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MRR Radio #1473 • 10/4/15

On this week's MRR Radio, Greg takes you on a chaotic journey through his mind...and ...

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“New Blood” is our weekly feature spotlighting new bands from around the world! See below for info ...

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Maximum Rocknroll #390 • Nov 2015

It’s time for Maximum Rocknroll #390, the November 2015 issue! On our cover: AS MERCENÁRIAS, ...

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Reissue of the Week: Disclose

Reissue of the Week: Disclose

DISCLOSE – “Yesterday’s Fairytale, Tomorrow’s Nightmare” LP This is a monumental record, even without considering its ...

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MRR Radio #1472 • 9/27/15

Dan digs through the new bin once again, and guest DJ Liz revisits the last ...

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Read a Book! A Wailing of a Town

September 25th, 2015 by

A Wailing Of A Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More
Craig Ibarra
344 pgs • $20
End Fwy Press

Yet another punk related oral history. Can the collective punk bookshelves take another addition to the seeming endless array of “I was there” sprawl? Has punk overtaken the hippie nostalgia frenzy? The answer to both of those questions is yes! I would put this book up with Lexicon Devil, another oral history about SoCal punk, as one of the best encapsulations of the mechanics, dysfunctions and excitements of a punk scene I have read. A Wailing of a Town shows the other side of the coin. The kids who didn’t run away to Hollywood, but rather stayed in their working class Southern California harbor town and made their own music and constructed their own idea of punk and community out of what they had. Lexicon Devil was ostensibly a biography of Darby Crash, but it somehow felt more like Crash was the fulcrum for a sprawling documentary report on the growth, power and dysfunctions of LA punk. This book is an oral history of San Pedro punk, and D. Boon, the city’s favorite son, ends up being the heart and soul of the narrative. Where previously published punk oral histories have put across the hip/cool actions of the cognoscenti (Please Kill MeWe Got the Neutron Bomb, etc.), this one really communicates the true inspiring and powerful force that is getting caught up in underground DIY and making something on your own terms.

While I was reading this someone asked me if it was “a Minutemen bio”—since clearly nothing else of note happened in Pedro punk in this person’s mind! One of the cooler aspects of the book is that while the Minutemen rightfully get a huge chunk of the chapters devoted to their sound and ideas, the other people who shaped a scene are given as much weight, from supportive non-musical punkers who were there to witness events or took on the background shitwork through to the wild performance artists. You really get a sense of how the San Pedro take on punk emerged from the town and how it was shaped by the different economic and geographic realities. The different voices and perspectives in the book—the macho nihilistic surf jocks, the feminist working class women of color—all give this work a true feeling of representation, and make it a fun and wild read.

The fact that the Minutemen were one of the guiding forces of the Pedro punks meant that people looked at them as examples, and as a result started their own weird bands and made their own record labels that only put out their friends’ weird and/or generic bands. It was a constructive and encouraging scene, despite endless harassment from cops and jocks and angry anti-punk locals. The feeling that you get from listening to the Minutemen, the rough and tumble warmth in with the cold hard truth, really reflects the scene that they came up through and helped invent. On the evidence of this book, the creative, expressive and radical power embodied by their sound, from the crazed inventive music through to the impassioned lyrics, the needs of the working class and the power of Coltrane are endorsed with equal authority, shaped the San Pedro punk idea as one quite distinct from other Southern Californian scenes. Speaking of which, the chapters on Saccharine Trust are easily worth the price of admission. Paganicons is one of the wildest and most interesting LPs SST ever released, and despite the fact that many punks now revere Saccharine Trust, it still feels like they somehow haven’t gotten their due. It was really inspiring and sometimes hilarious reading about how they formed and the ideas behind the songs, the evolution of the band and their disparate poetic, Dada, No Wave and be-bop based influences.

Punk is a visual and visceral culture, and this book does a great job of putting across the aesthetics, the sights, scents and ideas of the random assortment of people that were drawn to it. The flyers, the fanzines, the insane apartments that intentionally resembled surrealist hamster cages…They had shows in the infamous repurposed Church featured in Decline of Western Civilization I, a German themed village hall that sounded like a weird Euro-Tiki bar-like space complete with a rotten waterfall and ski lodge like ambiance, a repurposed theater which also had avant-garde dance classes. You get a sense of the danger from violent audience members imported from Orange County and aggressive anti-punk locals and of course, the cops, all of which is such a part of the narrative of Southern California punk. You also get a sense of the creativity and resourcefulness of the Pedro punkers in figuring out how to work around all that aggression and darkness and make a scene work.

