Urgh! A Music War

I happened to catch a great documentary on INHD a few nights ago. Besides having a bizarre title, Urgh! A Music War captured some incredible live performances from the “it” bands of 1980.

The Police and the Go-Gos were well known at this point — but check out this lineup: The Police, Wall of Voodoo, Toyah Willcox, John Cooper Clarke, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Chelsea, Oingo Boingo, Echo and the Bunnymen, Jools Holland, XTC, Klaus Nomi, Athletico Spizz 80, The Go-Gos, Dead Kennedys, Steel Pulse, Gary Numan, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Surf Punks, Members, Au Pairs, The Cramps, Invisible Sex, Pere Ubu, Devo, The Alleycats, John Ottway, Gang of Four, 999, Fleshtones, X, Skafish, Splodgenessabounds, UB40.

I’m still having nightmares of Klaus Nomi (who I’d never heard of before seeing this), but seeing XTC, John Ottway, Echo and the Bunnymen and Devo live at a time when punk, new wave and techno were all converging was just amazing.

I’m not surprised it’s being played on television in 2004 as many of today’s bands sound similar — even 24 years later.


  1. Neil says:

    24 years…
    Stop it Dan, you are scaring me man.

  2. beto says:

    Worse thing is that I can actually remember when some of those names made their debut on a channel that was making its debut as well – MTV.
    This makes feel so old… darn it.

  3. Brian says:

    Wow, I remember watching this as a kid with my best friend’s older brother. My friend and I stopped watching at some song whose chorus was “Clocks are big…Machines are heavy!” We thought it was quite absurd.
    Of course, that didn’t stop me from seeing some of these bands live a few years later…

  4. Jeff says:

    I don’t remember any of this. It was ten years before my birth. What kind of name is Invisible Sex? You people must feel proud to live in such an odd time. I guess it would have been cool to see this though.

  5. Andrew Stone says:

    Klaus Nomi, his final artistic refrain was “Remember me.” He said it in a way that was chilling, pathetic, goofy and personal. He knew it and it cut anyone to the core who knew what was going on…
    He was one of the first signed artists to die from AIDS. How RCA picked him up I would like to know. When he recorded his album “Total Eclipse” he obviously knew he was dying from the virus and turned it into this twisted artistic farewell.
    I have only seen Klaus once in a documentary milling about a clothing store looking like a wounded sheep bleating out sporadic non-sequetors claiming to be from another planet [sorry Sun Ra beat you to it]. It was a long time ago and it may in fact be the footage you are referring to Dan.
    His recording, Total Eclipse, is unfortunately marred by poor production and engineering. Not that it is a brilliant work of music but given the context of where he was heading, the time — very early in what we now know as the AIDS epidemic and a bizzare beacon in the punk era — it is worthy of attention.
    I stumbled across Klaus’s recording about 2 years after many, many years of it lying in a box of unplayed records and it still kicked me in the gut when I listened to the final track in all of its pathetic glory.
    Even though Klaus’s music had this thick layer of stupid simplicity to it with its trite operatic references and his mind numbing vibratto, there seemed to be this attempt to be sophisticated, brilliant and clever. It seemed to be his way of making art.
    Recently, I was listening to a DJ Spooky album, Rythym Science, with a bunch of spoken word from intellectuals and artists with his turntable narrative effects; when I heard, a track by a whacked out dada artist. I had a Klaus Nomi deja vous. Couldn’t believe it. Klaus Nomi is resurrected yet again! Klaus not only wanted to be an opera singer but a freakin dada artist.

  6. Andrew Stone says:

    I should qualify Klaus was not on the Spooky album but rather Nomi’s weird bleeping sounds were borrowed ideas from Dada artists that can be heard on the previously mentioned DJ Spooky recording.

  7. Phil Sherry says:

    I remember at least half of those from the time. Yikes.

  8. The worst thing is that… I’m too young to remember those bands? :/

  9. What is amazing is how many of these bands (or their members) are still involved in music (what would all of those movies be like without Danny Elfman music).

  10. Andrew – Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing. I knew there had to be an interesting story behind this guy. The song used in the movie was a live version of “Total Eclipse”.

