Electronic Flashbacks

Electronic bands have proliferated in Minneapolis since the mid-'80s. But the scene has always remained underground and barely documented. Here's an incomplete summary, in four loosely chronological categories:

Wide Angle Records/Hanover Fist. The Wide Angle label has dealt in local and national dance and hip hop since 1983, peaking during the late-'80s via a distribution deal with the local Twin/Tone Records, but currently inactive. WA released "Running," the breakthrough Information Society single that led to their deal with Warner Bros.; an INSOC side project called AKA; and a 1987 house music hit from Ex-sample. The '80s local hip hop roster included Style Posse, Soul Purpose, and P.O.L.O. Although the synth-pop duo Hanover Fist was not on Wide Angle, their 1986 Capitol single "Razor Garden" was produced by its in-house engineer John "Chopper" Black and became an inescapable dance hit. (Among other trivia, Hanover's Charlie Erickson went on to write the theme to Mystery Science Theater 3000.)

Audiocon/Savage Aural Hotbed. The Audiocon label was the brainchild of Ron Clark, whose noisy, psychedelic Lies Incorporated (with experimental guru Rod Smith) was one of the first electronic bands in town. While the techno craze and Hair Police/House Nation/Depth Probe DJ parties exploded in the late '80s and early '90s, Audiocon released compilations like the "difficult music" cassette Other Psychosurgical Procedures, the industrial tape Warm for Jesus, and industrial/techno CDs Big Game Hunter and Cabin Rave (the latter with input from local dance DJ-turned-radio programmer Kevin Cole). Other releases included Lies Inc., Cold Front (Clark's 1990 ambient house band), and the electro-acoustic Judgement of Paris (members of which now play in the folk/trance band Passage). Clark tired of techno and closed up the label, and is now designer and distributor for the punk-metal label Amphetamine Reptile; Rod Smith is now a promoter and eclectic First Avenue DJ. Audiocon act Savage Aural Hotbed sprang from the 1985 band Ting Kong and were originally an all-electronic outfit. Savage gradually began replacing its microchips with circular saws, oil drums, and other live percussion, while leader Dave Sarrazin simultaneously played in Tool & Die, a rock/electronic band that was one of the first on the scene to tour. Tool & Die's Bob Millea went on to Dada Legion, another hard-edged Audiocon act. The sole survivor is Savage Aural Hotbed, whose second CD Pressure of Silence (UltraModern) is due March 11.

Breaking Circus. Leader Steve Bjorklund's sound was an early example of post-punk/electronic unity. Bjorklund helped shape the Chicago punk/industrial sound before moving here around 1986. Drum machines, samples, synths, and grinding guitars were present on Breaking Circus's Homestead records, and the Chicago influence carried through the solo albums of Rifle Sport/Breaking Circus bassist Flour. Bjorklund later became a producer and co-led Balloon Guy for a year--his sampling work distinguished BG's debut single "Drug Testing in the Workplace" (Generator).

'90s action. Apart from the evolving DJ culture and the budding electro-noise underground, local dance-oriented bands have found varying success in recent years. L.E.D. and Psykosonik got some heavy club play with their mainstream dancefloor pop; the latter signed with Wax Trax! in Chicago and subsequently moved there. Red Red Groovy's "Another Kind of Find" was very big in 1993, but that group has been mostly inactive since. Industrial maven Bryan Barton leads Haloblack and is a member of national act Hellbent. A new Haloblack album, Funkyhell, is out this month on D.C. label Fifth Coluvmn. And no doubt some new, unheard-of bands are plugging in at this very moment...

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