It's like that: Jam Master
Jan. 21, 1965-Oct. 30, 2002.
Let's talk about
Casio-rappers Gravy Train!!!! are having fun, but don't call
them a joke band.
By Jimmy Draper
(the 20-sided die) with Lil' Pocketknife
The San Francisco hip-hop
band cut up and get the proudly nerdy party starteds.
By Sarah Han
Return to a Savage
The L.A. experimental punk band retrace their
By Will York
After 20 years with Kronos Quartet, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud
is excited to go it alone.
By Derk Richardson
Steel Pole Bath Tub took a fall but got back up again for
Beyond the Pales.
By Deborah Giattina
Our brand could be your
By George Chen
By Mosi Reeves
Return to a
experimental punk band retrace their footsteps.
By Will York
'I FIRST DISCOVERED Savage Republic in the late 1980s,
around the time they were breaking up," recounts Neurosis
guitarist-vocalist Steve Von Till, one of the main organizers of the
"Beyond the Pale" festival. "The music was really mind-blowing at
the time. It was melodic, but there was something primal about it.
It kind of did for me what a band like Hawkwind did musically. It
just rhythmically pounded this kind of psychedelic,
Describing Savage Republic has never been easy. They emerged out
of the Los Angeles punk scene in the early '80s, but their
far-reaching music – an always evolving blend of Arabic, surf, and
early industrial elements with tribal percussion and Glenn
Branca-inspired walls of guitar – doesn't neatly fit into any genre,
punk or otherwise.
"They reminded me of a soundtrack to a mind movie,"
bassist Mike Watt says, recalling an early '80s gig his old band the
Minutemen shared with Savage Republic at Hollywood's Anti-Club.
"This was in the days where punk was very diverse. Not a style of
music but more of a state of mind. The bands themselves were in
charge of what 'style' they were going for."
Savage Republic guitarist-percussionist-vocalist Ethan Port
echoes Watt's point. "Punk really was a state of mind, or state of
being. It was hard to describe, but people 'outside' definitely
responded to it through their hostility, and people in the scene
responded to it through their support, so there was this emotional
acid test to decide what was or wasn't punk. There were a lot of
performance artists and visual artists who also contributed, and
everything was a really low-budget and seat-of-the-pants
Savage Republic's legendary reputation for playing unusual venues
evolved out of this type of necessity. "We rarely found clubs who
would host shows," Port says, "so we'd do them in parking lots, in
the desert, or anywhere we could."
Now, 13 years after their last show, Savage Republic are in a
different position. In recent years they had come dangerously close
to sliding into the category of bands who are "famous" for being
obscure or underrated. They earned a chapter in Richie Unterberger's
1998 book Unknown Legends of Rock 'n' Roll (alongside Love,
Nick Drake, and Syd Barrett) and have seen their old records sell
for up to $100 on eBay.
They're not content to bask in the glory of mythical cult status
yet. They recently reissued their entire studio catalog – Tragic
Figures (1982), Ceremonial (1985), Jamahiriya
Demoratique et Populaire de Sauvage (1988), and Customs
(1988) and the EP Trudge (1985) – on CD, both as individual
discs and as a four-CD box set (all through Port's San
Francisco-based Mobilization label). And they temporarily reformed
as a live unit, with a weeklong touring itinerary across the United
States that finds them booked in some
relatively upscale venues compared with the factories and
parking lots they used to serenade. (The reunited lineup consists of
Port, founding guitarist Bruce Licher, key post-Tragic
Figures members Greg Grunke and Thom Fuhrmann, early '80s-era
contributor Robert Loveless, and replacement drummer Joel Connell of
Man Is the Bastard/Bastard Noise.)
Port explains the circumstances behind his old band's reunion: "I
went to 'Beyond the Pale' last year and heard Savage Republic
playing just before Neurosis went on. After the show I introduced
myself to Steve Von Till and [fellow Neurosis guitarist-vocalist]
Scott Kelly, and they told me they were big fans of the band and
that they play 'The Birds of Pork' from the Savage Republic
Customs CD before every show. I made a joke to Steve that I
should get Savage Republic to play the festival the following year.
At the time I really didn't think it could ever happen."
Now that it's happening, he says, "We are frankly really blown
away by the support we've been getting. If the reunion shows go
well, I do think there is the possibility of us all working together
more in the future. We live in four different cities, in three
different states, so it's difficult but not impossible."
As for the band splitting in the first place, it was basically a
matter of good old-fashioned "creative differences." Licher, the
band's only original member at the time of their 1989 breakup,
notes, "Ethan, Greg, and Thom knew what sort of music they wanted to
keep making as Savage Republic, and it was much more in the spirit
of where the band started out. I felt like I'd already done that and
wanted to explore a different musical direction. I felt myself drawn
toward the instrumental work we had done in the mid '80s, which is
represented on the Trudge/Ceremonial CD."
Licher has since gone on to do just that with his band Scenic, while
Port and the other members have continued to mine the band's more
physical aspects in the post-Savage Republic groups Death Ride '69,
Wonder, and F-Space.
In the face of all the overdue recognition they've received
lately, Savage Republic's members are proud but humble, still not
satisfied completely satisfied with where their legacy stands.
"There was a lot I would have liked to see happen with the band,"
Licher says. "Musical directions that could have been explored more
completely, that never were due to the push and pull of an attempted
democracy and the financial restrictions inherent in the underground
Port describes the band's goal – which he, too, sees as still not
fully realized – in more direct terms. "We wanted to record those
records we wish we had on our turntables," he says. "I actually feel
the best Savage Republic record has yet to be recorded. I still feel
there is a record missing from my collection." Beyond the Pale 2002
Nov. 14 Low, Living Jarboe, Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till
Nov. 15 Neurosis, Savage Republic, Pleasure Forever,
Nov. 16 Neurosis, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Lotus Eaters,
Nov. 17 Robert Rich, E.A.R., Stars of the Lid, Tribes of
All performances begin at 9 p.m., DNA Lounge, 375 11th St.,
S.F. $19. (415) 626-1409.