Nerves of Chrome

Pub date June 5, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Whatever happened to all the cyberpunks? Once upon a Blade Runner, it looked like neo-noirists and novelists from the early 1980s were finally getting turned on to George Orwell’s vision, predicting a dystopian, nightmarish future in which humans were subject to conditioning and control. Even musicians were getting it: perhaps inspired by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music (Buddah, 1975), such artists as Suicide, Throbbing Gristle, and Pere Ubu were dabbling in a postapocalyptic music world by the close of the ’70s. But if there was one band that dared to define the genre back then, Chrome was it.

Lauded by critics and fans as one of the pioneers of industrial rock, the San Francisco outfit coupled psych-punk and electrodub with lyrical themes of alienation, paranoia, and ’50s sci-fi cinema, though its sound mirrored bands like the Sonics and Wipers when drummer Damon Edge and bassist Gary Spain came together in 1976. Following the release of its debut, The Visitation (Siren), later that year, the group folded once its members realized the album was a sales flop. Everything changed, however, once Spain and Edge hooked up with Helios Creed, a guitarist whom Spain had jammed with during the early ’70s. As Creed explained over the phone, "Chrome was the only band that was doing something I was interested in … space rock, punk rock, and the sci-fi kind of thing."

"It was really psychedelic, and it wasn’t in to be psychedelic back then. It was just punk and Budweiser," he continued. "Psychedelia would remind punks of the hippies, so they wouldn’t want anything to do with that. And I said, ‘Well, that’s great, ’cause acid punk doesn’t exist.’"

Creed also revealed that a falling-out during the recording sessions for Chrome’s sophomore effort, Alien Soundtracks (Siren, 1978), resulted in Spain’s exit in 1977 and subsequently ushered in a radical shift away from the band’s protopunk beginnings.

"Damon started playing some tapes that they had made a year or two before that were outtakes from The Visitation, and I said, ‘God! This stuff is fucking great!’" Creed said, laughing. "I liked it better than The Visitation, and I suggested that we make stuff like that and integrate it into our punk set."

Alien Soundtracks‘ 1979 follow-up, Half Machine Lip Moves (Siren), adhered to this formula as well. Joining scratchy, three-chord guitars and trash can–like drums with Creed’s growled vocals and an excess of waterlogged-sounding effects, the result mirrored some otherworldly murky realm. By the time Creed and Edge’s final collaboration, 3rd from the Sun (Siren), was released in 1982, the combo was heading in a more gothic direction, similar to that of contemporaries Killing Joke and Swans.

Chrome remained a duo until its ’83 demise, though the bandmates adopted a taped drum machine nicknamed Johnny L. Cyborg as their third member and briefly enlisted John and Hilary Stench from Pearl Harbour and the Explosions. During this period the group was primarily a recording project and only played live twice, to sold-out crowds in San Francisco and at a Bologna, Italy, festival. Edge moved to Europe to start another version of Chrome, while Creed remained stateside to work on his solo career, angry that he was left behind.

After Edge died in 1995, Creed carried on with the band because he felt he was just as entitled as his ex-bandmate to put out Chrome records. Since 1996, Creed has recorded a handful of full-lengths under the Chrome moniker but tends to focus more on his solo material. His current West Coast tour will include Chrome and Helios Creed songs, and he revealed he hasn’t ruled out a future full-on Chrome tour. Creed also wanted to set the record straight about his strained partnership with Edge.

"Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Damon. We just went through some shit," he clarified. "I forgive and love everybody." *


With Battleship

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