Photo by James BundanThey were the worst band ever. Or maybe they were geniuses. Or maybe they were just spoiled assholes—frat boys in white ties and gutter-mod garb. Or maybe they were pretty nice guys—if you ever made an effort to talk to them, and if you weren't stupid, and they weren't drunk. Because sometimes they were drunk, and sometimes they would punch people. But not that many people. Besides, it was all a joke anyway—or an accident. Or maybe not. Because the records actually sounded really good. Messy, maybe, but really good. And people started taking them seriously—seriously hating them, maybe, but seriously. They got airplay on the legendary John Peel show. They blipped their way into the national music press. They were supposed to play industry suck-off-a-thon South By Southwest. They maybe might have toured Europe.
And now they've broken up. Or maybe they didn't. It's hard to tell. But that's Le Shok: no one could figure out what the fuck they were doing. And now nobody can figure out what they're not doing.
"There's definitely a lot of ambiguity surrounding Le Shok," says drummer Joey Juvenile. "It's kind of just how the band goes—it's such a fuckin' jagged thing. Just sometimes, shit goes haywire, and as a band, we fed off that. In a way, when you don't know what to expect, it kind of makes it more exciting."
So Le Shok might be dead. And this could be an obituary—an autopsy, even—except they've still got records coming out that they haven't even written the songs for. But their last show wasn't so long ago, and it's best to talk now, while the memories—like the scars—are still fresh.
With Le Shok, you could never tell what was going to happen. You still can't. And that's why this could be a story about a band that almost made it, or a story about a band that just made a mess. They were born out of boredom and a $50 drum set. It was 1997, and somewhere in the bowels of Wilmington were Le Shok, bouncing their keyboards off the walls and swinging chairs boozily into the audience. They came roaring out of the backroom of dearly departed Zed Records into a tepid and decrepit underground youth culture in which the Fall was when you went back to community college and the Germs were what condoms kept off your dick. They were Joey Juvenile (who, if you never heard, played in some other band called the Locust), Over-the-Counter Rusty (bass), Asshole Andrew (guitar at first), Shitty Shaan (guitar later), Darryl Licht (keyboards) and Hot Rod Todd (singer and trouble magnet). At their very first show, some nutcase from Long Beach hoisted six-foot-six Todd off the stage and took a header into the drum set.
This quickly became a pattern, and Todd has places where his hair won't grow back right (like on the back of his head, where the drumstick went in) to prove it.
"It got way out of hand, and from that point on, people expected it. People just started . . . handling us," says Todd. "I liked it. It was a weird forum where there was no space between the band and the audience."
The songs came later. At first, it was all about the show: stand near the stage, and maybe you'd get kissed or maybe you'd get killed. Todd was fond of both. Alex Maciel used to book Le Shok at his PCH club, where shows would end with the snare drum in the toilet and the cymbals out in the street. He remembers band members quitting midset, shows stopping because of band vs. crowd shouting matches, even the time Todd fell on a broken bottle and a bunch of people fell on Todd (that may have been the time a long sliver of glass almost took off Todd's index finger). "It was just craziness," Maciel says. "There's not gonna be another Le Shok, I'll tell you that much."
But they didn't rehearse being crazy, Joey says, a claim echoed by other members of the band. They just practiced their songs, and the crazy just happened. Yeah, he admits, there's a lot of stuff they should have seen coming—the drunk-tank overnighters, the banned-from-the-bars romps through Orange County—but they weren't out looking for trouble. They just weren't surprised by it.
And they could have been a little less drunk, maybe, but then they would have been a lot more boring. "There were some shows where we were so sober it wasn't even Le Shok," says Joey. "You might as well have just listened to the record."
Because the records sounded really good—so good, in fact, that they rerecorded the tracks for the debut "So What?" single through a ragged guitar amp to make them sound a little more believable.
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Live, they were a mess—but a great one. On vinyl—and they only put out vinyl until their recent album, We Are Electrocution, finally went CD—you could hear music clawing through the mayhem. Under Todd's tinny foghorn of a voice and stripped-bare-naked lyrics was a band that could whiplash from complete noise damage to almost catchy antipop. Their songs were short, sharp blasts of keyboard and feedback —and finally, people could make sense of what they were suffering live.
But not too much sense. Le Shok liked to leave them wanting more, so after 15 minutes, they'd haul their equipment offstage to angry yelling—except in Texas, where the kids wouldn't let them leave, and they did possibly the only encore of their career—and maybe that's how they're finishing everything up. They played their 15 minutes, and now they're gone. No encores. Leave 'em wanting more.
"Some people just missed the point of it," says Todd. "All they expected was some crazy show where stuff gets broken, somebody gets punched, something silly like that. But it wasn't just to make a mess. We played music that I was really proud of—I have no regrets."
Le Shok may be reached at P.O. Box 15645, Long Beach, CA 90815; www.leshok.com.