My favorite band is breaking up.
For the last couple years my favorite band has been AIDS Wolf. I liked them a whole bunch before 2010, but they weren't at favorite status until then. They are from Montreal, Canada and are the trio of Chloe Lum on vocals and electronics, Yannick Desranleau on drums, and Alex Moskos on guitar and electronics. Chloe and Yannick started the band in 2003 with two guitarists. Over the years there was a decent amount of turnover at the guitar player position, so they reached a juncture where they had three committed members and decided not to worry about having anybody else in the band.
Of course my favorite band plays utterly abrasive unknown wave music.
I found out about AIDS Wolf in 2006 from a slightly less than glamorous Pitchfork review of their debut album, The Lovvers EP. Calling the review slightly less than glamorous is being polite. Never the less, I was intrigued since I was getting into bands like Lightning Bolt and Wolf Eyes at the time and bought the album. A friend I worked with was also into them so I had somebody to discuss their music with. We both thought they were brutal in a good way. They now were a band that I kept track of and would watch for new releases. Their was soon a split with Athletic Automaton and a second album, Cities of Glass. Both were released by Skin Graft, a label I used to be into and sadly had forgotten about over the years. I started checking out Skin Graft again and keeping up with their new releases. It was nice to see that they were still around to put out quality music. The next AIDS Wolf album was March To The Sea and was their last as a four piece. It was available for public consumption prior to the band's first tour as a trio in the fall of 2010. It maybe wasn't the best idea to have a new album that you will be playing zero songs from on its tour, but it wasn't like the band made any radical stylistic shifts that would alienate fans. If you were stoked on AIDS Wolf before, you would still be stoked on them. The band was taking chances and exploring exciting new sonic possibilities.
AIDS Wolf toured a lot and I caught them at Soundlab in Buffalo twice. In 2010, they announced a new tour. There was no Buffalo stop, but I noticed there was an open date for shows in cities that Fredonia was in between. I contacted their booking agent and was able to set up a show in Fredonia. I'd never booked a show before and was terrified that something would go horribly wrong. Fortunately, I think everything turned out alright.
The band was pretty haggard when they got to town as they had been on tour all over the US for the last month with a break at Dub Narcotic in Olympia to record Ma vie banale avant-garde. Dinner was a little awkward, but things got better as the evening went along. They perked up once their friends in D. Rider arrived. Once the show got going I think everything fell into place. Both bands played really well. I think all the people who needed to be there and would enjoy it were there. I had friends who came from Buffalo, Jamestown, and Cleveland for the show. Everybody was in a good mood by the end of the night. I was very much relieved. At this point AIDS Wolf officially became my favorite band, as I had gone the last few years without anybody occupying that spot.
Ma vie banale avant-garde was released in the fall of 2011 with a corresponding cross country tour to go with the double album. There weren't any nearby shows that matched up with when I could take off from work, except for one in Binghamton. This tour was also cryptically billed as the last tour so I felt I had to go. As luck would have it, a friend of mine from skateboarding was living in Binghamton. He knew the house they were going to play at and was down to go to the show.
The show was in a punk house that probably is only a few years away from being condemned and demolished. Every inch of the basement was covered in dripped and splattered paint so it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Decrepitness aside, it was a neat looking space. When we got to the show, AIDS Wolf had set up their merchandise table in a small room between the kitchen and the living room. They were with Val Martino, who is Unicorn Hard-On. It was great to see everybody again and meet Val. It was fun interacting with the various kids at the show and watching how the band handled them. For example, there was a guy who was blown away by the concept that bands still sold tapes. Needless to say, he didn't buy any tapes.
As for the show itself, it was a little weird. This band called Cloud Becomes Your Hand played first. They did some type of experimental psychedelic pop and wore funny costumes. I wish I had paid more attention to them and taken a couple of pictures because they were friendly guys. The next band was a relatively local hardcore band. I saw none of their set and hung out upstairs the whole time. I think a good chunk of the crowd was there to see them because they were releasing a 7". Their crowd wasn't feeling AIDS Wolf at all. At shows with a variety of bands, you can always tell who is there for what band, who is going to be open minded about things and who maybe needs to leave. So there was a little bit of tension in the air.
AIDS Wolf set up after the hardcore band. While they were plugging in and turning on their wall of amps and gadgets, a girl in the crowd took offense to the loud noise. She said something that Chloe called her out on for saying. It got dicey for a second, but calmer heads prevailed. I'm positive the girl and her crew left about two songs in. The best part was that Alex kept soundchecking the entire time. With the hassle behind them, AIDS Wolf got to play. I think they had one of the best sets I've seen them do. Val ended the night with a batch of warm and fuzzy electronic beats. I'd never heard Unicorn Hard-On before, but any band that is friends with AW always turns out to be good. The bands were supposed to crash at the show house, however the party didn't seem to be dying down and they wanted some quiet. My friend was cool with them staying at his house so we all escaped to there. It was much calmer and there were cats so everybody was happy.
This past March, the band made the announcement that they were breaking up. Academic pursuits, art world opportunities, difficulties in touring, growing older, physical distances, and changes in what passes for underground music versus what should actually serve as underground music were factors in the decision to call it a career. That last reason is why AIDS Wolf matters more than ever. It was a little surprising that they decided to end the band, but I sort of had a feeling it would happen sooner or later. David Yow of The Jesus Lizard had said something to the effect he knew his band was going to have limited life span when he started and it wasn't going to be forever. Given the similarities between the two bands, you just have to enjoy the ride while it lasts.
I think the appeal of AIDS Wolf for me goes beyond the music alone. As a printmaker, I think it's great that Chloe and Yannick have the Seripop screen printing entity. Their artwork has been used on most of the band's releases, which provided a well defined visual image to go along with the music. I like it when a band puts in that extra attention to detail. It has been fascinating to see Seripop evolve from doing gig posters to doing large scale sculptural installations made out of paper in museums and galleries. Alex has his Drainolith solo project, which explores fractured synthesizers and guitars to create a different type of noise. They have influenced me as to what other bands I should check out, too. I've learned about Athletic Automaton, Outer Space, Pre, Sightings, Unicorn Hard-On, and U.S. Girls. Anybody they pick to tour with always turns out to be worthwhile, even if I had completely never heard of them before. It's all of these things that make me like band. And I should mention that they are wonderful people as well.
While I am sad that AIDS Wolf is coming to an end, it doesn't feel like it is an unhappy ending. The band is going out on the top of their game and on their terms. Even though this is an ending, it isn't the final ending. Alex has a Drainolith full length out on Spectrum Spools by Editions Mego. Chloe and Yannick are going to continue with Seripop and pursue academics. There's also going to be one last recording from AIDS Wolf. Nine years is a long time and to have four albums that don't suck, plus a bunch of singles, splits and tapes is quite an accomplishment. I'm happy I got to be there for part of it.
05/11 - AIDS Wolf, Child Abuse, Gordon Monahan, and Not The Wind, Not The Flag - The Garrison, Toronto
For more information:
AIDS Wolf on Blogspot