Artist: Nervous Gender
Title: Music From Hell
Label: Subterranean Records
A few years ago, I’ve been binge jamming to Sick Lipstick’s discography, particularly their self-titled EP. I found myself completely intoxicated to their dissonant no-wave craziness and complained to myself about how painfully slow they played, so of course I sped up their tracks to better compliment the speed to their intense dissonance. And that’s when I heard their cover track “Cardinal Newman” by one of the early synth punk classic bands under the name of Nervous Gender. When I got the chance to look that band up and heard their only studio album Music From Hell in its entirety, I knew that I must write this piece. These people clearly don’t fuck around!
Nervous Gender is/was one of the bands that pioneered the early wave of synth punk or otherwise so-called “electro-punk” sound in Los Angeles, along with The Screamers and the like. The band consisted of Phranc, Gerardo Velasquez (RIP), Edward Stapleton and Michael Ochoa and their career spanned from 1978 to 1988. Their sound was very experimental and confrontational and they intentionally left out guitars in replace of synthesizers. Phranc’s androgynous appearance was a focal point in the band’s image that garnered much press and zine coverages, as well as proving them to be the inspiration for the queercore genre. However, their confrontational attitude towards audience as well as shock value guaranteed that they’d never gain a commercial success.
After dropping their studio album Music From Hell in 1981, Nervous Gender broke up in 1988, but was revived in early ’90s until Velasquez died in 1992. Members Ochoa and Zinnato, with the addition of singer Claire Lawrence – Slater (of Honeymoon Killers, Huge Killer Ships), formed HighHeelTitWig a punk-industrial-pop-grunge hybrid, which played a series of shows. In 1995 Joe Zinnato suffered a serious stroke which put an end to to the band. The band was revived in 2005 and performed a handful of tours until 2007 and 10 years later, Nervous Gender Reloaded was formed up to this day.
Starting the album’s side A, known as “Martyr Complex,” we are unraveled within the gritty synth punk territory. Harsh, dissonant synths, almost mechanical drums, tuneless, droning vocals and provocative, often vulgar and nihilistic lyrical themes. Ranging from provoking the Catholics on “Cardinal Newman” to hating people in “People Like You” and being othered in “Alien Point of View”. Mostly what punks have been doing at the time.
And if that’s not enough, don’t worry, you have another thing coming. I told you that they don’t fuck around.
Then turning on to side B’s “Beelzebub Youth,” often mistaken as another band, turns 180 into an unnerving, cold and sinister atmosphere with the likes of Throbbing Gristle, also one of the pioneering experimental groups at the time. From energy draining industrial droning tracks such as “Christian Lovers,” “Pie On A Ledge,” “Bathroom Sluts” to cold, dystopian, occult and borderline hard-to-listen absurdities such as “Exorcism,” “Push, Push, Push” and “Alice’s Song.” And of course, my favourite being “Exorcism” for its unpredictable and frantic screaming outbursts that puts EVERY single screamo band to shame. It’s been awhile since I heard a non-screamo track that actually shook me.
They took their industrial droning and their shocking lyrical themes combined to a new level. It brings a higher level of disturbing discomfort that keeps you trapped and unable to escape from their industrial dystopia.
Not to mention that the aforementioned “Cardinal Newman” also has an alternate take that is VERY different from the album version. It’s much more sinister, raw, industrial and also better in terms of pacing.
Make no mistake. The title literally suggest what it sounds like and exactly what you might expect. It’s never a laughing matter or shits-n-giggles in any way. If my ears don’t lie, they’ve done a terrific job portraying the atmosphere that will make you feel like shit for awhile, and that’s why this album is a cult classic.