Ian Svenonius

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Ian Svenonius
Ian Svenonius.jpg
Background information
Birth nameIan F Svenonius
Born (1958-06-01) June 1, 1958 (age 64)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.[1]
GenresPunk rock, post-punk, indie rock
Years active1980–present
LabelsDischord Records
Drag City
K Records
Southern Records

Ian F Svenonius [2] is an American musician and singer of various Washington, D.C.-based punk bands including Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Weird War, XYZ, Escape-ism, and Chain and the Gang. Between his numerous projects, Svenonius has released more than 22 full-length albums and over 20 singles, EPs, and splits. A published author and online talk show host, Svenonius' projects share a tongue-in-cheek, radical left political ideology.

His first band, Nation of Ulysses, which released its first record in 1990, was highly influential in the punk scene but dissolved in 1992. After a short-lived side-project called Cupid Car Club, Svenonius formed the Make-Up in 1995, who combined garage rock, soul, and liberation theology to make a new genre they dubbed "Gospel Yeh-Yeh".[3] The Make-Up disbanded early in 2001, and a year later, Svenonius formed the band Weird War, who were also known briefly as the Scene Creamers. Later Svenonius led the band Chain and the Gang. Currently, Svenious is the leader of Esape-ism. Svenonius' solo work includes the 2001 album Play Power under the fictional pseudonym of David Candy,[4] the book The Psychic Soviet,[5] and as host of Soft Focus on VBS.tv.[6]

Musical projects[edit]

Nation of Ulysses[edit]

Svenonius' first musical group was Nation of Ulysses. The band formed in spring 1988, initially composed of four members, Svenonius on vocals and trumpet, Steve Kroner on guitar, Steve Gamboa on bass guitar, and James Canty on drums, and known simply as "Ulysses". In late 1989, Tim Green joined the band as a second guitarist and the band was renamed to "Nation of Ulysses".[7] The Nation of Ulysses described themselves not as a rock and roll group in the traditional sense, but "as a political party"[3] and as "a shout of secession".[8] Explaining their intent, Svenonius said "it's basically a new nation underground for the dispossessed youth colony. It's all about smashing the old edifice, the monolith of rock and roll".[9]

In 1990, before the band released any official albums, Svenonius was featured as teen-oriented Sassy Magazine's first "Sassiest Boy in America."[10] He was interviewed in the magazine's October issue, detailing the band's sound and political motivations.[11] Svenonius stated that the Nation of Ulysses' intent was "to create a space of liberation where anything’s possible". He criticized "traditional rock-and-roll" groups as a "corrupt medium." The contest was reportedly a "nationwide search for the most perfect boyfriend material a girl could ask for", and Svenonius was among 150 entries.

Nation of Ulysses was known for their extremely physical performances,[citation needed] during which Svenonius recalls many injuries,[citation needed] including breaking his arm, his leg, and his skull on numerous occasions. Audience members were also hurt during some performances.[citation needed]

The group disbanded in the fall of 1992 having failed to complete their third album (the finished tracks were later released as The Embassy Tapes in 2000). In a later interview, Svenonius explained the reason for the split: "Nation of Ulysses broke up because the epoch changed with the advent of digital music and the Nirvana explosion. We were faced with what's now known as indie rock, a sort of vacuous form. We had to determine our next move and this [the forming of The Make-Up] is it".[12]

The Make-Up[edit]

The Make-Up formed in 1995, consisting of Svenonius, Canty, and Gamboa from Nation of Ulysses, and with the addition of Michelle Mae on bass guitar.[13] The Make-Up were joined in late 1999 by a fifth member, Alex Minoff, who played guitar with the group until their dissolution in 2001.[14] In the band's five years of activity, they released four studio albums, two live albums, a posthumous compilation of singles and B-sides, and a number of 12-inch singles and splits.[15] The Make-Up combined garage rock, soul, and self-styled "liberation theology" to make a new genre they called "Gospel Yeh-Yeh". The Make-Up were highly influenced by bubblegum music, particularly the French variety called Yé-yé music.[16]

As the Make-Up's frontman and mouthpiece, Ian Svenonius often contextualized the band's music in terms of larger socio-political themes, typically describing the band and its gospel attitude in Marxist and socialist terms, in opposition of what he saw as the capitalist, bourgeois, machismo paradigm of rock and roll.[17][18][19] The band's aversion to American culture was expressed through their self-styled musical genre "Gospel Yeh-Yeh," a belief system through which they advocated to their audience to "get theirs" and to "off the pigs in all their forms".[20] The Make-Up intended to create ad-lib performances to re-energize what they saw as the stale, bland and formal ritual of rock and roll.[14] Appropriating gospel music's use of the congregate as a "fifth member," the Make-Up incorporated audience participation through call and response vocals, lyrical "discussion" techniques, and destruction of the fourth wall by physical transgression.[14]

The Make-Up dissolved in 2000, reportedly "due to the large number of counter-gang copy groups which had appropriated their look and sound and applied it to a vacuous and counter-revolutionary forms".[14] Between projects, Svenonius released a solo album under the pseudonym David Candy.[4]

