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“I define No Wave as an (anti-)aesthetic demarcation and not necessarily an idiomatic one -- that is to say that I think No Wave had (or has) more to do with a nihilistic, but sometimes totally sardonic outlook than a certain cliched guitar sound or drumbeat, as many would have you think. Simply put, the term could be utilized to define any negatively charged music destroying or disemboweling the tradition of Rock music and its platitudes through intentional noise, abstraction or atavism.”
While the original No-Wave groups in New York defined the term, there were many other bands around the country and across the ocean that shared a similar mindset. While artists on the West Coast such as Nervous Gender and Johanna Went and European weirdos Malaria and Blurt are relatively well known, there isn’t much documentation on the darker, demented and art-damaged side of early Chicago punk-inspired music.
Silver Abuse is sometimes credited as being Chicago’s first punk band. It was founded in 1977 by Santiago Durango (later of Naked Raygun and Big Black) on guitar, Bill Mehan on guitar and vocals, Camillo Gonzales on bass and Bob Damrau behind the drums. The lineup was constantly shifting- starting with Durango leaving to form Naked Raygun in 1978. This opened the door for all manner of Chicago oddballs to serve time in the Silver Abuse ranks- from Jaqui Disler on vocals to Dave Purdie on keyboards and Donnie Krattner squealing on the sax.
The Chicago punk scene at the time wasn't yet segregated with genre-labels...the scene was still small and everyone knew each other. I use the term No-Wave to loosely describe Silver Abuse as they took a more nihilistic “fuck it” approach than the straight-forward punk that dominated the scene at the time. They delighted in irritating crowds with a deliberately experimental and atonal sound that was shat out with intentionally offensive titles. Their songs were mostly Dada-like nonsense (Cuban-Homo Farm, Pink Port Please and Dogs Laughed At Us) which were, as keyboardist Dave Purdie puts it, "mostly inspired by stumbling across three words that rhymed and slapping a few chords around them." Usually singer Jaqui Disler ad-libbed frantic rants based loosely on the song titles. Silver Abuse's conceptual approach to punk was akin to Electric Eels and Flipper; there were few like-minded bands in town at the time aside from Chicago's other head-scratchers, End Result.
FE #9: OK, Santiago, what are the skeletons in your closet?
Steve Albini: Silver Abuse.
FE #9: Silver Abuse? Do they only have stuff on Busted At Oz, or is
Santiago Durango: No, that version of Silver Abuse has nothing to do with the original Silver Abuse, which spawned a whole army of inferior versions.
FE #9: So it's like Silver Abuse I, II, III, etc.?
Santiago Durango: Yeah. Right now it's up to number 575.
FE #9: Which one were you in?
Santiago Durango: Silver Abuse I.
Santiago Durango: Yeah, this is the original punk band in Chicago.
FE #9: Well, tell us about Silver Abuse.
Santiago Durango: Well, we were riotously drunk. (laughter)
FE #9: How many of you were there?
Santiago Durango: There were five of us. One was a total acidhead who couldn't do anything more than play one note on guitar at any one point. He just fed back through everything. One of the guys was Colao who is the bass player now in Naked Raygun. The drummer went on to Toothpaste. We were just a bunch of high school kids who got into the Ramones together. And we used to do a lot of drugs and get very drunk on very cheap wine. And make noise on instruments, and we got into punk, so we got this band together, with three guitars because we couldn't afford amps.
Although sometimes sharing bills with popular local and touring punk bands, Silver Abuse unfortunately never received the critical acclaim they deserved and usually played to empty rooms. They only released one 7-inch in their five-year life span and had a few tracks on the early Chicago punk compilation Busted At Oz. They then dissipated into obscurity.
From the Busted At Oz Compilation:
Anti-Hot Dog / Pink Port Now / Bombshelter
Special thanks to Dave Purdie for live tracks, additional information and for digging up old flyers and fanzines.
Marie Kanger-Born has an extensive collection of photos and flyers from the early days of Chicago punk.
More info on various Chicago No-Wave acts can be found at Weasel Walter's abandoned Chicago No Wave site.