How did the band The Make-Up contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Contributions: Live Albums and Interactive Agenda and Genre

The band The Make-Up, with roots in punk rock and hardcore rock, contribute to music in two ways, both of which were radical and innovative but may or may not prove to be influential in forging new directions that other bands follow, remembering that there were those who adamantly objected to The Make-Up and are hoping that their innovations will not be influential.

Contribution: Live Albums

Admittedly weak in songwriting talent, The Make-Up made up for that weakness by emphasizing an experimental approach in live performances that carried over to their albums. The Make-Up made their performances participatory for the audiences and interactive between performers and audience. For instance, lead singer Ian Svenonious improvised songs onstage. This live spontaneity was carried over in the albums they recorded: Instead of polished tracks of thoughtfully composed songs, as you'd find, for example, on Najee's albums, The Make-Up strove to literally or representationally capture the feeling, the energy, the interactive spontaneity of their onstage performances in the majority of their albums. In fact, their first album was Destination: Love LIVE! At Cold Rice, which was released by the Dischord label in 1996, a year after their 1995 founding.

Contribution: Interactive Agenda

Sprung from the earlier political band Nation of Ulysses--composed of three out of four of the members of The Make-Up--the band members had a political, anti-capitalist, pro-Marxist message to impart, or to "wreak" upon the world, that was combined with a theological "gospel" message of relevance to individual needs and to socio-political dilemmas. They were not passive in their messages but violent and advocated physical retribution against the abuses of society and culture dominating capitalists. 

Contribution: Genre

The Make-Up created a new genre that incorporated post-punk rock with the traditions of African American gospel music that integrates the lead singer with the gospel congregation through techniques that arose because of widespread illiteracy in early churches and that took the singer down from off the dais, thus breaking the proscenium wall of the alter-dais when seen as a stage, so that the congregation became part of the formal worship paradigm, not observers. Some such techniques are:

  • call and response vocals (the congregation repeats what the lead singer sings)
  • physical "transgression" of the proscenium "fourth wall"
  • dialogic discussion in which the congregation responds vocally to what the lead singer or speaker expresses

When explaining the bands appropriation of the form of African American gospel music, Ian Svenonius said

Gospel music seems the most immediate, the most passionate and bendable form. We want to revitalize rock'n'roll and make it a communicative thing, rather than an alienating thing .... the guitar exists at the same tone as the voice. Its the same frequency as the voice. We don't want those [two] things to compete. We want to make a gospel, oratorical, sermon-based, ad-libbed form of music. (Ian Svenonius qtd on Wikipedia)

Background

The Make-UP is a Washington D.C. band that was founded in 1995 by three musicians who had collaborated with each other on other bands since 1988. The Make-Up developed a new music genre derived from the techniques employed in African American gospel music and called Gospel Yeh-Yeh. Since Gospel Yeh-Yeh is incorporated with a longstanding Marxist anti-capitalist political agenda, some critics define the genre as "liberation theology." The Make-Up derives from post-punk rock but has roots in soul, punk and rhythm and blues (R&B). Part of the 1960s-inspired rock revival of the mid-1990s in indie and punk rock, The Make-Up specializes in energetic and participatory live shows. Band members were:

  • 1995, vocalist Ian Svenonious
  • 1995, guitarist James Canty
  • 1995, drummer Steve Gamboa, and
  • 1995, bassist Michelle Mae
  • 1999, guitarist Alex Minoff

Early History

First Collaboration

Svenonious, Canty and Gamboa were long-time associates who collaborated together in the formation of three bands before founding The Make-Up in 1995. They first collaborated in 1988 on founding the "violent and rejectionist" post-hardcore band Nation of Ulysses. A political band that aimed to "wreak their [anti-capitalist] vision on the world," the band was an anarchist-punk quintet that included:

  • Svenonious on vocals and trumpet,
  • Canty on drums,
  • Gamboa on bass,
  • Tim Green on guitar
  • Steve Kroner on guitar

The band broke after the release of their album Plays Pretty For Baby, released on the Dischord label, in 1992, which when Steve Kroner left the band.

