Preserving the post-punk legacy of the Bush Tetras


Preserving the post-punk legacy of the Bush Tetras

By Erin Margaret Day November 15, 2021

Photo by Brian Randall, Collage from Bandcamp

Late 1970s New York City has been described at length in recent years in the memoirs of such figures as Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Chris Frantz and Debbie Harry. bother a lot with the straight world to survive. But the price to pay for feeling like you and your friends owned the East Village was in fairly constant danger and often quite hungry. While many influential groups were born out of these cultural conditions, punk-funk pioneers Bush grouse put the danger and discord of the Lower East Side of New York on music that sounded remarkably singular. With their basslines daringly strutting through the angular, obstructive guitar sound, and the percussive accents echoing from every corner like spooky prowlers in the cityscape, Bush Tetras captured the era well enough to transport modern listeners in a place that no longer exists. Like many of the funky post-punk bands that emerged in the US and UK around this time, however, their records were long out of print. A new career set on Wharf Cat Records– well titled Rhythm and paranoia: the best of the bush grouse– repair this evil.

Guitarist Pat Place was the first member of the band to live in New York City, experiencing the Ramones, Television, the Voidoids, the Patti Smith Group and the Talking Heads as they appeared at the start of the CBGB. She got involved in the no wave scene through James Chance, who invited her to play guitar in the Contorsions. She had never performed before, but had seen many other no wave groups use a slide guitar technique introduced by China Burg of March– which will eventually become the most widely used no wave technique. After the breakup of Contorsions, Place moved in with Laura Kennedy, a native of Cleveland, who had just moved to New York City after attending the Cleveland Art Institute with a friend and colleague from Cleveland, Cynthia Sley. While the students, Kennedy and Sley went to a bar near their school called Pirate’s Cove, where every Thursday night they saw weird and wacky regional bands like Devo, Father Ubu, Rubber city rebels, Dead Boys and Destroy All Monsters. Sley knew other people from Cleveland besides Kennedy who had moved to New York, such as Adele Bertei (also a member of Contorsions and lead singer of Bush Tetras, albeit very briefly) and Jim Jarmusch; a year after Kennedy’s arrival in New York, Sley followed. Drummer Dee Pop was a huge fan of Contorsions and wanted to start a band with Place the second the Contorsions broke up. The original line-up didn’t last long, but it solidified when they gave Sley a few words and a microphone and she became their lead singer. Place brought the slide guitar and funk backbeat of the Contorsions – in which Pop was very happy to perform in and around – while singer Sley and bassist Kennedy brought their art school perspective and the knowledge that ‘they had acquired during their years in this other the mecca of punk art on the scorching river.

In February 1980, Bush Tetras released their first 7 inch, Too many crawlers, on the crucial dance punk label 99 records (who has also released contemporary pre-funk and no wave groups like Liquid Liquid and ESG) and they toured for the first time as part of an economy flight plan through Eastern Airlines, which required every flight to be routed through Atlanta; So they were going from New York to Atlanta to go to Seattle, back to Atlanta to go to Los Angeles, and back to Atlanta to go to Minneapolis. They toured relentlessly in Europe, Canada and the United States during their first three years of operation, performing and rehearsing in New York City when they weren’t on tour. As a result, the band never had much time to write new tracks, which prevented them from producing a feature film – they had a booking agent, but no manager.

Photo by Bob Gruen

In an interview given before his untimely death the day before the show was released in New York for Rhythm & ParanoiaDee Pop describes Bush Tetras’ early songs as first being written rhythmically, from bottom to top. They were trying to bring dub and African sounds into the music, so all of their songs had percussive breaks that everyone in the band contributed to, often bringing a trash can lid and other junk to communicate the beats. from the city. They also wrote songs collaboratively, using their lived experiences (“Too Many Creeps”) or clipping techniques (“Cowboys in Africa”); Pop was both a poet and a drummer and wrote the lyrics for the song “Rituals”. Pop paid particular attention to the other instruments – this rare drummer who is an incredible listener, paying attention to every sound in order to perfectly weave its little accents, creating a slinky and tribal sound. Most of their original material was produced by percussionists, who worked with the band to form the sound of the drums that was so central to their music. All of the music Bush Tetras made during their original tenure was released on 7’s – their premiere was co-produced with Don Christensen (Contorsions, impLOG) —Except for Rituals 12 ″, which was produced by Topper Headon of The Clash.

Rhythm and paranoia gathered following the Bush Tetras 40th anniversary show, which took place in February last year, just before Covid-19 shut down live music indefinitely. During the lockdown, Pop brought in RB Korbet (Even worse, King Missile, Missing foundation, pussy galore) to play bass in a new Bush Tetras formation. Korbet entered the New York scene in the early 1980s, but she was more involved in the hardcore punk and early thrash scene that took place around places like A7 and 171 A before the Hardcore Matinees for All Ages at the Bowery has begun. By the mid-1980s, she was more involved in the boisterous artistic rock scene, working with Missing Foundation and hanging out with Live Skull and Sonic Youth. Although, unfortunately, the world will never know now with what “force to be reckoned with [they were] as a rhythm section, ”Korbet explains, the Tetras have composed ten new songs, which they plan to record next year with Don Christensen on drums to keep things in the family. “We will continue and we will also carry the torch for Dee,” confirms Pat Place. “It might be a little different without Dee, but it will be similar because they’re still group mates.”

The set compiles all of their original material, as well as previously unreleased tracks like “Cutting Floor”, produced by Henry Rollins, and alternate versions, like the take of “Mr. Love Song” which features backing vocals by Nona Hendryx and Darlene Love. Bush Tetras was very specific about the material they released, not releasing anything too generic or commercial, which is why they didn’t release “Cutting Floor”. They didn’t even remember composing it, or how to play it, until Pop, who was also the band’s archivist, unearthed it from his collection. While many post-punk revivalists began to forge their own dance punk sounds around the turn of the century, the Bush Tetras ignored them and were an inspiration to a new generation of musicians and listeners; they were busy struggling to create new music out of interests entirely outside of dance punk, with Place and Sley more inspired by grunge and shoegaze, while Pop turned more to Albert’s avant-garde jazz. Ayler for inspiration. As well as being the most comprehensive collection of their music to date, the box set includes a 46-page hardcover booklet in LP format, including flyers and never-before-seen photos showing their deep friendship as a band, lyrics from all of them. their songs, and an original essay on the band by Marc Masters, author of No wave, the definitive text on the stage from which the group emerged. There are also micro-essays from artists who have worked closely with the group like Nona hendryx and Topper Headon, among others.

The work of preserving the group’s history is underway and the box set is just the beginning. They plan to find a lot more to preserve in the wake of Pop’s death, as he recorded all of the band’s shows from 1980 to 1990, including notes on each. But despite Pop’s passing, the Bush Tetras are not expected to resign themselves to eternal life on the walls of the museum and in the sleeve notes of this box set while they’re still around. “We like to play live, we will continue to play,” said Sley.

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