For over 60 years, citizens of Olympia, Washington, have gathered at Lakefair, a city carnival that takes place during the second week in July. Since 1994, Yoyo a Go Go has sporadically (every two years or so) coincided with Lakefair, bringing bands and fans from all over the world to Olympia. Conceived by Yoyo Recordings’ Pat Maley, Kent Oiwa, and Michelle Noel as a festival to showcase independent bands from “around the corner and around the world” (www.yoyoagogo.com), Yoyo a Go Go celebrates the spirit and artistic freedom of corporate-free music.
All of the 21 tracks* on Yoyo a Go Go 1999 were recorded over a six-day period at the Capitol Theatre in Olympia. Built in the 1920s, the Capitol is a functioning theatre in the evenings, showing movies and hosting other scheduled performances. A back room in the theatre houses Yoyo Recordings’ studio, and Yoyo uses the theatre during the day to record bands at minimal cost.
Yoyo a Go Go 1999 captures the diversity of the bands participating in the festival. C Average opens the CD with the instrumental “The Legend of the Two”. An ironic tribute to the epics of progressive rock — complete with a Tolkienesque spoken introduction — this musical trilogy consists of “I. Dark Harbour”, “II. Green Mountain Air Ways”, and “III. Illgagaard Forever”. C Average, spurred on by an enthusiastic audience, gleefully breaks a cardinal “rule” of punk with a song that extends beyond the expected two to three minutes (“The Legend of the Two” is seven-and-a-half-minutes in length).
Mirah’s bare-bones performance of “Engine Heart” counters the multi-layered sounds of “The Legend of Two”. A single voice backed by a ukulele and drums, Mirah’s clutter-free approach to music belies the complex emotions of love and loss presented in the song’s lyrics. Similarly, Super Duo’s set-up is very simple — ukulele, drums, and violin. On “Postage”, the droning violin accentuates the emotional (and sometimes physical) pain of making oneself vulnerable to love: “I took a toilet / And I barfed my guts out / I took a pencil / And I poked my eye out / I took my heart / And I gave it to you”.
Japanese punk rockers the Moools (“Bonchi no Natsu [Summer in the Basin]” and Ramsted (“Asian Muse”) appear on Yoyo a Go Go 1999 , reminding listeners that punk extends beyond the boarders of North America and Europe. Yoyo’s Pat Maley fondly remembers Ramsted’s guitarist, Nao: “This small Japanese woman stunned the audience with her band’s intensity and acumen”.
Perhaps the most-hyped of the festival’s events was the return of riot grrl band Bratmobile on the fourth night of Yoyo a Go Go. After a hiatus from performing and recording, Bratmobile returns to the familiar turf of Olympia with “Kiss and Ride”. Sleater-Kinney, the most popular of the riot grrl’s progenies, perform their punk answer to Prince’s “1999”, “Banned from the End of the World”: “Throw me out / When your party’s over / We’re gonna party / ‘Cause it’s 1999”.
The CD concludes with an encore by Negativland, “The Immortal Words of Casey Kasem as Performed by the Entire Audience of Yoyo a Go Go (All 700 of Them)”, in which the band leads the audience in a reading of a long-distance dedication letter (projected onto an onstage screen) written to American Top 40 D.J. Casey Kasem. Shortly, the band and audience are chanting: “This all means diddly-shit! Who gives a shit . . . diddly-shit! This is American Top 40 bullshit!” Appropriately, the CD closes with a collective Yoyo a Go Go “fuck-you” to the mainstream recording industry and corporate radio.
Of all the ideas presented in this compilation, one of the most powerful ones concerns having the stamina to remain outside the mainstream in a society that constantly pressures us to conform. In a Yoyo Recordings press release, Pat Maley writes: “Long ago, punk rock stopped being simply a noun that was young, loud, and proud. Now it’s also a descriptive term that tries to explain the difference between the buy in/sell out culture that wakes us up every morning for work, and the culture so many of us make every day with our own hands”. Yoyo a Go Go celebrates this spirit of making culture “with our own hands” in a time when many would argue that the independent music scene in the United States is losing its momentum. However, since 1999, there has been another successful Yoyo a Go Go (in 2001). In the words of Mecca Normal, “You fight the system when you’re twenty-two / Well, maybe some of us will / And maybe some of us won’t / Grow up to be beaten down”. Yoyo a Go Go and Yoyo Recordings provide artists with a place and the means to “fight the system”.
* C Average, Mirah, the Mountain Goats, Mecca Normal, Marine Research, the Moools, Sleater-Kinney, Ramsted, Bratmobile, the Need, Super Duo, Old Time Relijun, the Lowdown, the Tight Bros from Way Back When, Red Monkey, the Cannanes, Loud Machine 0.5, the Microphones, Rebecca Pearcy, the Crabs, Negativland