Saxophonist Alex Buess and drummer Knut Remond originated 16-17's turbulent sound in the comparatively sedate surroundings of Basel, Switzerland, in 1983. Sharing fellow country-man H.R. Giger's fascination with suppressed horrors, their primal shock therapy raged against passivity. 16-17 were determined to locate a shared melting point for Extremist Rock, Free Music, and Avant-Garde electronic.
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Founded by saxophonist Alex Buess and drummer Knut Remond, the industrial, free jazz and noise outfit 16-17 were formed in Basel, Switzerland, in 1983. Subsequently joined by guitarist and electronics-wielder Markus Kneubühler, they recorded and released their first EP, the five-song Hardkore & Buffbunker, in 1984. Originally issued on cassette only, the raw-sounding Hardkore & Buffbunker offered a blunt introduction to their sound, featuring Buess' relentlessly abrasive alto saxophone (along with some occasional shouted vocals) atop the insistent drumming of Remond and the distorted, repetitive guitar work of Kneubühler (who approached his instrument more like a bass than a standard guitar). They returned three years later with their first vinyl release, an eponymous seven-song effort that was distributed by the Swiss RecRec imprint. The abrasive sound and unrelenting approach marked a continuation of what they had begun with Hardkore & Buffbunker, though the recording fidelity is slightly less raw. When All Else Fails -- another low-tech live-recording -- followed in 1989 and continued in the vein of the previous releases.

16-17's first full-fledged studio album did not come until 1994. The album, Gyatso (Pathological), marked a change in their sound. Produced by Kevin Martin (Ice, Techno Animal), Gyatso also features G.C. Green (Godflesh) on bass. Rather than trying to reproduce their live sound, the band embraced the possibilities of the studio, employing overdubs, borderline psychedelic stereo effects, and a low end worthy of the heaviest of dub productions. Even so, the album is just as (if not more) intense and abrasive as the (mostly live) recordings that preceded it, and it still stands as their finest moment.

Following Gyatso, the group underwent a couple of lineup changes, with Remond being replaced on drums by Michael Wertmüller (Peter Brötzmann) and Damian Bennett (Deathless, Techno Animal) being brought on as their first full-time bassist. This lineup recorded the Human Distortion EP, which appeared in 1998 on Alec Empire's Digital Hardcore label and sounded like the work of a completely different band. Things went quiet for 16-17 in the years that followed, though most of their recordings (everything except Human Distortion) eventually wound being reissued in the late 2000s after being difficult to find for many years. These reissues, both on the Florida-based Savage Land label, consisted of a remastered version of Gyatso as well as a two-CD package entitled When All Else Fails (which actually includes the original album by that name as well as the entire contents of Hardkore & Buffbunker and 16-17). While 16-17's music is perhaps not quite as shocking now as it must have been when the group first began -- thanks in part to groups like Painkiller, Last Exit, and the Flying Luttenbachers, who have since explored similar mixtures of searing noise and free jazz-inspired improvisation -- it remains challenging and far outside the mainstream.

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