This book is one of the best accounts of punk I have read, the interviews and excerpts are exhaustive and cover the nihilistic and constructive, the intoxicating and the mundane. Its somewhat homespun aesthetic is misleading; this book was masterfully edited by Craig Ibarra. So many perspectives and takes on different events weave together to create a powerful, emotional narrative, it was an unputdownable ride—I read this from cover to cover in a mad consuming frenzy, but had to leave the last few chapters, the ones about D. Boon’s death, to read when I was alone at home, as I knew it would be devastating. It was. Reader, I wept. Unlike most artifacts from the past where it seems like all the cool stuff happened without you, in some other untouchable dimension, A Wailing of a Town ultimately makes you want to create something new and worthy in your own town and scene.
—Layla Gibbon

Read a Book! Brooks Headley on Soy Not Oi

June 4th, 2015 by

Soy Not Oi! 2
Edited by Hippycore Krew
312 pgs • $20

 Review by Brooks Headley in MRR 386

A few months ago I did a collaborative dinner with a chef in New York City. This guy, well, he’s a champion of sustainable agriculture and generally a pretty sharp dude in terms of that kind of thing. The dinner we were doing was a conceptual thing that night utilizing mostly wasted and trash food scraps to bring awareness to the sheer amount of food that restaurants throw away. We got to talking, the wasted food idea thing lead me directly into veganism. This fellow, a proud meat eater and meat cooker, looked at me perplexed and asked, “punks are vegetarians…weird?”

The original Soy Not Oi! introduced me to vegan cooking when it came out over 20 years ago, arriving in an envelope at my mom’s house, mail ordered of course. And this new volume, both a collection of new recipes from the Hippycore folks and their friends, and a tribute to Hippycore founder Joel Olson is just plain fucking wonderful. The back cover of the original Soy Not Oi! shows some pissed (get it?) cartoon eggplants and radishes storming a capital building with the subtitle “Over 100 Recipes Designed To Destroy The Government.” Good stuff, stared at that back cover a lot over the years. This new volume shows a cabbage, a cucumber, and an onion hurling off shackles with the subtitle “cast off the chains of corporate food dependency!” Also, good stuff.

The foreword is written by Isa Chandra, who along with Terry Hope Romero are two of my professional punk vegan cookbook writing heroes. Isa confesses her love for the original Soy Not Oi! claiming it as the zine that taught her about food and cooking. Same goes for me. When you read the intros to those recipes, you discover that same goes for almost everyone who contributed a recipe.

In the pre-internet early ’90s, back in the days when the vegan and vegetarian meccas were the East Village of New York City and Berkeley, CA, you had to search out decent veg fare. And unless you lived in one of those two places (I didn’t, I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore) a lot of times you were cooking the stuff for yourself at home. The original Soy Not Oi! was my guidebook to learning about arrowroot (it’s a thickener, made from a tuber), how to freeze and thaw tofu to get this cool spongy texture, and how to find the best burrito in 1991 (the recipe tells you to fly to San Francisco and go to 16th and Mission). Lots of good, solid information all over Soy Not Oi! 2, too. The primer on what kinds of sugar are cool to use is worth the price alone. And that’s only a single paragraph. Sugar is indeed a minefield, and responsible eating of and sourcing it is something we all need to think about, just like coffee and chocolate and all the stuff that grows far away from where you and I probably live.

Some of the recipes lack salt. I’m assuming this is an oversight. Keep a tin of sea salt or kosher salt nearby along with some freshly ground black pepper and a few lemons. If your finished dish lacks some umph, this stuff can always help. Like a good comp LP, there are contributors trying to show off their chops with complicated multi-step numbers, and others who sent in a nearly non-existent recipe (like the simple tomato sauce recipe….but come to think of it, there’s really no reason ever to buy prepared tomato sauce at the grocery store or the food co-op, so this one is a keeper.) There’s a very workmanlike and almost gruff recipe for steamed vegetables with “steamer sauce” from Ian Mackaye that recommends washing your steamer and pot as the food “cools” so there’s less to clean up later. It’s the most utilitarian and therefore straight-up healthy recipe in the book, and quite possibly Mr. Mackaye’s first recipe contribution to the public domain since the super healthy oatmeal recipe from the “Cooking With Fugazi” article that was in a late ’89 issue of Flipside.

