Rev and Vega before a 1988 Toronto concert
|Origin||New York City|
|Labels||Red Star, ZE, ROIR, International, Blast First/Mute|
Suicide was an American musical duo intermittently active between 1970 and 2016, composed of vocalist Alan Vega and instrumentalist Martin Rev. The group's music made pioneering use of minimalist electronic instrumentation, including synthesizers and primitive drum machines, and their early performances were confrontational and often ended in violence. They were among the first acts to use the phrase "punk music" in an advertisement for a concert in 1970.
Though never widely popular among the general public, Suicide have been recognized as among the most influential acts of their era. Their debut album Suicide (1977) was described by Entertainment Weekly as "a landmark of electronic music," while AllMusic stated that it "provided the blueprints for post-punk, synth pop, and industrial rock."Rolling Stone called them "an unmeasurable influence on the industrial dance, noise, techno, ambient, and electronic scenes of the 1980s and 1990s."
Suicide took its name from the title of a Ghost Rider comic book titled Satan Suicide, a favorite of Alan Vega. Rev's simple keyboard riffs (initially played on a battered Farfisa organ combined with effects units, before changing to a synthesizer) were accompanied by primitive drum machines, providing a pulsing, minimalistic, electronic backdrop for Vega's murmuring and nervy vocals. It was the first band to use the term punk to describe itself, which the band had adopted from an article by Lester Bangs. Some of the band's earliest posters use the terms punk music and punk music mass.
Suicide emerged alongside the early glam punk scene in New York, with a reputation for its confrontational live shows. Many of the band's early shows were at the Mercer Arts Center, alongside bands such as the New York Dolls and Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps. David Johansen once played harmonica with Suicide in an early show there. Vega and Rev both dressed like arty street thugs, and Vega was notorious for brandishing a length of motorcycle drive chain onstage. Vega once stated "We started getting booed as soon as we came onstage. Just from the way we looked they started giving us hell already."  This sort of audience confrontation was inspired by Vega's witnessing of an Iggy and the Stooges concert at the New York State Pavilion in August 1969, which he later described as "great art". After the collapse of the Mercer Arts Center in 1973, Suicide played at Max's Kansas City and CBGB, often sharing the bill with emerging punk bands. Their first album was reissued with bonus material, including "23 Minutes Over Brussels", a recording of a Suicide concert that deteriorated into a riot.
The band's first album, Suicide (1977), was released independently on Red Star Records. Although initial press reviews were divided (with Rolling Stone in particular giving it a scathing review), media recognition has changed over the years. One critic writes: "'Che', 'Ghost Rider'--these eerie, sturdy, proto-punk anthems rank among the most visionary, melodic experiments the rock realm has yet produced." Of note is the ten-minute "Frankie Teardrop", which tells the story of a poverty-stricken 20-year-old factory worker pushed to the edge. Critic Emerson Dameron writes that the song is "one of the most terrifying, riveting, absurd things I've ever heard."Nick Hornby in his book 31 Songs described "Frankie Teardrop" as something you would listen to "only once".
Suicide's albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s have now become regarded as some of the most influential recordings of their time and helped shape the direction of indie rock, industrial music, and dance music. Among others, Steve Albini (Shellac, Rapeman, Big Black), Panthére, Gang Gang Dance, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Bauhaus,The Sisters of Mercy, She Wants Revenge, The Birthday Party, Henry Rollins, Joy Division/New Order, Soft Cell, Nick Cave, D.A.F., Erasure, the music of Giant Haystacks, The KLF,Ministry, Nine Inch Nails,OMD, Pet Shop Boys,Tears for Fears, Cassandra Complex, Mudhoney,Nitzer Ebb,Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Radiohead, Kap Bambino, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Angel Corpus Christi (covers of "Dream Baby Dream" and "Cheree" with Alan Vega guest vocals), Michael Gira, MGMT, Sky Ferreira, Sonic Boom, Loop, The Fleshtones (both of whom have recorded cover versions of "Rocket USA"), Ric Ocasek of The Cars, Mi Ami, Depeche Mode,Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Devo, Ultravox, Massive Attack,Air, Autechre, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Aphex Twin and The Kills, Bono Vox and Bruce Springsteen have all listed Suicide as an influence. Examples of their influence on Bruce Springsteen include the song "State Trooper" from his album Nebraska and his solo keyboard version of "Dream Baby Dream" closing the concerts on his 2005 Devils & Dust Tour and in his studio version on his 2014 album High Hopes.
