Sleepmask, Live at Silver Factory, Los Angeles, March 15, 2009. Ming Vauze (guitar), F (bass). Photo: Amoreena.
The Distortions 2008. Heath Cooley (drums), Justin Lomery (guitar), F (vocals, bass). Art direction, photo: F. Listen.
Bassist F; Sleepmask, live at Silver Factory, Los Angeles, 2009. Photo: Amoreena.
Sleepmask performing live at Release the Bats, March 2009. Left to right: Ian (guitar), Pablo (drums), Ming Vauze (guitar, vocal), F Effington Eastman (bass).
Chameleons LA, live at Part Time Punks, Silver Lake, 2009. L to R: Mark Burgess, Justin Lomery, F, Charlie Woodburn, Andru Aesthetik. Photo: Amoreena. Watch.
F Effington Eastman, bass, Sleepmask; live at Release the Bats, Long Beach CA 2009. Photo by Graciela.
The Wretched of the Scene
Let the title of artist/theorist Hito Steyerl’s landmark book lay the foundation of our retrospective viewing. And to the bigger point, let the two photo galleries on this website serve as both practical exhibit and cautionary tale: as lively and lucid as the images are, the bands and artists portrayed serve as the perfect case studies in the domain of talented (or not) artists who essentially did every-last-thing incorrectly, wretchedly, and/or, demonstrably wrong. History has judged our work as sub-standard. And who are we to argue?
Our human and artistic failures have been thought out and reformulated in both words and paint. “We might be the debris of history,” as theorist Steyerl concludes of Klee’s painting Angelus Novus, noting that such images may be merely the “digital wreckage” which Klee’s angel is supposedly inventorying, theorizing, and morally adjudicating, just as we are now doing. “We are the rubble. We are this pile of scrap,” as she sees these images, collectively captured in her title, “The Wretched of the Screen.” The fact that I have pulled the above collection of images out of dusty stacks of CD-stored data, out of digitally-dusty web-stored archives (some of which formerly-free sites are suddenly being deactivated for non-payers), and many of which were either right-clicked off the screen, or, even more wretchedly, captured in the lowest quality possible by means of the “screenshot” function itself. How much cheaper, jankier, or illicit could this so-called “gallery” be? Answer: not much.
And this broken collection only confirms the point: the effective afterlife of these images is little more than that of digital “debris” hung in the “gallery” of a website which, lacking electricity, would simply lose all substantive connectivity to physical reality. To further that idea, without any pictures remaining to prove these underlying events of actual reality, it would be as if none of this ever even happened; that is, as it goes under Elon Musk’s “If No picture, It Didn’t Happen” doctrine.
In this suddenly-crystallized age of MAGA, TikTok, Taylor Swift, and transition toward Constitutional Dictatorship (all of which would have been considered utterly inconceivable circa 2000 or 2010), there is no longer any practical impetus for anyone to care in the least about any of the bands featured on this site. At a different level, and by result of the world-events of the past decade-plus, our little music community—that of the L.A. underground circa 2000-2010, if we are to officially ‘name’ it—has effectively been neutralized, diminished, outlasted, outplayed, superseded, and wiped off the cultural map.
As if the end message were not clear enough, and as if to further entrench in the theme, the only reasonable conclusion can be that our bands—meaning, all of the bands featured in this website’s galleries—simply weren’t good enough. We dared to make art, and thereby sought—at least indirectly—to elevate ourselves into the grand aesthetic unconscious. We passionately felt that we had what it took to make manifest the difference between great art and almost-great art. After all, The Smiths did it, Blur did it, Kasabian did it, so, why couldn’t we? Well, there is no answer, other than: we just couldn’t. Some bands make the cut, others don’t. We, collectively, didn’t.
And so, if only as a counter-move, and for no good reason (other than as a kind of gratuitous contrarian intervention), I have taken it upon myself to pull this little L.A. tribe out of the world-historical dustbin, and to place it right back on the map, with a ceremonious ‘fuck you’ and a ‘no thanks, thank you very much.’ Our mass dismissal was unwarranted, at least, at minimum, in some way, I would like to think. Not that I can put actual words to that justification; but I ‘know for fact’ there’s good reason in there somewhere. After all, art exists to express ideas outside of and mutually exclusive to the domain of logical or philosophical reason. Thus, no reasonable justification should even be necessary, if we are to trust the ontic foundations of Art Itself. The whole point of art is that it is something which cannot be explained with words, but, to the point, only by the thing itself. Here, within the internet borders of this particular gallery, that “thing itself” means: one, our little music careers, and, two, the images which survived us. The very “thing” we see above.
To the bigger plan, apparently, the world doesn’t care one bit about my stupid band, about Ming’s stupid band, or even Mark’s stupid band. Machine Gun Kelly will be inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame long before the Chameleons, because, simply, the Chameleons will never be. The ironic structure of that deal being the fact that if bands like The Chameleons were the type which made it into the Rock Hall of Fame, there would have been no need for the Chameleons in the first place. And that reality subsists despite the fact that the Chameleons’ “In Shreds” may be the greatest rock single ever released. Such hard-but-shallow truths of music-world / art-world survival must simply be taken in stride; or, if not, then in a contrarian light, as a mark of pride. And yet, as personal as these macro-rejections are, such harsh, summary dismissals must never be taken personally. We may not be the greatest bands or the greatest people. But we are still bands, and we are still people.