Word-wise, hegemony, conspiracy, and patriarchy all make appearances in the text. As do transnational, corporatist, and “agenda of enslavement,” but when juxtaposed next to a cartoon rutabaga with a Larm hoodie it’s hard to not enjoy the smash the state vibes. There’s a broccoli biscuit recipe that’s a total cinch and references George H.W. Bush’s broccoli aversion (remember that? what kind of motherfucker doesn’t like broccoli??). There are music recommendations for lots of recipes. Some of which are great (The Nips!, Rudimentary Peni!), some questionable (the Doors?), and a few just complete what-the-fucks (sorry, no Rush, ugh, never). But there’s even a suggestion for that popular Amy Winehouse hit from a few years ago (which is actually really good) so it’s not just straight up collector nerd punk stuff. The recipe for whole wheat blueberry flax pancakes recommends a long single song (such as the live version of “Slip It In” from Who’s Got the 10 ½?) due to the fact that they won’t take very long to cook so you don’t want to get distracted with multiple groups.

I got a kick out of the lovingly penned tributes to Joel Olson in the back of the book. One specifically stated with reverence that Joel liked records from bands that were once good but that he liked the groups’ “three records past” when they were actually good. This made me laugh and relieved some shame from my own love of say, the Wartime EP and Cut the Crap. The recipes here are real and written and contributed by folks who are actually vegan and have obviously been cooking this stuff in their home kitchens for a while, which gives the book a really genuine feel. I’ve written a cookbook, and I hang out in the cookbook sections of big goofy bookshops often to browse new recipes. These days there are shitloads of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks out there, a lot of which are written for big publishing conglomerates by people who are most likely not vegan. A book like Soy Not Oi! 2 stands way out from these irresponsible wastes of paper and resource.

My only beef are the seitan recipes that are peppered throughout. Seitan kind of trashes your stomach. I don’t recommend eating it that often, or ever really. But that’s fine, because there’re scads of other great recipes in this volume, so that’s cool. Tempeh is one of the most delicious things out there, so try the buffalo tempeh recipe on page 55 if you are looking for a tasty non-animal protein source. And shit, well, seitan is kind of like smoking cigarettes. Some folks are into it even though they know the health risks. So, fine, go ahead make some seitan, I won’t judge. The tomato canning method on page 274 suggests listening to the Extinction LP by Nausea. I can get behind this. It’s a fantastic record that still sounds great 24 years later. But then the accompanying photo shows someone canning without shoes on. Don’t do that. Wear shoes around boiling and sharp stuff. For me? OK? Wait, so, uh, punks are vegetarians?

Read a Book! Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)

December 11th, 2014 by


Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)
Breanne Fahs
The Feminist Press

Review by E. Conner in MRR #380

Valerie Solanas is a strange cultural icon. She is perhaps most often used as a derogatory warning for young women: “the wrong kind of feminist.” In an age of combating #womenagainstfeminism with cupcakey bullshit and Kathleen Hanna documentaries, this lack of historical accuracy and nuance is detrimental. We require Valerie to be represented as what she truly was: a fiercely intellectual militant feminist who died poor and alone because this world kills people like that.

Personally, Valerie is of interest to me in charting these people, the controversial, difficult women that are forgotten and discarded. Even among them Valerie is not alone is her abandonment. The great failures are Valerie Solanas, Lee Lozano and Shulamith Firestone. All attempted to straddle art and politics, all chose madness and obscurity in lieu of becoming washed out in the limelight. Nuts to the Steinems!

In April I visited New York City and was lucky enough to attend a release event at NYU for this book. An intimidating panel included Avital Ronell, Lisa Duggan, Karen Finley and the author, Breanne Fahs. As the panel went on I slowly realized what was happening. I was in a room full of (mostly) beautiful, smart women repeating the word “shit” over and over. I like to think this was the utopia Valerie imagined so long ago.

