Thursday, May 15, 2014

Aurora's Mutha F**king FRANTIX

Face Reality. 

Every summer since the mid-nineties I’ve returned back to Denver and like clockwork take a drive through old town Aurora for a heavy dose of nostalgia. It is a bittersweet remembrance of a time long since passed. The rearview mirror serves as a harsh reminder that my hair has indeed changed from dark brown to gray indicative of the transformed landscape outside the window. The drive is a sea of cluttered post-war single-family houses and Colfax Avenue, lined with its’ pimps, whores, gangbangers, pawn shops, hotels and a growing Mexican population cuts right down in the middle of it all. There has been an obvious shift in demographics since my youth; Aurora traded its’ suburban identity and embraced a more transient urban one. It was once a neatly packaged oasis for families seeking the American Dream, it was my parent’s hope and vision when we arrived in the mid-70’s. Like other countless communities that dot the perimeter of large cities in America, time has turned it into another wasteland of dashed hopes.

In the early 1980’s, one of the best things to emerge out the decaying old-Aurora landscape was the Frantix. Like most punk bands at the time, loud and fast rock-n-roll à la the Ramones appealed to bored and thrill-seeking teenagers craving an outlet for self-expression. It would be all too easy to sit in front of a record player and play-along to the likes of radio-friendly songs. Aspiring punk bands had a different approach, a more self-taught tactic often rejecting conventional methods like guitar lessons and music theory. It was a more tactile process to start from ground zero. It could be argued that the music was a pure expression fueled by raw energy. The experience of being in the same room with the Frantix was hardly a casual listening exercise; it was a blast in your face that quickly unwound every nerve in your body. The driving, gruff sounding guitar with a dash of reverb, accompanied by punching bass lines with cymbal heavy drumming behind spastic braking vocals demanded immediate attention. The four-piece hit the stage with a conviction most bands lack nowadays.

Unfortunately, I only witnessed the Frantix on a couple of occasions; their sound was unrelenting, menacing and dare I say gritty. Several authors have noted they were on the cusps of grunge long before Seattle co-opted the term. When they opened for Black Flag at the Rainbow Music Hall, their songs were the perfect soundtrack that inspired neatly placed rows of folding chairs to be grabbed and tossed in every direction. The audience was indeed seduced by the music. The band never intentionally scripted such uninhibited reactions; it was inherently seeded in their sound.

As people, you couldn’t meet a more likable bunch. The Frantix and their later incarnations: MadHouse, Fluid, 57 Lesbian, etc. have always stayed true to their roots and acknowledged those who helped them along the way. They stayed connected at the ground level and never developed rock star attitudes, always approachable and went out of their way to say “hello.” While they were a few years older and somewhat a generation ahead (more my brother's age), we were friends nonetheless. When the bassist Matt and guitarist Ricky formed the Fluid and were the first non-Seattle band to sign to the seminal Sub Pop label (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney), they were more than willing to submit an unreleased track for one of my Colorado Krew compilations. Their participation in my project spoke volumes of their modesty, it was a testament of giving back to the community that helped spawn their success

Long ago before the scene splintered, I was raised with the attitude that we, as a collective scene, were in it together and appreciated the diversity of bands. It was people like Duane Davis of Wax Trax who helped encourage and establish this ethic. He ran the in-house label, Local Anesthetic and released several recordings, including both Frantix eps. The label served as a snapshot of the early 80’s scene in Denver. It later influenced my approach to booking bands and releasing records in the latter part of the 80’s into the early 90’s. Denver was a unique and sometimes turbulent setting for music. In recent year, Denver's underground history has slowly come to light though retrospective releases, re-issues, and posthumous documentation. I will always be thankful for the people I met along the way growing up in the Denver scene, they helped shape my principles and work ethic. Although I’m halfway around the world and Denver is somewhere over there, I never lost sight of my origins or the mindset of bringing people together.  

In loving memory of Ricky Kulwicki. 1961-2011

Frantix: vocals: Marc Deaton, guitarist: Rick Kulwicki, bassist: Matt Bischoff and drummer: Davey Stewart

For further reading and a more detailed history of the Frantix check out the following websites:

Trashistruth: fliers, record covers, etc.

Colorado Punk/New Wave: An excellent interview with Ricky and Davey form Nov. 2003.

Alternative Tentacles will be releasing My Dad's A Fuckin' Alcoholic LP/CD later this month and will include both eps, plus live and demo tracks. I'm sure you can stop by Wax Trax for your copy.  

Early Frantix flier from 1981. Image borrowed from: 
Dancing Asshole is one of the best band names ever. Image borrowed from: 
Bum Kon-Drunken Sex Sucks ep (Local Anesthetic Records 1983) insert.  Paying tribute to Frantix. Image borrowed from: 
I always wondered if the 'NO KLONES ALLOWED...ASSHOLES' caption at the bottom of the flier was directed at the band, Kamikazi Klones. The Kamikazi Klones were the textbook definition of New Wave and it was sort of a surprise that they never became more mainstream. They had the skinny-tie MTV look down, who would have guessed 25 years later most of them would settle into the Colorado mountain hippy lifestyle. To see their region gig click hereImage source: Personal collection
I picked this flier up at Wax Trax. This show happened a week after opening for Black Flag at the Rainbow Music Hall. What a line-up, some of Denver's finest playing contemporary Polka favorites. Sadly, my dad didn't let me go. Image source: Personal collection
The band's second infamous ep: My Dad's A Fucking Alcoholic ep (Local Anesthetic Records 1983). (note: the Bum Kon beer). I remember picking this up at Wax Trax shortly after it was released. A couple of months later it was met by the sun. I still have the insert and cover tucked away in a box. In the late 80's, I eventually came across another copy at a record store near Sloan Lake off of Sheridan Blvd. A record collector who went by the name of Guy Smiley in Los Angeles made an offer I couldn't refuse (I was poor). Image source: Killed By Death Records
Lyric sheet from My Dad's a Fucking Alcoholic ep. Image source: Killed By Death Records

Personally, I prefer the band's first ep (I like to call it the Face Reality ep).  Image source: Killed By Death Records

S/T ep insert. Image source: Killed By Death Records
Davey. Photo credit: unknown. 
Amusing interview with Frantix. The entire interview is one huge joke.  Source: Lick It Up fanzine Issue #1
Frantix at the Packing House. Oil on paper 18" x 24" based off of a photograph by (unknown). Artist: Bob Rob (Medina)
Recorded by Wax Trax co-owner Duane Davis on April 10, 1983. See and feel the power.  

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