Second Collaboration

After Nation of Ulysses broke up, with their third album uncompleted and unreleased, the trio of Svenonious, Canty and Gamboa collaborated once again and founded in 1993 the band Cupid Car Club, M.P. Managing without Kroner, they added a fourth member on bass:

  • Svenonious, vocals
  • Canty, guitar
  • Gamboa, drums
  • Kim Thompson, bass

This band collaboration ended in 1994 following their single extended play (EP) release "Werewolves" EP.

Third Collaboration

In 1994, after the dissolution of Cupid Car Club, M.P., the trio of Svenonious, Canty and Gamboa collaborated once again to form the band The T.A.M.I. Show. This short-lived project did lead to the introduction of Michelle Mae Orr to the group; she would continue to be important to the trio as the fourth collaboration unfolded.

  • 1994, Svenonious
  • 1994, Canty,
  • 1994, Gamboa
  • 1995, drafted Michelle Mae Orr on bass

Forth Collaboration

The fourth collaboration of Svenonious, Canty and Gamboa lead to their most successful band, The Make-Up, which included Michelle Mae Orr, who later came to be known simply as Michelle Mae. In a 1999 interview with Weekly Wire, Svenonious discussed his motivation for starting The Make-Up. In the interview, Svenonious said:

Our [other] band, Nation of Ulysses, was a political party. And this one, it's based on [African American] gospel. Political people as well as performers have had a habit of retreating into the church. We go there because the church is not subject to the whims of the pop marketplace.

The Make-Ups Single Releases

  • 1995, "Blue is Beautiful" EP single on their own Black Gemini Records
  • 1995, 2nd and 3rd release, combination EPs, one with Meta-Matics and one with Slant 6
  • 1996, single called "R.U.A. Believer" 
  • 1997, "Free Arthur Lee"
  • 1997, "Wade in the Water
  • 1997, "Hanging Out in Somebody Else's World" featured on a compilation album

The Make-Ups Albums

  • 1998, In Mass Mind
  • 1999, collection of top singles on I Want Some: e.g., "Pow! to the People," "Blue is Beautiful," "Free Arthur Lee"
  • 1999, studio (not live) album Save Yourself

The band dissolved its ties in 2000 at which point Svenonious said that the creativity had worn out since their message was a particular political socio-cultural one and since there were any annoying number of bands copying their performance style.

The Make-Up's form of presentation was getting redundant because it was getting copied too much. It needed changing or stopping, so we stopped! (Svenonious qtd by The Stranger)

Svenonious and Mae were still playing together as of 2004 in a band called Weird War, with an album released: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em.

Source: Ryan Allen. "The Make-Up." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 53. Gale Cengage, 2006.

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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Make-Up is an American band that performed and recorded transformative music for five years, from 1995 - 2000. All five of the group's members came from other bands or groups to form this one. 

The Make-Up's music was a combination of soul and garage rock, plus something they invented and referred to as "liberation theology." This combination created a new genre, something they called "Gospel Yeh-Yeh." 

While the group recorded six albums, four in the studio and two live, the emphasis of their music became their live performances. The Make-Up encouraged interaction between the band and the audience, treating it as another member of the band. 

The band's music developed along two parallel tracks: a kind of gospel music and a communist-influenced political philosophy. They believed capitalism was the primary philosophy represented in modern pop and rock and roll music. While this socio-political philosophy was not implicitly expressed in the group's music, it was certainly expressed during their live concerts and in interviews with the band's leader, Ian Svenonius.

Svenonius and the band clearly wanted to incite an uprising among their fans to create a culture counter to what they saw as the capitalistic and self-centered society. 

The Make-Up wanted their fans to be entertained, but they also wanted to allow the audience to be participatory in the musical experience. Despite the band's rather free-thinking philosophy, their concerts were more structured than a typical rock and roll jam session.

After creating a new genre of music which is known as "Gospel Yeh-Yeh," The Make-Up dissolved the band. In a press release, the band's spokesman explained their breakup this way:

[D]ue to the large number of counter-gang copy groups which had appropriated their look and sound and applied it to vacuous and counter-revolutionary forms.

Later, Svenonius added that the group dissolved because so many people were copying them and they were beginning to feel "redundant." He added that since others are now doing what they started, The Make-Up no longer needed to do it.

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