With their striking uniforms and energy domes, mind-bending American new wave music and kitsch sci-fi and surrealist lyrics, DEVO changed the face of modern music and influenced scores of bands along the way. Vive Le Punk digs beneath the strange surface to reveal an intelligent, subversive and exciting band…
Gawkily at odds with the outlaw stance of their punk-scene contemporaries in the late 1970s, Devo’s robotic-corporate-jerk schtick was arguably a hundred times more subversive than any hollow-cheeked black-leather nihilism. Certainly, these Ohio oddballs’ social critique was more carefully thought out; mercilessly satirizing US culture and conformity, Devo undermined the foundations of ‘normality’ with their theatrical stage act and infiltrated the charts both sides of the Atlantic with their itchily memorable electro-rock. While the band’s surface ‘wackiness’ afforded instant commercial appeal, beneath their novelty-act gimmickry, Devo had some controversial and occasionally disturbing points to make.
Devo’s philosophy hinged on the concept of ‘De-evolution’ - the idea that mankind regresses rather than progresses, and is in the process of reverting to an underdeveloped state. This theory was more than mere sloganeering; Devo’s worldview of regression and enforced social conformity was directly influenced by band members’ witnessing of the Kent State shootings in 1970, in which state marksmen had opened up on demonstrating students causing a number of fatalities.
Devo - whose lineup centered around long-term members Gerald and Bob Casale and Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh - honed their act on the underground circuit a few years until a short film they’d produced on the notion of de-evolution attracted interest from Iggy Pop and David Bowie, which landed them a Warner Brothers contract and the production skills of Brian Eno on their first LP, ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’ Their spastic deconstruction of Rolling Stones staple ‘Satisfaction’ from this record grabbed the public’s attention, as did the provocatively themed ‘Mongoloid’.
The punk period proved a highly productive phase for the band, garnering critical praise and good sales with their 1980 classic ‘Whip It’ making a dent in the top 40. By this point, Devo’s stage show had reached its full level of theatricality, a boiler-suited, flowerpot-hatted troupe giving consumerism and corporate homogeny a thorough lampooning.
Extending their efforts to visual media, Devo’s ventures into music video made for some groundbreaking entries into that field. One early promo introduced the ‘Booji Boy’ character, a grotesque representation of infantile regression who remains in Devo’s live show to this day; a disturbing apparition played by a squeaky-voiced Mark Mothersbaugh in a rubber mask, Booji’s first act as a Devo figurehead was to jam a fork into a toaster in an unsettling don’t-try-this-at-home video clip.
Although the band’s success had slumped by the mid 1980s, Devo’s various members stayed active in musical fields, particularly soundtracks, and the band would reconvene at intervals; a spot on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour was enthusiastically received, and the dates they’ve played this year around a prestige appearance at the ‘07 Meltdown Festival have similarly generated much excitement. While their ongoing influence is proclaimed far and wide, the evidence for De-evolution appears to be all around us at present, so it’s doubly fitting that Devo have cracked out the boiler suits, Booji Boy prosthetics and ‘energy dome’ hats one more time. Devolution is real, spuds!
‘Q: Are We Not Men? A; We Are Devo!’ (1978)
‘Duty Now For The Future’ (1979)
‘Freedom of Choice’ (1980)
‘New Traditionalists’ (1981)
‘Oh, No! It’s Devo’ (1982)
‘Total Devo’ (1988)
‘Smooth Noodle Maps’ (1990)
Download the following…
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ (‘Q: Are We Not Men?...)
‘Mongoloid’ (‘Q: Are We Not Men?...)
‘Jocko Homo’ (‘Q: Are We Not Men?...)
‘Devo Corporate Anthem’ (‘Duty Now…’)
‘The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize’ (‘Duty Now…’)
‘Girl U Want’ (‘Freedom of Choice’)
‘Whip It’ (‘Freedom of Choice’)
‘Freedom of Choice’ (‘Freedom of Choice’)
‘Beautiful World’ (‘New Traditionalists’)
‘Love Without Anger’ (‘New Traditionalists’)
‘Peek-A-Boo!’ (‘Oh, No! It’s Devo’)
‘That’s Good’ (‘Oh, No! It’s Devo’)
‘The 4th Dimension’ (‘Shout’)
‘Are U Experienced?’ (‘Shout’)
‘Some Things Never Change’ (‘Total Devo’)
‘The Shadow’ (‘Total Devo’)
‘(Walk Me Out In The) Morning Dew’ (‘Smooth Noodle Maps’)
‘Devo Has Feelings Too’ (‘Smooth Noodle Maps’)
Weird Al Yankovic
Rage Against The Machine
The Groovie Ghoulies
THE DEVOLUTIONARY OATH
(taken from www.clubdevo.com)
1. Be like your ancestors or be different. It doesn’t matter.
2. Lay a million eggs or give birth to one.
3. Wear gaudy colours or avoid display. It’s all the same.
4. The fittest shall survive, yet the unfit may live.
5. We Must Repeat.