Savoy Sound Wave Goodbye

Savoy Sound Wave Goodbye(Go! Records) 1981. Anyone who has read Simon Reynolds book Rip It Up and Start Again knows that it is at once a very informative and enjoyable read and at the same time a real pisser. It’s a geographic problem, really. Simon is from the UK. I shouldn’t blame him that Scritti Politti is more important to him than Pink Section or the Inflatable Boy Clams. At the same time, no book has ever cried out for a sequel more than Rip It Up and Start Again and it probably shouldn’t be written by Simon, who is a bit of an Anglophile. The sequel should focus on the US post-punk scene which, as befitting a country the size of the US, was far more sprawling and less unified than the UK scene. As was so often the case with the US, the bands here did what they wanted because the idea that there was any commercial potential to what they were doing went down in flames pretty early on. In the UK, there was always the possibility of commercial success and some groups that made unique and challenging post-punk music in the UK, like Scritti Politti and New Order, went on to cash in a bit on all of their hard work. Over here, and especially in my neck of the woods, Journey was doing the cashing in.

X wrote a song about this particular conundrum within the US underground music scene entitled The Unheard Music and yes, it could oftentimes be a frustrating feeling to be a part of something that was so real and immediate and yet at the same time so completely ignored by the culture you lived in. It made you feel like an alien. Out of step, with the world….as someone once said.

But there was strength in being off the radar as well. Because in the US, bands weren’t all competing at being on Top of the Pops, there was a lot more crazy experimentation. It is almost impossible to conceive of this in today’s sometimes-oppressive, media heavy environment but there is freedom in being able to go about your business unnoticed. Things were happening in the moment and they could differ from town to town. There was an informal network of information that moved a lot slower than kilobytes but was still faster than society at large. And luckily there were labels and zines capturing these moments for posterity.

Case in point, the small label Go! Records which only released four or five albums in its obscure lifetime, one of which was the seminal, and I mean SEMINAL Rat Music for Rat People. Besides contributing this proto-hardcore classic onto the underground music scene, Go! focused primarily on a couple of Moev releases and this compilation which documents the last days of the Savoy music venue in San Francisco, where the Go! record label was located.

Others have written about this before including me, but was there a better post-punk experimental scene in America than San Francisco, 1977 – 1982? A simple look at some of the bands operating during this period is staggering. Let’s list a few; Tuxedomoon, Chrome, Residents, Pink Section, The Units, The Sleepers, Toiling Midgets, Novak, IXNA, BOB, Voice Farm, Factrix, Flipper, Z’ev, Bay of Pigs, Minimal Man, Romeo Void, The Mutants, Ultrasheen, Psyclones, Inflatable Boy Clams, Pre-Fix…the list goes on and on.

Savoy Sound Wave Goodbye captures a good portion of what made San Francisco so goddam amazing back then, pretty well. It’s a live album, but the recordings are all excellent. Besides possibly The Mutants track, it is not “punk rock”” by any extension of the word. There are some forays into reggae and a few pure noise experiments but the core of the album remains a set of songs by bands that were occupying a space we can only define as “undefinable”.

It all starts off with Tuxedomoon, who were at this very moment going through their most artistically rewarding and challenging period. At least to me. The track Jinx in fact, is on their seminal 1981 LP Desire and it is impressive to hear how well they pull off the dense orchestration of the song in a live setting. The next band is called Cipher and they do a great industrial mambo entitled Cymetic Mambo. I know nothing about this band other than they released an obscure EP in 1981 that I would LOVE to hear. Anyone have a copy?

After Cipher, the album reaches its high-point, nay its “zenith”, with The Sleepers. Those who know me know that I rank The Sleepers among the greatest American post-punk bands ever. Their first EP is a drug addled, Sci-Fi meets the Stooges masterpiece. They became much more experimental over time, employing poly-rhythms and David Gilmour-style digital delay. Later recordings are often somewhat sterile but this live rendition of their 1980 single Zenith/Theory adds some bite to the mix and really reveals what a powerful band the Sleepers were live in their prime.

