Why Should I Give a Fuck About... James Chance and the Contortions?

Published: March 22, 2017
Why You Should GAF About James Chance and the Contortions' Funked Up, No Wave, S&M Fierceness by Dave Segal

Years Active: 40.

Provenance: New York City.

Essential Albums: Buy (1979), Off White (as James White & the Blacks) (1979), Melt Yourself Down (1986).

Essential Songs: "Dish It Out," "Roving Eye," "Contort Yourself," "Design to Kill," "Bedroom Athlete," "Off Black," "White Savages," "Bleached Black," "Melt Yourself Down."





Influenced By: James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, electric chairs.

Influence On: Stick Men, Rip Rig + Panic, the Fire Engines, Blurt, Ut, Arab on Radar, Nail Polish.

Precautions: James Chance used to jump off stages and attack audience members who, in his estimation, weren't exerting enough energy during the Contortions' early gigs. Dude is 63 now, so don't expect any literal punches—just sharp sonic jabs.

Why You Should Give a Fuck: Contortions were the funkiest no wave band by a city mile, as their four tracks on the Brian Eno–produced No New York comp prove. On Contortions' devastating 1979 debut LP, Buy, Chance and company translate James Brown's dance moves into tornadoes of scabrous, fractured funk that mainlines nihilism. Pat Place and Jody Harris's guitars flay with pitiless precision and George Scott's bass lines swerve with unpredictability while Chance—when he's not shredding his larynx—skrees like a maniac on his sax. Contortions could have folded after Buy and still be immortals, but they forged on in various incarnations, including James White & the Blacks, who engaged in mutational genre-hopping on 1979's slanted and disenchanted Off White. There, they disco-fied their signature song, "Contort Yourself," and took sleazy sonic and lyrical conceits to new heights... and depths. The latest Contortions album, The Flesh Is Weak, finds Chance—against great odds—nearly in no wave peak form. Most of its songs move with panther-like agility, bolstered by bold brass flourishes and punctuated by Chance's electrocuted shrieks. Plus, there's a poignant cover of Gil Scott-Heron's "Home Is Where the Hatred Is." Chance has mellowed some, but he's still sharper than most cats half his age. recommended

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