  11. benry says:

    I still have the vinyl from this downstairs. Was always an amazing 2-record set.

  12. Ted Drake says:

    24 years later and I still remember the Klaus Naomi bit. The nightmares will never go away.
    As a side note, he was reported to be the first “famous” person to die of AIDS . At least the first to have it acknowledged as AIDS and not something else. (I just re-read the comments and noticed I’m not the first to mention this, the other poster has much better information)

  13. Matthew says:

    I share your fear of Klaus Nomi, Dan. I have seen some “frightening” bands up close and in person (EyeHateGod, Head of David, Stretcheads, Unsane) but those crazy Mickey Mouse gloves, the fiendish hair cut, and the terrifying vocal acrobatics of Klaus Nomi send me screaming from the room every time I see that footage. Nomi makes Gary Numan seem warm and cuddley.

  14. I was a teenager at the time, I’m happy to say, and below the usual layer of mind-numbing commercial crap, there were a hell of a lot of interesting bands doing there own thing and exploring the clash between punk and the possibilities of new electronic music. I hear XTC rip-offs in an incredible number of tracks these days – they never did get the success they deserved (they’re still going though and still making great music!)
    There was also an excitement from the fact that good music wasn’t completely controlled by three huge multinational corporations. It belonged to kids, not suits. I hope what looks like the current demise of the majors and the rebirth of independent labels continues.
    So many bands now are doing sub-standard covers (eg No Doubt doing Talk Talk’s classic ‘It’s My Life’ – and really badly I might add, by missing the groove in the bass track completely), or thinly veiled retro ripoff (Franz Ferdinand? Nothing original there). As a musician myself I sometimes feel cursed that I can recognise chord sequences and grooves in the ‘latest’ stuff and immediately identify where they ripped it from. Oh well, guess that’s been happening throughout the history of music. It just seems particularly blatant these days.
    Inevitably, I’m sounding like ‘it was better in my day’ – oh well, the perogative of over-35 year old musicians! (PS http://www.thetelltales.com is our band; and I reserve the right to have committed all the musical crimes listed above.)

  15. Wayne Godfrey says:

    Wow, I wish I had seen this or that it was at least now available on DVD. There are so many great acts that I would love to see, either again, or for the first time. I long for my Wall of Voodoo albumn, There was some great music on it. It still exists on a cassette tape somewhere in my collection, but I no longer even have a cassette player, except in my Jeep (you know, the Jeep with the blown speakers from my college-age kids!). Fun stuff, thanks Dan.

  16. M.e. says:

    My friend Poopy once made a Klaus Nomi vs Hall and Oats shootout compilation. Alternating songs like Ding Dong the Witch is Dead and Maneater. It was one of my favorite compilations ever.
    Weird taste aside, Klaus’ vocal range was something in the five or six octave range if I’m not mistaken. He is the only person I am aware of with this kind of range, and I am aware of a whole lot of things, ladies and gentlemen.

  17. Jason Berry says:

    I’ve spent 15 years trying to forget that era of music and then you go and do this. =(

  18. isma says:

    OMD totally rocks. Have you heard Gilles et Jacno? a french band same era, but a really unique, childish yet eerie use of 80`s keyboards.

  19. Austin says:

    Sadly I still have this video – some of the performances still hold up today

  20. Heather says:

    Doesn’t anyone remember seeing Saturday Night Live during way back when? I remember one show when Bowie was the musical guest – for his first musical spot he did “DJ”, and when he came on later for the second musical number he came onstage and introduced Nomi, and let him do a number! It was extremely bizarre even for that NYC crowd …

  21. Kevin Conboy says:

    Punk, new wave and techno are still converging.. check out the killers and the faint.

