By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The Los Angeles underground holds its own with the East and Midwest, with bands too outre for a Flashback Weekend scattered among several volumes: Johanna Went, Savage Republic side project 17 Pygmies, and the aforementioned 100 Flowers. Warner seems especially hepped on the Los Angeles Free Music Society extended family, from the corrosive Smegma to Alex Gibson‘s doom-dealing B-People. The Minutemen (far too well-remembered to appear here) once offered a choice between new wave and the truth; these bands and their counterparts throughout the country rejected the terms of the question.
Other than the odd inclusion (Boston’s Salem 66, New York‘s Y Pants), one thing Hyped to Death doesn’t do is make much of the importance that punk and what came after had for women. (Not yet, anyway: Warner plans an all-female compilation to be out by Christmas.) For many, that is the era‘s significance: The Sex Pistols themselves may have been as thuggishly male as Black Sabbath, but the spirit they embodied handed women like X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene and Lora Logic or the Raincoats‘ Gina Birch a permission slip reading, “Come as you are, and learn as you go.”
Among the quickest studies were Switzerland’s Liliput (originally Kleenex), helmed by bassist Klaudia Schiff and guitarist Marlene Marder through lineups that included, between 1978 and 1983, three different singers and as many drummers (one male). Their five singles, two LPs, and a handful of live and radio recordings are collected on an eponymous new two-disc set, fittingly released by Kill Rock Stars, the home to riot grrrl survivors Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, complete with a second-language note from Marder (“all the bootleggings going on make me sure there is a need!”) and appreciations by Greil Marcus and Sonic Youth‘s Kim Gordon.
Unavailable for years, Liliput’s body of work is a perfect one-stop introduction to the rigor and freedom of its moment, as well as what became of it. Early on, their reclaimed garage riffs and wooden, unstable rhythms are less noteworthy than their playful, even infantile, approach to language. Songs like “Ain‘t You” are a pitched battle between Chrigle Freund’s half-learned English (“Ain‘t you wanna wait around?”) and pre-grammatical squeals, grunts and gasps that most people -- most men -- over age 5 would be ashamed to emit, on stage or off. By 1981’s “Eisiger Wind,” the music‘s caught up with the voices, and distinctions between chaos and order become impossible to draw: The band enters too fast for the guitar intro, and all three singers fight for space, with a well-timed snare stroke before the final chorus the only sign that anyone in the room is keeping track of what’s happening.
The later records collected on disc two back off from this extreme, but not by much. Marder‘s guitar work is more varied (there are even acoustic moments), and Schiff’s bass lines border on the supple, but new recruit Astrid Spirit, plus plenty of instrument switching, steers the music well clear of good taste or mastery. For every pop-structured dirge (“Close your eyes and hear my voiceyou‘re as good as lost”), there’s a burst of nerve-splitting violin (“Birdy”) or inhuman vocalese (the tropical “Umamm”). The grooves of “The Jatz” and “Ring-a-ding-dong” derive from American R&B, but Spirit‘s stream of babble issues from nowhere on Earth. Most bands that formed in punk’s wake became more skilled over the course of a five-year career, and many got quieter, but Liliput are one of the few to do both while remaining as unsettling as the day they began.#