“I don’t know any similar record labels outside Slovenly Recordings who are as dedicated to similar tastes as Beat-Man. Why Voodoo Rhythm Records? There are only a few releases I didn’t cover because I didn’t care for them. Think about that and how massive Voodoo Rhythm’s catalog is. Beat-Man trusts his taste, and that’s what has carried the label for this long plus. Also, his ‘fuck you’ attitude is what I like most about the guy.” (Patrick Bruneel – Journalist)
In 2007, Voodoo Rhythm Records proprietor, Beat Zeller, or known worldwide as Beat-Man, gave a blunt statement in Swiss newspaper Berner Zeitung about his feelings towards his country but his admiration for its capital city. “I‘m not a fan of Switzerland, but Bern is my heart and my blood,” Zeller says. “This city is where I found the blues.”
Strong words from Europe‘s poster child of neutrality and the cradle city of techno duo, Yello, coming from someone whose life‘s work has contributed to the growth and notoriety of both the nation and city‘s music culture, domestically and abroad. These words have a historical context, given that 150 years ago, the Swiss government strictly outlawed any music whose intentions weren‘t for the church, as Beat-Man states. Growing up in the 1970s in the nation‘s capital exposed Beat-Man to the marginalized sides of music and visual arts that fostered Zeller‘s interests in fringe culture and forged his identity as an outsider artist, graphic designer, business owner, and musician involved in various projects involving a fusion of blues, punk rock, industrial, ‘60s garage, Lucha masks, and dog collars.
As a founding member of The Monsters, their chainsaw-through-bone garage punk sound has taken the Swissman out of their landlocked borders to different corners of the world. The chaotic performances of Beat-Man‘s former alter-ego, Lightning Beat-Man, incorporated live wrestling maneuvers, nudity, and dissonant one-man rock to audiences all over Europe before serious injuries stemming from the live performances forced him to take a step down from the extreme persona and into primitive, backwoods gospel n‘ hostility sounds of Reverend Beat-Man.
Bern is also the home to Voodoo Rhythm Records, Beat-Man’s visual and aural vehicle he’s maintained and grown over 30 years to bring other outsider music and throwback album graphics to a broad audience. There’s depth in the Voodoo Rhythm roster as styles of artist releases cross from full bands to the Econo one-man/woman band, playing a range of cumbia, punk, gypsy swing, zydeco, electro-synth, garage, country, psychedelic, and blues. The genres that live here are adjective laden descriptors of standard subgenres to give the listener a broader context of what they are about to hear: She Wolf Renegade Riot One Girl Band, Industrial Brachial Minimal Blues Noise, Cumbia Fuzz Garage Psych, Wild Teenage Primitive Chainsaw Massacre Trash Rock n’ Roll, Funeral Orchestra Blues Trash, and Spooky Exotica Burlesque Toy Junk Muzak Trash.
These are only five descriptors out of many with bands ranging as local as Bern and Geneva, to as far east as Japan, far west as the United States, to the far time zones of Australia, up north in Norway, and far south as Argentina. What brings them together? In layman’s terms, their music is weird as hell and far-flung from the commercial realm, which has kept Voodoo Rhythm together for so long. The label is something different for those unaware and uninterested in the Top 40 of any genre.
Thirty years is a milestone for any company, especially one in the cutthroat entertainment business. Voodoo Rhythm has encountered its share of hurdles over the years. With the label marking this occasion, people who know Beat-Man discuss times in the label‘s earliest years before it took shape into its moniker “The Church of the Blues Trash.”
The Rise of Taeb Zerfall and Zerfall Tapes (1983 – 1984)
Three years after the Zurich-based Opernhauskrawalle birthed a slew of alternative cultures across Switzerland and the tail end of the second wave of punk rock hit, Beat-Man first discovered punk through his older sibling‘s tape trading with friends to the north in Berlin. Before Switzerland allowed a half-hour of radio programming per week dedicated to alternative music in 1984, tape trading and reading about other music scenes in fanzines was the only way to find out what was going on in other parts of the world like Detroit, Paris, Vancouver, and West Berlin. With such restrictions for new rock music enacted in their home country, Swiss alternative musicians looked outside their borders for opportunities to be heard and found allies in the American record labels expressing interest in the Swiss metal scene and John Peel‘s BBC program giving Swiss punk music a national platform.
Even at age 17, Beat-Man already knew his country was not broadcasting such large acts like AC/DC and Scorpions and found it strange given the extreme popularity of those and other rock bands. This awareness of the unavailability of such music in his country and his father giving him an acoustic guitar were the two events that set him on a path towards Voodoo Rhythm and began with his first venture into making and releasing his kind of music with his first label Zerfall Tapes releasing the music of Taeb Zerfall. Taeb Zerfall is the alter-ego and initial venture into one-man band territory that Beat-Man describes as an Elvis Presley and Einstürzende Neubauten‘s combination, laying the groundwork into his future, crazy Lucha persona Lightning Beat-Man.
Beat-Man (Owner – Voodoo Rhythm Records|guitar/vocals – The Monsters/Lightning Beat-Man/Reverend Beat-Man): “That part of my life was happening in ‘83 through ‘84, and all 30 of those tapes I made were recorded from the radio; it was so illegal (laughs)! These tapes were of The Cramps, Einstürzende Neubauten, and others; I just made copies of each release and traded with other tape labels I knew. Now Taeb Zerfall, nobody wanted that stuff, and I only had three releases which were all self-recorded through a small cassette tape machine on my father’s hi-fi system. I had to record that ping pong style and only whenever my parents walked in the mountains. Here’s how I did this: you record on one tape, then play that tape and record on the other tape machine to add something like another instrument. That can go on forever, and the quality of the music gets worse every time. My parents couldn’t stand it!
My parents couldn’t understand my playing; they were curious and scared. I remember going to guitar school for one lesson and skipping that one lesson; I hated learning what my parents wanted me to play, which was Swiss folk. Fuck that. I always wanted to play like Angus Young. I taught myself my chords and bought a book with 1,000 tips for guitar players, which I never read and is now in my record store still (The Hardware Store) unread and for sale, (laughs)!”
The Monsters Awaken (1986)
With Taeb Zerfall laying the one-man-band groundwork that would become much more substantial in Beat-Man‘s life in a few years, he further honed his playing chops in local new wave, psychobilly, and rock n‘ roll bands around Bern, while supporting himself working as an electrician. Moving on from band to band due to boredom and wanting a specific sound coupled with the heavy restrictions of Switzerland‘s radio programming, Beat-Man and a couple of other outsiders started The Monsters as a response to the mainstream music that continued taking over Switzerland‘s airwaves.
Their musical reaction against the biggest hits of the year like Madonna‘s “Papa Don’t Preach” and their country‘s eastern neighbour, Falco‘s “Rock Me Amadeus,” was an infusion of horror movies, trash culture, proto-‘60s garage punk, psychobilly, and straight-up rock n‘ roll. With the lineup in flux for the first few years, The Monsters early core of Beat-Man, Yves, and Janosh staked their claim within Europe‘s punks scene with tours across Switzerland and parts of Europe. This slew of activity and having a connected drummer paid off when a record dealer named Pfifu, who ran Bern-based record store and label, Record Junkie signed The Monsters. and from 1988 to 1995, played a crucial role in their development with Record Junkie releasing the band‘s first three albums up to The Monster’s label swan song, Youth Against Nature.
Janosh (Bass – The Monsters): “As far as I know, there were no other labels interested in our stuff, and we also had a solid friendship with Pfifu. With all this, it was clear that we released our music with Record Junkie.”
Beat-Man: “Pfifu was more of a noise rocker or a post-punk. Our old drummer from ‘87 to ‘90, Peppe, kind of slipped us in front of Pfifu when he began working at Record Junkie. He was a bit curious at; first, we were doing something very new at the time and attracted a scene that Pfifu didn’t like much. However, after he saw The Monsters play several times, he was totally into our stuff.”
Enter Lightning Beat-Man & The Birth of Voodoo Rhythm Records (1992)
The Monsters progressed their name further within the European underground circuit. Beat-Man worked as a driver/roadie for local Swiss and international rock n’ roll bands. During this stint, a commonality he shared with some of these groups was that multiple record labels were unwilling to extend a release opportunity due to their music being too strange or niche. This shared experience from his Taeb Zerfall year coupled with the audience Beat-Man saw each night for these artists made him realize this was an opportunity for himself to start a new label and make a difference for other niche groups that share the same predicament. He knew how to get his product out but knew he needed to improve his process; luckily for him, the four years The Monsters have been with Record Junkie at the time gave Beat-Man access to Pfifu’s brain about the intricacies and must-dos for running a legitimate record label instead of a half-baked operation.
Beat-Man: “Voodoo Rhythm Records was started from my living room with all the money I earned from my graphic design work, my job, then as an electrician, and playing shows. All the releases up until today were a financial loss for the label. I worked a lot through the day into the night to pull the record label off, and the money the label made was put back into the label, which is still the case today. Switzerland had a trash and garage rock n’ roll explosion at the time, which made organizing that compilation easy because those bands mainly were my friends. It’s a very small rock n’ roll scene here in Switzerland, so everyone knows each other.”
Robert Butler (aka Pantichrist, Dink Winkerton, Fuzzy Butler, and the Butt in KattButt Productions: Guitars/Vocals – The Get Lost/Lightning Beat-Man/Reverend Beat-Man & The Unbelievers): “The Record Junkie label, was a big component in the birth of Voodoo Rhythm. Local bands were releasing singles through Record Junkie, and the label was a great little record shop where all the losers in town would meet. I met a lot of really cool bands at the shop, and many of them invited my ex-wife Kat Aellen, and myself to produce and record their work.”
Beat-Man: “Pfifu was my label guru. Through him, I learned about copyright registrations, how to arrange a mastering session, handle promotional costs, and, more importantly, keep a good, friendly line with the press. But Pfifu and I had different tastes; he was more England-oriented and liked a lot of the stuff on Rough Trade, while I was more American-oriented and into Sun and Stax Records. But both of us wanted to show people music they’ve never heard of, let alone knew existed, and that’s why I started Voodoo Rhythm.
The important lesson I took away from Zerfall Tapes was that it’s not fair to record a live band and spread their music around without asking for permission. Zerfall Tapes was too punk rock. I wanted Voodoo Rhythm to be more professional and began corresponding with bands I wanted to release. When I contacted the bands at the start, most of them didn’t bother to write back. So again, I started to release my music first. I learned that when you make a quality product with your work, you don’t have to ask bands for releases; they’ll start asking you to release their work.”
