The Gulcher Recordings
studio recordings of BEST FRIEND, BROKEN WINDOWS, MR. MORSE, POIGNANT, POP DOORMAT, PUPPIES IN A SACK, SIMPLE MACHINES,
live versions of BANANA INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, BURN IN HEAVEN, DIET OF WORMS, DRAWN BY YOU, EGGS ANY STYLE, FEEL THIS PAIN, FINGER PICTURES, JACKIE O, MONSTERS, MR. MORSE, PUPPIES IN A SACK, RAZOR HAND, TALKING, TOO MENTAL, WHATTAYAWANNADONEXT?
In 1980-1981, punk became hardcore, middle-aged women started spiking their hair, new wave turned into commercial crap, and everything was about to implode into the narrowly focused genres that dominate outsider music to this day. But in Bloomington, Indiana, things were moving a bit slower. MX-80 Sound had split for San Francisco a couple years earlier, and the original Gizmos were never more than a rumor to the post-'77 Bloomington crowd. When The Dancing Cigarettes appeared on the fringes of the Bloomington scene in 1980, they were doing music that still vibrated deeply with the naive / intellectual spirit that had informed much of underground rock since the mid-70s. The Cigarettes fused their geek visions of dada and beat literature with punk energy, the Ralph Records catalog, an obvious love for pre-punk icons like Eno and Beefheart, and the fumes of earlier art-damaged Midwestern bands like MX-80, Pere Ubu, and Tin Huey. Their songs were tight, angular, ironic, and filled with obtuse lyrics.
In 1981, The Dancing Cigarettes hooked up with Gulcher Records (who else!) to produce a quite wunnerful 4-song, self-titled EP: "Puppies In A Sack," "Mr. Morse," "Pop Doormat," and "Best Friend." Post-punk, Midwest-style (which means it's mostly pre-punk!). They also contributed to Gulcher's RED SNERTS compilation LP the same year. This new CD, 1980-1981: THE GULCHER RECORDINGS, collects their '81 EP, two outtakes from the EP sessions, "Broken Windows" from RED SNERTS, and 15 unreleased tracks recorded live at the Bluebird in Bloomington. The Bluebird material shows the live Dancing Cigarettes were just as fiery and capable of sonic trickery as in a studio setting, and adds a bit of noise to the mix. The band continued into 1983, and recorded a fair amount of excellent unreleased material, which was compiled in 1995 on their SCHOOL OF SECRET MUSIC CD.
[ Eno ]
[ Beefheart ]
[ Pere Ubu ]
[ Tin Huey ]
I'm going to open up a can of honesty here: The Dancing Cigarettes are probably one of the best bands I have ever heard. And the first seven tracks on this CD, all of which are studio, are quite honestly some of the best songs ever written. The Dancing Cigarettes. Remember them from the Gulcher Compilation Red Snerts? Total dislodged technology...The real dissonant break-wrist song? "Broken Windows"...The Dancing Cigarettes stood out on Red Snerts...This CD captures their first four-song 7", the track from the Red Snerts compilation, and two outtakes from the same session as the first EP.
Musically, The Dancing Cigarettes remind me of a mix between The Embarrassment's pop sensibilities and Captain Beefheart's avant-ness...maybe some Talking Heads monotone vocal styles, but closer to Pere Ubu on their studio work. Some AMAZING-AMAZING stuff. The remaining twelve tracks is a live recording of a bunch of songs that ended up on latter Cigarettes projects. They have a Devo feel to them, but are still fully capable of blowing my head off. I write this with my severed head directing my body from its perch on some shelves next to the desk. My head sits beside a hexagon fishing tank, which holds a Chinese Fighting fish named Scott. Anyway, the sound quality on the live stuff is decent...I'm getting off on it pretty nicely. Good visuals...No stomach pain. But man, the first seven songs left such an impression on me. The live stuff is good, but the real treat is the first seven songs.
It's the uncovering and rediscovery of music like this that will move people like me to search for true meanings. Asking a lot of questions will bring you to a band like this. A sound like this. A noise like this. The Dancing Cigarettes are not JUST a band, they are sonic saviors. There's something mentioned about a "mature" Dancing Cigarettes sound in the liner notes. There's also a blurb about a CD that came out in 1995 called The School of Secret Music on some label by a guy named Paul Strum called Turnstile.
- Don Trubey Deconstruction -
Travel with me. I see this CD to the Secret Music CD as Blister Pop is to The Embarrassments Heyday double CD...Together, lets uncover more of this so-called "Secret Music." Indeed! Lets leave all concepts of "modern music" behind! The Neoteric Punk / Wave tide is coming in. You can see it... Such pretty colors. Silver...Sonic art is what we want and we want it now!
