By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Photo by Eric Blum
From 1977 till their demise in 1981, the Screamers were the biggest attraction on the late-’70s L.A. club circuit. As early as February 1978, their sound was described by journalist Kristine McKenna as “techno-punk,” and the band have since been feted as heroes of both techno and industrial music. Their logo — Gary Panter’s hair-raising screaming-skull caricature of singer Tomata du Plenty — is essential iconography of the pre-digital Xerox Revolution. At their peak, they were able to sell out three and four consecutive nights at the Masque, the Whisky or the Roxy, two shows per night. If any band did half that volume in ticket sales nowadays, there would be a major- label bidding war, but for reasons discussed below by many of the players, the Screamers never released any recordings.
Cast of Characters:
Trudie Arguelles: member of Plunger Sisters, mother of three, married to K.K.
K.K. Barrett: Screamers drummer, now production designer on movies
Gerry Casale: Devo guitarist and keyboardist
Rene Daalder: filmmaker, screenwriter
Tomata du Plenty: Screamers vocalist, artist, died in 2000
Tommy Gear: Screamers songwriter, keyboardist, now in New York editing a photo book
Fayette Hauser: artist friend of Tomata, now a wardrobe stylist
Penelope Houston: former Avengers singer, now a solo artist living in Oakland
Gary Panter: artist, now living in Brooklyn
Kid Congo Powers: ran Screamers’ fan club, now professional musician
Paul Roessler: Screamers keyboardist, now a painter and solo artist
Andy Seven: Arthur J & the Goldcups saxman, now works for the City of L.A.
Geza X: band soundman, now a record producerScreamers logo by Gary Panter
PHIL S. TEEN (A.K.A. PHIL MILLER): The Screamers began life in Seattle as the Tupperwares with Tomata du Plenty, Tommy Gear and Rio de Janeiro all fronting the band with a 15-year-old drummer named Eldon Hoake, who’d go on to notoriety as El Duce of the Mentors, the X-rated king of porno metal.
FAYETTE HAUSER: After a spell with the Cockettes Troupe in San Francisco, a bunch John Waters called “the first drag queens to make transvestism and transsexuality hip on the street,” Tomata became a wheel in an early-’70s Seattle-based cabaret act known as Ze Whiz Kids who performed regular gigs at the Exotic Paradise Room in the basement of the Smith Tower in Seattle.
PENELOPE HOUSTON: In Seattle I was hanging out with the Screamers when they were the Tupperwares. It was a tiny, just-forming scene. Guys with skirts and glitter eye makeup. Kind of a post-glam gay scene, but there were also these garage rock bands forming around the same time, and the two scenes kind of converged. It was performance art, theater and music all rolled into one . . . and they lived it as well.
TOMATA DU PLENTY: I wound up in Seattle after I left New York in 1975. And I got involved in the Tupperwares. It was a lark. Once we became the Screamers, Tommy said, “Let’s go to L.A. and see how far we can take this.”
TOMMY GEAR: It wasn’t enough to stay in Seattle to do these quirky performances. We wanted to challenge ourselves — take it a step further and see what happens somewhere else. We had nothing to lose.
PENELOPE HOUSTON: Tommy and Tomata relocated to L.A. without Rio, who wanted to stay in Seattle, and the make-over into the Screamers came together pretty quickly, as soon as they hooked David Brown and K.K. [Barrett] into it.
K.K. BARRETT: We were totally photo-op whores from the beginning. Before we’d even played, they ran this photo shoot of us in Slash. The magazine had a coming-out party, and we were invited to play at this storefront loft space. We’d been rehearsing pretty solidly for a few months, and so we were pretty tight. The place was packed. Everybody was drunk.
ANDY SEVEN: They came on, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before. In 1977, outside of Kraftwerk and maybe Suicide, you never saw a band with no guitars, and this one had just two small keyboards and a drummer backing up a lead singer. This was radical, it was completely new to everybody.
K.K. BARRETT: That night the Screamers were kind of baptized, legitimized by the growing new punk scene-makers of Bowie club kids barely out of high school and the older, mid-to-late-20s art swingers from Venice.
GARY PANTER: When Tommy and Tomata entered a room, it was really electrifying. They just came in like exploding heads!
TOMATA DU PLENTY: I didn’t know how to sing. I just yelled.
K.K. BARRETT: The personal dynamic between Tommy and Tomata was good cop/bad cop. Tommy was the meanie to Tomata’s likable clown. It was this lighthearted thing and then this boot stomp at the same time, this pop sensibility and then this dramatic drill mentality. Tommy would write “Punish or Be Damned” and “Violent World” while Tomata would write “I’m Going Steady with Twiggy.” If it had been all Tomata’s thing, we would have been much too light and wimpy, and if it had been all Tommy’s thing, we would have been . . . Rammstein. We were right down the center between the two of them.
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