Polysics or Die!!: By J. Federico

Nov 15, 2007

I am a person who tries hard not to spend too much time wallowing in self pity. Although it seems unavoidable at certain times in my life, the world around me—despite its ability to churn out pure, exhilarating beauty—is so fraught with heartache and suffering and everything is such a disastrous mess that it seems absurd and wrong to spend too much time boohoo-ing about my own cushy life. That said, the past weekend was a difficult one for me. On Saturday there was some unexpected and unwelcome drama that made me feel quite hurt, and then on Sunday I found out that a little pup I love, a ridiculous French bulldog barely even three years old, died. So that night when I was biking towards The Lab, I had one of those super cheesy, dorky thoughts that I am prone to have about my favorite thing ever, la musique—“I really hope music will save me tonight.”

I was heading to The Lab (http://www.thelab.org/) on 16th Street in San Francisco to check out the 3rd annual Global Headphone Festival. This Festival is described thusly: “We are experimenting with exploring new medias, sonic perception, levels of concentration, isolation as inspiration, and spontaneous modification within a global community of eclectic culturejammers, curious engineers, instigators, and self-sufficient sound artists. Listeners at the event plug into headphone amps (approximately 60 output jacks) provided throughout the venue and streaming live audio/visuals”. I’d seen a flyer for the event (anything that says “B.Y.O. Headphones” is sure to grab my attention) and when I read more about it I learned that it was started in 1998 by a French musician named Erik Minkkinen who broadcast a performance from the closet in his apartment to listeners in Japan. Despite the somewhat artsy description of the festival, the idea of somebody wedged into his closet broadcasting music to other countries sounded pretty cool to me! 

I went with a couple of friends and it was interesting. It was really quiet in the space because everybody had headphones on and people whispered when they spoke. You could buy a beer or other drinks if you wanted and there were lots of different chairs set up around the room next to stations where you could plug in your headphones or use headphones that were already available. There were a few screens hung on different walls playing random images—spiders, skulls, people-like forms dancing, etc. Loads of different people DJ’d for about thirty-minute sets each. While I was there I heard two different DJs and they were playing some weird stuff. Mostly ambient (I guess!) and some loops of people talking and things like that. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly into the music but I thought the concept was cool and I was happy I went. One of my friends said that she really liked how—unlike at shows when people sometimes have different listening experiences depending on where they are standing in the club—everybody there was listening to the same thing at the same time. A perfect opportunity to do a little subliminal brainwashing for those who may be interested!

The Lab, by the way, has a bunch of cool paintings in the hallway and often has really interesting free or super cheap art exhibits.

I didn’t stay too long, however, because I wanted to go see a show at Bottom of the Hill- the Top Ten, the Rock n’ Roll Adventure Kids, and the Polysics. Off I went.

The show was all ages and Bottom of the Hill (http://www.bottomofthehill.com/) was about half full when I got there. Top Ten (http://www.myspace.com/topten) from Oakland, CA played first. I’d never heard them before. They are a rock’n’rolly band with female vocals that at first reminded me of a slowed-down Paybacks, although later they sped up a bit and at one point they had an intro that sounded so much like a New Bomb Turks song that for a minute I thought they were going to do a cover of it. They were solid and had a great guitar sound that made me think that the guitarist really likes Greg Cartwright (and who doesn’t, really?). The crowd was not very responsive and the singer thought that might have been because it was a Sunday night and people weren’t really drinking. I liked when the guitarist sang back up and wished that they would have done that more often. Although they were totally proficient—they got better as they warmed up, and the guitarist was really good—they weren’t really doing it for me personally. There seemed to be some kind of spark or something unique that for me was lacking. They weren’t bad, though, and I can see how a rowdy bunch of rock’n’rollers would have a good time with them.

In between (and during, actually) sets, the TV above the bar played some bizarre David Lee Roth video.

Rock n’ Roll Adventure Kids (http://www.myspace.com/woohoo) from Berkeley/ Oakland, CA played next. I really like them and that’s who’d I’d gone to see. I like that they sing about fried chicken and hot dogs, even though I’m vegan. They’re fun and enthusiastic. They only have two members—one plays guitar and one plays drums—and they both sing. Before the show started, young attendees at the front yelled in unison that they liked their shiny drum set. After the first song the guitarist took his shirt off, all the while explaining that he was going to even though he didn’t have a nice body like a woman. Excellent.

They played a good set, with a Ramones cover (“Do You Wanna Dance?”) in there and an excellent song that may have been about a teenage caveman (still trying to determine if I heard that right!). Towards the end of their set the guitarist seemed to be channeling Lux Interior in a most satisfying way. They have a nice Cramps-hopping-trains-to-reach-the-bayou kind of sound. 

The Polysics played last. I guess I’m pretty uncool, but I’d never heard them before. This was definitely who the crowd—which by the time they went on had grown quite a bit bigger—had gone to see.

What is it about Japanese bands? I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that Japanese bands, at least in the punk genre, so often seem to take things over the top, in either a technically amazing or really bizarre (or both) way. The Boredoms, Green Milk From The Planet Orange, and Teengenerate are just a few of the bands I point to in support of this theory. And now, as another example of this über-excellentness, I can add Polysics (http://www.myspace.com/polysicsna).

As I mentioned, I’d never heard Polysics before, so I can’t say for sure if I would have liked them (recorded) straight away if I had, but their live show won me over immediately. Dressed pretty much like Devo (minus the weird hats) in matching orange jumpsuits and new wave sunglasses, they came on stage to wild cheering and excitement. The crowd had either started drinking or was just really psyched about Polysics. I believe it was the latter.

They launched into their set with likable ferocity and spasticness—at least, the main lead singer / guitarist did. The bassist and keyboardist were quite a bit more subdued, but his enthusiasm really got the crowd going. The drummer was great, playing strong, sharp beats that they could have left to a drum machine but thankfully didn’t. They do have a very heavy keyboard / new wave aspect to their songs that obviously wouldn’t appeal to some, but for me, because of the amount of fun I was having, even the occasional robotic effects on the vocals didn’t kill it. And believe me, that is a sound I do not normally like!

The guitarist sang most of the songs, but the keyboardist sang some as well, and it was she who did the robotic sounds, too. She also played a recorder (like the kind you learn in elementary school) that sounded surprisingly good, and at one fantastic moment pulled out some shiny gold pom-poms and shook them around on the beat. Polysics sometimes made me consider what it would sound like if the Epoxies and Bis got in a head-on collision. They were alternatively heavy (I swear there were some Slayer-like rhythms in there) and video-gamey. They played a cover of “My Sharona” that rocked. And in between songs, with the singer yelling to “San FranFuckingCisco (!)”, I felt that the music had indeed, once again, saved the day.

Polysics or Die!