The B-Side of the record never fully lives up to the heights (depths?) of the Sleepers. That’s not to say it isn’t excellent though. It begins with a few meandering forays into reggae before Ultrasheen moves us back into more experimental soundscapes. I know very little about Ultrasheen beyond what I read in Hardcore California many moons ago, but I have always been intrigued by this band. Anyone have additional information? Charles McMahon follows with some synth noise before Snakefinger delivers one of my favourite songs by him, the sinister Culprit/Victim, which was originally recorded on 1979′s classic Chewing Hides The Sound LP. The Mutants then follow with an upbeat punk rock number that re-energizes the set before closing out with some more synth noise by Eazy Teeth, a side project for Tito Larriva, who released a ridiculously cool 45 in 1980 entitled Car Noise with a cover by Don Van Vleit.

Although the album is excellent all the way through, there is a certain melancholic edge to it as well. The Savoy club was closing down and these bands were recorded to commemorate it. One can’t help when listening to this LP, feeling as though the twilight was setting in for the San Francisco post-punk scene in general at the time of this recording. Many of the bands on this LP would break up and Tuxedomoon left the USA, never to return shortly after this LP. Bands like Romeo Void, Chris Isaak and Translator started playing around town at this time and pushed new wave music in more commercial directions. The hardcore scene in San Francisco, which would eventually become one of the best in the country, was just starting to coalesce around bands like The Dead Kennedys, Code of Honor and Flipper. The original outpouring of creativity that comprised the San Francisco post-punk scene was starting to disappear and that gives this album an additional emotional resonance.

Plus, the music is fucking cool.

This entry was posted in Art-Punk, California, New Wave, post-punk, san francisco. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Savoy Sound Wave Goodbye

  1. 20th century boy says:

    Agree that the Sleepers is the high point of this record. The best thing that they recorded after their punk phase.

    I used to have the Cipher EP. Cymetic Mambo was included, but the whole thing sounded pretty lame (and I liked their track here). Ultrasheen as well put out a 7″ that was mediocre.

  2. Michael says:

    All true, but imagine how passed over you’d feel if you were active in Germany’s or Australia’s vital post punk scenes…both of which get pretty much ignored in the book. At least he hits the US high points. There could have been a San Francisco chapter, but what about Sydney, Berlin, Tokyo, even Paris? It’s not meant to present everything (the online discographical musings get closer to that), rather to present a way of understanding how 70s art music mutated into 80s pop. We music geeks get all happy when increasingly obscure bands (preferably our personal faves) get a mention, but you don’t need to name each star to teach astronomy, right?

    Obscurity (the unheard music) and post punk (as presented in Rip it Up) are not one and the same. Quite a lot of post punk was heard by tons of people and influenced tons, too.

  3. Joe says:

    Michael — I dont think I equate “obscurity” with “post-punk”. If I did then anything in the history of the world that was obscure would be “post-punk” and that would be incredibly stupid, wouldn’t it? My point was that post-punk was in general a relatively obscure movement with regards to popular culture and this was more true in the United States than in England. I’m sure you can give me examples to prove me wrong but those examples would be exceptions, not the rule.

    1979: http://www.rhapsody.com/playlistcentral/playlistdetail?playlistId=ply.12236952
    1981: http://www.rhapsody.com/playlistcentral/playlistdetail?playlistId=ply.12240059

    You say, “Quite a lot of post punk was heard by tons of people” but I disagree.

    I never touched the question of “influence” and would agree that punk/post-punk has become very influential.

    With regards to the inclusion of other countries, I thought about that when I was writing this and yes, I would love to see chapters, books, etc on Australia, Germany, Japan, France, and I would add Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, and Yugoslavia to the mix as well. The main reason I didn’t go down that avenue was because it would have been a distraction from my main point, which was that San Francisco had an amazing post-punk scene that was the epicenter of post-punk in the USA and was barely mentioned in the most definitive history of post-punk written to date. Adding a rundown of countless other bands from countless other countries out of fear that if I do not I would seem America-centric seemed like a silly thing for me to do since this site has been featuring obscure bands from around the world for years now and is clearly NOT America-centric.

