I was suddenly reminded last night that it’s nearly Halloween (Forgive me, September was rough). Hopefully I can do some serious posting this month, because this is the time when we collectively choose to focus on the weirdness lurking just beyond the veil of humdrum existence. For a start, I’d like to share a bit of genius I’ve only discovered in the last six months or so. This is Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and they might be the scariest metal band around.
Hit play on the following, and read on, to be convinced.
Uncle Acid would be called a hard rock band if this were 1975, but nowadays they fit most comfortably with doom or stoner bands like Sleep, Electric Wizard (they’re on the same label), or Windhand. They may share the most DNA with Kadaver, another group that’s explicitly trying to recreate the sound of ’70s arena rock down to the finest details.
But there’s a huge difference between Uncle Acid and the many, many stoner/doom bands I love. Superficially, despite their intentionally amateurish visual vibe, they’re immensely hooky and melodic. “I’ll Cut You Down” could be rearranged into a Carlie Rae Jepsen-style pop gem (and please, please, somebody do that).
But the real distinction is that while artists like Sunn O)))) or Baroness are bands who try to evoke dark feelings, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats are basically LARPing as serial killers who happen to have joined a band.
One of the (very few) great cultural institutions we have here in the Tampa Bay area is the Replay Amusement Museum, a collection of vintage pinball and arcade machines in Tarpon Springs. Pinball is an incredibly fun, invigorating, challenging thing, and a pretty great mental exercise – imagine, there was a time when hitting a ball against spring-loaded bumpers could be an interactive metaphor for everything from piloting a spaceship to rafting a river to exploring a haunted house.
The tables are also often stunning capsules of the creative and cultural environment of their time. They’re collections of art, sound, and language, in their way not unlike a film. There are lots of tables that are weird in various ways, but one of the weirdest has to be the 1981 table Centaur, which has a direct line to the bizarre science fiction and horror that dominated the 1970s and 1980s – and, more generally, to the grim undertones of that era.
The “story” of the Centaur table – and yes, pinball tables tell stories, sometimes elaborate ones – has the player facing off against a strange creature that’s, apparently, half orc and half motorcycle. The illustrations on the backboard and play surface are all black and white, and the costuming of the characters seems inspired by a mix of Conan/Frank Frazetta and The Road Warrior (which came out the same year, but I’m not sure whether the table came after). The artist, Paul Faris, was then just at the start of an illustrious but undersung career in video game art, which included work on Double Dragon.
The table is lit by almost entirely red bumpers and lights, giving the whole thing a powerful heavy metal vibe.
But what really makes this a pinball game worthy of treatment in a blog dedicated to weird culture is the game’s intimidating, bleak audio. The narration comes from a robotic, granulated voice drenched in reverb (provided by a dedicated sound chip – this was 1981, when this stuff took real work). And the music today sounds like abstract noise, looping and grimy and guttural. On the table at Replay, at least, the bass was so powerful I could feel it through my hands as they rested on the cabinet.
“It’s bleeding on the inside, and on the outside. It definitely might be broken. But it’s all good, man.”
The bearded redhead had a paper towel shoved up one nostril, and a raw, red wetness across the opposite side of his schnoz. But he was cheerful, almost giddy, giving the lead singer of Bloodwave a good slap on the shoulder.
The singer laughed nervously. He was very, very drunk, shirtless and sweaty. He’d done the maybe-nose-breaking halfway through his band’s miserably sloppy second-slot opening set for Merchandise’s hometown tour kickoff show. He’d also thrown a friend of mine halfway across the room into a bar table, spent a good chunk of the set swinging his mic stand recklessly around the room at eye/concussion level, and continuously hurled epithets at the audience.
Which is one way to make your set entertaining when you’re a singer who can’t sing, fronting a band that can’t play.
This blog will encompass all of my writing, including the academic. My latest major social science publication was this past August, in the journal Communication, Culture, and Critique. It’s quite apropos to this blog, since it was a by-product of my larger book project on the most underground and weird of Japanese hip hop.
This work was the product of some really fun detective work, and owes a lot to my friend the activist and music journalist Futatsugi Shin. In the course of writing it, I was threatened by one of Japan’s biggest rappers, and exposed a serious shortcoming, maybe even an outright fraud, in the currently defining work on Japanese hip hop.
Not too surprisingly, noone noticed.
The Sakura of Madness: Japan’s Nationalist Hip Hop and the Parallax of Globalized Identity Politics