This year, we’ll be spotlighting a prominent Minnesota musician or band each month with our new Artist of the Month feature. You’ll be able to hear a variety of songs from throughout the artists’ career on both the Local Current stream and the Local Show, and you can read more about the artists’ history and their role in the community right here on the Local Current Blog. Our local artist of the month for November is Information Society.
About Information Society:
Formed in the dorm rooms of Macalester College in January 1982, Information Society started out like many local bands of their time, playing the small club circuit and working with the Twin/Tone label to release their music. But while Minneapolis bands of that era like the Replacements and Husker Du grew out of the local punk rock scene and helped it to gain national notoriety, Information Society didn’t really start to gain traction until they got out of Minneapolis and moved to New York City.
“We used to flag on the Minneapolis scene a lot when we first got out of Minneapolis,” remembers InSoc’s synth player, producer, and songwriter Paul Robb. “That was our go-to response: ‘Oh, Minneapolis was so mean to us, nobody liked us. All they cared about was the Replacements and Prince.’”
Robb, along with lead singer Kurt Harland-Larson and bassist and keyboardist James Cassidy, connected with a more supportive audience in New York on the strength of their 1985 single “Running,” which had become a huge hit in city’s Latin dance clubs. It wasn’t easy, however; the band was so isolated from their audiences out east that they didn’t even know they had a hit on their hands.
“We were back in Minneapolis, completely unaware of any of this,” Harland-Larson writes on the band’s website. “The Minneapolis music scene and alternative/college radio set completely ignored us. They were vehemently opposed to ANYTHING electronic… A guy who called himself Andy Panda called us from New York and told us that our song ‘Running’ was a ‘huge underground dance hit’ in the Bronx. Neither Paul nor I knew what this meant, but he wanted us to come play a show at his club for (GASP!) $900!!. We had never been paid more than $250 to do a show up to that point, so we were more than pleased to trundle a bunch of gear into a station wagon and drive straight through, 1200 miles to NYC to play the three-song show. They said they only wanted two or three songs, and that we HAD to do ‘Running.'”
The band returned to New York a few more times to play similar three-song shows, and each time they returned ‘Running’ had become a bigger hit. By 1986 the band had added a new member, Amanda Kramer, on keyboards, and the remainder of their Twin/Tone Records contract was bought out by Warner Bros. subsidiary Tommy Boy Records, a label known for its roster of dance music artists. Kramer was only in the band for two years (and the band had gone through a few lineup changes back home in Minneapolis as well), but because of the timing of the Tommy Boy Records signing and their rapid ascent on the dance music charts, the lineup of Kramer, Robb, Harland-Larson, and Cassidy is often regarded as the “classic” lineup of the band, and one that years later would be documented again on the VH1 reality show Bands Reunited.
InSoc’s major label debut, Information Society, came out in 1988 and included a remix of the song “Running” in addition to several other Billboard-charting hits: “Pure Energy (What’s On Your Mind),” “Walking Away,” and “Repetition.” Within five months of its release, the album went gold.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared us for the strange phenomenon of fame,” Harland-Larson writes. “I remember the exact moment at which it became weird. Amanda and I were walking out of a Target store in Dallas. A couple walked by us heading into the store. One of them was staring at us, and he said ‘Hey! You’re those guys from MTV! That Pure Energy song!'”
The band’s next album, Hack, couldn’t match the success of their debut, but it did contain another top 40 hit, “Think,” and peaked at 77 on the Billboard’s album charts. A third album, 1992’s Peace and Love, Inc., was released to critical acclaim, but by this point Tommy Boy Records’ interest was waning and its singles were ignored by MTV and failed to chart nearly as well. It was around this time that Paul Robb decided to leave the band to focus on his family and burgeoning music production career (to this day, Robb works in the commercial music industry crafting jingles and soundtracks); meanwhile, the band was dropped from Tommy Boy Records and Harland-Larson made the decision to soldier on alone.
Another more industrial-influenced Information Society album, Don’t Be Afraid, was written and recorded by Harland-Larson and released on Cleopatra Records in 1997, but the new label did little to promote it and followed it up with a series of remix albums and compilations.
Information Society’s third chapter began in the 2000s. The band was featured on an episode of VH1’s Bands Reunited in 2004, and two years later Robb and Cassidey recruited a new singer, Christopher Anton, to record a new EP and full-length album. By 2007 Harland-Larson had rejoined the live band, and they went on a reunion tour of sorts behind the album Synthesizer, playing the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis in March 2009.
Why you should know them now:
For the uninitiated, now is a great time to become a new Information Society fan. Just last month, the band remixed a song by Minneapolis duo Strange Names and revealed that all three of Information Society’s founding members have reunited and are working on new material. It’s perfect timing, too. The experimental, forward-thinking electronic dance music they helped pioneer has returned to the forefront in recent years—who better to help revive it than a trio of musicians who were there at the genre’s very beginnings?
“Back in my day, when we were first charting, we were considered alternative,” Robb remembers. “They even invented a new chart in Billboard for our kind of music, they called it Alternative Dance. And then we kind of got crushed between the millstones of grunge on the one hand and faceless techno on the other hand, and that lasted a long time. And I’m starting to see, in the last few years—and even with groups like LCD Soundsystem—a move back toward actual electronic bands. Not just a DJ. Not just a guy in a teddy bear costume or something. But an actual band with actual players, and a pop sensibility, not just a dancefloor sensibility. I’ve seen a number of groups lately in Minneapolis that fit that bill. And it’s exciting.”
Paul Robb, James Cassidy, and Kurt Harland-Larson all live on the West Coast now, but the Twin Cities will surely welcome them back with open arms when they come home in support of their new album next year.
Previous Artists of the Month:
January 2013: Dan Wilson
February 2013: Low
March 2013: 12 Rods
April 2013: The Jayhawks
May 2013: The Hopefuls
June 2013: The Hang Ups
July 2013: The Soviettes
August 2013: The Suburbs
September 2013: The Replacements
October 2013: Charlie Parr