Bruce Haack – “Haackula” (2008)

September 18, 2008 at 11:42 pm (Reviews & Articles)

The spotlight today goes on a man, who up until yesterday I don’t believe I had ever heard of. Read about him, downloaded a couple of albums and now I’m a true believer. Electric Lucifer (from 1970) and Haackula (from 1978 but unreleased officially until this year – although copies have circulated for years) – 2 amazing albums of proto-techno electronica. They sound futuristic and totally retro at the same time – very cool stuff.
I found this article on a website called
Okayplayer. It was written by El Keter on Aug. 29, 2008. Check out the article to find out about Haack and then check out these two albums. Amazing stuff.
Note though that before Electric Lucifer, Haack did in fact make other albums – but they were children’s albums with someone named Esther Nelson. He wrote many children’s songs in fact, before becoming a kind of pioneer in the world of electronic music. What’s funny is that the songs he wrote for these albums were clearly not meant for children – one of the reasons actually why Haackula was never officially released at the time.     

I can think of no better way to cap off our week spent in analysis of the synthesis between humanity and technology in music than to profile Bruce Haack, one of the fathers of electronic music as we know it.
In addition to being a “synthesizer music” pioneer Haack was something of a Nikola Tesla-like visionary. While synthesizer technology was still in its infancy Haack — who was not formally trained in the science of electronics — built his own instruments out of the guts of household appliances. These included a number of unique devices which utilized bioelectricity, the human body, touch and movement to create sound, as well as a 12-voice polyphonic synthesizer created at a time when the state-of-the-art in synthesizers were only monophonic. He was also a proponent of the notion that computers, electronic communication and electricity would have a profound impact on the mental, physical and spiritual health of the human race. And he even prophecied the existence of an electronic network over which people would create and share music independent of record label interference as far back as 1969!
His debut album, 1970’s The Electric Lucifer — a mind-altering brew of ahead-of-its-time electronic Chamber-Pop, post Summer of Love anti-war humanism and spaced-out apocalyptic metaphysical philosophizing that incorporated mythology, mysticism, technology and a universal force he called “Powerlove” into it’s eschatological hermeneutics — is one of my favorite albums of all time. It was also his only major-label release, and he would spend much of his ensuing career recording children’s music rather than sprawling concept albums. And when he finally did return to creating more serious, more personal, and more adult work to satisfy his creative ambitions with 1978’s Haackula it was just as sprawling (if infinitely more in-focused), just as conceptual and just as serious, but so much more personal and so much more adult!
So much so in fact that the potentially controversial record didn’t see release at the time (but did inspire a toned-down 1981 revision titled Bite) and wasn’t officially released until only recently after being bootlegged for years. The music on Haackula wasn’t drastically different from Electric Lucifer — comprised of sputtering drum-machine beats overlaid with burbling synthesized basslines, warbling, whistling, wheezing and wailing synth leads, blips, bleeps, zaps & pings, and Bruce’s unique, often vocoded, vocals — but by the late ’70s the rest of the world was only beginning to catch up to Haack, so it still sounded fresh. What was most striking about the record though, and likely the reason the album was denied a commercial release for so long, is Haack’s songwriting and lyricism. Rife with anti-establishment sentiment, anti-educational rhetoric, unhinged sexual references, conspiratorial warnings, venomous attacks on his critics and those who he viewed as insincere or artistically or intellectually inferior, and more expletives than was customary prior to the rise of so-called “Gangsta Rap” Haackula is still something of a shock to the modern ear.
He wastes no time getting started, opening the album with a speedy tune called “Lie Back” that sounds like an 8-bit video-game theme where he declares the arrival of “Powerlove” imminent and angrily growls that “nobody ever told the fuckin’ truth to you” as a warning to listeners oblivious to the societal screwjob being perpetrated against them. The theme carries over to “Blow Job,” where Haack describes the dull drudgery of “the living part of life” as “second best” to true physical and spiritual freedom, likening it to receiving oral sex in place of actual intercourse over a trundling bassline, electro-tom rolls, Theremin-like yowling and a pretty Mellotron-sounding solo. But on “Play Me Your Album” he lays the mental revolution aside and goes for dolo, explicitly telling people who don’t like his records to suck his manhood for three-plus minutes over spacey synth sweeps, playful keyboard melodies and bubbly electronic percussion.
Bootleg copies of the album have long included an anomalous closing track; an eight-minute Post-Disco dance jam called “Party Machine” featuring a primitive Rap which proclaims that “the Haack attack is back,” describes Bruce Haack as “anti-wack,” shouts out the likes of James Brown and Kurtis Blow and waxes philosophical about a dystopian “computer complex.” Unsurprisingly, “Party Machine” wasn’t part of the sessions that produced Haackula at all, but was the result of a collaboration between Haack and budding Hip-Hop business tycoon Russell Simmons of all people. Even for Haack, whose music prefigured the electronic dance music of today, “Party Machine” is anachronistically funky so it always stood out. But regardless of when or where it was recorded I’m just glad it saw the light of day.
Thankfully it’s included on the recently-released remastered official CD and digital issuance of Haackula, which also includes a 32-plus minute suite called “Icarus” from 1979 by way of a bonus. Despite its harsh content it just might be the ideal introduction to Bruce Haack for neophytes since it’s mostly lacking his far-out spiritualism which some casual listeners could find too esoteric, and it’s not a kiddie record which the “cool” among us might find too campy or potentially embarrassing to give a chance.

El Keter

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