In 1968 Jac Holzman and his team at Elektra Records traveled to Detroit to do something no one had done before. They were going to release a band’s debut recording as a live record. Elektra had tried in vain to release the MC5, but the recording engineers and band couldn’t duplicate the frenzied energy of their stage show inside the studio. Some things just have to be seen to be believed. The record label set up camp inside Detroit’s Grande Ballroom on Devil’s Night, October 30 and 31, and the band nearly burned the place to the ground. The MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” was released in 1969 and may have been the first punk record of all time. Its nervous, ecstatic energy explodes off the turntable and pinballs off the walls.
It was that record I immediately recalled upon seeing San Diego’s Schizophonics on Record Store Day outside Vinyl Junkies in South Park. Specifically, I recalled these lyrics from “Kick Out the Jams:”
Yes I’m starting to sweat
You know my shirt’s all wet
What a feeling
In the sound that abounds
And resounds and rebounds off the ceiling
The band was certainly soaked with sweat, but I was referring to me. You ever sweat just watching a band? Outside? On a 62 degree day? I did. Pat (guitar/vocals) and Lety (drums) Beers were fuel-injected and all spitfire from the starting line.
Their debut EP, ‘Ooga Booga’ is some kind of breakneck amalgam of protopunk, soul revival, and lightning storm. The five songs contained aren’t simply punk drum bashing and three rough chords. There’s a definitive groove to their sound. One wouldn’t say the Schizophonics swing, that wouldn’t be accurate, but there IS a groove there, in and around furious guitar solos and Lety’s raucous machine she calls a drum kit. This is music built from the ground up to propel the body forward in a sort of portable perpetual motion machine. Just add electricity.
‘Electric,’ the EP’s second song, bounces as much as it storms, with a meaty hook and a rubber ball low end. Pat howls but he’s not prepossessed by all-governing self-awareness. This is not manufactured or carefully manicured. One doesn’t end up face and chest down, inverted, legs bent over, guitar still wailing, in a driveway at 2:30 in the afternoon if you’re overly cautious and worried about your sculpted coif. Lety provides the drive shaft and steering, down-shifting through the tumultuous turns created by Pat’s guitar and voice. She is where the rubber of the Schizophonics meets the road as she translates mania and fury into rocketing horsepower.
Tiny pieces of Talking Heads-esque nervous apprehension punctuate the lyrics of ‘Rat Trap’ as Pat riffs all over the track. At its best, rock doesn’t simply recount the dregs of our numbered days but provides an escape map and liberation itself. The Schizophonics want nothing to do with the nonsense of the ordinary – their lyrics tell us that – but the music itself is a wrecking ball for the cells we sometimes build for ourselves. The song itself is filled with short, concussive blasts designed to help you, us, and them escape.
In unsettling political times, music and comedy are often the greatest weapons against fear and anxiety. We see this often throughout 20th and 21st Century history. Interesting politics makes for even more interesting tunes and jokes. ‘Two Thousand Seventeen’ is the Schizophonics’ most important and valuable weapon in their arsenal. It has middle ’60s pop sensibilities in that it downshifts slightly and the riffs are vibrant and catchy, albeit those same downshifts and riffs are turned up to cathartic volumes. This is medicine for the panicked soul and the outraged mind.
I bought this record. You should buy this record. You should buy two copies. Keep one. Give the other to a friend in need. We all need more friends like that.
-review by Jason Thompson for Boogie Magazine