Ludovico Teknique

(Note: This is part of a larger project chronicling the history of punk rock in Marin County, California during the 1980’s.)

After the breakup of UXB in 1983, Peter Hansen, Derek Johnston and Scott Williams formed Ludovico Teknique. In need of a new rhythm guitar player and bassist, Derek posted flyers in local music, record and book shops, advertising for musicians friendly to the band’s punk influences, which ranged from Iggy Pop to The Angelic Upstarts.

It was during this period that Derek first met Mike Crowell at the Rafael Book and News, a beloved Marin newsstand and meeting place on 4th Street in downtown San Rafael. Located next door to the Rafael movie theater, the Book and News attracted a wide and diverse variety of patrons in search of everything from paperback novels and pornography, to movie and music magazines. It went out of business in the late 1980’s when George Lucas bought the building in order to expand his film archive, but in its heyday, this was where you could hang out, socialize and browse through magazines such as Violent World, Hammer’s House of Horror, Cinefantastique, UFO Report, Creem, Punk, Slash and hundreds of other titles. Juneko Robinson recalls that, “it was filled with a lot of stuff that appealed to young people. As a teenager, I remember saving my money so that I could buy a copy of The Encyclopedia of the Occult there.” The place was crammed full of books and periodicals found nowhere else in Marin. With narrow aisles that could accommodate only one person standing sidewise, the store was definitely not wheelchair friendly, and with about 500 square feet of tightly packed books, newspapers, magazines, tobacco, lighter fluid and matches, it was a also a fire hazard. Nevertheless, it was a one-of-a-kind gem that many long-time Marin residents still, today, remember fondly.

Derek was in the Book and News one day when he encountered a couple of metalheads who were looking through music magazines. “I heard one of them say ‘Judas Priest,’ so I leaned over to him and said, ‘Lame.’ Then he said something about The Scorpions, so I leaned over again and said, ‘Lame.’ Finally he looked at me and said, ‘Motorhead?’ I gave him the thumbs up.” The metalhead was Mike Crowell, who recognized Derek as the guitar player from UXB. Derek invited Mike to audition for the new band, and he soon became Ludovico Teknique’s first bassist. He also exchanged his long hair for a skinhead haircut. Kent Cates joined as rhythm guitarist, but was replaced by Ronnie Montana before the band’s first gig.

Ludoviko Teknique’s musical style was in some ways stylistically continuous with UXB, but it also in some ways took a different, more polished and experimental turn. “UXB’s songs were machine-gun like,” says Derek. “If you listen closely, a lot of the guitar parts actually resemble songs by the Circle Jerks. With Ludovico Teknique, I wanted a more ethereal sound. I was looking to do something a little bit different; something more arty.” The “artiness” of Ludovico Technique was reflected in many of the flyers that Derek made to advertise the band’s gigs; one of which invited audiences to “An Evening with Ludovico Teknique” against a backdrop of Greek statuary. The band bio – written by their “press guy” Lon Huber, a cashier at the Book and News – emphasized the band’s synthesis of arty inventiveness and punk belligerence:

“This power-mad, high-energy rock assault team has been known as an art band (tell that to the lead singer Peter and he’ll show you why he has a criminal record), but Ludovico Technique’s music is aesthetically confused enough to drive audiences to frenzies of “dancing” otherwise associated with animals lacking complex nervous systems.”

The bio goes on to suggest that, among all of the band members, it was only Derek who had “a complete sense of the unit’s direction, often sharing his personal philosophy with audiences by whipping full cans of Econobuy beer between songs.” At once aggressive and reflective, raw and polished, the contradictions in Ludovico Technique’s music sought an uneasy compromise between elements of 1970’s British Oi! and street punk (as evidenced by the band’s Clockwork Orange inspired name) and art-rock.

