Idiot Culture was the last project by reclusive Seattle guitarist Byron Duff. Byron began to make his mark in the 1980’s with the trio The Spectators. The band were known for jaw-dropping, tight performances in the underground clubs that spawned the emergence of what would later be the 1990’s Seattle Scene. Bob Mould (Husker Du, Sugar) once called The Spectators “the best unreleased band in America”. Although the band lasted no more than a year they saw opening and touring spots with the Husker Du, The Dead Kennedys and The Stranglers among others. Although Mould’s comment was prescient, the band never landed a major record deal. In 1986 Duff formed ’Dive’ with bassist TJ West and drummer Steve Dodge, a band that helped define the new sound and attitude coming out of the Northwest United States. Dive continued into the late 1980’s and after calling it quits Duff reformed with West on drums, emerging as ’Moth’. Eventually the three original Dive members were reconstituted and spent several years out of the limelight due to Duff’s ongoing health problems. It was during these years that Duff first showed the signs of Multiple Sclerosis that would later end his career as a performer. It’s this trio of Duff, West and Dodge that emerged as “Idiot Culture”. Because Byron Duff had been missing from the Seattle music scene for a number of years, his reemergence and his last album was highly anticipated. Though the album had been recorded in the late 1980s and remained unreleased, it was mixed by the renowned producer Jack Endino almost two decades after it’s recording, and released on dadastic! sounds records. Endino’s deft hand took care not to detract from the original intention of the recordings, leaving it full of trance-like riffs and hypnotic hooks. This was proto-grunge that stood alongside the best recordings of the 90s, and is still relevant. Idiot Culture and Dive’s sound was heavy, but their music was still a hybrid of seemingly contradictory styles.
One minute the sound may seem metallic or punkish. A few bars later the melody is overtaken by jazz chords. At times the prog rock guitar suddenly transforms a surf riff. Although the band did not shy away from other musical infuences, it’s clear the band was pioneers among those who would later be christened “grunge”. Noted critic Everett True wrote “(they) make ‘grunge’ sound like pasty-waste.” The band were not afraid to tread into the realm of momentary unrestrained chaos just for the joy of it. There’s always something unexpected to rise to frenetic levels, but the pace is leisurely enough to allow the soundscape to fully sink in. Idiot Culture used long hypnotic passages and favored guitar drums and bass as a way of delveing deeply into compelling sounds rather than rely on solos. Highly unusual for three individuals, Duff, West and Dodge who were extremely talented on their respective instruments. Duff has long been regarded as an extraordinary guitarist with the ability to play several parts in unison as well as abrupt effects changes. The results always left audiences amazed. Unfortunately Duff had to give up music at the height of his abilities when he was struck down my Multiple Sclerosis. It’s unfortunate to have lost a musician who would probably have played a bigger part in the Seattle sound of the early-mid 1990s. Luckily there are a good deal of live and studio recordings from his days with The Spectators, Dive and Idiot Culture.