The first label release from Voodoo Rhythm resulted in a co-produced compilation with Record Junkie that gave an additional platform for Bern’s underground rock world and a glimpse of Beat-Man’s vision. Garage Punk Primitive Rock n’ Roll Psychotic Reactions From Switzerland sold through their 500 pressings the first week of release and currently fetches a high asking price of Discogs. The 15 tracks comprising the compilations showcase a period of Switzerland’s underground rock scene crossing the garage, psychedelic, punk, and stoner rock genres with tracks by The Coronets, Bishop’s Daughter, Roy, and The Devil’s Motorcycle, The Reaction, and others. However, the concluding track on the B-side, a crude one-track recording of sub-lo fi cut with a practice amp riff over the shrieking of the word “tonight” from the top of their lungs, is the world’s introduction to the one-man wrestling spectacle, Lightning Beat-Man.
Robert Butler: “Ok, let’s define what Lightning Beatman was to me in the early days. Those early recordings were private recordings that Beatman made at home on a little four-track recorder in the mid-1980s to early-1990s under the moniker LIGHTNING BEAT-MAN. Very rough, wrong raw as fuck, and that’s what made it so right!”
Lightning Beatman is the parallel universe version of Blue Demon in every possible way imaginable and of fighting rivals like El Santo; he’s fighting with himself, his band, or his guitar, all while playing a set. The concept for Lightning Beat-Man arose after spending half a year traveling and camping solo across the United States in a cheap cart; Beat-Man figured out his next performance move during a stop in Los Angeles when he witnessed a Lucha libre mask and became transfixed on the costumes the luchadores wore and the intensity of the matches and the fans.
Leaving the United States with a mask purchased from a Los Angeles sex shop and armed with boxing shorts, a cape, and an acoustic or electric guitar, Lightning Beat-Man traveled across Europe solo or with a small band in tow for the next seven years playing anywhere that would incur the liability and risk of a body breaking spectacle that a Lightning Beat-Man show brought. It didn’t matter if he was playing a bar or an art gallery; a wrestling show would happen one way or another.
Robert Butler: “We rocked so many houses and fucked up so many clubs, we all didn’t know that this wrestling would take on its own dimension in a punk club, but it did! When Lightning Beat-Man and the rest of us put those masks on our heads, we transformed, and the crazy part is the masks ALONE led to all the wrestling we did on stage. None of that was planned or rehearsed, the wrestling part came from the masks, and if Lightning Beat-Man weren’t performing in a mask, there wouldn’t be the idea of wrestling during our sets. He’d beat the shit out of us and then drag us on stage afterward to put on a ripping, adamant rock n’ roll show. I’d be playing guitar and doing all the moderation during the wrestling matches. Lightning Beat-Man could let himself go in so many different directions every night. I didn’t know if I was working with GG Allin, Iggy Pop, or Lux Interior because anything could happen during a Lightning Beat-Man show.“
Beat-Man: “It’s true; the mask would take possession of me whenever I put it on myself. The idea for Lightning Beat-Man was me wrestling myself and always winning, along with how much trash can I get out of a guitar. At the time, I was the first one-man band that wasn’t playing anything mainstream like dance music or polka or whatever. I did an average of 200 shows a year across Europe by myself and later with Pantichrist (Robert Butler) and as part of a wrestling circus. Every show, I tried to out-extreme the last one, which led to Lightning Beat-Man stopping because I took the show too far one time and wholly fucked myself up, including breaking something in my back.
Here’s an example of a solo Lightning Beat-Man show. One of the last shows I did as Lightning Beat-Man took place at an art gallery in Lucerne that I think has been torn down and replaced by a 100 million dollar art house called KKL. At the time of my show, the booker for the gallery hired many local performing artists to play a revolving set in different parts of the studio where this exhibition was. When he approached me about participating, I asked if he knew about my shows and how crazy they could be, to which he said yes and was ok with it. So, we agreed, and on the day of the show, I arrived at the venue, and he told me to set up an area with a salad bar next to the performance area.
When my time came to perform, I walked into the salad and kicked that shit everywhere, then took some salad and threw it on some nearby valuable paintings. I looked over at the booker, who was surrounded by a group of people, every one of them looking shocked while the booker’s face was turning blood red with anger. When I finished my set, I politely went up to the booker, shook his hand, got paid, and was asked not to return.”
Robert Butler: “So, get this story. In 1994, I was in a band called Bishop’s Daughter, and we were about to release our record Divine and Moral Songs For Children. We had this two-week tour booked and were looking to hire a driver for this run. We played a show before this tour, and Lightning Beat-Man was slated as the opening act. I remember seeing him perform and at the time, his show didn’t convince me. After our soundcheck, Beat-Man and I chatted, and he mentioned he wouldn’t mind driving the band around Germany. It made sense; we already had an awesome location for our record release party and some radical acts already opening the show. When the show began a few hours later, Lightning Beat-Man was due up, and I went into the middle of the crowd to check out his set. Fucking A, Beat-Man, with acoustic guitar in hand, came out wearing a Lucha Libre mask and a Dracula cape on his back with what looked like sports tights with boxing shorts over them and army boots. He started singing these songs that sounded so powerful from where I was standing; I had to look around the room, and from the expressions on the crowd’s faces, no one knew what was going on.
He then proceeded to beat his guitar as a terrible husband does to his loved one. Watching him was like watching what love and hate are when both come together, and he couldn’t stop whatever he was doing for those 13 minutes on stage. He was doing tons of stupid shit on stage, like jumping around to the point where you thought you were watching one of those flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz! I don’t care what people’s opinions are, but that was performance art and one of the rare moments when the hair on the back of my neck stood up (laughs)! Not only does he play incredible rock n’ roll music, but he was the funniest guy I’ve ever seen on a punk stage. After the show, I went off stage to congratulate him and demanded he open every show on our tour. He humbly agreed!”
Beat-Man: “Yes, at that time, being a driver for a few bands from Switzerland and internationally allowed me to bring Lightning Beat-Man on tour. I’d open the shows and would have to out-extreme every performance from the last, so the booker remembered me and invited me back. I did all sorts of crazy things like puking on stage and wrestling with myself and my guitar. Eventually, enough show offers came to me where I didn’t have to drive bands anymore and just went on my own solo tours.”
Robert Butler: “Around that time, Beat-Man and his business partner Tiger Romig started Bern’s first (and sadly, the only) laundromat called Jet-Wash, which still stands today. Since then, Beat-Man and Tiger had stepped out of the laundromat business years ago. However, Jet Wash was our hangout back in the day, and I don’t remember ever doing much laundry there. We were starting to form our own party company during this period, which was inspired by this multimedia extravaganza we all knew called Project Blue. Project Blue was a collective of artistic friends who promoted shows from local and international acts, mainly focusing on ‘60s garage punk and psych.
Beat-Man already had quite a few LPs and singles under his belt with The Monsters, who were already playing all over the country. Through all this touring, he met other rockabilly, psychedelic, garage punk, whatever kind of rock bands you can think of and invited them to record something for his sampler called Garage Punk Primitive Rock n‘ Roll Psychotic Reactions From Switzerland, which became the first Voodoo Rhythm release. That compilation is a good retrospective of Switzerland‘s underground rock n‘ roll scene in the early 1990s.”
The Next Six Years (1993 – 1999)
The following two years for Voodoo Rhythm, Lightning Beat-Man, and The Monsters are expansions out of Switzerland and further into the European underground. 1993 sees the record label securing a distribution deal across Holland and both The Monsters and Lightning Beat-Man embarking on their first tours of France and Germany. The same year, Lightning Beat-Man signed with Record Junkie, who issued his debut album to the world, the crudely recorded Wrestling Rock n’ Roll 10.”
Robert Butler: “Kat (Aellen) and I were invited to help assemble that 10’ and I remember hearing the album for the first time in a mastering studio somewhere in Bern. When the engineer turned the album on, I cracked up with what came out of those monitors. Sixteen songs on a 10’ with the music both so unequal and distorted, but in a good way! The discussion with the engineer was, ‘what do we need to change? This shit is perfect!’ All we did was enough changes to keep the record from blowing up people’s stereos.”
In 1995, a year after non-stop touring on Beat-Man’s part, which put Voodoo Rhythm on the backburner, distribution was secured via RecRec Music for the record label across Germany and Switzerland. The label expands their catalog further as well with more of Beat-Man’s projects highlighted in two 7” releases (The Monsters – Rock Around The Tombstone, Lightning Beat-Man/The In-Sekt – Born Bad/Knock Knock) along with The Monsters – Youth Against Nature LP followed by more touring across Europe. In 1996, more Beat-Man-related projects would be released with the Voodoo Rhythm 7” debut of Lightning Beat-Man (Beam Me Up Jesus…) and a three-song 7” of various Bernese artists related to The Monsters with Dink Winkerton Presenz.
A more significant release would see the light of day that year with one band featured on the Psychotic Reactions compilation becoming the first non-Beat-Man-related project to be released on the label with Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle issuing their debut 10”, Good Morning Blues. Beat-Man recalls the decision to sign the band occurred sometime after the compilation’s release when The Monsters were playing with The Roy’s at Cafe Mokka, the local bar in Thun. After soundcheck when The Roy’s set began, Beat-Man’s description of the brother’s set was as if time stood still from the sound they made, which he only describes as dissonant and primal, something completely unexpected from a quiet mountain town’s inhabitants.
Markus Stähli (Guitars/Vocals – Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle): “My brothers and I knew about Beat-Man from The Monsters and conversed with Pfifu whenever we went to Bern to visit the Record Junkie store; that’s how we became familiar with Beat-Man’s work and heard about Voodoo Rhythm. We recorded our first two 7’ releases for Pfifu before recording Good Morning Blues with Kat (Aellen). Both she and Robert went to Los Angeles to mix that record in a proper studio, and Larry Hardy from In The Red Records seemed interested in releasing it, which of course didn’t happen. We did additional mixing at the Reitschule Club in Bern, and Beat-Man released it. He started Voodoo Rhythm with a record label; who else would do that?
We’re still working with Beat-Man today because he’s very fair and continues doing his job in his way, which is rare. He releases our records because he likes our attitude towards making music, not because he’s scared. My brothers and I don’t explain our music; the key with Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle is not to understand. Beat-Man lets us do our thing with no pressure; it’s good to have someone like him in the neighbourhood.”
Kat Aellen (Bass – Bishop’s Daughter/The Get Lost): “Good Morning Blues was a crazy project. The Roys asked me to record that album because at the time, I was playing in Bishop’s Daughter, and we were sort of a cultish band around that time because there weren’t many psychedelic rock bands playing in Bern. So, they were our groupies (laughs) and would often come to our shows. Good Morning Blues was recorded in two places, their rehearsal space while I was sitting on a mattress on the floor and a venue I used to work at called Dachstock. It was a low-end production; I always call my productions ’blow fi’ because they’re lower than lo-fi, and that’s exactly how this record sounds. My idea for these guys was to have them observe the recording process and all the cabling involved. With how intense these guys are, I was sure they would record themselves much better than I would once they learned the process.
