In the Fall of 1993 I packed up all my worldly shit and moved to Boston from California. I had no friends, no lay of the land, was moving sight-unseen to attend music college on what might as well have been the other side of the world. During these strange and exciting first few months in my new city, I was somehow convinced that I should go to CollegeFest.
If you’re unfamiliar with CollegeFest, a quick visit to their website explains it all. In dancing, grungy typewriter font the words “Expose your brand to 15,000 college students” gyrate and pulsate for marketing departments everywhere like a corporate lap dance. These kids will spend money on your shit. It’s nothing more than a marketing vehicle for anyone and everyone who wants a piece of that coveted demographic. And I should emphasize this; there is nothing there. It’s just a bunch of corporate booths trying to hawk their goods on you. There’s no reason to attend this, but for some reason I did. And while I would never recommend anyone attend such a horrific and soulless event, my trip to CollegeFest ’93 introduced me to one of my favorite bands of all time.
Like any convention of its kind, you are handed a large bag when you arrive, full of credit card application forms and coupons and other crap, and throughout the conference you pick up boatloads of worthless product samples. One of these worthless product samples was a Quicksand CD maxi-single with “Dine Alone” and a cover of the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now.” When I would play the CD during a spot of drunken boredom two weeks later, my life would be forever transformed. I will have discovered what is, in my humble opinion, one of the most original and, now, influential rock bands of the 1990s.
At the start of “Dine Alone,” you are introduced to Alan Cage’s signature thundering drum work and some classic Quicksand distortion/feedback/swirl/noise. You get 10 seconds of this, and it is intense and subtle all at once. At about 11 seconds you are delivered the real payoff: the Quicksand dissonance. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Quicksand dissonance, you may not have the right idea. You may be thinking Dillinger Escape Plan or Botch, but you’d be wrong.
While Botch and DEP bring the dissonance to your door like a SWAT team, unable to ignore and powerless against, Quicksand hands you their musical tension like an uncomfortable bit of taxidermy in an exquisite four-star hotel in a beautiful and ancient European city. The harmonic richness of the foundations of their music, beautiful at times, abrasive at others, lays a solid groundwork for Walter Schriefels and Tom Capone to apply the noise and chaos that is the trademark of Quicksand’s sound.
The album opens with one of the group’s strongest tracks, “Fazer.” Like other post-hardcore acts at the time, it has all of the requisite even-tempo, syncopation-rich, mid-range-heavy, riff-centric rock action that you’d expect. But that’s where the similarities with their peers end. Unlike many of their contemporaries (Helmet, Orange 9mm, Rage Against the Machine) Quicksand is fluid and dynamic. Where Helmet delivers non-stop rock and awe, Quicksand plays like something more poetic: sometimes jarring and neurotic, at other times soothing, almost psychedelic.
The richness of the musical palette on Slip is almost romantic. It is like the “Gymnopédies” of Erik Satie with sinister ambitions. On the instrumental “Baphomet,” the group traverses a world of rock flavors, from Fugazi-esque noise rock to swirly, shoegazer spans, a la Swervedriver or My Bloody Valentine. Every track on Slip has a host of musical surprises. While I could wax forever on the magnificence of this record, I should set your expectations appropriately. This is a genre album. Scratch that, this is a genre album and a genre-defining album. Slip delivers nothing more than it promises: early ’90s post-hardcore, screamy, rock awesomeness. But what it delivers it delivers with devastating originality.
Like other also-rans in the rock category, Jawbox, My Bloody Valentine, Refused, no one is holding his breath for Quicksand’s induction into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. But like the aforementioned acts, thousands of moneymaking artists would have no sound to speak of without their influence.