Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Make Up

"I wanna introduce four of the most generously gifted motherfuckers that I know. Straight out of Washington, DC…the Make Up. Let’s give it up.”
Introduction from ‘After Dark: Live At Fine China’

It’s not often that a band comes along that perfectly sums up everything that you want, and should demand, from a group. In reality, such an occurrence is so rare that should such a band come along, you’re more or less obligated to love them, obsess over them and stalker them like a nutter every time they set foot in the country as you. But unfortunately these bands come along so infrequently that it’s been years since we were last given the opportunity to express our love in such a drastic and morally dubious manner. In fact, it’s been eleven years since a new band came along and showed themselves to both the personification of our dreams and the realisation of our desires. It’s been eleven years since the dark underbelly of Washington, DC, spawned the Make Up.

The Make Up formed around the core of Nation of Ulysses, a DC area band that made like Rocket From The Crypt with an added socio-demographic political agenda and claimed an intention to “wreck society through direct action by destroying its institutions and the men who serve it, and by relying on the people's forces to spread the doctrines of P-Power and Ragnarok; to consolidate the New Nation, while never forgetting the need for constant purging”. As you may notice, they weren’t exactly your common or garden DC hardcore band.

Styling themselves as an international revolutionaries, the NoU not only declared themselves the first wave of the Ulysses Jihad and waged war on complacency and the US government – laying claim to a number of fictitious assassinations and embassy bombings – but pronounced these claims so loudly that singer Ian Svenonious believes to this day that the CIA hold files on him and regularly keep track of his actions.

When the time came for NoU to part ways, it was obvious that the nation had not fallen, that the masses continued to be repressed, and that there was still work to be done and from the ashes of NoU, via a brief sojourn as Cupid Car Club, rose the phoenix of the Make Up; bold, magnificent and ready to continue the good fight.

“Do not review if...the review would condescend to MAKE-UP's pretension of ideology and dismiss it as sophomoric and naive, as MAKE-UP recognise the unconscious ideology of insipid psychology undermine meaning through invisible propaganda for its father and benefactor, advanced capitalism…6) unless you understand that this is truth on tape…”
From the sleeve-notes to ‘Sound Verité’

Looking like a mix of a Maoist party conference, the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Black Panthers, the Make Up comprised three former Ulysses jihadees – the aforementioned Svenonious (now less a singer than an evangelical rock and roll prophet who could be found sermonizing his congregation as often as actually singing), bassist Steve Gamboa and drummer/percussionist James Canty (brother of Fugazi’s one and only Brendan Canty) – and Michelle Mae, formerly the bassist in proto-riot grrls, the Frumpies.

"Of all the sectarian developments stemming from Christianity in the former colonies, perhaps the strangest and most fascinating is the one called Gospel Yeh Yeh, which, though originating in Washington, DC, seems to be spreading elsewhere at an alarming rate."
From the sleeve-notes to ‘Destination: Love Live! At Cold Rice’

Sonically, The Make Up evolved drastically during their transition from the frenetic soul-punk revue of NoU. While none of the energy or fondness for zealous performance was lost, the Make Up’s mix of MC5, post-DC hardcore, Arthur Lee’s Love (even going so far as to write a protest song demanding his release from incarceration), gospel, rhythm and blues and punk – what they referred to as the Gospel Yeh Yeh sound – was the nearest thing you can find to an incendiary device in your record collection.

The band’s image and politics were echoed in every thing they did. Not only did they perform in matching black uniforms, they could be found arriving at their shows in matching daywear. Far from being the last gang in town, the Make Up projected the idea that they were the only gang in town, and you were welcome to join as long as you could prove your devotion during the gig. Make Up shows (the the prefix used to come and go depending at which record sleeve you happened to be looking, representing the band as both concept and a definitive article in their own right) were characterised by the ever more outrageous antics of Svenonious, often to be found in the midst of his disciples; braying with ruthless abandon like a revitalised James Brown, urging on his fans, pushing them to the point where they abandoned any sense of inhibition and became part of the spectacle itself. Early on it wasn’t unusual for the Make Up to be greeted with initial apprehension, only for this to turn to undying zeal and supplication by the end of the show.

The Hives and the (International) Noise Conspiracy may have lifted most of their ideaz straight from their copies of After Dark and Destination Love, but they were little more than inadequate pretenders to the Make Up’s throne. While repeated attendance at either a Hives or (I)NC gig quickly showed that Pelle Almqvist and Dennis Lyxzén were merely leading their respective bands through a series of rehearsed moves, loaded down with clichéd posturing and identikit rhetoric, the Make Up live experience was the real deal; insurrectionary, inspired by solidarity and a deep-rooted need to express the raw emotions that would have otherwise remained bottled up inside, as can be witnessed on the any of the three live albums currently available – ‘Destination: Love’, ‘After Dark’ and the soon to be released ‘Untouchable Sound’.

Since their demise in 2000 (it was, apparently, only ever intended as a five-year plan) the majority of their rank and file have since been found working under the monikers of Scene Creamers and Weird War, but regrettably that revolutionary spirit has never since been captured as perfectly as with the Make Up. By way of a legacy they have leave behind them, in addition to the live albums, three studio albums – ‘Sound Verité’, ‘In Mass Mind’ (the sleeve-notes to which featured a treatise on the industrialisation of the music industry); ‘Save Yourself’ (by which time the band also included Alex Minhoff, formerly of Six Finger Satellite) – and a whole host of seven inch singles, collected together on ‘I Want Some’.

The dream may be over, but the spirit lives on, on record and carved on the soul of their fans. But do not fear, these things are not meant to last forever, and we can at least look forward with hope for the next band to come along and grant our wishes.

"Dear diary,
We are crossing the country now, playing cities large and small and it seems that indeed the problems that affect us at home beset people everywhere. We will do our best to galvanise this discontent into a tight fist, to discipline these ragtag bands so they can properly be named an army, and they shall read Clausewitz and Guevara and all the various handbooks on martial concerns."

From the sleeve-notes from 'I Want Some'