Plastic Crimewave Sound defies categorizing

February 20, 2009


When it comes to assessing Chicagoan Steve Krakow's place in the rock underground, you can't do any better than the introduction Julian Cope, founding member of the Teardrop Explodes and brilliant psychedelic solo artist, wrote for his Head Heritage Web site.

"He's a guy, he's a band, he's a multi-colored forward-thinking arthole of Tardis Dementions," Cope enthused. "He's a Futuretro freak, he's a sibilant gas, he's a rock 'n' roll-a-holic ... !"

Indeed, Krakow has his hand in so many projects that any list is bound to miss a few. He's the publisher, primary writer and illustrator of the fanzine world's encyclopedia of freaky music, Galactic Zoo Dossier; he's a force in booking local left-of-center shows ranging from Japan's Acid Mothers Temple to the Million Tongues Festival; he's an occasional presence on radio with his "Secret History of Chicago Music" exhumations (which he also plans to turn into a book), and he's the leader and organizer of the absurdly ambitious Vision Celestial Guitarkestra, which mounted a performance by no fewer than 100 guitarists at the Hideout Block Party last September.

With all of that, it would be easy, if extremely unfair, to overlook Krakow's band, Plastic Crimewave Sound, which has been making some of the most unique noise on the Chicago scene since 2001.

"When you've been around for a while, you sort of get taken for granted," the guitarist and vocalist says. "At this point, we actually get a lot more attention when we tour. But we always try to make our local shows an event."

Raised in Hoffman Estates, Krakow first fell in love with psychedelic/space-rock at the University of Illinois.

"I started the same place everyone starts: With early Pink Floyd -- 'Interstellar Overdrive' -- and Hawkwind. What a lot of people doing psychedelic rock miss is that it really has to rock: It has to have the drive, like driving to the moon."

Though it's contributed to countless compilations and odd releases through the years, the band -- which is completed by bassist Mark Lux (Raspberry Kidd), drummer Lawrence Peters (Skog Device), Steve's brother Adam (Hands of Hydra) on second guitar and any number of friends contributing additional noise and drone -- has only had two proper albums in its discography until recently, "Flashing Open" (2003) and "No Wonderland" (2006). Early this year, that number doubled with the release of a self-titled album on Prophase and "Painted Shadows" on the Italian label A Silent Place.

"It's kind of funny that we haven't put anything out for a while and now we have two records coming out at once, but that's just the way it worked out," Krakow says. But the band doesn't plan on slowing down. "Both of the last two records are with our old guitarist, Nick D'vyne [also of the Chicago band Vee Dee], who just quit, but we're sort of racking up new songs, and it would be nice to get another record out there soon with my brother on it. He plays sitar, as well, so that would add another element."

As for the two discs arriving in stores now, Krakow describes "Plastic Crimewave Sound" as "a little more rock action, because Nick was a little more of a leads man; he loves all the Detroit rock kind of stuff." Meanwhile, "Painted Shadows" is "a little more space-out, Krautrock-inspired. But what isn't these days?"

By that the musician means that the influence of early '70s German psychedelia has become ubiquitous of late, from countless indie bands to giants such as Coldplay. But few channel these entrancing sounds better than his own group, onstage or on record.

"I think the two are pretty different for us, and I always use the Velvet Underground or Pink Floyd comparison to describe it," Krakow says. "Live, especially in their early days, they were both more freak-out kinds of bands, whereas on record, they would treat it as a studio project. When I'm in the studio, I definitely like to use it as another instrument -- do the nice stereo panning, play some things backward, stuff like that. I like to treat it like a record, whereas live I think it's more about the force of the frequencies and the sound and the drive.

"Sometimes, people hear the records and they're like, 'Wow, this is really melodic; I'm surprised!' But live we want to put on more of a show. It's not about the subtle nuances of the melodies; we want to hit people with the force of the amps!"

Plastic Crimewave Sound will be doing just that while celebrating its new albums at the Empty Bottle next week, and it will return to the club on March 25 for a Million Tongues Festival gig backing Michael Yonkers, a Minneapolis musician who became a cult hero thanks to several albums of otherworldly guitar noise in the '70s.