At the time, my ex-husband’s father had a stroke, so we flew back to Los Angeles to take care of him for a while, and I took the tapes with me because I wanted to find an analog studio to mix them. Larry (Hardy) from In The Red Records recommended me to Mike McHugh, who ran a studio called The Distillery. Mike had some really interesting equipment he was using to mix the record, but he found out I didn’t record in the correct RPM for the machines he was using. We figured we’d put the recordings at half speed on one machine and double it up on the other machine; all this work we did over two days, and in the end, there was too much hiss on the recording. We just dumped everything, and I told him that I’d take the tapes back home and see what we could do. When Voodoo Rhythm re-pressed that album last year, I was given a copy but couldn’t listen to it all the way through with how the production is on that album. The record after Good Morning Blues (Forgotten Million Sellers) sounds fantastic, and Markus recorded that one; it sounds top level with what he did.
With the release of Good Morning Blues, the notion that the label catered solely to its creator’s projects was eliminated, and an additional support vehicle for the European underground was firmly established. Towards the end of the century, the label catalog would grow further with releases from various German garage rock groups, the sophomore Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle release of Forgotten Millions Sellers, and the label debut of The Monsters (Birds Eat Martians) which would see Kat Aellen partner with Beat-Man on the recording end.”
Kat Aellen: “Recording Birds Eat Martian was a lot of fun. Still, I was shocked when Beat-Man asked me to record the record because Youth Against Nature was recorded at Toe Rag Studios in London. They have Abbey Road-level equipment; you can’t beat that! Beat-Man agreed, but the sound was too proper for him. He wanted a nastier sound on the next Monsters album, so we recorded Birds Eat Martian at my old rehearsal space in Zaffaraya, which I converted into a studio at the time. The Monsters guys were very open to experimenting with different studio techniques because I didn’t have the tools Toe Rag has, the nice compressors, nice EQ, and other shit. I built three walls on wheels, put some tile on one side of the room along with metal plates, and laid some PCM under the plates, so there’s reverb for the drums. We were finding ways with trashy ideas to get a specific, cool sound which I couldn’t do offhand, but The Monsters were open to all ideas to get that sound. It was a fun record to do but sad when you consider they just did something at Toe Rag.”
The year 1998 would also mark the grand finale for Lightning Beat-Man as he transitioned from a one-man wrecking crew into a full-on band called Lightning Beat-Man and The Never Heard of ‘Ems, who would release their eponymous Apartment Wrestling Rock n’ Roll upon the world around the same time a freak accident while on tour doomed the Lucha anti-hero to hang it up for good finally.
Beat-Man: “An accident happened on our last tour in 1998 where I broke my nose, totally cut up my arms, and worst of all broke something in my back while Pantichrist ended up breaking his fist. I even lost my voice for a whole year. When I went to see a doctor afterward, he ordered me to stop; all the wrestling we did was getting too out of control. He was right, too; that mask took hold of my personality and possessed me into becoming this Lucha libre monster!”
Robert Butler: “All those shows we did with Lightning Beat-Man were done on a nightclub floor, and we had mats maybe three times out of the hundreds of gigs we did. Also, you can’t just rehearse this wrestling shit; we improvised! Even though we were doing camp-style wrestling, it took a toll on Beat-Man’s back, and after doctors suggested we stop, that’s when we decided to call the band quits. There was one last tour booked, and instead of the wrestling show, we turned it into a ’Beat-Man massage cream back massage therapy,’ (laughs)! It worked out great, though, and I knew we were at the end; we out G.G.’d ourselves. We broke the rock n’ roll barriers on the health of our saviour’s back and had to throw in the towel. That’s when Reverend Beat-Man came to save the day.”
Beat-Man: ”Around the end of the 1990s, a dream entered my brain involving Tura Satana, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Johnson, Bettie Page, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Elvis all telling me to go a different way than where the mask led me and more specifically, preach the word. Since then, that’s all I’ve done, and after seeing the light and all the spells of the devil for this long, I know what I’m talking about.”
Robert Butler: ”I had a feeling Beat-Man wanted to go as the new Reverend project around the time he was collecting a lot of weird, obscure Christian albums. He wanted to push the needle into a religious theme, and Reverend Beat-Man is based on all the great references of the Deep South preachers you’d see on street corners playing a kick drum and a guitar while sermonizing the blues. This project was uncharted territory for us as we were all fluent in the ’50s rockabilly and ’60s garage sound. Still, we were searching for something more bluesy, which is heard on the Get On Your Knees LP, and that was a great challenge for us as Reverend Beat-Man and The Unbelievers.
As long as you put something great on the table, Beat-Man will eat it, and making plus recording that record was like slicing cake, no fuss/ego/or bullshit. Why? Because all the members in that band have a working history together with Gerry and me in The Miracle Workers and Janosh and Beat-Man in The Monsters going back to the mid-1980s.”
American Invasion: Expansion In The New Millennium (2000 – 2006)
The 1990s laid the label’s foundation; the new millennium would reinforce the notion of the label as an underground and respected powerhouse with an eclectic roster from different corners of the earth. Lightning Beat-Man’s retirement would also give way to the persona that fans outside of Europe would link the label boss with as Reverend Beat-Man gives way. Trading in boxing shorts for a dog collar and songs about wrestling and death, Reverend Beat-Man’s backwoods preacher dynamic saw him touring outside of Europe frequently performing songs about hell, Jesus, and The Beat-Man Way. At the turn of the century, Beat-Man’s first U.S. appearance occurs in the sweltering summer heat of Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Las Vegas Shakedown alongside 30 plus acts, including The Boss Martians, his old friends The Swinging Neckbreakers, Deadbolt, and over 20 more bands across the garage trash and exotica world.
Beat-Man: ”That Las Vegas show was organized by an English guy named Josh Collins who put on these parties called Frat Shack over in London. On the last night of that weekend, I remember accidentally breaking Deke Dickerson’s kick pedal that night and telling the bookers ahead of time that I use a kick drum like a motherfucker. Deke wasn’t happy; worst of all, it was a great vintage kick drum I ended up breaking. That night was our first time meeting each other too, he’s a great guy, and we became friends years later after that show, (laughs)! The Remains were playing too, and they’re one of my all-time favourite bands. I never ask anyone for autographs, anyone! However, I wanted theirs.”
Mighty Manfred (Guitars/Vocals – The Woggles): ”It’s interesting our name ended up on that Las Vegas Shakedown billing because The Woggles didn’t play that show, which is another story. Around the time Beat-Man changed into the Reverend, we were booked together at SchutzenHaus in Ins, a town towards the western part of Switzerland. Now, SchutzenHaus was a dilapidated cabin in the middle of nowhere, think of that movie Field of Dreams, and you’ll get the idea. Because of the remoteness of the venue, we, The Woggles, were skeptical that anyone would even show and also expected Beat-Man to be in wrestling garb and not turning up like Robert Mitchum as Reverend Harry Powell. A crowd DID come and proceeded to rock and swing from the rafters. Beat-Man’s sermon held the public in rapture. At the same time, the band and I found it surreal we were in Switzerland listening to a Sunday preacher, possessed by the power, spirit, and glory while delivering the word, albeit in a German accent.”
In the harrowing year of 2001, the label’s catalog grew in style and subgenre with the third offering from German tex-mex swamp blues dealer DM Bob & The Deficits (Cajun Creole Hot Nuts) along with a slew of notable debut releases from Italian rockabilly-meets-rocksteady trio The Hormonauts (Hormone Hop), and ’60s garage rockers The Get Lost (Never Come Back).
Robert Butler: ”The Get Lost was started between me, Kat (Aellen), Chris Rosales, and Gerry Mohr, the former singer of a band from Portland, Oregon called The Miracle Workers. Long story short, I ended up in Bern after a woman I met inspired me to move there, and ten years later, that same woman enticed Gerry to do the same. After she and Gerry didn’t get along while he settled in after the move, I moved him into this immaculate Victorian home we had, only knowing it would be a matter of time before we started a band. Country rock was our first idea but knowing that ’60s garage music was our true love, we stuck to something we felt comfortable with. WIth Gerry returning to his signature snarl you can hear in all those Miracle Records albums, we were almost an ’80s garage revival band at that point. We recorded Never Come Back in England with Liam Watson, who runs Toe Rag Studios.
A week later, King Khan recorded Voodoo Rhythm there. There were a lot of Voodoo Rhythm artists recording there around the time Liam recorded that White Stripes album Elephant and Toe Rag was taken into the charts when ’Seven Nation Army’ came out. That band was short-lived, however. After gigging quite a bit upon the LP’s release, the tensions between us all came to a boiling point which led to Kat leaving and the band carrying on as a three-piece. The band ended shortly afterward. Chris hit a low point in his life, and Gerry moved back to Portland because he was sick of looking over his shoulder due to the feeling he’d be deported at any minute.”
The same year, Reverend Beat-Man fully comes to life, a persona Beat-Man has toured worldwide for 20 years. His first offering, Get On Your Knees, he recorded with three-quarters of The Get Lost, under the moniker Reverend Beat-Man and The Unbelievers.
Robert Butler: ”The biggest difference between Reverend Beat-Man The Unbelievers and The Get Lost was Beat-Man was attempting to try something brand new while The Get Lost we’ve already done, but did well and left behind with The Miracle Workers. Both Gerry and I went through a strange time in the music world during the late 1980s; that was a weird period. A good music scene will explode when the freshest possibilities in the current parameters have been seized; with The Get Lost, we didn’t give a fuck about those possibilities, and we didn’t want to explore music in a new sensation. We wanted to sound like the most primitive bands of the 1960s like The Who, The Kinks, Stereo Shoestring, and The Pretty Things. In the past? Absolutely, but it was a time when music then was better than most music ever made.
With The Unbelievers, we were trying to dig out a new nostalgic sound that we didn’t experience. It was both cool and challenging, and we ended up making music we didn’t expect to make as a group; that’s how the Blues Trash was born. Beat-Man says that term in one of the songs on Get On Your Knees; I’m playing the lap steel while we’re recording in Toe Rag, and he says, ’fuck yeah, please, blues trash!’ That’s how a sound so synonymous with Voodoo Rhythm came to be. Five days in that studio, three for Reverend Beat-Man and two for The Get Lost produced those debut albums. We walked out of Toe Rag with two wholly recorded and mixed recordings, still some of my favourite sounds that made it to tape.”
Another notable release on Voodoo Rhythm, the same way, arrived by way of a Montreal-expat settling in Germany named Arish Khan, whose new band, King Khan and His Shrines, were looking for a home for their debut release, Three Hairs and You’re Mine.
