Relive the 80s new wave punk rock music scene


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City Paper | Inquirer

by Frank Blank, Philadelphia City Paper

Three boneheads and an autistic drummer. Make that three members of The Boneheads and one member of The Autistics, both early entries in Philadelphia's fledgling punk rock scene of the late Seventies. When singer David Goerk called drummer Joe Ankenbrand about the possibility of his providing the propulsion for a new band, it set the stage for the birth of one of the more progressive, interesting, and odd creations of the 1980s.

The Bunnydrums sound first began to emerge and evolve on January 20, 1980, when Goerk, Ankenbrand, bassist Greg Davis and guitarist Frank Marr first rehearsed. Over the next seven years Bunnydrums mutated through several configurations and voyaged through numerous musical phases - but consistently created astounding music that even today sounds uniquely like nothing else.

The band's first public appearance was a July 1980 opening slot on a Pere Ubu bill at Philadelphia's notorious Starlite Ballroom, a decaying hulk of an auditorium located squarely in the center of an area where arriving and departing in one piece was something of a small victory.

But the stage performances that Bunnydrums began to present were only the public face of a private metamorphosis.

"The coagulation of aggressive punk, fragmented funk circa early A Certain Ration and an obvious admiration of PIL and Killing Joke have given the Drums quite a unique sound. Still wholeheartedly accessible, the pumping dance music that spirals from 'PKD' is essential listening and bodes well for the future."  Sounds Magazine

Ankenbrand brought more to the band than formidable percussion talents - he also brought a ravenous appetite for the works of science fiction master Philip K. Dick. The Dick outlook merged with assorted natural and artificial stimulants, with the experimentation being conducted at the psychedelic/psychotic warehouse playground known as Funk Dungeon. As more people became drawn into the Funk Dungeon vortex, something of an odd society began following an erratic and artistic orbit with Bunnydrums at its core.

The band tried to do things differently both in creating a forward-and-outward looking scene and in its music, which generally took form after hours and hours of intense daily jamming. With Davis and Ankenbrand forming a bedrock foundation, Marr's impenetrable guitar work spun warped layers of sonic exploration that matched Goerk's visionary lyrics and man-possessed vocals.

It was a sound that had much in common with Dick's work, for the best description of Bunnydrums' music is a two-word phrase - science fiction.

"...avant pop danceability... a slowly unfolding phase shifting trip through a psychedelic death clock...Highly Recommended." OP Magazine

By 1981 the sound of Bunnydrums began to expand beyond the Philadelphia region with shows in New York and Washington, D.C. Local promoter Lee Paris, an early supporter of the band, released the first Bunnydrums vinyl on his Meta Meta label and the single reached the Rockpool trade paper charts as well as garnering rave reviews in an assortment of publications.

The relationship with Paris soured as a business venture and, after a year of sporadic shows and frustration with waiting to release new material, the band itself unleashed Feathers Web upon the world in early 1983. The four-song EP's fierce visions got the band a strong review in Billboard Magazine and is still the favorite recording of the majority of the band.

Later that year, Bunnydrums entered into an agreement with Richard Jordan's Red Records, and most importantly established a relationship with the highly-respected studio owners Phil and Joe Nicolo of Philadelphia's Studio 4. The result was the release of the first Bunnydrums album PKD, which contained much of Feather Web with some newer work.

Despite being selected to appear in the book "Trouser Press Best of the American Underground," Bunnydrums still wasn't touring or even gigging with any regularity. Instead, the creative process swept onward in the confines of Funk Dungeon.

"New York does not have a monopoly on no-wave funk: they can play that music in Philly too, and Bunnydrums does it as well as anybody...they know its not enough just to make artsy dissonant sounds. You also have to be musical as well. And they are." Billboard

The next vinyl appearance was the five-track On The Surface which, like its predecessor, was pressed in Holland and sold in the US as an import due to Richard Jordans' European connections. More positive press greeted the release of the latest EP and, after a show with noted artist Howard Finster at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Bunnydrums embarked on its first tour - a lengthy trek across the U.S. with actual shows being few and far between.

Back home at last, with finances at an all-time low, Bunnydrums immediately retreated to the studio to begin sessions for the Holy Moly album. Trying out new studio techniques while recording under a tight deadline due to Jordan's finances and his demands for material with greater chart potential, Bunnydrums suffered through a hectic, disconnected studio experience that still yielded a strong album when it was released in 1984.

Coinciding with Holy Moly's release was the first international Bunnydrums sojourn, a six-week aural adventure that included shows in Belgium, France, and Holland.

"The quartet has managed a difficult feat: dark - toned, moody music that is none the less exhilarating, witty stuff..." 
Philadelphia Inquirer/Ken Tucker

Upon returning to America, the strain of keeping full-time jobs and creative differences between the band members and Richard Jordan led to the first Bunnydrums rift. Ankenbrand, who had done recording stints with Alex Chilton and the Sic Kidz while still in Bunnydrums, left the band following on last home-town show at Filly's in November of 1984.

Coincidentally, Frank Blank - guitarist with hardcore band Informed Sources, future member of Bunnydrums, and author of these very words - joined the band for the encore of that show, a raucous version of Link Wray's "Switchblade."

Bobby Williams was selected as Joe's replacement, and his more aggressive style changed the band's energy as Bunnydrums kicked off a three-week US tour in the spring of 1985.

In June of 1985 a large-format Bunnydrums, augmented by Blank and two female singers, performed at Philadelphia haunt The Kennel Club and New York's Peppermint Lounge. The band's lineup stabilized once again as the girls were shed and Blank was brought into the fold.

With Goerk now adding solid guitar melody and Blank's punk heritage anchoring Marr's forays into the unknown, Bunnydrums' live shows became a three-guitar juggernaut of massive aural proportions.

The final trip to the studio for Bunnydrums was a 1985 re-vamping of Holy Moly's title track for a compilation released by the UK's Food Records.

Several forceful warm-up gigs in Philadelphia readied he band for an anticipated year-end European tour, but the ambitious 30-show trip was canceled when Goerk had a final blow-up with Jordan, who promptly turned the Bunnydrums tour into a Butthole Surfers tour.

Disillusioned with the entire messy business, Goerk's feelings spread through the band and Bunnydrums officially dissolved after a New Year's Eve show rang in 1986 at The Kennel Club.

Twice more Bunnydrums has taken the stage in the intervening time - a memorial concert for the late Lee Paris in May of 1986 (with drummer Richie Wrench of Ruin and Live Skull) and again with Williams on drums at a benefit for University of Pennsylvania radio station WXPN on April Fool's Day of 1987.

The list of bands Bunnydrums played with during its brief history - including Pere Ubu, REM, Bauhaus, Colin Newman, Tuxedomoon, Gang of Four, The Cult, Alan Vega, Pylon - reads like a who's who of modern rock. But the Bunnydrums sound differed from all of them, still existing in its own unique space.

The sounds collected here come from the 1984 Holy Moly European tour, and present the original Bunnydrums lineup at their most intense and obtuse - sounds so strange, entrancing, and powerful that they made me want to join the band in their creation of this glorious noise.
Enjoy the ride.


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