There’s a December 1999 issue of Maximum Rocknroll containing an article that asks the question, “Are Keyboards PUNK?” Devo, Can, Flock of Seagulls, The Clash, and a bunch of iconic bands that didn’t really do anything during the last decade of the 20th century are mentioned, leading you to the conclusion that, yes, keyboards were/are punk, yet the article failed to mention many bands from the 1990s. Ironic, when you consider that a few pages before the essay the very same issue featured an interview with the band The Locust, whose blend of powerviolence and synthesizer music (a combination of new wave and a carnival) spawned dozens of imitators in their wake; and who a year earlier released an album on Gold Standard Laboratories, the label owned by former VSS member Sonny Kay, a band that directly influenced The Locust's sound. Essentially, the issue of MRR answered its own question, no essay needed.
During The VSS's time (roughly 1995-1997), the term “art punk” was hardly something you wanted attached to your name, and the idea of adding synthesizers into your sound wasn’t going to win you many fans in the post-Dookie era. The lack of fuck giving cemented the band as one of the punkest at a time when other groups were trying to get their t-shirts sold at Hot Topic, and to this day the music still sounds daring and bizarre; like Bauhaus on meth trying to cover a John Carpenter soundtrack in a funhouse. I’d venture to say that if not for The VSS, there might not have been that period where every other band was trying to reference some obscure post-punk band from late-1970s England, there may have been no cultural embrace of screamy emo (“screamo”), and maybe people would look at artists like Zola Jesus and The XX as weirdo kids who couldn’t quite let goth go, and The Faint may never have ever become popular enough to do a reunion tour that anybody would care about (and nobdody would care about their new song). Obviously the “What if” game gets you nowhere, but it’s interesting to think if there had been no VSS, where music would be at today.
Underground music takes a long time to catch up. Today, keyboards are accepted pieces of equipment, and yet, The VSS remain this band that aren’t mentioned as much as they should be, simply because they have always defied categorization; their music wasn’t traditional in any way shape or form.
Now the band’s 1996 and 1997 albums 21:51 (a collection of the band’s singles) and Nervous Circuits are being re-released on double LP and digitally by Sargent House. I’m not exactly sure who will be interested in this news. Since music goes through peaks and valleys with certain sounds, and trying to figure out which of today’s popular bands are ancestors to The VSS is a tough task. But I guess that’s the entire point of reissues: get a new generation interested and hope it spawns something.
You can stream Nervous Circuits below.