Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Butt Rag #7

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Review by Peter Margasak (Editor) Butt Rag #7 (October 1991)

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Italian article on cinema

Indie-Eye deals with Cinema and Pictures for Music since 2005. It is the first Italian headquarter to deal with video clips daily on the part of those who make them. Exclusive videos, interviews, festivals, reports and audiovisuals produced by Indie-eye. It integrates with the Indie-Eye Cinema Portal

italian
photo by David Boswell

Mecca Normal, the Canadian duo of Vancouver, is one of the seminal bands of the nineties riot movement. Active from the first half of the 80’s, they produced during their career a series of D.I.Y video clips. inspired by the best American and Canadian underground tradition

Jean Smith and David Lester of Vancouver, Canada, formed the Mecca Normal in 1984, transforming the fanzine curated by Smith himself “Smarten UP! “How to Change the World Publications” on a label, just to publish their first, homonymous album, just two years later.

Speech and guitar duo within the complex context identified in the “nineties” riot grrrl movement, Mecca Normal contributes to the “official inauguration” of the concept with all the women who in 1991 opened the International Pop international convention in Olympia Underground, but they have been in the language since the beginning, with an unambiguous, politically and feminist approach, combining activism with direct forms of expression such as poetry, painting, writing, so that it immediately becomes a reference point inspiration for musicians such as Kathleen Hanna.

Absorbed by Calvin Johnson’s K Records (Beat Happening, Halo Benders), they republish their first Ep titled “Oh Yes You Can,” and immediately produce three video clips to promote it.

Video clips, which will become a distinctive sign in the duo career to date, exploit the techniques, materials, and language of underground cinema (from found footage to gratage, from reduced media to home movies). Regarding “Oh Yes You Can” accompany every EP song, but they do not come close to the longer structured forms (Devo, The The) because they reject the digested form for the market so as to remain fiercely out of touch broadcasting circuits.

Directly by David Lester or Smith himself, who often introduces his work as a painter, are small “expressionist” experiments, in line with the tradition of the American Underground Cinema, with which Mecca Normal and Lester certainly look devoutly, like all the underground American movement born around the musical scene of those years (Dave Markey, Richard Kern) while maintaining a strongly materialistic approach to the images.

Between the spring and summer of 1986, Mecca Normal participates in the Black Wedge Tour along with a crew of poets, anarchists, musicians moving on a bus across the states, bringing together music and political activity. Part of the images contained in the videos, document that journey, while the sounds of that tour can be heard on the Band band band profile.

Tensely D.I.Y. in “Man Thinks Woman”, song and video made in 1987, try to overthrow some gender norms from verbal communication: “Man thinks” woman “when he talks to me / Something not quite right”

In a parallel dimension, compared to a time when “ism” are almost always formal and formally empty to fit into social containers, the Mecca Normal are still active. A sip of fresh water.

Original article in Italian September 19, 2017

(google translator)

The Jealous Curator

 

 

It was a thrill to have 5 of my paintings featured on The Jealous Curator‘s blog today.

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“First, oh my word I love these portraits {acrylic on canvas panel} so, so, so much. Second, Canadian rocker turned painter Jean Smith sells these paintings on Facebook for $100 a pop. WHAT? Yes, true story. Are you wondering what you’re still doing here and why you’re not over there buying a whole bunch of these 11×14 beauties? Me too. Here you go… Jean’s Facebook page. You’re welcome.” – The Jealous Curator

$100 USD paintings currently available

Singer #4 by Jean Smith throwsilver@hotmail.comNo Hat 200 500No Hat 167 500No Hat #116 by Jean Smith throwsilver@hotmail.comNo Hat #79 by Jean Smith throwsilver@hotmail.com

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Music That I Like – Everett True

Song of the day (the old and the new) – 11. Little Mix and Mecca Normal

“I love the passion, the intent of Mecca Normal. The searing literacy. The relentless beauty. The admittance that most all relationships are always power struggles, especially when you least expect it. Crudely, three of my favourite artists remind me of Mecca Normal (not the other way round). That’s a recommendation in itself. The dialogue present in every Mecca Normal song I have heard is worth experiencing again and again. It does not infantilise the listener, much as the listener may want to be infantalised. It does not cause the listener to cast aside the class struggle that is central to day-to-day life, whether individuals are aware of it or not.” – Evertt True