I understand that in even articulating that idea I’m doing exactly what everyone has ever done to Valerie’s work. I project my own desires into the intricate complications of her life, art and work. We exist in this place where refining women (and other complicated people) into flattened figures is the norm. Is it even possible to tell a story of history in a way that isn’t problematic? It’s so riddled with the afflictions of opinion and memory failure.

Fahs is a delicate biographer. She fills in nuance without betraying the subject. She’s compassionate and holistic. What is produced feels dense. While it’s not a totally critical history, it is one that demands an active participant. The story of Valerie’s years in New York’s Lower East Side, culminating in her infamous act, are bookended by the brutal years that created and destroyed the human being. It’s perhaps not fair to conceptualize a human life as a flickering light with a crescendo.

When one regards the tragedy of Solanas’s life it’s too easy to conjure pity and rely on that as some accurate representation of her total legacy. The truth is Valerie saved us. She undeniably produced a cultural crack-up. The burgeoning feminist consciousness raising movement would have been nothing without her. While so much organization was vulcanized at the time of her arrest, theory too owes her a great debt. Shulamith Firestone’s conceptualized “Smile Strike,” from the far more validated The Dialectic of Sex was preceded by Solanas’ call for the death of niceness. Modern theoretical feminism and queer theory still look towards SCUM for guidance. Kathi Weeks’ “non-work” recalls Valerie’s “un-working.” Sara Ahmed’s “feminist killjoy” and Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman’s beckoning towards an academically sanctioned queer nihilism all have foundations in SCUM.

There has been a tendency to regard Valerie as an accident. She is often removed or distanced from revisionist feminist history. While it’s true that she never did fit in with the publicized movement, she does not deserve to be forgotten. Valerie was as much of a disruption to the slide into co-opting radical feminism towards liberal reformism, or as it’s been suggested, just a disruption in general. Her personal effect on the lives of some of the most cherished minds of this movement is not to be undermined. The correspondence with and testimony of Ti-Grace Atkinson, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Florence Kennedy, Shulamith Firestone and Robin Morgan are all included, finally cementing Solanas in her place among them.

A legacy like this deserves a considerate articulation. Fahs took ten years to write the book Valerie swore she’d write herself. This kind of care for Solanas’ life is uncommonly kind when you consider the treatment Valerie’s work received the second anyone else got their hands on it. All of it has been stolen, lost, edited, misspelled, withheld, hidden, and destroyed.

Even now, the bulk of Valerie’s surviving work (SCUM Manifesto) is printed and distributed largely by the anarchist-publishing house AK Press. Every few years another edition comes out with another forward written by a different person. The most recent edition touts notorious Marilyn Manson fan Michelle Tea’s take on the manifesto. Ms. Tea, once a young radical dyke poet, is now the editor of a popular hipster motherhood blog. While the lesbian mother could be one interpretation of Valerie’s demand for “complete automation” it still feels something like failure. And where does the money go?

Valerie Solanas is an attempt to map the great sources of the paranoia that were Valerie’s downfall. Like any young woman, her sexuality and psychic body were mangled early on. Part of the map of Valerie’s life is strongly situated in the way she defined and declared her vision. Fahs uses Valerie’s own words whenever possible. It’s rather exciting for any Solanas fans out there to get to eek whatever they can out of the quotes from Up Your Ass, various interviews, college newspaper articles, and correspondence that Fahs had access to.

These kinds of considerations are partly due to Fahs’ background in Feminist Studies and Psychology, a very important distinction in the overall tone of the book. Fahs is careful to include the reputation and conditions of not only the institutions that Valerie landed in after shooting Andy Warhol, but critically traces her movements through schools, the hospitals where she gave birth to at least two children, residential hotels, jail cells, collective meetings, diners and beds. You see this complicated figure moving about truly alive and conscious, wading through the same shit as all of us.

I finished the book on the train headed to work. I got off two stops early and rode my bike to the place Valerie died. Alone in a hotel room (and never wanted once) for at least five days. The front of the Bristol Hotel is collaged with handwritten notes regarding hotel policies and notes to UPS drivers. A historical site plaque bulges from the wall. It neglects to mention the two most famous residents, Valerie and Richard Ramirez, aka the “Night Stalker,” notorious serial killer/rapist and Satanist.