King Khan (Songwriter/Activist – King Khan & His Shrines/King Khan & BBQ Show): ”The story behind that record needs to be told from the very beginning. I’m a lonely brown man in the white world of punk and rock n’ roll; that’s the truth. I’ve always felt like a lonely coyote in that sense, and I moved to Germany for a new start. Before that move, I played in a band called The Spaceshits and called myself Blacksnake for years. My mom HATED that name because people would always call up her house and say, ’Hey, is Blacksnake there?’ and that would piss her off. She hated that name because her dad, my grandfather, was both a postman and a snake killer. So, in the small outer villages where he was living, if there were any problems with poisonous snakes, he’d be sent in and knew how to kill them. The way to kill these snakes is to run circles around them; remember, the snake can’t run as fast as you until you catch its tail and then smash its head.
I work a lot with First Nations from both America and Canada and learned about the snake killers of Oklahoma, for example, using eagle feathers because eagle feathers are the only thing a snake fears most. When snakes hear the feather’s ruffling or smell the feathers, it freaks them out. However, the snake is our brother; it just wants to be left alone and not bite anyone, but of course, if it’s getting attacked, it’ll attack back. So, that’s the story on why my mom hates that name but anyway, back to Beat-Man. I moved to Germany at 22 years old and changed my name to King Khan to be anonymous. I didn’t want anybody Googling me and finding that name linked to my personality, plus I was traveling without a visa. So, I started calling myself this, and I used to wear this plastic German World War I helmet. All the homeless dudes in Hamburg would shout at me, ’KAISER! KAISER! KAISER!’ and I’d be like, ’Shit, I’m a fucking king here!’”
King Khan (cont): ”The town I settled in is located in is called Kassel, and that’s where I met my wife; she had a Lightning Beat-Man Wrestling Rock n’ Roll poster in her apartment. I look at this poster and ask her about it, and she tells me that Beat-Man is this crazy Swiss guy who wears a wrestling mask and plays music. Fun fact, one of the legendary wrestling shows in Kassel was where he almost broke his back as he fucked himself up during his set. So, I knew about the reputation of the guy but had no idea about his connection. Beat-Man and I met each other at an outdoor concert in South Germany that my band was playing. My band ended up getting the bitch seats, something like a 6:00 p.m. set time, but Beat-Man watched us, we ended up hanging out afterward. I saw his set with Reverend Beat-Man and The Unbelievers and thought it was awesome.
The next thing I remember, Beat-Man is getting married, and he invites me to the wedding back in the town he was living in called Zaffaraya. I went there and spent a week with him in Zaffaraya. He even wanted me to do actual voodoo at the wedding. At the time, I was practicing my form of sigils, black magic, and chaos magic stuff, but I wasn’t completely doing the Shrines just yet. The Shrines’ name came from me making shrines of events or occurrences that I wanted to happen in my life and would happen in my life. That’s why I named the band The Shrines because I wanted the band to be a certain way; I didn’t want studio musicians; I wanted brothers that I would grow old with and not come into the band for their ego. This wedding will be the first time I’ve visited Zaffaraya; this village is all super mysterious and practically a magic zone. I’m meeting everyone in this town, and when I go to each house, everyone is trimming marijuana, and they smoke me out.
However, there’s this one mysterious cabin in the center of the village that is the home of Charlie. I was told about this guy but hadn’t met him yet. At that time, he must have been in his 50s and used to be a fire performer in a family circus, and this guy in his heyday, this dude could spit fire one story up. However, he retired from all that and was making ointments and psychedelic salves that he had recipes for from a witches recipe book which his circus family kept. The people in Zaffaraya would talk about this book and the recipes inside, like preparing belladonna and all this stuff. You had to learn how to prepare all these ingredients beforehand. Charlie made this ointment called flight cream, which witches would use to spread on their bodies to fly, and the main ingredient is belladonna and the stuff in mushrooms.”
King Khan (cont): ”So, I’m hanging out with Kat (Aellen), this powerhouse witch queen in Zaffaraya. She’s fought every thing in her life from cancer, multiple sclerosis, and all this stuff and has come out on top. She’s a total badass and an incredible woman. She and I are hanging out and talking one afternoon when she asks me, ’Hey, do you want to try some flight cream?’ I ask her what that stuff is, and she tells me that it’s the stuff witches use to fly, so after hearing that, of course, I’m going to try it! She pulls the cream out, and this stuff smells like chocolate and looks like fluorescent green with tiny black specks, and she tells me to rub a healthy amount of cream on my wrists. I do precisely this and turn to her to ask, ’so, what happens next,’ and she replies, ’I don’t know, never tried it before!’ I’m tripping like I’m on mushrooms for the next six or seven hours because of this cream, and it starts to turn into nighttime at this point.
I walk back to Beat-Man’s cabin, and I have to walk past Charlie’s cabin to get there. Charlie’s cabin is this ancient, busted circus wagon that looks like the fucking wind will blow through his bedroom in the winter. So, I’m walking closer to his cabin, and suddenly this blood-curdling scream starts coming from inside Charlie’s place. I get scared to the point where I’m not running to Beat-Man’s cabin and then hear a commercial come on from Charlie’s television, which is where the screaming was coming from. The wedding finally comes around, and I’m doing this voodoo thing there with these spices that Beat-Man bought during a recent trip to the United States. I was getting such a great family vibe from him at this wedding that I told Beat-Man, ’dude, I’m going to let you put out my debut album,’ to which he said, ’ok, bring it!’
I told Beat-Man that I wanted to record the album within London with Liam Watson at Toe Rag Studios and the week we were recording there was a pretty legendary week for Voodoo Rhythm because the Elephant album by The White Stripes was just recorded, then Get On Your Knees by Reverend Beat-Man and The Unbelievers afterward, and finally, our album Three Hairs and You’re Mine.”
King Khan (cont): ”The Shrines had just added Fred (Bourdil) as our organ player about two weeks before we were set to record. Before we went to London, we were booked to play a skinhead reggae festival somewhere in East Germany. Now, my 22-year old-naïve self didn’t know the festival would be skinhead-oriented. My sister Coco (Khan – Del Gators singer) visited me from Canada. I invited her to come with us. While we’re driving to the festival site, the van breaks down and our bass player/driver, Big Baby Jeans, fixes the van with just a hanger and duct tape. I’m not kidding here, he just got the job done, but we were going ten kilometers an hour before we got to the festival site. When we arrive, I open the door and only see skinheads and instantly think, ’what the fuck am I doing here?!’ seeing both kinds of skins around me. I could smell tons of white power ones in that crowd and told Coco that she wasn’t leaving my sight; if we were on stage, she would be dancing on stage with us.
The van is broken down at this point, and we spend two nights at the festival site waiting for it to get fixed and sleeping in the truck. The skinheads come out to us and ask if we want something to eat and invite us to have food with them. The only food there was meat and this nasty red wine called Le Bonjour that we’re passing around like a hookah pipe and taking sips from these giant straws. In the room we’re in, there are all these skinheads skanking and dancing to whatever the DJ is playing, and there’s one particular skinhead with a roman nose that looks like it’s been pounded a million times with bottles and shit.
So, I see this guy dancing, and I ask him if he minds if I put some music on, and he says that’s cool. I put on a Beastie Boys song, and within seconds, this guy starts slowing down on his skanking, eventually stops, sits down, and falls asleep. He couldn’t handle the music change. We all drove to England to record from that festival, and Liam (Watson) and I met for the first time, which ended up with him inviting me to stay at his and his wife’s home. He asked me to stay at his wife’s and his house. Liam and I got on like gangbusters. He comes from a multicultural family because his parents adopted a Filipino child and his sister was Indian; his parents were these loving people and adopted these two kids. His parents wanted those two kids to feel their culture, so they learned how to make Indian food.
So, Liam takes me to all these Indian markets, and we’re eating authentic Indian stuff the whole time we’re in London. One day, I told him that if he’s Indian like I think he is, we’re going to eat this thing called paan, a leaf filled with spicy spreads, including betel nut and tobacco. This shit leaves a red stain anywhere you spit it out, it’s disgusting, and both he and I couldn’t hang with that stuff. The album is recorded, and we’re all getting along; it was a beautiful man-love between Liam and me. The record release party was in Zaffaraya to a small audience, including my wife and newborn daughter, Saba Lou. However, Charlie also shows up, and he is wasted and looks like the white version of Gandhi at this point. While we’re playing, I’m watching him grab these glass bottles and smash them in front of the stage with broken glass going everywhere. The first instinct I had was to keep playing, observe what he’s doing, and make sure no one was in danger. My wife and daughter were sitting on top of a building with Beat-Man while the rest of us were waiting to see what unfolded. Charlie then grabs this girl who knew him; he takes his shirt off and lies on the glass, and makes the girl walk all over him. That’s the story, pretty wild stuff.”
2002 brings a slew of new signings and growth to the crown and skull with an addition of the Khan clan (Coco Khan, King Khan’s younger sister) to the roster as Voodoo Rhythm gives way to the European release of Del Gators debut LP, Pound Down. Die Zorros, one of the projects in Beat-Man’s career, releases their debut release, A History of Rock Vol. 7, 16 tracks of striptease covers with the aim and conviction of becoming the worst band in the world.
Beat-Man: ”Die Zorros played striptease music, and yes, we aimed to be the worst band in the world. We were a cover band that only took the best parts of songs and repeated them in our music. Not only was it fun, but Die Zorros are some of the worst-selling Voodoo Rhythm releases (laughs)!”
In addition to the Khan clan addition to the roster along with The Watzloves, a Hamburg based cajun punk meets country music trio, 2002 marks a signing of Geneva’s own, The Dead Brothers, one of Voodoo Rhythm Records longest-tenured groups whose style is a melting pot of vaudeville visuals mixed with genres ranging from old world gypsy jazz, red dirt country blues, New Orleans big band jazz in a style that band dubs Funeral Orchestra Mission.
Beat-Man: ”My first contact with Alain (Croubalian – frontman of The Dead Brothers) was in 1985 when I drew a concert poster for his old band, The Maniacs. I remember sending the drawing off, and they got back to me saying they hated it (laughs)! We reconnected in 1999 when a theater actor friend of mine named Meret Matter was in a band that consisted of tubas, horns, and banjos playing songs from The Animals and other 1960s punk but in a funeral-like music style. I thought that idea was terrific, and without even HEARING the band, I called them up and offered them a record deal, and that album (Day of The Dead) turned out amazing. Our budget was low, and we decided to record the entire album using only one microphone. A few people sent the record back after buying it because they fucking hated jazz and wanted rock and roll (laughs)!”
