Thursday, October 29, 2009


Jon Lukens is a misunderstood genius. I have been a fan of Retconned since the first time I saw him play in 2001. His performances are astounding, strange, and alienating in all the best ways. He told me once that I was somehow involved with just about every show he ever played in New York City. I asked him to put his work in context for you, and this is what happened:

"My punk band broke up.

When I started writing songs as Retconned in 1997, I'd had no real musical sustenance since the breakup of Year Zero, a punk band I had fronted from 1994-1996. So, I was getting antsy. Talking to Long Hind Legs and Thrones when they played at 485 Robinson, Valery Lovely’s house in Atlanta, encouraged me to go ahead with what I'd been considering: I bought a sampler.

I started out playing guitar and using the sampler as a rhythm section. I'd very little musical experience outside of 'singing' for a few punk bands, and was excited to take on songwriting. There were a few other factors at work, though. I was born with a chip on my shoulder, but that was compounded by an unspoken and one-sided competition: I was motivated by my desire to make up for the fact that my brother's band, the hal al Shedad, was (very deservedly) quite popular, while my previous band, the aforementioned Year Zero, seemed to work hard but go nowhere. Of course, The hal al Shedad were by far the better band, but I was younger then, and it was a lot more difficult for me to accept that there were factors (like talent, luck, catchiness, and social network) outside of my control. It seems that my general attitude at the time was that all problems could be solved by a humorless soul-crushing dedication to poorly defined objectives.

So, while many people pick up a bass or guitar sometime around middle school, and then get a few years of practice in before starting their first 'real' bands, I was trying to do it all myself in a manner of months. A poorly designed Ensoniq sampler and my cluelessness were my only assets. I started playing out relatively frequently, and soon cut a seven inch, RET-1, which I released myself. I followed that up with the CD Simulant Skin Included, my first full-length for Gavin Fredrick's Stickfigure Records. Both were recorded with the Ed Rawls.

RET-1 and Simulant Skin Included were (and remain) huge pieces of shit. They drew quite a few comparisons to 'industrial' bands I had never heard of, and the idea that dudes in kilts with shave-arounds might be into Retconned was just another blow to my already low musical self-opinion. At the same time, my live shows were becoming increasingly depressing: I'd come up in a scene where people like Scott MC, Craig Dempsey, Frank Jensen and Rebecca Merchant would be up front at house shows dancing and visibly enjoying themselves. By '98, a lot of that seemed to have faded, and, in spite of my intentions, my music just seemed to freak people out. The more uncomfortable the audience got, the more alienated I felt; and the more alienated I felt, the more uncomfortable the audience got. So it went. I tried incorporating props and slide shows into my live set to counteract the weirdness, but people began to expect those things, and soon they felt like gimmicks. I felt like I was caught between being considered a joke or a novelty and being considered some sort of bad avant-bullshit.

I remember one gig in Knoxville being particularly heinous. After being accosted by some fat fuck in sweatbands with an unplugged electric bass and a fanclub of wailing sorority bitches, I cut my set off early and started to pack out. Someone who worked at the show space tried to cheer me up.

'I think you'd go over really well at this place up the street,' he said.

'What is it?' I asked.

'It's a bondage and fetish club.'

'Is it all ages?' I asked.

I don't think he realized that I was joking, but I think that that dialogue really highlights the disparity between where I came from and where I found myself.

I moved to Brooklyn. At first, the change was good for me. I gave up on trying to sound like a punk band, and started listening to Pole, Panasonic and Scientist. Subpoena the Past's This Year's Eclipse was one of the few records that made me feel like things weren't hopeless. I wrote a record of minimal instrumental material called Triangle, but never released it. I was also working with my brother and James Joyce on a project called Ultivac. I learned a lot from that, but In the interests of brevity I need to refrain from discussing non-Retconned projects. There were a lot of them.

I played shows infrequently in NY. Reception was mixed, but generally poor. I don't think I had any idea about the way that what I was doing went over, but I did it anyway. Watching a guy play a show with a sampler or a laptop has more in common with watching grass grow than with watching a band like The Ex or Fugazi. Soon, I was spending most of my free time playing with Amverts, a short-lived NYC band made up of other ATL xpats.

In 2002, Stickfigure and volumeone jointly released my second full-length record, Game Sounds. I recorded it myself.

Through my old friend Rob Hallowes I arranged to tour Europe with Bilge Pump, a great band from Leeds that few people over here seem to have heard of. I had a good time with with those guys, though my shows were generally poorly received - just more of me freaking people out in spite of my intentions to the contrary. I guess there were not a lot of solo acts playing electro-punk off laptops in Swiss squats back then. I remember playing in the deep-end of a drained, graffitti-covered indoor swimming pool in Kranj, SI. The next night I played at an outdoor fest in Zelezniki. I went on second, following a pretty heavy band. After I played, their guitarist approached me.

'You are the freaker.' He said.

'But you are the rocker.' I replied.

'But YOU are the freaker.' He said.

'But you, YOU are the rocker. I said.

After a pause, he said 'Yes, but I come from many places.'

