Asha Beta’s Investigation of Hidden Realities

Dearth, January 2009

Asha Beta is an ongoing multimedia project by Philadelphia-based artist Nicomis (“Nyx”) Blalock. Check out her brand-new website, blog and Flickr stream.

Though Nyx is New York City born and bred, these new sculptures  (photographed by the talented Ben Harris) are pure Philly. Everything about them reminds me of my beloved dirty city: exploring condemned houses and finding strange trinkets under the floorboards, admiring a skyline of abandoned factories, chillin’ with the Soap Lady at the Mütter. Indeed, Philadelphia is a very strange place. Lynch cites the city as his biggest creative influence, and calls Eraserhead his “Philadelphia story.” The Brothers Quay spent their formative years there. Edgar Allen Poe started a magazine (ok, he tried to start a magazine) in Philly. It’s definitely the place to be if you like grime, texture and decay (that’s another way of saying “if you like Philly Cheese Steaks,” for all you out-of-towners).

Extant Axis, April 2009

In fact, these scultpures remind me of a very specific Philly/Lynch memory: my first day in the city, which was the first day of 1999. Not only was it my first day in the city, but it was my first time at an art gallery. My friends and I got talking to the gallery owner, and it turned out that David Lynch had worked at that gallery for many years. She started telling us obscure anecdotes about Lynch. For example, we learned that that the old lady in The Grandmother was actually her mom, and that she had a blast filming. She took us to the back room and showed us this early David Lynch fine art etching (or another one exactly like it, I can’t remember).  But the best story she told us was about Lynch’s travel habits. Apparently, he had a habit of stuffing his suitcases with absolutely disgusting things: dead rodents, two-week-old, half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, worms, grubs. These were mixed in with his personal items: suits, toothpaste, a comb. He would travel like this through airports. Just ’cause. He sometimes lost his suitcases while traveling. Just… ’cause?

More gorgeous sculptures and my portrait of the artist, after the jump.

Tonight In LA: Target Video’s Raw Power

Fellow Angel City residents! If you love love music and obscure video, tonight – Thursday April 30 – holds a very special treat. Joe of Target Video, a legendary San Francisco-based punk video archive, has gathered some rarities from the past which The Silent Movie Theater will screen tonight only. On the menu, from Target Video’s newsletter:

Joe’s gone through and put together some gems from the past including: the Suburban Lawns, Middle Class, Nervous Gender, the Bags, the Minutemen, TSOL, the Mau Maus, Catholic Discipline, Castration Squad, the Plugz, BPeople, Chrome, Tuxedomoon, Young Marble Giants and favorites like the Screamers, the Dils, Devo and Black Flag. He’s even dug up a Mentors clip. There will be tidbits like Nash the Slash, who’s virtually unknown in the US.

Unlike our “Underground Forces” series, this show is more MTV style so that we could get in as many bands as possible. This stuff is direct from the library, and unrefined.

Need I convince you further? Well, I’m afraid I can’t because finding all those band links has rendered me incapable. However, here’s Castration Squad, rocking their way into your hearts straight from Hollywood, 1980.

“Jack is 53, doesn’t look any more dead than me” Ahh, yess.

Whether this will be a roaring trip down memory lane or an introductory crash course depends on you, but one thing is certain: this night is not to be missed! I’ll be there honing my knowledge and toasting the event with cheap champagne, if my last visit to this theater is any indication.

The Silent Movie Theater is located 611 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036, 323-655-2510
The show starts at 7:30.
[Of course there will be sound]

All Tomorrows: Parable of the Sower

All creeds spring from catastrophe.

The late Octavia Butler, as keen an explorer of the human soul as ever trod a future-scape, understood that far better than most. In plain, well-turned prose she charted the bonds that hold (or fail to hold) us together through time, space and tragedy.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this search is her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower (also: read Kindred, trust me). The tale is framed as the journals of Lauren Olamino, a woman who might one day be revered as a prophet or messiah. For now though, she’s just a terrified teen in the middle of an apocalypse, praying for survival.

