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Beat Happening: ‘It was about having this adventure with your friends’

Made with minimal resources and modest ambition, their lo-fi recordings are an enduring indie inspiration. The band looks back to a time when record deals seemed a far-fetched prospect One night in December 1983, Calvin Johnson, Bret Lunsford and Heather Lewis of Beat Happening were asked to play a last-minute set at a house party. They had started the band just a few months earlier and were yet to own a drum kit; after hearing one of their songs, the previous band refused to loan them theirs. Instead, the trio settled on a garbage can from the street. “It was no big deal,” Johnson recalls nonchalantly. The band were accustomed to improvising: throughout their career, they famously used empty yoghurt pots, cardboard boxes and a string of borrowed kits in lieu of their own, while crafting askew melodies from thrift shop-bought guitars and masking inexperience with an Echoplex. This initiative and open-minded approach to music was core to Beat Happening, who favoured rudimentary song structures, matter-of-fact lyrics and unadulterated emotion. They formed in Olympia, Washington, an unassuming city in the Pacific north-west that was home to an exciting independent music scene. Johnson and Lewis attended Evergreen State College, a local liberal arts institution that encouraged extracurricular activities and creative pursuits; the campus radio station, Kaos, where Johnson had worked from the age of 15, adopted a policy that 80% of music broadcast must be from independent labels. Johnson’s own label K Records, which would go on to release all of Beat Happening’s albums, followed suit, adopting the mission statement: “K explodes the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre world-wide.” Continue reading...

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