The Screamers were an American electropunk group founded in 1975. They were among the first wave of the L.A. punk rock scene. The Los Angeles Times applied the label “techno-punk” to the band in 1978. In the documentary Punk: Attitude (2005), the Dead Kennedys cite the Screamers as a key influence on their group and as one of the great unrecorded groups in rock history.
The Screamers were noted for unusual instrumentation, featuring synthesizer (ARP Odyssey) and electric piano (Fender Rhodes). Additional musicians, including violinists and a female vocalist, were occasionally incorporated into their performances. The group featured a theatrical presentation that centered on manic lead vocalist, Tomata du Plenty. DuPlenty and Tommy Gear, a keyboard player and vocalist, were the band’s principal songwriters.
Show List and Key Dates – This index features show dates, venues, and flyers
Recordings – This index includes unofficial recordings (no official releases exist)
The Screamers’ founders Tomata du Plenty (born David Xavier Harrigan) and Tommy Gear first collaborated in Seattle in 1975, where they formed The Tupperwares. The original lineup of the Tupperwares included Tommy Gear (at the time, using the name “Melba Toast”), Tomata du Plenty, and Rio de Janeiro on vocals, backed by Pam Lillig and Ben witz (later of Girls), as well as Bill Rieflin (later of The Blackouts and Ministry) and a teenage Eldon Hoke (later known as “El Duce” of The Mentors).
In late 1976, after legal threats from Tupperware trademark owners, the band’s name was changed to the Screamers. The trio Tomata, Tommy, Rio migrated to Los Angeles, leaving the other band members behind. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro left the band due to creative differences and they added David Brown and drummer K. K. Barrett. Brown soon left to found the seminal punk label Dangerhouse Records; he was replaced by Paul Roessler.
The Screamers created a visual presence in the press before they ever played live. Studio photos of the band began to appear in magazines even before a full band had been assembled. Artist Gary Panter’s logo for the band, a stylized cartoon of a screaming head with spiked hair, became one of the most recognizable images to emerge from punk rock.
From 1977 through 1979, the Screamers became a sensation in Los Angeles rock clubs, selling out multiple-night engagements at the Whisky a Go Go. They were the first band without a recording contract to headline the prestigious Roxy on Sunset Boulevard. They also did several short tours during this period, playing in New York, at CBGB and Hurrah, in 1978 and 1979.
Describing a July 1979 performance, music critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times focused on “Tomata’s extraordinary power on stage”. According to Hilburn, “Tomata’s hair was greased to stand straight up, giving him the look of a man who had just stuck his finger into an electric socket. His performance reflected the nervous, relentless anxiety of someone whose troubles are even deeper… by the end of the 40-minute set, du Plenty has gone through the same disintegration of the human will that we associate with such books as “1984”. Eventually, the tuxedo jacket, shirt and tie are ripped off, leaving him symbolically naked in his attempt to maintain some dignity and individuality. As if suddenly put in another man’s body, he asks in horror: “Who am I?”
The Screamers never released a single official recording of any kind, although several bootleg recordings have appeared, composed of rehearsals or live tapes. At one point, the group determined they would release their debut album only in video form (a highly unusual approach before MTV existed or VCRs were common), and they devoted time and resources to constructing a small movie studio. Despite some fitful efforts in the early 1980s, the band had effectively dissolved before their video plans were realized. Roessler joined L.A.’s other “synthpunk” band, Nervous Gender. The other band members pursued non-musical careers, though K.K. Barrett reunited with Roessler to perform several Screamers songs live in late 2000, in tribute to Tomata du Plenty, who had recently died in San Francisco in August 2000.
Synthpunk.org – Screamers biography and discography