Monte Cazazza remains largely hidden from the public eye, creating his music and art at the fringes even of the underground. He is an outsider amongst outsiders, refusing to curtail his fascinations and preferring to nurture and pursue his interests without censure. Images of medicine, unusual aspects of science, true crime and unconventional human behaviour recur throughout his work. If others have explored similar areas, few have done it with the focus of Cazazza, who buries himself in the abject physiological and psychological state of humanity reporting back on his findings.
Like St Augustine, Cazazza recognizes that people are born between shit and piss, unlike the Church Father, he makes no judgements. Fiercely individual and frequently itinerant, he eschews even counter cultural acceptance. Yet, despite this, he devotes much of his time to supporting other artists and musicians and he is known for his remarkable generosity of spirit. Credited and cursed with coining the term Industrial music, he may still be best known as an ally and strategist with Throbbing Gristle and member of Psychic TV. Yet these alliances represent a fragment of his activity. Simultaneously operating in visual art, writing, performance, film and curation, Cazazza’s contributions to these worlds is significant. His work in film includes directing the underground movie SXXX80 (1980), an investigation into obsessions with sexuality and VD, which draws upon surrealist dream logic and the films of the Vienna Aktionists. He also consulted on Matthew Causey’s mondo feature True Gore (1987) and produced Michelle Handelman’s documentary BloodSisters (1995), documentary films on death and the Bay Area lesbian S&M scene respectively. He has worked extensively with machine artists Survival Research Laboratories, constructing and controlling machines for their performances that combine the thrill of drag racing and the gladiatorial arena with oblique social political commentary. Recently he has worked with the Museum of Death in Hollywood, helping to hang works in their gallery. Cazazza frequently embraces the notion of the third mind espoused by Brion Gysin
and William Burroughs, working with other artists and musicians in order to facilitate the creative process. Currently he’s developing a project with Meri St Mary of Housecoat Project, “Combining our forces to include a collection of love duets and unique and highly volatile merchandise plus a fem/horror film which is in pre-production now.” Cazazza’s outpourings have frequently focused on areas broadly considered as taboo. While sex and death are established lyrical subjects, for Cazazza they are neither melodramatic narratives nor cautionary tales, instead he presents them as examinations of a phenomena, shot through with a carney barker’s sense of spectacle. This is sardonic reportage that nods to the high art of Andy Warhol’s death series and the salacious lip smacking thrills of Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, driven by a rigorous engagement and thorough understanding of the subject matter, which draws on both meticulous research and personal experiences, including a period spent working as a paramedic. He remains self-aware enough to open The Worst Of Monte Cazazza, a compilation spanning his solo works and collaborations, with a slamming indictment delivered by psychiatrist Bart Alberti MD. The psychiatrist describes Cazazza as “a confused erotomaniac… ”, observing “We are dealing with a primitive filthy minded vulgar embarrassing twisted mind… This CD is full of cheap thrills.” Perhaps the only sound missing from the track is the gleeful laughter of the artist thus described. Interviewed in RE/Search magazine’s Pranks edition, Cazazza
emphasizes the importance of misdirection, “making something that doesn’t seem to be what it is”. An autodidact, Cazazza draws inspiration from a multitude of sources, ranging from essays in obscure publications to radio host Art Bell, know for featuring paranormal topics on his late night show. His interests in medicine and the nature of suffering can be traced in part to a lengthy period of hospitalisation as a child, during which he shared a room with a badly burned boy (it is telling that Throbbing Gristle’s queasy-epic Hamburger Lady draws its narrative from a letter by mail artist Al Ackerman, while Industrial Records also released Leather Nun’s Slow Death, which describes a burn victim dying and depicted the charred subject on the cover). These subjects formed a crucial part of the ‘information war’ which formed much of the mise-en-scene of the first wave of industrial music, in an era before the internet and the mass marketing of serial killers in paperbacks and on late night TV. These were not simply voyeuristic interests but formed an attempt to explore unusual behavioural aspects, and synthesize this into part of the creative process. “Myself, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire were just picking up on these societal signals because we tuned in to the right wavelengths,” Cazazza recalls. Based in San Francisco and its environs since the early 1970s, he has maintained a continual presence within California’s music and artistic underground. In 1974 Cazazza gained a degree of notoriety with The $1000 Proposition, which invited participants to play Russian Roulette with
