Graded on a Curve:
9353,
To Whom It May Consume

The only time I saw legendary DC hardcore crowd displeasers 9353, vocalist Bruce Merkle spent the entire set tied to a chair. If that doesn’t give you an idea of how extraordinarily bizarre they were, listen to their music.

Like fellow scene outcasts No Trend, 9353 went out of their way to mock the unwritten shibboleths dictating the behavior of the Dischord Records crowd. 9353 gave the old middle digit to sincerity, seriousness, self-righteousness, responsibility, common decency, virulent puritanism, inbred tribalism, and sexually repressed male teenage hormonal rage. No wonder many of your earnest Emo progenitors hated the black-hearted jesters in 9353–they didn’t flex your head so much as fuck with it.

I was as much a victim as anybody. If my finely tuned sense of the absurd was in accordance with theirs (the repeated mantra of “Famous Last Words” goes “It’s okay, it’s not loaded/I’m a good driver, don’t worry honey”), their music befuddled me. It was totally out of sync with the times, and just the sort of thing to piss off audiences looking to see the latest Positive Force band do some fancy sermonizing. 9353 may as well have crash landed on the National Mall in a UFO, before emerging in paisley leisure suits.

Stylistically speaking, the songs on 9353’s 1984 debut To Whom It May Consume run the gamut. “Color Anxiety” and “Spooky Room” are mutant new wave fuckabouts. “Famous Last Words” and “Ghost” evoke John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. “Egnossponge” is a spaced-out Krautrock extravaganza. “Test Life” and “Industry” are warp-speed loony-tunes jaw droppers.

What most distinguishes 9353’s psychotic cabaret are the vocals, which Merkle shared with the late Vance Bockis. You get high voices, low voices, guttural voices, wavering voices, I see dead people voices, smoothed out English new wave voices, bats in the belfry voices, Frank Zappa voices, creep in the basement voices, that guy from Wall of Voodoo voices, creepy little girl down the block voices–if 9353 didn’t have it in stock, you could order it from the warehouse.

9353 wasn’t for everybody. You either got them or you didn’t, in the same way you either did or didn’t get the cryptic wall posters the band plastered over virtually every wall in DC. Their insiders were outsiders and their outsiders insiders, but despite their weirdness the smart money nowadays has it they might well have gone big time had it not been for hard drugs, ferocious band infighting, and a knack for blowing every opportunity that came their way sky high. To put it in simpler terms, 9353 was a terrorist organization out to destroy 9353.

None of which detracts from the fact that a growing number of listeners are coming to appreciate 9353, both for their music and for the crucial factor that distinguished them from most of the DC bands at the time–a sense of humor.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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