Come to Our Show: a Punk Flyer eBook

January 31st, 2012 by

Blogger, punk flyer collector, and MRR reader Willona Sloan recently sent us a link to her free eBook of amazing flyers called Come to Our Show. Originally intended to be a printed book, this project was put on the back burner for a few years, but now it is finally available to one and all thanks to the wonders of the interweb. The book contains a very impressive collection of flyers from many decades of DIY punk, mostly concentrated on DC bands and the ’80s, but represents a pretty wide variety of genres and regions. No extra info is given with the flyers, leaving you to guess sometimes where or when exactly the show is from. Yet I find that the parts of the story that are left to the imagination can be just as inspiring as the artifacts themselves. And, besides, it’s free and it’s fun — what have you got to complain about?

Willona’s eclectic blog DC Scorpiongirl is worth checking out too. Send her kudos on a job well done while you’re there.

White Riot: Another Failure…

January 17th, 2012 by

White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race (on Verso Books, edited by Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay) just hit the academic circuit claiming to be the “Ultimate Collection” of writings about punk and race. While many, and I mean many, many, many of us punks of color whom this book claims to be representing by way of other peoples voices, disagree, there seems to be very little attention paid to these critiques. I personally plan on responding to the book, but thankfully we have this review in the current issue of MRR. Resulting from many conversations and discussions, Golnar Nikpour, former coordinator, active punk, scholar and, yes, brown as fuck person agreed to review this highly questionable (in my opinion, shitty) book.

The back cover of this recently published volume compiled and edited by NYU professor Stephen Duncombe and New School doctoral student (and frequent MRR book reviewer) Maxwell Tremblay proclaims confidently that White Riot is a “comprehensive” and even “definitive” study of punk’s racial politics; this book, we are told, is “the ultimate collection on punk and race.” Compiling both non-academic and academic writings—i.e., primary material culled from zines and records, and secondary material culled from books and journals on scholarly presses—White Riot attempts to gather and assess the writings of a movement the authors tell us is obsessed with race, but is often unable or unwilling to contend with its own racial contradictions and implications.

Before cracking the book open, I viewed White Riot with both skepticism and anticipation. My skepticism shouldn’t come as any surprise: the academic world has produced a silly number of texts in the name of “punk studies,” but the great majority of these studies traverse a world that has little to do with punk as I know it. At best, they are basically irrelevant the-Sex-Pistols-Were-TotallyInfluenced-By-Situationism-and-Other-Serious-Things Studies, and at worst they are egomaniacal attempts to garner legitimacy (not to mention CV padding!) on the backs of DIY subculture(s). In general, I am leery of those academic “experts” whose object of study is punk, not only because I don’t consider the punk scene an intellectual little league that needs legitimacy bequeathed to it by professionals, but also because punk—auto-archiving, self-aware, and interested in its own history—operates on the premise that everyone is an expert. Still, I was hopeful about White Riot, because it promised to showcase writers, records, and ideas that have played a formative role in my own life in punk; I grew up on Los Crudos records and Mimi Nguyen zines, after all. Further, Duncombe and Tremblay were given generous access to the bountiful MRR archive, which I know for a fact could not possibly be used to tell the same old the-Clash-are-the-only-band-that-matters story… or could it?!

Readers of MRR are all likely to recognize that the title of White Riot is borrowed from a Clash song of the same name. Throughout the book, this song—in the form of the notion of punk-as-white riot—is used as a framing tool and constant refrain for the editors in their analysis of punk and race. Punk, we are told by Duncombe and Tremblay, is a quintessentially Anglo/American phenomenon primarily of/by/for disaffected white kids who either consciously or subconsciously (in the form of their anti-establishment posture) believe themselves to have transcended their own racial privilege. Whether they paint themselves as “white negroes” (White Riot starts of with a famous essay by Norman Mailer of that name, implicitly tracing punk’s lineage through American bohemian movements) or as “racetraitors” (the authors remind us of the thusly named—and terrible!—’90s HC band), punks are white (often middle class and suburban) folks anxious about race and their relationship to it. In other words, punk has primarily been a site where alternative models of whiteness—mostly oppositional, sometimes anti-racist, but always constitutively white—have been articulated. With this framing, the central question of whether or not punk can ever be anything other than (just) a white riot guides the editors through their project.

