By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Back in the mid-Nineties, the Miami-birthed noise act Kreamy 'Lectric Santa was playing now-defunct Miami Beach venue Washington Square. Suddenly the club's musical director, a guy named Doc Wiley, cut off the sound.
"There's nothing like tripping on acid and being drunk, and being told by the club's sound guy: 'You guys are a fucking abortion,'" says band cofounder Robert Price, who's now 42 years old. "So after that, they gave us a couple of rules: One was that we could only play songs with a beginning, middle, and end. Another was, no dissonance — which was a problem because that's totally the basis of our sound."
So KLS left. They made their new true home at a place where anything goes — Churchill's, of course. The band took up a weekly residence (much like fellow freaks the Laundry Room Squelchers) before the city's hostile arts climate finally drove them away. But this weekend they're back in their Little Haiti haven Thursday through Sunday, heading up a three-night stand they've dubbed Kreamstock. They offer an essential link in the Miami music story — between the first wave of punk-oriented acts like The Eat and present-day artistic experimentation.
A decade ago, Kreamy 'Lectric Santa seemed both very un-Miami and very quintessentially Miami. The group rejected South Beach artifice and created willfully confrontational, difficult compositions with multisyllabic lyrics. The bandmates lived in then-seedy Coconut Grove — "where you could find crack in a tree," Price recalls. Band practices were fueled by a party-or-die attitude liberally soaked in hallucinogens and booze.
In fact the band wasn't even started as a band, per se. The original core members were Price, who played — more or less — guitars and vocals; his romantic partner Priya Ray on violin and screams; Dave Vincent on bass; and Jan 9 on keyboard. Although they admired outsound and Krautrock groups like Gong and Faust, there was pretty much zero plan for how their own outfit would sound. "I guess we started the band in the early Nineties," says Price. "I was dating Priya, living in Miami, and getting really wasted. It was more of a collective, a band ... rooted in ... doing whatever we wanted." Which meant, initially, frequent intoxication. "For the longest time it was a big fucking mess. We were so wasted live, members would fall offstage."
But still, there was the music and a small but tight scene made up of disparate bands whose outcast status drove them together. "We'd play with Cavity, Los Canadians, Hairy Pussy, and the Crumbs; that would be a normal bill. It was such a weird assortment of bands, you'd never even imagine the people would get along," Price says. "It was a result of isolation, seclusion, boredom ... none of us fit into the idea of Miami, per se."
And though they hung on through the late Nineties, that scene is what eventually drove them away. "I love the people we met in Miami; I just don't like the city," says Ray. "It's the whole right-wing conservativeness and the lack of support for live music."
In 1998 they decamped to their first out-of-Miami locale, Atlanta. Sadly a string of personal tragedies and new cities would ensue. In 1999, before a performance at a skate park, Ray fell backward off a ramp and was left partially paralyzed. And three years ago, there was another devastating loss: Vincent passed away.
But the band, now in Oakland, soldiered on, regrouping with new members and regaining Jan 9, who had been living for several years in Los Angeles. The members' dogged dedication to the band is impressive — and it has also fueled KLS's, um, unorthodox attitude about recording. The band's only full-length was released in 1995 — although a new one is in the works and set for a release early next year. Almost all other output has been in the form of seven-inch records, with an occasional CD thrown in.
But the output has been far from sparse — the catalogue is rich enough that the band will perform nearly an entirely different set each night of its gig at Churchill's. Relearning the material and teaching it to the newest members has occasionally been trying, at best. "It's tedious learning the songs, because they go so far back, and I just joined and I'm the youngest in this band," says Jon Paul Bombastic, the group's 29-year-old drummer. "There are certain things I would never even have thought of doing on the drums."
The Churchill's shows will mark Jon Paul's, and several other new band members', first trip to Miami. The group has invited a number of friends, colleagues, and local music predecessors to perform.
"We picked pretty much all the bands. Definitely you'll be seeing Fraulein, the Holy Terrors, the Creepy Tees — those are the people we know from back then," says Ray. Since The Eat is no more, KLS invited the Drug Czars, Mike O'Brien's later band. "It's funny because two or three years after we started playing, Mike O'Brien started hanging out again," she says. "It's cool because I feel like we kind of started this kind of music scene in Miami. There are a lot more creative things happening [here] now."