Thursday, December 02, 2004

beakers & blackouts

Love him or hate him, Calvin Johnson of K Records has had quite an impact in his existence. From Beat Happening to Halo Benders to Dub Narcotic to the vast array of artists on his label. To further add to the legacy is his good taste. In recent years he has taken to doing DJ tours where he is known to drop everything from dub 45s straight from jamaica to the newest Kelis remix to unknown punk from his region. Today we have two recent reissues out now on K.

The Beakers were a hack fit of four art-bashing funk wave arbiters who skronked into action Jan. 1980 and expired in Jan. 1981. In between they toured up and down the west coast, released a 45 and songs on two compilations, played shows with Delta 5 and Gang of Four, and recorded several times. The majority of the 17 songs on Four Steps Toward a Cultural Revolution (KLP163) have never been released before; the handful that were once available are now long out of print. The four Beakers, George Romansic, drums, Mark H. Smith, guitar and vocals, Jim Anderson, sax and vocals, and Frankie Sundsten, bass, were an abrupt, powerful force on the Seattle musical scene, who through the force of their personalities and charmingly abrasive music made that town quake, dance and smile.

"Scarily fine talent... Mark H Smith's team had talent by the truckload. Spiky guitars, left field words, great rhythm section... They were the key movers in developing the alt West coast artpunk sound." - Jon King, Gang of Four

"Nowhere! Out there! Crazy cross-eyed American funk keeps on swinging." - NME, 1980

The Beakers - Red Towel
The Beakers - Football Season's in Full Swing

The Blackouts were the best Seattle band you never heard of. To those who bought their records and attended their shows, this is no secret. But for the majority who didn't, this exciting anthology--long overdue--thankfully now exists. Sequenced in reverse-chronological order, it begins with their last recordings, which were produced by Al Jourgensen and originally released on Wax Trax! (three Blackouts later worked with Jourgensen in Ministry after the Blackouts demise). The album ends with their debut 45 “The Underpass”. Included on History in Reverse (KLP165) are three previously unreleased songs from the Wax Trax! session.In 1979, following the breakup of the notorious Telepaths, several members (guitarist Erich Werner, drummer Bill Rieflin, synth/sax player Roland Barker and bassist Mike Davidson, later replaced by Paul “Ion” Barker) re-formed as a new musical alliance--the Blackouts. They had an implosive intensity and were the antithesis of the bar bands that dominated Seattle's anemic local music scene. Intentional, dynamic songs were the Blackouts' stock-in-trade. At this they excelled. Over the next six years they released four singles and EPs on four different labels (Modern, Engram, Situation Two, a subsidiary of 4AD, and Wax Trax!) and relocated to Boston, then San Francisco. Few bands from that era can claim as impressive a legacy as History in Reverse

Thanks to 20 jazz funk greats for alerting me to these great history lessons in the first place. Buy em both here.

Blackouts - Idiot
Blackouts - Being Be

Buy yr Beakers here! and yr Blackouts here!


At 3:15 PM, Blogger guanoboy said...

Love him or hate him...yeah...I respect Calvin for what he's done. I'm a big fan of the scene up North, but Calvin's voice just, well, annoys me. But K records has always been a mainstay of the indie rock scene and a lot of bands have been helped out by him, so you've got to admire him for that.
I saw him live back in 1991 at the Yo Yo A Go Go festival and there was a girl in the audience yelling obscenities at him and crying...she was very upset about something. It was sad and strange, because he just ignored it. Now that doesn't mean she wasn't some crazy person or something, I don't know, but it was WEIRD.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have two copies of that Beakers single!

Heath, I have been enjoying reading through the archives of your blog. Did you know that the Fire Engines got back together earlier this year for a show in Scotland, where they opened for the Magic Band (minus Captain Beefheart)? Check it out:


At 10:13 AM, Blogger heath said...

actually, I think I read that very page a while ago. that show would have been quite the experience... keep readin!


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