In my post about Ikara Colt, I mentioned a genre called The Scene with No Name, which a) did, in fact, have a name, and b) it was a fucking stupid name. Well, today to (almost) match the inanity of that title, let me tell you about Skunk Rock. The Lo-Fidelity Allstars (also former Youth Groups subjects) were the biggest names within this scene, and that ought to tell you something about it. Other bands in the bracket included Campag Velocet (starring the world’s most handsome man), and London heartthrobs Regular Fries.
Now, usually when you hear about bands with journalists in them, you think “oh, this probably won’t be good”, and that’s what I first thought about the Fries. It didn’t help that the responsibilities of said writer, Paul Moody, were “synthesizer, vibes” according to an early press release. Their ‘Free The Regular Fries’ EP was meandering, but its follow up ‘Fries Entertainment’ showed some more promise. Sounding a little like the Lo-Fis but also like a bad hangover, they delivered a lot of promise, but within a thick layer of “don’t give a fuck”-ness. Which of course meant that they were as shambolic as they were sublime.
Their live shows reflected this - there were grooves and beats and also camouflage netting and birdcages. The first time I saw them was that Lo-Fi Allstars I wrote about before, the one where their singer never showed up because he had in fact quit the band that very afternoon. We didn’t know this when the Fries went on, and they covered the stage with netting and camouflage gear. The singer spent a lot of time shaking a giant birdcage. One guy that wasn’t the singer yelled at the crowd for most of the show. They had promotional bank notes which rained over the crowd. ‘Dream Lottery’ began most of their live shows, and featured the drums fading in, and getting more and more psychedelic. There may have been a saxophone in there. It was a racket the kind of which you rarely find in nature, and though we mostly enjoyed it, plenty of people very adamantly did not.
My friend Nico would later write these rules for attending a Regular Fries live show:
When at a Regular Fries gig all individual(s) must be suitably off their Bill and Teds in one of the following way(s):
- Take copious amounts of anything that sounds like a Japanese make of car.
- If access to such things is denied because you are a) sad or b) have no f(r)iends, hit head against wall a lot.
- If all else fails, pretend to be Pinocchio and do the Hamster Dance.
I always elected for option #3.
They had a single called ‘King Kong’ which might have been a love song but it was about the notorious celluloid monster. In the summer of 1999 came the album ‘Accept the Signal’, which paired some pretty great songs - ‘King Kong’, ‘Dust It’, ‘Dream Lottery’ - with some truly horrific lyrics. “Deep sea diver, dear Lady Godiva, lend us a fiver… the girls” went ‘The Girls’.
Their calling card, though, was always the lumbering, stoned ‘Dust It’, which never gets out of second gear, but is still perfect for head nodding.
In January 2000, they supported Asian Dub Foundation at the Astoria, and it was a severe mismatch between the bands, and I was one of the few who enjoyed both sets immensely. The drummer wore an Army helmet, and as well as favourites from ‘Signal’, they debuted a couple of new songs, including the more techno-influenced ‘Blown A Fuse’. It was fun to watch a roadie try to cut down all their netting to get the stage ready for ADF. Again, most people in the audience weren’t feeling it though.
By the time album #2, ‘War on Plastic Plants’ came out, only a year after the debut, people had already moved on from Skunk Rock, and it went unnoticed. A shame, because somehow it was MORE mental than its predecessor. For one thing, there was a song called ‘Africa Take Me Back, which was incongruous coming from the whitest, palest men you will ever look at. Legit superstar producers Jagz Kooner and Dave Fridmann were brought in. ‘Eclipse’ is a song that’s even sort of sweet, even if the vocals sound like they’re being delivered by a man in a cave. With a cold.
Best of all, there’s a track featuring their spiritual forefather Kool Keith, a man so nuts, he makes the Fries look like Dr. Stephen Hawking or something. And this was then remixed by James from the Manic Street Preachers! Nothing makes sense in the world of Regular Fries.
They drifted away after that, yet incredibly there exists a Best Of album which looks entirely unauthorized.
My buddy Sal once wrote of the band, “they’re what you get if an Ikea Store crashes into Cape Canaveral with 8 joyous, energetically manic Bez type people including a legionnaire, thrown in.” That covers it pretty well, I feel.