Selections from The Punk Vault [Negative Element]

Negative Element – Yes We Have No Bananas 7″ (1983 Version Sound)

Note: I know what you are thinking, “Wait a minute, this is a rerun!” Well, it is really more of an update as I am appending this original post with new material and changing the date on it to be current. Since this was originally posted I have received new information which will be added at the end. Barry Stepe emailed me and contributed some Negative Element history to share with the readers of this site.

In the early 80’s era of punk rock, while the “big” punk bands of Chicago like Naked Raygun, Articles of Faith, The Effigies, and Big Black were leaving their mark and getting noticed, there was also a slew of really good bands from the Chicago suburbs who were a part of the same scene and playing the same shows. Negative Element was among the first of the Du Page County punk bands.

Negative Element were one of the many bands that were formed by the infamous Steppe brothers. There was a bunch of those Steppe boys: Barry, Chopper, and another one who’s name escapes me now. There was a really great story on them in an issue of Rocktober from a year or two ago that also included a CD full of their various bands music. They teamed up with a fellow named Tom, and a young punk from Downers Grove named Keith Lyons, who became their drummer. Keith is a friend of mine, we met in high school when he was in a band called Happy Toons (who will be featured in a future selection from the vault).

The band were pretty active, and played shows in the city with lots of bigger bands such as Articles of Faith (which I actually have footage of that Keith sent me and will be posted on the Spontaneous Combustion site someday in the near future). I’m sure they recorded a demo tape, but if so I have never seen one, and then they did this record.

Version Sound was a very short lived Midwest record label who only put out a few singles and a couple tape compilations, but whose catalog was spotless, and now considered classic. In 1983 they released this 7″ EP by Negative Element that had 8 songs. The group played hardcore music with a good sense of humor and would also touch on some actual serious topics as well. The record is about half and half in the split between funny and serious songs, and all 8 of them are great. I think they pressed 1000 of them, but I’m not quite sure. I do remember late in my high school career being given the last 8 copies that anyone had, which I sold and traded away to the younger punks at my school. The record came with a lyric sheet and a Negative Element sticker.

As to where they are now? The Steppe brothers are still alive and kicking, though I’m not sure they are playing in any bands right now. They did form a band in the late 80s called Naked Hippy and released an album. Keith now lives in China, and I am not sure about Tom. If anyone from the band stumbles across this and wants to chime in with their own story about the band, please do (are you reading this Keith?).

And now here is Barry’s submission of Negative Element history.

Negative Element’s first actual recording was one cut on the “Meathouse” compilation on Version Sound (from Ohio). They appeared with Battalion of Saints, JFA, Minutemen, Red Scare, Rights of the Accused and many others. Their song “National Socialism” featured original singer, Sparky and is a pretty good representation of their early sound.

Bob Moore, owner of Version Sound, claimed he put the song on the compilation only because he liked Chopper’s bass licks on the song so much. Their lyric sheet was censored by Moore’s dad who was a big Ronald Reagan fan during this very political time of labeling right-wingers with a swastika. The compilation is extremely rare to find but features many of the acts that would later release recordings on Version Sound.

Negative Element was very influenced by the hardcore beach scene like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, etc. but also were listening a lot to skinhead favorites like the Cockney Rejects, 4 Skins and Blitz. Keith Lyons, the drummer, was very influenced by ’77 era punk bands and the band struggled constantly with him to try play faster. During this time, they recorded a full-length video but it was recorded over by mistake by Keith showing him and his friends skating their half pipe. This historic tape was lost forever….

The success of “Meathouse” lead to a record deal with Version Sound and the replacement of Sparky with Tom Faulkner on vocals. The band only got goofier from here, keeping their skinhead look, but acting like a bunch of kids live on stage, which of course they were. Chopper was only about 14 and the rest weren’t much older.

The went to a studio in Elgin, Illinois to record their “Yes, We Have No Bananas” EP with Version Sound. They had recorded the whole single, when the hippy studio tech exclaimed, “Dude, I forgot to plug the cords in.” Keith’s drums were falling about and Steve Stepe (from Rights of the Accused) had to hold Keith’s snare during the entire recording. Barry AKA Rubberneck, played a cheap, pawn shop guitar which sucked and a amp which sucked even worse. The whole recording cost under a $100 dollars and didn’t really capture their sound that well. Of course, Barry had to go back in the studio and remix the tracks, which screwed up the sound every more. A couple of the original tracks recently appeared on the Rocktober Compilation CD.

There were only 1,000 copies of “Yes, We have no Bananas” printed and a couple hundred were distributed in Italy by a European distributor (probably Rough Trade). The record was picked up by some major distributors in the United States and sold pretty well. They began playing out a lot in Chicago with some major acts including the Dead Kennedys, Fang, Minor Threat, J.F.A. and many others. Fate played a part once again as their only PA recorded live full-length concert was recorded over, this time by Chopper by mistake. Articles of Faith invited them to Minneapolis to open for the Replacements but they refused on account of it being a “school night.“ .

During this time, Articles of Faith approached them to record several tracks to appear for a Chicago Hardcore compilation that was never released. They recorded “Shouts of Rebellion” and two other Negative Element classics. The group had a blast in the studio and the sound was probably the best representation of the group’s sound. The recording was never released and no one has it heard it since.

The group planned to release another single on their own label, “Negative Element’s Very Own Record Label and No One Else Can Be on Here Except Us, So There!, Inc,” but soon broke up when the half the band moved to Peoria, Illinois.

To be continued…

Listen to “Anti Pac Man” from the EP (right click and “save target as…”)

Some Negative Element related links:
The story on the acquisition of the test pressing to this single

The story on the acquisition to the hand colored sleeve variant