A mainstay on the Minneapolis-St. Paul music scene since the early 80’s, Ollie Stench has previously co-hosted the punk rock show Radio Riot on KFAI and performed in bands such as The Hostages, Ed Gein Fan Club, and minimal synth pop band The Trapezoids. Stench is also one of the main driving forces behind this year’s Twin Cities New Wave Day, an ad hoc holiday that celebrates all things of the era, including he fashion, the fun, and most importantly the new wave, post-punk and power pop music. He gives us the lowdown on what to expect for Friday’s 24-hour broadcast and dance party, what New Wave means to him—and what it can mean to you.
DISPATCH: Take us on a trip down memory lane . . . You picked March 4th for Twin Cities New Wave Day because of a former store downtown in Minneapolis? Was this when people bought things downtown?
Ollie Stench: In the early 80s there were 3 stores owned by the same guy, JJ Flash, The Arcade, and March 4th. JJ Flash sold stage clothes to would-be rock stars, The Arcade sold clothes for the public to go see the bands that shopped at JJ Flash, and March 4th sold the “cutting edge” togs like parachute pants, bondage pants, skinny neck ties with piano keys printed on them and wrap-around sunglasses. About 25ish years ago, as a joke, I declared the date March 4th to be Twin Cities New Wave Day; a day to celebrate all things New Wave. I had done some other things in the past to celebrate it, DJ sets, a concert in the 7th St. Entry . . .
The reverb-y drums, the earnest lyrics, the distinct fashion—what’s the enduring appeal of New Wave for people? What is it for you?
I had just turned 12 and saw the band DEVO on the Saturday Night Live rip-off show Fridays. My brother was watching it in his room across the hall from mine and was laughing uproariously. I went in to see what he was laughing at and told me to “look at those bunch of [men who are attracted to other men]”. I looked, and was transfixed, and immediately realized A) I was not the only freak weirdo out there and B) there was more to music than Foreigner and Peaches & Herb. I had already been able to dip my toe into the New Wave after hearing Heart Of Glass by Blondie and a few other songs that got a little airplay, but as young as I was in 1980 my options were few and far between for fully immersing myself in it. I was attracted to the non-mainstream aspect of bands like DEVO and the B-52’s. My brother was into whatever was on the radio and I for one couldn’t stand most of what I heard (surprisingly I was a big fan of Alice Cooper and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and still am).
A dozen different DJs have put together sets for KFAI and then there’s also going to be a pile of DJs for the in-person Falling Knife party. Who’s lined up? Have you heard some of the selections?
The 24 hour (streaming) radio marathon is comprised of fellow fans who never stopped surfing on the New Wave. This is the second year Mason Butler at KFAI has allocated the streaming side at KFAI.org and the people I asked to contribute needed to see the silliness of the whole project, yet still take it seriously. Last year in the 24-hour marathon I was able to only get one female to contribute, this year I wanted to make it more of a co-ed project and have more diverse representation. Luckily Jeff knew a few women who were eager to jump in. Other notable personalities include 80s New Wave Superstar Josie Cotton(!), thanks to Travis Ramin and his connection with her. I asked Mike Wassanauer to contribute this year and he gratefully agreed. Mike had a show on KBEM called Ready Steady Go that started the summer of 1982 and ran for years. He played all kinds of New Wave and punk and really exposed me to a LOT of bands that became my faves. So it was great to get him on board.
Even with heavy hitters like Josie Cotton on board, is there enough New Wave to fill that time? Are we going to hear “The Look of Love” like 20 times?
My analogy is that of p*rn and/or art; you can’t explain it but you know New Wave when you hear it. “New Wave” is a pretty broad umbrella term that can cover everything from the first Madonna album to Cabaret Voltaire with stops at 80s Rockabilly, 2-Tone, power-pop, synth pop, electro funk… pretty much underground music from the first half of the 80s. Then again, when I was putting this together last year I got a lot of hosts asking “is this New Wave, can I play _______?”. I leave it all up to personal interpretation of what New Wave is. I have very distinct criteria for myself as to what is and isn’t New Wave, but I don’t want to impose that on anyone else.
As for there being enough… my first hour is all hyper-obscure bands and songs that most people have probably never heard of. Times 5, The Spunky Onions, JP Video, Perfect Jewish Couple . . . when you’ve been as into New Wave as I have for as long as I have and been a crazy record collector one comes to realize that “White Wedding” is just the tip of the tip of the New Wave crest.
We’ve got quite a few Regular Readers who weren’t born until New Wave was being killed by Grunge, but they might be familiar with its direct descendants like Daft Punk, The Strokes, even War on Drugs. What do they need to know to show up and party in tribute to their musical ancestors?
Just tune in to the radio marathon and/or show up to Falling Knife with an open mind and a sense of frivolity and fun. The thing about (most) New Wave was to have fun, forget your problems for an evening and cut loose. It’s like Duran Duran said when they were promoting their first single and introducing themselves to the world, “We want to be the band you dance to as the bombs are falling”. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the music, and leave the weight of the world at the door, even if you only leave it there for half an hour.