The first Destroy All Monsters show was held on New Year’s Eve of 1973 at a comic book convention in Ann Arbor. The four piece band played coffee cans and vacuum cleaners as instruments before promptly being asked to leave 10 minutes later. This marked the birth of a little-known band who went on to change the course of Detroit’s punk culture without ever dropping an official album. Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw met at the University of Michigan, and proceeded to experiment with noise and ambient music before recruiting Niagara and Cary Loren, who would eventually flesh out the Destroy All Monsters collective.
Shaw and Kelley chose to leave their mark through a litany of xeroxed Destroy All Monsters show posters and occult zines, printing such limited numbers of each copy you would start to believe they thrived on the obscurity and confusion. Graphic flyers scattered across the Ann Arbor campus detailing academic seminars from respected professors led clueless students to impromptu Destroy All Monsters shows, which frequently featured live readings of pornography and chaotic noise. Shaw and Kelley enjoyed watching people squirm. Their work pushed human behavior in a perverted direction that demanded complete self-awareness and attention. Their goal was to throw your “comfort zone” out the window. Whether it was a conscious effort to produce such novel reactions or if they just found it funny remains a secret, one I’m sure Destroy All Monsters never meant to share. If Iggy Pop and the Stooges were a microcosm of the Detroit punk sound, Destroy All Monsters were the punk ethos counterpart, challenging foundational ideas that run our day-to-day lives as Midwesterners and American citizens.
Four years isn’t the longest tenure for a band that held as much influence as Destroy All Monsters. Luckily, the Broad Exhibit on Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw’s work helps compartmentalize their overwhelming pool of art, from the harsh noise field recordings to the herculean paintings of Detroit’s most courageous musical icons. See it for yourself, we promise it’s not a secret invitation to a Destroy All Monsters show!
Michigan Stories: Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw will be displayed in the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum until February 25, featuring rare and original pieces by the masterminds behind Destroy All Monsters as well as their diverse catalog of zines, live shows, flyers and much more. Also, come celebrate your hate for Valentine’s Day with that not-so-special someone at the museum’s “Anti-Valentine’s Day Party” on Tuesday, Feb. 13 from 7-10 p.m.