For some fans of UXB, the “ethereal” transition made by Ludovico Teknique was not immediately welcomed. Derek recalls the band’s first performance in 1983 at the Sleeping Lady Café in Fairfax. Instead of a ripped t-shirt, he had decided to appear dressed in a collared shirt and blazer in honor of their new image, but was greeted by jeers from a member of the audience taunting them as “sellouts.” As the band started playing their new set of songs, Derek remembers hearing that same voice yelling, “Play Jesus! Play Jesus!” The reference was to a song that UXB would regularly cover: the incredibly vulgar and sacrilegious Jesus Entering from the Rear, by the Phoenix punk band The Feederz. Derek could see that Peter was getting agitated by the heckler, and in exasperation Peter finally handed the microphone over to the obnoxious audience member, telling him, “You go ahead and sing it!” before storming off stage. Unsure if the other members of the band knew how to play the Feederz song, Derek nevertheless launched into Jesus Entering From the Rear, and John Marmysz, the obnoxious heckler, jumped up on stage to sing the song that would bring their first show to an end.

Ludovico Teknique went on to play regularly in Marin and San Francisco, garnering a dedicated following of fans and good reviews. One critic wrote, “Peter Hansen, formerly of UXB, is a strong lead sing, not too hysterical but histrionic enough for proper entertainment. Excellent lead guitar by Derek, very sensitive for hard rockin’.” When their music started to get local radio play, Derek reports feeling as if things were moving in the right direction. “After we played at the VIS Club one night I was approached by the club’s owner who told me he was interested in promoting us. I thought, ‘this could be good!’” In the end, despite their ambitions, and though Ludovico Teknique would be in existence a year longer than UXB, they would remain an underground, Bay Area phenomenon.

Over the course of three years, Peter and Derek were the band’s core members. Mike was eventually replaced by Darcy ? on bass, and just like UXB, Ludovico Teknique went through a long string of drummers – including Tony Short (from 5th Column and the Toiling Midgets) and Brookes DeBruin – until finally Gary Benson took over as their last drummer. Mike returned to play bass in the band’s last year of existence, 1986; an incarnation that Derek judges to be the band’s finest.

One of Ludovico Teknique’s best numbers, which received a lot of radio play on KUSF, was Blind Justice. Accompanied by a harmonica and female back-up singers, in this song Peter’s vocals fluctuate between punk-rock rawness and operatic grandeur. Peter and his wife had recently had a child, and his lyrics reflect his experience, lamenting the oppression of struggling, working class families by the rich and proposing a revolutionary change in leadership that would balance the scales of social justice:

Blind Justice

Your time has come to pay!

 

I see you drive by every day,

But you don’t ever stop and look my way.

Behind the blackened windows in your Mercedes Benz,

You secretly do condemn.

 

You rob our families, one at a time,

You’ve ripped off everything but our pride.

Well now finally on top and feeling free,

I can see you but you can’t see me!

 

You can have this for free,

A little shot of reality!

Righteous leaders for me!

I wanna see leaders like these!

 

Now I’ve got you in my sights,

And I think I’ll take my own sweet time.

Don’t you worry about your family,

Because you’ll get your justice tonight!

 

It’s a golden opportunity,

To return all the favors that you did for me.

Return your money with lightning speed!

The secret is a shot of reality.

 

Your time has come to pay!

You won’t have to suffer,

I will make you pay!

I wanna see leaders like these!

 

Your lawyers they can buy you time,

But there’s no place left to hide.

You will pay your debt to mankind,

‘Cause justice is no longer blind!

 

They can’t control the masses,

Or any man.

They don’t know the masses, NO!

It’s just an unpaid plan!

Blind Justice illustrates some of the ways that, while rooted in the hardcore punk sensibilities of UXB, Ludovico Teknique’s music was also evolving in a different direction. Their songs were becoming more musically complicated, and their lyrics, while still political and angry, started to focus on the personal struggles and frustrations of adult life.

Ludovico Teknique. From left to right: Mike Crowell, Derek Johnston, Peter Hansen, Gary Benson.

