The gang's all here

Chain and the Gang and the Hive Dwellers do it all again
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  April 15, 2009

090417_chain_main
SEE CHANGE: If one can see fashion as an expression of control, it’s possible to see much of Svenonius’s music over the years as concerned with fashion.

It's coming up on 20 years since Calvin Johnson — who even in 1989 had been running K Records for an estimable seven years — met Ian Svenonius. It was at a Hazmat show in DC, and Svenonius was fronting his Nation of Ulysses. Johnson was blown away. He recalls it as a jarring hybrid of hardcore and noise (a real oddity in those days), melody and chaos — they even had a trumpet. Most poignantly to Johnson, though, the Nation offered "a moment to say goodbye to the '80s."

"But it wasn't even the music, at first," he tells me from K headquarters in Olympia, Washington. "They just had a sense of style. No bands had a sense of style at the time — not good, not bad, not anything. Everyone was in cut-off shorts and baggy T-shirts, having long hair and ugly clothes. It was just, like, gimme a break. With Nation of Ulysses, they had an æsthetic, but they also had a perspective. It was like, how can you not look?"

Uh-oh: style-over-substance story alert! No, no, settle down, imaginary cynical reader. Thing is, if we're talking about Svenonius, Nation of Ulysses, or his bands since then (Cupid Car Club, the Make-Up, Weird War — and now, Chain and the Gang), or his collection of "factional" essays The Psychic Soviet (bound like one of those little pocket books of Mao quotations, only in pinkish purple instead of reminder red), or his longwinded on-line talk show Soft Focus, or the pages and pages of typewritten manifestos that have accompanied disc after disc of his subculturally polyglot music — that is, if we're talking about the same Ian, style is substance.

Or maybe that should read, "substance is style." If one can see fashion, at its simplest level, as an expression of control, it's possible to see much of Svenonius's musical doings over the years as concerned with fashion. It's just that it sounds kind of cheap put that way.

Jump back a bit: after that show, Johnson teamed K Records with DC mainstay Dischord for a split release of a Nation of Ulysses seven-inch. In the liner notes (where Svenonius refers to him as "Calvin Young Sound for Now People K Johnson" in the thank yous), mission #2 on the "Syllabus Ulysses" section of the band's Statement of Intent (right between "vanquishing nostalgics" who have "etched 'retro' indelibly into our collective gravestone" and "violent destruction of the new urban bourgeoisie") is simply: "To dress well, as clothing and fashion are the only things which we, the kids, being utterly disenfranchised, have any control over."

This drive for control has fueled most Svenonius's work. Nation of Ulysses kept their "secret" plans to destroy America thinly cloaked in acronym (observe: "N.O.U.S.P.T.D.A."). The Cupid Car Club's only existing seven-inch promoted a different sort of control by offering step-by-step suicide instructions on the sleeve. The Make-Up used their "gospel yeh-yeh" sounds to inspire slackened hipsters to control their spiritual destinies. (Weird War, on the other hand, seemed more about controlled substances.) And Svenonius's newest band, Chain and the Gang, seem all about . . . well, handing that control over. Witness their newest disc, Down with Liberty . . . Up with Chains, just released by Johnson on K.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Review: Mike's, Searching Trader's shelves, Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi | Tara Jane O'Neil and Nikaido Kazumi, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Will Oldham, Royal Trux, Olympia Washington,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY MICHAEL BRODEUR
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   FOLK ACT  |  June 26, 2010
    Vikesh Kapoor
  •   BOSTON PRIDE WEEK: OFF THE MAP  |  June 07, 2010
    We may seem a little cranky, but us local gayfolk just love a parade, and we’re actually heartened by this annual influx of brothers and sisters from every state of New England and every letter of our ever-expanding acronym.  
  •   THE NEW GAY BARS  |  June 02, 2010
    If I may channel the late, great Estelle Getty for a moment: picture it, Provincetown, 2009, a dashing young man with no discernible tan and an iffy T-Mobile signal languishes bored upon the sprawling patio of the Boatslip Resort.
  •   ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI | BEFORE TODAY  |  June 01, 2010
    If the gradual polishing of Ariel Pink’s sound — and it’s not all that much more polished — puts his loyalists at odds with his albums, I count that as good news.
  •   MORE THAN HUMAN  |  May 26, 2010
    It’s hard to talk about Janelle Monáe when your jaw’s fallen off.

 See all articles by: MICHAEL BRODEUR