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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Beat Happening retrospective gets physical release

Beat Happening was formed at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington by Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis and Bret Lunsford in 1983.

The band combined a modern primitive pop sound with the D.I.Y. ethos of 'anyone can do it' and inspired countless bands and labels along the way. The music community that arose around the band and their label, K, may have seemed the sonic antithesis of their Seattle neighbors (and friends) but was no less influential.

Thirty years since the release of their self-titled debut album (the subject of a new 33 1/3 book) comes Look Around, a remastered, career-spanning double album anthology, handpicked by the band and a great starting point for the uninitiated as well a refreshing reminder to those who caught the wave the first time around.


The 23 tracks range from their 1984 debut single, "Our Secret" b/w "What's Important" (originally sold directly for $2.50 to individuals, but $4 to institutions) to "Angel Gone," a single released in 2000 after eight years of inactivity.

Look Around is available now on all digital services, while the physical release, out November 20, will comprise the following formats: CD, gatefold double LP, limited-edition royal blue cassette, and a Domino Mart exclusive gatefold double LP bundled with a limited edition light yellow 7" of "Indian Summer" and "Foggy Eyes".


Domino is also planning an extensive Beat Happening album reissue series in 2016.

Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard once called the oft-covered "Indian Summer" from 1998's Jamboree LP "the indie 'Freebird'." 

Read more from the bio below... 

"We are Beat Happening and we don't do Nirvana covers. They do Beat Happening covers."* 

The legend of Beat Happening, and of K, the label that Calvin Johnson founded, is full of big names they worked with before they were stars (Beck! Modest Mouse! The Gossip!), and big names they influenced (Kurt Cobain! Sleater-Kinney!) Less acknowledged, however, is that Bret Lunsford, Heather Lewis, and Calvin Johnson created some of the most original and surprising music to come out of the often deliberately weird American punk rock tradition.
 
Working from a sonic template of the Cramps, Trouble Funk, Young Marble Giants, and messianic blues, Beat Happening confounded and often incited violence from audiences weaned on hardcore punk. In the place of macho aggression, Beat Happening confronted the all-ages scene with Heather's low-key delivery and Calvin's fey theatrics, topped off by his trademark dance move: rubbing his tummy. For a supposedly cutesy band, Beat Happening was adamant about asserting its right to exist, carrying itself with a punk as fuck attitude that would become a key inspirational lodestone for the generation of D.I.Y. bands that followed, including Bikini Kill and the Nation of Ulysses.
 
In Calvin's own words: "This idea that Beat Happening was popular in some way was never true. And in fact, I don't think people understand the level of animosity that Beat Happening attracted through most of our time performing live. This concept that we were this performing group that were some kind of-I don't know-shy pop... our performances were clearly confrontational."**
 
Fans only familiar with Beat Happening's self-titled first album of 1985, or just the cat in a rocketship line-drawing on its cover, or the much-covered "Indian Summer" from 1988's Jamboree, will be surprised at the band's range and musicality. In the absence of a bass player, the guitar and drums had to carry more character in the songs, and alongside the de rigueur post-punk and indiepop moves, Beat Happening omnivorously shifted from go-go to surf to Shaggs-esque outsider pop to Krautrock.
 
All this was accompanied by a sexual energy thinly veiled behind the band's nostalgic celebration of childhood. The band's final album, 1992's forgotten classic You Turn Me On, was a gorgeous lo-fi dream-pop opus co-produced by bedroom pop legend Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants.
 
Look Around is a chronological survey of Beat Happening's remarkable arc, from its deliberately amateurish debut, produced by Northwest punk legend Greg Sage of the Wipers, to its fluent and stunning 1992 finale, appended with one stray track: the lovely "Angel Gone," a one-off single recorded in 2000 with then-K wunderkind Phil Elverum (the Microphones, Mount Eerie) to accompany the band's now out-of-print career-spanning retrospective box set Crashing Through. At the turn of the millennium, we weren't quite ready to rediscover Beat Happening. But in our age of omnivorous music consumption enabled by social networking, the story of Beat Happening, the band that helped create an international network of underground pop and then had the gumption to bring everyone to sleepy little Olympia, Washington for 1991's epochal International Pop Underground Convention, makes a lot of sense.
 
* Calvin Johnson, Beat Happening concert in Norman, OK, April 12, 1992
** Interview with Magn├ętophone fanzine #3, 2001


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