Lemme tell you about one of the most important formative experiences of my adult life. It was May 16, 2000, at Stubbs BBQ in Austin, Texas, where I was to finally experience the band Negativland for the first time. I was almost 23, living in Copperas Cove, putting together the 7th issue of my comic Why I’m Not An Artist, and working as a flow solder operator. It was also about a year into my first attempt at living full time as a woman. It was a pretty exciting time period in my life, all things considered.
Before then I’d had sporadic attempts at doing live music with a short, chaotic noise music project called DEVIANCE that I performed in with my brother and a high school friend. That’s an entirely different story that may get explored next time I get nostalgic. At this point, I was satisfying my urge to do performance art by being a drag queen, and rarely recorded, much less performed, music. Little did I know this show would change damn near everything I thought I wanted to do with myself as an artist.
Keep in mind, I’d never had a chance to actually hear their music before. I’d only heard of them a couple years before from a review of their album Dispepsi, a concept album about advertising oversaturation, which simultaneously sounded like the stupidest and most brilliant thing ever. I was only aware of their reputation: booted from Black Flag’s SST label, nearly sued to oblivion by U2, etc. I visited their website regularly, however, and found out about the show there.
The show itself was amazing on a level I still have trouble describing. From the moment they started, they got a couple hundred people to sit the fuck down in the dirt and shut up for two hours straight, with a short puppet show intermission in the middle. There was simply no choice, the whole experience was so overwhelming it was impossible to concentrate on anything else. The entire stage was draped with white sheets where dozens of videos played at once behind, in front of, and on top of the band. Most of the songs they performed were from Dispepsi, but there was also stuff that wasn’t released until “No Business” and a few tracks that were never released in any format I can track down (such as the “Loop That Goes On Forever” song, as well as “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).
I was completely stunned. I’d never seen anything like it. I recall thinking “I don’t know what the fuck that was, but that’s what I want to do with my life.”
I stayed in contact with them through email and at one point even exchanged letters with them-
Their whole aesthetic of seeming chaos and indifference covering such heavily-calculated intricacy redefined my approach to, well, damn near everything.