Stress Jingle/Station ID #31 : ONO

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ONO is a legendary experimental band based in Chicago, and one of the most unique and fascinating groups to come out of the post-punk scene in the States. Their music blends elements of noise, gospel, industrial, electronic, rock and performance art, and their two first albums (MACHINES THAT KILL PEOPLE and ENNUI) are considered to be among "the most important US electronic/experimental LP's of the 80s". In 2012, 26 years after their last recorded album, ONO released the incredibly powerful ALBINO on Moniker Records.

A floating collective of musicians, ONO may have changed members periodically over the last three decades, but has kept two members at the very core: band leader/bassist P. Michael and powerhouse front man Travis. Veteran Chicago soul musician P. Michael grew up in a musical environment, his uncle played trumpet with Duke Ellington, and his family lived in the same block as Curtis Mayfield, Howlin' Wolf and The Staple Singers. As a teenager he began putting together a succession of R&B and rock bands, playing local clubs and bars. His musical consciousness began expanding as he was exposed to The Stooges and Velvet Underground. Travis, a performance artist and painter, is originally from Mississippi. He took piano as a child, until the day the day he realized he could get more interesting sounds by attaching sticks to his fingers while playing. He joined the navy, went to Vietnam, Cuba, and after six years he returned to the States. In Cleveland, Ohio, Travis did poetry performances alongside bands like Pere Ubu. In 1979 he decided to head to New Mexico and give up all his earthly possessions. On the way there he stopped in Chicago and ran into P. Michael - who, inspired by the infant punk scene and its creative possibilities, was ready to tackle something new.

"I had a vision. I said it was going to be a fusion of poetry and art, and visuals and sound," P. Michael says, "punk theater - threatening punk theater." Travis came up with the band's name, an abbreviation of ONOMATOPEIA. Ono would find a home of sorts in the city's punk scene, but from the beginning the group's outlandishness relegated them to the margins. ONO described themselves as an "Experimental Performance, NOISE, and Industrial Performance Poetry Band, Exploring Gospel's Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premisses" - a formula expansive enough to encompass liturgical chanting, freeform noise, negro spirituals, found poetry, junkyard percussion and repurposed rock and roll, but not one designed to win many fans among white, suburban punkers.

Along with Travis and P. Michael, the classic 80s lineup was completed by Ric Graham on guitar. In 1982 they released the landmark album MACHINES THAT KILL PEOPLE (produced by Al Jourgensen, best known as the founder and frontman of the industrial metal band Ministry), and continued to put on a tireless succession of increasingly extravagant performances, while collaborating constantly with filmmakers, painters and poets from Chicago's artistic fringes. Their debut album was followed by ENNUI in 1985, which further expanded on the band's sound with its dark experimental electronics and ritualistic edges. By the late 80s things began to slow down for ONO and the band went into hibernation, as other paths and projects came to the fore. 

The band and its legacy had fallen into something of a state of neglect by 2007, when Steve Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave, featured ONO in his Secret History of Chicago Music strip. Hand drawn and written by Krakow, The Secret History of Chicago Music appears weekly in the Chicago Reader, and has developed into an important study of the obscure blues, jazz, rock, funk, soul, folk, R&B, and punk musicians from Chicago's rich and diverse musical history. Krakow's interest convinced P. Michael and Travis to start playing again. Now a seven-piece lineup, ONO continues to perform with absolutely undiminished intensity and inventiveness. In the 21st Century, ONO has found a far more diverse, open-minded and artistically-inclined music community in Chicago than the rigid, punk scene that they'd drifted away from in the mid-80s. DIEGESIS, the follow up to 2012's ALBINO, will be released in March 2014.

"There was a ferocious roar, and the sound of metal on metal; there were great, earthly clods of primordial bass, and scraps of sonic debris whizzing through the air, and a booming, prophetic voice towered above the fray, shouting down the walls of Jericho. I guess they were a band, but I didn't know what the hell was happening - something was being invented before my eyes, conjured, a world made new. (...) These guys are serious legends, unsung punk deities from a weirder planet."
Liam Warfield, Secret Beach #2 (2010)

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