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Selections from The Punk Vault [Negative Element]

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






27 comments

  • The Tom you mention is Tom Faulkner. A great guy who still lives in Chicago and was in a version of Rights of the Accused and The Mystery Girls.

  • Yes, that’s the one! Thanks for the info. If you have contact info for him, such as an email address, please pass it to me by using the email link on the blog page, not the one I posted here. I’d love to hear his NE stories.

  • I was in a couple of bands with the Steppes after they moved downstate, The Unaccepted and The Outbreaks. If anyone has some info on that CD spoken of in Rocktober, let me know. Or if anyone has heard from these guys, let me know. Thanks, Matt!!

  • Hey, Barry is in Atlanta I believe and Chopper is in Florida. I am in China and Tom? I haven’t heard from Tom in over 15 years. The best memories of being in Negative Element were playing Monkey Shine down at the old K-Mart parking lot after band practice. Another classic moment was when a tornado touched down for a moment while we were rehearsing and our neighbor, old man Kramer (he must have been 85 at that point!) came into the Garage to tell us to run for the hills because a giant tree had fallen over and had just missed crushing us all to death. We were so deaf from playing we couldn’t understand a word he had said to us until we walked out of the garage and saw the carnage.
    I would also have to say that the Steppes, the whole family were an amzing clan. Western Springs would have been nothing without them.
    Also, although I always liked Tom a great deal, we should never forget Sparky! The first singer.

    Keith Lyons

  • Hey this is for Matt R. I was in the Outbreaks with you, I have a decent copy of our demo on cassette, and a couple copies of the Rocktober CD. Email me and give me your info, and I’ll get you some copies. Good to hear everyone is still around! Kyle Stepe

  • Chopper, in Florida? Where ’bout? I’d probably be able to tell if he was my neighbor.

    Hi also to Keith- drop me a quick note when you get a sec.

  • hi stepe boys from springfield illinois! fun to read the updates!
    glad to hear your still having fun and playing music. we’d love more updates.
    take care. sherri and sheila.

  • Quick Update:
    Barry is now playing guitar in an Atlanta Punk Group called Code of Rebellion. We have that old school Hardcore/Punk sound with a little bit of that new school influence as well. We hope to be recording and playing out soon. We actually use some old Negative Element riffs in some our our songs.

    Chopper is still in The Slurps, though they threaten everyday to break up.

    Kyle has moved out by Chopper and is now in a country (?)band and also a hardcore band (The Rat Bastards) along with Chopper (these are some of Chopper’s side projects). The Stepe’s just can’t get the punk bug out of their system!

    Good to hear from everyone!
    Viva Elmer Fudd!
    Barry Stepe
    (former guitarist for Negative Element)

  • I was recently listening to a copy of Naked Raygun’s ‘All Rise’ and I thought I’d do a google on Negative Element and see what came up. Glad I did. I was always wondering what happened to Chopper. We shared a desk at E.P. High School and I was always drawing skulls and inverted crosses on the desk and the next day I’d find all these punk band logos drawn next to my stuff. Eventually we started leaving messages about bands and music and Chopper eventually left me a comp. cassette of a bunch of punk bands and also a tape with Venom and Metallica…which I had never heard. I finally met him in person one day at school and he gave me a copy of Negative Element’s only 7″ which I still have to this day in mint condition. I also have the sticker. Glad to hear all the Stepe boys are doing well and glad to hear Chopper is still playing music. Chopper, if you ever read this, thanks for introducing me to Punk way back in ’82-’83…I still listen to it today. All this from drawing graffitti on a high school desk!
    Take care!

    -Jeff Tolliver

  • Jeff,

    If you happen to see this, I relayed your message to Chopper and he was very surprised and glad to hear from you. He will relay a message soon.

    Negative Element now has a site at MySpace.com – just search on the band’s name.

    BTW, Negative Element historians, I am now playing in New World Disaster. Find us on MySpace.com also.

    Chop’s Bro,
    Barry

  • Stepe update: Kyle is now in Florida with me. We have a new hardcore band called PLF (Proletariat Liberation Front), with Nick Aluminum from Polluted Youth. We also have a country band called Jakeleg. The Slurps seem to have gone on hiatus. Im going to Japan in spring with Life Sentence. Regress will be on the new MRR comp. I guess thats it. You can contact me now at [email protected]. Have fun! Chopper

  • It’s like a Stepe reunion here! Good to see you also, Matt Rousey!! This is STEVO, ex-IMPETIGO…Barry, I’ve been forwarding offers to release NAKED HIPPY on CD to the fellas back in IL, but no response…what do you think?!?

    STAY SICK!!!
    yoshiki89_AT_bellsouth_DOT_net

  • Impetigo! STEVO, big fan here. I’m good friends with Dave Kibler of Lividity. Would love to see a new Impetigo release someday but I know that is wishful thinking. You still doing/listening to death metal? There’s a big fest in Champaign, IL this summer. Should be brutal!

    Chopper, good to hear from you to, bro!

  • Hey Jeff what’s up? (“Oh, not a whole lot!”)…kool, you know Dave…he is the MAN!! You will see new IMPETIGO releases very soon (but not new material)…check out the Razorback records website for more info!