[ The Embarrassment ]
by Rick Wilkerson
Indianapolis Eye November 19, 2002
One aimless Bloomington night in June of 1981, I fell in love with the woman who was to become my wife. The fates were kind this evening, providing me not only the most important person in my life but also a soundtrack to remember the evening by. The responsible party for this soundtrack was The Dancing Cigarettes, Bloomington's top entry into the early 80's art-rock sweepstakes. This was the first night of a now-legendary three-night stand at The Bluebird, a well-known B-town nightspot that was venerable even back then. My future wife and I began our journey, this night, on the dance floor of the 'Bird.
The Dancing Cigarettes were a flat-out phenomenon. They started out interesting and quirky, and one day, almost without warning, they exploded into a funked-out art-rock beast. They combined sophistication, naivete, and herky-jerky rhythms in a completely new package, a uniquely Midwestern mutation of New York's new wave style of that time. The band ended its run in 1983.
Gulcher has just released a CD containing seven studio tracks originally recorded for this seminal Bloomington punk / new wave label which reconstituted itself a few years back. Gulcher has done a marvelous job of re-releasing its original material and mining the bands' tape archives, including releases by The Gizmos, MX-80 Sound, and The Panics. In the Dancing Cigarettes' case, this is especially welcome since the only contemporaneous releases were a 7" EP on Gulcher (containing four of these seven tracks), a few cassette tapes, and a track on Red Snerts, Gulcher's label sampler from 1981, which is also now available on CD.
What brought tears to my eyes was the remainder of the disc: twelve cuts recorded live at the Bluebird during the aforementioned three days in June 1981. Recorded to cassette, the audio has surprising presence. This is the band in their glorious mid-period, just as they really hit their stride. Anyone who enjoyed the band live in those days will want this CD. If you weren't there, well, there's a certain freshness about this recording. If you have a fondness for original indie music from a time when the word "indie" was still in gestation, this is a time capsule that's far less dated than most. For me, it's a long-lost letter from a much simpler and glorious time, a sweet souvenir of love's beginning.
[ Gizmos ]
[ MX-80 ]
[ Panics ]
With an overgrown post-60s landscape of liberal parents, still-warm hippie love and the joys and freedoms of sex, drugs, punk and academia, the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, just a bellybutton above the Bible Belt, became by the end of the 1970s one of the fertile beacons of staggering, in-bread new wave and maximum rock and roll in the Midwest.
From 1976 to 1981, Gulcher Records (named for Bloomington's old nickname "The Gulch" and not Richard Meltzer's book) was the sweet spot from which such bands as The Gizmos, The Panics, The Dancing Cigarettes, Jetsons, Social Climbers and MX-80 trickled and dozens since have drunk. Founded by Bob Richert in 1976 as the means to propel his hand-crafted Gizmos to world recognition, the label dished out twelve vinyl freeze-frames of limestone soul before closing shop in the spring of '81. (During this time, Richert and others in the Gizmo's orbit published Beyond Our Control and later Gulcher Magazine with articles and reviews by Meltzer, Lester Bangs, Metal Mike Saunders, Cub Koda, Thurston Moore and others.)
One of Gulcher's final transmissions was the scene defining Red Snerts: The Sounds of Gulcher. The sixteen-band, Indiana-wide compilation should have been gospel enough that the Hoosier state had the goods. From drastically precise hardcore of the Zero Boys to Dow Jones and the Industrials' crunchy Devo-like bop, those on Red Snerts could have battled Ohio or Kansas and come out on top.
Unfortunately, outside of collectors and connoisseurs of Midwest Killed By Death bits, Hoosier pride had waned a bit by the '90s. Richert, now in Florida, thought Gulcher was in need of a revival. "Back in the mid / late '90s, labels from Indiana and elsewhere started tracking me down looking for Gulcher material to reissue, but nothing really clicked," Richert says. "Then I retrieved a bunch of the original records and master tapes from my mom's attic, started listening for the first time in 20 years, got caught up in how fun and exciting everything sounded, and decided to revive the label myself."
Since 2000, Gulcher has issued twelve CDs of archival material and reissues. The first being 1976-77: The Studio Recordings and 1975-77: Demos & Rehearsals from The Gizmos, whose three Gulcher 7" EPs were hailed and sneered for the juvenile sock-soaking lyrics and stumbling, bandaged primal rock of "Muff Divin' (in Wilkie South)," "That's Cool," Amerika First," and "Gimme Back My Foreskin." While the Gizmos are definitely the tip of Gulcher's crown, The Panics' "I Wanna Kill My Mom" reissue plants the teens' three-song 45 of Pistols-like cartoon hardcore (if drawn with a blunt knife) with a 1981 live performance and 2001 reunion show. Other releases have come from MX-80 (two live 1977-78 gigs), Walking Ruins (mid-90s Bloomington punk band), and non-Hoosiers The Afrika Korps.
