401 SW Harrison
The neo no wave that's been splashing on hipster shores has already provided enough fruitless fodder to fill 15 landfills. Most of the new new wavers use scoring an analog synth at the thrift as reason to costume party like it's 1981. One must invigorate, not just reanimate, old genres. And finally one group is, or rather has been doing just that for a while.
The Piranhas formed in Detroit back in 1997, well before the current rupture of all these Raptures. Their 1998 debut was a master blast of noise punk, stumbled upon via drunken dissatisfaction with the then-bloomed Detroit garage scene. As guitarist Nai Sammon tells it, "When the band started, most bands around here were real straight-up r 'n' r--Bantam Rooster, the Go, the White Stripes. We were all friends, but we knew we weren't going to get signed because we just didn't have any pop in us at all. I'm not saying we're super innovative. But now it's like every band is kinda artsy."
But back to the mid-'90s, when Sammon was a troubled teen in Detroit puking and palling around with future members of similar sickos the Clone Defects. Because in Detroit--what with the social saturation of good old soul, every monkey's uncle spouting Stooges stories, and the pissing away of the Industrial era--the dumb drunks didn't "graduate" to Warped Tour slots, they either went back to the factory from whence they came, or they got all arty to divorce themselves from the shit. "Even in the '90s Detroit punk scene," says Sammon, "there were still a lot of mohawks and skinheads, and just wastes who'll be there forever. Real 'beat the fuck out of you' kind of guys. Barely any girls, of course. Fuck that."
Not to say that the Piranhas aren't punks. Their debut came off as some soaked sugar cube-ist take on the lo-fi Killed by Death-style punk that was losing steam at the time. And then, as now, their live show was focused on the "damaged" half of the "art-damaged" tag. Most infamous is the time singer Jamie Easter pinned a dead rat onto his pants and proceeded to splatter it as the show went on, offending a number of audience members. Sammon remembers, "I mean, here's a bunch of guys in leather shoes mad that we killed a rat. But that's pretty much where the reputation started."
As that scene got middlebrow, those kind of psycho shenanigans got the Piranhas increasingly banned from local clubs, although Sammon explains, "It's never as bad as the rep. I remember baiting the singer from the Candy Snatchers to eat a light bulb at a show a few years ago. Now I feel kind of bad about that. It's like you expect to see that stuff. We played a show a year and a half ago in New York, and this guy in the crowd went apeshit, smashing [a bottle] right onto bassist Bryan's head. Blood everywhere. So if people hear about that, and it's not happening, they're gonna make it happen."
The Piranhas' second record, Erotic Grit Movies (In the Red), further dispensed with structure, laying on the cheap keyboards real thick, and digging deeper into rust-belt roots like Pere Ubu. And Easter's dragged-by-the-nose-hairs yowl continued to devolve into plasma-curdling variations on "bluarrraggurrla!" With their latest, Piscis Clangor (In the Red), Sammon claims they've gone across the prog pond to Euro '70s influences like Magma. "I don't even know how to describe it. It's a bit more scattered, cut up. I don't wanna sound snooty, but there's some free jazz elements in there."
Rest assured you won't mistakenly slip this into an Albert Ayler jewel case, nor is it your daddy's fat Can. Piscis Clangor remains ground down in the bone-crunching gears of industry. While producer Warren LaFever has reined in the total noise fuck, the record never gets too spacy. It's a mess of episodic frightmares where songs stop out of nowhere--and might start up again in the next song--but nothing goes much past three minutes. The Piranhas hold a pissy grip on all those prog terms getting thrown around in tastemaker mags. But still the band is bound to find itself barred from the playgrounds of the rock elite. "We went back to play NYC a couple of months ago," says Sammon, "and now there's a bunch of guys in turtlenecks just standing around. It was really fucking lame."