Weird War[edit]

After the Make-Up disbanded, Svenonius formed the group Weird War in 2001, joined by Make-Up members Michelle Mae and Alex Minoff. While the current lineup appears on the group's first release I'll Never Forget What's His Name, the group's first full-length, eponymous release featured Neil Hagerty and Jessica Espeleta on guitars, and Steve McCarty on drums.[21]

These collaborators soon left to pursue other projects, and the band briefly changed its name to The Scene Creamers, with Svenonius on vocals, Michelle Mae on bass, Alex Minoff on guitar, and Blake Brunner on drums. In this incarnation, the band released I Suck on that Emotion, through Drag City. After being threatened with a legal suit for the name Scene Creamers by a French graffiti artist collective of the same name, the band reverted to the name Weird War.[22] Since then, as its membership has become static, with the addition of Argentine Sebastian Thomson on drums, its intent has become more cosmic. Weird War claims that they are "the sole answer to the hype-based careerism, empty formalism and vacuity which has infected what was once a genuinely creative underground rock 'n' roll scene".[22]

Chain and the Gang[edit]

Svenonius' musical project, Chain and The Gang, released the albums Down With Liberty... Up With Chains!, "Music's Not For Everyone", "In Cool Blood" on K Records, and "Minimum Rock 'n' Roll" on Radical Elite Records. Some of the musicians featured on these records are Calvin Johnson, Brett Lyman (Bad Thoughts/M'Ladys's Records), Fiona Campbell (Vivian Girls/Coasting), Sarah Pedal, Katie Alice Greer (Priests), Faustine Hudson (The Curious Mystery), Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic Sound System), Veronica Ortuño (Finally Punk/Carrots), Nicolaas Zwart (Desolation Wilderness), Karl Blau, Chris Sutton (Hornet Leg, The Gossip), Sixx (The Vibrarians), Arrington de Dionyso, Aaron Hartman, Benjamin Hartman (Old Time Relijun), Anna Nasty (Olivia Neutron-John), and Francy Graham.

Other projects[edit]

Throughout his career, Svenonius has disc jockeyed at clubs such as Cold Rice in Washington, D.C.[1][14] In 1993 Svenonius and Nation of Ulysses/Make-Up members James Canty and Steve Gamboa were involved in the short-lived project Cupid Car Club, which released only one EP on Kill Rock Stars Records entitled Join our Club.[23] In 2001 Svenonius collaborated with the English conceptualist/producer Mike Alway of If.. Records to create the record Play Power under the pseudonym David Candy. The album was released through Jet Set Records, Siesta Records, and If.. Records. Play Power was part of a series of "Magazine-Style Records" which included other imaginary acts such as Death by Chocolate, Maria Napoleon, and Lollipop Train.[4]

Svenonius wrote an afterword for Glen E. Friedman's 2005 photography book Recognize (ISBN 0-9641916-6-0),[24] as well as the introduction to Friedman's 2007 book Keep Your Eyes Open (ISBN 0-9641916-8-7).[25] As host of the VBS.TV online show Soft Focus, Svenonius interviews guests such as Ian MacKaye, Genesis P-Orridge, Adam Horovitz, Cat Power and Will Oldham in front of a live audience at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.[6][26][27] Soft Focus has recently moved to London, England, where Svenonius interviews British artists such as Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Billy Childish. In 1994, Svenonius had a supporting role in the independent film Half-Cocked. In 2001, Svenonius appeared in the documentary Plaster Caster about the plaster casts of Cynthia Plaster Caster.[28]

Sassiest Boy in America[edit]

In 1990 Sassy magazine conducted a search for the Sassiest Boy in America. Over 150 entries were received with the eventual winner being Ian Svenonius. In the story highlighting his selection Sassy founding editor Jane Pratt states "He's going to be a big deal. I'm sure he will be and we're going to be so proud that we were the first ones to discover him." Though Svenonius was too old to qualify for the title under the rules of the contest, this was not discovered until after he had already won.

The Psychic Soviet[edit]

In July 2006, Svenonius released a book of 19 essays entitled the Psychic Soviet (ISBN 0-9656183-9-0), published by Drag City Press.[29] Pocket-sized and bound in bright-pink plastic with beveled edges, its form is similar to "The Little Red Book," a Bible, or a foreign-language dictionary.[5][30] The book serves as an anthology of past articles and essays by Svenonius previously published in periodicals, edited for readability and flow, with a number of new essays included.[30]

The "Instructions" that preface the book state that it "should clear up much of the confusion regarding events of the last millennium – artistic, geo-political, philosophical, et al." and encourages the reader to "refer to the book in case of ethical quandaries, arguments, and social feuds".[30][31] The writing addresses topics such as the ascent of the DJ as a "star," the "cosmic depression" that followed the defeat of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the Cold War, and the status of rock and roll as a religion.[30] To date, The Psychic Soviet is the most complete collection of written material by Svenonius.


