The Primitive Circuits Story: An Obituary of an Austin Synth Band

Austin has given birth to my love of music, and since that’s our home base, I wanted to repay that, so I asked a few folks to share their Austin stories with me. Today, I’m sharing a story from our city about Primitive Circuits, written by Andy R. Lemon (also of Teenage Cavegirl). After you hit the jump you’ll find the rest of his story, as well as a few unreleased tunes from the now defunct band!

An Obituary of an Austin Synth Band

Ever find yourself at a combination bowling alley/roller rink/arcade looking up from your pedal board through a Teen Wolf mask over to your best friend who’s dressed like a vampire and playing more synths than Beethoven in Bill & Ted to find yourself surrounded by huge neon robots poppin’ and lockin’ to your version of Sugar, Sugar by The Archies set to the drum sample from Tone Loc’s cover of Wild Thing by The Troggs, and wonder, how did I get here?

A gig at Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film gathering in the country, is a dream for a band like us, and attendees are still arriving by buses to the closing night party’s secret location, where an anything-can-happen atmosphere of anticipation is brewing. Synth fever is sweeping the world thanks to the tireless Typhoid Mary’s of S U R V I V E, who are rewiring millions of minds to the addictive pleasures of bit-crushed analog anthems in season one of Stranger Things.On this warm Austin evening, we feel like agents of contagion primed to infect this crowd of tipsy taste-makers and rabid gore-hounds with our signature cocktail of direct-to-video splatter soundtracks and 80’s Halloween dance party rockers, and send them spreading the Primitive Circuits virus to their friends back home in the dozens of different countries from whence they’d come.

It’s our third gig, and I’m worried that we’re under-prepared, but my band mate, whose job is musically much more complex, is confident. It’s difficult to straddle the experimental and pop worlds, as any new band with something truly novel to say can tell you. It means taking risks, the main one being that you don’t always know if your radical, mind-blowing, earth-shattering ideas will break through into a new realm of sonic possibilities, or clash and fall flat as the public watches and talks trash from a comfy distance.

As for how well the show went, I leave that judgment to each of the people who were in the audience that night. Afterwards, we’re interviewed by Rolling Stone and Fangoria, which sums up the band pretty well. I’d come to think of our mongrel music as bubblegum synth-punk with occult themes. While the number of synth bands continues to grow at an alarming rate, none have succeeded in uniting the nostalgia-crazed 80s electronic fans with the terminal garage rocker camp by dropping a buzzsaw fuzz guitar over the pulsing BassBots and throbbing Moog’s, the latter typically reserved instead for yet another extended study in alienation and ennui set to the frolicsome tempo of a dirge.

Seeking to surf the wave caused by the momentum of the pop music pendulum swinging our way (just as anticipated, duh), Zach and I agreed that our next step should be to morph into a power trio by adding a bodacious lead singer. Our first choice was Rose, formerly of the Bengals-esque ultimate prom band, Party Girl. A year before, they tore the house down at the Hotel Vegas after party for the Sekrit Theater premiere ofMondo Fuzz, a garage rock documentary I made featuring Zach’s horror-punk bandThe Gory Details.

Things came full circle when, after a garage jam session, Rose proved a natural fit and we were soon integrating her into the songs we’d been honing at an east side house over many a beer and a bowl, always with a horror or sci-fi tape playing on the projector for inspiration (and sampling on the SP-202). Then, we hooked up with Matt of Annabel Chairlegs and recorded an EP at his home studio to 1″ magnetic tape.

So how come the debut EP is only being released now? ‘Cause shortly after the session, the band disintegrated over the direction of the music. It was an amicable implosion, but sure, sometimes I’m still bummed that we never played a show with Rose as our frontwoman, never made a music video for any of the cinematic songs, had to cancel our appearance at a big local festival, never recorded the rest of our album. Now, Zach’s putting his prodigious talents to use on video game soundtracks, I’m playing guitar in Teenage Cavegirl, and Rose is the dancing queen of Elysium on 80’s night, until some other band is smart enough to recruit her.

But at least that strange moment in time, when four quite different people came together with the common goal of making something new, has been forever preserved for your entomological consideration, a mutant wasp in digital amber, or like a neanderthal frozen in a block of ice under Pauly Shore’s pool.

There are a million band stories in the naked city, and this has been one. So gather round, friends, hear the death rattles of these square-wave stillborns, and see if they spark any synapses from a genetic memory of an alternate future to this collective hallucination that might have been.

by Andy Ray Lemon

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