Tuesday, January 16, 2007

lost soldiers of "alternative" music

Back in the gold rush days of the early 90s alternative music scene, my brother and I used to have a handy catch-all put down for bands who were big on the local scene and had some “management interest”, possibly even a hint of the mythical “showcase gig”. After a short while this would invariably come to naught. We referred to such bands as a “major-label tax-loss”.

Is it any wonder that bad things happen to us? That’s karma, my friend…

This was the time when college-rock bands from nowheresvilles everywhere could unwittingly find themselves being signed up by a huge multinational record label and having to pay off a huge advance for the rest of their natural lives (see Steve Albini’s classic rant The Problem with Music)

This seems to have been the story for Tripmaster Monkey. Now, I know absolutely nothing about this band, and the interweb doesn’t yield much by the way of search results. The only reason I own their first album at all is because when I was at University there were stalls selling cheap CDs every Wednesday. “Goodbye Race” was about 2-3 quid and had a kind-of Trumans Water-lite hand-scrawled CD cover (with written notations and doodles). Looked a bit “Slanted & Enchanted”, so whatever, I’ll bite. The album even had the ultimate early 90s cred-badge - the track that the band recorded themselves (keeping their lo-fi roots, no?).

I played bits of it once and shoved it in a cupboard.

A couple of weeks ago, 10 years plus after the fact, I dug it out again while looking for something different to listen to. Maybe it’s to do with being older but I was filled with empathy for The Monkeys and played it through three times, a feat I have bettered whilst writing this.

Tripmaster Monkey - Albert's Twisted Memory Bank

Is this what’s called “emo”? There are big obvious crunching chords and big sing-along choruses – the tunes are a bit predictable but a cliché is only a good idea repeated, yes? And loud guitars are one of the reasons why (in the broadest possible sense) we’re all here, right? So let’s get off our high horses. Hey, it worked for Guided By Voices, didn’t it?

Tripmaster Monkey - Pecola

On listening again I saw what I perceived to be their struggle; that of the local band, playing gigs for their mates so they can get into bars, always drawing a good crowd of people telling them how cool they are. Perhaps they self-release something – an EP maybe? - and tour to promote it. Enter the A&R man, wafting a cheque book in their face – “where do I sign?!”

They get to go to Fort Apache – “Hey, Pixies/Dinosaur/etc recorded here! Does it get any better?” – and record an album. They tour, they do some press, they produce their second album themselves… they don’t recoup, they get dropped.

Tripmaster Monkey - Depravation Test

But let’s not pass the hat – maybe I watch too many TV Movies. And anyway, I bet they had a blast. They got to go to Fort Apache – Hey, Pixies/Dinosaur/etc recorded there! Could it get any better?

They recorded at least one pretty bloody good album (even if it took me 10 years to realise…). They toured, they did some press. So what if they didn’t recoup and got dropped? What a trip. And what a cool story to tell in the pub!

Tripmaster Monkey, I salute you!

Buy - Tripmaster Monkey “Goodbye Race”
Visit - Tripmaster Monkey MySpace (fan page)


Hey, I think Boyscout would probably have entered the category you mention in your intro...how I loved those London gigs on a week night....dance lucky children indeed!

Im from Iowa, USA, and used to see/play with Tripmaster Monkey alot. Great guys, put out a couple albums on Sire, then split to form other bands(Chrash, Tenki). Funny you mention GBV, because the last show we played together, the singer Chris and I sang GBV songs drunk on a roof. Really cool to stumble on this post, funny how this music sounds like something you'd hear today. Thanks.

hey, anonymous commenter, thanks for stopping by - that's what struck me when i played the album recently, it sounds really 'now'. glad the monkeys were good guys - there's information on both the bands mentioned at futureappletree.com
marc-o - i don't know what you mean...

i remember playing tripmaster monkey when i was a DJ in college. memories! xo c

Anonymous (2)
Steve, thanks for the salty salute. some facts are different but you got the gist of the story correct. It was a fantastic ride and a great story now. truth be known Goodbye Race was my least favorite. Check out Practice Changes or Faster Than Dwight. We were on Che'in the U.K. We did a 8 day trip through London and Wales in the early 90's. Legendary performance at the "Garage" and so so at Camden Palace. Regardless we are still doing it. Still in love with it. Check out http://myspace.com/chrashmusic thanks for the memories Christian Burnout 

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