    I also go to great lengths to point out that I like Rip it Up and Start Again. Its a really good book. I even go on to say that the author shouldn’t be blamed for his UK focus because that is where he is from.

    Finally, the idea that I am upset that Simon Reynolds didn’t feature my favorite obscure music bands because I am some kind of music geek is trite and predictable. He didn’t feature entire facets of the movement based largely on Geography. In a book that bills itself as “the first book-length exploration of the wildly adventurous and strange music created in the years after punk” (from the jacket) is it wrong for me to think that Scritti Politti got a little too much ink and Chrome didn’t get enough? If I started pointing out obscure bands from the UK that Simon overlooked that would be a whole other story. But that wasn’t my point at all. I was pointing out that there was very little focus on what I consider, the most vibrant US post-punk scene. As I pointed out above, the fact that the bands were more obscure was because they were in America…and some of them (The Residents, Romeo Void) weren’t even that obscure. To make it out like I am mentioning how great the entire SF post-punk scene was in order to out music-geek Simon Reynolds is kind of insulting to the SF post-punk scene isn’t it?

    And no, you do not need to name each star to teach Astronomy. But if I enrolled in what was billed as the definitive Astronomy course and almost the entire semester was spent covering just our solar system, I might start questioning just how definitive the class actually was. Maybe there should be a second class as well covering some other equally important things.

  4. dale says:

    2 years ago i was in a band with a girl who’s step-mom was Judy from pink section…we were called Zomo.ive been reading this blog for a while now and i just wanted to type this check out whats left on the my space but either way i typed it Ha

  5. MRow says:

    I don’t suspect I’ll read the Simon Reynolds book in question BUT I agree, 100% with you Joe: SF had it in spades at the turn of the decade (70s-80s). I love that trippy Cipher cut, the Mutants cut is perhaps less effective than there earlier recordings but still cooler than most else around then, and Ricky and The Sleepers? Well they’re reserved a toilet stall in heaven, forever more. Ever heard that Black Humor “Love God, Love One Another” LP from SF, ca. ’82? Sheer brilliance, IMO.

  6. Michael says:

    The point isn’t that SF didn’t have it in spades (it did), but that none of Reynolds’s arguments would have been much advanced with an SF chapter. Had he time, and the publisher money, another chapter would have been better devoted to Germany, or maybe Australia, right? Maybe in the second printing….

    The book is not meant to be a post punk encyclopedia. There’s a zillion things missing were that the case…things maybe even more important than the San Francisco scene. The book tries to create a narrative that shows how the art music of the 70s could, when infused with the energy of punk, mutate into the pop music of the early 80s. Adding scene reports would flesh out, but not substantively change, that argument.

    you’re certainly right that Simon’s naturally UK-centric. I’ve always taken offense at his knee-jerk equating of US hardcore with 4th gen UK punk, which seems pretty under-informed. Maybe Slapshot and Sham 69 have some similar tendencies, but the UK doesn’t really have any equivalents to the best 1981 US hardcore. Musically or socially.

  7. Joe says:

    Michael – I agree man. The book does a very good job of mapping out how the UK music scene got from First Edition by PIL to Kings of the Wild Frontier by Adam and the Ants. Its excellently written as well. I guess I just balk at its marketing itself as a book about “post-punk” without any qualifiers. If it were marketed as a book on how post-punk noise became 80′s pop in the UK, I would have bought it anyway and would not have been remotely disappointed. By marketed, I mean the dust jacket by the way. I picked it up at the store purely on that alone.

    I also agree that Simon’s view of US Hardcore is completely ill-informed.

  8. Joe says:

    Mrowster – I NEED to hear this Black Humor LP!!!

  9. 3x12ax7 says:

    Your best post ever!

    Thanks

  10. 3x12ax7 says:

    Also, I will assume you failed to Mention the Black Atheletes because you probably never heard of them. That’s OK, no one else has heard of them either. But I was ther – I saw (and heard them ) Late ’81/early ’82 and was astonished.

