Viewed through the distorting lens of time, the Los Angeles underground music scene
of the late 70's can appeared to have been a hive of homogenous hate rock. Remembered
dimly, the years and the crowds and the distinctly different bands and individuals
blend into an undifferentiated and striatically non-ordered mass. Of course this
was not the case. Almost all of the bands (and band-clusters) strove for discretely
different goals, and their respective muses arose from widely variant sources. That
said, few bands were as different from their punky peers as were the Urinals.
In a milieu in which glam-rock residue was abundant, the Urinals were as nudely
uncostumed as the beach punk bands that would gush along in their wake. The Urinals
evinced similar disdain for standard song formulae. Their best tunes were small
jagged shards busted out of some unwritten whole. At the time, comparable only to
early Wire, their songs were short enough and monochromatic enough to seem utterly
unresolved the first time you heard them. One riff per song was often enough, one
vocal line would suffice. While the Urinals' compositions sometimes offered more
than these basics, the material frequently seemed pared down to the absolute minimum
number of elements required for them to exist as verifiable songs. Many others subsequently
used the same technique: San Pedro's Minutemen (a band formed in virtual homage to
the Urinals), Boston's Mission of Burma, Dunedin's The Clean, and even Aberdeen's
N******. Indeed, the Urinals were playing a crudely refined brand of avant-garage
art-punk at a time when most youngsters were still trying to figure out the chords
to "Neat Neat Neat".
The Urinals were formed in the Fall of 1978 by two UCLA film students (John Jones
and Kevin Barrett) and a philosophy major (Kjehl Johansen) who happened to live in
the same dorm. Attracted by the primitive musical aesthetics of the punk scene, they
assembled a five-piece combo with no musical experience to make a kind of tongue-in-cheek
statement on popular culture by writing really short songs that anyone could play.
But the three core members became so caught up in the powerful scrape they generated
that things began to mutate immediately. By Halloween of that year their goofy faux-punk
window dressing was gone, and the Urinals were creating a set of songs that pushed
them straight into and through the wall of their technical abilities.
Vitus Matare of The Last attended their Halloween performance and offered to record
the Urinals, in his studio (and his parent's poolhouse). Thus the tracks were laid
for the band's eponymous first EP, which they released on their own Happy Squid label.
Scratchy little spikes of tunage dipped into some mesmeric potion, the four tracks
on this EP defined the parameters of the sounds that the Urinals would explore during
their lifespan. Other recordings followed, and the band shared bills with Black Flag,
the Middle Class, Circle Jerks, Roky Erikson and the Gun Club, amongst others, while
their label released material by Leaving Trains, Meat Puppets, Neef, and plenty more.
Then, in early 1981, the Urinals realized that their focus had changed. As their
playing became more accomplished and their songwriting became more sophisticated,
they started to feel that their name was no longer indicative of the music they were
producing. Assessing their situation, they determined that they were no longer The
Urinals. They assumed a new name, 100 Flowers, and began producing material that
expanded upon melodic textures and rhythmic constructions in a way that the Urinals
(by self-imposed aesthetic definition) could not.
Heard now, a decade and a half after this magnificent trio's last show, the songs
demonstrate that the band was fast falling forward into the void of collapsing styles
and traditions. Their cover of Soft Machine's "Why Are We Sleeping?" simultaneously
celebrates and trashes the art school continuum better than any of the era's similarly
intended cover tunes. But the Urinals' real strength was their original material:
the three seven-inchers they recorded have long been considered classics. And rightly
so. Songs like "Hologram" and "Sex" still hit my brain as hard as they did then,
and I'm sure you'll have the same impression, even if you've never heard the bastards
The Urinals were a superb band for their time. And their time is now. And you are
with them. Count your fucking stars, lucky.
— Byron Coley
Northampton, MA 1996
Notes excerpted from THE URINALS Negative Capability, Check It Out
available again through Warning Label Records.
The third time's certainly charming on this Urinals 45. The Sallie Lane address indicates a first issue PS.
CONTACT: Break My Face