"We reveled in the death of rock. We gave up straight rock instrumentation by playing mostly old electronic cast-offs, tape recorders and noise makers, but we felt no qualms about using standard rock instruments either - or playing rock cover versions, albeit very fucked up ones. We had slightly artistic and avant-garde pretensions, we were in your face but we also had a sense of humor - albeit a very sour one. And as with the punk rockers, there was a definite class affiliation which we were unwilling to give up, even if we weren't very happy about it. We would, or could not adopt totally the ultra-cool ironic and commercially packaged stances of Kraftwerk and Roxy Music. The pure noise we cranked out was still moving to us; there were vestiges of the uplifting psychedelic rock aura left about it…though this might have been apparent only to us and not the average listener."

-Mike Kelley, 1993

Named after a Japanese monster movie (see left), Destroy All Monsters--or DAM--was formed in 1974 by film-maker Cary Loren (vocals and guitar), Jim Shaw (guitar), Mike Kelley (drums and tapes) and artist/ex-model Niagara (singer/violinist). Read their biographies here.

Niagara, Jim Shaw, and Mike Kelley were all art students in the art school at the University of Michigan in 1972. Niagara had just returned from The Banff Center—an arts school in Canada—and soon Cary Loren moved to Ann Arbor to live with her in an apartment. Mike Kelley lived a few blocks away in a three-story Victorian house, with about seven other people. With Kelley residing in the basement (soon to be the practice space of DAM), the house soon became known as "God's Oasis Drive In Church" (a sign declaring as much was nailed to the front porch) or simply "God's Oasis." Soon after arriving at U of M, Kelley met Jim Shaw, who ended up living in God's Oasis as well.

It was at a party that Niagara, Shaw, Loren, and Kelley decided to form a band. Prior to the formation as an actual band, Shaw had been falsifying events in order to attract audiences for his public actions; for example, he would flyer for speeches by Baba Ram Das that were never intended to occur. Loren was the only one with any musical ability; he played a bit of guitar. Regardless, the band members purchased the cheapest electric guitar they could find at K-Mart, and "prepared" it--emulating John Cage--with tie clips and the like. A used drum box sufficed as their drum set, and odd bits of electronic equipment solved the rest of the instrumentation problem: cheap electric organs, old PA systems, tape recorders with only feedback, and highly amplified sound-producing toys. "The band would play along with the record, but when the record came off the turntable, the music would veer into a strange place," says Niagara. "That became our 'signature sound.'"

The music of DAM has been described as punk rock, psychedelic, heavy metal, and noise rock, while at the same time incorporating extreme amounts of performance art. Influenced by Sun Ra, Velvet Underground, ESP records, Monster movies, beat culture and futurism, they were highly experimental, incorporating unconventional instruments to achieve a sinister, rough, unpolished sound. "We loved the sound of Godzilla's roar," says Mike Kelley, "that backwards-sounding growl with a subliminal tolling bell buried in it, and the sweet cadences of the singing twins who were the consorts of Mothra. That was the dialectic we were after."

After forming in 1974, Destroy All Monsters played in the Detroit and Ann Arbor area for a few years. They managed to develop a quite a reputation in the area—a notorious one, to be certain—despite their lack of official recordings. On New Years Eve, they gave their first public concert at a Comic Book convention in Ann Arbor. Rather, they insisted on giving their first public concert. Uninvited, they crashed the event, set up, and played. Instrumentation included a violin, a saxophone, a vacuum cleaner, and a coffee can. After performing a deranged version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," they were asked to leave the venue. "We were designed to be a 'fuck you' to the prevailing popular culture," says Kelley.

Despite negative reactions from parts of the community, DAM continued to perform in Ann Arbor, playing "guerilla style" by setting up for free at parties and playing for food along frat row (State Street). Continuing their experimental trend, they used modified instruments, a drum box, tape loops, hot-wired toys, cheap keyboards, and broken electronic devices. They continued to play at open parties held at God's Oasis, attracting small audiences of at most fifty people. The only official performance they had after the Comic Book convention incident was at the Halloween Ball at the University of Michigan Art School, where they performed a minimalist version of "Shaking All Over." They were not well received in the Ann Arbor community; in fact, "our music was pretty much despised," admits Kelley.