a testicle, a loaded gun, and the guarantee of medical care or a prize, through the work he simultaneously affirmed his presence as a conceptual artist, prankster and social commentator, more importantly the humour involved was brutally unblinking, there’s no subtle wink, to allow for an easy escape. Affiliated with Bay Area Dada through his friendship with the artists Bill Gaglione and Tim Mancusi, who, Cazazza remembers, “were really hospitable, they let me hang out at their studios and showed me stuff” he edited the publication Nitrous Oxide (c.1973) which included a selection of his collages. Other early inputs included close friendships with Flipper’s Ted Falconi, V Vale of RE/ Search, and author Jim Morton. One of a number of mail artists utilising the global postal service as a medium to disseminate and exchange materials (ranging from rubberstamped magazines, postcards, found objects and collages, even dead animals were sent through the postal service) Cazazza would frequently send collages to his correspondents. Dada, mail art and the emergent punk scene shared a common belief in self-expression, the democratisation of creativity and the desire to find art in places often considered un-aesthetic: the bizarre, daily life or industrial design. In 1974 artist Anna Banana and Gaglione published Vile, a compendium of mail art. Cazazza appeared on the cover of the first issue in February 1974 (dated 1985) with a bloody chest wound holding what appeared to be his freshly ripped out heart in his hand, the image caught the attention of Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti.
Meeting through the mail art community, the trio collaborated during P-Orridge and Tutti’s 1976 US trip. Forming the Gary Gilmore Memorial Society they took turns in posing as the convicted killer for a series of mock execution photos. As P-Orridge states in Simon Ford’s Wreckers Of Civilization “at the time it was just for ourselves to get the whole feeling of what he would face”. The photos, and the act of taking them, examined both personal and cultural fascinations with the murderer (rather than his crime). Against all expectations, Gilmore demanded to be executed by the state, rejecting the lengthy process of appeals commonly undertaken by death row prisoners. Producing and sending-out postcards of these photos, the work played on the media fixation with the case. A picture of Cazazza was even reproduced in a Hong Kong newspaper as an image of the real execution. In some way this work can be understood as a central element in what became Industrial culture; an engagement with that which was deemed as abject that places the documenter/artist unflinchingly in the position of the other. This project maintained an ambiguity which frustrated some critics and commentators, but if punk rock’s response to the case was The Adverts’ catchy 7” and if the intelligentsia had Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, then the nascent industrial culture’s offering was, in retrospect, the most complex. This work shifts seamlessly from personal interest to fetishism to documentation to cultural artefact. The Gary Gilmore Memorial Society was engaged not simply in politics, but in an exploration of the media and its
presentation and interpretations of events. The case affected the artists involved because they understood the spectacular nature of media but they were also aware of their own complicity within the spectacle. There can be no ready resolution to the work because the creative process avoided didacticism in favour of an open ended personal exploration, viewers had to come to their own conclusions. In 1976 (and perhaps even still) these were largely uncharted aesthetic waters. What makes this work — and many subsequent pieces — perceived as ‘difficult’ is the lack of any attempt to explain away an interest. “If a piece works” Cazazza says, “you shouldn’t have to explain it.” With firm friendships established, Cazazza joined Throbbing Gristle in London where he constructed the wooden flash logo TG used in live performances and videotaped the recording of Heathen Earth. Working with the group, he recorded his first two records, the 1979 single To Mom On Mother’s Day and the 1980 EP Something For Nobody. “To me [music] was always about self expression