Peter’s appearance and behavior also started to evolve with the band. He grew his hair out, and, as Derek states, started to cultivate an “impressive set of dreadlocks.” His usual mode of dress was no longer “punk,” but was characterized by regular work clothes, and sometimes by a fedora that he would wear on stage. Derek reports that toward the end of the band’s existence, Peter became increasingly distant from his bandmates. Whereas in the past he had been very easygoing and tolerant, he began to exhibit a temper, which Derek recalls once seeing on display at a party. “He was holding his kid and someone sneezed right next to him. Peter blew up, yelling at the guy and threatening him with violence. Peter had always been someone you didn’t want to mess with, but I had never seen him react like that before.”

In addition to the pressures of adult life, it may have been the influence of drugs that were a factor in Peter’s changing demeanor. Peter had developed a heroin habit, and both Derek and Gary recall that this was something that increasingly became a problem for the band’s practice and performance schedule. Derek recalls one show, when they were headlining at the 16th Note in San Francisco, that the band was forced to take to the stage without their lead singer, who was nowhere to be found. They began playing their set, not sure what to do, when finally Peter appeared halfway through the first song. As he began to belt out the lyrics, Derek looked over, and Peter stared back at him wide-eyed, gesturing to his own rear-end. After the gig, Derek learned that Peter had shit his pants on stage.

Another time when Peter was shuttling band members and equipment in San Francisco, Gary recalls that he made an unannounced stop, double-parked his truck and ran into an apartment building. When he came out, he jumped back into the truck, and started speeding down the road. As he drove, Peter threw a heroin filled rig to the person riding in the passenger seat, ordering the passenger to inject it into Peter’s arm. After his fix, Gary reports that Peter acted normal, as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Regularly, according to both Derek and Gary, Peter would disappear when they went into the city, saying that he would catch up with them later, but never reappearing. “We knew he was out looking for dope.”

“I don’t want to make Peter look like the only guy who did drugs,” Derek cautions. “We were all pretty loaded.” But it was Peter’s obsession with heroin that had the most profound impact on the group, affecting both their performances as well as influencing the message of their music. Take, for instance, the lyrics to the song Everything, which Derek calls “Peter’s ode to heroin”:

Everything

 

I run up the stairs, third floor on the right,

Give you a call and I walk up inside.

Surrounded by videos and blinking Christmas lights,

You’re perking your soup there in the candlelight.

 

Everything I need is right here on the table,

All I want to do is lie there on the floor.

I’ve got you, you’re right beside me,

Everything I need is right there on the floor.

 

When I see you, you always make me wait,

But I know you’re up to something now behind that iron gate.

When I try to phone you, you pretend like you’re not home,

Leave me freezing and shakin’ all night alone.

 

Everything I need is right here on the table,

All I want to do is lie here on the floor.

I’ve got you, you’re deep inside me,

Everything I need is right there on the floor.

 

Walk through back alleys in the early morning light,

If I don’t see you everyday I just don’t feel right.

Keep me awake as I knock up on your door,

I see you laying there stretched out on the floor.

 

Everything I need is right here on the table,

All I want to do is lie here on the floor.

I’ve got you, you’re deep inside me,

Everything I need is right there on the floor.

Ludovico Teknique continued performing into 1986. One of their last performances was on the bill with The Pukes, Sacripolitical, Victim’s Family and Fang at the Warehouse in San Rafael. It was a packed show with an enthusiastic crowd. Despite an ungrounded microphone that sent electric shocks through anyone who touched it, all of the bands played their hearts out, putting on tremendous performances; except for the headlining band Fang, whose lead singer was so intoxicated that he was unable even to stand up on stage. After the end of the show Derek and Mike approached the organizer, Mike Kavanaugh, asking to be paid, but Kavanaugh complained that Ludovico Teknique had not put on a very good performance. Besides, he pleaded, he had to reserve enough money to pay the “big name” act that evening, Fang! As a consolation, he offered them $7. Outraged by the injustice, Mike Crowell began yelling at Kavanaugh and spit in his face before storming out of the warehouse. Outside, he discovered the members of Fang crouched inside a sports car doing drugs in the parking lot. Still seething with anger, he proceeded to kick out their headlights with his steel-toed Doctor Martens before stomping away from the scene!

