Release Date: Aug 21, 2015
Record label: Fire
Having had their sound and general aesthetic appropriated by so many groups over the intervening 40 years, it seems somewhat hard to believe there was a time before Pere Ubu and their fractured form of art punk. What is perhaps harder to believe, given the musical climate in which they were conceived, is how odd, how modern they still sound all these years later. So ingrained now in the underground, the sound they pioneered in Ohio in the mid-1970s continues to resonate today, coming back in waves as each new generation discovers the pivotal, revolutionary albums collected here on Elitism for the People 1975-1978.
Ravaged by unemployment, pollution and decades of heavy industry, Cleveland, Ohio, may superficially have seemed like a cultural wasteland in the early-to-mid-70s, yet it still sired several future-heralding proto-punk bands, including Mirrors, electric eels and the short-lived Rocket From The Tombs. Featuring two future Dead Boys, as well as vocalist David Thomas (aka Crocus Behemoth) and guitarist Peter Laughner, the incendiary RFTT abruptly split – with no official releases to their name – after a show at Cleveland’s Viking Saloon, in August 1975. Laughner and Thomas, however, quickly regrouped and founded the experimental art-pop collective Pere Ubu, with empathetic new recruits including guitarist Tom Herman and Brian Eno-esque synth-meister Allen Ravenstine.
The title of this compilation of seminal proto-then-post-punk legends Pere Ubu's early material immediately brought to mind the tag line for an old cultural radio show in the France of my youth, "L'élite pour tous!". "The elite for all", the show proclaimed, advancing an ambition to share the concepts of high art with those that were supposedly excluded from its lofty realm. Whilst the quick blurb on the album's cover suggests that Pere Ubu reject "high" culture altogether in favour of privileging the rough edges of society's underbelly, it's also inescapable that they brought an intellectual, almost dadaist aesthetic to rock & roll, yet all the while preserved the primeval, shouty essence of rock's origins in ways that perhaps other supposed art rock bands did not.