Experimental rock band
Tuxedomoon was an art-rock ensemble whose vivid ly experimental musical efforts set the stage for a host of transcontinental musical subgenres. The group itself was similarly cosmopolitan, forming in San Francisco in the late 1970s but decamping in Europe a few years later. This act helped foster a cult-like following for the band and their records. Influenced by sources as diverse as skeletal new-wave, Frank Zappa, and Dadaism, Tuxedomoon took form as multimedia art experience that combined music, dance, visual art, and film; its revolving-door roster of musicians played instruments that ranged from synthesizers and electric guitar to piano and clarinet. As pioneers in experimental music, Tuxedomoon laid the groundwork for what became the industrial dance music phenomenon later in the decade.
Tuxedomoon’s beginnings can be traced back to an electronic-music class at San Francisco City College in 1976, in which Blaine Reininger and Steven Brown were both enrolled. Reininger was trained in classical music—he had studied the violin since childhood—but in 1965 had also formed his first rock band, the Tycoons, at the age of eleven. He received a degree in music from the University of Southern Colorado and moved to the Bay Area shortly thereafter. His musical influences were panoramic—from jazz to classical to the synthesizer-based new wave music then gaining ground, and he would soon meld all of these into Tuxedomoon. As a solo musician Reininger had just obtained a performance date at a San Francisco coffeehouse as “Tuxedomoon”; when his electronic-music class held a concert showcasing the students’ compositions in May of 1977, he was impressed by Steven Brown’s piece and invited him to play at the coffeehouse.
Their first performance, billing themselves the “Tuxedomoon New Music Ensemble,” took place on June 14, 1977. Reininger and Brown soon added several more members to what they conceived as not just a band, but a multimedia performance experience with visual art and elements of theater. Brown belonged to a radical theater group called the Angels of Light, and several of his colleagues moonlighted as early Tuxedomoon members. They included synthesizer genius Tom Tadlock, Gregory Cruikshank, and vocalist Victoria Lowe; Lowe brought modernist puppet-theater master Winston Tong into the fold. Most of these early members left the band, but some came back during the 1980s; other musicians who would drift in and out of Tuxedomoon over the years included drummer Paul Zahl and guitarist Michael Belfer. Around 1978 the Tuxedomoon nucleus of Reininger and Brown was joined by an underground radio personality who called himself Peter Carcinogenic and renamed himself once again (his actual surname was Dachert) “Peter Principle” for his new career as a musician.
From the start, Tuxedomoon was a phenomenon—first in San Francisco from their performances in galleries, and the staging of their own multimedia installations with artist friends—and soon finding approval among avant-garde and experimental-music enthusiasts on the East Coast and Europe. Their first single, “Pinheads on the Move/Joeboy the Electronic Ghost,” released in 1978, was reviewed in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. By this time the band had signed with Time Release Records, but from the start became embroiled in legal battles with its owner. The “Joeboy” moniker Tuxedomoon adopted reflected their love of the absurd and a penchant for incorporating Dada-type elements into their work: it was taken from a graffiti tagger common to San Francisco’s Chinatown at the time; they named their production company after it. Tuxedomoon were also regulars on the stage of the Deaf Club, an ideal punk rock/avant-garde venue, since it was set up as a bar for the hearing-impaired where drinks could be ordered in sign language.
Success for Tuxedomoon seemed certain, especially after they opened for Devo in early 1978. Yet the
For the Record…
Original members are Steven Brown; Gregory Cruikshank, vocals; Ivan Georgiev (joined band, c. 1987), multi-instrumentalist; Lars van Lieshout (joined band, c. 1985), trumpet, harmonica; Victoria Lowe (left band, 1978), vocals; Peter Dachert (a.k.a. Peter Principle), keyboards; Blaine Reininger (born July 10, 1953, in Pueblo, CO; attended the University of Southern Colorado, c. 1971-75; left band, c. 1983), violins, guitar; Tom Tadlock (left band, 1978), keyboards; Winston Tong.
Brown had previously been in a San Francisco theater troupe called Angels of Light; Dachert was an underground radio DJ in San Francisco; Tong created avant-garde puppet shows based on classical Chinese theater.
Band formed in San Francisco, California, spring 1977; released first single, “Pinheads on the Move/Joeboy the Electronic Ghost,” 1978; released first LP, Half-Mute on Ralph Records, 1980; moved to Europe, 1981; formed own subsidiary label, CramBoy (part of Crammed Records, Brussels, Belgium), 1985.
Addresses: Record company —Crammed Discs, 43 rue General Patton, 1050 Brussels, Belgium.
highly-opinionated, certifiably brainy collective seemed doomed from the start. Several members left—Tadlock and Tong among them—taking much of the musical gear and Reininger and Brown fell into financial difficulties. When a local San Francisco label, Ralph Records (home of fellow art-rockers the Residents) invited Tux-edomoon to contribute their version of the Tony Bennett song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for a compilation, their submission featured Reininger at a pay phone trying to apply for welfare; he then gives his last half-dollar to a blind street musician who performs the tune on harmonica.
Between 1978 and 1980 the Tuxedomoon recorded output consisted of singles—“Stranger” and “What Use” among them—and the EPs Tuxedomoon and Scream with a View. Tuxedomoon did manage to extricate themselves from their Time Release contract and signed with the Ralph label, on which their first full-length record was issued in early 1980, Half-Mute. About half of the tracks were instrumental, and showcased the standard Tuxedomoon meanderings of drum machine, organ, saxophone, and bass guitar. Electronic-music godfather Brian Eno was in the audience at their record release party, but reportedly was unimpressed. Another bit of bad timing occurred when Tuxedomoon were slated to open for Joy Division, but lead singer Iead Curtis committed suicide and Joy Division disbanded.
