Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Devo (The De-Evolution Band) was a rock music band from Akron, Ohio whose music mingled kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor, satirical social commentary and thinly veiled sexual allusions in discordantly synthesized pop songs that often featured unusual time signatures. They proved hugely influential on new wave music, and to a lesser extent on punk rock and geek rock.
The band's deliberately constructed 'geeky' image also enabled them to expound often provocative commentaries about the state of American society and, like Frank Zappa, beneath the clownish exterior there was serious musicianship, and socio-political content -- founder member Gerry Casale had witnessed the killing of students at Kent State University when National Guard troops infamously opened fire on demonstrators in 1970.
Devo was probably as well known for their image as for their music, donning uniforms that mocked industrial culture and pop consumerism, such as the yellow chemical-protection suits during the early Q: Are We Not Men? period, matching plastic hairdos, masks and the signature "flower pot" hats (energy domes) for Freedom of Choice. Mothersbaugh also donned a baby mask to create his famous alter-ego, Booji Boy (pronounced Boogie Boy), who symbolised the infantile regression that Devo saw in so much of American culture. The character featured in many stage performances and video clips, as did Booji Boy's father, General Boy (played by Mothersbaugh's own dad), who satirised American authority figures.
Devo were pioneers of the music video — the video for 'Whip It' became an early staple of MTV — and their many promotional films and video clips are important landmarks in the development of this genre. They also pioneered the use of long-form promotional video cassettes with releases such as The Truth About De-Evolution and The Men Who Make The Music, which mixed self-produced conceptual video clips with live performance footage and mock-documentary segments. Devo created and directed many of their own videos, and the band have cited the video for the song "Beautiful World" as their favourite example of their video work.
Devo were strongly influenced by the German Krautrock genre and the music of European groups such as Neu!, Can and the production work of Conny Plank, and they are certainly one of the few American acts who were able to incorporate these influences while still achieving widespread mainstream commercial and critical success. Other likely influences were American rock iconoclasts Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. They were one of the first American groups to use the services of noted British producer, musician and artist Brian Eno, who produced several landmark American New Wave music groups including Talking Heads.
Formed in 1972, Devo's original inspiration came from Oscar Kiss Maerth's "The Beginning Was the End": a pseudoscientific anthropological thesis which attributes the rise of man as an evolutionary accident caused by a species of sex-crazed, cannibalistic apes who developed tools to exploit each other sexually and feed on each others' brains. This metaphor is carried throughout Devo's work as an abstraction of modern society.
The core members of the group are Mark Mothersbaugh, the band's lead singer, guitarist and synthesizer player, and Gerald V. (Gerry) Casale, the group's bassist and main songwriter. The first lineup formed in 1972 with Gerry Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh and Mark's two brothers Jim on homemade electronic drums and Bob (aka Bob I) on lead guitar.
Devo's big break came in 1976 when their short film The Truth About De-Evolution won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival; it was then seen by David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who championed them and enabled Devo to secure a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. By this time Alan Myers had replaced Jim Mothersbaugh as drummer and Gerry Casale's brother (also called Bob) joined as second guitarist (dubbed 'Bob II'). Their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo was produced by Eno and featured a radical cover of the Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and the controversially titled Mongoloid.
Devo might have remained a cult attraction but for the advent of American cable TV music station MTV. They scored a major success in 1980 with their third album Freedom of Choice and the single 'Whip It', which became a big hit thanks to regular MTV screenings of its unique music video.
Although they started out with a mixture of traditional rock instruments and electronic effects, during the early 1980s Devo adopted mostly or entirely synthetic instrumentation, becoming one of the first American acts to perform on stage using only synthesizers; they were also one of the first groups in the world to regularly use radio microphones and microphone headsets on stage.
Devo actively embraced the Church of the SubGenius in the early 1980s. In concert, Devo often performed as the opening band for themselves, pretending to be a Christian soft-rock group called "Dove (the Band of Love)". They also recorded "E-Z Listening Muzak" versions of their own songs to play before their concerts. In 1982, they appeared in the Neil Young film "Human Highway ."
Devo remained popular in many countries and they had a large and loyal following in Australia, where the '70s-'80s pop TV Countdown was one of the first in the world to broadcast their video clips. Their popularity and sales slipped over the next few years, however, although they produced the albums New Traditionalists (1981), Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), Shout and Total Devo (1988).
After the release of Smooth Noodle Maps in 1990, the band folded, although it has been revived on several occasions for one-off performances and short tours in 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2001, members of Devo formed the surf band The Wipeouters, claiming that it was actually a reunion of the first garage band they started while in their early teens.
Mothersbaugh has gone on to considerable success writing and producing music for television programs (starting with Pee Wee's Playhouse), video games, animated cartoons and movies. In 1985, he released an elaborately packaged solo cassette, "Musik for Insomniaks," which was later expanded and released as two CDs. His company, Mutato Muzika , provides employment for Devo guitarists Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale: the former works as a composer, and the latter as a recording engineer. Gerry Casale, the group's bass player, has directed rock videos by other bands, including Rush and Foo Fighters.
In the early 21st century, the band did a special version of "Whip It" for Swiffer commercials.
- (1978). This debut album featured a mechanized interpretation of The Rolling Stones hit "Satisfaction", as well as "Jocko Homo", Devo's theme song and anthem.
- Duty Now for the Future (1979)
- Freedom of Choice, featuring the single "Whip It", probably the band's best known song (1980)
- New Traditionalists (1981)
- Oh, No! It's Devo (1983)
- Shout (1984)
- E-Z Listening Disc (1987)
- Total Devo (1988)
- Now It Can Be Told (1989)
- Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
- Devo's Greatest Hits
- Devo's Greatest Misses
- Hardcore Devo, Volumes 1 & 2
- Pioneers Who Got Scalped (2000)
- Recombo DNA (2000), a compilation of music demos and rarities (only available through Rhino Handmade)
As a backup band for others:
- Jermaine Jackson: Let Me Tickle Your Fancy (1982) (backup on title song)
- Toni Basil: Word of Mouth (1983) (backup on covers of Devo's own Space Girls, Be Stiff and Pity You)
- David Byrne: Feelings (1997) (backup on Wicked Little Doll)
- Martini Ranch : Holy Cow (1988) (Bob Casale produced How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture? while Mark Mothersbaugh contributed backup vocals.)
As The Wipeouters:
- P'Twaaang!!! (2001)
Mark Mothersbaugh, some solo and soundtrack releases:
- Musik for Insomniaks, Volumes 1 and 2 (1988)
- Joyeux Mutato (1999), Christmas music (released in two different versions)
- Rushmore (1999)
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- The Rugrats Movie
- Mystery Men
- Music for Edward Gorey, a private release of 300 handmade CD-R discs
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2005)
Books About DEVO:
- Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! by Jade Dellinger & David Giffels (SAF Publishing Ltd./UK ). This first-ever book about DEVO provides an extensively researched account focusing largely on the band's formative years, and is available at DEVObook.com.
- First Book About History of DEVO
- Club DEVO
- Mutato Muzika
- Rhino Handmade
- Michael Pilmer's DEVO Collection
- Devo lyrics and the Devo Print Archive in PDF format
- Booji Boy's Bootleg Basement
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