Zero Defex reunited in 2009, perform “Drugs”
Dimentia 13 in 1988 perform “Mesmerized”
Dimentia 13 is what happened to a world-known Zen teacher and writer before he moved to Japan and after he left his old-school hardcore band. Still interested? Then definitely do read on. Dimentia 13’s TV Screen Head album was a collection of four-track recordings of the hardcore bassist’s neo-psychedelic musings, and the almost last album he released in the genre in 1990. Before he had his finger on the pulse of the universe, I believe Brad Warner’s finger was mere millimeters away from the pulse of 90’s pop.
Soundgarden was making noise with bassist Hiro Yamamoto at the time but they were not the Soundgarden we know today. What I’m talking about is pop with a “hear me out,” “don’t miss this, I might blow your mind just before I waver a bit off key,” unapologetic straight attack on the voice and all or nothing on the effects. Young Brad Warner was six years past a point of his musical life that was at the right time, only at the wrong place.
His previous band, Akron, Ohio’s Zero Defex delivered a brand of hardcore punk that is an obvious predecessor to modern day grind core. They were at an avant garde of the punk scene in the early 80’s, and would have never called themselves that. That genre had to eventually realize that it’s time would come over and over again, but the place would never be right. My theory is that the places where hardcore thrives have to be full of youth that can never be noticed by their peers. These places can’t be urban landscapes with subways and graphitied walls where they are in danger of being discovered and losing their edge, but something very much like garages in cookie-cutter house suburbia, where generations constantly drive past them in dad’s car on their way to the rest of their lives.
Those who made it had to stay humble and accept the fact that if they wanted to scrape a living at what they do, they must settle for a niche audience and tirelessly tour. Many influenced by it succeeded: Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies. Fugazi is a notable exception as well as an example – rising from the ashes of Minor Threat and Rites of Spring they found success only by embracing an underground following and refusing to indulge mainstream media and ticket prices. Warner, however, did not seem to be into scenesterism or compromise. Hence Dimentia 13.
It’s 1990 and an album starts with an instrumental called Avant Garde Song. Everyone knows no one in the avant garde calls themselves that, so the automatic assumption is cynicism. It turns out to be a sincere psychedelic loop. The next song is an acoustic ditty about being thrown out of a window. The simplicity of the sound, slightly thin microphone and unadorned production would be familiar to you now, but not back then. Something inside of you, however, would have slightly quivered. The time and place would have almost been right. Almost.
It’s definitely worth checking out the moment when Warner realized the limiting nature of his old demo tapes represented his message at the time better than sound polished enough to reflect a pressure to take advantage of the possibilities offered by a studio. Songs like She Evil Carries Roses, with it’s simple melody swinging with what was to become the American sound of the 90’s as represented by the likes of Nirvana and Alice in Chains, may have been what nailed his legacy had it been a musical beginning for him rather than nearly the end.
The right time and place converged for him later in Japan, where he moved three years after the album, starting over with his childhood passion for working in monster movies and coming to terms with the Zen practice that had already been a part of his life for over a decade. There, he became a definitive force in the introduction of Zen to a brand new young generation in the west. That practice is reflected in both the content and texture of this collection. The title track directly describes a media consumer as a mirror of television news, in Warner’s particular style of not sounding like he takes anything to seriously. It is fun imagining where Warner would have ended up if the song Whisperer had hit college radio a year later, in 91, along with Alice in Chains’ Man in the Box or something… Would his books later have been as inspiring, or would the message of Hardcore Zen have been released in some unthinkable musical form, completely missed by the masses though secure in nostalgia as the rest of that period is today. Perhaps we are fortunate it did not happen that way.
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