 

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“We Oughta Know” by Andrea Warner

An entry in an appendix of Canadian women in music, in the book “We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music” by Andrea Warner (Eternal Cavalier Press, 2015)

Mecca Normal, 1984 – present
Key 90s songs:
“Vacant Night Sky ” from Sitting on Snaps (Matador Records, 1995)
“Waiting for Rudy” from Flood Plain (K Records, 1993)

“Underground art-punk rock duo Jean Smith (vocalist) and David Lester (guitarist) have been crafting weird, tightly coiled but loosely structured songs about gender, feminism, politics, and social justice isues since 1984. Anybody who knows Beat Happening, Bikini Kill, and Sleater-Kinney should know Mecca Normal, almost nobody does. I’m ashamed to admit that up until last year, I barely knew them either. They’re a hometown band and I’m a feminist who writes about music and still I never came across Mecca Normal until someone alerted me to their existence after I wrote an essay about how much I missed the political fire of music from the ’90s. Mecca Normal were riot grrrl and DIY before those movements existed, and they were tireless in their commitment to their art, releasing seven records in the ’90s alone. In fact, Mecca Normal were basically doing the 90s in the 80s. Consider the still-relevant subject matter of their mid-’80s tunes like “Smile Baby,” which calls out street harassment (yes, three decades ago), “More, More, More” which addresses the privilege of white men and the American Dream, and the simple, chilling, and inspiring “I Walk Alone” which affirms a woman’s right to safety in a public space. It’s important music that still matters today.” – Andrea Warner

 

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RATE YOUR MUSIC

Comments on Mecca Normal albums on RATE YOUR MUSIC website:

Dovetail (K Records, 1992)
“It’s disgraceful that this record only has 23 ratings–not even enough to chart it here at RYM. One of the greatest records of the late 80s/early 90s K-Records scene … before “indie” existed properly, in the immediate wake of the Nirvana hype. This album–probably the band’s best–mixes rhythmically-driven (all from the guitar) pieces that have a punk-rock edge with ballad-like, slow pieces. It’s remarkable in its balancing of these modes (sometimes within a single song). Beautiful stuff. Search it out. Now!” – denti, 2012

“The perfect Mecca Normal album. Throw Silver and Clatter make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. This band is largely ignored by most supposed “indie” listeners and they’ve been doing for almost thirty years. Consistent as hell and never boring. This record is solid gold.” mortytoad, 2009

Water Cuts My Hands (K Records, 1991)
David Lester is one of the unsung greatest guitarists. He is incredibly inventive with the little he plays (a few chords, no solos) and makes his guitar sound so raw and real and right there with you. I love it. This record is fantastic, though not consistently so. Still one of the best places to start with this great band. The CD comes with the 1988 record “Calico Kills the Cat,” also worth repeated listens. “Taking the Back Stairs,” “Dead Bird’s Feet” and “Lois Wrote About the Farm” are among the band’s best.” denti, 2011

Sitting on Snaps (Matador, 1995)
The beginning and end of this album are brilliant. Like Concrete Blonde meets Lush with a sprinkling of Siouxsie, but also no drums, like, on any song ever. Yes, this is a drumless band. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not… just layers of guitar and voice, but not too many layers. There’s some minimalism going on here too.” Sukwtto, 2011

 

 

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Pitchfork’s story of feminist punk in 33 songs

pitchforkMecca Normal‘s “Man Thinks Woman” (1987) made the cut with a great write-up by Douglas Wolk for Pitchfork’s story of feminist punk in 33 songs

“Mecca Normal break rules like they never noticed them in the first place. The Vancouver-based duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester are anarchist-feminist activists and constant experimentalists, implying a rhythm section with negative space alone. Always an intense presence onstage, they’ve become the most tenacious of D.I.Y. road warriors, touring and recording for 32 years now. In the early ’90s, they popped up on most of the biggest American indie-rock labels (Sub Pop, K, Matador); by their 25th anniversary, they were on the road with a performance-and-lecture project called “How Art & Music Can Change the World.”

