Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Tuxedomoon - Channelling the  DIY Electronic Ghosts

My last blog was about offloading vinyl, but there are some that I would never, ever, considering selling. These include the ‘canonical six’ as I have rather fancifully titled them recently, six classic DIY synth-punk singles from the late 70s, but I unforgivably and inadvertently omitted a seventh. Perhaps this was because they were American, whereas the others were very much typically British products? Whatever, the San Franciscan trio Tuxedomoon’s very first release occurred at the very same time as The Six produced theirs, and it spent as much time being played to death on my turntable, Joeboy…(Joeboy, the Electronic Ghost), fully deserves a place at the top table of this genre. I also reckon that the 45rpm format proved to be the band’s most suitable - just as it was, arguably, with The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and Thomas Leer/Robert Rental. Like these other class of ‘78-sters, Tuxedomoon sounded better in short bursts of electro-cantatas, than in more long-form projects. The title track of their No Tears EP (1978), to take one example, is the equivalent of the Cabs’s Nag, Nag, Nag, with its brutally distorted vocals, organ and guitar - a Louie, Louie for the post-punk generation.

Tuxedomoon’s name implies a crepuscular cabaret of some sort, as does that of several of their Sheffield colleagues of the time (for which see Martin Lilleker’s Beats Working for a Living, a invaluable study of the steel city’s pre-punk, punk and post-punk music scene). Crash, the instrumental B-side of their second 45, Ralph Records What Use?, may be another early tribute to the J.G. Ballard book of the same name (1973), which had been also checked out in 1978, by Daniel Miller’s Normal, as the immortal Warm Leatherette. The links with their British contemporaries are there, but there seemed to be little awareness of these at the time - Tuxedomoon were from San Francisco, where the Sex Pistols had suffered their auto da fe at the end of the year, rather ironically as that city was the home of the hippie movement, punk’s so-called deadly enemy (a trope that was always, of course, consciously both misleading and cynically manufactured by punk’s managerial commodifiers). It was no surprise, really, when the band relocated to Europe in the early 1980s. Simon Reynolds’s description of their “aura of jaded elegance” would have suited the contemporary electro-pop ‘sensation’ Utravox, with their posturing pseudo- fin de siecle 1981 mega-hit Vienna. Rather satisfyingly, Vienna was kept off the Number One slot by the recently-departed John Lennon’s execrably cloying Woman, and then, for a further three weeks, by that immortal personification of absurdity, Joe Dolce’s Shaddup You Face. For those with a developed sense of the rightness-of-things. 1981 was surely the year when it all got so much worse? Like Punk Never Happened’ as the late Dave Rimmer’s book so accurately put it in his celebrated book (1985).

Cabaret No-Wave’ is another me memorable description of Tuxedomoon. ‘Cabaret’ was a trendy concept of the time, what with Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, former proto-punk Vic Godard and Joseph K’s Paul Haig rather doubtfully reinvention of themselves as ‘crooners’. Not to mention the rediscovery of the film of the same name

Joeboy…was released on the obscure Tidal Wave label, and isn’t mentioned on the Tuxedomoon Wiki all. It’s a true obscurity in this most obscure band’s discography. They do, however, fit in with the profile of so many of the contemporary synth-punk acts, in that they have always essentially been a duo, Steven Brown and Blaine Reininger (like that other great SF punk-electronica band, Chrome, they have added and lost fellow-members, but Tuxedomoon have always been, creatively-speaking, a duo). For me, the essential Tux recordings were their first mini-masterpieces, the two singles (Joeboy.. and What Use?) and the EP (No Tears) are the ones to track down. Their many albums, starting with 1980′s Half-Mute, increasingly rendered them rather generic, which is no crime, to be sure, but something vital had been lost in the process.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby