JOHN WALTERS: Can you think of one record that sort of says ‘yes’ to life after punk? You know, punk wasn’t the end, yes, it’s still going on, something’s happening and it stands up on its own as a post-punk record that we can now hear and say, ‘yes, Peel’s picked this one’?
JOHN PEEL: Well, I think, oddly enough, I know what you mean, but I think that some of the records that I’ve liked best over the last 10 years have been those records which have said ‘no’ to life! and I think I’ll pick one of those, because…I went to see the Butthole Surfers play in Hammersmith a few weeks ago…and came away with one’s senses reeling: it does sound like a cliche from a regional newspaper, but that’s exactly how I felt after seeing them…all of my preconceptions about what things should be…I think the Butthole Surfers would define something for me, although I’m not quite sure what it is. I don’t feel one should always necessarily enjoy popular music…not every play that you see has a happy ending, not every film you see has a happy ending, not every painting you see is necessarily going to be of kittens in baskets. [Peeling Back The Years, 1987]
The album Locust Abortion Technician is commonly acknowledged as a precursor to grunge: the Surfers, who had been making EPs and LPs with limited success for four years, brought their obsessions with tape manipulation and psychedelia to fruition here. (Kurt Cobain acknowledged them as an influence.) The closing song as chosen by JP, 22 Going On 23 (FF 1987 #44) is based around footage from a phone-in radio show, featuring an unknown woman detailing her psychological problems following sexual assault. In fact, there are no real lyrics here, merely the band squalling and thrashing to a minor key bassline, mixed with the woman’s ramblings and, ultimately, the sound of what seems like mooing cows, but is in fact one of the other tracks, Hay, reversed and stretched. It was clear from the slow, grinding, merciless beat that rock music was never going to be the same again: the line was drawn that would lead to Mudhoney, Nirvana and beyond. No more kittens in baskets.
Butthole Surfers, 22 Going On 23
Their groundbreaking style can at least be glimpsed in their two Peel Sessions. The first (missing the fourth track, ‘Florida’) veers between breakneck rock’n’roll and grunge (also featuring ‘Graveyard’, from the LP), and the second is a refinement of the grunge ethic, with plenty of reverb and more than a hint of surf guitar.
Butthole Surfers, Peel Session 1987-08-12
Butthole Surfers, Peel Session 1988-09-27
Blind Man/E.D.G./Neee Neee