Smith’s lyrics often foreground her political perspective; their anthem “Man Thinks ‘Woman,’” released in 1987, started out as a barbed dissection of gender normativity: “Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me/Something not quite right.” The song kept expanding its radius from there, encompassing both bitter poetics and a disarmingly funny account of a drunken makeout gone weird. Kathleen Hanna has cited Smith as an early inspiration: “When I saw her,” she told The Fader, “I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.” –Douglas Wolk

“Man Thinks Woman” video by David Lester

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“Oh Yes You Can” 7″ on K Records (1987)

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Jarred Up” compilation of singles on K Records (1993)

A mess of Mecca Normal songs pulled together from singles and compilations dating to 1992, rounding out the first eight years of their existence. Dunt fear, Mecca Normal are still going strong! Jarred Up reveals the awesome might of their thing; it is the essential Mecca Normal Document.

A K Records Essential.

Track Listing
Strong White Male
Man Thinks Woman
Forlorn
He Didn’t Say
Follow Down
It’s Important
How Many Now?
Horse Heaven Hills
This Is Different
Armchairs Fit
Accidently
You Heard It All
Days
Fan of Sparks
Narrow
Upside Down Flames
From The Surface
More More More
Echo
One More Safe
Rose

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Quotes

“Mecca Normal. The first time I saw them was on the Black Wedge tour where they got together with their friends and said, “hey, this is important, let’s do it.” It wasn’t as if they were saying, “How can we sell this new album?” It was a tour of people and half of them weren’t even bands.” – Calvin Johnson

 

“Everyone tells them to ‘Get a drummer’, I get the feeling these two don’t need to listen to everyone.” – Option Magazine (LA), review of the first MN album

 

“What they reveal is an unvarnished, unpremeditated, wholly natural songwriting skill. This is a naked and very close musical relationship.” – The Vancouver Province reviews the first MN album

 

“Jean’s the one with ‘that voice’, a completely riveting presence that’s only more powerful when backed solely by Lester’s guitar.” – Gerard Cosloy (reviewing Calico Kills the Cat LP in Conflict)

 

“Mecca Normal makes records I can see myself listening to twenty years from now with no loss of interest.” – Terry Dawes reviewing ‘Flood Plain’ in Planet of The Arts (Vancouver) 1993

 

“This music resonates with feminism’s understanding of the body as a locus of political meaning, a knowledge difficult for any woman walking down a city street to escape… I don’t know of any other rock ‘n’ roll so closely attuned to the realities of women’s rage.” – Village Voice (NY)

 

“But until you see her face down a crowd of hypocritical and uninterested punk rockers, you don’t know what true heroism is. Smith’s music is dissonant, deeply felt, feminist, courageous.” – Gina Arnold (San Diego Weekly)

 

“I wouldn’t be in a band if I hadn’t heard of Jean. She’s shown me through her lyrics that you can be a feminist and still be whoever you want to be. You don’t have to lose contact with the world.” – Kathleen Hanna (Network, Toronto)

 

The first time I saw Mecca Normal, I was so blown away that I could not speak. My friend Rich Jensen introduced me to them, but I was left utterly speechless by the genius and power of their show. So I just stuck out the album I had just bought and got them to sign it. They were like music gods to me. – Slim Moon

 

“Your voice, your lyrics, Dave’s guitar have made me cry and hope over and over and over again. You are beautiful, brave and very strong people and you have touched my life tremendously.” – Cathee (Los Angeles)

 

“After these hicks where I live beat me up because I dress and act different and think for myself I put on one of your records and it makes me proud of who I am.” – Robert (Oklahoma) in letter sent through the postal service

 

Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle.

Part of David Lester’s contribution to a new book called Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle.

“This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labour organizing should inspire us to ‘dream of what might be’ and to act to bring it about.” – Noam Chomsky

BallantineGraphic Histories book

Mecca Normal’s collaboration for Normal History, Magnet Magazine May 28, 2016 Vol. 375

 

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Notes and Quotes

Excerpt from David Lester’s collection of tour diary notes, reviews and comments.

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“She was—and still is—a really political person, a political being who really walks the talk. And the effect of her views on me in turn affected the band. We started looking at the world differently—and certainly from more of a left-of-centre viewpoint.” – John Mann of the band Spirit of the West on Jean Smith, 2008

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