    Then they disapeard into the post punk dust bin of history.

    Them and the Sluglords…but that’s a story for another time I guess.

  11. Chris Oliver says:

    “The sequel should focus on the US post-punk scene which as befitting a country the size of the US, was far more sprawling and less unified than the UK scene.” And it should be written by Joe Stumble!

  12. Andrew Weiss says:

    I second Chris’s proposal.

    Besides giving short shrift to what was happening in the States, Reynolds did a horribly incomplete job of covering the UK postpunk scene. I know I’m biased, but the Au Pairs deserved more than a passing mention while Scritti Politti’s choice of breakfast for the years 1978-1985 was outlined in detail.

    Then again, I kind of like the fact that so much of the American scene was hidden from public view. It makes discovering these little niches and their musical artifacts that much more fascinating and surprising.

  13. Joe says:

    Chris / Andrew — This site probably has a year at best left in it and I have been trying to take the best parts of it and put it into some sort of book for the past six months or so. What with working an actual full time job, maintaining this blog AND writing a book, its a lot of time in front of a computer and is definitely HARD WORK.

    With a subject like US Post-Punk and the research involved, I dont think I could do it as a “side project” and since no publisher is throwing money at me to write a book, it ends up being one of those “would be nice” scenarios. It would be nice though, and I really appreciate the encouragement.

    With regards to Simon Reynolds book, according to Michael above, The Au Pairs wouldn’t deserve as much mention as Scritti Politi in “rip it up” because the central tenant of the book is how post punk became 80s pop and in that light, Scritti Politti were a lot more involved in “selling out/cashing in” than The Au Pairs.

    I guess my point is that the central tenant of the book is flawed. At least in the sense that it is marketed as a book ABOUT post-punk. It leaves out information on dozens of crucial post-punk acts and over-inflates the importance of unimportant acts in order to be true to a central tenant that is tangential to the music itself.

    Like I said, if it had been marketed as a book about how post punk became pop, I would have read it and thought it was flawed but good. Even marketed that way, I do remember him dismissing DEVO as a novelty act while (again) hyping Scritti Politti’s sell out as some sort of noble, yet flawed, quest…

  14. ken helwig says:

    Nice post! The Savoy Trivoli was a great North Beach haunt in SF. It actually had The Ramones on their first trip to San Francisco. Something about all of those bands in the late 1970′s that will never be achieved again. The scene was diverse, different, challenging and fun. Add that with on of the greatest hardcore scenes with the greatest club Mabuhay and a little later the On Broadway which was upstairs from The Mab and we had it made. Those were the days.
    By the way, your blog is great!!!!

  15. curious guy says:

    Joe,
    get the Black Humor LP on Mutant Sounds. Worth hearing. A commenter states that a reissue is in the works as well:
    http://mutant-sounds.blogspot.com/2009/06/black-humor-love-god-love-one-another.html

  16. Erich says:

    Joe, what a great post man, and I totally agree with you. I liked the book, but I thought about the same thing as you: It’s written from a very, very limited pint of view.

    Late as always yours E.

    PS: Your blog keeps getting better and better, if that’s still possible, and puts mine to bleeding shame. I may be drunk now but it’s the absolute truth.

  17. Joe says:

    Wow, thanks Erich! I don’t agree that mine puts yours to shame though. Just last week I was commenting about how awesome your site is based off of this below, which had me in stitches:

    http://www.goodbadmusic.com/2009/09/01/dear-promoters/

  18. simon reynolds says:

    the entire premise of your argument is wildly off base

    there IS a chapter in Rip It Up on the San Francisco, and it covers Tuxedomoon, Factrix, Chrome, the Residents, Flipper, Sleepers, the Subterranean label, etc

    but there’s always yer quibblers, yer “shoulda been a whole chapter on Toiling Midgets”, shoulda been…

    most of these other bands barely left a recorded trace of their existence!

    furthermore in the UK edition there is a chapter on Los Angeles focusing on SST and the more progressive elements in hardcore (the reasons why it never ended up in the US version of the book are complicated but suffice to say it was not my choice and was a dumb move)

    as it happens i was and am quite a big fan of (nonprogressive) hardcore but it’s a whole separate scene/sound from postpunk and quite amply covered by others

  19. Joe says:

    Simon — Many people who have read your book have had the same opinion. It’s easy to portray comments you don’t like as “quibblers who want a whole chapter on Toiling Midgets” but that is overly dismissive. Both you and Michael above used that argument.

