Category Archives: punk

How to make noise: stooges

“We were absolved of a life of mediocrity because we couldn’t play,” says Iggy Pop about 16 minutes into this interview with Thurston Moore. Crucial memories of the Psychadelic Stooges in this video include oil drum percussion strategies, vacuum cleaner/ air compressor wind synthesis, water jug gongs, and a great discussion of repurposing a bummer of an amp that Iggy bought by knocking it over and enjoying the clang of the reverb.

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Into Another

Into Another are a New York City based post-hardcore band. I’ve seen them perform at least a dozen times and consider the band to be a light-year progression in American music. Here is why.

The NYC hardcore years and east coast hardcore were really fertile times. There was something proud about this organized movement of young musicians that were embodying a disruption to the musical genres that had previously constrained it. Hardcore was faster than punk at times, but could slow down to metallic chug-chug levels of thrash. Hardcore musicians were represented as bald, young and passionately creative. The politics were DIY, politically aware, working-class priced and relentelessly political. Youth of Today, Minor Threat, Bold and a couple hundred tiny bands that popped up inspired by this moment.

I came of age at the right time. I was blessed to be surrounded by music at all times and have a forgiving mom that didn’t mind me playing music and discovering my own music. I could play the Dead Kennedy’s in my room and the only boundary was the request that my Butthole Surfers sticker stay on my side of my bedroom door. The foundations had been laid by the time I discovered 7-Seconds at age 14 – there was a whole world of people my age who were making music and getting things done. Honestly, the DIY awareness that you could just do things and figure it out through force of will was a lesson that stuck with me to this day.

As fast as the new hardcore movement was opening up a chance for kids to find their voices and for people to get organized and make a difference, there were also threads that were discouraging. Sexism (particularly the exclusionary assumption that all of the music was written for, created by and performed to boys only), racism and white supremacy and some purity/hipster problems also plagued the hardcore movements. Straightedge, Krishna-influence and animal liberation were also early ideas that came along with the great music I was discovering. There was very limited internet in these days, conduits of knowledge are actually limited (you could miss stuff) – you had to mail order a punk rock band’s dubbed cassette from the back of Maximum RocknRoll.

Everything moved very fast. While I was in high school Minor Threat ceased to exist and Fugazi came to be. Youth of Today ended, and Judge, Underdog and eventually Shelter emerged. You could discover a band and they would break up and you’d never know until you saw an interview or the new project. Knowledge of music became really important. I started to seek out every record that certain labels released (notably Dischord and Revelation). Being broke didn’t deter my musical fiending. I worked part time jobs, borrowed money, traded, sold and got patient in hunting out music.

Into Another were on my radar screen before I saw them live. Any of the players who touched Youth of Today were absolute gold standard. My first year in college at UVM I had worked hard to get the privilege to DJ in the middle of the night on WRUV the independent college radio station. I beat out several other folks because I was focused on playing punk and hardcore music.

Sidenote: when you have to fill two hours of radio time, songs that are 30 seconds long are a disaster. My first night DJing on the radio I had a complete breakdown after playing every 45 I owned and becoming paralyzed on air with nothing to play after 24 minutes. My debate partner Lisa came down to the radio station and helped me out. My arrogance had been the assumption that I would just play what I already knew about – the wonders of a literal library of music (there was a whole room of jazz records lovingly curated by a crew of people at WRUV). I got my head around the radio station as an extension of my knowledge network (skimming the new releases, coming in and previewing new records in the production booth or just taking freestyle risks on air and playing something that looks cool – these were great joys I was just discovering).

I can see the first Revelation Into Another CD at WRUV. The front cover with the 11-pointed star has the white sticker that is covered with comments. The date scrawled in the corner and the review noting that members of Youth of Today and Bold are in the band. Then someone wrote that the record sucked and was pseudo-metal. Another defender wrote that the record was genius in terrible scrawl. The arguments on the CD label between radio station DJs was so heated that the plastic CD cover was cracked down the middle.

I played Into Another blind that night and I wasn’t that impressed. I was going to defend it because it was kind of good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting or used to from the genre. I had not yet understood just how pleasureable that was going to be. I remember thinking that I’d tape a copy of the radio station CD, but that the record didn’t warrent buying my own copy of the tape (I didn’t own a CD player until I was a sophomore in college).

