Friday, July 27, 2012

Factrix/Cazazza "California Babylon" Reissue

Factrix/Cazazza live in 1980 at Kezar Pavillion
left to right: Joseph T. Jacobs, Cole Palme, Bond Bergland, Monte Cazazza, Tana Emmolo-Smith
I ordered the Factrix/Cazazza "California Babylon" LP directly from Subterranean Records mailorder in 1989. At the time, the label had a solid reputation in the underground for fostering West Coast artists erring on the abstract side of the punk movement. Also in that order was Flipper's "Generic" album, a beautifully silkscreened Chrome single ("Anorexic Sacrifice") and the massive "Live At Target" compilation LP featuring Nervous Gender, Uns (a.k.a. Z'ev), Flipper and Factrix.
Factrix were a San Francisco-based trio - featuring guitarist Bond Bergland and multi-instrumentalists Joseph T. Jacobs and Cole Palme - formed in 1978. The band seemed aesthetically sympatico with the so-called "industrial" movement spawned by Throbbing Gristle and counting amongst their peers, disparate entities like SPK and NON. Although these sorts of units seemed to spring from a firmament vaguely catalyzed by the Punk revolution, the focus of these loosely associated artists had far less to do with rock and roll tradition and more to do with mood, sonic experimentation and macabre obsessions with contemporary cults and undercurrents of violence in society. Reflecting a dour, proto-gothic sense of subject matter and minimalistic delivery, Factrix's 1981 Adolescent Records debut album "Scheintot" was a low-key affair, tossing a lot of random instrumentation and approaches into the ring. It's hard to pin down, and I believe that is exactly the point. Despite Julian Cope's hyperbolic championing of the band (and his oddly histrionic anti-No Wave jabs) in the liner notes of the brand new, beautifully mastered and packaged Superior Viaduct reissue, the album isn't particularly timeless. The opening instrumental death-boogie "Eerie Lights" opens with treated voice, Bergland's Fripp-ish tritone guitar riffing and subtle electronic shadings over a light, mechanical pulse. Nothing could possibly sound more totally "Eighties" - but, if that's what you want, here it is in all its New Wave glory! In the studio, Factrix concentrated heavily on detailed timbral collage rather than propulsion, so most of these loosely structured pieces brood and slink across the murky mise en scène languidly in a haze. The reissue appends a duo of discordant contents from a 1980 single as bonus tracks.
Updated artwork for "California Babylo
Industrial Icon or Dingleberry? "PRO MAN SON"
Titles from the Factrix/Cazazza DVD

Factrix live eschewed their subtlety for an air of artful confrontation. The earliest released recordings by the band appeared on the "Live At Target" compilation lp, documenting a concert from February 1980. The attack is more blatantly rockish and aggressive. The 1982 "California Babylon" release is a lo-fi affair, mating the core unit with antisocial SF weirdo Monte Cazazza, with guest appearances by scrap metal stylist Z'ev and scenemaker Tana Emmolo-Smith. When I originally owned this disc, it always seemed like a big piece was missing from the puzzle - the bare audio fell short on many levels, making the LP seem like a personal archival document of something we, the listeners, were not particularly made privy to. I am happy to say that the full picture comes together here in the form of the outstanding bonus DVD of the group's mythic "Night Of The Succubus" performance video. At the time, this video was only available on VHS from some ungodly amount of money. As a result, I never met a single person who had owned or even seen it. In context, the rough, chaotic noisemaking of "California Babylon" becomes a bona fide artistic happening.

The following is a huge spoiler for the video. Stop reading now if you want to experience it yourself for the first time.

We enter a dark realm once the raw, spectral titles begin to emerge from darkness. Piercing guitar noise strafes steady, low grunts from the bass guitar on "Death By Hanging". The action opens with "Poltergeist", featuring more slobbering racket from Bergland and Jacobs. Cole Palme is in the background, attending to mysterious electronic processes. At random intervals, cryptic, strobing footage visually interrupts the performance shots. A psychedelically filtered video clip of Charles Manson introduces "Pro Man Son", featuring Monte Cazazza. Cazazza calmly recites what I believe are quotes from the notorious icon before a primitive drum machine kicks in. The camera focuses on an image of Squeaky Fromme. Stills of the Manson Family are intercut. Bergland begins yet another angular, feedback-laden tirade, lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. Cazazza pounds the strings of a bass guitar like a drum, as hard as he possibly can with his clenched fist. We see some darkly lit footage of another Factrix performance. Cole Palme sings on "Thin Line" while strumming high chords on a cheap bass. A tape of Jim Jones is played. Footage of Cazazza violently stabbing at the camera is interspersed. We see a skull as Jones screams and giggles maniacally. Macabre, primitive images of paintings from the People's Temple are flashed. Most of the band is seen hovering around electronics at the back of the stage. An atonal version of "Helter Skelter", initially riddled with massive flanging follows. At the end of the song, Cazazza, frantically tinkers with some sort of mechanical device with a yellow tank on it. Someone in the back of the stage is cutting away at paper covering something hanging from cables. The negative energy of the band's music is lethargic but insistent. More previously recorded Factrix film footage is laid over the ruckus and the Manson Family stills are shown again, as well as many other film stills including Christopher Lee as Dracula and Roman Polanski in drag in "The Tenant". Finally a skinned animal converted into a robot is seen hanging behind the performance space and violinist Tana Emmolo-Smith joins the fray. The animal/robot starts ascending across the space, shuddering as more people enter the scene. Jacobs begins using a grinder on the corpses' teeth as it nears the front of the stage. An explosion suddenly goes off. Closeups of the slimy, shuddering cyber-beast. Someone flicks off the camera before the morbid creature continues its pained, deathly journey across the performance space, into the audience. Smith throws her violin across the room and walks off. Painful feedback occurs. Minutes later, someone attacks the flesh robot with a folding chair. 

Call the PC Police: You can't make this kind of art anymore. Factrix' Joseph T. Jacobs does dental surgery.

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