Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Providence Wimp Rock City (Small Factory)

Small Factory (along with Honeybunch and Velvet Crush) put Providence, Rhode Island on the map as the premier home to wimp rock during the 1990s. While I found their two albums, 1993's I Do Not Love You and 1994's For If You Cannot Fly, somewhat disappointing, I still consider them a great singles act, as proven by the (unfortunately out-of-print) 1996 singles compilation Industrial Evolution.

I didn't move to Rhode Island until 2000, so I have no idea what Providence was like in the early 90s. But in my mind I picture a city populated exlusively by people who looked like the audience I stood amongst at a Heavenly/Small Factory show at Under Acme in New York City sometime in the early 90s: lots of twenty-something women wearing baby doll dresses and Hello Kitty barretts alongside men wearing thick-rimmed glasses, thrift store clothes and Hello Kitty barretts. In my estimation these were men and women who in other times and other places would have already been forced to lead adult lives for the better part of a decade, but were hopelessly clinging to an idealized notion of childhood innocence. Perhaps that assessment will sound less harsh if I admit that, in essence, I was one of them. I don't think I went quite so far down the road of spectacularly hip scenesterism as others, but without realizing it, I was hiding from the adult world in graduate school at exactly the time I should have been making my way in it.

On one level, the obsessive tweeness of the 90s indie-rock scene was a legitimate, perhaps inevitable, reaction against the world-weary posturing of grunge. On another level it was simply cloying and cute, a temporary hiding place from the world of adult responsibility and its mundane demands. But setting scene politics aside, Small Factory's singles still hold up for the same reason I found them appealing at the time: it's solid pop music delivered with passion.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always saw the scene as a delayed reaction to the C86 UK scene. Many of the pop bands from the time started around the same time as the grunge bands.

I think the audience was just reflecting the band's sustained adolescence. I often got the feeling the people in the bands were just killing time until grad school

Pete Bilderback said...

Those are good points. I realize many of these bands started before grunge really took off, I was thinking about it more in terms of a shift in scene dynamics. Of course generalizations of this sort are usually overly facile, and that may be the case here.

Guy said...

Having spent most of my life slinking around Providence and listening to weird music, I must take issue with the labeling of Velvet Crush as 'wimp rock.' I saw Mr. Menck, Mr. Chastain and Mr. Borchardt/Underhill perform at their very second show. I was overwhelmed by how powerful they were and caught them, in their various line-ups, dozens of times after that. They were always noisy and ruthless and riotous. Even sinister, on occasion (seriously!) They would cover Mott The Hoople, Cheap Trick, Big Star and Gene Clark to excellent effect. At the time, they had a whole lot more in common with The Jam or The Flamin' Groovies or even Mission Of Burma than with The Shop Assistants or anything on K Records. One of the greats.

Pete Bilderback said...

Guy,

You are right of course, but I would have had a pretty short list with only two bands on it.

Velvet Crush occasionally came off as fey on their studio recordings, but they were also capable of rocking out like crazy live. As much as I love their albums, I felt like that aspect of the band was never properly captured in the studio. The same could be said for many other bands as well.

Also, I'd like to clarify, I do not mean "wimp rock" as an insult to any of the bands, I like all 3 of them, and certainly consider Velvet Crush to be one of the great ones.

The pre-Velvet Crush Menck/Chastain efforts however (Choo Choo Train, The Springfields, Bag 'O Shells, etc.) are pure wimp rock, and proudly so considering Menck and Chastain titled one of the compilations of this material "Hey Wimpus." I also consider these earlier recordings the equal of Velvet Crush's best material.

Guy said...

Fair enough.

fantom said...

For some reason, had always associated these guys in my mind with Chicago (esp Eleventh Dream Day....). Appreciate the course correction - now just need a way to find Industrial Evolution...

Mark said...

So What About Love is one of the best indie rock songs ever. Thanks for posting it here.