Destroy All Monsters were an influential Detroit band existing from 1973 to 1985, with sporadic performances since. Their music touched on elements of punk rock, psychedelic rock, heavy metal and noise rock with a heavy dose of performance art. They described their music as “anti-rock.”
Destroy All Monsters never found mainstream success, but earned some notoriety due to members of notable rock groups The Stooges and MC5 who joined the group.
Although Destroy All Monsters never recorded a proper album, Sonic Youth singer/guitarist Thurston Moore released a three compact disc compilation of the group’s music in 1994.
Formed in 1973, the first edition of Destroy All Monsters was formed by University of Michigan art students Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Niagara (Lynn Rovner) and filmmaker Cary Loren. They performed in the Ann Arbor area from 1973–1976, and their only release was a one-hour cassette of their recordings available only through Lightworks magazine. Their early music was influenced by Sun Ra, Velvet Underground, ESP-Disk, monster movies, beat culture and futurism. Their sound was experimental, psychedelic, darkly humorous and droning.
On New Year’s Eve of 1973, the first Destroy All Monsters concert was held at a comic book convention in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the time the instruments were a violin, a sax, a vacuum cleaner and a coffee can. They performed a demented version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and were asked to leave after ten minutes. The group performed “guerilla style”, setting up free at parties and playing for food along Ann Arbor’s frat row. They used modified instruments, a drum box, tape loops, hot-wired toys, cheap keyboards and broken electronic devices. Aside from the comic convention, the group’s only formal gig in this era was at the Halloween Ball at the University of Michigan art school in 1976.
Kelley and Shaw left the band during the summer of 1976 to attend graduate school at CalArts in Los Angeles, California. Both have gone on to lead successful solo careers in the art world. Their work is held in major collections around the world.
Niagara, Ron Asheton and unidentified drummer, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, Spring of 1982
In 1977, Niagara and Loren recruited guitarist Laurence B. (Larry) Miller and saxophonist Benjamin (Ben) Miller; both had been in the short-lived Sproton Layer with their brother Roger Miller (who later went on to found Mission of Burma). They invited Mike (Jett) Powers on bass but he soon left for Harvard University. Not long after, members of two important Detroit-based groups signed on: guitarist Ron Asheton, earlier of The Stooges, and bass guitarist Michael Davis of the MC5. Their presence garnered the group more attention than ever before. Shortly thereafter, Ron asked drummer Rob King to join the band.
In 1978, Destroy All Monsters were preparing to release “Bored”, their first official recording, when the group began to fall apart. Niagara ended her romance with Loren in favor of a new relationship with Asheton; Loren quit the group, with the Miller brothers leaving after the band’s Halloween gig at EMU, in 1978. The “Bored”/”You’re Gonna Die” single earned some attention in the UK music press, and the band was able to capitalize on the notoriety.
Niagara, Ron Asheton and unidentified drummer,
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, Spring of 1982
In late 1978, Loren issued a live DAM EP known as “Days of Diamonds” on his Black Hole label. Another EP followed in 1979, “Blackout in the City” under the name XANADU with the Miller Brothers, Loren and Rob King. Niagara and Ron Asheton carried on with various personnel releasing a total of three 7″ singles on the IDBI label. Between 1982 and 1984, Destroy All Monsters played in bars and nightclubs in Ann Arbor and Detroit. Personnel: Bill Frank on drums, Mike Davis on bass, Ron Asheton on guitar, and Niagara on vocals. In May 1983, the band recorded and videotaped the song called “Make Mine Japanese.” Released in December 1983, this video can now be seen on-line. The Monsters broke up in 1985. The Asheton singles were released by Cherry Red Records on CD.
In 1994, Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Byron Coley and Thurston Moore compiled a three-CD boxed set of music, artwork and extensive liner notes as Destroy All Monsters: 1974-1976 on Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label.
Single “Bored” bw “You´re Gonna Die” (1978)
The original lineup (Kelley, Loren, Niagara and Shaw) reformed for reunion shows in 1995. Loren republished the six issues of the Destroy All Monsters Magazine (1976–1979) with added DAM student artwork, flexi disc and history in the book DESTROY ALL MONSTERS:GEISHA THIS — four VHS tapes of DAM films were also issued. An exhibition of their artwork followed at the Book Beat Gallery as well as live performances in Detroit, Los Angeles and San Diego. A live CD, “Silver Wedding Anniversary”, resulted from these concerts and was released in 1996 on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label.
In 1996, the group (sans Niagara) performed in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. A display of DAM artwork was held at the Deep Gallery in Tokyo. At the invitation of Ben Schot and Ronald Cornelissen for the “I Rip You, You Rip Me” festival and seminar at the Boijman’s Museum in Rotterdam, DAM began work on the installation and film known as Strange Früt: Rock Apochrypha, an investigation of Detroit culture. This exhibition was shown and completed in 2000 at COCA (Center on Contemporary Art) in Seattle, WA., and in 2001 at the DAM Collective: Artists Take On Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This work was also selected for inclusion in the 2002 Whitney Biennial of Art in NYC.
