If you weren't one of the lucky kids on the block — the ones who got shiny drum kits, miniguitars and Casio keyboards on their birthdays — you made do. You stretched rubber bands around a yardstick glued to an empty box of tissues. You discovered that an upside-down Tupperware container and metal ladle offered a dull bass thud, steel pots and wooden spoons a snare, a whisk clashing against the metal lid a nice cymbal.
Honestly, how could you hear Michael Jackson’s Thriller and not be inspired to create music yourself? Countless twenty- and thirtysomethings, many of whom point to Thriller as their first album or cassette ever purchased, have rediscovered the primal joy of making do. The drive to create never went away. Neither did the lack of funds. Technology has improved, however. And now the instruments they construct are wired and modified — complicated electronics and unpredictable circuits primed for bending — plugged in and held together in an open suitcase with expansion foam. A childlike fervor is evident in their use of manipulated toys such as a Simon or Hotlik guitar, obnoxious or funky video game noises and beats, ear-splitting chainsaw grinding and nonsensical, cryptic lyrics barked into "special effects" toy microphones or megaphones. The homemade aspect offers a certain organic sense to the blip-bleep tech fever, as do vocals delivered with a certain Jagger-esque swagger and drums with a manic, fast-as-your-arms-can-move verve. If you must get technical, it's kind of rock meets punk meets noise meets no wave meets garage sale meets after-school special.
One of the wildest performers in Michigan’s "make-do" circuit is Brighton’s Lindsay Karty, who goes by the name of Viki (sometimes Viki Hott). She's become a bit of a phenomenon, picking up fans mostly through word of mouth. This weekend, she's gathering up some friends for "Viki’s Party 2001," at Third Street Saloon, 701 W. Forest at Third, in Detroit. Last August, she held a similar party, which was her first performance of the material she now delivers under the Viki moniker.
"Last year I wanted it to be a bunch of bands that don’t play a lot and that’s what it’s going to be like this year, except I play a lot more now. But it’s my thing so I get to play," Karty explains. "It's gonna be JeanStreet (which is Nate Young from Wolf Eyes) and Time G-8 (Dan Tower and Colleen Finnigan). Brad Hale’s gonna DJ. Maximum Cloud (which besides a short set at the Erase Errata show a few weeks back hasn't played in almost two years) and Slysko are going to play. And Viki."
Like one of the cool kids from the "Degrassi High" television show — or any teen movie made in the ’80s for that matter — who just didn't have time for fashion or drama, Viki gets right down to business. When it's her turn to perform, she hops up on stage, sets up her various switchboards and "instruments," plugging in and turning on the programmed drums.
"I don't go out on dates," she exclaims. "I only hang out with my friends!" (She admits that this statement comes from a scene in the movie Over the Edge.) While her beats and buzzes are downright striking, Viki's lyrics are always the highlight of the performances.
Another song, "Perfect Strangers," hints at the alluring charm of Balki Bartokomous as it begins, "Get out … of the cit-y!" Other lyrics originate from various things people have said to her over the years or just whatever’s on her mind. One thing that remains constant throughout her content is a sort of unintentional humor. She claims she's not really trying to say anything with her lyrics.
"It's about me. It's all about me. That's what it really is. I'm not trying to talk to anybody about anything. No message. Nothing. It's all about me and my personal life." But in doing that she's almost saying more. It sounds as though she's just saying the first thing that comes to mind, which gives her lyrics a very uncontrived attitude. "This is what it sounds like if you were good!"
Karty got her start playing in a group with Maximum Cloud’s Dirty Tony called The New Weird. She also played a few shows with Maximum Cloud. Then it was time to introduce her solo project, Viki.
"At first, I wanted to be in a band, but I didn't have any money, so I started making all those toys and everything, all my instruments. Then I started adding stuff and I started accumulating equipment. So I have more now, but at that point, I wanted to start doing music and I didn't have anything. And my friends Tony and Nate, they were doing that too. So I just was like, ‘OK, that's the way I'm gonna go, I guess, because that's the only way I can afford.’ And there was nothing really exciting else that I wanted to do."
Her first instrument was a Lectonic Dreamcather. "It looked like an electronic dreamcatcher. It had all these wires coming out of it. So I glued a bunch of feathers to it and made it a real dreamcatcher."
At first, Viki was an outlet for Karty’s secret feminine side. "My first show, I kind of wanted it to be this girlie thing. I tried to dress up. I'm not like that so I thought it would be funny, but then I was like, I'd rather just be a bad ass. I don't know if it's really a persona anymore. But yeah, it is, kind of. ’Cause when I get on stage I can really scream. I like doing that. Yeah. I like screaming … I've never been into singing. I just talk about stuff. That's what I'm really doing. I'm just talking. I don't try to make my words go along with the song. I'm just talking over it. Or yelling about something. … I don't sing. And I never thought I would do vocals over stuff, but it makes it so much more fun and entertaining."
Kalamazoo’s Scratch-n-Sniff label recently released her Perfect Strangers 7-inch. She says she might release her next project, a 12-inch record ("for the DJs") with that label as well. Before that, she put together homemade packaging for 11 CD-Rs during her downtime working in one of Eastern Michigan University’s computer labs or at her mom’s skateboard shop. There are about five different covers and the tracks vary from disc to disc.
"I don’t want to really start recording again until after summer’s over," Karty says. "Because I'm just having fun, playing shows and stuff. After that, I’ll start recording some stuff. I don’t know if it’ll be the next thing that comes out, but there's gonna be a CD on ToYo Records with Wolf Eyes and Maximum Cloud and myself — a compilation."
Of course, when more than one artist in a certain area performs with even the remotest similarity, some enterprising music journalist is gonna want to slap a name on it. Last year, the Village Voice dubbed the sound "garbagetronica."
"Everybody thinks it’s the stupidest thing that was ever said about it and it’s embarrassing," Karty moans. "It’s so stupid. But people that don’t see this kind of stuff, I have no idea what to tell them that it is. Because it’s not electronica. I don’t do rock music either. I have no idea what to tell people what kind of music I make. It’s really hard. Somebody’s gonna have to come up with something good though. Someone’s gonna have to write an article and come up with something cool."
Um, how about toy-tech? Junk-punk-and/or-funk? Er, forget it. Better yet, just go hear for yourselves and forget this genre-fication nonsense.
Saturday, Aug. 11
Third Street Saloon
701 W. Forest at Third, Detroit