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Pranks for the Memories 

V. Vale and RE/Search – still disseminating the alternative-culture virus

Wednesday, Dec 3 2003
Much the way an infected mosquito spreads malaria, V. Vale's San Francisco-based RE/Search publishing company has been instrumental in disseminating the alternative-culture virus worldwide. If you've pierced anything besides an ear, you were likely at least indirectly inspired by Modern Primitives, RE/Search's 1989 survey of the then-underground body modification movement. The harsh noise and imagery in the music of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson? Vale covered that 20 years ago, in interviews with bands like Throbbing Gristle and SPK in the Industrial Culture Handbook. And before Jackass trivialized the art form, Pranks! detailed subversive acts from tricksters such as Timothy Leary and the ad-busting Billboard Liberation Front.

In short, Vale ain't foolin' when he claims that his books are about "maximizing creativity and freedom in a world whose agenda is consumerism and control." But his most uncompromising ideal has been his refusal to distribute his slick, large-format titles to gargantuan chains like Barnes & Noble. You'll find RE/ Search products only in indie stores – perhaps not the most profitable business model. As a result of this stance, the Mission-based arts center the Lab hosts a two-night benefit called "RE/Search at the Lab: The Pranks! Festival."

On Friday, Vale and company recall S.F.'s musical past at a reunion gig with two members of the late-'70s/early-'80s electronic trio Factrix. Back in the day, Bond Bergland, Cole Palme, and Joseph Jacobs offered the West Coast reply to European post-punk clamor. As the city's psychedelic vibe gave way to Jonestown-fueled malaise, Factrix soundtracked the times with dirges that blended slabs of noise, feedback, thudding bass lines, and crunchy drum-machine beats behind stark vocals by Bergland and guests like notorious performance artist Monte Cazazza (who coined the term "industrial music"). The band split up in 1982, but recently released Artifact, a double-CD set of Factrix's long-lost material. Morbid types have no excuse to miss this rare performance by cacophony-rock luminaries Bergland and Palme – especially since those dressed in solid black get discounts and door prizes!

Have your perverse fun, but then rest up for the next evening's Pranksters Ball, a gathering of the 10 Bay Area artists immortalized in Pranks! Published in 1996, the book chronicled actions that transcended the whoopee-cushion realm, from '60s ambush humorist Mal Sharpe's absurdist man-in-the-street interviews to punk crooner Jello Biafra's 1979 San Francisco mayoral campaign. Those two join fellow local jokers such as Survival Research Laboratories' Mark Pauline, Church of the SubGenius evangelist Paul Mavrides, and phone-prank pioneer John Trubee in a panel discussion and sale/signing of rare CDs, art, posters, videos, and RE/Search's invaluable back catalog.

No joke: If you value the way Vale and RE/Search have shaken up social norms and influenced mass consensual reality, you'll come on out and celebrate.

About The Author

Ron Nachmann


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