White Riot is broken into eight contributor-based chapters; the selections have all already been published elsewhere, which means that Duncombe and Tremblay’s efforts are predominantly in curating and introducing each piece. After an opening chapter by the editors (more on that in a sec), we are taken through chapters on the apparent roots of punk (Mailer, the MC5, the Weathermen, etc.), the concept of the “white minority,” aka the just-doesn’t-fit-into-straight-society white rebel (academic articles on the swastika in punk, interviews with Bob Noxious of the Fuck-Ups from MRR, Black Flag from Ripper, etc.), white power and punk (academic articles on skinheads, interviews with Ian Stuart of Skrewdriver from Terminal and Kieran Knutson of Anti-Racist Action from MRR, etc.), and an examination of the relationship between punk, reggae, and anti-racist politics (interviews with Paul Simonon of the Clash, excerpts from cultural critics Jon Savage and Paul Gilroy, early calls for anti-racist politics from Profane Existence, etc.). Incredibly, it is not until the sixth chapter (over 200 pages in!) of this book about race and punk that we hear from any punks of color, as virtually everything compiled up to this point (save a couple of–dare I say token—non-punk people of color, however brilliant, like James Baldwin and Paul Gilroy) is by white punk dudes, white scholar dudes, or the two white editor dudes of this book.

The aforementioned chapter six features an interview with Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, more academic articles, interviews with Skeeter Thompson from Scream, late ’70s Pakistani-British punkers Alien Kulture with the BBC, and Los Crudos (from their first year as a band) among others, an excerpt from the Afro-Punk script, some writings about the Taqwacore phenomenon, etc. Chapter Seven examines what the authors term the “Race Riot movement” (though I don’t remember these zines ever being codified as such in their day), with contributions from a number of ’90s zinesters led by a seminal essay by Mimi Nguyen (if you read only one thing from this collection, Mimi’s piece should be it—don’t worry, you can also find it on the internet), as well as essays by Tasha Fierce and Madhu Krishnan and others, an interview with Taina Del Valle of Anti-Product, and an extremely interesting MRR letter exchange jump-started by an writer who goes by “Just Another Nigger.” Finally, in chapter eight we are—at last!—informed that there are, indeed, punk scenes outside of the US/UK, with still more academic articles featuring ethnomusicologists lending their professional expertise in looks at contemporary scenes in Mexico City and Jakarta, Indonesia. This section ends on the piece written by Esneider from Huasipungo for the immigration issue of MRR from a few years back.

The editors’ flawed assumptions about punk’s historical trajectory are clear from their presentation of the material culled. According to White Riot, punk began (and for many years remained only) in London, NYC, and L.A. and as such was founded as a more-or-less a white movement (despite its formative—albeit troubled—relationship to reggae in London), until a political turn in the ’90s that included some punks (Crudos in particular) declaring themselves not only punk but also brown (or black), a shock for the wannabe “colorblind” but nonetheless racially-divided scene. There is then a final movement of punk from London, New York, etc. towards the so-called third world as the popularity of Green Day and the like (I shit you not, this is what this book is telling me) takes punk to such far flung places as Indonesia and Mexico in the ’90s and ’00s. It is in this final move that the authors find the most hope, telling us that if punk is to be not only a white riot, it will be because of the efforts of these non-Anglo punks.

This is a deeply problematic timeline. Most obviously, it is one that utterly excises the essential globality of punk scenes, not to mention the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll as a transnational form long before the advent of punk. This insistence that punk travels from “the West” to “the rest”—a typical imperial trope here espoused by self-proclaimed anti-racists—ironically mirrors and reproduces racist assumptions that “the rest” of the world is living in a belated present, and that their today is not coterminous with “ours” but rather with an era that for “us”—and there is no mistaking who “we” are in this argument—is fully in the rear-view mirror.

