I know of “no wave” music, though as far as I know I’d never really heard no wave before.
Then I dropped the needle on The Original Ultra Bide last night and thought to myself, “oh, so that’s no wave.”
Turns out I was kind of right, though no wave is kind of hard thing to pin down. Not hard to pin down like bigfoot or the tooth fairy. More like déjà vu or that weird anxiety you feel sometimes for no reason, the feeling that something just isn’t quite right, like the universe is out of balance. Is this “music”? It’s too bad to be music… but too intentional to be incompetence. It has a structure… it’s not just random. Maybe it is sometimes, but not when Ultra Bide does it. There’s a sort of song structure here. It’s the difference between the kind of weird that you see coming and you cross the street to move away from it versus the kind of weird that makes you cross the street to get closer and check it the hell out. It’s captivating in it’s non-standard quasi badness… and that level of captivating is hard to do on just a wax disc without the visual component.
Ultra Bide formed in Kyoto, Japan in 1978 and while The Original Ultra Bide was released in 1984, the material it contains dates from 1979 at the zenith, such as it was, of the no wave movement. You have to give vocalist/guitarist Hide some credit – Ultra Bide is considered one of the very first Japanese punk bands ever to play in their home country… and he went straight past punk to no wave at the ripe old age of 17. That is bold. At that point, you’re either a musical visionary or crazy, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
It’s hard to even think about describing Ultra Bide’s music, let alone doing it, at least not sober. Where do the songs start and end? Is this sort of a super early version of Butthole Surfers? I’m not even sure that’s fair to either band. The recording quality varies considerably, though only from average to not good. Basically it sounds like general song structures that could be played by people who don’t know how to play their instruments well. A little bit… but not well. The keyboard, when present, gives it a really surreal sound, and the vocals don’t even try to approach anything pleasant like singing or spoke-word. But it’s captivating. I can’t turn it off. I can’t not listen to it. Does that mean I have taste, that I’m pretentious, or that I am schizophrenic? I don’t know. And neither do I. It makes me think just a little of Psychic TV. Or a less musical version of The Vaselines.
It’s frantic, in a desperate way. It’s audio performance art. All of which, admittedly, does sound pretentious. But give it a chance.
OK. Serious. What the hell? What? The? Hell? Is that a no wave cover of Devo’s “Mongoloid” closing out the album (I don’t technically know because all the text on the record and jacket is in Japanese)? Is there any other song more covered by the punk/no wave/new wave set than “Mongoloid”? I’ll bet I have at least four different covers of it by bands from four different countries. Why “Mongoloid”? Seriously… why? It’s a cool song for sure. But I mean c’mon…. that’s the one song everyone covers? Really? It’s pretty good though. After all, I was able to recognize it, though it sounds like they were playing a recording of it in the background of their performance, the way Dr. Spock does on their versions of “Private Dancer” and “Strawberry Fields”. And Dr. Spock is many things, but one thing they are not is no wave. “Fuck You Wave” maybe, but not no wave. I need to do a post that is only about “Mongoloid” covers.
I don’t think I can in good conscience “recommend” The Original Ultra Bide, because most people will think it’s stupid and bad and they might be right. But… if you want to hear something different… it’s worth the time. I promise.