The year after the breakup of Ludovico Teknique, Peter Hansen was killed in a construction accident in Davis, Ca. He fell from the roof of the house that he was working on, hitting his head and dying at age 30. Despite his later drug problems, his bandmates remember Peter warmly and fondly as a friendly, kind and talented man. “He was just this very fatherly, nice sort of guy,” Gary recalls. Derek remembers him as “a really nice guy,” while Mike Crowell says, “He was a fantastic lyricist.”

After Ludovico Teknique, Derek Johnston went on to play guitar in a series of San Francisco acts, including The Noise Boys and The White Trash Debutants. Mike Crowell started a number of bands, the longest running being the Reducers SF, who still perform about once a year. Gary Benson continues to play drums, most recently in the band Earstu. Kent Cates currently plays in Altar DeFay. The other members that made up Ludovico Technique remain MIA.

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Top Ten Nihilist Songs

A playlist of 10 nihilist themed songs.

1. Flipper – Nothing

2. Rancid – Nihilism

3. Sacripolitical – Nihilist Void

4. Fear – No More Nothing

5. Agent Orange – No Such Thing

6. Sex Pistols – No Feelings

7. GG Allin – No Rules

8. Fuck Ups – Negative Reaction

9. Angry Samoans – Lights Out

10 UXB – Anti-Everything

Punk Rocker

punkrockerpinsmediumtransPunk Rocker (previously Nihilism on the Prowl) is a website containing an amazing collection of old school punk rock reviews, interviews, profiles and music links. Peter from Wolverhampton, UK, has poured his heart and soul into this project, archiving material that would otherwise probably be lost and forgotten. The result is a real treat for anyone into punk rock music and culture.

I have already spent hours exploring the material on this site. Peter’s own reflections on his life in punk – and his life in general – made me think about how similar all veteran punks are, regardless of where we come from. We start off playing in bands and publishing zines and then, as we age, move on to dealing with health issues and taking care of ill and aging loved ones. Peter writes about this common life trajectory with humor and honesty.

Although there are many nooks, crannies and dark corners of the website that I have not yet fully investigated, here are some of the gems that have grabbed my attention so far:

swazjrrippeddestroy77Peter’s article “Swastika & Punk” is an interesting exploration of the use of the swastika as a symbol by such early punk artists as The Ramones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Sex Pistols. Peter (rightly) observes that an advocacy of Nazism was not the inspiration behind the punk appropriation of the swastika; rather it was used as a gesture of provocation, inspired by the Situationist art movement and employed in order to inflame discomfort among the mainstream. Peter points out that while many anti-racist bands punk bands did flaunt the swastika, ironically an explicitly racist band like Screwdriver never did.

Scotland Uber Alles” is a 1979 piece by Garry Bushell, first published in Sounds Magazine, that focuses on a variety of Scottish punk and new wave bands, mostly from around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Not a lot of well known punk bands came from this part of the UK – The Exploited, Rezillos, and The Skids are the most familiar names – but Bushell’s coverage of this scene is especially fascinating as it highlights the idea that much real British punk, even in 1979, was happening outside of the London spotlight, in places like Scotland, “the land of the strapping jocks.”

various-allquietcovershadowCloser to my own home, “Thrash and Blood” is a 1983 article first published in the New Musical Express showcasing California hardcore bands from the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Some of the bands highlighted here are still among my favorites: The Angry Samoans, MDC, Social Unrest, Flipper. The article puts a lot of focus on the compilation album Not So Quiet on the Western Front, a record that came out when I was a teenager and that featured underground bands from Northern California like: NBJ, No Alternative, The Church Police, UXB, and many, many others. This was music not fit for mainstream radio, made by people we all knew and hung around with. As was the case in the UK, this album emphasized the fact that in the early 1980’s some of the best and most confrontational underground music came from places outside of the big, high profile cities, and was made by kids playing in garages in front of their friends.

avengerspenelopelive1977jamesstark An article on Penelope Houston, lead singer for the Avengers (and now the head archivist of Special Collections at the San Francisco Public Library), is hilarious for the inane questions asked by the interviewer and for the old photos from 1978. First published in Search and Destroy, the interview covers everything from Houston’s violent behavior (she once hit someone in the face for playing a Damned album while she was trying to sleep), to her hair color, fashion sense, and the loss of her virginity. Silly and fun, it brings back memories of what it was like to be an angry, creative, emotional teenager.