  22. Mike W says:

    Well. I never thought I’d see John Ottway, the Aylesbury Dustman, mentioned on a site I use to get web design tips from and an Amercan site ,too. From the mid-70′s through to its demise in the late 80′s, I worked at Friars’Club, Aylesbury, on the House PA, and knew John. I don’t know what or how much of his stuff was shown on that documentary but his sets were always hilarious and, particularly when he was with Wild Willy Barratt, had some great musical moments. Barratt was/is a phenomenal and quirky guitarist. He had a pedal-steel guitar mounted on wheels which he would play by holding the slide still and moving the guitar before slinging it off the side of the stage to a waiting roadie who had to stop it before it wrecked the monitor desk or something. He managed it most of the time. I know John went Stateside to try his luck because he came back with a North American girlfriend who, one night in the White Swan pub next to the gig, expressed an interest in cricket until I started to explain the rules to her. Aahh! Great memories and a great night. Thanks Dan, I’m glad John’s trip wasn’t in vain.

  23. Britt says:

    I owned that album as well and watched the video several times back in the day. I am still impressed by the Gang of Four and Gary Numan performances. Thanks.

  24. Julie says:

    I remember I was 12 when I was staying the summer in Florida with my brother who is about 20 years older than I am, buying this video in a bargin bin at the local mall. That particular video has made a huge impact on the music I love today and this 90s and 2000 craps got to go,bring back the 80s. Im 28 now and I cannot manage to break from the 80′s music! Help Me! I did buy the Killers CD, I love that CD from start to stop! If you like the music from Urgh! A music War,you will love “The Killers”…..Keep Rockin!

  25. Chris says:

    I own the double album from this movie. If anyone owns URGH! on VHS and wants to sell it, contact me. The performances are priceless and have produced a lot of ‘did you knows?’; like, 2 years later XTC quit performing live because the singer developed stage fright. The guitarist and drummer from Wall of Voodoo, guitarist from Magazine, Klaus Nomi, and the guitarist from Echo and the Bunnymen have all deceased. These performances showed spirit, bravery, and originality which you can rarely find today.

  26. jeemfeem says:

    Hi all,
    Just thought I’d drop a little plug (spam? – sorry) for our discussion group of this classic documentary. Also, if you haven’t seen this in ages and ages, just put “antisoshal” into your favorite search engine to find a quality transfer to DVD. This film is long out-of-print through legit channels.

  27. Patrick says:

    This reminds me of the early years of cable. I believe I saw this on “Night Flights” on the old USA network, along with a David Bowie movie called “Ricochet” that was based on his “Let’s Dance” tour. To think that most people would have considered Sting hardcore back then seems laughable now. I do remember a good performance by X in “Urgh!..”, but I don’t remember which song they played.

  28. Ivan says:

    Hey guys!, this is the first time i hear about this Klaus Naomi, and it was cuz i downloaded a Donna Summer cover by him,(her o them, not sure if it’s a band or a person,) “I Feel Love”. i cant find any pix of him in da net, can u tell me how did he look like, or why u say he was scary? the song i downloaded is some bizarre mix of Summer’s classic techno beat, opera, and classic music, really weird, can u tell me how can i get more info on this guy??
    Ivan, 16 yo, from Mexico.

  29. Silas says:

    I was six when Urgh! came out. I first heard about it yesterday as I was reading “the Onion” desktop calendar that I was given for Christmas. It’s mentioned in an article (written by Sting) about how he used to be kind of cool. Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the movie? I doubt they have it at Blockbuster Video.

  30. Geoff Stahl says:

    Funny, I’ve just posted a Nomi/Bowie clip from Saturday Night Live on my blog.

  31. Failure says:

    I just downloaded part 1 of “Urgh!” on emule. A movie “Nomi Song” was just released. Klaus Lives!

  32. Russ says:

    I was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for both nights they filmed there, and I must say the memory could not be sand-blasted from my frontal lobe. True highlight for me was the set by Magazine, quite possibly the least appreciated of the bands of that time. Watching Barry Adamson play those impossible basslines while Howard Devoto misbehaved out front, I felt then as I do now; I won’t soon forget this moment in the ongoing history of music.

  33. dave says:

    this is one of my oldest and most played videos, my copy is called “both sides us/uk live” is out on dvd yet?

