Long-time scenesters will certainly remember Jim Ellis, the stylish artiste whose projects included Jack Kirby-influenced cyberpunk landscapes, clothing items that were requisite hipster couture for those in the know, tattoos, and, most of all, himself. Ellis was a mainstay of Knoxville’s punk/art/industrial scene in the late 1980s and early ’90s. In 1994 he moved to San Francisco, where he has become a successful autodidact in the field of interactive multimedia technology.
Since 1996, Ellis has performed as Magnetic Stripper. Always appearing in self-designed costumes, he creates a jarring sound reminiscent of 1990s glitch artists of the Mille Plateaux label and, especially, the pre-digital, computer-generated electronic noise of performers such as the Normal, Factrix, Boyd Rice, and Throbbing Gristle. All of Magnetic Stripper’s sonic output—ranging from dubstep and krautrock to musique concrete, which is “industrial” in that it produces the factory sounds of jackhammers, buzzsaws, dentist drills, and steel presses—is created on sound-generation equipment constructed by Ellis himself. The name “Magnetic Stripper” comes from a malfunctioning reel-to-reel deck notorious for scraping the ferric oxide off the tape, aka the Magnetic Stripper Deck.
As Magnetic Stripper, Ellis recently released a 7-inch single on the Suitcase imprint, an Atlanta-based label run by another Knoxville expat, Eric Blevins. The record has created quite a stir in the underground noise scene, receiving positive reviews in avant-garde leaning publications such as The Wire and Dusted Magazine.
Interestingly, the record has a strong Knoxville connection. “Being still fixated with the electronic sounds of 1978-1983, ‘Extended Play-R’ is the record I would have made when I first moved to Knoxville from Johnson City in 1985,” Ellis explains. “‘Nuclear Cataracts’ is dedicated to [Knoxville artists] Bruce Dillon, Kathy Freeman, and the SeeSeeEye. The B-side is alternative-universe soundtrack music for Kevin Niceley’s ‘Gospel World.’” (Gospel World was the name of Niceley’s Fort Sanders home, which served as an after-hours nexus/crash pad for hardcore punks and gender-bending gothic types in the 1980s. Niceley later ran the Mercury Theatre and has just opened Niceley’s Tavern in Fort Sanders.)
Ellis plans to extend the momentum of his first single with three upcoming releases: a cooperative project with Blevins called Absolute Ceiling (Absolute Ceiling has performed intermittently since its inception in Johnson City in the early ’80s); a remastered version of the first Magnetic Stripper recording; and a retrospective DVD. The Magnetic Stripper 7-inch, as well as photos and a brief bio, are available through the Suitcase site, a4suitcase.com, and videos of Ellis’ scary-looking sonic contraptions can be found at trashaudio.com.