My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult
Fans of old school industrial music flocked to Teragram Ballroom in LA, on Saturday to experience the 30th anniversary tour of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. The 600-capacity club seemed like an intimate and appealing venue choice for longtime fans who would want another chance to dance to the band’s satanic rhythms, as they had back in the day. Furthermore, the tour featured performances of the band’s first two records, I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits (1988) and Confessions of a Knife (1990), making this evening’s programming particularly significant.
Before we get to the show, some background is in order. For those who are not in the know, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult is an important band in the second wave of industrial music bands — the first wave including foundational artists such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Monte Cazazza. Many of the second wave acts, including Thrill Kill Kult (TKK), Ministry, Front 242, and KMFDM, were first published by the legendary Chicago recording label Wax Trax! Records. The first TKK record was essentially the soundtrack of a film project that never wound up being completed. The film, called Hammerhead Housewife and the Thrill Kill Kult, and its soundtrack were basically a satiric take on the satanic panics that caused suburban families to fear heavy metal music and horror imagery in entertainment.
The music of the first two albums was comprised of lyrical imagery evocative of satanic worship and black masses, samples from horror films, spooky atmospheric interludes, danceable rhythms, great basslines, and the distinct voice of lyricist Groovie Mann (born Frankie Nardiello). For this tour, the setlist included the first two albums, as well as a few additional songs from the Kooler Than Jesus EP, which had been released between those albums. Performing the music were founding members Mann and Buzz McCoy (born Marston Daley) on synths / samplers; the two were flanked by Bradley Bills (drums), Mimi Star (bass), and Arena Rock (backing vocals).
Before TKK took to the stage, at 10 o’clock, the LA-based L.A. Drones warmed up the crowd with a 40 minute set of their arty synthpop act. The duo, consisting of Kontrol Remoto and Darlingtonia Brackets, both wore black masks with white Xs taped over their mouth areas. They traded off on singing and synth duties throughout the show — with one of them playing some saxophone as well. The music was pretty catchy, and most of the crowd seemed to dig it; there were unfortunately a few beer-guzzling loudmouths near the stage whose conversation was regrettably more important to them than the opening act.
When TKK began their set, the audience respectfully settled into the darkness. By the time they got to their first album’s sixth track, “…And This is What the Devil Does!”, the audience was solidly grooving to the classic, satanic, industrial-disco tunes. For the first tune of Confessions of a Knife, “A Daisy Chain 4 Satan,” Mann wasn’t quite able to recreate the song’s iconic scream; however, the scream as well as some other effects were played on an accompanying recording, to which he sang along. Throughout the show, it was hard to determine what sound effects and music tracks may have been coming from a tape, but it seemed like most of the music was being performed live. Furthermore, while the records themselves sound heavily electronic, the live drums, bass lines, and backing vocals accompanying Mann’s singing and McCoy’s synth work gave the live sound impressive dynamics — with a seemingly minimalist arrangement generating an amazingly complex effect.
As the band reached the hypnotic “Hand in Hand,” the distinction between satanic-inspired imagery and the satire thereof dissolved, and the audience joined the band in wave after wave of existential musical roleplay. As the setlist went on, this sensation alternated with the fans’ reverence for faves like “Kooler Than Jesus,” which they naturally demonstrated by shouting along with the titular chorus, and, of course, there was lots of frenetic dancing. As for the rest of the second album, the performances of “Ride the Mindway” and “Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness” were particularly great. Though the setlist didn’t deviate from other dates on this tour, the fans were happy to have a five-song encore which included great renditions of “Shock of Point 6,” “Devil Bunnies,” and “‘Cuz It’s Hot.”
Despite the fact that the concept behind the band’s first few albums was essentially a joke (i.e. let’s be that satanic band everybody’s scared of and spit their pea-brained superstition right back in their faces), it was a joke so magnificently executed that it yielded many classic cuts which remain staples of the industrial music club scene. The experience of attending a show like this, wherein the entire early phase of TKK’s catalog was performed, was a treat that will likely rank among the all-time best concert memories for aficionados of old-school industrial.