Review Summary: scum and syringes..
A big part of what made no-wave’s half-life so short, aside from its purposeful lean toward the irregular, was how self-contained its scene was. The bulk of its constituents came out of downtown New York, did little touring outside of Philly, Chicago, Boston and the surrounding areas, and released little in the way of cogent studio material. Most of the bands who shared the vision or at least feigned understanding it, shared so many group members between each other, that if you really try to break down all of no-wave’s crucial moving parts, you might come up with little more than a dozen people. Trying to build a thriving niche out of a handful of kids, half-starved and reaching for art in New York City was always going to be a long shot, and even the patronage of some of East Village’s most revere iconoclasts (and one Brian Eno) wasn’t going to skew the odds.
Lydia Lunch arrived early on, moving to the city at age 16 and instantly plunging into punk. She was a mainstay on 52nd, Bleecker and Park Avenue South, then becoming bastions and gathering spots for young musicians and poets concerned with all things anti-commercial. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks came along soon after, along with Beirut Slump and a slew of other bands, all sporting the same credo to varying degrees – disassembling and dissembling traditional melodies. You could have easily confused 8 Eyed Spy for any of Lunch’s other projects festering at the time, since the band sported half of Teenage Jesus’ line-up and George Scott III, who’d helped found James Chance’s first Contortions, as well as Raybeats and a number of other no-wavers. The band existed for all of 2 years, and in that span, mustered an EP, a 7”, and a live bootleg, all released on Spartan labels without a scrap of hope of wider distribution.
is the most cohesive of 8 Eyed Spy’s material, featuring most of their songs, along with some swamp rock covers that help the listener gleam the general ethic the band were going for. Wispily recorded, murkily produced, wild and vile; the concert is like a f*cking trilobite imprint of what it was to be young and in love with art. Considerably more melody-concerned than Teenage Jesus, the band’s live shows ply a closer path to The Fall and The Birthday Party’s live bootlegs, locking into a volatile groove and then bashing on, unconcerned with either modulation or flourishes of any sort. They sprint and pummel through originals, Lunch’s forceful vocals high in the mix, then mutate “Run Through the Jungle” into a sensuous half-crawl, a song for a strip joint from the edge. Sharp, jarring sax, the calling card of no-wave punctuates “Motor Oil Shanty” and “Diddy Wah Diddy” with discordant patterns, utterly unconcerned with the idea of harmony. In ways, 8 Eyed Spy was a more ambitious undertaking than the now-iconic Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, fanning out into several genres, rather than focusing solely on atonal fits. On “Lazy in Love,” they even attempt a piano rave-up, the sound becoming an early precursor to the sort of giddy and doomed disco-punk Maximum Joy and Essential Logic would try and take to the airwaves soon after.
Lunch’s career would enter a prolonged gothic period soon after the 70’s ended, though she never abandoned either her penchant for noise or inserting those searing sax work-outs into songs. Her extended collaborations with members of Sonic Youth, the Bad Seeds, No Trend, the Contortions and Cypress Grove (of Gun Club fame) ensured her endurance through the past few decades. Those first years on the Lower East Side remain her moment of purest intent, playing a key part in forging one of the last modern scenes that tried to make something irreproachable out of sheer ugliness.