Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Toy Killers

"On Dec. 15th, 2008 ugEXPLODE Records released the great lost New York No Wave record: Toy Killers The Unlistenable Years. This 67 minute CD features previously unheard recordings circa 1980-1984 by the destructive Downtown NYC duo formed by improv madmen Mark E. Miller and Charles K. Noyes with special guests John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, Bill Laswell, Arto Lindsay and many more. The Unlistenable Years is a vital document of some seriously weird and awesome music by some seminal musicians at the top of their games early in their careers. The Unlistenable Years is an absolute must-have for diehard No Wave, Noise, Free Improvisation and post-punk aficionados... here's the story....

Back in 1988, when I was ripe 16 years old, I got hold of a compilation on Homestead Records entitled Speed Trials. This LP was a document of an experimental music festival from 1983 and featured early live cuts by Sonic Youth, Swans, the pre-rap Beastie Boys, The Fall, Lydia Lunch, and others. The stand-out track was a very chaotic, violent song by a band called "Toy Killers", seemingly led by DNA guitar mutilator Arto Lindsay. Of particular note on this great recording was the hecticly discontinuous drumming of Charles K. Noyes - I had never before heard anything quite as disruptive and random as the percussion Noyes laid down on this song. I was instantly hooked. I did some further research and found another record Noyes was on: the bizarre 1983 Korean/free improv hybrid double album Invite the Spirit, also featuring guitar legend Henry Kaiser. Over the years I often listened to this single Toy Killers track over and over, wondering what the hell was the deal with this mysterious band. Was it a one-off? Was it a continuing interest? Back in 1988, it was considerably more difficult to find these things out...

Time flies by and we skip forward to 2002. I'm on tour with the Flying Luttenbachers and I'm browsing the great NYC record store Downtown Music Gallery. Elliott Sharp walks in and begins chit-chatting with Bruce Gallanter, the owner. I walk up to them, introduce myself and ask them whatever happened to Mark Miller (with Noyes, the other 'official' Toy Killers member)? They both laugh and tell me some strange story about Miller's love for letting off explosives during concerts as well as an anecdote about some Elliott Sharp gig at the Kitchen where Miller lit his hands on fire and the show got shut down... Bruce tells me Mark is somewhere out on the West Coast...

Fast forward to 2005: I've been living in Oakland, California for several years now and through my associate, bass player Damon Smith, I make the acquaintance of guitarist Henry Kaiser and begin sporadically playing music with him. Charles K. Noyes comes up in the conversation to little ado other than Kaiser and I both agreeing that Noyes is a sort of drumming genius. The following year I notice a listing at local venue for a concert featuring ROVA saxophonist Larry Ochs, Fred Frith and...  Mark E. Miller on drums. I get in touch with Miller and ask him to play some music with me. We quickly spark up a friendship and the million dollar question is asked: "What was the deal with the Toy Killers?"

Mark reveals to me that he and Charlie started playing together in the late '70s. The two would often pop up in the nascent downtown New York improvisation scene as a team, notably appearing together on classic records like John Zorn's "Pool", Elliott Sharp's "Carbon" and more. Initially they started just as a two-piece, abusing all sorts of percussion instruments, making feedback and lighting things on fire. Mark explained that his use of fire merely had to do with finding a way of separating himself from the herd of improvising drummers! Mission accomplished.

As time went on, a lot of various people in the scene would play with the Toy Killers, coming and going at whim. For a while Arto Lindsay was indeed in the ranks for a spell, lending his distinctively warped vocal outbursts and trademark guitar skronk to the proceedings. A very rare self-released cassette called Humdrum (of which all the tracks appear freshly remixed from the original multi-track masters on The Unlistenable Years), showed this guest star mania in full bloom with great, off-the-cuff performances by Material bassist Bill Laswell, Sharp and saxophonist John Zorn amongst others.

At one point, Mark suddenly envisioned Toy Killers as a "kick-ass rock and roll band", even though they didn't really rehearse and Noyes had almost no experience or interest in playing rock and roll! Mark morphed from being a drummer to being a true wild card, sometimes singing, sometimes abusing a bass guitar, sometimes deafening everybody with his amplified metal drink shakers, sometimes disappearing into thin-air half way through the set.

While Noyes explored his Eastern music inspirations with the exotic polyglot improv of Invite the Spirit, Miller helped found the Golden Palominos as well as Arto Lindsay's Ambitious Lovers (he appears on both groups' debut releases). By the time the Toy Killers made it to the studio near around 1984, things were beginning to unravel even more and the remnants from this aborted project produced by Bill Laswell (tracked at Martin Bisi's OAO Studios) appear fully mixed for the first time on the new CD. Luckily for us, Mark happened to be sitting on a box of Toy Killers tapes which I began sifting through earlier this year.

Many of the live recordings on the CD were made by DMG domo Bruce Gallanter back in the day and they still sound incredible. On one track you hear fireworks going off. On another track, if you squint you can detect Derek Bailey almost inaudibly fretting a few note clusters before walking out in total disgust. All the spit, sweat and noise of the various Toy Killers bands are in full evidence. The studio recordings sound amazing with their brand new remixes. This is a truly action packed hour plus of intense and varied chaos. Anton Fier was kind enough to write some succinct liner notes detailing yet another anecdote of Toy Killers property-damage-as-performance for us."

-- Weasel Walter

Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Toy Killers.

The Unlistenable Years (ugEXPLODE)
1. I'm Embarrassed To Be An American Girl
2. Sex Carp
3. 24 Handkerchiefs for Roger Trilling
4. Smoky Raindrops
5. Green Dolphin Sweet
6. Corrugated Gems of Woe
7. Scabby
8. Bleed For The Mind
9. Shaken Not Stirred (Pe de Boi with M.E. Miller)
10. Dance of the Were-Samurai
11. Teen Sex Carp
12. Where Do We Get The Money To Save Our Children
13. Death Certificate - 14 Dollars
14. Citymulch
15. Away all Pests
16. The Devil May Be Your Santa Claus (Studio)
17. The Devil May Be Tour Santa Claus (Live)
18. Victimless Crime
19. Improvisation
20. Improvisation
21. Improvisation
22. Improvisation
23. Improvisation
24. Improvisation
25. Improvisation

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