Certain events in music history are powerful enough to change the course of the industry for good. Prominent events such as Bob Dylan going electric in 1965, Radiohead’s groundbreaking OK Computer, or, as far as my personal relationship with music is concerned, the emergence of the seminal independent K Records and Beat Happening in Olympia, Washington in 1982.
The man at the center of it all was Calvin Johnson, frontman of Beat Happening and K Records founder, bringing with him his fierce Do It Yourself ethic and lo-fi sensibilities to change the course of the American independent music scene.
Beat Happening was one of those bands that discarded any preconceived notions of what it takes to make music and get it out there. Call it a childlike naiveté or a disregard for professional musicianship, but Beat Happening’s playful and whimsical approach whisked in a new era of change within the industry, a sort-of middle fingered address to the major labels and their tendency to homogenize the playing-field. They weren’t masters of their instruments, they often strayed off-key and out of tune, yet they captured something primitive and organic with their sound that continues to speak to people. The ethos of the trio, Calvin, Heather, and Bret (they dropped their last names in order to strip away all pretense) was one of democracy and fearlessness, swapping instruments and singing duties from song to song.