    I am still into METAL…of all kinds! I still listen to the same stuff I did when I was 12, only most of it is japanese now! STAY SICK!!! BARRY, get a HOLD OF ME!!

  • I hear Berry, the one who looks like every Hanna-Barbera character, just got back from shooting machine guns in Managua on tour with Vonstant Comit. He has spent way too much time in the Dirty South

  • Hey Jeff! Don’t know if you know it or not, but befreinding you saved me many a potential ass kickings at EPCHS. Always wanted to say thanx but never tought I’d have the chance, so, thanx man. Glad to see you out there and let me add that I take great pride in laying claim to adding to your deliquency. Always new you had potensh. Never grow up, fuck the system, and keep fighting the good fight! Your freind, C.

  • Hey Chopper, thanks bro! EPCHS was so full of rednecks! I still see some of those people today and they haven’t changed a bit. Poor bastards. Glad to see you’re doing well and keeping the music going. I’m still playing guitar but it’s pretty much a hobby at this point. I’m still in Peoria, for good or bad, so if you’re ever in the area, look me up in the phone book(they spelled my last name wrong so it’s TOLIVER). I’d love to sit down with you and catch up on the last 20+ years. Keep in touch bro!
    -Jeff

  • I was one of those persons who was
    there from the beginning of Negative
    Element’s budding claim-to-fame in
    the early 1980s Chicago punk movement.
    I took all the photos that appeared
    on their 7″ EP, ‘Yes, We Have No
    Bananas’, both sleeve and insert,plus
    I wrote the lyrics to the song, “Dough
    Boy”, which Barry and Chopper were
    nice enough to actually use on their
    recording of the 7″ EP.
    I have to say that for me it was a
    sincere privilege being friends with
    all the Stepe boys, Steve, Barry and
    Chopper, and I have very fond memories
    of all of them. Kyle is the only one
    whom I never had the privilege of
    befriending.
    Now I know why I love ‘MALCOLM IN THE
    MIDDLE’ so much. It’s like a TV version of the Stepe boys. Steve is
    Francis, Barry is Reese, Chopper is
    the boy-genius Malcolm, and Kyle is
    Dewey. Right.
    A great story…When we were running
    around the suburb of Westmont taking
    photos that would wind up on the 7″
    as well as in my fanzine, Disorderly
    Conduct, or “Dis/Co” as Steve called it, we were in a KMart parking lot, so
    Tom and Keith jumped into shopping
    carts and Barry and Chopper started
    pushing them around in the lot. All
    these people were staring at us like
    we were escapees from the looney bin.
    I hope he won’t “slug me one” for this
    but Chopper’s real name is Todd Michael Stepe…
    If there is one Negative Element song
    that is a “must-listen-to” it has to
    be “National Socialism” from the old
    ‘MEATHOUSE’ compilation with Sparky
    on vocals. It made my hair stand up
    on end the first time I heard it.
    Although I am an old “geezer” who just
    turned fifty years old, it seems like
    just yesterday when I was going to the
    various clubs like Exit and Space Place to see Negative Element and a
    lot of other bands, taking photos of
    the bands, clacking away reviews on an
    old IBM typewriter, going to Wax Trax
    to check out the latest vinyl releases
    of punk and hardcore, publishing a
    fanzine, etc. Yet my fondest memories
    have to be those which involved some
    “kids” in a band called NEGATIVE ELEMENT, and now they’re all grown up
    with wives and kids of their own. I
    checked out Chopper’s website (cool)
    and Keith’s website (unbelievable for
    a goofy-looking kid who used to wear
    a band from jockey shorts as his own
    headband and now he’s married and has
    a daughter). Where the heck did all
    the years go???
    So now I publish a fanzine again, only
    it’s a fansite on the Internet and no,
    it’s not about punk music or about
    musicians, but rather about the old
    silent film stars. When you stop and
    think about it, silent film was the
    original music video.
    A little inspiration from Adela Rogers
    St. Johns: God creates, memory re-creates.
    cut…print…I’m out…God bless
    Steve…Barry…Chopper…Kyle…I love you guys more than words could
    ever express….
    Tom “almost the” Best
    Chicago IL
    Friday, 31 March 2006

  • Hey Chopper: Good lord, don’t ask me how I stumbled across this site, but it’s good to know you are alive. I haven’t seen you since post-Killcity and some dark days in Chicago.

    Glad you are still making music, I’ll see if I can track down some of the lastest tunes 🙂

    -the sassy redhead from Chicago (and Peoria, way back when)

  • Hi Guys! It’s Lil Guy. The original bass player for Negative Element. My Broher is Sparky(Scott Beumer). I’m now living in St.Louis,Missouri. Married now for 6years and two teenage kids. I’m a Perfusionist on a Cardiac Surgery team.Hey Steve,Barry Chopper get ahold of me! I would like to here from you. Just don’t forget why I was kicked out of the band. For being a fan of The Jam.REMEMBER! Ha-Ha! They’re still playing as From The Jam in Chicago on Feb 4th at Abbey Pub.Let me hear from you all.Heard the reunion show was a hit.Sorry I couldn’t be there.

  • Hello Cuzs. Thank you for the Flashbacks to my DJing job back in the 80s. I did Check out the Chicaco Video. You guys still Punk!!!! Keep in Touch and Rock ON!!!!!!!

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