Devo goes far beyond Kent origins

Andrew Hampp

They use the same words and the same background music, but Devo 2.0 is not the same band as the former Kent State students. COURTESY OF DISNEY SOUND

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

When the members of Devo premiered their “Whip It” video on MTV in the early 1980s, they became part of music video history. They were among the first bands to present a visual element to their music that was just as strong as their actual songs.

More than 25 years after its initial release, it’s still virtually impossible to hear “Whip It” without envisioning the five men of Devo in their trademark red flowerpot hats, cracking whips against a house, the ground and, most provocatively, a cigarette-in-mouth woman whose clothes are whipped right off of her body.

Cut to 2006, when the iconic song has a brand new music video complete with a different set of people underneath those distinctive hats.

Only instead of five Kent State alumni who started up an art-rock band in Akron, it’s five adolescent kids who call themselves Devo 2.0. On their newly released two-disc CD/DVD set, the kids can be seen and heard bopping around to classic Devo tracks (and two new ones) led by the vocals of new lead singer, 13-year-old Nicole Stoehr.

As for the new “Whip It” video -ÿall uses of a leather whip have been replaced by cartoon images of a decidedly less-risque blender, whipping up cream to put on top of pumpkin pie and ice cream for the whole band to enjoy.

One might think the original members of Devo would be outraged to watch their biggest hit be performed in such a way, but they would be wrong – Devo co-founder Gerald V. Casale not only approves of Devo 2.0, he directed all their music videos.

In a phone interview from his home in Santa Monica, Calif., Casale said the idea for a children’s version of Devo has been in the works for quite some time. It was finally solidified last year when Disney approached the group members with the idea of holding a nationwide talent contest to find the best kids for Devo 2.0.

Devo 2.0

Where? Miller-South Visual Performing Arts Middle School

1055 East Ave., Akron, OH 44307

When? Monday, April 3

“I really like these kids,” Casale said. “They’re all smart and thoughtful, and they can all play.”

Casale said working with the Devo 2.0 teens has been especially encouraging to him given all the societal changes from his days at Kent in the early 1970s.

“The only thing better about (the ’70s) than the world we have today is that people were actually intelligent enough to be informed about issues,” he said.

Although Devo’s songs are catering to a much younger audience, Casale insisted that the band’s initial message of society’s gradual de-evolution is still intact.

“Obviously the original Devo was more of an outsider political commentary and a cautionary tale against the future that we saw. And the future we saw came real and came true.

“De-evolution is real, and we live in a devolved world. There’s no need to talk about it anymore because it happened. Devo 2.0 is just an example of de-evolution. It’s like if you would read Brave New World and 1984 now and you go, ‘All that happened and here we are. Now what?'”

Despite his band’s musical reinvention through Devo 2.0, Casale said the pre-existing Devo is not dead by any means, and may possibly be playing a series of shows around Halloween. He used a more metaphorical way of explaining this, however.

“The original Devo is more like at this point some legendary fossil in a coccoon state that once in awhile comes to life and does something to remind people it existed,” he said.

Devo 2.0 is currently in the middle of a nationwide tour of middle schools sponsored by NAMM, the International Music Products Association, to increase awareness and support for music education.

The band makes a stop at the Miller-South Visual Performing Arts Middle School in Akron April 3.

Contact campus editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].