In 1986, Alan Vega collaborated with Andrew Eldritch of The Sisters of Mercy on the Gift album, released under the name of The Sisterhood. Vega and Rev have both released solo albums, and Suicide released their first album in over a decade with 2002's American Supreme. Sales, however, were slow, and critical reception was mixed.
In 2005, SAF Publishing put out Suicide No Compromise, a "docu-biography" by David Nobahkt, which featured extensive interviews with Vega and Rev as well as many of their contemporaries and famous fans.
In 2008, Blast First Petite released a monthly, limited-edition series of 10" vinyl EPs and downloads by major artists, honoring Alan Vega's 70th birthday. Among those paying tribute were Bruce Springsteen, Primal Scream, Peaches, Grinderman, Spiritualized, The Horrors, +Pansonic, Julian Cope, Lydia Lunch, Vincent Gallo, LIARS, and The Klaxons. The label also released Suicide: 1977-1978, a 6-CD box set, the same year.
In May 2010 the band performed the entire first album live at two London concerts, double billed with Iggy & The Stooges performing Raw Power. The band performed their final concert at London's Barbican Centre on 9 July 2015. Billed as 'A Punk Mass', the show featured solo sets by both Rev and Vega before a headlining Suicide performance. Henry Rollins, Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth made guest appearances. The concert received positive reviews.
Alan Vega died in his sleep on July 16, 2016 at the age of 78. His death was announced by musician and radio host Henry Rollins, who shared an official statement from Vega's family on his website.
The Fatima Mansions released a cover of "Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne" on their 1994 single "Nite Flights".
In mid-2009, the band The Horrors released a cover of the song "Shadazz" as part of a tribute to Alan Vega and his work. They have performed it many times live, along with another Suicide song, "Ghost Rider". Later that year, Primal Scream and Miss Kittin covered the song "Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne" for a limited-edition 10-inch vinyl pressing. A total of 3,000 copies were pressed and released on March 30, 2009.
In April 2011, the influential dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem used a snippet from "Ghost Rider" during the song "Losing My Edge" and covered the Alan Vega solo effort "Bye Bye Bayou" during their final concert, held in a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
In May 2014, Savages released a live cover of "Dream Baby Dream" on the b-side of their single "Fuckers"/"Dream Baby Dream" 12".
By the end of the eighties, Suicide's influence could be heard in the output of the industrial dance/ rock/noise bands that emerged during that era. DAF's Die Kleinen UndDie Bosen album had much in common with Suicide. There was also The Neon Judgement, Dirk Ivens' Absolute Body Control, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Die Krupps and Front 242.
There was also Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy's band Nitzer Ebb, who had their own style of 'take no prisoners', beat driven electronic rock 'n' roll that came to form on their 1990 album Showtime.
Amongst the synth bands that emerged at the start of the eighties was Depeche Mode. Suicide's influence on their sound is indisputable. Martin L Gore of Depeche Mode told The Times newspaper, "The synthesizer before Suicide was always a clean-cut instrument, whereas they brought in a punk element." He went on to say, "That was a very important step in the history of electronic music, they were way before The Prodigy and the whole industrial scene." Alan Wilder, Depeche Mode's music director and keyboard player from '82 to '95, had taken notice of Suicide's sampled and manipulated guitar sounds whilst recording the 1990 album Violator. Wilder later commented on his Shunt Website. "When we recorded the track "Blue Dress" it was based around using washy sounding, drone guitars (a la Suicide) which formed the backbone of the track."
During all of this, Massive Attack -- along with the guest singers Horace Andy and Liz Fraser -- acts as a kind of house-band mood setter. The band covers at chronologically or thematically specific places songs you may associate with the Shirelles, the Archies, Dusty Springfield, Bauhaus and Suicide.
Suicide's influence on electronic music was to carry on into the next decade with the Aphex Twin, Autechre and Two Lone Swordsmen having their Suicide-like moments.
Suicide's heirs - Devo, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sisters of Mercy, Daft Punk, Air, Chemical, Nick Cave to name but a few - benefited from their pioneering sheets of industrial music.