and I’ve always done a variety of things. Jack-of-all-trades master of none. I was never under any pressure to view it as entertainment since there was no real place in the arts for people like me. Just an outsider — the unpopular talking to the unpopular.” Asked about his involvement with the technical side of these early recordings, and his role in exploring and constructing electronic instruments Cazazza states, “Chris [Carter] and Sleazy [Peter Christopherson] were far better technicians than me, but it was garage electronics. [I] used tape loops a lot, spliced cassettes, souped up crazy drum machines, field recordings and [I got] help from people like Tommy Tadlock in San Francisco, who was a master in his own right. Used City Colleges facilities, in fact Tuxedomoon was there a semester before me, [I] used to barricade myself in there, sleeping on the floor over the weekend trying to learn the huge modular system they had at one time. It certainly was not trendy the way it is today, we were treated like space aliens... like kooks.” These technical skills enabled Cazazza to create the complex webs of echoing voices that formed the basis for “First/Last” and a rendition of Gysin’s cut-up poem Kick That Habit Man both of which appeared on the Something For Nobody EP, which also included Cazazza’s own Mary Bell. This song uses the case of the eleven year old child killer as the basis for its simple piano melody over which female voices sing “Mary Bell / child of Hell”. This is accompanied by Cazazza intoning an examination of the duality of good and evil, the first of a number of recordings
that draw on the simple structures of children’s nursery rhymes. “Maybe that’s some of the first things I heard as a child. I like [Carl] Orff. And I always wondered who wrote those songs and how effective they are. Possibly someday one of those type of songs I did would end up in that lexicon and no one would remember who wrote it, but it would just be some song kids were skipping rope to. Now that would be success.” Such desires are not without precedent, Lizzie Borden, accused of killing her parents in 1892, inspired a jump-rope rhyme familiar in many American school yards. Bell and Gilmore represent individuals whose actions were unique: the murderer who sought the death penalty and the child who killed children, both abjected even from other murderers. There is a form of vulnerability here, the child lost in an adult world and the man seeking his own death as the only possible freedom. In exploring these figures Cazazza is addressing the very limits of human behaviour, but through a quasi-children’s song and positioning himself as a bound Gilmore, he is creating an empathy with the other. In England, Cazazza was introduced by P-Orridge to Jonas Almquist of the Swedish garage punk band Leather Nun, “those guys had the right attitude baby!” He performed live with the group at the Scala cinema and co-wrote two songs; Busted Knees and the band’s notorious club ‘hit’ Fist Fuckers Associated (recorded earlier by Cazazza as Fist Fuckers Of America, but unreleased). “I did more audio work and releases in Europe because of the generosity and encouragement of my friendship with the
members of Throbbing Gristle, which gave me a very disjointed life because it removed me some steps away from everything, in that I was in the USA when things were released. I had this double professional life one side going on over there, three steps removed from my everyday reality in the USA, which had positive and negative repercussions.” Dividing his time between Europe and America, it was while in San Francisco, Cazazza began working with Factrix, contributing vocals, amputated bass and rhythm tracks. Together Factrix and Cazazza created a music that often appeared to negate formal song structures in favour of an almost raw aural texture. Though commonly described as Industrial, the group’s use of guitar sounds and feedback, alongside tapes, violas, drum machines and Moogs, drew on a line of musical experimentation taking in Krautrock, the Velvet Underground and garage punk. Factrix’s dark psychedelia wasn’t so much Industrial as a uniquely Californian version of No Wave, the audio equivalent to a nightmarish flashback in San Francisco mist, while driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge. A cursory listen to the double CD retrospective Artifact draws some aural parallels to the dissonant guitar shapes of the earliest Sonic Youth recordings, created almost simultaneously, albeit a continent away. Cazazza’s collaboration with Factrix emerged from a chance street meeting with the group’s Cole Palme, who, Cazazza recalls “got a hold of my first record and introduced himself to me”. Factrix immediately interested Cazazza, “there were only a small handful of people using
synths, drum machines and whatever other crazy pieces of electronic junk we could come up with. So I met Joseph Jacobs and Bond Bergland and we just hit it off. At that time in California there were just a handful: Factrix, The Screamers, Nervous Gender, Rhythm and Noise, Minimal Man, Voice Farm, B People, Tuxedomoon, Tommy Tadlock, a very small group indeed. And people were perplexed about not having the traditional rock instrumentation set up, like ‘where the hell is the drummer?’ ‘Well, he’s in a box asshole and I don’t let him out.’ I always was partial to the term garage electronics and I’m really more of a sound type and lyricist and as Cabaret Voltaire so succinctly put it No Sound Shall Go Untreated. I still like to follow that today. But of course I’m a kook. What was great was that no one could tell you how to play a synthesizer. Just do what the fuck you wanted. Because you knew most people were sonically prejudiced in the first place. I was always hunting for some sound to evoke trouble in other people’s minds since my mind is troubled. As to Factrix, they were three of the most talented guys I had the good fortune to run into. Thank you Cole.” Cazazza collaborated with the group on a number of recordings including the album California Babylon. While performing together Factrix and Cazazza co-opted allies such as SRL and photographer Ruby Ray, devising notorious multi-media performances. One such example was documented on the 1981 video Night Of The Succubus. Its grainy footage catches the swirling chaos of the Factrix/Cazazza musical performance accompanied by Rabot and Piggly-wiggly, reanimated animal corpse robots courtesy of SRL. As