  34. AL says:

    I had this album on vinyl. It was a double album set and I picked it up for like 6 bucks. I played it so many times that the stylis wore thru the record. I listened to it scratches and all for years. I`m 43 now and it`s been an awfully long time but I remember mostly outstanding performances from bands like the Cramps, OMD, XTC (one of the best!) and a handful of bands i`d never heard of before or again. For an even more obsure but equally compelling album for hardcore fans, try to find Jello Biafra`s “(Not So) Quiet On The Western Front”.

  35. Zapped says:

    I remember seeing this movie a few times on USA’s Nightflight. The standouts for me were Gary Numan, The Police, Steel Pulse, XTC and of course the late Klaus Nomi. I first remember seeing him sing backup for David Bowie on Saturday Night Live. It would be nice to see this re-released in its entirety on dvd. Until then if you want to see Urgh!A Music War just click on the link.
    Just scroll down until you come across the ‘Various Artists’ section.

  36. Pepe Unidos says:

    I remember watching this film at the movie theater in the town where I grew up when I was 15… it was an art house in Pasadena, CA and they were showing it along with The Wall, The Song Remains The Same, and a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show – yeah, that was a long night!
    This film made a tremendous impact on me and the CD from the the film still makes frequent visits to my player. All standout performances, especially from The Cramps, Joan Jett, XTC, The Police, Chelsea, Dead Kennedys, X, and Oingo Boingo. I wish that someone would re-release this on DVD already.

  37. URGHer says:

    Greetings fellow URGH-O-phytes. If your anywhere near Los Angeles you can satiate your lust for this wondrous time capsule of manic musical mayhem by contacting Cinefile at Sawtelle and Santa Monica Blvds., they have one VHS copy for rent and it’s in mint condition. “Shut up and dance!”

  38. yblast says:

    go to: antisoshal.com. for a quality-transfer double-dvd of the movie. He also offers the entire sound-trak on CD. Check it out

  39. Adrienne says:

    Do I remember this..I was a teen and knew about “The Ritz” and other places in New York that were serving up Punk and New Wave while commercial driven disco was the fare. I LOVED this movie and yes, I remember Klaus Naomi the most from this (Also the Cramps, The early GoGo’s and for some ungodly reason, they stuck The Police in this!). But Klaus was “da man”. I was so upset to hear he had passed away but he was “new wave” to me. Many copiers, but only one Klaus.

  40. frank dick says:

    this is by far the quintessentiel early punk/new wave compilation ever recorded. i’m hoping someone out there in music-bizland will have the balls to put this out on dvd!
    my favorite? lux interior of the cramps performing fellacio on the mic, writhing on the stage, “tearing this whole damn thing up!”……classic!

  41. In 1980 (81?) we used to watch it over and over on the Betamax! I’ve seen it a few times at some shops on eighth street over the years, but I never picked up a copy. Now I can’t find it and I figured I’d look online for it…and I found this cool blog!!
    We fourteen year old litle punk rockers used to watch it for The Dead Kennedys and the Cramps and X, but years later I picked up this Au Pairs album I’d been passing by at record stores for years for a buck and it became one of my favorite albums.
    Anyway, Gang of Four sold out in NY!! Anybody wanna take a road trip to Philly? I think they’re playing 5/21.

  42. Bear says:

    I just happened to stumble over this site and the comments about URGH! ..Man do they bring back memories. I was lucky enough to have seen the original release at a little artsy theater in Van BC (think it was the ARTS CLUB THEATER(?)on E Hastings)when it was first released in ’81(?). Every performance in that movie was kick ass. I listen to a number of those bands to this day on a regular basis. Still have the Dbl vinyl in mint condition in storage (mint only because I made cassette recordings and wore them out instead of the vinyl). After being indoctrinated into the punk scene I couldn’t get enough of those bands from the movie and of course that just lead to others. Super lucky to have seen Wall of Voodo and the Dead Kennedys live in Vancouver. This film spurred an ever increasing love for punk. Saw my all time favorite band The Stranglers at the Commodore Ballroom (the opening act the Lifers were pretty good to, enough to buy their album IBS Go). Also saw Stiff Little Fingers, the Stray Cats, and other bands (cant seem to recall them all, as was slightly out of it on who knows what on most of those occasions ;-)) at that same venue. The Commodore was so cool because it used to be an actual ballroom and had a ‘floating’ dance floor. When you were up front slam dancing and pogoing you would sometimes catch the right bounce like a trampoline and it would send you a good couple of feet higher in the air. Some of my fondest memories are from that era. WOW …. thanks peeps.

