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MRR Radio #1428 • 11/23/14

This week's radio show brings you Rob and an old MRR shitworker Paul revisiting the ...

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Slovenian Punk: A Brief Introduction


October 28th, 2014 by

scenes-yugo

I have had a great deal of interest in how and why bands form under extreme political environments, and so when we decided to work on a series of special features focusing on bands active under socialism in the former Yugoslavian Republic, it was the perfect opportunity for me to dig deeper, do more research and look into what has already been written about Slovenian punk; and one article in particular was immensely helpful in understanding the historical events which lead up to the explosion of punk in Slovenia and the rest of Yugoslavia. I am not a historian, and surely history is better documented and passed on by those who made it happen, so that is what we  aimed to do, beginning with part one of our ex-Yugo series in MRR #378. The bands featured  have some incredible stories, which will surely make other punks around the world revisit their own ideas and ideals, but I figured a short introduction and some background information might help frame the greater political and social picture a bit better. Knowledge is power and we still have so much to learn.

Tožibabe

It was 1948. WWII was over. The leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the charismatic bon vivant Tito, had just split from Stalin and the Soviet Union, entering Yugoslavia into the newly formed Non-Aligned Movement. The country’s trade depended heavily on the Soviet Bloc, and with Western politicians “keeping Tito afloat” in hopes of appeasing Yugoslavia into neutrality and weakening the Soviet Bloc, the country plunged into an economic crisis. This was ideal ground for the introduction of a capitalist economy. What followed were two decades of “liberalization” in the ’50s and ’60s (less party involvement in the economic sphere) and a decrease in personal spending due to post-war displeasure, which was in turn met by heavy promotion of consumerism by the party. This lead to an increase in spending, as Slovenian families shrunk to an average of 3.5 members per household. People were buying TVs, record players, washing machines and scooters, many traveling to Trieste, a neighboring Italian city popular for shopping.

An unplanned side effect of this gradual shift towards consumerism meant that, surprise surprise, people pushed aside collectivist social notions for more individualistic consumption-driven ones. As Gregor Tomc says in his enlightening chapter, “A Tale of Two Subcultures, A Comparative Analysis of Hippie and Punk Subcultures in Slovenia” from the book Remembering Utopia: The Culture of Everyday Life in Socialist Yugoslavia, “Nobody seemed to notice how the emphasis of socialism shifted from creating an alternative to capitalism to entering into a competition with it.” This liberal economic change also brought about a rise in unemployment, which the party dealt with by opening the borders (the known Gastarbeiter), meaning lots of young people could travel abroad and be exposed to Western culture and youth styles. The results of this increased familiarity with the West is what helped the radicalization of the youth movement, and the growth of the hippie and punk movements.

During the ’50s the Yugoslav republic viewed jazz with suspicion, and it was even debated amongst top communist officials, saying that its “unhealthy outgrowths […] have nothing in common either with music or with dance” even though “it can—with its modern expressive means—positively influence the mood of the working man, his cheerfulness.” The only two recording studios were state-run and hard to get into without a record deal, which was contingent on a band’s lyrics, which were subject to the “Committee of Trash,” which basically regulated lyrics and made sure they did not oppose the party. This made access to self-expressed ideas and independent cultural media more difficult. For example, Pankrti recorded their first double single in Italy and any band that did release records made in state-owned studios had to “adjust” their lyrics, giving the art of reading between the lines a new meaning in the context of anti-authoritarian lyrics.

92 (aka Grupa 92)

92 (aka Grupa 92)

Something to remember, though, is that youth culture in Yugoslavia was developing in a socialist society gradually experiencing the assimilation of capitalism, while still being under the watchful eye of the Party gatekeepers, who were also having to learn how to react to, confine and/or control these new, “decadent” “imported” ideas from the West. This disapproval only made it all the more appealing, of course.

