Calvin Johnson performing at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon
|Origin||Olympia, Washington, US|
|Genres||Indie pop, twee pop, lo-fi, noise pop|
|Labels||K Records, Sub Pop, Domino Records|
|The Go Team, D+, The Halo Benders, Dub Narcotic Sound System|
Beat Happening is an American indie pop band formed in Olympia, Washington in 1982. Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Bret Lunsford have been the band's continual members. Beat Happening were early leaders in the American indie pop and lo-fi movements, noted for their use of primitive recording techniques, disregard for the technical aspects of musicianship, and songs with subject matters of a childish or coy nature.
Beat Happening met while attending The Evergreen State College and began recording in 1983. The band took its name from a student art film, Beatnik Happening, made by Bret's girlfriend. The band's basic line-up was drums, guitar and vocals, though when they formed their only instruments were a pair of maracas and a Sears Silvertone guitar purchased at a thrift shop. Heather once joked in an interview that the history of the band could be told through a list of the various people whose drums they'd borrowed. Heather and Calvin had been members of a previous band and approached Bret, who had no musical experience at the time, saying they ought to start a band and go to Japan.
Early recordings made use of an Echoplex machine to add heavy reverb to Bret's guitar, in an attempt to mask his poor performance.
The band traveled to Tokyo in 1984 with intentions of touring. Their first show in Japan was at the high school of a former exchange student Calvin knew. The band members recorded Three Tea Breakfast, a 5-song EP that marked the band's first release.
Beat Happening (1985), their full-length debut, was critically acclaimed, as was Jamboree (1988). By the release of Dreamy in 1991, Beat Happening was one of the most popular bands in the indie rock community, leading to their pivotal role in the International Pop Underground Festival, which brought anti-corporate rock its earliest mainstream acceptance. Their last full-length album was 1992's You Turn Me On, which represented the band breaking many of their established conventions from earlier albums, most notably on "Godsend", which runs 9 minutes and features blatant use of multitrack recording. The album was described by allmusic.com as a "masterpiece." Though never announcing a break-up and claiming at one point to still practice once a month, the members of Beat Happening have moved on to various other projects. In 2000 they released the "Angel Gone" single, their first new release in eight years.
A Beat Happening box set, Crashing Through, which collects all of the band's officially released music except for two of their tracks from a live cassette split with The Vaselines, was released in 2002. The box set included a booklet containing a lengthy essay on the history and impact of the band by Lois Maffeo, as well as rare photos of Calvin, Heather, and Bret.
The band's live performances stood out for Calvin's pogo, hula, and shimmy moves, which he'd seen on news reports about UK punks. It did not ingratiate the band to hardcore audiences when they toured with Fugazi in the late 1980s, and audiences were openly hostile, even throwing an ashtray at the band. Nonetheless, rock critic Michael Azzerrad suggests that Beat Happening "was a major force in widening the idea of a punk rocker from a mohawked guy in a motorcycle jacket to a nerdy girl in a cardigan." The presence of Heather Lewis on drums and Calvin's non-threatening stage presence presented a wider variety of punk identities and genders than other acts in the hardcore scene of the time, which was predominantly male. Beat Happening has been cited as an influence on early riot grrl acts such as Bratmobile and Kathi Wilcox of Bikini Kill.
Calvin Johnson was one of the founders of seminal indie-rock label K Records. The label achieved modest success and continues to hold its independent integrity, claiming to have been "exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt against the corporate ogre since 1982."
Though not officially broken up, the band has not performed together in public since the early 1990s. In 2005, they were invited by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse to perform at All Tomorrow's Parties but respectfully declined.