1. He was first.
That minimal electric body music that has all the cool/weird kids wandering blind through fog to envelope their hearts with distorted waves pulled toward some cosmic magnet? The ever present drug-like drive to spend your hard-earned tip money and overseas medical industry plasma payout on euro-crack synth modules to make your 16-step sequences sound weirder? Bender did it first, on his own terms. Minimal, abstract, beautiful. A pioneer.
2. He's not faking it.
At a time when the monster polyphonic keyboards were becoming the norm, Bender took out a $2,400 loan to obtain an ARP 2600 and EML 401 in order get the most bent microtonal riffs you've ever heard (He passed on the Prophet 5). When drum machines were reaching their plateau (808, Linn), he made his beats with the same hodgepodge electronics.
3. He only recently started performing after a 30-year hiatus.
Right around when Bender started a family in the mid- to late 1980s, he stored his synths in a closet and settled into an honorable life as a father and therapist. His return to form was spurred by a rediscovery of his music by the minimal outsiders coming up in the golden age of synthesizers we're now experiencing.
4. Those dubbed-out vocals
Ever wonder where the muddy, echoed, psychedelic vocals movement began? Dub. Then Bender. He's on record saying he was heavily influenced by dub when it came to vocals, back in the 1970s.
5. He was his own label.
Bender released three albums via his DIY label Record Sluts at the height of corporate excess in the music industry. He sent the art objects to zines in hopes of review. He sold them, in person, to record stores that dealt in "imports" around the Midwest. Coming off Frampton Comes Alive, Star Wars, and all manner of success-based expansion of corporate control over the arts, Bender strived for fierce independence even if that meant stamping his own card stock covers or executing elaborate production experiments involving cellophane and plaster of Paris.
6. A sense of unpredictability
Bender has admitted to never performing without some sort of technical difficulty, planned or otherwise. If you're all in for some flashy, put-together brain drain, then get to your local EDM festival to have your mind wiped clean of true live underground DIY art. If you want authentic, real-time execution of ideas centered on complexity and chaos, don't miss this set.
7. He was (heavily) into krautrock before you.
A list of acts that Bender dug when they were actually happening will make the Spotify playlist your romantic interest was so impressed with seem pedestrian. Velvet Underground, Can, Faust, Suicide, Pere Ubu, Swell Maps all held their sway with Bender's inspiration decades before it was hip in the blogosphere. He famously covered a Faust song on his I Don't Remember Now LP. When pressed for information on his father years ago, Max Bender shared how, growing up, his friends would often ask him why his dad had the vanity license plates NEU and NEU 2 in succession.
8. He opened for Nico.
Bender is quick to declare his 10-minute set a disaster with some regret, but doesn't forget to mention she wasn't exactly on the positive side of put together either.
9. This is not your parents' overlooked legend.
Rediscovered folk-rock legend Rodriguez, fairly recently, captivated the minds of middle-aged white people in the United States who felt sub-conscious guilt over injustice and longed for a catchy tune and a captivating yet tragic story of a Mexican immigrant's son who spoke to those guilts with psych-folk music that they felt like they had discovered themselves.
This is not that. This is a man who made art because he had to. He made music and records that haven't been overlooked because "success" eluded it. Success was wrought in the forging of his ideas. Bender remains the same man had no one outside of his family ever heard his music. This music was born from the fascination with progressive artistic achievement. The search for that "something new." He continues this search to this day, posting sonic experiments on his SoundCloud almost weekly that rival the most abstract of sounds today's patcher jacks are uploading.
10. Barely Human Fest
If you're not already on this trip you must be residing under a rock. ESG, Adult, Pylon, and many other colder, synthetic yet vibrant acts, all under one special Mexicantown roof through a $100,000 sound system, an imported Italian pizza oven, and Club Mate?! How could you miss it? (Full disclosure: My own band plays Saturday.) With this and Trip Metal Fest last year, I'm beginning to feel extra excited about this much-needed trend for live music in Detroit.
John Bender plays El Club for Barely Human Festival with Pylon and more on Sunday, Feb. 12; music at 8 p.m.; 4114 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; elclubdetroit.com; $20 advance, $25 door, $50 three-day-passes.
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