Happily, wretched careers sometimes leave beautiful corpses, if these photographs are to be trusted. We (and our photographers) planted these imagistic flags in the process of our journey. So then, why not let them speak? In the context of the L.A.-centric music biz, as many besides ourselves have proven, being aesthetic only lowers one’s market value; being fearless only destroys one’s perceived upscale marketability. Nevertheless, we carefully calculated our musical bets, and, married to the outcome, we hoped for the best, and we did our best work, fully aware of the near certainty of outright failure.
In 1982, on KROQ, I heard the Chameleons’ “In Shreds” for the first time. By the next year, I attempted to quit college and start a band. That plan got delayed by a couple years, but, not long thereafter, I started my first band in Hollywood. More to the point, although my songwriting-producing “career” failed, I nevertheless had the great privilege of playing my final gig ever with Mark Burgess in 2009. If someone would have told me in 1982 that I would play my final gig with Mark, that would have registered as every bit as cool as joining the Clash or the Pistols. Knowing this, you can excuse me for having a few too many pictures of that indisputably awe-inspiring Chameleons L.A. gig at Part Time Punks 2009.
With the dust long settled, and much like a high school class, the historiographical view offered up in the gallery reveals that the one thing which all of us truly had in common was our timeframe. In these collected images, we have before us a minimally-fair representation of a decade’s-worth of L.A. underground-borne events, shenanigans, and mugshots. This website, effectively, a page out of that metaphorical yearbook. But, what, in the end, writ large, and “yearbook” metaphor set aside, is all of this, collectively, even a picture of? I’m still trying to figure that out. There is, as of yet, some uncracked subtextual code working its way to the surface of these images.
From a different view, maybe there is still a viable element to this class. Or, just as likely, maybe not. Maybe our great work was never intended to be released until 2025-ish (or, never at all). Maybe a new iteration of The Distortions—say, Jon Mattox, Charlie Woodburn, F, Justin Lomery, Dan Silver, Tim Walker, and, surely, Ming Vauze—can pull together a masterwork to ring in a new era of musical creativity. Or, just as likely, maybe not. We can play the game in real time, and take the win wherever it comes, whether recording onto two-inch tape, or arguing the Fourth Amendment to the Chief Justice. To the upside of the musical option, the great bands of recent decades, Radiohead, Blur, Kasabian, have all exhausted themselves. Maybe “rock” itself is an exhausted art form. And, but, while, me, on the other hand, I feel like I’m just getting started at whatever I was put here to do. On that note, and to the upside of the legal option, Justice Alito’s Dobbs opinion is facially unconstitutional, and, wouldn’t you know it, I seem to be the only person who knows how he did it. Talk about opportunity.
In the end, and from yet-another view, whether we are writing albums or legal docs, it’s all just a bunch of problem solving, and it’s all just the interpretation of a dream-text, whether an aesthetic one, a rhetorical one, a juridical one, a political one, or a wretchedly digital one, shooting through the global Googleplex at the speed of light.
Moving from the general back to the particular collection of photos and persons in question, and looking to find some resolution, in her book, theorist Steyerl hits home with the idea that “art is the industry with the most unpaid labor. … Free labor and rampant exploitation are the invisible dark matter that keeps the cultural sector going” (Wretched, 96). Accordingly, Steyerl finishes her thought with the real-world truth that “This mess is kept afloat by the sheer dynamism of loads and loads of hardworking women.” And on that idea, I think of the above image of Smashley Walters and Amoreena Stout.
The wretched mess, kept afloat out of pure passion, being the idea here. And this observation calls for a sincere thanks to all the photographers involved, female and male; these visual content creators, in the age of the digital image, the new writers of history itself. Unlike the past, words no longer tell history, since images, as they themselves incontrovertibly prove, speak for themselves.
November 25, 2023
1. Profound thanks to the photographers who made the effort to see this musical world and capture it so vibrantly. Without that self-made, unpaid, selfless effort, this page would have been blank. On behalf of all the bands and persons portrayed, I would like to thank Amoreena Stout, Brian Cram, Carlos Colon, Sherri Andrews, Hillary Johnson, Ashley Walters, Graciela, and Vanessa Fay.
2. As a separate matter, there likely remains a significant stash of unseen photographs which this website's viewership would would surely appreciate. Curiously missing are photographs of Dylan Dray 2008-2010, as she performed with and socialized with the Distortions-Sleepmask axis. Also missing are band/social shots of the Chameleons L.A. rehearsals 2009. Also missing are high quality nightlife shots from the L.A. underground 2000-2010. Also are missing shots of my own guitar, bass, and pedal steel recording studio sessions circa 2000-2009. If you have such photographs, feel free to write me at the "Contact" link just below. With any luck, and within the next year, given enough HQ contributions, a third/fourth gallery could be set up, featuring more live shots, and more friends, scenesters, promoters, events, and firsthand photographic accounts of the era.
3. Suggested listening for gallery viewing: The Chameleons, "In Shreds." Sleepmask, "Iridescent Scarab." Kasabian, "Stuntman." Nouvelle Vague, "Marian." Kent, "Saker man ser." Kasabian, "Sun / Rise / Light / Flies." Bauhaus, 'Stigmata Martyr." Belfegore, "All That I Wanted." Kasabian, "S.P.S."