1-2-3-4...After awhile, no matter how good a band is, no matter how great a song, 1-2-3-4 doesn’t move me. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus, hell, throw in a bridge and rock & roll starts sounding the same. At worst my reaction to the sameness of rock & roll is to ignore it, figure what has been done has been done and I might as well just lurk around the music’s past to find gems I have yet to uncover. This is fine in that I do dig up a lot of cool stuff, either records that hit in their day but were forgotten or demo tapes for bands that never got out of their garage.

The downside of looking backward is that it gets me stuck in a reactionary mind frame, one that doesn’t fit well on me. I get fidgety and cranky and dismiss things that are great right now. Whole worlds of good music are closed off to me and I become the hated Record Collector, the lonely nobody who insists that no good music was made after doowop, surf, the Beatles, the Beech Boys, 60s garage, pysch, Stooges, KBD/77 punk, 80s hardcore, NYHC, Gilman, or whatever genre they are prejudiced toward. Even the thought of that kind of purism grates on me, so I bolt forward anytime I feel my ears cementing up.

In the last decade or so one of my obsessions has been the fusion of rock & roll with traditional music from non-American/Anglo cultures. My interest in this area was set off years before I actively started to seek such music out. The catalyst was the Dutch band, the Ex, whose experimentation with instruments and forms led them to collaborate with jazz musician, comedians and Kurdish folk artists, among others. They also were successful in taking folk tunes - both political and international - and recasting them in a punk style. Eventually I gobbled up all the Ex records I could find, but that was not enough.

About the same time I became obsessed with the Ex, I started picking up any Smithsonian Folkways album I could get my hands on. After a few missteps (some Pete & Peggy Seeger records), I found a wealth of interesting stuff, from Melanesian dream music to chants of Whirling Dervishes, from the Sounds of San Francisco Cable Cars to Songs of the American Bull Frog, and so on. Folkways lead to the Nonesuch Explorer series and everything from Kyoto music to monkey chants. The richness and variety of international music kept my brain a spinning. Then a friend of mine got hooked on Brazilian records.

In the early 1990s, after seeing Caetano Veloso live, Scott Miller (Nar, Tiki Men, Bananas, Bright Ideas) took several trips to Brazil and brought back hundreds of Brazilian records. He was preceded by another friend, Josh Chaffin, who, for a couple years, lived off selling Brazilian records to American, Germans, and Japanese record collectors. Between the two of them, Sacramento’s small “loft” punk scene had dozens of mix tapes floating around. These tapes had their share of bossa nova and Brazilian jazz, but what was the big revelation for us was Tropicalia, a Brazilian music form that combined Bossa with psych and 60s garage. Born while Brazil was pretty much a police state, Tropicalia was adopted by the opposition to military rule and its artists were jailed, banned, and exiled. The turmoil created some great music. Supplementing these mix tapes was Omplatten’s CD reissue of the first three Os Mutantes albums, all of them great rock & roll with a unique twist.

I figured that their had to be other great fusion of rock & roll and international music. I found a 7” by a Pakistani garage band that combined folk tunes and surf music. Tagged on the end of a belly dance record I found two great garage songs that had breaks in them were the musicians soloed on oud and other Middle Eastern instruments. My friend, Ryan Wells, found some Thai 45s in a junk store that wound up being a fucked up blend of pop, rock, and Thai weirdness. Then I hit the internet.

Through a bunch of searches I found Tian An Men 89 Records (http://www.geocities.com/tam89rds/). Run by a guy named Luk Haas, TAM89 specializes in releasing limited issue vinyl runs of punk rock from places you would not think punk rock existed. TAM89 has released 7” comps of bands from Cuba, China, Malta, Brunei, Burma, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Madagascar, Nepal, and other poverty ridden, war torn, authoritarian led countries. And, while you get your fair share of whatever country’s band doing lame ska-punk or generic grindcore, Luk has dug up some amazing band such as Ghostrider from Burma, Blla-Blla-Blla from Macedonia and Imperya Snegov from Ulan-Ude. But the most amazing band Luk has discovered has to be Oolanbator of Iran.