After a few more years of NYC, I moved back to Atlanta, hoping to start a band with my friend Joshua Fauver. I replaced all of my equipment, wrote a record called "Just Keep Shooting" that I never released, self-released a CD called IN ALL CAPS, and went on a strange tour of New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Florida (Yes, you read that correctly) with a an act called Recompas. The similarity of our names was confusing. Soon after, Army of Bad Luck and Stickfigure released Unhappenings, my first record that I actually liked. Last year, Stickfigure released Has Been, another full-length CD. My infrequent shows in Atlanta have generally been ok. It even seems like I have a few fans. If you do something for ten years you get better at it.

I have a single coming out on Army of Bad Luck this spring, which will be followed up by a full-length titled The Former Miss USA."

I asked Josh Fauver to speak about Retconned, and this was his response:

"My favorite Retconned show of all time was this show he did at c-12 warehouse (at the time, Stickfigure HQ) and he had brought with him all these wind-up walking toy cows that he had let loose into the audience. Sounds harmless enough, but he had torn some of the plush covering off of some of them so that they were these terrifying little fleshy robots poised to invade the audience.  Sometimes he would pick them up and turn them the other way if they got to close to an attendee's foot. What I learned: 1) Technology is both furry and terrifying.  2) Retconned will do what he can to protect us from harm, but you're on your own where the nightmares are concerned. 3) Not only is Retconned a step ahead of us all, so are his toys."

James Joyce (formerly of the Hal al Shedad, Ultivac, etc.) had this to say:

"Jon Lukens is one of the most artistic and creative persons I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He is not a musician in a traditional sense – he is an artist making music. Ever since 1997, I have watched him develop his craft and get more and more effective at realizing his intended expression, with every album becoming better than the last. Sometimes I have been able to help him with some live drums, or as a person to bounce ideas off, but he really is a singular visionary of our era. I always look forward to hearing his new songs and the sounds he is able to create through those gadgets of his, and hearing about his ideas and approaches to songwriting. I think my favorite Retconned show was the Retconned Cover Band show I helped him with back in January 2008. Josh Fauver was able to take several Retconned songs and transcribe them to guitar, which we played in a live guitar/bass/drums setting with Jon as the lead vocalist and his brother Benjamin on bass. It showed how unique and interesting his music really is when you present it in such a stripped down, classic format. Jon and his music are truly originals."

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Retconned.

RET-1 (Stickfigure)
1. Nowhere
2. Unhigher Ground

Simulant Skin Included (Stickfigure)
1. The Lice On The Lion
2. Beat The Crowd
3. Fight Scene
4. Light And Filth
5. Syntheskinned
6. Multiply, Multiply
7. Childbirth On Video
8. Seed Me
9. Hang On Over
10. It Has Its Moments
11. Processorized

Game Sounds Demos 2001 (Pukekos)
1. Human Pyramid
2. Recount
3. Capacity
4. Pyramid
5. Tshirt

Game Sounds (Stickfigure)
1. Capacity
2. Grid
3. Live At The Driverdome
4. Endless Summer
5. At The Border
6. Ask God For Money
7. Tomorrowville
8. Coptography
9. Tshirt
10. Pyramid
11. Untitled
12. Impotential
13. Lead Into Wine
14. Postcard

Scooter Depot (Scooter Depot)
1. Self Cleaning
2. Synonymous With Quality

IN ALL CAPS (Stickfigure)
1. A Cool Million
2. The Interview
3. Penetration 3
4. Repeat It
5. Volunteers
6. Heaven
7. Expert Witness
8. Snowflake
9. The Color No
10. Bring The Jubilee
11. Flags
12. Home Before The Sky Falls
13. Blue Air
14. Boxcar

Nophi Presents: Compilation Three (Nophi)
1. Shark Hearts

Unhappenings (Army of Bad Luck/Stickfigure)
1. Opposed Thumb
2. The Interview
3. Survival System Same
4. The Crusades
5. Obvious
6. In The Lines
7. The Cars That Go Boom
8. Bring The Jubilee
9. Public Address
10. Public Image
11. Boxcar
12. Flags

Has Been (Stickfigure)
1. Tiger Mountain
2. Has Been
3. History Lesson
4. Babys On Fire
5. High Speed Dubbing
6. All My Children
7. Home
8. October 20
9. Santo and Johnny
10. Fist Full of Dollars
11. Saucer
12. Here Comes Goodbye
13. White Horse

In Assembly b/w Passenger List (Pukekos)
1. In Assembly
2. Passenger List

We No Fun (We No Fun)
1. Nein Ten

Live in Dublin 7/18/02 (Pukekos)
1. Ask God For Money
2. Beat The Crowd
3. Coptography
4. Postcard
5. Pyramid
6. Recount
7. Tshirt
8. Untitled

Live at Lenny's 12/27/03 (Pukekos)
1. Postcard
2. Endless Summer
3. At The Border
4. Untitled
5. Grid
6. Impotential
7. Coptography
8. Capacity
9. Pyramid
10. Untitled

1 comment:

Ben Coleman said...

It's a small fucking world. I visited your site for the first time earlier today, looking for French psych. Now I find a friend of mine's entire discography on here! This is Ben Coleman, and I'm in a band with James Joyce.
Also, the word verificationto post here is 'unishat'. A crypic rehash of Ultivac?
How wonderfully peculiar. Nice to meet you.