“Flipper Live: Target Video 1980-81″: Influential industrial punk-inspired Bay Area noise-rock

By on August 30, 2017
 

Flipper Live: Target Video 1980-81 — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — features a rarely-seen live concert by the original lineup of influential industrial punk-inspired noise-rockers Flipper, videotaped at Kezar Stadium on May 29, 1981, by Target Video’s Joe Rees.

Flipper — Will Shatter (bass/vocals), Bruce Loose (bass/vocals), Ted Falconi (guitar) and Steve DePace (drums) — certainly had a devoted fanbase in San Francisco’s vibrant punk scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and their legion of fans only grew from their occasional tours back in the day.

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R.E.M., Concrete Blonde, the Melvins, and Sebadoh — among others — have all covered Flipper songs at some point in their own careers.

You may have even seen photos of Kurt Cobain wearing a homemade Flipper t-shirt on the liner sleeve of Nirvana’s In Utero; decades later, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic would join a later version of the band for some of their gigs.

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Flipper — whose name was inspired after seeing photos of thalidomide babies whose arms looked like “flippers” — were founded in the late ’70s by Ricky Williams (ex-Sleepers), who was subsequently fired before they’d made any recordings. Shatter and Loose shared the vocals thereafter (Williams died in 1991).

Those first recording sessions produced a few singles for the San Francisco-based Subterranean label, including “Sex Bomb,” which was re-recorded for their 1982 full-length LP debut, Generic Flipper.

Read more about Flipper below.

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Flipper were unlike any other Bay Area band, punk-inspired noisemakers who sonically journeyed “out there,” into a vast, uncharted musical territory every time they played.

It seemed to many of us who saw them in their early ’80s heyday that they were experimenting with loud, room-clearing washes of noise, punk and drone sounds, with Falconi’s squalling, distorted and confrontational guitar, Shatter’s and Loose’s throbbing bass (two bassists!) and DePace’s thrashing drum fills.

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A lot of the late ’70s-era punk kids — who were more focused on thrashing about violently on the dancefloor — didn’t know what to make of this aural pummeling (sometimes Flipper played 45-minute versions of just one tune).

They were the antithesis to most of the other notorious SF punk bands back then, including the Dead Kennedys, noted for their fast short bursts of snarling, angry punk (check out the DK’s lost recording session for In God We Trust Inc., another of Joe Rees’s Target Video releases, also streaming on NF Plus!)

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When Flipper’s messy industrial noise-punk vibe was met with any negativity from the audience, that just seemed to excite them even more to kick it up (or down) another notch and make the crowd suffer, sometimes even getting into confrontations with agitated non-fans.

Mudhoney’s Mark Arm — in the 2006 documentary American Hardcore — even claimed that Flipper’s charm as a band lay in their ability to upset audiences while attracting their undivided attention and curiosity at the same time.

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No two shows by the band were ever the same, and it was always an experience to see Flipper play because you were never sure what you were going to get.

You can see all of this we’ve described above in this murky concert video footage of Flipper’s momentous opening slot performance for nihilist noisemakers Throbbing Gristle, who were playing their very last show that night (until their 2004 reunion).

From what we can tell, the gig was held inside the cavernous, darkly-lit Kezar Pavilion (described early in a written preamble at the front of the video as a “basketball court”), located just adjacent to Kezar Stadium in the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, not far from the Haight-Ashbury.

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The band slowly, sloppily make their way through their set — playing “Shine,” “Nothing,” “Low Rider,” “One by One,” “Hard Cold Old World,” and “Life” (notably, they didn’t play their single, “Sex Bomb”) — as everything descends into chaos.

Behind them you can see occasionally disturbingly imagery of surgeries and babies being born, not unlike something you’d see in difficult-to-watch performance art piece.

“This is actually a test in future torture,” Will Shatter announces before “Nothing.”

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There are lots of mistakes and constant breakdowns of both instruments and equipment (at one point Genesis P-Orridge straps his own bass onto Bruce so Flipper can continue playing).

Meanwhile, Falconi — who we see literally double over with laughter at one point — destroys his shitty guitar in a fit of rage at the end of “Hard Cold Old World.”

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In 1992, Rick Rubin — who currently owns the rights to Flipper’s recordings — released a CD odds-and-sods type collection of singles and rarities, Sex Bomb Baby! — with liner notes by Mark Arm — but it is currently out-of-print. Def American also reissued Generic Flipper back in the ’90s too.

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A reunion of the original lineup isn’t likely now, though.

Will Shatter died of a heroin overdose on December 9, 1987 (he’d reportedly been clean for awhile before an accidental and unexpected overdose took his life).

Bruce Loose had a bad car accident in 1993 that seriously injured his spine, which meant he was unable to perform live or tour thereafter, essentially ending the then-current version of the band (they’d soldiered on after Shatter’s death with new members).

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Original members Loose and DePace — who Loose claims told Flipper’s label, Def American, not to give any money to him or to John Dougherty, because they were both junkies — don’t speak to each other anymore.

(Dougherty, who took Shatter’s place in the band for a reunion tour and subsequent album, American Grafishy, also died of a heroin overdose on October 31, 1997).

Watch Flipper Live: Target Video 1980-81 — and other Punk titles, including Music Documentaries and Concerts — over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.