Tuxedomoon did manage to book a tour anyway, and found that audiences in London and Paris “got” it. Reininger and Brown and Principle decided to leave the United States for good, and after touring England and doing some recording in Italy, finally settled at an artists’ commune in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. They released several works, such as the EP Ninotchka and the LP Desire— and found appreciative fans in Brussels, where they sojourned for a time to compose and record music for a ballet that found its way to vinyl as 1982’s Divine LP. In Rotterdam the members of Tuxedomoon lived in an old water tower, but one day Reininger was hit by car in Amsterdam before a performance and spent time in wheelchair; their landlord, who was also suspicious of the special dispensation they received from the state as “artists,” evicted them.
By this point Tong had returned, and continued to be a part-time member of Tuxedomoon; he was responsible for bringing Bruce Geduldig into the ever-changing line-up. Geduldig was an experimental filmmaker and musician who would work with the band for years to come, shooting films to accompany their aural releases and providing images to project overhead for their live performances. By 1982 Tuxedomoon were living permanently in Brussels, and had released the EPs Suite en Sous-Sol and Time to Lose. Over the next three years the group became involved in an ambitious opera project in Italy, The Ghost Sonata, and Reininger, Brown, and Tong each began or pursued solo projects. Reininger officially “left” the band for a time in 1983, but continued to be involved in Tuxedomoon recordings; horn player Lars van Lieshout joined around this time. Meanwhile, Tuxedomoon performances became more elaborate affairs, ideally held at European film festivals or in spectacular outdoor settings.
The year 1985 saw the release of Holy Wars on the CramBoy label, a subsidiary of Brussels’ Crammed Records set up just for Tuxedomoon issues. Critics declared the band a sellout, however, for it marked a new direction with far more accessible songs. A Melody Maker review by Martin Aston praised such tracks as “Bonjour Tristesse and “St. John” as “haunting messages of disarray and dislocation.” Aston also lauded the “wonderful ensemble playing” and “perfect film noir soundscapes.” Tuxedomoon founder Steven Brown defended the record and responded to the negative comments a year later in Musician: “If this is commercial, then that’s great because somebody’s changed and it hasn’t been us.”
By 1985 Tong had officially left the band to pursue a solo career. The 1986 Tuxedomoon LP Ship of Fools marked the appearance of Ivan Georgiev into the lineup, but actual recordings and tours slowed down as members spent more time pursuing individual projects. The last official Tuxedomoon studio recording was 1987’s You, but that same year the original trio of Reininger, Brown, and Principle got together for a birthday dinner on June 14, ten years to the day of their inaugural San Francisco performance. They decided to regroup for a reunion tour, and played several successful dates across Europe and even went to Japan. The following year Tuxedomoon played dates in Holland and Italy with the Georgiev-Van Lieshout axis, who had not been present on the previous year’s reunion tour.
The year 1988 had also seen the release of Pinheads on the Move, which showcased the early Tuxedomoon years prior to 1980. “These early records perfectly illustrate the subterranean channels between street rhetoric and the performance-art/sound-lab culture,” wrote Paul Oldfield in Melody Maker. CramBoy continued to re-release early Tuxedomoon records on CD from the first half-decade, often with bonus tracks that had never made it to full-length vinyl. These included the comprehensive, career-long compilation Solve et Coagula, 1989’s Ten Years in One Night, and the final version of the aborted Italian opera project, The Ghost Sonata (Les Temps Moderne), in 1991. This final release, which had started in 1982 as music to accompany their own deaths, was termed “as ambient as a knife in your back” by Melody Maker’s Dave Simpson.
Though Tuxedomoon has perhaps permanently disbanded, all members continue to be active in the performing arts. Reininger is a solo artist, composes music for television and film, and acts in the short films of Nicholas Triandafyllidis. Tong went on to work with Cabaret Voltaire, Principle lives in New York City and produces industrial bands, and Brown is a resident ofMexico City whose projects include collaborations with Vini Reilly of Durutti Column. Van Lieshout and Gedulgig still live in Europe and have worked with Bel Canto and Colin Newman, formerly of Wire.
“Pinheads on the Move/Joeboy (The Electronic Ghost),” Tidal Wave, 1978.
“Stranger/Love/No Hope,” Time Release, 1978.
“What Use/Crash,” Ralph, 1980.
“Dark Companion/59 to 1 Remix,” Ralph, 1980.
“Egypt/Une Nuit au Fond de la Frayere,” Sordide Sentimental, 1981.
“Soma/H.T.E.,” Soundwork, 1984.
Tuxedomoon, Tuxedomoon Records, 1978.
Scream with a View, Tuxedomoon Records, 1979.
Ninotchka/Again, Les Disques du Crepuscule, 1982.
Time to Lose, Les Disques du Crepuscule, 1982.
Suite en Sous-Sol, Italian Records, 1982.
Half-Mute, Ralph Records, 1980, CD re-issue, CramBoy, 1984.
Desire, Ralph Records, 1981, CD re-issue, CramBoy, 1985.
Divine, CramBoy, 1982.
Holy Wars, CramBoy, 1985.
Ship of Fools, CramBoy, 1986.
You, CramBoy, 1987.
Pinheads on the Move, CramBoy, 1988.
Ten Years in One Night, CramBoy, 1989.
The Ghost Sonata (Les Temps Moderne), CramBoy, 1991, re-issue, 1997.
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” appeared on the 1978 Ralph Records release Subterranean Modern.
Melody Maker, July 13, 1985, p. 28; July 5, 1986, p. 28; May 7, 1988, p. 39; March 30, 1991, p. 33; Musician, April, 1986.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Internet websites devoted to Tuxedomoon.
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