By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
It began with an ill-timed sneeze in 1988. Wiggpaw, the founding member of avant-weirdo collective Skarekrauradio, was riding the the El in Chicago with his friend Ultrafox and explaining his monaural cassette project called scarecrow radio. He sneezed, and the name came out "skarekrauradio."
Suddenly, a golden mist pushed its way out of his mouth and enveloped the two of them. Ultrafox fell prostrate on the floor of the bus and pissed himself, and that was the very moment Wiggpaw first envisaged Kuu, an almighty deity. Kuu ordered Wiggpaw to form a sect of merriment that could deliver his message to the public, which the band refers to as the "insectoid population." Insectoids are society — the ruling class of sexually repressed consumers who lust after material wealth and sameness instead of the holy trinity of art, chaos and music.
"What I saw was a place where we could all be free through mass psychogenics, meaning that we have a same mental mind and mental togetherness in a way," Wiggpaw says now. The ultimate goal of any Kuu follower is Mount Zoovious, which rises out of the Mississippi River only when it deems a member has reached the fullest state of Kuu.
"They go onto this mountain, and then it sinks right back into the water, never to be seen again. Those who are on the mountain actually see our god Kuu, which resembles a giant butternut squash with, like, a giant eye on the top part of it," Wiggpaw says. "I think orgies and totally gluttony happens, and total bliss. There's really no hate; it's all love. It's where we all hope to be someday."
But the Insectoids, the collective hivemind of the bourgeois, are the barrier keeping SKR members from reaching their special utopia in the Big Muddy. They combat the insectoids through Warning Orbs — known to the rest of us as "shows."
"We follow his ways and teach his teachings through our music, which is the best way to get through to the youth," Wiggpaw says. "We could try to do this with politics or architecture or juggling or something. But usually that doesn't get through to the kids' psyche. Hopefully we can radiate Kuu's message and the more and more people will be aware of Mount Zoovious, and we can all be mass psychogenic together."
The Order of Kuu is guarded by simple rules. Every member of the band is a member for life, whether they've started their own religion in California, live and worke in Cambodia or are installed on Mount Zoovious, blissed out and curled up next to the giant butternut-squash bosom of Kuu.
In 2005, a local filmmaker Chizzy Chizmo began documenting the wacky world of Skarekrauradio, capturing these loveable heathens in their adopted home, a small town called Tempora, Illinois, that they claim is real. (Skarekrauradio's MySpace page is the only place on the Internet that believes them.) They've since been banished from Tempora, and most of the active members are currently living in exile in the greater St. Louis metro area. Chizmo followed the band in its various incarnations for five years, and on October 15, he will release the surreal trip down Skarekrau lane with a viewing of A Time in Tempora, puppet show and performance of SKR side project Berlin Mud at Apop Records.
"It's a very psychosis-driven vision of Skarekrauradio," Chizmo says. "I dove into the deep end of the cesspool and somehow managed to come back to the surface with something. Everything we did as a group, I think it was kind of special and magical — their willingness to do anything basically made that film happen."
Says Wiggpaw: "He's a pretty unconventional filmmaker. He immersed himself in what we do. In fact, he used to dress himself up as a large unicorn onstage with his camera. I think he used lots of mass hallucinogens. But it might not be. We're all kind of on mass hallucinogens. It's hard to say."
The film is well done, if intentionally low-brow. It's visceral and surreal, like a Herzog documentary funneled through Švankmajer's Alice. It's hard to separate Skarekrauradio's myths and fables from fact, and doing so would be like cutting paper snowflakes with a machete: an exercise in futility and completely unnecessary.
"There's definitely some fictional parts that I think actually probably tells more of a truthful version of what they do," Chizmo says. "I wanted to give the audience a vibe of being in the trenches with those guys, that's where the narrative angle took up. It kind of blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Just stay in a basement with them for a night, and reality slips out the door."
But the factual reality of the band is just as entertaining as the documentary's larky arc. They've been banned from clubs for their outlandish behavior and penchant for nudity and stopped by cops who suspect them of wrongdoing. At a Pop's show, the sound engineer came up to the band and said it was the worst show he'd ever seen.
"As soon as we were done he blasted death metal so loud," says drummer Tron Javolta. "Then he came up and started screaming at Wiggpaw to get off the stage. Wiggpaw wasn't going to, so I was like, 'Fuck you, man.' Then he came up and apologized, saying, 'That was so unprofessional of me, I'm so sorry.' And I was like, 'You're just like every other fucking sound guy, man. Running sound for a band that doesn't even need a sound guy.'"
Adds Wiggpaw: "But if it's the worst show they've ever seen, they'll always remember that."
Then there was the time at Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center's annual NoiseFest when the band spent five minutes of their set squirting baby oil all over each other and wrestling. Once, while on tour with Chicago psych outfit Cave, Mr. Curious, the so-called "hype man" and one of the three Skarekrauradio vocalists, lost all of his equipment. He left his guitar in Philly and his keyboard and electronics in Baltimore.
"That was the equipment destruction tour," Curious recalls. "Someone's amp blew a fuse because water got spilled on it. It wasn't us. No one in our band drinks water."
Jokes about orgies are common, though it is often hard to tell if they are jokes or threats. ("We should start cutting holes in our costumes," says Larva, one of two new vocalists who joined the band this year, along with Xteen. "We can get in a circle. Someone can stand in the middle. We'll take turns.") For instance, there was 2010's Bitchpork, the anti-Pitchfork festival. Skarekrauradio closed out the festival, and its performance hurled the crowd into a hedonist frenzy. Some guy peed in a fan, and people in the audience picked up members of the band while they were performing. One band member got an impromptu blowjob onstage; another got his anus fingered.
At another Chicago Warning Orb shown in the film, Tron Javolta sums up the band's sound for the crowd, "Any second now we'll play some stuff. It might resemble music, it might resemble your grandma dying if she died in a violent way."
But despite these exploits, the band lives relatively normal lives alongside the Insectoids; band leader and hierophant Wiggpaw has two children and a full-time job.
"You can live an ordinary life and have a second life and be a part of Kuu," Wiggpaw says. "As long as that's where you are in the intimate moments of your life. Bodies are bodies, and people are people. You shouldn't feel inhibited with what you do with your body or your time. And you should never say sorry. We're not about killing people or anything like that. Though some of the movies might imply otherwise. Kids like gore and guts and all that."
Adds Tron Javolta: "The kids love it. As long as we corrupt the youth."
Jokes Wiggpaw: "My kids are in the car. I cracked the window. They love it in there."