All posts by tomaspalermo

Biography by Mark Kemp [Trowser Press]

This biography, written by Mark Kemp, originally appeared in Trowser Press


Swingers (Magnatone) 1993
The Out Sound (PCP) 1994
The Three Man Themes (PCP) 1995

The members of this industrial-noise-college (collage) rock band met and formed in 1988 while working as DJs at KXLU, the radio station of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Drummer Tomas Palermo, bassist Damion Romero and guitarist Todd Williams kicked off Slug’s illustrious career by staging a series of guerrilla performances in a campus quadrangle where the trio “entertained” fellow students with raging feedback and other Big Black-like noise assaults of guitars, boom boxes, turntables and a microphone. Within a year, Slug had added three more KXLU air personalities: singer Steve Ratter, second guitarist Rich Alvarez and second bassist Michael B. After landing some gigs in the greater LA area, Slug began releasing singles and EPs on its own Magnatone label, most of which are collected on the debut CD.

Swingers‘ title track opens like a Glenn Branca suite, with Ratter’s wails blended into a thick, buzzing wall of guitars and basses. The rest of the music is equally influenced by the noise and avant-garde rock coming from downtown New York, as well as the DJ/collage work of artists ranging from Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad to Throbbing Gristle. As powerful and abrasive as tracks like “Lockjaw” and “Face Down” are, however, Slug had not yet mastered the art of recording. As a result, songs that shake like an earthquake in a live setting fall a bit flat in the studio. Slug makes up for it with humor, interjecting samples of cartoons and preachers between the clatter.

Bassist Collin Rae (a veteran of several experimental bands, including Ultra Vivid Scene) replaced Alvarez before Slug recorded The Out Sound. The group’s music begins moving outward in all directions here, with lengthier songs, more dynamic range and adventurous studio tinkering. In some places, the band incorporates the loud-soft dynamics of Nirvana (“Ex-Chest”); in others, they come off much like San Diego’s similar (if slightly more accessible) Drive Like Jehu, with screeched vocals, wild tempo changes, a hulking drive and instrumental intensity (“Aurora F”). The album also features a hint of things to come in the gentler, spacier, dub bass and psychedelic guitar sound of “Coordinate Points.”

Between The Out Sound and the ambitious double-length The Three Man Themes, drummer Palermo (host of KLXU’s dub reggae show) had been busy at local clubs as trip-hop DJ Tomas, writing for the techno/dance zine Urb and clerking at an indie record store. Meanwhile, Ratter had begun playing keyboards. Their respective experiences made a great impact on The Three Man Themes, moving Slug from its original Branca/Big Black persona to ambient-dub-psychedelic punk-rock. While the album includes its quota of lurching, acid-tinged guitar squalling, drones and harmonics (“Unesque,” “Resonance Man”), it also finds the band exploring Aphex Twin territory. “The Grey Man” is an extended suite of electronic ambience intermittently spiced with gurgling aquatic sounds and jingling metallic noises. There’s also dub (“The Distinct Room”), a Tanzanian witchcraft song (“Kayamba Dance”), a Can cover (“Oh Yeah!”) and an instrumental tribute to early Sonic Youth (“The Gentle Man”). Amazingly, it all holds together seamlessly. Among Slug’s excursions in several different directions at once, The Three Man Themes stands as its masterwork.

[Mark Kemp]


’92 Partial Tour Diary

A Brief State-By-State Synopsis of the 1992 Slug (LA) North American Tour Odyssey.

California: Leave at 1a.m. Bless the van. We find a “Bush & Quayle In ’92” campaign sign in the gutter next to the van and take it with us in case we have any encounters with red necks or cops. 5 people plus equipment in this van.

Arizona: Straight long roads, beautiful clouds above us.

New Mexico: Few signs of life. Mesas. Amazing natural sights. Batteries running low in tape player.

Texas: Transmission fluid leaks and almost strands us. We’re in a rented van, but it’s a lemon. We have to get off at a conservative truck stop. The Bush sign goes up on the van window as cover. We get transmission fluid and leave.

Oklahoma: Not much happens, thank god.

Kansas: Amazing country drive from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Missouri: We play to 25 teenage punks at The Vault in Kansas City, MO with Morphine and Plague.

Iowa: We perform at Harry May’s in Des Moines with Silkworm and get a good guarantee, one of the only well paying gigs this trip. The club is big and the sound is awesome. Good mid-American feel to the place.

Illinois: We’re in Chicago. Drama and nightmares with van. We play the Lounge Axe with Cherubs and Crust. Rich and Michael B get in a fight during out set on stage.

Wisconsin: We play Madison at OK Corrals with Pachinko, a great local noise band, and Cherubs.

New York: On Thursday we go to a show at Danceteria with Bleech, Smashing Orange, Unsane, Mule and more. Friday we go to CMJ Conference panels and hang out.