By the summer of 1976, two of the members had had enough. Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw quit the band to attend graduate school at CAL Arts in Los Angeles, California. The remaining members, Niagara and Loren, were now faced with major gaps in their musical ensemble. They didn't hesitate; within six months, they had recruited The Miller Brothers, with Larry Miller on guitar and Ben Miller on saxophone. The following year, DAM was expanded further with drummer Rob King, former Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, and former MC5 bassist Michael Davis, who had recently been released from prison for sales of narcotics.

The presence of Asheton and Davis brought the group far more attention than they had previous attained. They began booking shows in New York and Toronto, and in the summer of 1977 toured England for one week. In England, there were on the top ten list of WMB Late Riser's "Best of 1978." They released their first single, "Bored/You're Gonna Die," which became a minor punk classic in the states and even more popular with the British press. In England—where their popularity was based largely on the Stooge's legacy—"Bored" was set for a UK release on the Cherry Red Label. They licensed the record before ever hearing it.

Yet even before the single was released, the band was falling apart. Niagara ended her relationship with Cary Loren, only to develop a new relationship with Ron Asheton. In August of 1977, Loren quit the band, and the Miller Brothers and Rob King followed soon after in 1978.

The remaining members, now down to Niagara, Ron Asheton, and Mike Davis, carried on as DAM (now with a punk rock sound) with three more singles on the IDBI (I Don't Believe It) label. They disbanded in 1985.

Meanwhile, in 1977, Loren produced a DAM EP titled "Days of Diamonds." Then, in 1979, he collaborated with The Miller Brothers and Rob King under the name Xanadu, producing another DAM EP called "Blackout in the City." As Loren put it, "it was an ignored yet satisfying effort," as Larry and Ben moved to the west coast and Boston, respectively.  

But the story doesn't end there. In 1994, Sonic Youth guitarist/vocalist Thurston Moore put together a three-CD box set of DAM's early years, including music, artwork, and extensive linear notes. The CD set was assembled for Moore's Ecstatic Peace! label, Destroy All Monsters: 1974 to 1976.  

In 1995, the original members of DAM (Niagara, Mike Kelly, Cary Loren, and Jim Shaw) reformed for reunion shows in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area. They republished the six issues of the Destroy All Monsters Magazine (1976-1979) as well as a book: Destroy All Monsters: Geisha This. Their artwork was exhibited at the Book Beat Gallery in Detroit, and the members performed once again in Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Diego. In 1996, a live CD of these performances, Silver Wedding Anniversary, was released on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label.
That same year, the band (excluding Niagara) performed in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, and the Deep Gallery in Tokyo displayed DAM artwork. (Destroy All Monsters: Live in Tokyo, the recording of their performances in Tokyo and Osaka, is scheduled for release in January 2008). Soon after, they group began working on producing a exhibition, Strange Fruit: Rock Apochrypha, an exploration of Detroit culture. It was finished and shown in 2000 at the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle, Washington. In 2001 it was exhibited once again at the Detroit Institute of Arts as DAM Collective: Artists Take on Detroit. In 2002, the work was included in the Whitney Biennial of Art in New York City.

In 2006, DAM toured with Strange Fruit to the Magasin Center for Contemporary Art in Grenoble, France. They performed at the "All Tomorrow's Parties" festivals in LA as guest artists of Sonic Youth, and in London, England as guest artists of Dino and Jake Chapman. Since the band's reunion in 1995, they have produced and released five full length CDs on their own labels.

Despite DAM's ups and downs in popularity, negative criticism, inter-band relationship problems, and band members coming and going, they have independently released a single that has sold 7,000 copies in the states alone ("Bored/You're Gonna Die"). In 2007, a DVD titled Grow Live Monsters was released. It contains selections of short homemade "film fantasies" made between 1971 and 1976. Today, DAM consists of Kelley, Shaw, Loren, and "whoever," and information about the band member's whereabouts can be found at their myspace webpage.


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