Pierre Omer (Drums/Guitars/Vocals – The Dead Brothers, Pierre Omer’s Swing Revue): ”I had read about Beat-Man and Voodoo Rhythm after seeing some photos in a magazine. This was back in the late 1990s when there wasn’t a fast internet, and everything wasn’t instantly accessible like today. Alain knew about Beat-Man, but I don’t think they had met before. I remember driving to Zürich one Sunday night, late 1999 or early 2000, to play a show at El International, a club run by Viktor Bänziger. A few days later, we heard that Viktor spoke to Beat-Man, saying he’d seen this band in top hats playing rock n roll with tubas, accordions, and banjos called The Dead Brothers, and Beat-Man decided; to sign us without hearing a single note! He didn’t interfere much in the recording process, at least not with The Dead Brothers, and his energy and enthusiasm for strange and crazy stuff somehow made us get into crazier musical territories.”
The label’s open-minded reputation amongst the underground expands during the next two years. The launch of the first installment of Voodoo Rhythm’s label compilation occurs in 2003 to showcase the label’s trajectory in their eleven years with showcasing new signings such as Swiss hi-speed garage punks The Come n’ Go, obscure English rockabilly artist Jerry J. Nixon, and a monstrous slew of their back catalog of artists. The same year, other notable milestones for Voodoo Rhythm include their infiltration into South America with the signing of garage rock revivalists Thee Butchers Orchestra, accompanied by The Monster’s first tour of South America with shows in Argentina and Brazil alongside Guitar Wolf. A trip up the Equator followed with The Monster’s first-ever performances in the United States in New York at clubs Le Cine and CBGBs, including a stop in New Jersey at Maxwell’s for Reverend Beat-Man.
Teddy Spaghetty (Owner – Spaghetty Town Records): “I was working the door for that show and remember that gig not being sold out; Maxwell’s legally held 200, but the room was full, I think maybe 150? Todd (Abramson, former Maxwell’s booker) was yelling at some kids from Canada who were drinking underage; they didn’t know it was 21 and over to drink in the States.”
Greg Lonesome (DJ – Rock n’ Roll Manifesto): “That weekend was the Zombilly Weekender that Mike Decay had booked (side note, Mike was the guy who got me into The Monsters, if you’re reading this, thanks Mike!). My band, Lonesome Kings, played his Midnite Monster Hop a few times, and he invited us to play New York for the CBGBs show. The lineup was Reverend Beat-Man headlining Maxwell’s with Gutter Demons, Evil Devil, and Thee Monkey Butlers with Saturday at CBGBs with The Monsters headlining and Kings of Nuthin, Evil Devil, The Defectors, Lonesome Kings, Memphis Morticians, and Devil Spades as support. CBs was packed that night with people from all over the world attending; it was pretty cool. I always wear earplugs at gigs, but the Monsters were loud for sure. Beat-man had asked to use (Lonesome Kings guitarist) Reverend Repulsive’s Fender Deville amp, and, of course, he said, yes. Well, Beat-Man ended up blowing out that amp during the Monsters set. That’s a great story for him to be able to tell. Anyone else get their amp blown out by Beat-man?”
Beat-Man: “CBGBs asked us not to come back because we were too loud.”
Mike Decay (Owner – Phantom Creep Theatre): “That weekend is a story in itself but let me give you the background first. I found Beat-Man’s phone number somewhere in the 1990s. On the East Coast of the U.S., there was a tight-knit European-inspired psychobilly scene along with a smaller, nutzoid-horror-rock and roll collection of people who were explicitly influenced by The Cramps, The Mummies, Hillbilly Werewolf, The Pits, and Brimstone. Hillbilly Werewolf looked slightly like a cross between Leatherface and Beetlejuice and alternated both as either a one or two-man band with an alternate persona of a horror-themed pro wrestler named Dog Dickula. Both Dog Dickula and Hillbilly Werewolf would make appearances the same night. As for The Monsters, it was impossible to get records like Birds Against Martians or any psycho/trash rock in America back then; I think it was Spindrift who gave me a copy of that record.
After blasting that record as loud as possible repeatedly, a Lightning Beat-Man record came my way. Then I realized my goal in life was to get Beat-Man and Hillbilly Werewolf in the same room to see if the world would break. So, I found Beat-Man’s number somewhere and would buy calling cards from the gas station to make these crazy expensive international phone calls in the middle of the night, leaving raving messages on his voicemail until it cut off and then call back to continue what I was saying. I’ve done the same with Nigel Lewis (The Meteors/Tall Boys) and Bal Croce (The Sting-Rays), and nine times out of ten, this results in getting people to play NYC!
In 1998, I was booking the monthly Phantom Creep Fridays in Philadelphia, helped with the NY Big Rumble in 2000, and then started the Midnite Monster Hop in NYC at Otto’s Shrunken Head with Mike (Mortician) from The Memphis Morticians. I had an idea to do a smaller version of the Big NY Rumble, which was 30 or so bands over five days with 800 to 1,000 people in the venue, and that’s when I thought of the NYC Zombilly Fest. We did three of those events, I believe, but the one we’re talking about is the first with The Monsters, Evil Devil, Reverend Beat-Man, Kings of Nuthin, Defectors, and a bunch more at Le Sine, Maxwell’s, and CBGB’s. The people who attended that weekend flew in from all over, even overseas, and since NYC didn’t have a huge scene, we needed crowds to come from all over, and they did. People from all different subcultures went ape shit at those shows, bodies rolling around on the floor, lots of love and screaming! I can’t believe that was almost 20 years ago; that night’s weekend was chaotic.
Evil Dead arrived from Italy with pasta and wine in their suitcase (laughs)! I picked them up at the airport first and came back wearing a full gorilla suit with a sign reading, ‘Welcome to NY, Monsters! Follow the ape home!’ Remember, this was in 2003 or 2004, very much in the shadow of 9/11 and the security ramp-up at airports. I remember The Monsters were underwhelmed by how the Bowery/LES had changed when big money drove out all the city’s culture; it wasn’t the grimy 1970s to1990s NYC anymore at that point. They had a great time and came back; I think twice for the Midnite Monster Hop at Otto’s for New Year’s Eve. That time, I finally got Reverend Beat-Man and Hillbilly Werewolf on the same bill, and hey, the world didn’t break after all.
It’s hilarious thinking about that time with The Monsters. A few years earlier before that booking, I made a movie called Psychobilly: A Cancer on Rock n’ Roll, and there’s part in this movie where the manager of The Meteors/Tall Boys, Nick Garrard, talks about bringing up The Legendary Stardust Cowboy to London in the mid-1980s, and Bal from The Stingrays went searching second-hand stores for the right ancient-looking, beat-up trumpet to hand to him at the right time during the song ’Paralyzed.’ Time races by, and the same applies with the Teds bringing original rockabilly musicians over to play or Alan Lomax finding the original blues guys. All those adventures with Beat-Man and The Monsters feel similar looking back, I don’t know, and maybe I’m being too bombastic here. At least I won’t stay near an airport dressed in a gorilla suit.”
In 2005, a documentary about the label’s 13 years was produced and released by German independent production company Slowboat Films. Voodoo Rhythm also makes serious headway into the United States with the signing of Austin, Texas, one-man garage stomper John Schooley and the hiring of notable KXLU DJ, Reverend Dan, to MC the next label compilation, which would feature Spain’s ’60s garage trash punks Wau Y Los Arrrghs! Nancy, France-based rocksteady-meets-garage-one-man-band King Automatic, and the debut of Reverend Beat-Man’s collaboration with Bernese electronic/ambient noise quartet, Herpes O Deluxe, one-off project entitled Reverend Beat-Man & The Church of Herpes.
Reverend Dan (DJ – KXLU 88.9 FM): “A short time after the turn of the century, Beat-Man emailed me saying he liked my music program, Music For Nimrods, and emailed me an offer to appear on that compilation. I was thrilled at this opportunity and used Carol’s (my then-girlfriend, now Mrs. Reverend Dan) new computer she bought for her photography business. I didn’t have a set up myself outside some headphones. After learning some home recording tips, none of which was mastered, I decided to broadcast a fictional rock n’ roll small town containing all this weird advertising featured between songs like ’King of Hair Barber Shop,’ ’Top Jimmy’s Roadhouse,’ ’Derby Dolls Roller Derby,’ stuff like that. Beat-Man was able to smooth out all the mistakes I made along the way.”
King Automatic (Everything – King Automatic): “I was doing a one-man-band while in my old band Thundercrack and always recorded stuff like Hasil Adkins did with a two-track recorder, and later, a computer. In 2003, I recorded a CD demo sent to Beat-Man and some of my other favourite labels, but Beat-Man answered me three days after shipping one to Bern, saying he wanted to put out a record! He was already familiar with Thundercrack, and actually, Janosh from The Monsters would help us set up shows in Switzerland, but we never played with Beat-Man or The Monsters.
Beat-Man never saw my solo stuff live, too, but we played together once by chance a few years after I sent my demo out. He’s a rare type of guy who works solely on his feelings without much of a marketing plan and doesn’t seem to care if the band doesn’t play many gigs or if their live show isn’t as good as their recordings. He uses his heart and gave me creative freedom for my records; the only thing he asked for when making Automatic Ray is more songs than I initially planned, to use all minutes of music space on an LP. He gave me complete freedom on everything from the recordings to the sleeve design for my following three albums. Either he had a really open mind, or I did excellent stuff (laughs)!”
Along with shows in Germany with industrial titans, Einstürzende Neubauten, Beat-Man would hit both sides of the Pacific with a three-week tour across Japan and his first set of shows in Los Angeles and New York where a night in the former would present him with one of the label’s second stateside signings with East Los Angeles punk-blues trio, The Guilty Hearts, issuing their debut S/T.
Leon Catfish Zalez (Guitars/Vocals – The Guilty Hearts): “The Guilty Hearts were formed in 2002 between Edgar Rodriguez, Hermann Senac, and myself. Since I was the youngest guy in the band, they were constantly showing me new records I’d never heard before. One night, Herman told us that Beat-Man happened to be in town playing a show at a club out in Atwater Village called The Bigfoot Club, so we went to check it out. I’ve never heard of the guy before, but was floored by his show and ran to my car to grab one of the demos The Guilty Hearts just made to give to him since we were looking for a label at the time.
At the time, we were looking for a label to put our stuff out and figured this couldn’t hurt, turns out the timing was perfect. After Beat-Man finished, I remember searching through the club trying to find the guy and ended up running into him, standing in his underwear as he was changing his pants in the club’s back alley. He accepted our demo, smiled at me, and said thanks. Beat-Man had a girlfriend based in Los Angeles at the time and was traveling back and forth between Switzerland and the U.S. to visit; she convinced him to release us; I think she even threatened him if he didn’t! Fast forward to a few months later, we noticed a comment on our website’s message from Beat reading, and I quote, ’YOUR MUSIC MAKES THE SHIT COME OUT OF MY ASSHOLE!!!! LET’S MAKE A RECORD!’”
