Last Friday saw the seminal sounds of Suicide headline Doug Aitken‘s multimedia happening Station to Station, alongside other musical provocateurs such as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, the Boredoms’ Yoshimio, Dan Deacon, and No Age. You could call it a reunion of sorts, except that Suicide never really split up. In the spirit of its members Martin Rev and Alan Vega, the duo never felt inclined to placate the expectations of what constitutes a remotely traditional band trajectory.
With both members now in their 60s, their performance was as menacing as I imagine it would have been in its late-’70s prime, spelling out a disjointed message of deconstructionism. On a musical front, Martin Rev used hypnotic drum loops and a keyboard playing style that more resembled an interpretive dance than musicianship, while Alan Vega crept across the stage with a cane, shouting stories of blue collar archetypes gone horribly awry. This fashion, almost perfectly in simpatico with their timeless allusion to the underbelly of American psychology, felt as relevant a performance as any that night, even though it perhaps left what audience members remained with ringing ears and an unsettling feeling in their gut.
Suicide are a seminal “protopunk” musical project that could only have been birthed from the primordial ooze of lower Manhattan in the ’70s. This context is important because unlike the institutionalized bohemia one might witness in SoHo nowadays, their music required a highly energized and dangerous environment to echo its aggressively horrifying sentiment. Musically alluding to the motives of early rock n’ roll and beat poetry within a sonic encasing of futurist noise, Suicide has been credited for inspiring a broad spectrum of acts, from Radiohead to Bruce Springsteen (see his cover of “Dream Baby Dream”). Their visual dynamic, coupled with their focus on performance rather than traditional musicianship, was borderline blasphemous in its time, but now can be seen throughout the independent and popular musical landscape.
Suicide has long been credited for being responsible to first use the word “punk” to promote their music, although as Alan Vega once said, “Suicide had to be the ultimate punk band because even the punks hated us.” Their disjointed aesthetic spoke poignantly to the collective anger of a post-hippie generation, broken by the lofty failures of ‘free love’ ideology and the omnipotent American machine. Their desire to push back came in the form of a prophetic duo with synthesizer, drum machine, and FX-laden vocalist; an aesthetic that unbeknownst to their contemporaries, would prove to become the popularized norm almost a decade after the fact and beyond. Suicide’s performance at Station to Station speaks to two important struggles in modern music: 1) The importance of retaining a relationship with the adversity that inspires young musicians to express themselves in the first place, and 2) The invisible timetable that encourages bands to retire into a state of safely impersonating themselves. Long live Suicide.
Photo by Mic Becker.