Placed right in the middle of Luk’s stupefying comp LP of punk rock from the Islamic Republic of Iran (!), Oolanbator is nothing like you have ever heard. Their song starts of with music school-level guitar noodling and then heads into an outsider folkish strum and sing. The melodies are Persian and there is some chanting and then out of nowhere is a sample from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire.” From there the song jerks into a playful upbeat bedroom punk run, that sounds like a mutant version of the Violent Femmes, and the music stops and there is chattering and chanting in Farsi, bam, back into the song and it goes on for over six minutes. At the end of the song you don’t believe what you just heard because there is not sense to it and the reference points that you think you are familiar with (Arthur Brown, punk, etc.) melt when everything combines. And then you remember that it is from Iran and was probably recorded in a bedroom by a couple guys, while another stood watch for the Islamic morality police. You realize that if these guys were caught making this odd but fantastic stew, they would, at the very least, be subject to endless harassment if not torture and beatings. Makes the “I hate the pigs” rerun of black clad anarchy dudes and crusty cookie monster rebels seem very fey in comparison.

After getting my brain smashed by Oolanbator, I wrote Luk and asked him if he knew of other bands that combined their native sounds with punk rock. I also noted that I did not want to hear Upper Volta’s version of Op Ivy. Luk wrote that his faves were also the “fusion” bands and gave me a long list, with the warning that they would be hard to track down.

I started playing internet detective and came across dead end after dead end. Try to find Bulgarian gypsy hardcore that was made in 1983 or Indonesian gamelon punk. One band on the list was described as experimental punk from Taiwan. I typed their name into a search engine and came up with a description of early Butthole Surfers meets traditional Chinese music. Hmmmm. That sounds promising. I find another link of a former college radio DJ who specialized in Asian rock & roll. I see she has aired the band I am after. I write her. She is now living in Taiwan and says that it would be no problem for her to track down something by LTK Commune. A few weeks later I get a package from her with LTK Commune’s “Taik's Eye For An Eye” and a copy of a live DVD they did, among other things.

I spin “Taik's Eye For An Eye” and it sounds a little over produced. There are Chinese melodies over a rock background and it is vaguely Butthole Surfers sounding. It is good but not as wild or unpredictable as I was hoping. I turn to the DVD.

“On the Road” is a look at LTK Commune live, at home and in practice. It is in Chinese with Formosan subtitles. I don’t know either language but have been in enough bands to follow what is going on. The live scenes are brief, as are the shots of them at practice; however I get a glimpse of a band that is not on the Tiak’s CD. In “On the Road” the band is playful and sloppy. There is a fuck-it-all attitude that you get at punk rock house or basement shows. At a big music fest they take baseball bats to their guitars. The audience is in shock and the promoters/city officials give them a stern talking to afterward. On a whim, at another festival, a couple members dress up in drag and start humping and beating each other. They are laughing like smart asses as they do it. A small hardcore following cheers. The rest of the audience gasps. In practice, they joke around and fumble through songs. For those of you up on your punk filmography, LTK reminds me much of Terry & the Idiots, the band featured in the Sex Pistols Concert film, "DOA."

Smashing guitars, humping in drag, throwing stuff at the audience, and playing half-assed in concert has all been done before and ordinarily I would dismiss LTK Commune. A few things keep me from doing so. First, the band that is pictured is unpretentious and clearly love what they are doing. They are also quite smart. You can tell that by the way the hold themselves and how they talk. And they don’t look like rock stars or even punkers, but a bunch of record geeks and nerds.

Second, for them, they are not doing a shtick. They are not burdened with 40+ years of rock & roll “rebellion.” For them, rock & roll started in 1987, when martial law was lifted and Taiwanese were finally allowed a bit of free expression. LTK are at the forefront of Taiwan’s “alternative rock” movement, a direct opposition to years and years of horrible state sponsored pop (imagine the Chinese Madonna/Celine Dion). They are Taiwan’s Sex Pistols and what they do is shocking and confrontational. While they have acceptance from Taiwanese youth and radicals, the conservatives and parents hate them. They are rebels in an age where rock & roll has very few real rebels and a lot of rebel posturing.

LTK Commune brings me right back to the 1-2-3-4, however with them the 1-2-3-4 is more than just numbers before verse-chorus-verse-chorus. For LTK 1-2-3-4 is a countdown to confrontation, the way rock & roll is meant to be. I may not dig a whole hell of a lot of their tunes but I am a big fan of what they are doing. It gives me a bit of hope and a very nice high, just like any real rebel music is supposed to do.

Contact: Scotts@sl.net