Lest We Forget "Clockin' the Jizz"

For a good cause, DEMO brings back videos of the '80s

Prince is in a mankini and I am in heaven. As hirsute and illicit as fellow mankini-wearer Borat Sagdiyev, the Jehovah's Witnesses' most talented guitarist gives sexee face to the camera before dropping to the ground and doing some gratuitous poolside pushups.

I'm watching the music video for Prince's "Gangster Glam/Clockin' the Jizz" with a delighted crowd in the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, where the Diverse Emerging Music Organization (DEMO) holds regular Tuesday-night benefit shows known as "The Basement Tapes."

The main attraction of these nights is the hour of lost Minnesota music videos, but the evening begins this time with live music. Jim Riley pounds out percussive chords on his acoustic, playing favorites from his early-'80s Minneapolis group the Phones.

DEMO's Heidi Vader, acting as emcee, takes the stage after Riley to recall, "I remember when we used to sneak in to see the Phones when we were underage...I was, um, seven?"

Vader moves with the quickness of a creature whose metabolic rate has been calibrated slightly higher than normal, and she punctuates her patter with laughter. That night, she explains the origin of the footage:

"First Avenue had all these dusty, decaying 3/4-inch tapes, and while no one knew what exactly was on them, we knew they were music videos. But First Ave had no time or money to restore them, so they wanted to get rid of them—we cleaned their basement.

"[Local director] Rick Fuller had it all for a year," she continues, "and he took all the usable live footage and made First Avenue Hay Day out of it. He put all the produced videos—55 local bands—on 9 DVDs."

Now, in order to raise a little cash to support young musicians, these relics of the '80s and '90s are back to horrify and amaze. As videos flash on screen, spanning from funk to punk (and Andre Cymone to Zuzu's Petals), murmurs of recognition and discovery pass through the audience. The judgment of fashion history has not been merciful to the styles of this era, and loud groans from the house intimate that personal friends of the Suburbs and the Flamin' Oh's may be present.

A few days after the Basement Tapes, I meet with Vader and her sidekick—her teenaged son, who has both Vader's curly, sand-colored hair, and his own case of walking pneumonia. In a noisy cafe in the Seward neighborhood, she tells me about the mission of the organization that puts these nights together.

She explains, "[Longtime First Avenue manager] Steve McClellan founded the Developing Arts and Music Foundation—DAMF," as its nonprofit arm. "But when First Avenue went bankrupt, DAMF went under, also. So we changed our name to DEMO, and separated ourselves from First Ave.

"DEMO helps emerging musicians learn to network and promote themselves, and introduces them to other musicians. For a lot of people, unless you know somebody, you can't get a gig. We give people a chance to get up on stage, and develop the relationships they need to get other opportunities."

Besides throwing occasional fundraising shows, the group hosts a regular Thursday-night showcase at Acadia, and a Tuesday-night acoustic set at the Red Room (located above the Loring Pasta Bar). Inexperienced bands are welcome at both these gigs, where they can develop their chops in front of a live audience.

Minneapolis alt-country group Stook, for instance, are popular enough today to play the Minnesota Music Awards. But a little over a year ago, the band was off the radar of the established scene.

"We had a band, we recorded a CD, but we hadn't played a show," band founder Joshua Stuckey recalls over the phone on a muggy June evening. "Nobody would even call me back when I was trying to book our CD-release show. Somehow, I found DEMO's website. I sent them a CD, and Steve sent me an email about their Thursday-night showcase at the Acadia."

The audience at that Acadia gig included David de Young, founder of local concert review website How Was the Show. He was so impressed by Stook that he asked the band to perform at his site's annual Turf Club anniversary bash. Enough scenesters caught Stook's Turf Club set that from then on, the band's booking requests were met with sure rather than who?

As Stook-the-man (the band takes its moniker from his nickname) points out, his bandmates weren't even really greenhorns, but they had all the wrong kinds of experience. "Some of us were in cover bands, some had toured with other musicians. But we weren't wired into the original music scene, so we didn't know anyone. DEMO gave us the opportunity to play in front of people who could spread the word about us."

 

Back at Bryant-Lake Bowl, the movie screen goes up and the house lights come back on. Vader has some trivia questions, and Robert Wilkinson (from the Flamin' Oh's) helps her entertain the crowd.

"Remember the Flamette motel in Duluth? They used to let us stay there even though we would trash it every time," he reminisces. In the row in front of me, a silver-haired gentleman concurs to his seatmate, "The Flamin' Oh's trashed my house."

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