Thinking back on their career, Unrest were a band that couldn’t be categorically written off. By the time the 90’s hit, Unrest was already a band for over five years and had already gone from being an angular, harsh(ish) noisy project to a delicate, shimmering pop band. And these were musicians that were my age in the DC area that were proto-indie rock. Or maybe it’s "meta." All I know is that by 1990 hit, Unrest was two guys and a girl who banged out some of the most minimal, simple pop hits of the era.
My original introduction to the band was "Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation" which, still to this day, I consider to have one of the most bad-ass A-sides from 1989. "Invoking the Godhead" was more Bastro than Brit Pop and "Teenage Suicide" was a glimmer of what Unrest were to become sooner rather than later.
Sadly, I never got to witness the angsty Unrest, but I collected all the self-released Teen Beat cassettes and singles of the era in no time thanks due in large part to my vicinity to Yesterday & Today. I got to see Unrest play the Lotsa Pop Losers fest at the shoebox known as DC Space in late 1991 with a soon to be legendary line-up including Velocity Girl, Small Factory, Tsunami and Versus. Good god, and that was at DC Space?! Christ. That was 18 years ago! Time flies.
Once I left for Georgia, Unrest really hit their stride. "Yes She Is My Skinhead Girl" was out in 1991 on K Records and is still one song I consider to be absolutely, 100% flawless. I’ll fight anybody that disagrees. "Imperial FFRR" was released in ’92 with the "Perfect Teeth" box set coming out later that same year. By this time, it was pretty hard not to admire Mark Robinson’s obsession with Factory Records. Giving catalog numbers to visits to amusement parks, an unbreakable comb, a sticker or his station wagon!? I mean, come on! At least Factory had the, uh, Haçienda! Anyway, it was all brilliant. Yes, brilliant.
Unrest seemed to come through Georgia quite a bit in ’93. They opened for Superchunk and Th’ Faith Healers at the Masquerade, had a slot at Lolapalooza at Lakewood and opened Fugazi and Superchunk at the 40 Watt. And yes, I was at all of them. Unrest even did one of those "you had to be there" in-stores at Criminal Records back when they were over on Euclid Avenue. I say that "you had to be there" because I wasn’t. My friend Travis and I got lost on the way from Athens and arrived just as the band was packing up their gear. I clearly remember Criminal owner Eric and employee Lillian scoffing at me for missing their performance. I should add, that I’ve since found both of them to be anything but a typical (read: condescending) record store employees. Just to clear the air. I think I just got them on a bad day. But damn, I’m still bummed I missed them.
The final time I got to see Unrest was at the Somber Reptile when Bryan Poole (then of Basement Saint, later of Elf Power and now in Of Montreal) and I carpooled down. It was Stereolab’s first tour of the US and I still think they never were to be nearly as good live as they were that night. It really was a perfect night.
I saw Air Miami, Mark’s first post-Unrest band, debut at the Merge Records 5th Anniversary weekend in ’94 and I subsequently interviewed him for Chunklet on the curb out in front of the Cat’s Cradle later that night (I was drunk). They were okay. As was his subsequent band Flin Flon. But I don’t know what it was, but Unrest were, and continue to be, his master stroke.
As a final note, Teen Beat has been releasing countless "hand made" archival-quality CD-R releases though their website. Not only can you (finally) get early Unrest tapes on a digital release, but the packaging is sort of ridiculous. Strongly recommended. Mark’s a consumate obsessive and it reeks off him. And I love that about him.
While I’m on the subject of their hand made releases, you should pick up The Rondelles pair of CD-Rs that bookcase their very first and very last recordings. There’s plenty more to check out. Go there now.
And before I forget, does anybody have any old Unrest t-shirts or records to trade?
In closing, in honor of this post, I’m including an entire set of Unrest that I recorded at the 40 Watt in Athens ’93 along with a prime video that Greg Webb shot of Unrest at Criminal Records later that year. You know, the "good ‘ol days." I sure hope Mark’s okay with this because I absolutely adore everything Unrest did and most everything else he’s ever done.
Unrest – Bavarian Mods – Athens 1993
Unrest – Christina – Athens 1993
Unrest – Suki – Athens 1993
Unrest – Blushing – Athens 1993
Unrest – International Nautical Miles – Athens 1993
Unrest – Skinhead Girl – Athens 1993
Unrest – Love To Know – Athens 1993
Unrest – Cherry – Athens 1993
Unrest – June – Athens 1993
Unrest – Nation Writer – Athens 1993