Survival Research Labs goes fishing

Flamethrower again I can trace it to one specific point in space-time: 1984 at the old Music Machine on Pico Blvd. while waiting for Social Distortion to go on. In between sets the club dropped a screen down from the ceiling and ran videos on it. Most of the videos were limited to things like Target Video’s California punk compiliations or abstract Bauhaus performances, but there was one short clip that stood out – someone or something called Survival Research Laboratories that had outfitted go-karts with flamethrowers and gone nutzo with them in some post-industrial parking lot. One part The Road Warrior, one part Art, and stir carefully with a strong helping of old-fashioned “You Can Have Fun Faster And Better When Fire Is Involved.”

It all made sense several years later when I picked up RE/Search’s Pranks! book and got to meet Mark Pauline in person at the release party at the old Amok Books in Silverlake. I’d seen a couple more full-length recordings of the performances which by then had scaled way beyond weapons-grade mayhem to some sort of higher-level perversity. Maybe it was sonic cannon that shot a ring of compressed air that could break glass.

Twenty-two years after seeing flamethrower go kart video, I still hadn’t ever seen a SRL show. Usually I didn’t hear about it until the show was over (or more likely cancelled prematurely by Authorities) but there have been some close calls – the biggest disappointment being the cancellation of the big 2004 show in Las Vegas which you think would be perfect for both involved, but apparently not for the LVFD.

So when I heard that SRL has planned another Los Angeles show (entitled “The Fish Boy’s Dream”) was planned (this one coinciding with the exhibition/fund-raiser at Fringe Exhibitions) I simply assumed that it would be shut down a few microseconds after the noise violated some sort of local arms-control treaty. Surprisingly that wasn’t the case, if LA police and fire were there, they were invisible, especially as the whole proceedings, audience, robots, flames and all were stuff into a Chinatown parking lot.

Tallying up the carnage, we had:

  • A giant half-metal tower Fisherlizard of Prometheus who wielded fire and power-speared the hell out of a drum of fish.
  • A couple of hapless “Sneaky Soldier” robots, forever crawling forward towards fiery Doom.
  • A fork-lift mounted BFF (Big Fucking Flamethrower) – the chief foe of the Fisherlizard. I noticed that the fork-lift was a rental. I wonder if the rental company ever wonders what their equipment gets used for.
  • A clawed walkerbot. It walks! It claws!
  • A truly evil hovercraft propelled by four “sonic horns” (for lack of a better description). Early in the performance it worked it’s way over close to the main audience and then cut loose on them with a full blast of sound. Ever see a shock wave work its way through people? Towards the end of the action, the hovercraft celebrated its victory over civilization by catching on fire.
  • A drum which exploded several dozen voodoo dolls up in the air.
  • A wheeled bot (which, if anything reminded me of an antique steamroller) which seemed to have some control difficulty. Early casualty of war I suppose.

In short… Ummmm goddamn, now I understand what all the fun is about! Anyway, here’s the obligatory Flickr photo set with more commentary.

A nice synchronistic touch was noticing that the license plate on the dead Impala in the parking lot began with “RUR.” I wonder what Capek would have made of all this?

Things I Like – “I Skipped December” January 2006 edition

1. Aaron Koblin’s “Flight Patterns” – alternative visualizations of US air traffic.



2. Op-Art artist Bridget Riley


bridgetriley bridgetriley_785bg

3. The iPod edition of the Yule Log



4. The second wave of retrocars, especially the concepts for the Dodge Challenger (I’ll take one in “Vanishing Point” white please) and Lamborghini Miura.



5. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. This turned up on one of the cable networks a couple days ago and annoyingly it’s not on DVD yet. I started watching it because of Robert Mitchum, who’s terrific in it, but the movie’s real star is the grimy New England industrial autumn – lots of faded overcast grey, brown, flat green, battered strip malls, faded cars from the 70s, – barely a blue sky or primary color to be found. It’s a hell of a cracking good 70s-era existential noir movie too.


That pesky Rugby font again

Years ago when I was spending much more time on the various Spacemen 3 pages I had up, I needed a copy of the font used for much of their album covers. I couldn’t find one, so I fired up Fontographer and made my own… The font is called Rugby and you can find it here.

Every so often I would see “Rugby” font somewhere, but here’s a new one… and a great cover connection courtesy of Ben of


Things I Like (May 2005)

1. The “op-art carnival vs. 1970s futurism” design aesthetic of Braniff Airlines.


2. The “Visual Music” exhibition at MOCA in Los Angeles. Don’t miss the companion book.


3. The ridiculously charming and catchy Volkswagen Jetta ad known as “Independence Day.”


4. The fantastically groovy 1966 cult German television show Raumpatrouille.


5. Logic System. YMO spin off band that circulates around moogsploitation, straight-up technopop, and leftover tracks from the Cosmos television series. I somehow picture this playing at a western-themed truck stop in Japan somewhere.


Things I Like (March 2005)

The March 2005 server explosion edition…

1. 95.3% of all the Dr. Demento shows online.

2. The SSI Industrial Shredder: When you absolutely positively need size reduction done right It’ll eat tree stumps, furniture, washing machines, and of course paper. Check out the videos.

3. The Space Age – The Age Of Reliability. I actually have a copy of this I found at the Salvation Army in Thousand Oaks, CA.


4. The Disneyland art of Mary Blair. Discussion and some images here, but check out the full book.


5. The Morning Glory Waves of the Gulf Of Carpentaria in Northern Australia. The glider equivalent of Hawaii’s north shore for surfers, the cloud waves here can exceed 1000 km in length and go over 10,000 feet high.


Things I Like (Feb 2005)

1. Zaha Hadid’s deisgn for the Bergisel Ski Jump in Austria.


2. Italian science-fiction magazine covers.

urania-u289 urania-ubis321

3. Brazilian album covers from the 1960s.

sabadabada-amada sabadabada-bailegato sabadabada-papsmodernsound sabadabada-samba707

4. The mind-croggling critters of crank biologist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel.


5. Eurotrashy road trip quests. Probably best exemplified by William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World. Transnational citizens with no visible means of support other than from some sort of shadowy organization hop, skip, and angst their way across continents in pursuit of some esoteric “something.” With the aid of consumer brands, the lead characters find hidden truth that they can’t comprehend – proving cultural critic David Lee Roth’s axiom “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how good you looked.” Am I the only one to wonder if Cayce was named after Edgar Cayce?


R. Buckminster Fuller stamp

buckyfuller_stampThis new R. Buckminster Fuller stamp is so cool looking that I’ll stop paying bills online and go back to checks just so I can use it. It reminds me of a early 60s “new wave” science fiction book cover. The Register has a nice summation of Fuller’s influence.

Fuller’s actual inventions come secondary to his reputation as a popular, homespun philosopher of science. At times vilified as a fruitcake and a show-off, he later taught to appreciative audiences and represented the United States delegation in meetings with top Soviet scientists. (This was before the days of Air Miles). Although it’s true that Fuller’s reputation has never quite shaken off the hucksterism, and at times his writing reads like a very bad weblog, this was an extraordinary achievement. Fuller was a more profound critic of contemporary capitalism than any of the communists he can have met.

That’s because Fuller came to represent – much to the horror of his peers – the creativity and imagination that we like to think propels scientists at their best. And these are qualities we look for in vain from popular scientists and “futurologists” today.