When Radio Shack introduced one of their first computers, they gave it the futuristic name TRS-80, which sounds a lot sexier than what's widely believed to be behind the acronym: Tandy Radio Shack 1980. Actually, the TRS-80 was first introduced to the unsuspecting public on August 3, 1977, at the whopping price of $599. It had only 4K of RAM, no hard drive, and stored small files on four-inch floppy disks, now taking up space on dusty shelves at thrift stores across America. The TRS-80 was a blank slate waiting for you to tell it what to do--but the only way to do that was to program it, using BASIC, the once ubiquitous computer language.
Now a Chicago trio has brought the obsolete hardware back to the forefront with a unique take on electronica. Incorporating the kinds of beeps, grinds, and squeaks an actual TRS-80 might make, the band of the same name--which has opened for Siouxsie and the Banshees and contributed songs to Dead Kennedys and Ministry tribute albums--creates a blend of music and sounds that is very much of the present, but filtered through the technological past. On their third CD, The Manhattan Love Machine, recently released on Invisible Records, the band continues to explore the boundaries of electronica. TRS-80's music is beat heavy, but you won't dance to it. That isn't to say that their dark mix of samples, analog keyboards, and live drums won't quicken your pulse. But think less Moby and more Mouse on Mars--TRS-80 has a good sense of humor, as in their ode to higher education, "Community College." For more information on TRS-80 the band, visit their Web site at TRS80.com, where you can listen to a couple tracks. For more information on TRS-80 the computer, check out TRS-80.com, where you can hook up with other unwavering loyalists who refuse to give up their trusty doorstops.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.