There is a huge amount of material on this website, and with each click there is more to be discovered. Peter has put together a vast scrap book of punk rock memories; a music and culture fanzine for the internet era. If you are into old school punk this is a site that I highly recommend checking out!

Free Music Download

SacricaseI have posted the 1993 Sacripolitcal EP Peace: Under Our Supervision as a free download on bandcamp.  There is talk of a band reunion, so now is the time to acquaint yourself with this wonderful musical nihilism!

You’ll also find a short bio of Sacripolitical at Screams From the Gutter.

Angelic Upstarts

6ruopt6qoib54u2tilhfThe Angelic Upstarts roared through a stirring set of old and new songs when they performed at Thee Parkside in San Francisco last night. Ever since I was a teenager, the Upstarts have been one of my favorite bands, although I never had the chance to see them play live until now.

This is a band with lots of heart and plenty of passion. Starting in the late 1970’s, The Angelic Upstarts recorded albums for Warner Brothers, EMI and Anagram, before producing an almost countless number of EPs, singles and albums on independent labels, the latest of which is the excellent Bullingdon Bastards. I still find myself a bit dumbfounded that a band with the intensely aggressive sound and political stance of the Upstarts was at one time thought a marketable commodity by major record labels; but the atmosphere of the late 1970’s was a unique one. On the heels of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, record executives were apparently looking for the next big punk act to cash in on. The appeal of the Angelic Upstarts, however, is different from these other well known punk bands. The Upstarts are not at all philosophically ambiguous, they are not playfully ironic, nor do their songs dance around the issues, only vaguely hinting at politics. No, the message of the Angelic Upstarts is clear and in-your-face, making them a hard act to package and market to a mass audience. Wearing their left-wing politics on their sleeves,  this is a band that unapologetically bashes right-wing politicians and the police, while also promoting socialism and communism. While this might stand a chance of gaining some traction in Europe, here in the US it is an attitude that immediately relegates a band to the underground. But that’s fine with me. Vague, mainstream pap bores me to tears. Say what you want about the Angelic Upstarts; but you can’t say they are boring!

During the show at Thee Parkside, the Upstarts performed just about every song that I was hoping for: 2 Million Voices, Anti-Nazi, Shotgun Solution, Kids on the Street, Solidarity, Police Oppression, Red Flag, and others. The crowd enthusiastically sang along, fists raised skyward, chanting the choruses as one. Despite a single altercation on the dance floor between two fans – which was moderated and diffused by Mensi, the lead singer – the atmosphere in the club was friendly and filled with unity. The message of the music was well heeded by the crowd: we’re all in this together; we are all part of the same movement whether we are young or old. The show came to a fitting conclusion when the band covered Sham 69’s If the Kids are United.

Angelic UpstartsThomas “Mensi” Mensworth is remarkable on-stage. He is old, fat and not as tall as I imagined. He is not – and has never been – a polished or trained singer, but that is beside the point. It is his passion, humor and authentic commitment to punk that is exhilarating. Punk rock, after all, has been the focus of the majority of his life, and it is obvious that he really enjoys it. When introducing songs that he wrote decades ago, Mensi reminds the audience that he still believes in the message after all these years. In addition to singing, he preaches, he jokes, he spits anger. During a lull between songs he recited poetry provoking a young man standing next to me to  groan, shake his head and leave the performance area in apparent disgust. But so what? The Angelic Upstarts don’t just want to entertain; they want to incite, inflame and confront their audiences. Mensi is a master of this art.

Toward the end of the show, as the temperature in the club climbed to uncomfortable heights,  Mensi informed the crowd that he was about to impress the ladies by taking off his shirt. Doing so, he revealed a torso emblazoned with tattoos as well as a huge gut displaying a pattern of serious looking surgery scars. “My body is a temple,” he laughed, “but it’s in ruins!”

He is an impressive ruin, and his band is still amazing after almost 40 years!