Cazazza notes, “We liked to produce shows our own way, so that made us more outsiders as far as other venues were concerned.” Jacobs and Bergland worked with Cazazza on Stairway To Hell and Sex Is No Emergency. Two catchy not-quite pop songs that combine the clean beeps of a Casio VL tone with guitar fuzz and ridiculously upbeat yet stunted funk bass riffs. These songs could almost have been early eighties pop hits, except for the gleefully abject themes of Cazazza’s lyrics with references to “pink lips parting” and “white stains”. This is Bubblegum Industrial, sweet and catchy, but on closer inspection smelling of cheep lube and greasy sex. “Factrix disintegrated due to economic factors beyond everybody’s control and they stayed with me for a while in Motel Hell in Oakland. I wish I could have gotten them to Europe,” remembers Cazazza. But, from the ruins of Factrix came The Atom Smashers, who produced First Strike in 1986. “Joseph somehow got me a deal with Douglas Lichterman on Pathfinder to put out the First Strike album which was our version of a rap record because Kraftwerk was a big influence on early rap with Afrika Bambaataa using them for Planet Rock, anyway I just wanted to pervert it for my own uses,” recalls Cazazza. “So we entered into that and I got the backhand slap from a lot of people that knew me because they were like ‘why are you doing a rap record?’ They didn’t get the electronic connection. Plus I was always a fan of The Last Poets. We had a great crew; Joseph Jacobs and Mark Ellinger were a really good producing [and] engineering team
and kept it all together, played on it too. Chris Warden played bass and rapped with me, and Bond Bergland did some great guitar work. And our secret weapon was Dr Leo Knapp who came with his Lynn drum machine and plastic bags full of Epron chips custom done which he would pop in and out to get some great drum sounds. And I mustn’t forget Don Tatum who brought his saxes and honked away. I just picked the right people and let them do their thing, which usually turns out better than anything I would do. Just have unity of command.” One ongoing source of encouragement for Cazazza has been the Bay Area’s radio stations. “Some of the best supporters I’ve had came from community radio stations KPFA with John Gullak, Elden M, Mr Hate, KFJC with Clay Holden and Mr Hate, KVMR with Meri St Mary. They give me the freedom to do what the hell I want, with a more open mindset. Time to set things up right. And they really love music. And show true support to other artists, because there are a lot of other people who have no business being in show business!” Both the collaborative project Chaos Of The Night, whose album Live At KFJC was released in 1995, and the solo Power Versus Wisdom were recorded at radio stations and exist as documents of live broadcasts. The first release — recorded at KFJC, a station which boasts a commitment to ‘new and interesting audio art’ — saw Cazazza playing bass alongside Mayuko Hino from Japanese power electronics group CCCC, and local musicians Elden M and Mason Jones. ”I had seen Mayuko perform a couple of times when she was out here with her
band CCCC so I had an inkling about where she may be coming from… She asked Mason Jones, Elden M and I if we would be interested in doing a one off deal at the KFJC studios, which they would record. I thought she could use some very bottom end so I played bass through a stack of guitar pedals. Mason did guitar work and Elden keyboards. Mayuko had some things prepared but basically it was very improvisational, for my part I watched and listen very carefully to what was happening especially on Mayuko’s part and tried to leave her a lot of space and then sort of answer her off my bass parts. Also listening to Elden and Mason and just dropping in for emphasis. But Mayuko was the key ingredient for where I placed anything trying to put the icing on the cake. She was very easy to work with,
definitely had her ideas down, so it was fun for me to just follow the leader”. Although released in 1996 Power Versus Wisdom actually documents a KPFA appearance from Halloween 1991, as well as a live recording from England in 1980. Recorded as part of John Gullak’s long established The No Other Radio Network midnight show, the album moves from a stripped down version of The Atom Smashers’ Six Eyes From Hell through to re-workings of True Gore’s soundtrack. The album also features The Womb Is A Happening Place (Prochoice Mix), which mixes rhythms courtesy of Chris and Cosey, with found sounds and Monte singing what appears to be a hymn to menstruation and gynaecology.
The album has a dark timbre. When there are electronic beats they often eschew the ready rhythm of the dance floor (especially by early nineties standards). There’s also an emphasis on recordings of voices, ‘found’ recordings of the witches’ prophecy from Macbeth through to Matthew Causey’s narration on the processes of death and decay drawn from homicide textbooks. A medical lecture as ‘entertainment’, the effect of which is an aural equivalent to poking road kill with a stick. This use of found spoken word recordings, alongside his own readings from a variety of texts can be seen across his work, from early works such as Rabid Rats (Vietnam) through to Factrix’s Prescient Dreams and Psychic TV’s Iron Glove. Cazazza describes his interest in the spoken word as being “just stuff I
read or hear or find that sticks like spaghetti to my mind’s wall. I just inefficiently do what I can but it’s never enough which is why I’m such an angry person.” Cazazza’s most recent work is the album The Cynic. “I was supposed to do another recording for Brian Lustmord’s Side Effects label. And Brian had heard a very rough version of Gringo Like Me that I was working on, and even though he terminated — with extreme prejudice — Side Effects as a label, I just continued recording in the Rodeo del Muerte studio I set up.” The album moves from bass heavy ‘dark ambience’ through crisp electronica to the spaghetti western tribute Gringo. The lyrics explore topics such as betrayal,
rotting flesh and the overwhelming nature of human failure, yet the mood of the recordings is anything but dour. Describing the process of decay on Terminal, Cazazza sings, “Your eyes fall in, your teeth fall out/your liver turns… to sauerkraut.” The laughter here is not a polite chuckle but the rasping dry laughter of the William Burroughs character Dr Benway or the maniacal laughter of the man dancing across the abyss. This is Andre Breton’s black humour realised as music, scathing and desecrating all that people and society hold as important, reducing all to rubble and playing in the atrophied ruins. “People totally overlooked my warped sense of humour because of its sarcastic and cynical nature, which a lot of Americans can not abide.” “As to laughter,” he later writes in an email, “If
you aren’t laughing now, I will be because [as Oscar Wilde said] ‘if that wallpaper doesn’t go I will’. The recording process was simple. “Basically I set up a bunch of drum machines and old analogue gear, not even Midi connected, all running wild. Got some grooves happening. Started playing on top of it, all running into effects boxes, into a mixer and recorded directly into a two-track CD recorder. I didn’t even have a decent computer I could use. So I kept a lot of it simple and played it on the fly. Then [I] wrote lyrics later. I took the initial recordings down to Los Angeles, to Brian [Lustmord’s] studio Scientific Electric. He entered them into his computer and then tightened-up all the rhythms as there was a ton of drift and late notes since everything was all done ass backwards, it
has it’s own edge but necessitated a bit of repair, a pain in the ass for Brian, but he’s a genius. This is not the way to really record stuff, as he would have preferred to have it delivered completely different. But he persevered, he contributed heavily, changing sequences around, adding additional parts especially on the bottom end, which he’s the master at. We did the final mix and mastered it there. So without his skill it would not sound anything like it does now. Beside Brian, and myself Fred Giannelli played all the guitar parts on Terminal. I had sent him a rough idea and some loops of what I was working on and he played and recorded all his parts, sent it back and it was great. We rearranged what he did, moving parts of it around, fitting it to the vocals which he hadn’t even heard. Brian really pulled out the stops on that because Fred had done such a great job we wanted to give him his due.” The Cynic, like parts of Power Versus Wisdom, draws in part on the soundtracks of Italian horror movies. “Soundtrack music is probably the biggest influence on me. Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Goblin. I remember the first time I saw [the horror film] Suspiria, which we screened at the Strand Theatre where I worked, I went and turned up the volume as loud as we could get it in the theatre, it just drove that movie at maximum speed
into the wall. And, although I cannot hold a candle to those guys, that type of music naturally resonates with me. And The Cynic is actually the whole soundtrack to a modern day western I would like to film. So investors beware if you want a wild ride get in touch with me.” Asked the extent to which he approaches music as a musician and how much he engages with it as a medium in which to carve an idea he replies “I don’t even think of myself as a musician, more some kind of crackpot composer or sonic executor, some might say sonic executioner. But I’m open to whatever serves my purpose.”