikordz label.
On this one, forget about the Cramps, this is a sweaty, pissed-off, propulsive Sonics romp, replete with screams and a squawking guitar break. It’s easy to see how they scored a gig at the Dirty Water Club in London, a 90s garage punk Mecca of sorts.
3. Doktor X, The Sickening Sound of Doktor X (self-released?)
Doktor X were/are (I think they’re still playing) from the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, Germany, and apparently had a reputation for pretty over the top wild live shows. I can believe it. As for their output, well, they have a four-song EP, a single and an LP on Fanboy Records. The Sickening Sound…” comes from the 1997 EP and falls under one of my favorite sub-genres, band theme songs.
This is another beer-soaked, sweaty 3-chord Neanderthal stomper with an organ that pounds away relentlessly. Maniacal vocals deliver a mostly indecipherable, but obvious message, get out on the “dance” floor and move your drunken ass. The tortured screams give the whole thing a creepy feel, but in a fun way, of course.