  43. Tony Creed says:

    I was in the Surf Punks (Hulk). I’d love to get a copy of urgh. Even moreso than a copy I’d love to see/hear all the stuff they have in a vault somewhere.
    They shot EVERYONEs whole set but only used a couple songs. The recording quality and video was great. They shot from several different angles. As we didn’t get paid chit it sucks that someone is sitting on all that history and not sharing.
    Whatever, what does this have to do with sick azzed skull rings. Check out my website at http://www.TONYCREED.com

  44. Sporktoast says:

    WFMU free format radio in New Jersey recently had an interview with the producer/director of a documentary on Klaus Nomi. Archive in RealAudio (and streaming MP3 for about a week more) is linked from the playlist page at http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/15389
    Go to about 120 minutes into the show to hear the interview portion.
    The documentary “The Nomi Story” is out on DVD now.

  45. Paul Bowen says:

    I saw this with my wife in the mid-80′s and managed to get it on tape. We screamed with laughter and horror at performances by Klaus Nomi, the Cramps and the Alleycats. Unfortunately, I accidentally erased the tape. It’s out of print and quite expensive used. I’ll buy it if it ever comes out on DVD.

  46. Larry says:

    Klaus Naomi was a genius of the punk world. He was an accomplished opera singer who turned to the New Wave scene. He performance at Fiorucci Store on 57th was epic. Does anyone remember that? Everyone looked kind of crazy back then. Look at the Cramps and other bands of the time.Mudd Club ruled and the club people ruled. He departure was too soon from this earth.

  47. Jason says:

    I bought this on VHS in 1987, used, at a video store for $1.99. I had seen it before so I grabbed it. I personally think it is the best video of its type ever.
    Steel Pulse is still playing, and still excellent. All of the Police are still involved in some band or project. I think Gary Numan is a pilot. XTC is one of the most influential bands, particularly musicians, and they are still playing. You hear their work in tons of bands, Sugar Ray is the first that comes to mind. Jello Biafra is still ranting out there somewhere. UB40 still plays. Jules Holland does too. Last I heard he had a music/talk show in England. Chelsea, FYI, Billy Idol used to front. GoGos are still at it, they were here in Atlantic City recently. Joan Jett, Flesh Tones, Gang of Four and a bunch more.
    My favorite performances are:
    The Cramps, a great way to disturb first time watchers.
    Both Police performances are great. Combined with UB40 and Steel Pulse are an amazing cross section of Reggae’s influence on that scene.
    John Cooper Clark. The birth of Rap perhaps? All of the capped OG’s will be rolling over in their graves if they find out this guy was a pioneer. But it’s damn good.
    Alley Cats. Never seen hide nor hair of them since, but I love the performance.
    John Ottway. You have to see this lunatic, as irreverant as hell and doubly entertaining.
    Chelsea’s clip is nearly timeless. Truly the spirit of rock and roll. Pere Ubu kinda reeled me in after enough viewings. Members did “Offshore Banking Business” and made me a fan.
    Two perfomances could have been eliminated, in my opinion: Au Pairs and Splodgeness Abounds.
    Excruciating. The rest is delightful. Watch it, you will love it.

  48. JOhnErAy says:

    I taped this off of USA Network’s late night show, “Night Flight” back in the early 80s (with my newly-purchased $400, top-loading VCR) and still have to watch the grainy footage on that tape (blank tapes went for like, $10 then so I had to squeeze 6 hours onto them in the EP mode).
    I would love to see a DVD release of this with all the extra, unaired footage. I’m sure the reason it hasn’t been done is due to the cost of obtaining the music rights, etc. from so many performers.

  49. Joe says:

    I saw it many many times back in 1982, and later on a VHS tape, yup! right here in Malaysia.
    go here for a bit of punk rock history:
    Urgh! at the Rex
    Joe Kidd