w/Brendan Benson and the Well Fed Boys, the Lawnmowers
Thurs Nov 7, I-Spy, $8.
Odd, really. Now that everyone has caught up with the likes of Ian Svenonius, he seems to have been pushed aside. The scene of quite good bands all trying to look street smart on the catwalk pales into insignificance compared to the fierce moves the likes of Svenonius has executed in his career.
Ian's got roots. Svenonius put together Nation of Ulysses (rock 'n' roll as a guerilla unit with sharp suits and sharper neosurrealist politics... oh, go and ask the International Noise Conspiracy) and the Make- Up--a fantastic outfit dealing fractured gospel yeah-yeah-yeah action.
You may have missed 'em, but both bands' influence hangs very, very heavy on the current music scene... mmmm we're about sharp suits, sharp shtick, and hyper garage grooves? Svenonius was there with the Nation of Ulysses back in the early '90s; he made the moves, talked the talk, and watched his whole situation get ripped off by a new generation of bands.
Svenonius has been there and done it. The Make-Up were making some great records and talking a great battle until they seemed to fizzle out--just when they were breaking through! Whatever happened with the Make-Up, Ian?
"We stopped playing about a year ago. The Make-Up's form of presentation was getting redundant because it was getting copied too much. It needed changing or stopping, so we stopped! Guitar player James [Canty] is now in the Pharmacists.... Everyone is working on different projects now; bass player Michelle [Mae] worked with me on the Weird War record with Neil Hagerty from Royal Trux, and now she's joined me in the Scene Creamers."
Ahhhh, the Scene Creamers. The Scene Creamers are Svenonius and Mae with two new kids--guitarist Alex Minoff (from Golden) and drummer Blake Brunner. They sound a bit like the Make-Up--you know, all bass-driven, funky, energetic rock 'n' roll--but this time they lean further toward the classic Rolling Stones brash '60s pop, with more psychedelic guitar and a few less babys. (Their debut CD comes out in January on Drag City.) Svenonius still has all his great stage chops and fantastic social consciousness; the Scene Creamers definitely pick up where the Make-Up left off, and are capable of putting sex, politics, and rock 'n' roll back on the agenda.
Meanwhile, Svenonius sits on the edge of the garage-band hype. He demands far more from his music. It's the general vibe of the nu scene that grates on Svenonius, a man who grew up in the white-hot political-punk-rock zone of Washington, D.C. With a vibe fired by the rhetoric of the likes of Ian MacKaye's Minor Threat and Fugazi and Guy Picciotto's emo-pioneering mid-'80s outfit Rites of Spring, the D.C. scene burned with frenetic idealism and a belief in the possibilities of punk rock--not the tawdry fashion-rag version of rock 'n' roll that is currently being touted.
"It's a really fucking stupid scene. Really anti-intellectual--the triumph of the dumb," he says. "A celebration of that Legs McNeil book [Please Kill Me], which proposes that punk rock was an extension of Aerosmith and that disco was syphilis. They make out that punk rock was about taking drugs and catching VD, and that politics was bogus marketing. The thesis of that book is, overwhelmingly, 'Let's be sleazy! Let's have music with no content, no reason,' and that is what is being used as a template for now. Underground music in America had a pretense of a meaning of being on a mission, and all that's been lost--the whole scene has had its balls chopped off."
And it's not just rock 'n' roll that's keeping Svenonius agitated. "The Bush regime has discredited the idea of dissension in the States. Everyone seems to be afraid not to toe the line... the military are subsidizing Hollywood films, giving them military hardware for free to make their films if they get to tinker with the script. The '60s anti-war movement are now cast as fuddy-duddies."
Ian Svenonius is still a true believer, and no matter how much he may try to dissociate himself from the current version of the now, his misinterpreted influence on it places him in a good position to still twist something out of what's going on. And he's far more upbeat, optimistic, and fired up than this interview makes him sound. Still an inspirational figure, Svenonius is demanding more of the rock 'n' roll war.
And if there was ever someone prepared to fight this weird war, it's him.