That dubbed Into Another cassette travelled with me everywhere and grew on me. In the back of debate vans while everyone was sleeping I would listen to “Robot Whales” or “For Lack of a Better World” and think about the complexity of the world to a soundtrack that seemed one dimensional, but was starting to get tinged with reggae, jazz, blues, hip hop, metal and international music.

When I was a sophomore I made a cassette tape with Into Another‘s “Powered” and a couple of Underdog‘s “A lot to learn” at the front. I would get ridiculously over-amped for debate rounds listening to these songs in the hallway outside the rounds. When we won the Marist tournament, my debate partner Scud listened to one headphone of both songs before we won the final round.

Even when you knew that Underdog had the metal energy to get you adrenalized, there was a kind of humanity and complexity in the music. Underdog‘s lyrics were about loyalty, friendship, solidarity and sacrifice. But honstly, I had vague ideas of what Into Another were singing about most of the time. Not to mention the musicians were edging past the hardcore comfort zone with reggae and metal, consider Underdog‘s “Without Fear” a staple of my life in the 1990s.

When Into Another was coming to town to play at 242 Main Street, a few of us gathered together to see the band. I was sort of taken aback at how friendly they were. The first band member I met was Tony – a jolly friendly long hair who was sitting on the stoop of 242. We introduced ourselves, assuming he was a local that we didn’t know and we talked about the band for a while. We were really excited to meet some musical heroes and Tony was just as excited to meet fans who knew about his band.

Tony took us around back to meet Peter, Richie and Drew. Richie was really friendly and quick to talk about veganism, philosophy, and had a funny story about everybody. Drew looked like a rock star and was quiet – it wasn’t until he hit the stage that he really turned on. Richie committed to an interview for my little zine at the time and then the show started. I don’t remember who played with Into Another that night, but I don’t think it would matter.

The crowd at 242 became life-long Into Another fans that night. The band was an organic whole performing world-shifting rock and roll for a crowd of 25 people. Richie was funny and personable between songs and then would transition into serious singing (that was one of the knocks on Into Another for decades – was that the lead singer sang). But live, it was the crystalization of a humungous juggernaut machine behind that capable lead singer. Peter Moses brought this exceptional guitar tone and restraint. He plays a lot of stop-start polyrhythms on guitar, but also a lot of viscious metal riffs. Drew’s drumming is snare and tom-forward and complex. Perhaps one of the best martial breakdown drummers ever to play, he and Peter worked in concert to bludgeon audiences. Tony was the artist, grooving along with bass lines and fills that just worked to keep your head nodding. The ensemble could not be beat, and you had the sense that this band was at a higher level.

And they were the opposite of assholes. After the show, every person got a conversation and the sincere sense that they were leaving with new friends who happened to be the best band you’ve ever seen.

The next time the band was in town, the crowd was in the hundreds and the talent was next level. They played several tunes from the Creepy Eepy and destroyed the club. Despite being legit hardcore champions that night they found themselves crashing in our dorm rooms and eating pasta and broccoli I cooked in the communal kitchen with Richie and Drew helping. Tony crashed with my friend Rhymestyle Bob who made a life-long friend over vodka, Russian literature and metal guitar riffs. There was a kind of weird juxtaposition that this band looked, sounded and seemed like stars, but you had the sense that they were earnest DIY folks who crashed with grandmothers and college kids across the nation to make this band happen.

Bonding over veganism and hardcore, a lot of the conversations with Richie influenced my eventual Ph.D. dissertation about punk rock music and animal liberation. But you got conversations with Richie that happened while I was cooking green beans or while trying to get a tape recorder to work for an interview on the back of a loading dock. Richie is a solid intellectual who has forgrounded ethics – he also is just a funny dude who didn’t talk down to people.

There isn’t a great ending arc to this essay. Into Another struggled and despite releasing consistently top notch art and rocking shows world wide, they broke up after label difficulities. Beloved bass player Tony Bono died in the early 2000s and the world’s capacity for rocking shifted back a few notches. They have played a few reunion shows this decade and sound excellent albeit the absence of Tony.

If there was one thread that was consistent with Into Another was complexity. The band’s lyrics were complex, the music was complicated and the band was not a transparent youth-crew handcore legacy project. The band extended the ideas present and made something really quite new – the fact that people didn’t have the ears to appreciate what was recorded doesn’t diminish was was contributed. The band offer up a catalog of rocking riff-laden monsters, mental-health lamentation ballads, psych-rock trip-a-thons, tributes to lost friends, and daydreams of apocalyptic surveillance and control.