Dystopian fiction, along with its post-apocalyptic sister, is a popular genre these days, and with the fractious times we live in it’s not hard to see why. Since I’ve begun writing this column, I’ve had more than one reader comment how energizing rebelling against a dystopia would be or how freeing it would be to “see it all burn down.” The recently departed J.G. Ballard was right when he noted that “The suburbs dream of violence… they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”

In Parable Butler strips any bit of glamour away right out of the gate: dystopian times are mostly death, fear and desperation (ask anyone who’s ever lived through a warzone). But while she topples down one dream, she gives the reader a wondrous and utterly rare thing in novels of a dark tomorrow: hope.

Calling All Writers and Journalists

As we finalize Issue 03, we’re also starting to lay down the groundwork for subsequent issues of Coilhouse Magazine. To that end, we’ve decided it’s time to create a talent database of Coilhouse readers who are interested in working with us to create something new.

Last time, we asked to hear from illustrators and graphic designers. We were overwhelmed by the amount of talented respondents; more than 100 of you wrote in! We’re still sifting through all the amazing portfolios. Each of you should have heard back from us by now, but we just want to thank you again for sharing your work with us.

This time, we’re asking for all you writers out there to contact us if you’d like to write for a future issue of Coilhouse. Here are the specifics:

  • Show us that you have a way with words! Link to or attach writing samples
  • Your writing samples must be nonfiction. Please – no poetry or short stories. At least not at this time. Ideal would be: published articles, really wonderful blog posts.
  • If you’re using blog posts as your writing samples, don’t just say “here’s my blog, check it out.” Link to specific, exceptional posts you’ve made. Take the time, in your email, to include a brief description of what each post is about.

The magazine article you end up writing could be based either on an idea that you approach us with, or based on an idea that we pitch to you. Maybe we’ll play matchmaker and team you up with an illustrator or photographer that we know. Right now those are all just ideas we’ve been toying with for future issues of Coilhouse. Nothing’s set in stone, but we want to see who’s out there.

If this post speaks to you, don’t hesitate to contact us.

SOW’s Anna Wildsmith: New Album Less Psychotic

Still from a promo for the song CryBaby

Early last year I wrote about Sow – what I thought to be spoken word artist Anna Wildsmith‘s long-gone project. “Sick”, Sow‘s skin-peeled-back, beautifully raw 1998 album affects me to this day and I’d been wondering what had happened to Anna since its release. As luck would have it, she came across the post and got in touch. Below, a new song and interview with Anna. She talks about her upcoming album, “Dog”, new collaborations, music that makes her tick and evolving.

You’ve been gone from the public eye for over 5 years now – how much of that is intentional, and why?
SOW has always been a part-time project of mine.  “Dog” took over three years in the making, simply because I live in France and the people I collaborated with on that album live in London. Finding time to work together that coincided with their schedules and mine was difficult.

What have you been up to during this break?
Living a nightmare, renovating a ruin that I should have demolished right from the start and writing and re-writing a never-ending, constantly mutating, increasingly irritating novel.

Listening to Sick for the first time was a thoroughly visceral experience. Every song on that album feels intensely personal – is there a specific experience or series of experiences that influenced you while writing?
I like to watch people, I like to watch myself and then use my imagination to do the rest and come up with lyrics that conjure up the type of atmosphere I wish to convey on any given track. Indeed, I have felt all the emotions I write about, but I have not necessarily experienced the lives of the characters I write about.

Your new album, Dog, takes SOW in a different direction. Sexy, angsty tracks like My House and Victim are sure to keep long-time fans happy, but now there are also catchy songs like Porno Star and More Candy, with a much lighter sound. Is this a natural part of your evolution as a musician, or did you specifically aim to make Dog more accessible?
I think it’s a bit of both really. After a while, you get bored with the same old sound of your words and voice ranting on. Tracks like The Kidnapping of Anna Wildsmith, Pornostar or More Candy were crucial in my attempt to becoming more light-hearted, having fun and being less psychotic in my approach to what I wanted to express with SOW. I didn’t specifically aim to make “Dog” more accessible; it just became so as it evolved in time, like me, I suppose.

