It’s the last day of Detroit week, and I figure I should close it out with a bang. Destroy all Monsters seems sonically appropriate (though only half-way fitting since the band’s Ann Arbor years of are of primary interest … but that’s ok!).
Formed at a house party in 1973, Destroy All Monsters aspired to be equal parts The Stooges, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Velvet Underground, and Sci-Fi B-movie shtick, but in reality nobody in the band knew all that much about playing instruments (Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has heralded Destroy All Monsters as the first noise band). Their music was antirock, their performances were works of art, and their general band presence oozed creativity. The original members were art school kids – Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw – so together they made films, artwork, sculpture, and a self-titled ‘zine of drawings, prints, and collages inspired by sci-fi movies, underground music, and iconic elements of 1960s counterculture as filtered through to the collective’s industrial Midwestern hometown of Detroit, Michigan.
In 1976 Mike Kelley wrote about DAM for Destroy All Monsters Magazine:
WHAT DESTROY ALL MONSTERS MEANS TO ME
The first point to make is: Destroy All Monsters is not a band. Our main intention is to be engaged in an activity that provides an instantaneous and powerful cleansing noise. We are not interested in making music. A one-to-one relationship is set up, whereby each action is answered by a growling response, like that produced by poking an animal with a stick, or crossing a threshold and setting off an alarm. Once in motion, this response can go on regardless of the actions of the initiator. To produce something, like a sound, and then have it mature enough to keep going without your assistance causes a pleasant sensation – one of creation. Destroy All Monsters is therapeutic. Destroy All Monsters can be a sedative, a pleasantly gurgling muzak to file the rough edges off, an emotion-deadening machine repetition setting up a rhythm for you to live more easily by. Destroy All Monsters can be electro-shock therapy to wake you up when you slip into a coma. It can blow away the cloud with speed and volume and then move away into a rarified atmosphere where each hum in an inaudible mess becomes more clear and an inaudible mess in itself. Yes, Destroy All Monsters does all this, and more. It’s good American physical work to do something over and over again, factory-style. It makes you sweat the poisons out of your system. It’s hard to push a button and have to sit there and listen to it. You can have a nervous breakdown being an air-traffic controller, having the responsibility of choosing which button to push on the drum box. Destroy All Monsters is a hard way of life. It’s a backwards battle toward a cliff that goes down into chaos and silence. But, it’s a rare treat to be involved in the Destroy All Monsters scene. It’s so esoteric, or so you think. Really, it’s easy, just like staying alive. Lastly, Destroy All Monsters is a call for a new therapeutic popular music. I’m sure, by now, everyone realizes the importance of popularization, of mass-production, of the easing of the lives of as many people as possible. Why not mass produce the Destroy All Monsters achievement? Everyone should pump out Monstrous, destructive Destroy All Monsters black noise. If everyone let their aggressions voice themselves in such sound there 1) wouldn’t be any need for popular entertainment of any kind, and 2) wouldn’t be anything – just an existence of total comfort. I told you so. Let us show you too.
By 1977 Kelley and Shaw left the band to attend CalArts, so Niagara and Loren found some new recruits - guitarist Laurence B. (Larry) Miller and saxophonist Benjamin (Ben) Miller from Sproton Layer, guitarist Ron Asheton of the Stooges, bass guitarist Michael Davis of the MC5, and drummer Rob King. Destroy all Monsters experienced a degree of rock n’ roll success after this, playing shows around Ann Arbor and Detroit, and even having a hit single on the UK music scene.
But, the band broke up in 1985. Pretty rad.