Kill Rock Stars’ 25th Anniversary Show
Kinski / Wimps / Tissue Live @ Chop Suey, Seattle
August 18, 2016
By Sam Chapman
Since all music writing is some form of autobiography, here are three short episodes from my life that are at least tangentially related to the rest of this piece:
Episode 1: In eighth grade, I discover the music of Elliot Smith via the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. I subsequently illegally download most of his catalogue on LimeWire. One or two of his songs inevitably make their way onto every mix CD I make for the next year or so.
Episode 2: I have been aware of Sleater-Kinney for some time, but at sixteen, after they’ve been on an “extended hiatus” for more than three years, I begin listening in earnest. Corin Tucker’s seismic voice scares and exhilarates me in equal measure, and I wear the hell out of All Hands on the Bad One. I will later realize that Dig Me Out and The Woods are holistically better albums, but I will not care.
Episode 3: At the age of twenty, while taking a class on feminist literature, I discover Bikini Kill and my little gay brain is torn asunder and reassembled by Kathleen Hanna’s righteous fury. If you don’t believe that she’s one of the most incendiary figures in popular music, you are wrong. And probably too weak to survive a harsh winter. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.
These vignettes have two things in common. They A.) demonstrate that I have too many feelings for my own good and B.) illustrate both the personal and cultural significance of Olympia-and-Portland-based label Kill Rock Stars, with which all of these artists were at some point affiliated. For the purposes of this write-up, we’ll focus on Item B, but chances are that Item A will make several more appearances. I am what I am.
Formed in 1991 by Slim Moon and Tinuviel Sampson as an avenue to promote and release the music and spoken-word recordings of prominent Olympia bands, the label’s first release, the self-titled compilation Kill Rock Stars, features appearances by a host of Northwest musical luminaries: Nirvana, Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, Courtney Love, Unwound, The Melvins and Seven Year Bitch, among others.
In the early to mid-nineties, KRS was one of the major distributors of music by bands involved in the riot grrrl movement, including releases by the seminal queer punk act Team Dresch.
Later, KRS released most of the early work of Elliot Smith, four of Sleater-Kinney’s full albums, and the early output of The Decemberists. Their current roster is a pretty staggering collection of artists, including Deerhoof, Gossip, Horse Feathers, The Raincoats, The Thermals, and more.
Now that we have the history out of the way, we can talk about the show KRS hosted at Chop Suey this summer in celebration of their 25th anniversary. The Seattle date was part of an extended birthday run that included a show with the same lineup as well as a DJ show in Portland. I have not yet turned 25, but I imagine if and when I do, my party will be sufficiently less exciting, though admittedly, KRS has achieved much more than I have in their 25 years on the earth.
The lineup showcased three bands signed to Kill Rock Stars in various phases of their careers: young, Portland-based Lithics, purveyors of dad-bod party rock anthems, Wimps, and local institution Kinski, whose dense, sometimes perplexing sonic experimentalism has graced the region since 1998. Unfortunately, due to sickness, Lithics cancelled, but luckily Tissue, the new musical project from members of Stickers and Unnatural Helpers was added to the bill at the last minute.
Tissue is a two-piece, just drums, guitar and delicate vocals. Clearly tentative, they announced, laughingly, that the performance was only their seventh time playing together. Trepidation forgiven. Considering the circumstances, Tissue’s performance was vulnerable and lovely, with an instrumental sparseness that allowed breathing room for delicate, confessional songwriting.
For a group that play at being un-cool, Wimps are one of the most consistently entertaining live acts in the region. There’s a level of cognitive dissonance that crops up when a song about being the old guy at the party who only brought one beer manages to turn the crowd into a sweaty mash of bodies, but somehow Wimps’ combination of wry, self-aware songwriting and surf-rock guitars do it.
“Kill Rock Stars is 25 years young,” Frontwoman Rachel Ratner drily intoned at one point. “In celebration, we’re going to play a bunch of songs we wrote a long time ago.” If that statement doesn’t present Wimps’ appeal in a nut shell, I don’t know what does.
Kinski sound like Sonic Youth if they told Geffen to suck it and Goo and their subsequent turn towards more conventional song structures had never happened. Teasing out an intricate bramble of textural noise, the band possesses a wild, electric vigor.
Arrayed onstage at Chop Suey, they seemed to be playing just as much for one another as for the audience, often turning their backs to the crowd and closing their eyes.
Kinski’s brand of experimental noise rock carries an implicit risk of turning into a sonic and emotional wash, but their set spun wildly between introspection, sulkiness and thundering energy. Their wall of noise was surprisingly elastic.
Ultimately, Kill Rock Stars’ 25th Anniversary was a celebration of an unpretentious, thoughtful, musical community. In short, everything that has made Kill Rock Stars so vital.