DO THE JESUS CHRIST TWIST
Tropical Waste meets Reverend Beat Man
Rock and roll will do a lot to a young man. Case in point? The Reverend Beat Man. He can remember the exact instance when it came into his life and took control. It was 1980 and he was aged 13, living with his parents in the Swiss countryside: “I got my first guitar from my father. I had an electric guitar and an amp and my mother said ‘maybe you should go to a guitar school and learn how to play guitar’ and I thought, ‘that’s a pretty good idea, then I can play like Angus Young or whatever.’ I went for one hour and then I went back again. It was not my thing to learn.” Thoroughly determined but lacking any tuition, he proceeded to work out the instrument for himself. Driven half crazy by the ensuing noise, his parents relocated the practice sessions from their house to a spot just out of earshot in the surrounding woods. Beat Man recalls, “I just wanted to play so I played for years; just on one string, making my own chords, looking in books…” Slowly, through long hours of exile and furious jam sessions, a style began to form and riffs started to take shape. But the guitar was not the only revelation: “My Godmother, she had a restaurant with a jukebox in there. So, they gave up the restaurant and all the seven inches came to my parent’s house. All 50s and 60s rock ‘n roll stuff that my parents didn’t like that much, so they gave all the seven inches to us so that the kids had something to play with. We grew up with Bill Hailey and Elvis Presley and stuff like that. That was kind of our thing to listen to at that age.” The vinyl proved irresistible, revealing all kinds of unforgettable vocal hooks and hip shakin’ jives; a treasure trove of cuts that contained a fast, loose energy that could easily be replicated by hitting the strings of an electric guitar. The elements collided and Beat Man’s signature brand of bastard thrash came into existence.
By 1986 Beat Man had formulated enough anti-skills and confidence to hook up with three friends and form The Monsters, a vicious garage outfit trading in jagged, raw grit rock. Now legendary for being Switzerland’s sickest troupe, they have since released 9 albums, made tours of Europe, Asia and America and are still kicking up a fuss at regular intermissions. With Beat Man at the fore, they ride a straight up aesthetic of manic noise and total chaos. Although a definite entity and totally crucial, The Monsters have always run parallel with the solo projects and imaginative monikers that Beat Man has operated. Since shunning his guitar teacher in order to navigate the fret board by himself for most of his formative years, Beat Man has insisted on writing and performing on his own as a self proclaimed one man band.
The first character assumed was Taeb Zerfall, an adolescent nom de plume stamped on a series of recordings committed to cassette tape (and consequently duplicated) on a home hi-fi system; primitive experiments no doubt lost in time or left reverberating through the trees surrounding that original practice space. Messed up hits made by a boy possessed. In 1984 the alias was dropped and replaced with Beat Man, a name and identity by which he has lived ever since. However, the original incarnation was actually Lightning Beatman, the lead in a punk rock wrestling roadshow – an all action danger man willing and more than ready to fight and party in equal measure.
Evidence exists on the internet in the form of old, blurry, handycam videos that depict a luchador in full mask ‘n cape combo: faux macho prancing from stage left to right, wild strumming and loud howls, nosedives into whatever crowd is assembled, playful antagonising that always ends in a scuffle. The Lightning Beat Man shows look utterly stupid and totally wild. He explains the performance, “We went to the audience and started fighting and they started fighting with us. It was total chaos. People came onto the stage. Sometimes, people got completely undressed, got naked, jumped on us. There were dicks everywhere.” Beat Man has made it his life’s mission to spread the frenetic vibration of rock and roll. Although he will be the first to admit his musical primacy and technical failings, a will to perform and entertain prevails. His stage show, past and present, is an excuse to do just that – get on stage: “One big concept was to play as bad as possible, make the worst show, but sell it as the best show ever! So I had a guy onstage who was the professor of the whole show, he would explain the whole show – ‘Lightning Beatman is the biggest!’- and he did it fantastic, and then came the worst shit in the world. We tried to sell it as the most amazing thing ever!” Like the famed antics at Cabaret Voltaire and one of the best tricks in the Dada textbook. Beat Man uses his music to release total expression, wielding a thrashed out sound, humour and also a certain politics. There’s more to it than piss-drunk kicks, “It was also the time when techno took over. There was no contact with the audience anymore. They were just brainwashed with the music. The idea of Lightning Beatman was actually to ‘POW… Here I am… There’s somebody onstage, now look at me and look at you and let’s do something!’” However concrete, the boundary between audience and performer was undoubtedly broken during a Lightning Beat Man show. He brought the spirit of his Godmother’s jukebox back to life. Everybody in the ring. Total involvement. He goes on, “It was something so abstract and didn’t fit anywhere. It made you think and talk and react… Good react or bad react, it doesn’t matter. Just react!” The point of rock and roll is to sweat.