Perhaps least known until now is The Dancing Cigarettes' 1980-1981: The Gulcher Recordings. The Cigs' sole Gulcher outing was a 4-song EP that battled between artful jitters of stop/punch organ and drum movements of "Puppies in a Sack" to the ecstatic horn scree of "Mr. Morse" that can be directly seen influencing Bloomington bands like Panoply Academy. Coupled with outtakes from the EP recording session, their "Broken Windows" Red Snerts contribution and seven live songs from 1981, the CD is a perfect companion to the criminally unrecognized School of Secret Music 1981-1983 CD of Cigs radio recordings that was released on OR / Turnstile in 1997. Both pinpoint a truly Midwest originality that was snuffed due to its landlocked location. Sadly, with nearly 300 songs written between August 1979 and the group's demise in January 1984, only a handful two CDs worth were recorded.
While The Gizmos and The Panics flirted with being fully realized bands (check out the Panics' "Best Band"), the Cigs actually left the state to play, returning to New York City for shows and attempting to pop the lid on the loft scene. Coasting from Midwest to East, the group toured between waiting jobs and three-night stands at Bloomington clubs. The surreal lyrical motifs and constantly morphing arrangements teetered between normal dance hall rhythms to lost in the dark ramblings from the keyboards and vocals. Squawking lyrics like "It was fun for a while but that was a while ago!" atop babbling synths in "Puppies in a Sack" to the transparent reality of "Razor Hand," which changes from a yell of "razor hand" to a needful, almost frightening "raise your hand," shows a glimpse of where the Cigs could have headed.
"We were listening to everything. I was into Albert Ayler, This Heat, Ubu, MX-80, Beefheart. But for as much as we sounded like the Talking Heads, we didn't listen to their albums," drummer John Terrill recalls. "We liked Beefheart so much because they were teaching themselves how to play their instruments, like Emily [Bonus] and her bass. So we were really hot on them."
"It was a big scene back then in Bloomington, people all working together, we had parties, everyone slept together. And I heard a lot of people say that we were real nasty. But we were just trying to do our own dada thing being esoteric and weird. People walking around like Arthur Lee with one pant leg cut off."
[ Panoply Academy ]
[ Albert Ayler ]
[ This Heat ]
It should be common knowledge by now, but if you don't know, this is important: Indiana has a secret treasure trove of largely forgotten or ignored acts that are unique, endlessly creative, and each important in its own way to an underground scene that has yet to really catch the notice of the larger public in a lasting way. Then again, popularity isn't really the point of underground music. "Weird music" drifts in and out of style (albeit only as novelty for many), but there's some music that just doesn't seem destined for mass consumption, as innovative and oddly brilliant as it may be (think The Residents, Captain Beefheart). Bloomington's seminal early-eighties art-punk weirdos The Dancing Cigarettes are a case in point. Their jagged, new-wavy blend of post-punk influences wasn't exactly popular in its day, and it still looms just out of notice for most fans of the genre or just beyond accessibility for the uninitiated. But fans of authentically dissonant and angular rock should take note: The Dancing Cigarettes may be one of the best spazzy punk bands you haven't heard, and you owe it to yourself to listen.
Formed in 1979 and playing until 1983, The Dancing Cigarettes combined an avant-pop sensibility with a love for energetic beats, skronky noise rock, and odd, almost dadaist lyrics. The Dancing Cigarettes typically focused on creating a cacophony from only a small handfull of instruments, but they could also prove surprisingly versatile. For example, listen to the synthy new-wave pop perfection of "Pop Doormat" next to the atonal nightmare-wave of "Puppies in a Sack," on which vocalist Michael Gitlin keeps yelping, "How many of these problems do you have?" and "It was fun for a while," to the tune of carnivalesque keys battling sharp-cornered guitars and Don Trubey's repetitive, honking sax. The effect is something like listening to Pere Ubu and The Magic Band simultaneously: disorienting, no doubt, but fun in the dizzy, nauseatingly nihilistic way that defined the best art rock bands of the early eighties. Again and again, The Dancing Cigarettes specialized in the same clashing, howling, deeply synchronized power that defined New York's James Chance and the Contortions, fellow Bloomingtonites MX-80 Sound, and Athens, GA dance-punk legends Pylon.
Perhaps best known for "Broken Windows," their feverish, outstanding contribution to Indiana label Gulcher Records' 1981 punk / new wave compilation, Red Snerts (if you really count that as "known"), The Dancing Cigarettes also recorded a 7" EP for Gulcher that features the aforementioned "Pop Doormat" and "Puppies In A Sack," along with two other crown jewels for the band: "Mr. Morse" and "Best Friend." All of these songs, plus outtakes from the same session, plus a live show from the Bluebird in 1981, were compiled and reissued on a 2002 CD titled The Gulcher Recordings: 1980-1981.
[ Residents ]
[ Contortions ]
[ Pylon ]