John Schooley (Everything – John Schooley and His One Man Band): “Beat-Man and I first crossed paths in 1997 during the first European tour of my band The Revelators, and my first impression was that he’s a unique cat. Before that tour began, my very first record as a one-man band came out as a 45 on Goner Records. During one of our shows in Switzerland, Beat-Man came up to me after our set and gave me one of his Lightning Beat-Man 45s. You must understand here that this was way back before everyone and their dog had a one-man band; at the time, I only knew of older artists like Hasil Adkins, Wilbert Harrison, and Joe Hill Louis. The first wave of contemporary one-man bands with Mark Sultan, Bloodshot Bill, and Bob Log hadn’t picked up yet.
Being a one-man band was an unusual thing that only a weird person undertook. I remember Beat-Man giving me the 45 and seeing he had this wrestling thing going on; right then, I figured he wasn’t your average European garage rock dude. When I got home from that tour and played that 45, the distinction of his voice became apparent, nobody else sounded like him except for maybe The Trashmen on ’Surfin’ Bird’ coming close.”
Leon Catfish Zalez: “We would have never dreamed of touring Europe; it didn’t seem like a possibility until our record came out in Europe. But in 2005, we were there with John Schooley playing something like ten different countries in a month. That was life-changing. An all Latino band from East LA, we never thought anyone would notice us.”
John Schooley: “That tour was like the Winter Dance Party with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, only less tragic! The Guilty Hearts and I had new records coming out around the same time on Voodoo Rhythm, so it only made sense for us to tour together. Since I was just one guy, it was easy to throw me in the van with them. I don’t remember any anecdotes about that tour outside of ’we had fun,’ there was a lot of alcohol consumed on that run.”
National Recognition and Near Collapse (2007 – 2009)
2007, The Great Recession occurred in the United States, and 15 years of investment, disappointment, small/big victories, and uncertainty Voodoo Rhythm has toiled under throughout the underground is recognized by the Canton of Bern who bestows their Culture Heritage prize in recognition of Beat-Man’s achievements and identity within the city’s cultural heritage. A year later, Switzerland awarded Beat-Man their PopKredit award for his work on the label, along with a documentary of Voodoo Rhythm premiering on the Eurozone cultural channel ARTE TV. The recognition and honors didn’t slow down the work as follow up albums from label staples The Dead Brothers (Wunderkammer), Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle (Because of Women), and a retrospective from The Monsters (The Worst of Garage Punk. Vol.1) see the light of day.
Additionally, a slew of new signings from different corners of the world with bluesman C.W. Stoneking out of Australia, electric delta-bluesman Bob Log III, Texas folk-punk one-man-band Possessed by Paul James, the Belgian roots duo Stinky Lou & The Goon Mat, Italian garage rockers The Movie Star Junkies, Genevese Zydeco trio Mama Rosin, and the launch of Reverend Beat-Man’s Surreal Folk Blues Gospel Trash collection. Tours of Russia and Reverend Beat-Man’s return to the United States alongside a blues trio made up of Kiwi artist Delaney Davidson, Robert Butler, and Jeff Ross would occur in 2009.
Bob Log: “What was crazy about meeting Beat-Man when my old band Doo Rag played Bern in 1996 was learning he was a touring band that owned a laundromat. Now, think about that, you go on tour, play and make your money, and then come home to a payday! All those coins in the washers and dryers, it’s the perfect job for a traveling musician, and I think all serious bands should buy one before they write songs. That way they can eat when they come home. The record I worked with him on is My Shit Is Perfect. It was recorded between Melbourne and Tucson, Arizona, with some of the album recorded in Tommy Larkin’s (Jonathan Ritchman’s drummer) house on a 16 dollar guitar. I love that guitar. Whenever I make a record, I do everything myself and see if anyone wants to help me release it. I’ve never asked for a label to pay for my recordings; I much prefer to have the record perfect and finished before sharing it with anyone.
Voodoo Rhythm was perfect for making CDs and vinyl for Europe, while others in Japan and North America helped. The last time I saw Beat-Man was when we played a festival on a boat on reunion island off the east coast of Africa. We went to a pirate graveyard and tried to eat these smelly sausages. When he played his ‘Heavy Metal Jesus’ song in a giant blond wig, I laughed so hard I almost fell off the boat.”
The same year, a near cataclysmic event occurred for the label’s operations when a sudden penalty imposed by SUISA, Switzerland’s Performing Rights Organization, of 43,000 Swiss Francs (46,000 dollars) due to years of direct royalty payments to artists made by Voodoo Rhythm.
Beat-Man: “Up until that point, I had handshake deals with the bands, and whenever a record turned a profit, we’d split that 50/50. About 90 percent of my bands didn’t register their names or songs correctly with our copyright company or didn’t bother registering at all. I paid a lot of money through SUISA. For mostly my American bands, the money never arrived in their accounts because of this. So, this is why I began doing direct deals with bands and quit paying through our copyright company. I even gave them a lot of free copies of their records, and according to SUISA, that’s illegal as hell. So SUISA sued me for 43,000 bucks to pay all that money back as part of those direct deals. I was shocked!
That was a death knell, there’s no way I could have paid all that cash to them, and I was about to close the label because of this. I made the news public and asked people for help; I can’t be thankful enough for the people who bought records from us. There were all these benefit shows organized to raise money to pay the fine too. There were over 20 of these shows organized to help the record label out. It was unreal!”
Sam Mumenthaler (Journalist): “I remember that time, of course. The solidarity of the musicians and the fans was a testimony to how important Beat-Man and Voodoo Rhythm are as ‘aggregators’ of the alternative music scene here in Switzerland and worldwide.”
Bartman (Bass – Peter Pan Speedrock): “We played one of those benefit shows in Harlem, but that night was hazy for me, but I remember it was quite the evening. Patronaat was packed, I remember, and we played with some of the coolest bands on stage. I have no idea how much money was raised between us and the other benefits. It must have been enough because the label survived.”
Beat-Man: “While raising money to pay that charge, I couldn’t pay my employees because we weren’t making enough money, and we’re still an underground label. However, some people helped us on the legal and contractual problems out on a pro-bono or bartering basis, I’m very thankful for that too. When we raised money to pay the charge the copyright company held against us, that’s when I began to feel and see that this label means something to people. I’m so appreciative of that. However, that experience also made it clear that we needed to start playing by the business’ rules, which meant more expenses to keep the label afloat. We had to use the surplus funds to set up new operations infrastructure to keep Voodoo Rhythm going.
The label began a new chapter in 2009. The business became more complicated because of a significant sales drop; we had to turn into a publishing company to survive and currently work with several sub-publishers with our catalogue. A couple of bands were pissed off and unhappy about this new arrangement and ended up leaving the label. When a band splits from us, it hurts a lot because they’re like my babies, and I love them very much. However, shit happens, and that’s ok; sometimes our paths cross again, and I’m normally very happy and proud to be a part of all the bands I worked with. Understand, too, from the outside; Voodoo Rhythm looks like a big label. However, we’re still a small company, that’s the reality.”
The Road Ahead (2010 – 2021)
With the shower of support putting new life and legitimacies into the label, the next ten years for Voodoo Rhythm will expand their business from just a record label into a publishing house, record store, and filing as a registered company, all while maintaining their niche position. New offerings in 2010 come from former Dead Brothers member Delaney Davidson’s one-man-band gothic country blues (Self Decapitation), Dutch trucker-speed n’ chicken-fried-steak-honky-tonk revivalists Sixtyniners (Too Drunk To Truck), and the label debut of the neurotic Swiss electro-trash one-man machine Urban Junior (Two Headed Demon).
Beat-Man: “Urban used to be in this boyband called HNO, who had a hit on the Swiss charts. One day, we met, and he told me he had a one-man band which got me curious. He was unfuckingbelievable live; to me, HE was what a one-man band has to be, and we even did a couple of battles where I always lost.”
Urban Junior: “When I started as a One Man Band, I had no plan and didn’t care about shit. I just wanted to crash parties and felt like a revolting kid, haha. When I first heard of Voodoo Rhythm Records and read their tagline, ‘Voodoo Rhythm – Records to ruin any party,’ I just thought, ‘Fuck yeah, that’s it.’ The first show I ever played with Beat-Man was about 20 years ago at the legendary Fornoise Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland, when The Monsters were on the bill. The stage I was set to play on wasn’t a stage at all, it was just a space in the middle of the crowd, and there was this scary-looking dude in the front row constantly smiling at me. I had no idea it was Beat-Man.
After my last note, he walks up to me and says, ‘Finally, I meet you,’ and then grabs my bass drum and asks, ‘where is your car?’ A minimalistic and inspiring moment. However, it would be another ten years (and after a One-Man-Band Battle Show with me) where he’d tell me, ‘I think you’re ready now, send me your new songs.’ Voodoo Rhythm brings people together, more so than any other religion.”
2011 would see Beat-Man’s first tours down under in Australia and New Zealand with the assistance of Delaney Davidson. Still, the following year would go on record as the company’s busiest year to date with Voodoo Rhythm registering as a GmbH company and managing a schedule of eleven releases, including from new signings as Arizonian based one-woman project Becky Lee & Drunkfoot, Leeds, UK stripped n’ raw one-man-band Hank Haint, Auckland-based blues trash trio Heart Attack Alley, and Boston-to-Bern singer-songwriter transplant Menic.
Beat-Man: My team grew larger in April 2012 with Lysander handling the legal stuff, Gabi (Fankhouser) with the online store, and Oli (Frings) with The Hardware Store [(Voodoo Rhythm’s physical record store). However, countless other people were involved before them, with Tea Soza being a huge part of us growing, along with Nicole Zorn.
Gabriela Fankhauser: (Mailorder/Warehouse – Voodoo Rhythm Records): “2010 is when I first discovered Voodoo Rhythm through a friend who used to play in The Monsters. He’d take me to every concert of theirs across Switzerland where I’d work their merch table and this allowed me to get to know the beautiful people that make up The Monsters along with some of the other Voodoo Rhythm bands. Since 2016, my time has been split between my main job and working with the record label, having started at The Hardware Store and Beat-Man giving me the chance to move up into the office when he needed help with the mail-order operation in 2018. The following year had me helping more in the office with our accounts and helping with some of the administrative work besides the mail order. I’m rarely in The Hardware Store these days and you can usually find me by e-mail or at our merch-stand.”
