Review- EDWIN POUNCY (box set)

Los Angeles Free Music Society - The Lowest Form of Music 10-CD Box Set reviewed by Edwin Pouncey, The WIRE

The early 70s were lean years for American music, which was still suffering from the aftershock of Altamont, Manson and the death of the Love Generation. In California the airwaves were spewing forth commercial rock and disco, while punk was only in its infancy on the East Coast, and the Midwest and had yet to make its mark across the nation. Any avant garde activity around this time was limited, although the first tentative stabs at FM rock's soft white underbelly were being plotted. In San Francisco, The Residents pressed up their debut album Meet The Residents on their own Ralph Records label, which had a cover that scurrilously defaced Meet The Beatles in a shameless attempt to gain some underground notoriety. Years later it worked.

Further along, brothers Jad and David Fair would unleash their own, equally outrageous debut EP as Half Japanese, a noise classic that many would blindly ignore, but later pay serious money to own a copy.

In the middle of all this rose the awe-inspiring spectre of The Los Angeles Free Music Society, a happy band of musical oddballs who had grown up on the collected works of The Mothers Of Invention, Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra and composer Harry Partch (to name a few) and were eager to let their own creative demons loose on the world. This Californian collective were well versed in the room-clearing power of free jazz and improvised music in general, but they were also aware that something new and revolutionary was required if music on a challenging level was to progress and survive.

Listening to this astonishing, lovingly packaged ten-CD set (which contains all the important LAFMS records plus a batch of unreleased material) it is the versatility of the groups concerned that causes the jaw to drop. Pluck any CD from the concertina styled plastic folder that contains them, and prepare to be astonished as Le Forte Four reinvent musique concrete American style and come up with a tribute to "Japanese Super Heros" that predates The Boredoms by a couple of decades. Elsewhere The Doo-Dooettes (featuring drummer Dennis Duck, who much later would join Steve Wynn's The Dream Syndicate) twist the pop song's neck with devastating results, while Smegma lock on to the greasy Dada teenage outrage element of Freak Out-era Mothers and mutate it still further. As well as producing records, LAFMS held Fluxus-style concerts and happenings, published a magazine called Light Bulb, and under the direction of Ace Farren Ford, released three volumes of a compilation entitled Blorp Essette, original copies of which are today highly desired because of a rare Residents track on the first volume and for the cover art which was drawn by Ford's hero Captain Beefheart.

As all of the LAFMS catalogue was originally available only in limited quantities and mostly by mail order this brave venture is to be applauded and admired. By dragging together the original team of Tom Recchion, Dennis Duck, Fredrik Nilsen, Kevin Laffey, Jerry Bishop, and Joe and Rick Potts, compilers Ron Lessard and Gary Todd have returned to the planet a slab of 70's American musical history which was in danger of being trampled underfoot and forgotten. That would have been a tragedy, as everything squeezed into this box is, once heard, an unforgettable experience.

Edwin Pouncy

originally published in THE WIRE


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