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The Surf Report
By MuzikMan
(more articles from this author)
2000-04-30
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What's your first thought when you hear someone say surf? Well for me it isn't the sport, it's the music. The sport inspired the music and created the culture that has been in existence for many years now. I can only imagine the excitement, power, electricity and sheer beauty of a wave rolling over my head as I endeavor to catch the perfect tube before it swallows me up like a bug. What a rush that must be? The music allows us dream surfers an opportunity to at least fantasize about actually enjoying that kind of special experience only a surfer can feel. The ocean is vast and has many different meanings to certain people who populate this planet. Surf music stands alone as one of the most colorful and interesting music genres because of all of the excitement and mystery attached to the music and all the stories it tells.

The grand daddies of this genre are The Ventures. This group has been on the scene and has kept the surf genre alive for more than forty years now! They remain active and they're as influential today as they were in the sixties. The Ventures are more than a surf band. In fact, they are the forever reigning kings of the instrumental world always conquering new territories and covering songs no one would dare to tackle. Then there is Merrell Fankhauser along with the Fireballs who can also stake their claim as true pioneers of the instro style. And Dick Dale showed up at the right time to introduce his loud, reverb, double picking style to really push the surf music style into the stratosphere. These artists have had success over long periods of time; however, they haven't enjoyed the kind of success and rewards that should be given to such important and influential artists as them. This is truly a blight of the genre. It's a
small community that rarely allows superstars to emerge. Cult status is generally the level of acclaim attained. The Ventures are probably the only group that has stepped up from that level of notoriety by virtue of their immense popularity in Japan.

There are three segments of historical time referred to in the surf-instro genre; The first wave (1959-1964), the second wave (1980-1982), and the third wave (1995 to the present). Today there are so many surf guitar instro groups that one can hardly keep track! But then it's a wonderfully exciting time with the potential of a breeding ground for an entirely new genre to be born. In fact, there are many offshoots or sub genres of surf that are beginning to flourish right this very moment. It's also interesting to note that the lounge or exotica sound has been making its way back steadily and how many modern day surf groups have been molding and shaping that particular sound into their own appealing blend of music.

So who are the surf movers and shakers? Who are the ones that have given the surf genre a new recognition? There are several that come to mind: Pollo Del Mar (Chicken of the Sea), The Mermen, Hypnomen, Laika and The Cosmonauts, Slacktone, Satan's Pilgrims, and The Space Cossacks to name a few. (I chose these groups as examples, but not to be the all end of all surf groups.) They are among the elite to be sure but there are many more that have lent a helping hand to popularize this brand of music now dubbed as surf. In fact, there are several first wavers that have embraced the new fan base and utilizing today's technologies to give their once forgotten and sleeping careers a new life: The Knights, The Surf Kings (former Crossfires members), and Dick Dale are some of the great artists of yesteryear that have capitalized on the surf resurgence.

One group of particular interest is the Mermen because they're really not a surf band even though their sound has hints of surf around the edges. Nevertheless, the Mermen's style is more progressive with a strong rock-instrumental sound. There hasn't been anything new from this band in awhile, but I expect something very special soon. Another band to keep a watchful eye on is The Space Cossacks. I believe this group along with the Mermen will lead the surf pack and be the innovators of this genre . . . so watch them soar!

One standout label that specializes in surf instros is MuSick Recordings. I have raved about their artists and this record company several times in my reviews. They are today what Del-Fi was in the '60s. Speaking of Del-Fi, keep close tabs on this label too. They're still active but are presently traveling a different road these days. But then, that's really another story.

What makes this style of music so special and interesting to a lot of us? Well, all of the above, of course, and much more. It's fun, energetic, and innovative that has a certain mystique and color that, I believe, no other genre can match. Another big plus are the numerous friendships that I've made and great fun that I've had as a result of it. I must say that the people who are a part of this fascinating genre family are a tight community who reach out and touch each other's lives. Of course, this is due a lot to the fact that surf music has a small fan base. That is, it hasn't gotten so big that it's out of reach to the people who support it. But then, that's the tradeoff for big success and all the financial rewards that can come with it as money and success undoubtedly causes problems. I do believe, however, that most of the artists, who are heavily involved in the surf community, are satisfied with the attention
they're getting and are more than willing to acknowledge their admirers. I might also add that the genre has been very influential in bringing vinyl back into the picture as well. Artists are releasing colored 45s and EPS with colorful artwork and pictures as a tribute to the '60s.

The foundation of surf guitar instros was built many years ago and thankfully it continues to build and reinvent itself. It's really a great time to be alive!


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