In 2013, Voodoo Rhythm expanded into Cape Town, South Africa, with the signing of experimental garage trio, The Future Primitives to their roster and the label’s first mini-festival occurring in Fribourg. Treks across The Old and New World would go into the books for Reverend Beat-Man. At the same time, The Monsters would see a run across the European continent and into The Land of The Midnight Sun with gigs in Oslo and Bergen. Voodoo Rhythm is also one of five Swiss independent music companies to be recognized and awarded by the Migros Culture Percentage, alongside Mama Rosin’s Moi J’Connais Records, Vitesse Entertainment, Goldon Records, and Oh, Sister Records. However, With the slew of activities of the year, a significant expansion of the label’s sales pipeline and cultural meeting point occurs when their record store, The Hardware Store, opens in central Bern.
Beat-Man: “Most people outside of Switzerland who know Voodoo Rhythm Records usually visit my warehouse when Andi invites them over or the H.R. Giger Museum when they visit Switzerland. We used to do gigs at the warehouse, but it’s a very unromantic place. One day, we found an old cellar from the 16th century in the middle of Bern with cheap rent, and here is where we made a showroom for the label, which became a record store, and that’s where we are now. The Hardware Store has now become a meeting point for Bern’s outsider culture.”
Robert Butler: “One morning, Beat-Man called me asking to meet him in the old town of Bern. When I caught up to him, he was standing in front of a cellar which would become The Hardware Store, and after looking inside the small damp room, he told me we could have it for a nice price. The tricky part is that we had to sign a contract that day. I personally didn’t want to go back into retail, and having retired from selling women’s underwear under the moniker Pantihrist; my selling days were over. Still, I knew this was something he really wanted to do and needed help with, so I worked with him for a few years before leaving to start my print shop, Mister Butler Siebdruck.”
Oliver Frings (Manager – The Hardware Store): “I discovered Voodoo Rhythm Records only about six or seven years ago when I was digging through Bern’s comparatively many record shops (about seven at the time, in a city of about 150,000 people) on the hunt for suitable soundtracks for my mindfucks. When I first entered the still young Hardware Store, I was instantly amazed. I made sure to be back every now and then, which turned out to be a great decision! Over the following months, I visited more and more regularly and got to know some people working there. One day, about five or six years ago, Yena, who doesn’t work here anymore, asked me if I could watch the shop for ten minutes because she had to buy something. She came back about four hours later with a big smile on her face and asked me how it was. I was pretty confused since I didn’t know what I was doing and couldn’t answer most customers’ questions, but it felt amazing to sit behind that counter. I replied: ‘fuck you, but thank you very much. It was great!’ to which she replied, ‘perfect because I think you should be working here.’
After that, Beat-Man welcomed me into the team, showed me all the light switches and everything I needed to know, and said, ‘just be yourself.’ This turned out to be great advice because I slowly but surely found out who I really was while working there. I was no longer a lost soul wandering the earth searching for meaning because I created it myself! All the interactions with our diverse customers are still expanding my mind constantly. We have a fantastic family of freaks that’s growing and growing. Our youngest regular customer is twelve years young (you rock Elias!), the oldest, 70+. Anyway, after about one or two years working there about once per week, just after I quit a shitty call center job (where I had to sell old people overpriced crap over the phone), Beat-Man said, ‘Dude, I want you to work for Voodoo Rhythm too, not just the shop.’ Which made me super happy, of course.
So I started working in the office as well, doing mail-order and taking care of the hundreds of daily emails when Beat-Man was touring (mostly telling people when he’ll be back and marking the important ones, etc.) and by doing so, finally got a grasp of what Voodoo Rhythm really was all about. My primary focus at the moment is The Hardware Store, where I feel like my chaotic extroverted self belongs. We turned into an inter-cultural social and mental playground, a kind of meeting point for people who would not interact otherwise. For example traveling Spanish street punks drinking beer and discussing music, economics, and geopolitics with a suit-wearing guy who works at the Swiss National Bank and two Mormons (who drank water). I know it sounds too good to be true but only because you just don’t see that happening anywhere else. Freaks helping freaks help freaks to be freaks. Either you get it, or you don’t.”
Nicotine Sue (former manager – The Hardware Store): “The Hardware Store isn’t just a record store too; we’ve had Voodoo Rhythm helpers organize shows for bands from all over the world in the old stone cellar on the mezzanine level stage. We’ve had groups like The Messer Chups, Andy Dale Petty, Blues Against Youth, The Cavemen, The Sex Organs, and tons more come through.”
With a slew of releases in 2014 from staple bands and new signing of Berlin-based industrial noise rock trio Sudden Infant along with the label’s venture into soundtrack compositions with Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle score for former Swiss Hell’s Angel’s leader, Martin Tino Schippert in Tino: Frozen Angel.
Markus Stähli: “We all knew about Halberstarken portraits of Weinberger Karlheinz and the artwork of Weingart. Years ago, we read a book about the Hell’s Angel leader, Sonny Barger, in California and saw an episode of Tino on a series, which we didn’t know much about. Adrian Winker directed that movie and asked us to write the soundtrack, he’s known us since we began, and his brother played violin on the Good Morning Blues sessions. There were already some songs that Adrian selected and chose for this project, and we weren’t happy with them when he gave us the first raw cut. We preferred to start from scratch and make the soundtrack wholly new and less based on actual songs but more on the mood from a trip Adrian took with his brother Bolivia.
However, Adrian wasn’t open to that idea and fixed on his plan; he wanted complete control of what goes in the film while we decided what to include on the record. So, the new stuff we did for the movie was improvised and recorded by Matthias (Stähli). I chose some old songs Adrian had shown us and mixed in the new stuff with some older material. For the record, we all watched the uncut footage of Adrian’s Bolivia trip, things like long sequences of car window camera shots through the woods and small villages, as well as conversations with the Bolivian people. All that inspired what you hear on the record. We recorded some of the older songs at our The Happy Home studio, and ‘You Better Run’ was recorded in Toulouse, France at Swampland Studios by Lo Spider. In contrast, ‘Leo Louie Elody and Loic’ was recorded in Zurich at Sound Development, and ‘Water Air Food and Love’ with our friend from Basel, Marco Papiro, on synth.”
Late summer touring for The Monsters results in returning to America for treks across the Midwest, East Coast, and the southern United States with a stop at Muddy Roots Festival alongside Movie Star Junkies, Possessed By Paul James, The Sonics, Mudhoney, The Blasters, and many more.
Jason Galaz (Owner – Muddy Roots): “The crowd lost their shit In Tennessee when they saw The Monsters and begged them to come back home each year. The band was booked in 2013 and 2014, but I don’t remember why they didn’t play in 2013. It likely had to do with money or visas, I’m sure. We’ve booked them a few times between Muddy Roots Europe and Tennessee. We eventually helped Beat to get his work visa, though. A decade or so ago, I was walking down the street in Brugge with a head full of Belgian beer, and I ended up tripping over my feet and hitting my head on the cobblestone. What woke me up was the scratching, screaming, and loud banging going on under the street, like some erotic nightmare or something. Ripping and tearing nails in the process, I dug and pulled every stone up until a hole appeared with a furious man inside. I looked down, he looked up and screamed, ‘THE BEAT-MAN WAYYY!!!!’
Shrieking in terror, I ran to Warrdamme, and when I got there, Beat-Man was already on stage. There are too many great bands on Voodoo; I love them all. When Beat and I finally met in person, we came bearing gifts like tribal chiefs trading baskets of beads and flock of furs. I gave him a Muddy Roots skateboard for his boy, and he gave me a Voodoo Rhythm jacket. At the end of the weekend, I bought every record he had and carried them back to the U.S. in my backpack and suitcase to sell at home. Since then, we have worked on many projects.”
Beat-Man: “Yes, visa issues prevented us from playing that festival.”
2015’s release schedule for Voodoo Rhythm sees follow-up records from Movie Star Junkies (Evil Moods), King Automatic (Lorraine Exotica), The Juke Joint Pimps (Boogie Pimps), and Urban Junior (The Truth About Dr.S & Mr.P: One Man Symphony in E-Minor). New additions to the roster include Argentine garage punk turned one-man-cumbia-machine Rolando Bruno (Bailazo), grit-and-grime garage punks Destination Lonely (No One Can Save Me), leaders in the third wave of fuzz-laden garage mod The Jackets (Shadows of Sound).
Rolando Bruno: “Beat-Man and I first met when I saw The Monsters play a large garage punk festival in Buenos Aires called BA Stomp in 2003. It wouldn’t be ten years later until I would release anything on his label. During that time, I was regularly playing in bands but felt I needed a transition into something else, and that’s where the idea of this one-man band Cumbia Trash project came; keep in mind that eight instruments are playing on those records of mine, it’s a big band! Both formats, playing in a band and this one-man-band project, work for me because each allows me to play in different venues. As I was saying earlier, my history with Voodoo Rhythm wouldn’t begin until 2013 when Becky Lee and I played a show in Paris together.
She got my record I self-released at that show, and a few months later, Beat-Man sent me a letter saying that he loved my music and wanted Voodoo Rhythm to release an album. That offer was a big surprise for me because the DIY and independent route is the way I’ve always worked my stuff. Voodoo Rhythm is very respected in the underground music industry and opened many doors in Europe for me. Two albums later, including a three-month tour supporting one of the records, I still stop by Beat-Man’s office to say hello when I have the time to make it to Bern.”
Lo-Spider (Guitars – Destination Lonely|Owner – Swampland Studio): “After the 7’ my old band The Space Beatniks teamed with Lightning Beat-Man, he and I stayed in contact. I organized some shows in Toulouse for his sick Elvis impersonator (or his Popeye show). I reviewed some of his bands or label releases in Dig It! Fanzine. The Captain had some nice things to say about the first release of my previous band, The Jerry Spider Gang; I think he also refers to The Fatals somewhere (a band two-thirds of Destination Lonely were in) or the Nasty Product record label, which was run by Wlad (Destination Lonely drummer) and his wife. When Wlad and I joined Destination Lonely, we sent our first recordings to some labels we had in mind, and Beat-Man gave us the thumbs up; we have been with him since!”
In 2016, new signings to Voodoo Rhythm expanded the label into gypsy-swing with Pierre Omer’s Swing Revue and the fuzz-laden riffs n’coital poetry of The Sex Organs. The Monsters solidified the fact they’re an unmovable force in punk rock that’s here to stay. The giants of trash released their eighth studio album M, reissued their long out-of-print Jungle Noise sessions. A 30-year tribute LP sees the light featuring new renditions of their back catalog by Voodoo Rhythm artists across the spectrum, including the newly signed Naples trash duo, The Devils, and native Angeleno songwriter and Reverend Beat-Man collaborator, Izobel Garcia.
