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For forty-two years and counting, the long-running experimental Chicago group ONO has been committed to—as their mission statement says—exploring gospel's darkest conflicts, tragedies and premises as an experimental, noise, and industrial poetry performance band, charting a defiant course through a sea of seemingly disparate influences. One of few Black bands taking part in the ‘80s industrial and experimental underground, ONO’s first album Kate Cincinnati is a crucial document, showcasing them as a trio composed of bandleader P. Michael Grego, multi-instrumentalist Ric Graham, and enigmatic frontperson travis. Kate Cincinnati was originally self-released in 1982 in an edition of 300 tapes alongside an accompanying libretto/zine. The trio traverse a variety of sonic environments—travis' singing, bass, and lap steel move effortlessly between gospel, blues, opera and noise suggestions; Graham plays a maelstrom of music on horn and guitar; Grego quietly orchestrates arrangements while adding keyboards, electronics, and percussion.
Those who have seen ONO's recent concerts know their performances emphasize travis' striking stage presence and Grego's penchant for deconstructing soul and funk. travis may undergo costume changes, beat a trash can lid, shake chains, dance with audience members, and set off electronic rhythms, sounds, and noises; Grego conjures rich, throbbing basslines, plays keys, and layers samples on top of each other - together they foreshadow full-frontal, all-ONO exploratory overlays. The title track on Kate Cincinnati is an early example of ONO's evocative performance style, with choral chanting, drum beats, speak-singing, and ambient saxophones—almost like blues meets New Music America. "I Wonder Why" and "Oppenheimer" merge gospel, punk and blues elements, and a characteristic, anthemic seething, combining socio-political incision, history, and religion: "10.5 million non-whites!" "Give me Jezebel!"
If this is your first time with ONO, hop on board and see why Steve Albini, Moor Mother, Dan Deacon, Black Midi, Algiers and countless other musicians and music lovers love them so. If you're already a fan, don't walk—run.
With major thanks to Hal McGee, David Magdziarz, Ric Graham, Electrical Audio and more.
Layout by Ben Karas
Remastered by Mikey Young