It is worth supporting the band with a bandcamp purchase – I recommend the whole catalog, but don’t sleep on the relatively recent “Omens” album.

We need spirit of fertile creativity embodied by Into Another now more than any time. The kind of oppressive bland culture which created the youth-crew positivity would be welcome right now. But so would the dissidents – the kids who can see something more and are willing to risk the mockery of their peers to make great art.

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Filed under art, capitalism, communication, do-it-yourself, food, kindness, memorial, music, punk, rock and roll, sexism, vegetarian, vulnerability

Stooges: Look out honey cuz I’m usin’ technology!

Let this be a warning to you: you will turn your back on the Stooges three times before you realize your mistake!

I was a young punk and I didn’t like anything that wasn’t what I was currently playing on my cassette deck. The stooges just didn’t fit. They clanged out with punk that sounded too rock and roll to my purist ears. And the well-published Stooges story was all about punk as destructive front-man, a trope that I felt should be retired. At the time I valued music that was political, organized, focused and sober – pretty much the opposite of the Stooges.

My second invitation to listen to the stooges came when I taught for a summer at the Michigan Debate camp. The faculty (gathered from around the nation) were all housed in a recently renovated apartment building that was rumored to have been Iggy Pop’s. It was claimed that our apartment was Iggy’s and that I was staying where his old room had been. Payday at the end of a month-long gig was an incredible moment of consumerist joy and I remember weighing an Iggy and the Stooges CD, but putting it back in lieu of the 4xCD Stax/Volt box set (which changed my life).

Reading Gillian McCain & Leg’s McNeil’s book Please Kill me was my third chance to dive into the Stooges catalog. So many terrible stories of Iggy’s destruction and the aspirations of a generation trying to tell new stories with new sounds. Recording an album in Berlin with David Bowie that dabbles in gender play (a song called penetrate on a 70s rock album isn’t that unusual, but that tune is about Iggy being penetrated. )

Having been a music fiend my whole life, and with an origin as a frugal yankee, I look for the cheapest media with the coolest music when I’m buying second hand. I started buying a lot of records 20 years ago because you could get Stevie Wonder’s best songs for pennies at yard sales. In the last 5 years CDs have become useless to most people and they started selling a buck a pop or even less.

I spent a lot of my life desperately saving enough money to buy an $11 CD in a record store. To see an album I’d always wondered about for so cheap . . . sucks teeth. Which is how I found myself in a pandemic with a couple hundred CDs that I’d stacked up in a cupboard. I drew Raw Power from under a stack of abandoned albums because it was the right time and started really listening to the record.

The album is transformative – great guitars, excellent song-writing and some of the most 2020 tunes to be recorded at any moment. I was hunting for the making-of documentary that came out in 2010 when I came across a nice video of Iggy and the Stooges doing Search and Destroy in 2017.

Let’s skip all the body-shaming crap and ageist foolishness. It is great to hear a passionate song sung with passion by passionate people. I love Iggy’s plea for the crowd to save his soul that comes with the wild arm gestures. There is a clear juxtaposition between the naked and the clothed – Iggy of course is shirtless and glowing. But there is also a shirtless security guard who is moving around behind the amps. And there is a guy in the band shirtless playing a pair of claves. But every other member of the band looks like an 8th grade science teacher with tucked in dress shirts. There is the tiny club-sized set that Iggy has compressed into the center space of this festival stage. And the great contrast of how much space both sonically and physically the Stooges take up.

It is never too late to learn or investigate and discover the world. There is music out there that has not been heard and the day is just beginning.

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Filed under art, drugs, gender, juxtaposition, music, punk, rock and roll

Nostalgic Rock N’ Roll: the Hellacopters

I associate the Hellacopters with Pittsburgh. It was the second year that I lived there when a friendly record store clerk and they suggested “Grande Rock,” the third Hellacopters LP after noting my purchasing patterns.

At the time I was heavily into hardcore and punk and had a fairly purist view of DIY ethics (necessary) and corporate record labels (evil). But I will acknowledge a healthy love of classic rock. Part of the reason that I started collecting vinyl LPs was to buy second-hand records and bypass the guilt associated with supporting a multinational death company that might have purchased the soul of some poor talented musician.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to buy an brand new copy of the New Bomb Turks CD and also a thrashed J Geils band LP on Atlantic from the dollar used bin. Which honestly is a pretty good description of the Hellacopters.

