Arrington de Dionyso, based in Olympia, Washington is perhaps best known for his work with primal trance-rock band Old Time Relijun, but here he lays out his roots in the Home-Taping movement of the late 1980’s.
A reed player and multi instrumentalist, Arrington de Dionyso, is a multi disciplinary artist probing at the boundaries of improv and experiment in both music and visual art.
I went to high school in Spokane, Washington. It’s Washington’s second largest city, but it’s very far away both geographically and culturally from places like Seattle or Olympia. In 1989 I was 14 years old and I had started going to punk shows whenever I heard about them. Most of the bands that played in Spokane were of one very specific type of skate-punk, thrash-punk. There were mosh pits, mohawks, and very little variation. I attended these shows not so much for the musical interest but because I responded viscerally to the “total energy” of any kind of live, amplified sound. Around the same time I also befriended some older eccentric street musicians- this was back before Northtown Mall had been finished so there was still a lot of foot traffic downtown in those days, and I could observe certain of these musicians making what seemed to me at the time, a lot of money.
Within one week of intense adolescent inspiration I decided to quit taking guitar lessons and write about twenty five songs, recording each one minutes after writing down the lyrics- some were even recorded “on the spot” as it were- and the minute I had enough material to fill a 60 minute tape I sweated over the best “song order” and started making the covers for my first album, “Arrington’s Flowery Lunatic Yawp”. I had recorded on a one track tape recorder “boom box” type thing, with a built in condenser mic that actually got quieter whenever the source sound got louder. Incredibly embarrassing to listen to now, it was the first of about a dozen albums of cassette releases that I self-recorded over the next six or seven years (after
the third album I finally “upgraded” to using microphones and a Tascam cassette four track). I made quite possibly hundreds of copies of some of these early releases and sold them for five dollars each while performing on the streets in downtown Spokane.
There was one “cool” bookstore in all of Spokane, and they just happened to once in a while have an old issue of Factsheet Five or
Gajoob. I bought every issue I could and took the trade reviews just as seriously as some people read SPIN or Rolling Stone in those days.
I sent each release in to get reviewed and made as many trades as I was able- being in Junior High School, finding money for packages and postage was an issue, but I forged long term trading partnerships with avant-ground-breaking acts such as The Larry Mondello Band, Lewd, Michael J. Bowman, Blacken Snapper, and oh, who else? Dozens…I really had no idea that many of the people making cassette traded music were lonely and strange and maybe didn’t have a lot of friends- to me, they were both compatriots and rock stars- I mean, if someone garnered praise in Factsheet Five, it was better than being famous in my book. I didn’t know one single person in Spokane who had any interest whatsoever in keeping abreast of the goings-on in cassette culture, and for most of the people who gave me five bucks for one of my tapes on the street corner I was probably the only one they knew doing anything like this- people didn’t get the idea that I wasn’t “a band” but four-tracked multiple instruments, and the cassette was the final product, not a demo that I would be giving out to producers in hopes of getting a “better” recording session. Well, I guess some people “got it” but still suggested I try to press a record “when I got serious” about my music.
Seeing Some Velvet Sidewalk and the Go! Team (members of Beat Happening and Bikini Kill) perform in Spokane changed my life forever and introduced me to the world of K Records and the goings-on in Olympia, Washington. I moved there when I was 17 to be a part of what I perceived to be “where it’s at” and to go to college. This was 1992, and many important chapters of Olympia’s music history had already passed, with many others yet to begin. While interning at both K Records and KAOS FM, I caught up on much of the extensive back history of Olympia’s historic involvement in a number of crucial avant-garde movements directly related to the subject matter at hand. It’s my hope that one might be able to locate more extensive histories of who’s who elsewhere, but the short version is that many of the people who had come through town in the late 70’s and early 80’s spread a revolutionary gospel of independent thinking and cultural work. A number of the people who were involved with KAOS FM Radio were also involved with the Lost Music Network (OP Magazine, later morphing into OPtion) and at the same time involved with founding the Independent Rock labels Sub Pop and K. Mentioning record labels when the conversation is about home taping might seem out of whack today, but both of these labels were born out of the exact climate that produced a radio station that required DJ’s to play 80% content from non-major labels (way before “indie” was any kind of badge of pride, and it seems, centuries before file sharing).
By the end of the nineties, I was still doing a lot of my recording on the same TASCAM four-track, except now the music was distributed by vinyl and CD. Sometime around 2002 I also began releasing short-run editions of musical projects on CDR because CDR’s were getting cheaper and if you guaranteed your buyer that the contents couldn’t be found anywhere else, it was great to have a special edition album to sell on tour only, or mailorder only. Lots of noise/improv/weirdo music was being distributed on CDR for awhile, but unless your album was packaged in some kind of hand-knitted case, it becomes difficult to distinguish a work of absolutely singular musical genius to all the bands out there sending demo discs of bad run of the mill crap. The easy access people have to computer recording equipment is both good and bad for music now…it’s really easy to record albums’ worth of material without having to put a lot of thought into it. That can be good and bad! I like using analog equipment that sometimes doesn’t work because you have to really concentrate on getting the mix-down you really want, you can’t just burn another disc ten minutes later if you don’t like the first one…but I’ve recorded with computers too and it’s been fine.