Transilvia - A Retrospective
By Dan Century
Base On Balls / Tee Pee Records
Bureau of Dissonant Culture 1999 Compilation
Bureau of Dissonant Culture
Let's go back to the early 90's - way back when I was
attending Rutgers College* and getting seriously fucked up every damn night of
my life, with no plans for the future and pleasure my only goal. Most of my
friends and acquaintances shared my degenerate "party now, pay up later "
philosophy. Nightly club hopping and bar crawls, innumerable house parties, 5am
Falafel runs, gymnastic exercises in prurience and untold amounts of property
damage - everyone was fucked up, partying down and getting real stoooopid.
Every community of unrepentant degenerate scumbags needs a
scumbag band to provide the soundtrack
at that time in New Brunswick, that
band was Transilvia - a crew of surly reprobates who spent most of their
time at scumbag bars like McCormick's and sleazy dance clubs like the Roxy**
and the Downunder - when of course they weren't attending drug fueled orgies. I
never saw them wear any color but black.
I remember the first time I saw the band perform: it was a
rainy, crappy New Jersey fall night
alone and sober, I trudged over to the
Roxy to see this band I'd heard so much about. Once inside I bought a beer and
waited by the stage for shit to happen. Tension grew as the band took their
places: the tall, skinny guitar player, the diminutive bass player with his
unusual Steinberg bass, and the singer, mummified in toilet paper
were all noticeably drunk - real drunk. I did not know what to expect but, from
the first note on, I was blown away. The bass player erupted with a bass sound
I've never heard equaled before or since, hitting at all frequencies, demanding
to be noticed - this bass was definitely a lead instrument. The guitarist
commanded the few frequencies left - part Greg Ginn, part Monster Magnet, part
Mahavishnu Orchestra - his style was also unique. The singer was doing his best
to terrify the crowd, keep his cool and not fall down. Somehow, they made all
this chaos and power work. I was an instant fan: the music was awesome and the
atmosphere they brought with them ignited the social scene, leading to many
over-the-top parties, and many good times.
In 1993 Transilvia left the womb of New Brunswick for LA to
make it big. Well, that never quite happened, and since that time New Jersey's
finest Gothic/Noise/Industrial/Stoner/Acid/Punk band has dissolved. Thankfully
we have a legacy of recordings to remember them by, including a few recent solo
projects from various band members.
The Imaginary Midgets is a two CD, 33 song
compilation pulled from demos, 7" recordings, compilation appearances and
studio outtakes. Each disk represents a phase of the band's career, starting
with the first disk titled Hub City, which represents their work in New
Brunswick, NJ. The second disk, titled City of Angles, reflects their
Los Angeles career. If you were a fan at any point of their career, this album
is a must have.
New Brunswick a.k.a. the Hub City
In The Dark, the first track of the Imaginary
Midgets, reminds me immediately of why they were the band to see: Jeremy
Android's humungous baselines that were simultaneously punishing and funky,
John's impudent screaming and E. Rex's obtuse guitar riffing and brutal
shredding. An eruption of raw power celebrated with the memorable mantra
"somewhere, fucked-up, what you gonna do?" Son of Man, from their
incredibly titled Screaming in the Basement Strapped to a Leather
Spiderweb EP, betrays their Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Big Black
influences: copious sampling, brutal beats and riffing, screaming, psychedelic
assaults on organized religion. You'll also find Instichrist and
Dogsbody Corpsegas: two fan favorites which exemplify the insanity and
brutality they wielded. A perfect soundtrack to the filth and depravity that
defined the lives of New Brunswick's finest. 16 tracks of brutal lo-fidelity
grind and rage, sex and consequence.
The City of Angels
Most of the tracks on this disk are out-takes and alternate
versions from the Slugchuckles Insanely album studio sessions.
Tension For a Lifetime, the first track of the LA disk, is a candid
studio outtake of the band bickering in the recording studio
no doubts as to why they broke up. You'll also be rewarded with some live
tracks and a song called Thrilla! which is the last track Transilvia
recorded before their demise.
Finally Transilvia recorded on something more than a
well produced, as well as anything you'll hear on the radio.
Slugchuckles (someone has to explain the title to me) features a solid
guitar presence (in the past it was usually drowned out by the bass), the
familiar monster Android bassage, and a well-developed and confident vocal
style. It's obvious t.cylinder took time to perfect his vocal skills - now
flavored with a Jerry Cantrell and Perry Farrell vibe. This album prefigured
the powerful rock sound so popular today.
Dogsbody was a Transilvia staple from back in the New
Brunswick days. "Corpsegas corpsegas dogsbody corpsegas / pickup sticks but
wont pickup the wormsplash" lyrics which leave me questioning their sanity
and/or lysergic intake. Psychedelic noise punk that defies convention, but
leaves you very, very curious or perplexed. I think the message is all people
are lying dogs
it's true, it's true.
