For the past few years, the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival has been hosting events called “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” These are unlike normal ATP festivals because they’re held at regular venues, not resorts in the Catskills or seaside England. It would be great if they mixed it up and named the festivals after different songs off The Velvet Underground and Nico, although I could see the “Heroin” festival being more of a bummer than it would be worth.
Anyway, this year’s lineup doesn’t have many surprises (Chavez and the Dirty Three, while both great bands, play every single one of these things) and it’s sure to make dudes in their late 30’s sweat out their faded Stereolab t-shirts. But one band in particular is one that I never expected to reunite, and it’s one of the most unique bands of the past couple decades, Washington, D.C.’s The Make-Up. For years and years I have obsessed over the various projects of Ian Svenonius, the Psychic Soviet himself, the mind behind some of the greatest and most conceptual punk bands ever. If you’re not familiar with the Nation of Ulysses, they merged early 90’s DIY culture with a revolutionary youth culture aesthetic, paying equal homage to early rock and jazz as they did to ultra-stylized anarcho-communist ideals. His next band, the Cupid Car Club, only released one nearly inscrutable 7″, based around a teenage gang/suicide cult and a later Planet of the Apes movie, and it’s a record I force anyone I’m with to buy whenever I come across it at a record store.
The next band he fronted was the Make-Up, featuring his NOU bandmates James Canty and Steve Gamboa, and bombshell bassist Michelle Mae. They frequently get lumped in as a garage rock or soul revivalist band, but that’s severely selling them short – your average leather jacket/BBQ blowout Fonzie rockers wouldn’t be able to carry Spiv’s can of pomade. Drawing equally from classic soul vamps, the post-punk era, and a near-cultish liberation theology, they pushed back against what Svenonius described in Steady Diet fanzine as the “vacuous form” of indie rock, preferring improvisation and spontaneity to create their unique “Gospel Yeh-Yeh” sound. If you haven’t heard them before and aren’t clicking off this page to find a tumblr with triangles on it, do yourself a favor and find a Mediafire link of After Dark, the “live record” they made onstage at the Black Cat in DC, playing to an empty room with crowd sounds dubbed in after the fact. Absolutely essential listening.
I pulled up a couple videos from the show they played in England back in May, and they do not disappoint. Here’s a video of them playing their classic “I Want Some” at ATP:
And here’s a video of the Make-Up in their prime playing “I Am Pentagon” live on French TV:
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