Guitars. My memory of the first listen was dominated by the guitars. Slashing, thrashing and almost indulgent levels of guitars. And then that sort of goofy piano playing that becomes so necessary after many listens. Then you sync into just how good respectful 4/4 drumming done well is. And then it’s the guitars, catchy songs and genuine respect for rock n’ roll traditions.

Saw ’em live at least once, maybe twice during these years in Pittsburgh and they were fantastic. About everything you could imagine – with a performance at a pub being particularly memorable for the energy level and amount of beer poured on my head.

From the position of socially-distancing during Covid-19, you sort of wonder what forms music and rock n’ roll will embody in the future. I find myself nostalgic for the kind of energy and excitement of the crowd in the video above in Stockholm in 2018 when the band kicked into “Gotta get some action now” . . .

But the lived nature of a band like the Hellacopters is that they should be enjoyed. The band worked because they weren’t straightforward 70s rock clones, and they weren’t afraid to lay down a lick that was melodic and Zep-worthy. They just rocked and never really looked for justification or permission.

We can trust that the spirits of rock n’ roll can’t really be destroyed and will always re-emerge in some new presentation depending on the local circumstances.

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The Melvins and observing wildlife

This morning I went to pick up bagels and two seagulls launched from a power line and flew down the road in front of me – hovering about a hundred feet ahead of me leading the way through the fog for several blocks.

I’m sure that this kind of thing has always happened. But I’ve become cued to observe birds more closely recently. Part of it is the boardgame Wingspan, and I’m spending more time out-of-doors during Covid-19.

Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with the Melvin’s catalog recently. Like seeing squirrels, birds and neighborhood cats who come into relief when you are paying attention, the Melvins grow in importance and meaning the more you look for them.

Here are the Melvins in 1993 playing in all their glory at UCLA. Buzz with a savage sound and performance energy. The weirded out passers-by. Dale’s gardening gloves? The drama-stage drum riser that seems to be set up in a car park or something. All captured on VHS glory.

But the winner of the video is Lorax or Lori Black the bass player. Disinterestedly smoking a cigarette, playing that drone string with a herky-jerky chop – fuzzed out bass chords that stop on a dime. Worth a listen.

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Mimi Thi Nguyen: punk and resistance

There are a lot of smart insights in this Bluestockings interview with Mimi Thi Nguyen.  Feministing shared the link and gave me the heads up that there was some discussion of guilt and professional expectations in the essay.  Nguyen seems persuasive to this punk professor when she writes:

The disjuncture then comes when I consider how we are encouraged to carry ourselves in the academy. I feel a lot of pressure to professionalize, and the prescriptions for professionalization often run counter to my way of being in the world. I also struggle with the directive that I am supposed to professionalize my students. I don’t hold with the idea that I should train students to be better workers, because the content of “better” — more obedient, more efficient, whatever — runs counter to what I want to teach. In my feminist theories courses, I say, “Yeah, I just gave you assignments with deadlines! But I also want to say to you, what’s so great about work? Why do we believe work is supposed to be edifying? Should we always have to be productive? Why do we imagine work as something that gives us dignity? What if it’s just wearing us down?” My history in punk totally informs these attempts to practice other ways of being in a classroom, and other ways of being a professor.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Like Nguyen I was a reader of Maximum Rock and Roll since my teens.  I was deeply informed by the DIY spirit and raw love of music and counterculture that ran through MRR.  Along with that inspiring freedom were some toxic interview discussions and columns that also were a big part of MRR.  I remember a particularly racist / sexist sex column, perhaps from Mykel Board?  Nguyen as a young punk writes MRR and challenges the columnist for MRR and gets a hateful column in reply.  The scrap with MRR inspires her to create her own zine Race Riot.

The impetus for Race Riot came when a columnist at Maximum Rockandroll wrote about his Asian fetish, suggesting that Asian women’s eyelids look like vulva, and that their vulva might be also horizontal. It is an old imperial joke — there are all kinds of imperial jokes about how racial, colonial women’s bodies are so inhuman that their genitalia might reflect this alien state. I wrote a letter to Maximum, cussing and citing postcolonial feminist theory. He then wrote a lengthy column in response about how though I’m Asian, because I’m an ugly feminist, he wouldn’t want to fuck me anyway. There was a discussion at the magazine about whether or not to publish this column because the magazine had a policy — no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. But the coordinator and founder of the magazine decided that this column qualified as satire, and so it was acceptable.

