The riots this band inspired were as violent as their music.
Picture this: you’re in hell. You’re at a seedy dive-bar of the inferno, drinking whisky (because, of course, lost souls only drink whisky) surrounded by demons and ghouls. The bartender is chatting with you about some depressingly evil stuff, and suddenly a band comes on stage. Which band is it? What does it sound like? I know, most people would immediately reply, “A METAL BAND”. But for me, that band would be none other than the one we’re talking about today: Suicide.
But, what the hell is Suicide and why should you care? The year was 1971 when Alan Vega, a visual artist, and Martin Rev, a seasoned avant-jazz musician, met and decided to start making music together. They started performing at galleries with just a drum machine and a nearly-destroyed organ. Over that minimalistic and eerie musical background, Alan Vega would scream and mumble the borderline psychotic shouts they would use as vocals for their music. They named themselves Suicide after “Satan Suicide,” an issue of Vega’s favorite comic book, Ghost Rider.
Vega was deeply influenced by Iggy Pop’s chaotic performances with The Stooges and decided he would take things up a notch in Suicide’s gigs. Even the music alone provoked violent reactions in the audience. On top of that, Vega would constantly taunt and shout at the audience, while breaking beer bottles into his microphone stand. Vega recalls,
“(...)People were looking to be entertained, but I hated the idea of going to a concert in search of fun. Our attitude was, 'Fuck you buddy, you’re getting the street right back in your face.'"
And that’s just what people got. Needless to say, everyone HATED them.
There are countless reports of riots at their shows. People got so pissed, they'd constantly throw chairs at the band and at each other. Some audience members would go up to the stage and punch the duo, so Alan Vega started carrying a bicycle chain while performing. They also locked the doors of the venues so nobody would be able to escape their electronic Rock and Roll attacks.
If I could sum up the spirit of Suicide’s performances with just one story, it would be this one: in 1978, just a year after they released their first album, the band was in Glasgow opening for The Clash. They were met with an increasingly angry crowd. The tension between the band and the audience escalated quickly and reached its climax when someone threw an axe to Alan Vega’s head. An actual axe! As Vega said,
“I guess we were too punk even for the punk crowd. They hated us. I taunted them with, ‘You fuckers have to live through us to get to the main band.’”
The band is now regarded as one of the most influential acts in Rock and Roll history. The hate they induced slowly turned into admiration from a long and unlikely roster of musicians, including Bruce Springsteen and Soft Cell, or even M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem. However, Vega had some reluctant feelings about the band’s later position as musical heroes. When people started enjoying Suicide’s concerts everything was over for him.
“I said to Marty, ‘I’m finished, where’s the confrontations? What are we gonna do now? People are dancing to this shit.”
Alan Vega passed away in 2016, but I’m sure his soul is not resting in peace. I like to picture him shouting “Fuck you” to a crowd of demons and starting a riot in this dive-bar at Pandaemonium. I don’t say this because I think he’s being punished for his many crimes against conventional music, but because I’m convinced that Satan himself is a fan.
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