Tabs Out | The Most Cleveland Tapes Ever

The Most Cleveland Tapes Ever
1.24.18 by Andrew Kirschner

Cleveland has always been the definition of downtrodden. The constant underdog in all aspects, especially in music. While lacking in definitive superstars and major pop appeal, Cleveland has created more underground music legends and game changers in creativity than almost any city. These are the most Cleveland tapes of all time in my opinion, and music that changed my life and made me who I am. Time for a history lesson in the greatest Midwest city where just existing, let alone trying to make music or art, says something about your character. Before you freak out that your fav band isn’t on here, please remember many groups didn’t get tape releases. This is my list of the most Cleveland tapes ever.


Pagans – Buried Alive (Treehouse)
The Pagans are Cleveland punk, period. Formed in ’77, they ripped thru ’79 with some EPs and roaring live shows. Following a road paved by the Eels and the Dead Boys, they perfected what their earlier contemporaries were doing. Faster and deadlier, the Pagans were the soundtrack to watching jobs leaving the city and slamming drinks. This comp captures all of the aforementioned material from 77-79. What’s this shit called love and street where nobody lives are the sound of Cleveland punk and rock n roll. Lead singer Mike Hudson recently passed away in 2017, leaving a legacy that changed Cleveland forever. RIP “You better give up!”

Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance (Fontana reissue)
While The Pagans were raging and pissed off in the alleys of Clevo, David Thomas and Pere Ubu took their anger in almost the complete opposite direction in 1975. Grating synths and noise, Thomas yelping and yodeling, Ubu juxtaposed their mess of art punk with an almost pop sensibilities to their songs. Thomas would frequently just smash a wooden block with a hammer during live shows and incorporate saxophones, homemade instruments and whatever else they could find. After Peter Laughner’s untimely death, the band became the figurehead of everything weird, strange and uncomfortable in the city. Reissued on tape in 1988 on Fontana, this is a must have along with their first album “Dub Housing.” When I saw Lydia Lunch perform in Cleveland last year, she stated this: “This song is for my friend Peter Laughner, and this song is the anthem of your city. Be proud of it.” And then tore into Final Solution. Cleveland’s finest outsiders.

Spike In Vain – Jesus Was Born In A Mobile Home (Trans Dada)
While hardcore was exploding all over the nation, Cleveland was a little different. Most of the hardcore bands didn’t last very long at all and sounded very different than, say, Black Flag. Enter Spike In Vain. This recording of hardcore, post-punk and even deathrock hits like a sledgehammer. Released during the last year of the huge hardcore boom, every lyric holds the desperation of kids in a city that tears apart any dreams or admiration that you could have during your break at your shitty job (if you were lucky to have one at that point). Soundtrack to steel mills closing and cheap beer.

My Dad Is Dead – Let’s Skip The Details (Homestead Records)
In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated bands to ever come out of Northeast Ohio. Playing post-punk and a mix of Husker Du’s later era, My Dad Is Dead shattered pop/indie rock. Mark Edwards was championed by not just Cleveland but by John Peel and other very notable DJs playing his tunes on their shows. Mostly a solo project with others brought in to play the instruments, MDID should have been as big as REM and all the other college rock bands but suffered the inevitable Cleveland curse. While not entirely buried in obscurity, My Dad is Dead is still considered underground in the most sense. Gone but not forgotten.

Integrity – Systems Overload (Victory Records)
While Dwid and company didn’t invent crossover, they sure as hell innovated it. In the wake of hardcore bands Confront and Face Value (which FV almost made the list), Integrity put Cleveland on the map nationally for hardcore/metal. Along with bands like Ringworm, One Life Crew and Keelhaul, they helped bring many national acts through Cleveland that would have otherwise skipped the city on their tours. This helped spark a resurgence in the 90’s of Cleveland punk starting with the Apartment 213, Inmates, H-100s, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers and the Darvocets, who would take this hardcore blueprint and give it the Cleveland sleaze it deserved. Infamous especially here in town, Integrity and Dwid will always have a name attached in 90’s hardcore and the sub genre of straight edge.

9 Shocks Terror – Zen And The Art Of Beating Your Ass (Devour)
You were probably wondering why I didn’t mention 9 Shocks above along with all the other great late 90’s Clevo hardcore/punk tapes. Well, theses psychos get their own section! Literally a super group of everyone that had laid the groundwork for Cleveland punk beforehand, 9 Shocks shows were stuff of legend. They were the first hardcore band I ever saw live and I will never forget seeing a Christmas tree on fire getting thrown around at people and fireworks being launched inside Speak In Tongues like it was the 4th of July. Erba bleeding and cutting promos between songs, Steve Phefer destroying anyone who was in arms reach, this is arguably the most Cleveland band and album of all time. Thanks to them, a ton of bands were created and a scene rejuvenated.

Emeralds / Tusco Terror – Christmas Tapes 2006 (Tusco Embassay)
Speaking of rejuvenating scenes, this tape was single handily responsible for spawning more bands and labels in Cleveland than almost anything ever released in the city. Operating out of the Embassy gig spot in east Cleveland, some of the wildest parties and shows went down in the mid to late 2000’s. Helping usher in mainstays such as Bee Mask, Moth Cock, Skin Graft, David Russell, Sam Goldberg and more, both Emeralds and Tusco Terror paved the way for both experimental music and harsh noise. Both sides are some of the bands finest works and this will always be a relevant album in both Cleveland and noise in general. Scene has never been the same since the doors were closed and both bands split.

Skin Graft – Drug Addict (Wagon, Hanson)
I would not be writing this right now if it wasn’t for Wyatt Howland. He was one of the main reason I started my record label, Mistake by the Lake. Seeing him live as a young gun blew my lid back so hard, I had to release something by him just so more people could experience what I did. The king of Cleveland noise, the king of harsh noise period, no one does it better. This disgusting tape features Howland messing with a sink full of water with a contact mic, producing some of the sickest noises I’ve ever heard. Initially released on John Elliott’s Wagon imprint, it has since been reissued on Hanson Records, where it is still in print to this day. The true sounds of the Cleveland underground; All the shit you have to take, the people you have to deal with on the streets everyday, everything that is wrong with the city and the world at large. Hats off to ya How-How.

Andrew Kirschner is an unlicensed, amateur Cleveland historian and runs the very Cleveland label Mistake by the Lake.  His latest solo cassette, “Eulogy For Past Lives,” is available now from Torn Light.

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