Where did the album title come from?
My dog, Buster, was the love of my life. He died, last year, in my arms at the ripe old age of 15. I got him from a famous refuge in London called “Battersea dog’s home” and from the moment I saw him, he gave me much joy. He helped me get through some hard times in my life thanks to his un-adulterated loyalty towards me and without him, I would never have come to live in the middle of nowhere. Taking a walk just doesn’t feel right without him running around by my side, snuffling in the bushes and chasing after cats and rabbits. I wanted to pay hommage to him with this album by introducing some light-heartedness and humour to Sow, qualities, I believe he beheld. I miss you Buster: R.I.P. “Dogs are gods living out in space”.

Anna with her dogs, Buster in mid-air on the right

I love the acoustic elements in the song Blue Sheets. Could you talk about the history behind this dreamy piece?
Rob Henry and I met up in Paris to record in a studio but when we got there, the studio had supposedly never been booked by us but by another band who had settled in there nicely. There was no way of negotiating with the lying cunts and Rob only had three days to spare so it was too late to find another studio. I suggested sightseeing, but Rob got out his laptop and we recorded “Blue sheets” in a friend’s apartment with a lent microphone, a four track Mackie and a bewitching flamenco guitar sample.

What were you listening to while working on Dog? Is there any new music out there you find particularly inspiring?
All sorts of stuff.  I have never really been into any one type of music. I’m not very up to date with what’s going on in the music world at present. One of my heroes would be Brian Eno; a genius in my mind.  Including his own stuff, everything he has ever touched turns to gold (Devo, David Bowie, Roxy music, Talking Heads…). I listen to Iggy Pop and Patti Smith on Sundays and when I’m driving in my car, I play Big Black as loud as I can. A very, very important band in my  world is PULP. I love Jarvis Cocker, his lyrics, his sense of humour, he represents the ideal husband. I like Damon Albarn’s eclectic work and I can spend hours listening to Underworld whilst plastering a wall. Although it may sound crass to some of you out there, I am a fan of Depeche Mode (always was, always will be), and I love Dave Gahan’s latest album “Hourglass”. I get nostalgic when I listen to bands like Joy Division and Magazine, but I cheer up when I listen to The Clash or The Ramones. I love Wham and everything George Michael’s done since. I laugh to Ian Dury and I sneer with glee when I listen to The Stranglers. I like to dance to Motown and 70’s disco too. I enjoy reading to silence and relaxing with Arvo Part. Otherwise, there’s nothing better than a good Sex Pistols track to start off the day. I must sound so old-fashioned.

Are there any spoken word artists you admire?
I never listen to spoken word artists, I can barely bear listening to myself.

Listen to “My House” – a previously unreleased track from Dog, then click the jump for the rest of the interview.

Lighting a Candle for Geocities

I dedicate this dripping blood bar to the memory GeoCities, which was shut down by Yahoo last week:

GeoCities – or GeoShitties, as we all oh-so-cleverly called it – began in 1994 as a community of themed “virtual cities.” There’s a list of all the GeoCities neighborhood names that ever existed on this page, which also offers an illuminating explanation of how the whole process worked:

When GeoCities first started offering free web pages to the public, they decided to create themed neighborhoods. Each neighborhood was then divided into blocks (each block was numbered between 1000 up to 9999). A user would then adopt a block and thus create their own pages within that block. Thus, a user would then have their own web pages located at a URL in this format: (“XXXX” would be a four digit number). The whole management of each Neighborhood was run by volunteers – known as ‘Community Leaders’ (CL’s), which is what made the GeoCities experience so special.

This whole process was known as “homesteading”, and each user had their own  “homestead”. Community Leaders helped out each “homesteader”, and created a friendly atmosphere which contributed to the rapid explosion of personal web pages on the internet.

And though it’s probably been years since any of us have even looked at a GeoCities page (and that’s probably a good thing), to some of us, those pages, with “BourbonStreet” and “SoHo” in their URLs, represented a special time: the period in which audiovisual sharing first really took off on the web. Geocities, along with Angelfire and Tripod, were among the first wave of free personal self-expression sites for the masses. It was the first time that people who weren’t born-and-bred web geeks began to establish an earnest online presence, clumsily piecing together basic HTML (“hello! border = 0!” was the big insult to fling at someone whose page lacked a certain finesse). Sure, it contaminated the web with a lot of bad poetry, but it also brought us a plethora of wonder: band fan sites, zine reviews, scanned photos of interesting strangers from across the world.

