Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, December 31, 2007

Or Is There Only One End?

Okay, this post IS related to DEVO, but kind of indirectly, or directly in an indirect sort of manner, or indirectly in a direct sort of manner, or...


(Bear with me. I've been overdoing the festivities a bit this year, and both my mind and body don't seem to be working quite right.)

As many if not most of you know, my musical tastes are many and varied. I happily listen to (as well as perform) a wide variety of music. I can enjoy laying back with some Mozart or Beethoven before going in the other room and putting on Nickelback. Put my iPod on random shuffle and you may get Enya followed by ZZ Top followed by Secret Garden followed by Rush followed by Vangelis followed by Tangerine Dream followed by Soundgarden followed by The Smashing Pumpkins followed by My Bloody Valentine followed by Muddy Waters followed by Adiemus. You just never know quite what is going to come next.

And of course, there is also DEVO. The "spudboys" from Akron, Ohio, who once described their music as "the important sound of things falling apart", have long been one of my favorites. In fact, when they started out back in the mid to late 70s they were so...bizarre...that no one quite knew what to make of them. Their sound became a bit more accessible by the time of their third LP, Freedom of Choice, which included the smash hit "Whip It", but they were always pioneers pushing the edges of popular music. As one of the first rock bands (if not the first band) to use synthesizers as a principal rhythm instrument, they literally set the stage for the techno-pop of the 80s. They were not only mainstays of MTV from the beginning, but they helped create the whole idea of music video since the band was created from the start with making movies its principal goal. By the end of the 80s the band had become almost a parody of itself, falling into the very swamp of commercialism that it had mocked in its early days, but it continued. Even now, though no longer making albums, DEVO is still at work mainly producing background music and themes for TV programs.

Segue to Japan in the late 90s.

In 1999 I was watching highlights of one of Japan's many excellent rock festivals on the TV when a band came on that I didn't know, but it definitely caught my eye. They were dressed in logo-sporting radiation suits and polarized goggles that looked a lot like DEVO's early costume. Some of the members also moved in a robot-like manner also reminiscent of early DEVO. However, the music, though similar to DEVO's in some ways, was much more energetic, hyperactive, even crazy, more like Japanese punk. The band also differed from DEVO in that it included two female members. I was intrigued with the band, but I never caught its name, and for years it was a mystery.

Now hop to December, 2007. An article about the band appeared in my newspaper. The name of the band is Polysics (named after the Korg Poly-6 synthesizer), and they are apparently in the middle of a highly successful tour of the U.S. after an apparently equally successful U.S. and European release of a compilation album. Learning the name of the band allowed me to do a bit more research. Apparently here in Japan, as with DEVO in the U.S., they are best known for making theme songs for cartoons. However, unlike DEVO, Polysics have become only marginally more "accessible". For the most part their music is as deliciously twisted and chaotic as it has always been.

Just for fun, here is a video of their song "Each Life, Each End", which dates from 2002, which was after their female keyboard bassist had left and before their subsequent female bass guitarist had joined, so there are only three members. It is interesting that the video starts with a uniformed officer giving a speech, very much in the manner of DEVO's "General Boy". The band says that they mold themselves "in the spirit of DEVO", though their music includes influences such as The Tubes, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and a number of Japanese bands. Anyway, have fun with this:

Here, just for fun and comparison, is a video of DEVO back in the late 70s performing their unique cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" live (at least before it gets pulled):

Hmm...can you see any similarity? Actually, vocalist/keyboardist/sometimes guitarist Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO apparently uses a Polysics CD as his call waiting music at his office. What does that tell you?


  • A fun New Year's juxtaposition--DEVO and Polysics.

    Happy 2008, Moody--may it be good to you and your close ones and your art!

    By Blogger San, at 7:47 AM  

  • amusing, entertaining, but best taken in small dosages...

    By Anonymous Dave, at 8:47 AM  

  • The Polysics are fantastic. It's great to have a latter-day Devo band. Plus, I LOVE the fact that they have girls in the band. that is just Yummy.

    By the by, have you read We Are Devo!

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 9:47 AM  

  • love Devo... still get a bounce in my step and like to sing along any time i hear Whip It!!!!

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 7:21 AM  

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