Single “Nov. 22” bw “Meet The Creeper” (1979)
In 2006, the “Strange Früt” exhibition and the bands archives traveled to the Magasin Center for Contemporary Art in Grenoble, France. DAM performed at the “All Tomorrow’s Parties” festivals in Los Angeles as guest artists of Sonic Youth, and in London, UK as guest artists selected by Dino and Jake Chapman. A selection of the band’s archives was on exhibition as part of the “Theater Without Theater” show at MACBA in Barcelona, Spain opening May 25, 2007. The exhibit traveled to Lisbon, Portugal in the fall of that year.
Since 1995, the band has released five full-length CDs on their own label(s) [The End is Here]: Radio Teardrop 1996, Backyard Monster Tube and Pig 1998, Swamp Gas 2001, and on [Compound Annex]: Detroit Oratorio 2003, DAM: Live in Tokyo 2003.
A reprint of the first six issues of DAM Magazine with added band artwork, history, poster and a flexi disc was published by Book Beat in 1995 as Destroy All Monsters: Geisha This, and reprinted in three different editions. A DVD of selected DAM films was released in 2007 by MVD video as: “Grow Live Monsters” featuring early 8mm & 16mm films taken in 1971-1976.
Ron Asheton died on January 1, 2009, aged 60, of an apparent heart attack.
In 2009 the Printed Matter bookstore in NYC mounted the Destroy All Monsters exhibit Hungry for Death curated by James Hoff and Cary Loren featuring the group’s collected work. The exhibition toured to White Flag Projects in St Louis, 0047 in Oslo, SPACE Gallery in London, The American Academy in Rome, Italy, Galerie 1m3 in Lausanne, Switzerland, AMP Gallery in Athens, Greece (2010), galerie du jour agnès b in Paris, France (2011) and the Boston University Art Gallery (2011). To coincide with the Hungry for Death exhibition Printed Matter released a 1975 recording Double Sextet as a vinyl album. The band also re-released the Destroy All Monsters: 1974 – 1976 compilation, without booklet, in a limited edition of 1000. In 2011, the Boston University Art Gallery released “Hungry for Death: Destroy All Monsters”, with essays by Byron Coley and Branden Joseph. This catalog included a detailed discography and a CD titled “Get Out of My Bedroom” of unreleased DAM music spanning over thirty years of band history.
A facsimile reprint of the Destroy All Monsters Magazine 1976-1979 was published by Primary Information in the May 2011.
An exhibition curated by Mike Kelley and Dan Nadel titled “Return of the Repressed: Destroy All Monsters 1973-1977” showing work by Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Cary Loren and Niagara opened at PRISM in Los Angeles on November 19, 2011 and ran through January 7, 2012. Accompanying the exhibition was a catalog published by PRISM and PictureBox, edited by Mike Kelley and Dan Nadel with an essay by Nicole Rudick.
Mike Kelley was found dead in South Pasadena, California, on February 1, 2012, aged 57, having committed suicide. Sixteen days later, on February 17, 2012, Michael Davis died of liver failure, aged 68. (by wikipedia)
When it comes to Detroit-area, proto-punk supergroups, I like Destroy All Monsters more than Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The energy, the passion, the fire; it’s all just booming in this band. On the other hand, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band got a little dad-rock sounding at times, and it was pretty formulaic throughout. Destroy All Monsters were anti-rock, meaning they just did what they wanted pretty much, and in doing so, they came up with some fantastic riffs, and some fantastic melodies.
I listened to this, and it finally struck me – Sonic Youth is a complete rip-off of Destroy All Monsters. They both have that crazy, manic type sound, and Kim Gordon is a dead ringer for Niagra; vocally that is. In fact, Thurston Moore actually released everything Destroy All Monsters had ever done on a box set, so you know the influence was definitely there.
Musically, this thing is way chaotic, and it even rocks more than The Stooges at points. It’s loaded with fuzzy guitar, and crazy free saxophone going off in each and every direction. I really like it. Especially the song “Bored”; boy does that rock. Other highlights are “Nobody Knows”, “What Do I Get”, and “Anyone Can Fuck Her”. This is crazy, testosterone-pumping rock with a female vocal lead, and it’s probably the sexiest thing ever conceived by mankind.
A sweating recommendation goes out to you rock lovers! Wooooooeeeeee!!!! (Seattle_Junkie_Queen)
Ron Asheton (guitar, background vocals, bass on 09. – 11.)
Michael Davis (bass)
Rob King (drums)
Lynn “Niagara” Rovner (vocals)
Bill Franck (drums on 09. – 11.)
Ben Miller (saxophone on 01. – 04.)
Larry Miller (guitar on 01. – 04.)
Charlie Tyfklind (saxophone on 10.)
01 Bored (Asheton/Rovner) 3.56
02. You’re Gonna Die (Loren/Asheton/Rovner) 2.49
03. Meet The Creeper (Davis) 4.57
04. November 22, 1963 (Asheton/Rovner) 4.24
05. Jesus Is A Shotgun (King/Asheton/Rovner) 2.56
06. Nobody Knows (Davis/Rovner) 3.27
07. What Do I Get (Asheton/Rovner) 4.16
08. These Boots Are Made For Walking (Hazlewood) 5.40
09. Anybody Can (Fuck Her) Asheton/Rovner) 3.33
10. Party Girl Asheton/Rovner) 3.43
11. A/D (Angel In The Daytime, Devil At Night) (Franck/Asheton/Rovner) 2.38
Niagara in 1974