Powermaster - a Jeremy penned song so there's a
MASSIVE bass riff and unrepentantly violent lyrics. "I can drive my car thru
your playground / and run your little kids down." I would let these guys
baby-sit my kids. Would you? A filthy, demented, visceral declaration of
Miss Fortune - this song is so good that it took me
by surprise and blew me away. Hard rock pop in the family of Stone Temple
Pilots (not necessary a bad thing). Unrelenting and dangerous, locomotive
intensity - yet sinful and sexual.
Inquisition - just when they started playing
lots of changes and super heavy wide spectrum
bass riffs. Insanity, noise and fury
Grate - a gross sample of someone chewing
of samples and odd-ball rhythms, pounding drums and many tempo changes. Just
plain heavy and driven
like a coherent Today is the Day or a crazed mix of
fury, noise and riffage Korn wishes they could achieve.
(900) Psychic Slaves - Don't you feel sorry for the
suckers that call 1-900 phone lines? I've spent many and evening staying up way
too late laughing at these commercials. "psychic slaves rates in a maze / save
the old celebrities." Celebrity welfare! Solid riffs, very tight band.
Well of course there is no more Transilvia, but there is the
Bureau of Dissonant Culture: "a collaboration of different projects,
bands and organizations whose goal is to bring artists together, so they can
more easily promulgate true underground culture to those who appreciate it,
without the corrupting 'help' of 'speculative capitalist investment.'" The BDC,
as it is affectionately called, is home to several ex-Transilvia members
including singer t-cylinder and guitarist E-REX. All CD's distributed by the
BDC and it's associated labels are priced at a very fan friendly $5-$8 per
disk. They're all about getting the music to their fans, not ripping them off.
You can get the Transilvia disks from them too.
The first BDC compilation, The Bureau of Dissonant
Culture 1999, features 4 tracks by x-Transilvia guitarist/songwriter E-REX,
3 by x-Transilvia singer/songwriter t-cylinder, 4 tracks from BDC ringleader
and "facilitator" Carlo a.k.a. Afragola, and 2 from the mysterious noise rock
Remote Control Yeti.***
On the BDC comp E-REX wears
many musical masks: he's kind of like a less salacious Ween, a lo-tech Zappa,
or John Frusciante type singer/song writer. Maximum Wage is 4-track
treble punk, like a gem from the Dead Kennedy's catalog, it's short, fast and
to the point. Getthru is forgivably awkward funk/noise rap about E-REX's
love of music, and the up's and down's of a musical career: "take his life, but
you'll never take his guitar." Forever Corpse - a sweet rhythm guitar
melody, and memorable vocal melodies, like the Chili Pepper's mellow stuff.
Soulful with a total absence of pretension. His love for the music he writes is
obvious. HHB Blues is another tune with something to say about the dirty
side of the music biz. Tasty, minimalist keyboard riffs, bluesy (surprise)
Hell's House Band Blues
pay your rock dues
E-REX's self titled CD also features Maximum Wage and
Forever Corpse and adds another mellow singer/songwriter piece called
The Gods Sell Soul, some machine gun drum machine noise experiments and
a recording of a rain shower. A bold and eclectic mix that will surprise and
reward Transilvia fans. Give the guy a MIC and he turns into the next Leonard
t. cylinder's solo material is a vast departure from the
Transilvia sound - with the exception of t.'s familiar vocals. Electric
Sex, found on the BDC comp, begins with some comic hip-hop shout outs and
quickly evolves into super lo-fidelity electronic bass lines and hyper-kinetic
bargain drum machine beats. Experimental and minimalist yet complex, enjoyable
and intelligent. Bad Dream Life Vacation features more lo-fidelity
electronica, and bizarre vocal samples, lyric dementia
like spoken word
over Squarepusher. Dimension 4 is world class experimental stoner
electronica, plodding along like a bizarre combination of Tom Waits and old
school rap. Very tasty mix of samples, scratching and electro-grit, with a
major "High Times" vibe. Like E-REX's solo work, old school Transilvia fans
will be blow away by what John, er, um, t. has done.
So there you go
a once great never was is still doing
fine in separate pieces. If you were a fan back in the day do yourself a solid
and check out these crucial and inexpensive releases. If you're new to the
band, start with Slugchuckles and work your way back to the world of the
where you might just meet a guy named
* Sandwiched between Robert Wood Johnson Hospital
(a.k.a. the Borg mothership) and Johnson & Johnson world hindquarters, in
septic New Brunswick, New Jersey.
** One occasion I got too wasted and the
bouncers clobbered me and dragged me out by my neck, but I forgive them.
If you've ever owned a bong, you'll probably like these bands too.