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New Jersey residents Chris Shepard and Mike Mangino formed industrial duo Smersh in 1981, recording noisy proto-techno tracks on primitive analog synthesizers and drum machines in their basement studio in Piscataway. The duo convened every Monday, wrote a song from scratch, recorded it, and never performed it again, existing solely as a studio project and never giving live performances. The duo's sound combined harsh, screaming vocals and distorted guitars with experimental yet danceable machine rhythms, creating a lo-fi precursor to much of the more popular industrial and EBM music that would emerge during the following decades. Smersh developed an international following through their countless self-released tapes, leading to vinyl and CD releases on a few European labels, but they largely remained obscure, and ceased to exist when Shepard passed away in 1994.
A full Smersh discography would be difficult to compile, as most of the group's recordings were released in the form of limited cassettes on their own label (which was initially nameless but became known as Atlas King in 1991), but the duo became a significant presence in the '80s cassette underground, appearing on influential tape labels such as Sound of Pig and Ladd-Frith. Ron Lessard's Massachusetts-based noise/industrial label RRRecords released The Beat from 20,000 Fathoms, an LP featuring tracks from Smersh's numerous cassettes, in 1986, and U.K. label Dead Man's Curve issued another LP, The Part of the Animal That People Don't Like, during the same year. Belgian EBM/industrial label KK Records released Smersh's The Greatest Story Ever Distorted EP in 1988, followed by the full-length Emmanuelle Goes to Bangkok in 1990. Börft Records, a long-running Swedish experimental/techno label associated with the band Frak, released Smersh's "3 Bangs" 7" in 1991, followed by a cassette called Depth Charge in 1993. German label Vuz Records released Smersh's 7" EP Super-Deformed in 1994.
After Chris Shepard lost his battle with cystic fibrosis in 1994, putting an end to Smersh and the Atlas King label, Mike Mangino continued with other projects, and eventually established Mirandette Popular, a CD-R label that released archival Smersh material as well as recordings by his newer musical endeavors. German label Bastet Recordings released Happy Spaceship, a limited CD-R Smersh compilation, in 1999. Many years later, Smersh finally began to receive long-overdue recognition, as blogs and free form radio stations like WFMU rediscovered their pioneering industrial and proto-techno recordings. San Francisco-based Dark Entries (run by Josh Cheon, a Rutgers alum who used to DJ at a student radio station located on the Piscataway campus of the university) released Cassette Pets, a 2012 double-LP compilation containing 17 tracks from throughout Smersh's entire lifespan, ranging from harsh, guitar-driven industrial to electro instrumentals. Three years later, the label released Super Heavy Solid Waste, a more streamlined single-LP collection focusing on harsh, rhythmic industrial dance tracks. In 2016, Dark Entries issued Selected Deep House Anthems, an EP consisting of four tracks taken from Smersh's 1991 Deep House Anthems cassette. The following year, the label released Sideways, a 12" consisting of an 18-minute Smersh track recorded in 1989, backed with remixes by Tadd Mullinix under his JTC and Charles Manier monikers. ~ Paul Simpson
- Piscataway, NJ
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