Nation of Ulysses[edit]

The Make-Up[edit]

Weird War[edit]

Chain and The Gang[edit]

  • Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! (K Records) (2009)
  • Music's Not For Everyone (K Records) (2011)
  • In Cool Blood (K Records) (2012)
  • Minimum Rock n Roll (Radical Elite Records) (2014) [32]
  • Experimental Music (Radical Elite Records) (2017)
  • Best of Crime Rock (In The Red) (2017)

David Candy[edit]

Cupid Car Club[edit]



  • Untitled (Flat Black Studios) (2017)
  • Introduction to Escape-ism (Merge Records) (2017)
  • Split w/ Light Beams (Lovitt Records) (2017)
  • The Lost Record (Merge Records) (2018)
  • The Silent Record (Radical Elite Records) (2021)
  • Rated Z (Radical Elite Records) (2021)

Too Much[edit]

  • Club Emotion (Radical Elite Records) (2020)


  • Half-Cocked (film) (independent release) (1994)
  • Plaster Caster (Xenon Pictures) (2001)
  • Soft Focus (VBS.tv) (host, 2007–2010)
  • The Seduction of Paolo Hewitt (Ooga Booga) (2008)
  • The Launching of the Dream Weapon (Ooga Booga) (2008)
  • What is a Group? (Strawberry City) (2013)
  • The Lost Record (2021)



  1. ^ a b Danger Mike, Jesse Rockoff (DJ Mark Foley), Ian Svenonius (2006-10-30). "10-3-06 Ian Svenonius / The Make-Up". The Make-Up. Washington, D.C. Radio CPR. 97.5 FM.
  2. ^ Zachary Lipez (20 November 2017). "Ian Svenonius, Rock N' Roll Insurrectionist". Vice Magazine. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b Gale, Thomas (2005). "The Make-Up Biography". eNotes. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
  4. ^ a b c Ashlock, Jesse. "David Candy". Epitonic Records. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
  5. ^ a b Malitz, David (May 2007). "Ian Svenonius – Editorial Review". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
  6. ^ a b "NEW YORK – Soft Focus With Ian Svenonius". Vice. 2006-09-16. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ "Who are the Nation of Ulysses?". Southern Records. Archived from the original on 2009-07-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  8. ^ Cheslow, S. "Nation of Ulysses interview – 1989". Interrobang?! #1 (1989). Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  9. ^ Dundas, Zach (January 1993). "The Nation of Ulysses". Mumblage #1 (January 1993). Archived from the original on 2005-10-27. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
  10. ^ "IAN SVENONIUS, PUNK PHILOSOPHER AND SASSY MAGAZINE'S BADDEST BOY". Washington Post. 1990. Archived from the original on 2015-05-09. Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  11. ^ "New York Night Train One-Year Anniversary". New York Night Train. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  12. ^ "Steady Diet fanzine – April 98". Steady Diet, April 1998. Archived from the original on May 10, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  13. ^ "Make-Up biography". Southern Records. Archived from the original on 2009-04-24.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Make Up – A Biography" (PDF). Drag City. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
  15. ^ "Make-Up discography". Southern Records. Archived from the original on 2008-02-23. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  16. ^ "Make-Up and "Gospel Yeh-Yeh"". Southern Records. Archived from the original on 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  17. ^ Svenonius, Ian and James Schneider (2006). In Film/On Video (DVD). Dischord Records.
  18. ^ "Damn You Fanzine". Southern Records, Damn You Fanzine. Archived from the original on 2007-11-02. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  19. ^ "The Hedonist –- February 1998". Southern Records, The Hedonist. Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2007-06-01.
  20. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "The Make-Up Biography". Allmusic. Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
  21. ^ "Weird War Biography". Allmusic. Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  22. ^ a b "Not Going to Mars". Drowned in Sound. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
  23. ^ "Cupid Car Club". Kill Rock Stars. Archived from the original on 2007-06-09. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  24. ^ "glen E. friedman's – idealist propaganda – The Latest". Burning Flags Press. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  25. ^ a b c Marshall, Craig (2005). "biography". Burning Flags Press and Consafos Press. Retrieved 2007-08-18.
  26. ^ Gee, Ess (2006-09-26). "Vice TV". Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
  27. ^ "Ian MacKaye on Soft Focus w/ Ian Svenonius". Dischord Records. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  28. ^ "Ian Svenonius". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
  29. ^ Flicker, Jonah (2005-10-28). "Ian Svenonius to Publish Book". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on 2008-06-10.
  30. ^ a b c d Twerdy, Saelan. "Illuminated by the Light". DiSCORDER. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
  31. ^ Svenonius, Ian. "David Candy – Jetset records". Jetset Records. Archived from the original on 2003-08-08. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  32. ^ "Chain and the Gang - Minimum Rock N Roll (RE001)". Dischord Records. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  33. ^ "XYZ - XYZ - LP - Vinyl". Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  34. ^ "(1) XYZ". archive.today. Archived from the original on 2014-04-12.

External links[edit]

Band/Project homepages