Sweet release

The Urinals can’t hold it in any longer
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  October 8, 2008

081010_urinals_main2
TAKING THE PISS: Originating as a “parody of punk” in the ’70s, the Urinals’ choplessness turned into their biggest asset.

I don’t want to waste your time waxing philosophical about the problematic logic behind qualifying music “good” or “bad,” much less pontificating on whether “sophisticated punk” is an oxymoron. That said: I prefer the Urinals’ late-’70s/early-’80s UCLA phase to their mid-’00s, post-reformation, oodles-more-sophisticated What Is Real and What Is Not era. So do I write that they were better before they knew how to play their instruments well? Only if I want to look like a jackass.

“What I like about punk now is, it’s turning away from the very strict formula it’s been adhering to for the last 15 years,” says Urinals enduring bassist and singer John Talley-Jones, communicating from Pasadena. “For a while, punk rock was strictly defined as very aggressive, sort of melodic, maybe a little surfy, and very fast. There were expectations about it that people were adhering to. Now, people are going back to an earlier model of what punk is, which is a lot more open-ended. It’s rife with potential.”

He’s referring to faces around the proverbial campfire of LA’s alt-punk hub, the Smell, mentioning in particular No Age. Despite the generation gap, the Urinals are also a periodic presence on the Smell’s stage, and not solely because of their elder-statesmen cred. Like LA’s new batch, the Urinals have always defied punk dogma, ’cause punk with rules is the real oxymoron. Well, fuck yeah!

The Urinals, who are in the class of post-punk precursors with Wire, Mission of Burma, and the Minutemen, originated as a “parody of punk” in 1978, playing their first set at a UCLA cafeteria. Their technical ineptitude limited them to minimalistic, vigorous numbers like “Ack, Ack, Ack, Ack” and “I’m White and Middle Class.” Those songs are awesome, however, so the band’s choplessness turned into a major asset.

The Urinals did ascend the punk totem pole, eventually landing on bills with the Go-Go’s, the Last, and Black Flag. To distance themselves from the chest-beating meathead form of early-’80s hardcore, they changed their name to 100 Flowers. In 1983, citing creative differences, the band members parted company. Years went by and people developed an interest in (or a longing for) the punk of yore. In 1996, the Urinals were invited to re-form for a friend’s CD release. The results — experienced musicians playing songs written by novice versions of themselves — were damn intriguing.

“We didn’t want to start immediately from the point we had ended up at [in the ’80s],” says Talley-Jones. “Instead, we decided to start at the earliest, most primitive material and go from that perspective. The ultimate idea was to start all over again and continue on into the future — which is pretty much what has happened.”

More intriguing still: the Urinals performing “I’m a Bug” in Mandarin, a treat feasted upon by attendees at 2005’s inaugural International Pop Festival in Beijing. “We were essentially playing for an audience that was only peripherally aware of what rock music is. A lot of people there did not necessarily get exposed to the kind of popular culture that we take for granted. One of the sets we did was typically brisk, 20 songs in under an hour, and we were told later by one of the festival coordinators that the audience had no idea what we had just done. One really long song? 20 short songs? They didn’t understand the context, but we went over pretty well.”

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Music, Pop and Rock Music,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY BARRY THOMPSON
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   HOW TO DESTROY ANGELS | WELCOME OBLIVION  |  March 13, 2013
    Whereas the monsters and ghosts of NIN songs can scream in your face and rip you to bits with their fangs, Welcome Oblivion tracks like techno-folk haunter "Ice Age" and the doom-pop jaunt "How Long?" make uncredited cameo appearances in your nightmares until you go insane and eat your own hands.
  •   JOHNNY MARR | THE MESSENGER  |  February 25, 2013
    Going solo is rarely a good decision. For every exception to the rule of who flourishes after unburdening themselves of the half-talents that have been holding them back — Justin Timberlake, for one — there are dozens of embarrassing Dee Dee Ramone rap albums that exist because Joey and Johnny Ramone weren't around to kibosh a terrible idea.
  •   WHAT'S F'N NEXT? BUKE AND GASE  |  January 29, 2013
    Almost every person I've told about Buke and Gase assumes that they'll hate this band, which isn't their fault.
  •   BLEEDING RAINBOW | YEAH RIGHT  |  January 23, 2013
    The only defect of the sort-of-but-not-really debut from Bleeding Rainbow (no longer called Reading Rainbow, possibly due to litigious ire festering under LeVar Burton's genial television persona) is that the Philly foursome merely hop off the launching point forged by Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and a handful of others from the oft-exalted grunge era.
  •   10 THINGS I WISH I KNEW BEFORE I STARTED PLAYING IN BANDS IN BOSTON  |  January 25, 2013
    We hear you just moved to "the Bean", and you're thinking about starting a real life rock-'n-roll band! Here's a bunch of bullshit you should know about.

 See all articles by: BARRY THOMPSON