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Devo - Break Your Momma's Back

Author: Steve Tauschke
Monday, 21 July 2008
Everyone remembers Devo. The inverted red flower pots - or energy domes - the rubber-punk stage antics and, of course, the radio-friendly hits espousing views on mankind's dysfunctional regression or Devo-lution, sentiments that a generation on have proven to be frighteningly prophetic.

Now, the Akron, Ohio blockheads return to Australia for the first time in more than a decade - they played Brisbane's Livid festival in 1997 - and for only the third time since their debut tour here way back in 1981.

'We got off an aeroplane and I think we had two songs in the top 10 and that was pretty crazy,' vocalist, chief songwriter and co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh says of his first visit. 'I remember laying on the bed at the Sebel Townhouse in Sydney and we were due to fly to Melbourne the next day and I remember thinking 'I gotta remember how it feels right now, ha, because this is as good as it's gonna get'. And it was kind of true in a way.'

Devo's 15 minutes of fame came largely on the back of 1980's Freedom of Choice album and its hit single Whip It, a robotic nu-wave anthem written as a shape-up memo to then US President, Jimmy Carter.

'When we wrote the song we'd just come back from a tour to Europe and people were saying 'We like your President and what your country is about but he's got terrible foreign diplomacy',' Mothersbaugh says. 'So we were singing a song for him, a sort of you-can-do-it, quit-being-a-wimp kind of song.'

Despite stratospheric album sales, Devo's collective distaste for corporate greed - the band is currently suing McDonalds for copyright infringement - saw them battle major labels throughout their career.

'It's the way the whole machinery was set up,' Mothersbaugh says. 'We're interested in putting out another record now just to celebrate the death of record companies, ha, like, it's safe to come out and do another record now! In five or 10 years from now, we'll tell stories about how back in the '70s and '80s a band would get eight per cent of the money from the records they sold and the record company would keep 92 per cent. Anybody that's lamenting the death of record companies now didn't live through it, that's all I can say.'

Hugely popularly for their jump-suited blend of kitsch and synth-leavened punk, Devo was originally formed by Mothersbaugh and fellow Kent State university visual arts student Gerry Casale as a social conscience response to the 1970 shooting deaths of anti-Vietnam war protestors on their campus.

'We were just trying to figure out the insanity we were observing on the planet and we came to the conclusion that we were observing not evolution but de-evolution. And that's kind of where our music started - we just saw ourselves as musical reporters reporting the good news of things falling apart.'

WHO: Devo
WHAT: Play Hordern Pavilion / Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay
WHEN: Friday 1 August / Saturday 2