    I think the problem here is that you feel my simply stating “it left me wanting more” means somehow that I did not like your book. It is a fact that your book is very UK-centric and the chapter on the entire San Francisco scene was made up of less content than the running Scritti Politti narrative. With that said, Michael’s point above that the goal of the book was to present the slow devolution of post-punk from 78 to the pop charts of 83 was indeed correct and I conceeded that you hit your goal. Simply stated, your book was an excellent read that covered it’s topic perfectly.

    Now with regards to the topic itself, there are a lot of different stories that could be told about Post-Punk and you picked one. The slow devolution of post-punk from 78 to the pop charts of 83 is a good story to tell. But its not an inclusive story. Michael was also right above when he stated that “the book was not meant to be a post-punk encyclopedia”, but because it is the solitary book out there on the subject (to my knowledge) it leaves a lot of readers wanting to read some of the other stories that haven’t been written.

    A story on the US post-punk scene would probably not focus on individual bands but instead individual cities (largely because so many bands as you put it “barely left a recorded trace of their existence”.) The narrative would be more dour because there is no commercial acceptance at the end of the journey for a band like Chrome or The Suburban Lawns but at the same time, creating art for art’s sake is a noble endeavor, no?

    As far as your writing on US Hardcore, I do not remember reading any. So I should have stated above…”if what you are saying is true, then I also agree that Simon’s view of US Hardcore is completely ill-informed.” I did read The Sex Revolts many years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Finally. the fact that Rip It Up causes this much spirited debate should be proof positive that your book is a success.

  20. Paul Kelly says:

    Finally got around to listening to these songs. Haven’t read the Reynolds book but while I was listening the following thought experiement came to me:

    Think of how much press and accolades the NYC No Wave scene got. All of the SF stuff is easily as good. What if you’d been able to transport all of them from one city to the other in 1978. Wouldn’t we be moaning about how overlooked DNA, James Black and Lydia Lunch were?

  21. Joe says:

    Yes we would…why?

  22. Tim says:

    Tuxedomoon should have been bigger than David Bowie – // there’s no justice in the world.

  23. Tim says:

    Tuxedomoon should have been bigger than David Bowie – // there’s no justice in the world. JINX – supreme track

  24. Texas Bell-End says:

    I haven’t commented since the Zeros post and I’m commenting on a 2 month old post, oh well. I completely agree that a book about the American Underground would have to be done regionally, especially when you consider that not just England but the entire U.K. fits into the United States about 38 times and makes it about the size of a state, a state the size of Michigan or Oregon. There have been plenty of books written solely about music from just Michigan. Needless, to say the only way to create a coherent narrative of American underground would have to be done regionally. Especially when you consider it is covering a “genre” that includes bands as different as Black Flag, The Meat Puppets, and the Sun City Girls. Messthetics is actually doing a pretty amazing job of archiving and documenting UK DIY, but there is absolutely nothing that even measures up on the American side. I would love to read your book Joe, too bad there is only and extensive blog with a few year backlog, damn.

  25. Texas Bell-End says:

    I really need to proof read my comments before I click “submit comment”. That is some sloppy grammar and syntax.

  26. Texas Bell-End says:

    Also, I got that Black Humor album a few months back, it is amazing. They are not lying about their name. Kill people at funerals.

  27. Chris Gill says:

    Hi,

    I was the drummer for Ultrasheen. What would you like to know? I can send you some tunes you might not have heard before, if you want. Look at the archives of punkglobe.com for an interview I did with Ginger Coyote in February, 2010. There is some Ultrasheen info there. Be in touch.

    Chris

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