Somehow, the editors miss numerous chances to discuss non-Anglo punk scenes even when they’re staring them right in the face. In the introduction, they relay an anecdote about encountering some young Polish punks in front of ABC No Rio in NYC: “Nearby was a group of young punks: leather, spikes, mohawks, heavy black boots, the whole bit…Blink your eyes and it could have been 1977, 1987, or 1997. Except for one thing: these punks all spoke Polish…We stood there wondering what punk meant to them…Punk, with it’s Anglo-American lineage and the dominance of English, must have also been something foreign to them, something alluring, something ‘Other.’” (italics mine, p. 15). These punks are simply assumed to have gotten into punk rock in the US; hence, punk is transformed into something supposedly “foreign” for a bunch of Polish kids at a show. A simple Google search would have revealed the extraordinarily prolific history of Polish punk — a history that has its roots in the late ’70s (hey, just like American and British punk!) and has produced literally thousands of Polish-language bands, records, labels, distros, zines, etc. Instead of a good faith effort at getting to the bottom of this seeming paradox, the navel-gazing and presumption continues: “[Punk], we imagine, was a way to rebel (against their Polish parents) to assimilate (into this new English-speaking world), and rebel once again (against mainstream America). It was a more complicated punk experience than our own.” Um…what? First of all, if the purpose of this study is to unearth the “experience” of punk for members of different communities—immigrant and otherwise—in the US, the authors of this book didn’t have to imagine what was going through the heads of these Polish punks or wonder how they got into punk; they could have just walked up to them and asked! It seems that it is in fact the editors of White Riot who view these Polish punks as hopelessly foreign, rather than the Polish punks’ view of punk rock as such. Of course, this reveals Duncombe and Tremblay’s assumption that their “own experience” of punk—English speaking, suburban, US-based, middle-class, and white—is the norm from which others should be judged.

If the purpose of the study is not to compile and compare “experiences,” however, but rather to provide a geographically contextualized, historically attentive study of how punk scenes are implicated in, produced by, and absorbed into racialized structures of power—and of course they are—White Riot misses the mark. My comments about purpose and context point to a central problem of White Riot. Rather than limit themselves to a study of, say representations of racial difference in the U.S. punk scene in some given era—a topic with which the editors seem as though they would be more comfortable—Duncombe and Tremblay instead boast that they have provided an exhaustive study of (the entirety of the unbounded world of) punk’s relationship to race/ethnicity.

Assuming that such a “definitive” look is even possible—which is frankly doubtful—it is a huge problem that the book doesn’t even seem to know that, as early as the late-’70s, there were fertile punk scenes in any number of major global cities, most of which were not nearly as homogenous as the editors assume. From NYC to London to Warsaw to Tokyo to São Paulo to Istanbul (yes, the first Turkish punk record is from 1977/8!) to Stockholm to Manila, punk as a phenomenon was global from its inception. This is to say nothing of hardcore, which exploded at the tail end of the 1970s—inarguably simultaneously—in tens of countries in the world. Hell, a favorite HC nurd pastime is arguing about whether the first HC band was the Middle Class from California or the SS from Japan or Lixomania from Brazil or…well, you get my point. None of this is to discount the complicated transnational networks—propped up by capitalist relations and implicated in lingering colonial structures of power as they are—in which punk has always operated, and will continue to operate.1 This is the fucked up world in which we live, and I am the last person to romanticize punk as the colorblind utopia (or gender-neutral, or transcendent of class, etc.) some scene participants with their heads in the sand tell themselves that it is. Rather, it is to say that any study of punk must take into account this global-ness—and with it the profoundly different racial/ethnic/class/gender classifications that are at work in any given context (this means, in part, that we cannot afford to only see race in black and white, or only think of race in one way)—particularly if it hopes to understand how something like race or ethnicity is navigated by punks around the world. One cannot simply quote the Clash and be done with it.2

To be fair, the authors do admit that the “claim that punk is just a white riot” is a “dubious” one (213), but they nonetheless replicate this logic over and over (and over and over) throughout the book. From the opening chapter, which promotes the idea that punk is primarily a terrain in which oppositional whiteness is navigated (“Punk offered a space for young Whites growing up in a multicultural world to figure out what it meant to be White”), to the final chapter, which needs the help of professional American (and Canadian) anthropologists and ethnomusicologists (!!!) to tell us about punk scenes in Mexico and Indonesia (apparently these punks do not know how to speak or write for themselves), punk is understood as something that travels from “us” to “them.”

