Bloodbath at the Chinese Disco: A Calgary Compilation
In the mid-1990s, Calgary came into its own as a city of diverse and dynamic cultural activity. Around the same time, various communities started to intermingle, sometimes forging alliances through the arts. Most of those alliances were not political in nature, though some emerged from a growing awareness of race-based inequities. Instead, many of the intersections I witnessed were coincidental and practical: mutually beneficial. During my first year at the University of Calgary, for example, I befriended poets, fiction writers, musicians, campus disc jockeys from CJSW, and arts journalists. Many people working in the arts were not attending college, or already working full-time, but we met and got to know each other at various social events. Later, several of us who’d taken writing classes together at the U of C started a literary magazine called Filling Station. We held readings at cafes, bookstores, and bars known for alternative music, like the Night Gallery. We invited our musician friends to perform at our literary events; in turn, we attended and promoted their live music gigs. Friends studying graphic design helped us to brand and format our magazine. In the midst of it all, Calgary became a vibrant arts hub. And one of its most recognized offshoots was independent music.
Back then, I occasionally likened myself to the “you” addressed by Leonard Cohen in Hallelujah: “But you don’t really care for music, do you?” I was a writer and aspiring scholar; music was just something I listened to in my spare time. Yet music was (and still is) the soundtrack of my life—the rhythms and genres by which I processed change.
I first heard Bloodbath at the Chinese Disco: A Calgary Compilation during my penultimate summer in Calgary, 1994. I was anxious that August: starting my last year as an undergraduate, hoping to get into a well-funded graduate program that would let me experience new places, but fundamentally uncertain about what the future held. I feared not being perfect. Didn’t know yet what I wanted–only that part of it was to be valued for something other than words. It often felt like the words I wrote and the grades I earned were what mattered to people who mattered to me. Without words and accolades, who was I?
Raw, reckless, fledgling, bold, inchoate, sensual, even violent at times: those were my initial impressions of Bloodbath at the Chinese Disco, and they compelled me. I bought the cassette and then played it at home for weeks, over and over, on the Radio Shack boombox that a former boyfriend had gifted me. I marvel in retrospect at the patience and tolerance of my older Polish parents.
Each band featured on this compilation contributed two songs to it. I cannot cover them all. The songs reviewed here were digitized by the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society and fans can find them on that site using Dropbox. Videos are nearly impossible to find. The opening track is Field Day’s “Eden,” a fast, brash hit with an explosive beginning. One thing I loved about this song was that I didn’t need lyrics to enjoy it. I didn’t need to know the words. I still lose myself now in the crashing waves of electric guitar, in the thunderous drums and bass.
Like most bands included on Bloodbath at the Chinese Disco, Field Day’s musicians were young white men. I don’t know who came up with the compilation’s provocative title and cover art, but Bloodbath offers no Chinese disco. There are no Asian artists, period. No Latinos, either, even though Heuvos Rancheros often appropriated and humorized Spanish-sounding song titles (“El Toro Muerto Con Queso”). Borrowings like that went unnoticed, unmentioned, and unexplored back then. And though musical styles on this classic alternative album vary, Calgary indie rock was a largely testosterone-driven enterprise in 1994. No track illustrates this better than Chixdiggit’s “I Want to Hump You,” a song about wanting to have sex with a really hot girl who works at the mall:
Chixdiggit was one of Calgary’s most popular bands in the mid-1990s, though friends recall hating them, as well. They performed all the time, their posters everywhere. Later, they performed internationally and released a number of studio albums. Some critics call them “pop punk;” others dub them “speed pop.” Their songs were hormonal and funny, often about relationships. In retrospect, I realize I liked their directness. They shot from the hip and didn’t pretend to be deep.
Squat deviates sharply from the 1990s norm of male-centered music. Squat was a gender-ambiguous punk band with two tracks on Bloodbath: the decidedly cheerful “I Hope You Die,” and “Fish.” They went by names like KimBurly Fat Jones Farm (drums), Floating Llilewa-o Fat Llilewa-a Farms (bass), Floating A Band Fat Parkhan Farms (guitar), and Floating Travis Fat Miasmas Farms (vocals). Back then, I listened to “I Hope You Die” with shocked fascination. I’d never loathed anyone as much as Squat’s vocalist seemed to loathe the unnamed subject of (her?) song. The repetitive refrain, “I Hope You Die,” along with dramatic screaming and shrieking guitars, made this an obvious favorite for my burgeoning feminist self. Listening to “I Hope You Die” was a test of endurance, a battle of internal will. The track taught me to appreciate the power of rage.
Other celebrated indie bands on this compilation include Huevos Rancheros, El Caminos, Kentucky Fried Children, and Wagbeard. Each band possessed a distinctive style. Huevos Rancheros was a Calgary surf rock band, active from 1990 to 2000. Strictly instrumental, they performed a fusion of surf revival, garage, and punk. Their vibe was 1960s Jan and Dean drag racing down the Pacific Coast Highway with a Monster Truck coming up behind them. In 1998, their album Get Outta Dodge was nominated for a Juno Award in the Best Alternative Album category. Videos of Huevos Rancheros performing live are hard to find. Nevertheless, here is a recording of “Rocket to Nowhere,” a song presented with the band’s charismatic bounce at the famed Republik in 1994:
Wagbeard is probably my favorite band on Bloodbath. Between 1991 and 1994, I attended many of their shows at iconic venues like the Westward Club and the Ship and Anchor. Their songs were catchy, electric, quirky, even danceable. Wagbeard’s two contributions to this album are “What a Hell of a Way to Die” and “Can’t Remember Names.” However, the only video they made is titled “Too Easy.” It highlights the distinctive vocals of Chris Temple and provides decent footage of Wagbeard performing live. Plus of course, there are aliens!
The one song that haunts me more than any other on this compilation is the Primrods’ “(Theme Song) Summer Love Clown.” Like I said, I bought this album near the end of a particularly difficult summer. A former boyfriend killed himself. I jogged for hours a day and ate little, worked boring jobs and wrote bad poetry. I avoided old friends and made few new ones. A lonely, twigging wait. I don’t own a boombox anymore, but finally found “Summer Love Clown” at the tail end of “The Sordid Hour,” broadcast by the University of Manitoba on August 31, 2020. A fitting conclusion to the summer of COVID, the Primrods’ eerie, carnival-like tune reminds me of that summer back in 1994, the one I could not wait to be over so that I could begin again, elsewhere:
Summer’s almost over
Thinking back, what a long, god awful
Thing it was.
Summer’s almost over
In retrospect, what a soft, hot pink
Thing it was.
You can catch it here, at 55:31 of the radio program:
Happy listening! It’s hard to put the past into words. It’s hard to explain why I loved Bloodbath so much or all the things it meant to me. I guess I don’t fully want to, anyhow. This album invites its own rich associations.