Savage Republic - Biography

The mighty Savage Republic, from Los Angeles, California, are peers and contemporaries of Einstürzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle. Their ritualistic performances have made use of unconventional percussion instruments, Glenn Branca-like guitar tunings and columns of fire.

Guitarist Bruce Licher joined Neef in 1979, playing on their 23 single (Centipede 1979). Licher collaborated with drummer Mark Erskine, drummer Kevin Barrett of the Urinals and tape-loop experimentalist Brent Wilcox of Neef on the Project 197 7-inch (Independent Project 1980), the first release on Licher’s label. Licher, Erskine and Philip Drucker (who went by the stage name Jackson Del Rey) formed Africa Corps in 1980, while the three were art students at UCLA; Drucker brought teenage bassist Jeff Long, also a member of Wasted Youth, into the band. Africa Corps changed its name to Savage Republic on the debut album Tragic Figures (Independent Project 1982). Long did not participate in the group’s next single, “Film Noir” b/w “O Adonis” (Independent Project 1983), on the B-side of which Savage Republic played Mikis Theodorakis’s main title theme from the movie Z (1969; the theme’s name is misspelled “O Andonis” on the single’s sleeve and label).       

Stuart Swezey of Amok Books organized the first of several annual Mojave Desert shows in 1983. The first of these, the “Mojave Exodus,” was Jeff Long’s last show with Savage Republic. Due to internal disagreements that effectively brought the first lineup to an end, the band abandoned what was to have been its second album, though Drucker and Loveless finished the tapes and released them as an album by their side project 17 Pygmies called Jedda By The Sea (1984 Resistance). Following the first lineup’s dissolution, Licher and Erskine formed a new Savage Republic, recruiting multi-instrumentalists Ethan Port and Greg Grunke of the noise band …uh…, and Thom Fuhrmann, the bassist of Spadra Moods. 

The Savage Republic side project Djemma el Fna performed alongside Einstürzende Neubauten and Survival Research Laboratories at Swezey’s 1984 desert event, the “Mojave Auszüg.” 1981 material recorded live by Savage Republic’s first lineup in UCLA’s cavernous parking structures came out on the next single, “Tragic Figure” b/w “The Empty Quarter” and “The Ivory Coast” (1984 Independent Project). The new lineup debuted on the Trudge 12-inch EP (1985 Play It Again Sam) and Ceremonial album (1985 Independent Project). The double LP Live Trek 1985-1986 (1987 Nate Starkman & Son) documented the subsequent tours, and Savage Republic’s September 1986 performance at a nuclear disarmament rally in Cleveland was captured on the home video Disarmament (1988 Atavistic).           

Loveless left Savage Republic in 1986 and founding member Erskine quit in 1987. Drummer Brad Laner, who had played with Port in Turds from Space, took Erskine’s seat that year. Philip Drucker returned in time to appear on the band’s third studio album, Jamahiriya Democratique et Populaire de Sauvage (1988 Fundamental). The live cassette I Married Thurston (1988 Savage Republic Tapes) collected material from two 1988 shows, one at Berkeley’s Gilman Street and one at New York’s Pyramid Club. Savage Republic—minus Port, who was busy with studies—toured Europe in the fall of ’88. According to Perfect Sound Forever, problems with the band’s paperwork led Greek customs officials to seize their equipment, and after playing their scheduled dates in Greece with borrowed instruments, Savage Republic recorded the album Customs (1989 Fundamental) over three days in a Thessaloniki studio.

Licher announced that he was leaving in December after the band had returned home. Savage Republic played its last show at Pomona College in Claremont, California on February 25, 1989, with Psi Com’s Aaron Scherer on drums. Licher moved to Sedona, Arizona, where he formed Scenic. For a short time Port, Grunke and Fuhrmann played as Final Republic, a name the first lineup had used briefly in the early 80s when Jeff Long left for a short period; next, the trio formed the bands Motor Mouth and Wonder. Port joined Death Ride ’69, then moved to San Francisco, where in 1997 he and Scot Jenerik started their long-running music project F-Space and the Mobilization label.

Port was staying at the Marriott World Trade Center in New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. Licher, Loveless, Fuhrmann, Grunke and Port reunited in 2002 with drummer Joel Connell (formerly of Man Is The Bastard) for a handful of Savage Republic shows in California. That year, Mobilization reissued Savage Republic’s four studio albums on CD, packaged both individually and as a box set. Grunke, Port and Fuhrmann reunited on a more permanent basis in 2005 with bassist Val Haller (ex-Wayne County and the Electric Chairs), who had played with Fuhrmann and Grunke in Autumnfair, and drummer Alan Waddington.

Savage Republic made the new Siam EP (2007 Mobilization) available at the merch table on their 2007 tour. Later that year they released the new album 1938 (2007 Neurot), which features a guest appearance by the remarkable Tara Tavi. In 2009 Savage Republic performed an original score to José Antonio Sistiaga’s film ere erera baleibu icik subua aruaren (1970) at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater and LA’s Silent Movie Theater.

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