Ironically, some stern admonitions are leveled against other punks/critics who would whitewash punk (one can’t help but recall the old adage about glass houses and casting stones). For instance, despite spending the entire introduction framing punk as (only) a terrain through which to wrestle with whiteness and white identities, Duncombe closes on the claim that “…once punk is indelibly White [as in his book, presumably!] the genuine contributions of Black, Latino, Asian, and other punks of color tend to get erased” (5). Nowhere is this (true!) claim truer than in White Riot. But even the famously white early ’80s USHC scene is not as lily-white as the editors seem to believe. Black Flag, the Germs, the Adolescents, the Fix, Dead Kennedys, Crucifix, Void, Bad Brains, Suicidal Tendencies — almost every single one of the most popular early ’80s USHC bands featured one or more punks of color! This is to say nothing of plenty of lesser known bands, as well as influential zine editors like Tim Tonooka of Ripper, V.Vale of Search & Destroy, and hey even Tim Yohannan, first of three Iranian coordinators of Maximumrocknroll. Most of this history is simply not mentioned by White Riot. Of course, this list is not meant as a tokenizing gesture, a celebration of punk “multiculturalism,” or a diagnosis of a clean bill of racial health for the punk scene. On the contrary, it is just meant to further question Duncombe and Tremblay’s frustrating understanding of punk’s pure “origins” in Anglo whiteness.

Unfortunately—protests to the contrary notwithstanding—Duncome and Tremblay’s project seems to suffer from the impossible and problematic desire for a fully “fixed” and “post-racial” punk that lives up to its promises of offering a subversive whiteness that transcends race, not for the sake of the marginalized punk POC, but for the guilty conscience of the (to borrow from Mimi Nguyen) whitestraightboy punk who has had to wake up to the fact that calling oneself a race traitor doesn’t change one’s ability to access racial privilege, but who would nonetheless like punk to be a scene devoid of racial contradictions. The editors of this volume—who clearly see themselves as the punk norm—first posit punk as quintessentially white (i.e. inauthentic as an oppositional culture after all! damn it, we’ve been duped!), and then practically beg punks of color (here presented as authentic bearers of pure resistance) to somehow absolve this white scene of its dirty racial history. This to me is the ultimate in both the hubris of racial privilege and the uselessness of guilty liberal hand wringing.

—Golnar Nikpour

1 It is perhaps a bit off topic for the main body of this review, and may be too academic for some, but I’d like to propose an alternative way to discuss the emergence of punk in the late ’70s, which could prove more useful for punks in studying and contextualizing punk history. It seems to me that punk—I am speaking here of its late ’70s iteration—is a product of the 20th century movement of capital and peoples, insofar as it is one in a number of cultural (and subcultural) movements that are impossible to imagine without the prior two centuries of global urbanization and proletarianization. Thinking about punk in the context of urban space provides us with new methodological tools and questions, because the emergence of the cosmopolitan capitalist metropolis is a reality of both the colony and the metropole. This could help explain why in 1976-78 we see punk scenes not only in London and New York but also in Istanbul, São Paulo, Tokyo, Mexico City, Stockholm, Warsaw, etc. If there was a punk scene in Istanbul before there was a punk scene in say, suburban Iowa or rural Turkey—and there was, as far as I know—then the movement of ideas is not from “west” to “rest” but rather a product of a particular historical moment in the global city, a moment that is rife with tensions between not only colony and metropole, but also town and country. (This way of thinking also allows us to avoid the elision of class, political economy, gender relationships, etc.)

2One anecdote may help illustrate my point about the importance of context and history. In 2004, Japanese HC sweethearts Framtid—my favorite band in the world—were supposed to travel to the US for a week-long West Coast tour. In the end, they were disallowed from leaving Japan because their drummer Shin—a member of a many generations old Korean-Japanese community that emigrated to Japan from Korea as cheap labor, war refugees, or forcibly conscripted soldiers in the context of Japanese colonial rule of Korea—isn’t allowed Japanese citizenship, despite having been born and raised in Japan. This colonially mitigated relationship to the state that this punk calls home has nothing to do with the racial politics about which the Clash sing. And yet, this legally enforced marker of ethnic difference between one punk and his bandmates couldn’t help but mediate their relationships to punk.