Lightning Beat Man managed to incite so much action that, inevitably, the shows began to take their toll. He explains, “When you play a lot with a mask on, you start to change. It’s strange, it’s strange to say, but your character… This mask does something in you, and so it did something in me that I didn’t want.” The persona took a hold and pushed his psyche to its limit, as epitomised during the grand finale of the Lightning act, “The last show I did, I played in an art museum in Switzerland. They wanted to have a Lighning Beatman show. I said ‘OK, you can have it but it’s a little bit extreme.’ They said ‘It’s very good, it’s art, you can do whatever you want.’ So it went a little bit extreme. I destroyed the paintings and peed everywhere. This curator from the museum, he wanted to kill me. They had to hold him back! I was completely possessed.” There were physical repercussions too. Beat Man ended up breaking parts of his back, losing his voice and the ability to walk properly. He admits, “I went to the doctor and he told me ‘you’re not that strong you know? You’re not Superman. You keep going like that, you’re completely gonna destroy yourself or you change.’ So I changed.”
So, in 1999 Beat Man was born again and made the transition from wrestler to reverend, transforming his stage show and rewriting his song book in the process. The mask was replaced with a collar and has been worn with just as much fervour. The hyperactive, horny, honky-tonk rock collected on a slew of Lightning Beat Man sevens and two LPs was wrenched and broken into a heavily distorted blues stomp which rumbles through the four full lengths completed by the Reverend. Although slightly tempered – now choosing to stay firmly on stage and unscathed, riffs simmered into electric sludge – Beat Man retains all of his original passion. His concept of performance also remains the same, politics and play carried on by the Reverend guise. After eleven years of radical preaching and late night sermons, his role is clear, “The idea of the reverend is to have a message; that’s what reverends do, they transport a message to people in really simple words that everyone can understand.”
Now Beat Man looks beyond the inevitable and immediate reaction that his sound incites; past the silhouettes on the dancefloor and out through the night. Asked to elaborate, he explains: “When I was 30 I saw the light. I was really down. Then one day everything was so clear. Being there, I just saw the light. You see your whole life, it’s not like people or scenes, it was just like ‘I know what I’m going to do, I see where I’m going to go in my life.’” A life of rock and roll excess and good old fashioned devil worship had dissolved into a heavy, depressive burden. Having maximised his personal energies he reached an existential epiphany, “There was relief in myself. It’s not that complicated. Everything goes its way. You just have to let it go, just let your life go. Just live your life.” A moment of clarity opened up an escape route and Beat Man was back. He continues, “My son goes to Sunday school, so he asked me ‘do you believe in god?’ and I said ‘yeah, I believe in god’ and he said ‘I believe in god, he created man and woman…’ then I said ‘no, I don’t believe in that god, I believe in god like everybody has a soul, even the sofa, and every tree, and all those souls together create god, this is god, we all together are god.’ But this is a different idea of seeing god.” While Lightning Beat Man shook people into existence, the Reverend leads by example. Rather than rely on the heavens, he engages directly with his immediate reality.
The irony of returning to that which nearly once destroyed him is probably not lost on the Reverend. But he can’t escape rock ‘n roll – he’ll carry it with him until he’s ground into dust. It’s an obsession that encompasses a visceral live show and a long trail of distorted recordings, but also Beat Man’s own Voodoo Rhythm label, established in 1992, which reaches out to and actively encourages a steady community of like minded, freaked out folks who exist out on the edge of musical society, feeding on dread devil-dance noise. He explains, “No one would put out my records so I had to put them out by myself. But then I put other bands out, and they all told me the same thing – ‘we can’t find a label because our music is too weird and too strange.’ So I had to say ‘OK, I’m going to start the label so I can put out all the bands.’” A simple business plan has turned into a far flung network that sends music made by and for misfits all over the world. It’s a simple DIY practise, “I’m thankful to all the people who buy the records. It’s really a big help for the label. Everybody who buys the record means that I can produce more and put out more bands.” There are no plans for the future, just more of the same. It’s never been any different. For him, that’s the Beat Man Way, a manifesto that can be found on Surreal Folk Blues Gospel Trash VOL.1 which explains a certain way of life – his way of life. With a sincerity that permeates his tone of voice, Beat Man says, “With the label, they are all my friends. We have a really good relationship. We talk. When they have problems they write and I write them. It’s like a family thing. I don’t wanna be alone, alone in this world. I have friends. I am a part of something and we want to create something all together. I know your problems, you know my problems. We can create something. We trust each other. And, where we gonna go together?”