Update: Unfortunate news that Figures Of Light has broken up (amicably), effective March 2015.
Figures Of Light certainly aren’t newcomers to the pages of Metal Empire. We first interviewed them back in May of this year (2014) and released an article about their recent Single “Instant Drone” in November. So when they presented me with the news of the exclusive vinyl re-release of their first ever live performance via Norton Records, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
About Figures Of Light
Figures of Light is an American proto-punk band born in 1970’s New York City from the creative minds of Wheeler Winston Dixon (lead vocals, slide guitar) and Michael Downey (rhythm guitar, backing vocals).
At the time of the band’s formation, Dixon, 20, and Downey, 23, were roommates, and the band, which at the time included Phil Cohen (lead guitar) and Dennis Druzbik (bass), rehearsed in their apartment in New Brunswick, New Jersey. They were influenced by the Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and other pre-punk bands of that era.
At their début live performance, at Rutgers University in 1970, band members smashed 15 television sets and “a bunch of mirrors” with axes and sledgehammers. They also drove a motorcycle down the main aisle of the concert hall and destroyed a record player. Dixon has called it a protest against the Vietnam War and the way it was being presented on television. The band performed regularly from 1970 until their breakup in 1972.
Getting The Band Back Together
In 2006, Billy Miller and Miriam Linna the founders of Norton Records, discovered and re-released the “It’s Lame” single, the re-release breathed new life into this band that time had almost forgotten, prompting Figures of Light to reunite soon after.
Exclusive Vinyl Release
As the website Sell Out Records have already said: “The coolest thing about this record is simple, it’s raw.” That it certainly is.
They continue, “Not only is it a prime example of throwing a fist into the air, it’s pressed in limited edition red wax.” So if you’re into Vinyl and collecting classic rock bands this a must get.
Figures Of Light: Rage Against The TV
It was July 23rd 1970, the air was think with the sound of social upheaval, with the age of a new era in music slowly dawning on the horizon. Although Punk music as the world knows it today hadn’t yet been born. Slow stirrings of discontent were starting to shift in the making of a new generation of music lovers.
On this summer day in the dawn of a new decade, four guys (who’d only picked up their instruments a month before hand) decided to put on a wild show. Not to show off musical prowess, or fine tuned skill, but to break the rules of conformity and to make rock and roll in its purest form.
Armed only with their instruments, a stack of TV’s to destroy, a few axes and sledge hammers to destroy them with and a (I’m guessing completely unqualified for the job) biker gang for a security detail. As the band themselves have quoted in the past: “What could possibly go wrong?”.
Figures of Light wanted to put on a show that would make history in the world of music and for all intents and purposes they succeeded… very well. People are still talking about it almost 4 and a half decades later. Not bad for a band who’d never played a show before.
There was excitement and a tingling thrill that absorbed an audience that night. The aftermath of Figures Of Light’s first ever show was to become the stuff of literal legend. It was a show inspired by gritty rebellion.
When listening to the concert, the first thing that strikes you is the atmosphere. A room filled with an unsettled audience and the drone of a building sine wave effect that shrieks in pitch as it crosses to almost ultra sonic levels and explodes into cheers of approval from crowd.
The room is then filled with an unexpected piece of distorted and lo-fi music that seems almost classical in nature, it really wouldn’t sound of out place in Disney’s Fantasia. Then suddenly it’s interrupted by the clattering sound of destruction and more cheers of approval from the captive audience. Without seeing visuals it’s hard to guess exactly the order of events that just took place, but from what I’ve read about the show, I’m guessing that was the record player playing an old record and then being destroyed with a smile.
Then out of left field comes the gritty rock and roll. Uncontrolled energy spills into the room. Reminiscent of a raw and unrefined classics of the era, almost a Johnny Be Good-esque track.
The unabashed chaos continues with the audience lapping it up, interspersed with the odd outburst of screaming. The rawness of the sound scape, dirty EQ and undefined melodies make it hard to follow where each song is going next, but it adds an exploratory nature to the sound. The announcement of a broken string only a few songs into the show, only adds to the mental picture of debauchery that seems to be going on.
During the second half of the show the atmosphere begins to intensify. The bass thunders while a small twangy lead bounces over the top, the drums are being hit harder and the rooms energy continues to grow.
Stop: Sledge-Hammer Time!
Reaching the end of the performance things start to reach a whole new level. The music gets louder, the instruments are being hit harder and with more confidence and showmanship. The four guys on stage are really starting to pick up the pace as the ever increasing frequency of loud sounds lifts off into a frenzy of things been thrown and smashed which litter the audio like the sound track of a destruction derby, along side a girl who the band claim was ejected from the venue several times continues to shriek wildly in the background. Her wild cries increase in frequency displaying the emotions of what sounds like a mixture of delight and terror intertwined.
“One woman in the audience kept screaming at the top of her lungs for the entire performance, to the point where I asked one of the ‘security’ guys to get her out of the audience, and take her out through the back door” explained one of the band.
He continues “But it did no good – since the gig was free, she just ran around to the front of the building, came in the front door, and ran up to the front of the stage and started screaming again. We threw her out three or four times, but we finally gave up – in a way, she personifies the intensity of the entire evening.”
Sounds like she was pretty mental. A much more common place sight at today’s rock shows I would imagine.
The sound of shattering glass is so intense, it almost feels like you’re there. You can close your eyes and lose yourself in the anarchy that is now clearly encapsulating the room in a pervasive manner. It sounds like the ceiling is about to fall in and everyone is going to run for their lives in panic. The feeling it gives off is undoubtedly primal in nature.
As the sounds of things being destroyed and thrown continues to escalate, the guitars and drums pound into an almost crescendo like climax of youthful angst. Then suddenly, almost as quickly as it had begun, the dissonance dies down among the sound of breaking glass, cheering with unfettered passion then, after a short applause, peace once again falls across the land of the living. Did Figures Of Light know in that moment they had just made history? Or would it only dawn on them in retrospect?
There was obviously one rule to this show and that was… There were no rules! Figures Of Light are here to rock and they don’t care if you like that or not.