It was really infuriating for me to be 19 years old, totally invested in punk and politics, to be attacked under the guise of racist cool in the punk magazine. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m quitting punk.” But I figured I should do something, to leave something behind as a practice and as a document, to reach other punks of color who might feel as isolated as I did in the aftermath.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

I know a lot of punks who saw the academy as a reasonable place to continue thinking about punk praxis.  Or more particularly, many of us go to an academic job and are reasonably punk in that and other parts of our lives.  Many of the punks I knew are still working with intentional collectives, creating media, hosting shows, playing music, creating alternative spaces and doing-it-themselves.  I’ll give a shout out to my friend Zack Furness and his book Punkademics.  I think you can read the whole book at Minor Compositions.

I’ll note my appreciation and agreement with Nguyen’s analysis of internet communications and the need for pauses for reflection.   She argues:

New technologies have produced expectations that we now have more democratic access to more knowledge, and that we must accommodate ourselves to an accelerated sense of time. But I am wary of this internalization of capital’s rhythms for continuous consumption and open-ended production. I hate feeling obliged to produce a post or tweet on a timetable. It makes me anxious. There is value in being about to respond quickly to an object or event, of course, but I also want to hold out for other forms of temporal consciousness, including untimeliness and contemplation of deep structures, sitting with an object over time to consider how it changes you, how the encounter with it changes the nature of your inquiry.

via (Un)productivity in the Digital Age — A Conversation with Mimi Thi Nguyen | Bluestockings Magazine.

Good interview and strong arguments.

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Filed under academics, capitalism, communication, do-it-yourself, feminism, media, music, punk, race, representation, resistance, sexism, technology

Electoral politics in Iceland: anarchist performance art

I appreciated Constantin Seibt’s article on the anarchists playing with the Icelandic electoral system.  The Best party had a wonderful list of campaign promises:

A glance at the most important campaign promises of the Best Party is more than enough to highlight the audacity of Reykjavik’s voters. They were promised free towels at swimming pools, a polar bear for the zoo, the import of Jews, «so that someone who understands something about economics finally comes to Iceland», a drug-free parliament by 2020, inaction «we’ve worked hard all our lives and want to take a well-paid four-year break now», Disneyland with free weekly passes for the unemployed «where they can have themselves photographed with Goofy», greater understanding for the rural population «every Icelandic farmer should be able to take a sheep to a hotel for free», free bus tickets. And all this with the caveat: «We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise.»The Best Party emerged from an idea for a sketch show.

via More punk, less hell! – News Ausland: Europa – tagesanzeiger.ch.

You know how it goes, they win the election, form a coalition government, fix the budget, and suggest that humorous performance art may be more effective than traditional governance.

An assessment of four years of anarchist rule yields a rather surprising conclusion: the punks put the city’s financial house in order. They can also look back on some very successful speeches, a few dozen kilometers of bike paths, a zoning plan, a new school organization that no one complains about any more and a relaxed, booming city – tourism is growing by 20% a year and some say that is the new bubble. In speeches, president Grímsson no longer praises Icelanders’ killer instinct, but their creativity. Real estate prices are again on the rise and the Range Rovers are back too. In polls last October, the Best Party hit its high-water mark of 38%. Shortly thereafter, Gnarr announced he would retire and dissolve the Best Party. His reason: «I’m a comedian, not a politician.» He added: «I was a cab driver for four years, a really good one even, and I quit doing that as well.»«My question was always: ‹How do we fuck the system?›» says Örn. «And the answer was, we show that non-politicians can do the job as well. But quitting with a certain election victory within reach, that’s truly fucking the system!»

via More punk, less hell! – News Ausland: Europa – tagesanzeiger.ch.

Thanks to longreads for the suggestion.

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Happy Birthday Sylvester

The illuminating blog Dangerous Minds noted that today is the birthday of the electric-disco-star Sylvester.   I appreciate that they frame Sylvester’s radical elements within his Disco successes:

. . . .if it wasn’t for disco there is no way that a linebacker-sized, black, openly gay, outrageous, gender-bending performer like him could have reached the top of the world’s charts.

via Dangerous Minds | Excellent documentary on the life of Sylvester.

Happy Birthday Sylvester and all who party with ya!

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Filed under funk & soul, Gay, memorial, music, punk, race, representation

Bad Brains: this band is obviously better than any other band

Totally grooving on the un-embeddable Bad Brains documentary: A Band in D.C.  Click the link.  Watch the video.  Learn and get inspired. 

Thanks to Gwarizm for the link. 

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Filed under do-it-yourself, documentary, funk & soul, music, punk, race, representation