The name Devo comes “from their concept of ‘de-evolution‘ — the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.” –Devo’s Wikipedia article
Devo’s theories of evolution have never seemed more relevant, so the latest Reclaim Hosting server is named in honor of the early 70s video/music pioneers who brought an entrenched, surreal social satire to their work. One of their unique contributions was their elaborate and trippy music videos with recurring characters such as Booji Boy and General Boy, music video narratives that prefigured MTV. Interestingly, Devo was formed in response to the Kent State shootings in 1970-where several of the band members went to school-and were conceptualized as a satirical attack on the militaristic, consumer-driven logic of contemporary U.S. culture. With the mainstream success of “Whip It” (1980), they also became representative of pop New Wave for a entire generation of kids heading into the 80s (myself included).
Yet, despite their early critiques of consumer culture, Devo was not beyond shilling for Pioneer’s Laserdisc technology in the early 80s. Their craziest work shows up in the 1984 video compilation We’re All Devo, featuring their music videos from 1976 – 1983, much of which is re-released ten years later in another compilation of their videos from 1976-1990: The Complete Truth about De-Evolution (1993). Both came out on VHS and Laserdisc, the latter work using their Pioneer promotional clips as an organizing principal. While effectively goofing on their own willingness to shill, the blurry line between a sustained critique on pop culture and indulging it always made their later work oddly uncomfortable.*
That said, Devo’s concept art-as-entertainment approach to their music and videos (I own the Laserdiscs and they are a prized possession) puts them in that interesting category of musicians who are equal parts performance/concept artists. Sharing as much with bands like The Residents as Flock of Seagulls 🙂 But unlike most of the New Wave decadents, the Akron, Ohio spud boys introduced a brave new philosophy of a changing world order premised on de-evolution. A theory we might do well to consider in some depth presently.
*I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge it was hard to stomach the hypocrisy of a band constantly complaining about corporate music shilling for Disney during the mid oughts. But sadly it seems if just about any band stays around long enough they will eventually cannibalize their catalog for profit—it’s Devo in action 🙂