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Suicide

Taking their mantle from the redundant VELVET UNDERGROUND, although nonetheless, electro-punk purveyors in their own short timespan, Brooklyn’s SUICIDE – Messrs Alan Vega and Martin Rev (an ex-jazz band organist) – were to avant-garde what Andy Warhol was to pop art. Defined by one (or two) classic synth-pop albums, namely their eponymous debut of ’77, the seductive but abrasive duo automatically encapsulated the essence of the then-burgeoning New York/CBGB’s scene.
Formed in 1971 as a minimalist project, the pair promised little in their earliest of sporadic shows, centring on chaotic performance art rather than musical ability or pop sensibility; one had to dodge a leather-clad Vega brandishing a wall-bashing bicycle chain while trying to sing. Needless to say, inner city venues would baulk at giving them a second opportunity to virtually demolish their perfectly good graffiti and grime.
Perfecting their simplistic and spooky dirges while laying low and hibernating until the aforementioned CBGB’s venue found new fervour with a new wave of punk rockers, SUICIDE picked a perfect year (1976) to re-emerge. Signed to local independent, Red Star (run by Marty Thau, former manager of NEW YORK DOLLS), the duo released one of the most influential records of the era in the self-titled SUICIDE (1977) {*9}.
Delivering shock-therapy screams and whispered goth-rockabilly vocals over brooding, churning Farfisa organ, crooner Vega and keyboard/synth geezer Rev, laid the foundations for the retro industrial/electro revolution of the following decade; SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, et al. In `Rocket U.S.A.’ and the 10-minute `Frankie Teardrop’ (the latter centring on a Vietnam vet killing his wife, kids and himself), they penned two of the most compelling and controversial compositions in the NY avant-garde pantheon. With all the cool and panache of ELVIS or GENE VINCENT in leather-studded attire, opening gambit `Ghost Rider’ (and for that matter, `Johnny’ and `Girl’) reverbed and reversed over the odd corpse or three, that was until the sun came out on twee-punk love song, `Cheree’.
Now almost universally heralded as being ahead of their time, punk punters of the day weren’t always so appreciative; SUICIDE performances were infamous for audience stand-offs, while a tour supporting The CLASH almost ended, ironically, in a “White Riot”. Further hostilities saw a gig in Belgium ending in a full-scale riot; the same gig that was documented on the 1978 “official bootleg”, `24 Minute Over Brussels’.
Unperturbed, the pair moved to Ze records (licensed to Island in the UK, Antilles in the States), releasing a follow-up, ALAN VEGA/MARTIN REV – SUICIDE (1980) {*7}, which sadly omitted their previous mantra-esque exclusive 45, `Dream Baby Dream’. Produced by CARS mainman, Ric Ocasek, the album presented a slightly more palatable version of SUICIDE’s patented synth apocalypse, although sales remained like their music… minimal. Decidedly twee with doo-wop and rockabilly on tap, `Sweetheart’, `Shadazz’ and `Dance’, were hardly industrial punk, and with little sign of a scary dose of “Frankie T” dropping in to the grooves (`Mr. Ray’ its closest cousin), the SUICIDE mission looked ready to abort.
Subsequently embarking on solo careers, as individuals the pair met with little more than cult success, although VEGA’s eponymous 1981 solo debut spawned a Top 5 hit in France: `Jukebox Babe’. Following his own similarly-themed eponymous solo debut, REV devoted his time to sculpture; with his work exhibited in 1982-83. VEGA continued working with OCASEK, also bringing in a young Al Jourgensen (later of MINISTRY fame) for 1983’s “Saturn Strip”, a set featuring an unlikely but entertaining cover of HOT CHOCOLATE’s `Everyone’s A Winner’; after “Just A Million Dreams’ (1985) stiffed, he duly guested for SISTERS OF MERCY re-incarnation, The Sisterhood.
Vega and Rev eventually re-formed SUICIDE in ’88, delivering their long-awaited third album proper, A WAY OF LIFE (1989) {*6} for Wax Trax! (licensed to Chapter 22 in the UK), a label heavily indebted to the duo’s pioneering electronics. With this album and the OCASEK-produced follow-up, WHY BE BLUE? (1992) {*4}, garnering little interest outside the post-punk/new wave confines, the early credence of the duo was somewhat lost. Gone was the menace of old, in its place, a tepid, second-rate pop-fuelled drivel (`Flashy Love’, `Chewy Chewy, et al) that followers Sheffield steel-ers, CABARET VOLTAIRE, ABC or HEAVEN 17 might’ve been happy to deliver – not!
Both REV and VEGA resumed respective solo activities on through the 90s, the latter collaborating with Stephen Lironi (ex-ALTERED IMAGES) on his Scots-based REVOLUTIONARY CORPS OF TEENAGE JESUS project, and also ALEX CHILTON and BEN VAUGHN on their three-way 1997 set, “Cubist Blues”.
Ironically, after something of an upsurge of interest in SUICIDE, the duo received renewed press attention after their performances with critical darlings SPIRITUALIZED. It was no surprise then, that the inevitable comeback album would appear. The thought-provoking AMERICAN SUPREME (2002) {*4}, sarcastically waved the stars ’n’ stripes aloft through the confrontational, snidely words of Vega and Rev. Tracks such as opener, `Televised Executions’, plus `Swearing To The Flag’ and `Dachau, Disney, Disco’, pounded their caustic, repeat-beat messages from stark funky rhythms. A disappointing swansong to the duo – could be?
Sadly, as reported on social media by friend and spokesman for the family HENRY ROLLINS, ALAN VEGA passed to the other side on July 16, 2016; he was 78.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD series // rev-up MCS Jan2014-Jul2016

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