Izobel Garcia (Farfisa/Vocals/Percussion – Reverend Beat-Man & Izobel Garcia): “I found out about Voodoo Rhythm during the early 2000s when my brother and I would constantly be downloading music to our family’s computer (RIP to that computer, unreal it didn’t catch on fire). When I first started touring with Beat-Man, I saw Voodoo Rhythm’s impact on people, and the fans were so genuinely in love with the label. Some people get it, and a lot don’t, which makes the label way more credible and attractive, in my opinion. Beat-Man works so hard and knows his strengths. He’s in charge of choosing the music to be released and all the branding from the iconic skull and crown logo, the merchandise, to the look of every single album cover (he designs everything). That label’s his vision, and I know first-hand how knowledgeable and stubborn he is; he likes what he likes, and that’s not an insult; that’s absolutely why the label works.
Not to mention the support system; there have been so many people over the years, including wayyyyy before I was around, that have been imperative to keeping that label going; I don’t want to drop any names out of fear that I’ll miss someone. That vision and purpose are why the label speaks to people who feel constantly surrounded by phony mainstream bullshit, and there are a lot of us out there. The respect and love I have for Beat-Man are enormous. I’m forever grateful to him and the Voodoo Rhythm family for doing what they do and letting me into that world.”
A slew of follow-up LPs from The Devils, Destination Lonely, and the first label offering from Swiss dark disco-meets-electronic garage duo The Blind Butcher would occur in 2017 along with Beat-Man and Izobel Garcia’s first trek into Israel and serenading government officials at the Swiss Embassy in Rome. Alongside new offerings from country-trash duo Trixie and The Trainwrecks, Italian psychotic-garage punks SLOKS, and Swiss-speed punks Bad Mojos, and the final offering from The Dead Brothers (Angst – RIP Alain Croubalian – 1964 – 2021), the following year would be an eventful year for Reverend Beat-Man with two album releases (Blues Trash by Reverend Beat-Man And The New Wave), his and Izobel Garcia’s collaborative LP, Baile Bruja Muerto.
Both Izobel and Beat-Man would trek across Europe and the United States with his first “official” tour of the New World with anchor dates at Slovenly Recordings own Debauch-A-Reno alongside The Mummies, Reigning Sound, Oblivians, The Spits, and a return to Muddy Roots Festival alongside X, High On Fire, Meat Puppets, and many more.
Beat-Man: “That was a hell of a tour, but the U.S. visa process is complicated and took me a year to complete. It involves getting letters from U.S.-based musicians and other vital people advocating how important it is for me to come and play there. I needed something like ten different people writing letters. I was lucky; the mayor of Bern wrote one, and people from Black Flag and Queens of the Stone Age, but the visa office said those weren’t good enough; I also had to pay 3,500 dollars. It’s crazy and impossible for underground artists to play in the U.S. Over in Europe, you can play ten shows without a visa; then you’ll need one that costs 200 dollars; all the other countries in the world are easy, but the U.S. isn’t easy visa wise.”
2019 sees The Jackets return with King Khan behind the production helm for their follow-up Queen of the Pill LP, alongside the signing of Dutch electro-punk E.T. Explore Me. The Monsters conclude the year with tours across Asia with The Caveman and a stop at Slovenly Recordings We’re Loud Vietnam festival. In 2020, Voodoo Rhythm expands into Osaka, Japan with the signing of Exotica-laced muzak one-man-band Degurutieni, reissues the long out of print Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle label debut Good Morning Blues, issues Destination Lonely’s follow up Nervous Breakdown LP, and Slovenly Recordings previews a taste of the new Monsters album with the I’m A Stranger To Me/Carpool Lane 7”. COVID-19 of course interfering with all sectors of life, Beat-Man discusses how Voodoo Rhythm was able to hold on during a global lockdown that canceled all touring plans.
Beat-Man: “Finding a solution on an individual scale to the economic fallout was extremely complicated in the beginning. Coupled with the fact that most musicians are cavemen here, the government made things easy, which was a huge help. I make 90 percent of my money by playing shows, and all that cash goes into the label. With all my gigs canceled, I took up food delivery jobs where a group of musicians would deliver food around Bern and perform a song at the customer’s front door. Doing this helped sustain me and formed a new band with the musicians I was working with called Reverend Beat-Man and The Drunks.
Voodoo Rhythm can only work if I have gigs; that’s the reality of the label’s situation and where the funding comes from. We also have the Swiss musician’s union, Sonart, who did a political push on our behalf. The solidarity we received was incredible; I didn’t expect it to be so big. I had telephone calls coming from people telling me how much money Voodoo Rhythm needs and that they don’t want Voodoo Rhythm to end. Hearing that is unbelievable; it was beautiful. The reality is, we’re struggling as a label still! We work so hard on this, and I’m just hoping all turns out well soon.”
Gabriela Fankhauser: “We were able to get some assistance in the short term from some programs the Swiss government offered due to our status as a GmbH. We were lucky in that respect because many businesses that deal in events and culture didn’t get much support at first. However, getting that support was a process with all the paperwork we needed to verify and fill out monthly. The most significant impact financially was from all the shows getting canceled. The lockdown wasn’t all about income loss though, the spread of great underground trash music and new fans of the label took a hit.
The Hardware Store was shut down for months, and to be honest, we had no clue and still have no clue what may happen next. To make up for our losses, Beat-Man started offering non-Voodoo Rhythm-related stuff from The Hardware Store (i.e., books, films, etc.) online through Facebook to stabilize ourselves as best as possible. We continued to sell online through the mail-order, which fluctuates each month. However, we had many devoted fans worldwide who kept on purchasing from us or donated to the label, some monthly even! This keeps us alive and able to pay the artists. At this point, I’d like to say. You are the best! Love you guys!”
Oliver Frings: “All in all, small businesses of any kind had to be creative to survive in this chaos, and lots of small businesses and independent workers went bankrupt. The Swiss government seemed to only care about the big companies. We did not get any help (except for the stuff mentioned earlier and our landlords lowering rent a bit). Technically, we would have been able to get a loan from the government. Still, there was no guarantee we could ever pay it back since we didn’t know what the future would look like. If their conditions would change, also the loan process was (and still is) super complicated. Also, we didn’t need fiscal help that desperately since our business was doing comparatively ok.
When we finally were able to reopen The Hardware Store, so many people came from all over the place telling us how long they had waited to be back here. That was very beautiful to see and made us even more committed than we already were. The cultural scene in Switzerland was fucked hard since they were the first ones hit by restrictions without any proper financial help and for questionable reasons since super spreader events happened way more in other environments that were still less regulated, but that adds to the vast catalog of botched pandemic responses of our government. Everything was way too bureaucratic and way too slow, and they communicated un-transparently and so on. I don’t want to dive into that whole thing here; I could write an entire book about how conservative federalists and peak capitalistic economy ‘experts’ dominated a discussion that should have been purely scientific.
There have been political proposals for uncomplicated and affordable help for any sector that needed it, but that was ‘democratically’ torpedoed by conservative politicians, which is no surprise at all. Anyway, the Swiss music scene found some creative ways to stay afloat during the lockdowns. Like crowdfunding, pay-what-you-want shows on Twitch and Zoom, and there was even the Ghost Festival, which (never) happened at the end of February 2021 with almost 300 bands and hundreds of technicians (not) participating. You could buy merchandise, tickets in various price categories, CDs (with super short songs by dozens of acts making ghostly noises), and all the money made went to the artists.”
Robert Butler: “Depending on what you were doing, independent, self-employed, working in a collective, the government helped people out in all sorts of ways. I didn’t ask for any money; I just kept my head down and kept working on whatever came in. I indeed took a big hit, as I work mainly for musicians and artists. Still, it was a blessing in the end as I opened my doors to just about anybody that wants screen printing. Luckily I met a lot of great new customers over that time; I continue to work with all of those along with my musician and artist friends. Beat-Man survived with his online store; it seems that took off and kept him afloat over those days.
The new year, the year we’re in now and about to end with, brings the recent signing of Zaffarya based psych/space rock band, Honshu Wolves, along with new records by Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle (Im Reich Der Wilden Tiere (No Milk No Sugar)), the second offering from SLOKS with A Knife In Your Hand, and a revival of the Voodoo Rhythm Label Compilation series showcasing artists from the last five years up to now. The capping of 2021 for Voodoo Rhythm will include the tenth offering from The Monsters titled You’re Class, I’m Trash. A three-label project involving Voodoo Rhythm Records, Slovenly Recordings, and special projects label, Sounds of Subterrania, returning to partner with Voodoo Rhythm’s particular release segments.”
Now, in 2022, 30 years of bucking trends and following their path have led to Voodoo Rhythm’s consistency in an industry as fragile as it is competitive and ever-evolving. The next chapter for the record label is being written as we speak, with uncertainties abound in the industry itself and the business landscape as a whole. One thing is for sure; Voodoo Rhythm finds a way to adapt in part to Beat-Man’s down-to-earth personality, hard-earned business sense, and his mindfulness of those receptive to his ideas and instrumental in the record label’s growth throughout the years.
Beat-Man: ”The response that we get from people around the world is what makes this thing continue going. We get so many letters, mail, phone calls, and personal visits, and these people make us think that what we’re doing is worthwhile and very special to them. It’s as if we’re bringing a particular colour into the gray world they’re living in. The label keeps me going with my music too. I always thought as a teenager that I was not good and a nobody because I’m an outsider and a misfit; this label has shown me that outsiders and misfits have their place, and I want to share that information with the world. This is hard work, and I’ve been through many ups and downs with this label but running a record label was always my dream. Voodoo Rhythm is here to make the world a little freakier and less square than it is now.”
Robert Butler: ”What does Voodoo Rhythm represent? Sincerity. Integrity. Impeccable taste. Incredible attention for a quality that is quickly being lost, dissolved and diminished, with every single breath that you take. Voodoo Rhythm has culminated over 30 years to create a nest of rock n’ roll wisdom that will never be forgotten. This isn’t an empire that was designed to make a lot of money. It’s an empire of rock n’ roll love! So, Beatman is out there every single day of his life selling his records. Most people don’t know that struggle, but a guy like Beat-Man shows the people how it can be done. Longevity, you gotta earn that shit, not by being the next big thing, it’s by being the next real thing.”
Oliver Frings: ”Beat-Man once told me: ‘Life is just one weird long-ass rollercoaster that we are privileged enough to be able to enjoy.’ In the next two years or so, Voodoo Rhythm Records will have to leave our office and storage place and find a new one we can afford because the building we’re in will be torn down to make space for overpriced flats for yuppies and their kids. Gentrification is a huge issue in Bern. We, especially him, will find a way through. The Beat Man way. You need to know that he’s very well connected and takes opportunities when they come. This change is just another battle in the war he is fighting. His good spirit and inspiring attitude will guide him and us forward. Man, I know he’ll be shaking his head when he’s reading this (laughs)!”