Thursday, November 23, 2023

Sex in Somerville? Just a Typical Sunday Night for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult

Bathe me in leather … drown me in your sex.”

It was the summer of 1991, and I was an impressionable 13-year-old pre-high schooler who spent his early Monday mornings watching 120 Minutes on MTV. It was the right pastime at the right time for a passionate young music fan who had already developed a fondness for the esoteric. The floodgates were bursting open back then. Perry Farrell’s inaugural Lollapalooza tour was up and running, bands like Dinosaur Jr. were using major-label funds to create landmark albums, and the air was filled with a strong sense that the world of music was about to change in a huge way.

Since I was 13 at the time, my hormones were evolving as well. One night, my eyes and ears caught a video by a band that … made me feel funny. A bunch of sashaying leather daddies and dayglo psychedelic ladies were suddenly on the TV screen celebrating the virtues of gettin’ it on. This wasn’t “getting’ it on” in the soulful Marvin Gaye way—no, this was the infinitely more thrilling dark alley-at-3am version. The band certainly made an impression on me—especially considering that my raging adolescent mind wasn’t sure which member (regardless of gender) I wanted to take home first. I bought the album on cassette within a week.

It was Sexplosion! by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult (TKK).  

It was an interesting one, that record. Sure, the band sang about all sorts of unsavory behavior, but it was all done with enough kitsch and piss-taking to add a wink to the proceedings. If Coil was the Clive Barker path to exploring sexuality through sound, TKK was the Russ Meyer route. After all, being naughty is supposed to be fun, right? Thirty-plus years later, I can still feel the aural amyl nitrate enter my body whenever TKK hits my stereo.

This formula of danceable decadence paid off in the ’90s, which saw the group—anchored by cofounders Groovie Mann and Buzz McCoy—leave its original label, Chicago’s Wax Trax!, for a run on Interscope. While a few big-league moments followed (who could ever forget the band’s cameo in The Crow?), TKK was back in Indieland by the close of the decade and has stayed there ever since.

Thankfully, TKK has never let the occasional valleys in its decades-long career prevent it from peaking on stage. In fact, the group maintains a rigorous, nearly Black Flag-level performance schedule that very likely hits your area at least once annually. (Trust me, if you’ve never heard of TKK playing your nearest city, you’re simply not paying proper attention. Hell, the band’s probably gigging down the street from you right now.)

A few weeks back, the circus returned to Massachusetts—this time at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville—for a show devoted to songs from the group’s classic 1987-1997 period. Years before Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nail brought darkness to the masses, TKK was unleashing sinister tracks like “A Daisy Chain 4 Satan,” Do You Fear (for Your Child)?,” and “The Days of Swine and Roses” in the underground—setting the stage for most of the mainstream Industrial music that followed. And you know what? Those tunes still sound as salacious now—especially live—as they did in the Reagan/Bush years.  And they’re still danceable as fuck.

Full marks to the guys (and gal) for diving into my beloved Sexplosion! on stage and delivering “Sex on Wheelz” (the video I referenced earlier) and “Leathersex” (featuring the lyric I quoted at the beginning of this piece). High scores as well to openers KANGA (a one-woman show of truly impressive Dark Pop) and ADULT (whose innovative use of tape—not tape as in backing tracks, but tape as in what you use to stick on things—was a sight and sound to behold) for making the evening even more menacing and memorable.

The crowds these days may not be the biggest they’ve ever had, but the spirit of musical adventure and sensual abandon that Groovie and Buzz introduced in the late 80s is still alive and well. I’ve been going to TKK shows for over 20 years now, and the band today is absolutely on fire. 

And I still can’t decide which member I wanna take home with me …

Help Charles Levi

Former TKK bassist Charles Levi—my old Pigface bandmate and a deeply loved figure in the global Industrial music scene—has had a very rough time in recent years. Please visit this GoFundMe page for information—and help this absolute gem of a human being if you can.

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult