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Chop therapy 

Consumer retorts

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
Most music fanatics know how it feels to spend $200 in one visit to a record store. You walk out the door, your legs wobbling and your head spinning, feeling spent, woozy, and slightly guilty. Of course, not everyone shops like I do, as if the store were on fire. In fact, you can tell a lot about a person by his record-buying habits -- including how he is in bed. For instance, some people are methodical: They start at the same used-CD aisle every time and comb through to the end. Others go for a couple of specific items, grab them, and hurry right out. And still others gorge on anything and everything they see, often purchasing albums they don't really want.

No one understands the intricate weaving of music and shopping better than the Chopping Channel. The group -- comprised of Negativland's Don Joyce, the Weatherman, and Peter Conheim, plus local music-mangler Wobbly -- is a "consumer critique" outfit that began as a segment on Negativland's Over the Edge radio show on KPFA-FM (94.1). Like Negativland, the Chopping Channel focuses its viewfinder on the inanities of advertising -- with an emphasis on televised shopping networks and our culture's insatiable consumerism. In line with their consumptive name, however, the Choppers are more of a binge and purge type act, an improv collective that snatches from everywhere, building songs on the spot. Last Thursday, the Channel "busted out of the box," delivering its first non-radio performance at the DNA Lounge's experimental music night, "Joypad."

The next day Conheim explained via phone how the chopping process works. "We start more or less with Don's dialogue tapes -- voice and music tapes that reflect a subject. Then John [Wobbly] and I go to our sources and make up sounds around it, using multiple samplers and percussive gizmos and noisemakers."

The result is an odd mix of background sound and foreground purchase-knocking. One minute you're tapping your toes to floating synth samples and the next moment you're spraying your drink out your nose as a guy intones, "In other words, if you meet a man and he has heavy eyebrows, you need to set them on fire." Add in Wobbly's frenetic music and the Weatherman's odd set pieces -- commodifying his dreams, selling remote controls as instruments -- and you've got an unusual aural experience, one that may sway you from embarking on your next consumerist bender.

To hear excerpts from the first show, go to the archive at The Chopping Channel is booked for two more Thursdays at the DNA; the next one takes place on Sept. 6 at 9 p.m. Kit Clayton will also DJ. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door; call 626-1409.

My, what nice shoulders you have Last week, some French friends wanted to go to "Eklektic" to hear drum 'n' bass -- something I'd never do on my own. Not that I mind drum 'n' bass: I like hopping from foot to foot while the sounds of ambulance sirens whiz by as much as the next guy. But I was struck by the uniformity of the club -- not just by the methodical "thump, buzz, thump, buzz" of the tracks but also by the total lack of feminine shirt-sleeves. Yes, shirt-sleeves. Between the tube tops, the tank tops, and the spaghetti-strap tops, there was nary a covered female arm in the place. Again, not that I minded: Naked skin makes the heart grow fonder. I was just surprised by how ubiquitous this fashion statement had become. Where had all the sleeves gone? Is there some Old Sleeves Home where they while away the hours, waiting for the winds of fashion to blow colder?

I needed to know whether sleevelessness threatened to swallow us all. So I called Kim Ferguson, manager of the Castro clothing store Clobba, a haven for the discerning clubgoer. "Sales [of tank tops] are pretty much the same as always -- they're awesome! I can actually sell a tank top when it's 32 degrees outside!"

When will this madness end? I asked Suzy Waters, buyer at the equally dance-friendly Haight boutique Villains, how long such fashion trends last. "Six months, if that," she said, although she admitted that tube tops started last year and have yet to let up. Still, there is hope on the horizon. The fall and winter series, Waters confided, is full of the messy punk look: tattered denim, studded belts, and -- ugh -- camouflage. I'd better be careful what I ask for.

Progress -- and the unemployment line -- knows no end Overheard in the hallways of the China Basin Landing building: "They don't use fluffers [to keep men hard in porno films] anymore. They just give the guy half a Viagra and half an Advil."

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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