Killed By Death
Part I: Killed By What?
by Cameron Worden
Around three years ago, I walked into a local record store. And I mean real records: this was the place that once got "Best Place to Purchase Vinyl" at the year end "Best of the Bay" awards (Tampa, that is). On this particular day, I was going to peruse the boxes upon boxes of 7" records kept against a whole wall. This store attracted a lot of regulars by carrying the weirdest releases, and also through $5 Saturday night and free Sunday matinee showcases for local, ahem, talent. That day three years ago, they introduced me to the Child Molesters.
The Child Molesters were an obscure late ‘70s punk rock group from California, known mostly for their on- and offstage antics, and their purposefully offensive and funny lyrics, but what mattered was the music. The Child Molesters played extremely psychotic and amazingly catchy punk rock like I had never heard before. The stuff was blaring over the store stereo with a furiousness that would impress any awkward teenager. The guys sitting by the counter were discussing the group and I moved indiscreetly towards the "C" section, just to take a peek if they had any of the group's records. Nothing. I eventually inquired about the music on the stereo and was told that the group's records were very rare and much sought after. I had no clue. I was always the freak who knew more about music than a great deal of my peers, but this was way beyond me. I'm still thankful that I had that experience, because it has led me to some of the most rewarding and bizarre punk I've ever heard.
Killed By Death, a series of bootleg LP compilations showcasing some of the rarest punk rock to date, keeps this tradition alive. KBD wasn't the only compilation series to take on limited-run and out of print punk, but it had the greatest impact, and continues to be produced today. Several Killed By Death compilations took on specific concepts, such as the Killed By Hardcore albums, and the Bloodstains series, based on location (e.g. Bloodstains Across Germany).
There's a mostly secret and sordid history behind these compilations; many were produced illegally, and as such, lack contact information. With a very few clues, I set out to explore this bizarre world of "grey-market" punk rock releases.
Part II: Musical Revolution in Three Easy Steps
[I realize many towns don't have anything other than chain CD stores, so the whole KBD/bootleg punk compilation phenomenon may seem obscure. A certain amount of experience is required insofar as one must have knowledge of the seediest record stores around.]
Step 1: Gather up your favorite rare recordings – that mint Kill the Hostages single with the handwritten cover, your prized copy of the Eat's "Communist Radio" 45 and that Mentally Ill practice tape you found in your cousin's basement. If your collection is lacking in the obscure or just plain interesting, you could always go out and spend the vast quantities of money some of these records command.
Step 2: Compile and press. Only the best of the best (or worst of the worst) is KBD material: a good KBD compilation has the listener marveling at every track.
Step 3: Repeat. All great compilations have sequels, that's why there are more than 100 KBD albums (though it helps that KBD is open to anyone to make their own version). There's no permission needed (although I'm sure some people would say there should be, after a series of crappy KBD compilations fooled us all). KBD is 100 % DIY, and is one of the finest representations of the better values found in punk rock.
I recently had a chance to discuss the bootleg punk compilation blowup with Chuck Warner, owner and operator of Hyped to Death. Warner told me he had sold some of the original records that later appeared on the Killed By Death compilations, and that he created his Hyped to Death series of CD-Rs as a critique on the "collector silliness," as he refers to it, of the original KBD compilations.
Warner is a good place to get some of these obscure records, but unfortunately, the most common place to find them is eBay. People find the rare records from their adolescence and sell them from $10 to $800+ (the Fix's first single is a real ripper). Gone are the days of distributors that stock older obscure records: rare releases are a way of making money now, although you can still get lucky at record swaps and the bargain bins of local independent record stores.
As far as pressing goes, you have to find a really disreputable record presser to get something this illegal through. And these guys charge more cash for pressing, which is why KBD and other bootleg compilations (and bootleg vinyl in general) cost more money than a comparable LP (that and that they press fewer of them).
The distribution market for bootleg compilations is even harder to navigate. Neighborhood stores deal with these types of releases, and a few independent larger stores in larger cities might pick them up, but most will not. The market is almost completely collector-driven, and of course punk-specific.
Part III: A Rational Guide to Irrational Music
One characteristic of the KBD compilations is they list a short history and description of all the bands on the album. I've distilled KBD and the like down into those few songs that have either made me smile, pump my fist, or twist my face in confusion. This is the best of the strangest and the most obscure:
The Child Molesters | The band I mentioned at the start of this article is perhaps the most infamous from any KBD release. These guys were among the most hated groups in California when they were around, so much so that they had to resort to playing unannounced shows and wearing masks to hide their identities. Perhaps this is because they wore swastikas and sang songs such as "I Wanna Punch You in the Face". These dudes had a sick sense of humor, and people wanted to kill them for it, but I don't understand that anyone wouldn't love "(I'm the) Hillside Strangler."
The Mentally Ill | I once knew a guy who said this band sounded like "clowns playing hardcore." For some, it's too much to stomach. For me, it's paradise. This band's shtick was that they all met in an insane asylum, which may very well be true. Their first and only record, "Gacy's Place," was doomed to obscurity by a limited run and obscene subject matter. Luckily, the patron Saint of the bizarre, Jello Biafra, has reissued not only the original record, but the entire recording session it came from, as well as two previously unavailable practice tapes. It's some of the most foul, offensive, and insanely good punk rock circa 1978.
Beastie Boys | Not that they're an obscure band, but the Pollywog Stew EP was included at the end of the first Killed By Death record, released at the height of the Beastie Boys' popularity. This is their "hardcore" record, unavailable until the official release on their Some Old Bullshit collection.
The Mad | Good punk, with an irreverent stage show. The Mad's singer would eventually go on to become a special effects artist. When the Mad were at their height of popularity in New York, the guitarist's pregnant girlfriend was brought on stage; they would simulate her rape, then the singer would fake an abortion with a mock fetus made out of ground beef. He would then proceed to eat it. The audience loved them.
Lethal Yellow | Lethal Yellow played goofy, sophomoric punk rock. Their greatest release was entitled Declaration of Retardation, and they lived up to their reputation. They never ceased to delight or annoy listeners with their high pitched sing-song vocals. It's sad to realize their impact was so limited.
F | Republican, straight-edge, gay hardcore. They called the police on their own shows. F released their final record on Mystic records because it was "the crappiest label ever." They pissed off everyone in the punk business, but best of all, they stole their name and all their songs from a bar metal band. A friend of mine recently went to go see the other F when they played with the Pork Dukes. He sang along to all the songs, to their surprise, but never explained why he knew them.
Kill the Hostages | This is the group I could not leave off, a group so obscure that most punk rock buffs would just kind of give you a blank look if you brought it up. Kill the Hostages never played live, and only released one single, which was limited to around 200 copies. KTH obtained a coupon for a free recording session at a Florida flea market, and laid down an eight-song demo from which they pressed their single "Mutant." "Mutant" had a hand-penciled cover, and the music was other-worldly. Nothing like it has ever been, nor ever will be made. The vocals are incomprehensible screams; the lyrics will forever be lost, but they had something to do with creating a Frankenstein-like monster and throwing it a dance party. This band's demo is definitely one that should be on bootleg.
Part IV: Conclusion
Killed By Death compilations and bands have pushed open the door for a new wave of weirdos, because these types of releases will flourish in the CD age. The first six KBD compilations are already out on CD, allowing generations of snot-nosed adolescents to keep on screaming along to whatever screwed up new music happens to come up. KBD never grew out of being KBD, and I will never grow out of listening to it.
Thanks to: Chuck Warner, Mark Murrmann, Bob Suren, and Jason Gross, for all your invaluable help.
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