Destroy All Monsters

active between 1973 and 2012

Biography

1973–1976

Destroy All Monsters was founded in 1973 at the Art Department of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, near Detroit. The band, named after a 1968 Japanese horror film, consisted until 1976 of Mike Kelley (perc., tapes), Cary Loren (guit., voc.), Niagara (voc.) and Jim Shaw (guit.). It saw itself as an »anti-rock band«, conjuring up a mix of trash, noise and deliberate provocation to counteract the dominance of virtuosity in 1970s rock music and all the bombast that entailed. Experimental trashy horror films created by Cary Loren were often projected during the group’s performances. In 1976 Kelley and Shaw picked up their art studies again in Los Angeles and left the group, which at that point had not yet released any records.

1977–1985

In 1977 Niagara and Loren signed twin brothers Larry and Ben Miller (guit. and sax.) and the two renowned rock musicians Ron Asheton (guit.; previously with The Stooges) and Michael Davis (bass; previously with MC5), along with drummer Rob King. Destroy All Monsters released a series of singles with this line-up before the group broke up. Niagara and Asheton keep the band project going with various musicians until 1985.

1994–2012

The original band members reunited in 1994. They released compilations of their 1970s recordings and performed internationally from 1995 until Kelley’s death in 2012, with Niagara leaving the group in 1996.

Mike Kelley
born 1954 in Detroit, Michigan; died 2012 in South Pasadena, California


1973–1976 Studied art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (Bachelor)

1976 Master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts (where John Baldessari and Laurie Anderson were among his professors)

In 1977 Kelley, together with Tony Oursler, founded the punk band Poetics, which existed until 1983; Kelley and Oursler presented its history in an installation at documenta X (1997).

In the late 1990s Kelley performed with various artists (including Paul McCarthy, Cameron Jamie, Violent Onsen Geisha) using the band name Gobbler, as well as playing in Destroy All Monsters, his main band.

Cary Loren
born 1955 in Detroit, Michigan

1973 Began studying art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

1977/1978–1982 Based in Los Angeles

In 1982, Loren and his wife, Colleen Kammer, opened a bookshop specialized in artists’ books, The Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan, where they published editions of 1960s artworks and music, as well as hosting discussions on literature.

Parallel to Destroy All Monsters, reunited in 1994, Loren founded psychedelic folk band Monster Island in Detroit, also writing lyrics for that group.

Niagara
born 1956 as Lynn Rovner in Detroit, Michigan

Studied art at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada and at the University of Michigan Art School

Jim Shaw
born 1952 in Midland, Michigan

1973–1976 Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor

1976–1978 Master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara and Jim Shaw studied together at the Art Department of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the early 1970s. They all address dark, unconscious or repressed aspects of human nature and society in their artistic work. Their sources of inspiration include comics, pulp and popular fiction, protest and poster art, music albums and anonymous paintings from bric-a-brac stores.

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In installations, pictures, drawings and performances, Kelley engages in particular with the repressive character of ideological systems – such as religious teachings, political ideologies, moral concepts and laws – and their psychological effects on the people that subscribe to or are subjected to such systems.

Cary Loren works with film, photography, collage and as a writer. In the 1970s he began to publish visual and literary work in self-published art zines. He also shot experimental films and videos, generally with abstruse-subversive content, which ran in the background during Destroy All Monsters’ early appearances. Loren also made the films that collage footage of the band’s live performances with found material from B-movies, sex advertising, pulp novels etc. These are the only extant recording of the 1970s grouping playing live. Loren’s artistic aesthetic is strongly influenced by filmmaker Jack Smith, with whom he maintained close links from 1973 on, viewing him as his mentor.

Lynn Rovner and Jim Shaw are painters whose drawings and paintings also address the dark and abject sides of humankind and American culture (drugs, sex, cults), nurturing a deliberately trashy style. Since the 1990s Shaw has run the Oism project. He draws in this project on intensive research into religious practices and Messianic cults (including the American »Bible Belt«) to design his own religion (with history, totems and traditions), articulated in the form of a wide variety of artifacts (pictures, sculptures, collages, posters, films and musical instruments). Shaw owns and frequently exhibits a large collection of »found« amateur artworks.

Author: Christian Höller

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Music

Music

The structure set up in 1973 in Detroit, Michigan – at the Art Department of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor – was a cross-genre laboratory that experimented – far from the glare of general public interest – with the disruptive and intractable, the dissonant and abject in music, painting, film, graphic design and other media. One aspect of this was the band and performance group Destroy All Monsters, named after a Japanese horror film, with a line-up featuring Mike Kelley (perc., tapes), Cary Loren (guit., vocals), Niagara (voc.) and Jim Shaw (guit.). It was an experimental set-up that sought to expel all kinds of virtuosity and formal beauty from conventional rock music in order to bring to light subliminal, proscribed and repressed facets within it.

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Mike Kelley has explained that the painting practice of his fellow student Jim Shaw was an important source of inspiration for his largely noise-oriented music. Shaw liked to use left-over oil paint or the brownish-grey dregs that collected at the bottom of containers used for washing brushes. Applied to old, found fabrics and interspersed with all kinds of collaged subject matter, these pictorial compositions provided a blueprint for a new dimension of »trashiness« that would be embodied in 1970s music. In this context, the key concept was not the old trash idea of nonchalant amateurism or excessive over-modulation, dating back to the 1960s (and earlier), but instead a confrontational way of treating found material (B-movies, sex advertising, pulp novels etc.), deploying unusual techniques that extend beyond established formats. This strategy was reflected in particular in the band members’ individual artistic practices (for example Niagara’s sepulchral drawings or Loren’s film, photo, text and comic works, profoundly influenced by filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith). At the same time, it also characterized Destroy All Monsters’ sound.

That sound oscillates between two extremes that characterize the very particular tension that runs through this anti-virtuoso proto-punk enterprise: on the one hand, song-oriented sketches, mostly referencing cryptic themes from B-movie or science fiction contexts, handled in an emphatically scornful low-fi manner (»I Love You but You’re Dead,« »Paranoid of Blondes,« »You Can’t Kill Kill«); on the other hand, instrumental noise, drone and collage experiments, using self-built sound devices and occasionally incorporating guest appearances by free jazz musicians into performances (»Crunch Drone,« »To the Throne of Chaos Where the Thin Flutes Pipe Mindless«). Destroy All Monsters’ sound is also reflected in the group’s appearance and in the graphic works created in parallel: opting to be slightly out of tune and a bit over the top with the colors rather than succumbing to any kind of technical precision and professionalism.

Author: Christian Höller

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Destroy all Monsters

»That’s my Ideal«, with Mike Kelley (perc.), Cary Loren (guit.), Jim Shaw (guit.), Niagara (voc.), 3.09 min

Film Cary Loren, „Grow Live Monsters“ 1971–1976/1995 (compilation of footage from concerts of Destroy all Monsters and other material)

No original footage of the group’s early performances has survived, as the recordings were incorporated into Cary Loren’s later films, for example Grow Live Monsters or Monsters Redux. The films combined or overlaid this footage with material from the mega-archives of pop, trash and mass culture. »Giant crabs and giant spiders, giant flames and giant fires – that’s my ideal,« sings Loren, while an intentionally crude pictorial broadsheet stirs together horror and sci-fi set pieces, Charles Manson and Nazi reminiscences to form a grand potpourri of the abstruse and evil. On the musical plane, the deliberately mindless pounding of a minimal riff suggests that stubbornly marking time is the only way to overcome the demons of all that is ritually revered.

Author:

Christian Höller