Violent Human System
The Japanese company Funai Electric was the world’s last commercial manufacturer of consumer videocassette recorders—that is, until last month when it ceased manufacturing VCRs. By that measure, VCRs and VHS tapes, the home entertainment format they supported, are now officially on the road to obsolesce.
Violent Human System is a punk rock quartet, but, on show fliers, internet posts and the like, the band is better known as VHS. The band name evokes the nostalgic atmosphere found in some of the group’s music and the specific era—the 1980s and early ’90s—when VHS, the format, was cutting-edge technology. VHS, the band, has the energy and atmosphere of some of the smartest, artiest bands of that era’s American punk underground—like Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the Wipers and the Pixies. Melodic vocal lines and thoughtful lyrics are sung over quick rhythms, tight ensemble performances and twisted, distorted guitar tones.
Also in the aural mix is an undercurrent of the dour, downbeat, Gothic post-punk of British bands of the same era, like Joy Division and the Cure. It’s almost like a group of sun-baked desert rockers moved to some northerly clime and started staying indoors on rainy days, drinking caffeinated beverages, wearing black and exploring their sadness. The lyrics are full of references to various illnesses and medical calamities, as in the songs “Wheelchair” and “Hospital Room” from the band’s new record, Gift of Life.
Although VHS is based out of Seattle, three of the members are Reno transplants. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Hageman, guitarist Morgan Travis and bassist Chris Costalupes were key pieces of the local scene, members of some of the best Reno punk bands of the last couple of decades, like Over Vert and the Young Lions, and more than a dozen other groups. As each of them moved up to Seattle, it felt like a blow to the Reno scene.
The band members say that people always ask them about being from Reno.
“It’s not a typical thing for many bands in the Northwest, so people focus in on that a lot, which is fine,” said Travis. “I like talking about Reno.”
“I’m very used to Seattle, but Seattle is not my home—Reno is my home,” said Hageman.
The members say that moving to Seattle hasn’t drastically changed their approach to music. But Hageman says the recurring medical imagery in the songs have been influenced by his day job—non-emergency medical transportation, like driving people with mobility issues to doctor appointments. And the band members give a lot of credit to Gavin Tiemeyer, the group’s usual drummer, as well as Dillan Lazzareschi, who is filling in on drums for their tour, which comes through Reno this month. Band members say that playing in Reno feels like a homecoming gig.
“It’s great,” said Travis. “It’s wonderful. We put in a lot of time there, and we kind of reap the benefits of it. It’s awesome seeing all our friends, and playing with our friends’ new bands. … It’s the weirdest size for a town, because it’s large enough to the point where there are definitely people doing really cool things and awesome art, really interesting people to hang out with all the time, but it’s small enough to where everyone knows everyone, and everyone can be involved in everyone’s business to an annoying degree sometimes. But coming back, you’re not involved in any of that. People are just really stoked to see you.”