GeoCities will completely cease to exist by the end of the year, and all its sites will be wiped from the face of the web forever. Feast your eyes on few of the relics that will be soon be gone [edit: But there’s hope! æon writes in the comments, “jason scott of bbs documentary fame and a team of volunteers are archiving the whole thing.” Click here to learn of their valiant efforts.]:

So… anyone here remember a beloved Geocities site that they’d like to share? Anyone here guilty of actually having ever made their own Geocities page? Let us take a moment to commiserate and recall our first memories of the web, our favorite haunts, the ways we discovered one another. Efnet. Dalnet. Undernet. Midgaard. Webrings. Guestbooks. X of the Y sites. ASCII-embellished sigs. BBSes. Alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die.

What was your first circle of friends on the web? Do you still keep in touch with them? Where did you get your first taste of this great series of tubes?

Better Than Coffee: The Jonzun Crew

I am unwavering in my conviction that Auto-Tune will somehow bring about the destruction of civilization as we know it. And yet… I’ll always have a soft spot for early 80s talkbox/vocoder robot vocals. This morning I’m grinding my beans to Michael Jonzun and his band of space cowboy brothers, The Jonzun Crew.

Left: Michael Jonzun in Manhattan, 1983, photographed by Janette Beckman. Right: LP cover art for Jonzun Crew’s single, “Space is the Place”.

The Boston-based band’s sci-fi theatrics borrowed heavily from the likes of Sun Ra and Parliament, but their electro-funk/hip-hop sound was something quite different. Jonzun Crew had several releases on Tommy Boy between ’81 and ’85. For the most part, their over-the-top costumes kept them sidelined as a novelty act. Eventually, tragically, Michael and his brother Maurice embraced the dark side of the Force, ending their epic space adventure to become executive producers for the likes of New Edition and New Kids on the Block. (Actually, if you click below, you can watch a Jonzun Crew video that includes footage of baby Bobby Brown pop-and-locking for his lamé-clad uncles.)

Allan Amato’s Crossdressing Party Portraits

Issue 01 contributor/photographer Taslimur and Ash

Last Thursday, Coilhouse staff photographer Allan Amato threw a crossdressing party at his studio/loft. For various reasons we ourselves couldn’t make it, and now that we’re seeing the party photos from that night, we’re twice as sad that we weren’t there. To me, these spontaneous, messy party photos are just as powerful as Allan’s most pristine, carefully-composed fashion masterpieces. This series, intended to be only a private gallery for the party attendees until I begged him to let me post it here, is honestly one of my favorite things that Allan’s ever done.

Click after the cut for lots and lots more photos. I identified people where I could, but wasn’t sure of everyone’s name. If you were there, identify yourself in the comments!

Douglas Walker’s Winter Wonderlands

Two things immediately come to mind when looking at Douglas Walker‘s gorgeous oil paintings. One is blue and white china, the other is window frost, its infinite and fragile patterns. Walker paints strange fruit, snow maidens, crystalline architectural marvels and abstract designs that look, to me, like the mating rituals of otherworldly insects.

Walker’s work reminds me of a Russian children’s story called Snegurochka (“Girl of Snow”). In the version I remember, an old childless couple make a girl out of snow, and suddenly she comes alive. They are overjoyed, and take care of her all winter. When spring comes, she wants to play outside, but they don’t want to let her go out. Finally they give in, and she runs out to play in the sun. As the warm rays hit her skin she melts away, gone forever. Apparently there was also a longer version of this story with more sexual overtones. At any rate, there’s something ethereal about Walker’s work that gives me the same feeling as that story. (Bonus for the Russians in the ‘haüs: Walker’s work also recalls this poem, which I can’t find an English translation for.)

See them all on his site, with some favorites after the jump.

We Love Typography: The Latest in Font Porn

Marian Bantjes: Hallowe’en.

If you’re a typophile like me, you squealed with joy last week when the I Love Typography blog announced a new project, We Love Typography: a clean, elegant new groupblog that they call “a FFFFound for all things type, typography, lettering, & signage.”

I wouldn’t call some of the best stuff on this site “eye candy” – it’s more like a china cup of exotic, medicinal herbal tea for the eyes. Looking at refined graphic design really does elevate the soul.