It is hard to imagine a life split in two the way it was for Yugoslavians: on the one hand a public life appropriate for state controlled activities (class-integrated neighborhoods, party-controlled school system, state-run cultural industry) and on the other a private, “spontaneous” life not structured by or around the official state norm (playing in rock bands, joining a commune, or being active in political youth groups). The hippie subculture was an important part of youth culture in 1970s Slovenia, as was the subpolitical student movement, which in some cases resulted in students being more radicalized that the party elite, as expressed in a popular student slogan of the time, “Communism against ‘communism.’” Western student movements were influential in this radicalization, leading Ljubljana University students to protest against dorm rent increases, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s Yugoslav visit, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, lack of Slovenian minority rights in Italy, and more.

Hard-Core Ljubljana Compilation

The student youth party was instrumental in the growth and dissemination of youth culture, and so when in the mid-’70s the state forced it to merge with the Alliance of Socialist Youth of Slovenia (ASYS), it left a sort of void which neither the hippie culture (which bored suburban youth) nor the socialist realism movement (the dominant one until then, a mix of traditional working class culture, Soviet block art and Western “progressive” ideas) seemed capable of filling. This was the ideal time for the party to strengthen its influence and, of course, for something new to flourish in the wake of its reaction. Over the next couple of years the punk movement grew tremendously, with more bands surfacing in Ljubljana and all around Slovenia—bands like Pankrti (Bastards), Lublanska Psi (Ljubljana Dogs), Grupa 92 (Group 92), Berlinski Zid (Berlin Wall), KuZle (Bitches), UBR (Uporniki Bez Razloga [Rebels Without a Cause]), III Kategorija (Third Category)—and this just in Slovenia, not to mention the rest of the Yugoslav federation.

One of the things about punk, not only in Slovenia but anywhere where punk has flourished, is that its characteristics are not that of a subculture stemming from the mainstream. Instead, punk springs as a reaction, a counterculture. Of course this meant that, even if the societal background in Slovenia was not necessarily adverse to youth cultures (as Slovenia was one of the most developed states in the Yugoslav federation) the system, which was losing control over media during the ’70s and ’80s thanks to new media technologies, viewed them with suspicion, even confusion. So, once the party finally declared its disapproval of punk, this opened the way for increased suppression from the state police. A number of incidents occurred, but perhaps the most well-known was the “Nazi punk affair,” when a populist newspaper wrongfully assumed three Ljubljana punks, who were sporting “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” pins with swastikas crossed out, to be members of the Nazi party. This resulted in their arrest under the charges of secretly trying to start their own IV Reich(!). It was clear that punk was no longer considered to be just a symbolic threat.

Indust-Bag

The student movement, despite having merged with the Alliance of Socialist Youth of Slovenia (ASYS), was still a major contributing factor to the evolution of punk. The elderly party elite figured it no longer played a leading role in the political landscape and dialogue, since it was now under party regulation. However, they underestimated the student movement power and, with the help of people like P. Mlakar (a poet, philosopher, artist, book editor and more), Igor Vidmar (a radio DJ, concert promoter, political activist and more) and other members of the student movement, they supported punk by playing punk bands on the radio, promoting their shows, publishing their comics and recording their records. If Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance” is where capitalism and totalitarianism meet, then Slovene punks were having to balance the thin line between the two, stemming from the former and growing into the later. Such a system clash is ideal for the eruption of youth movements, especially one as vivid and forceful as punk. Much like when two tectonic plates collide and mountains are formed, Slovenian punk rose, growing past the police interrogations, the arrests, the censorship, even Tito’s death. It would not be wrong to say that the punk movement in Yugoslavia helped society further open up to the concept of revolution, and this is perhaps where its strongest appeal lies: in the manifestation that, yes, punk can be more than just music, concerts and records; that, in fact, punk was and can still be a powerful force of social change. In his introduction to the Pekinska Patka interview for MRR in 2010, Spencer Rangitsch says that they “didn’t just ‘push the envelope’ of what was deemed socially and politically acceptable, they also broke boundaries in radical ways which helped create new spaces and possibilities for a youth subculture to thrive.” And that sounds pretty fucking punk to me.

Quod Massacre

These is much to be said about this unique time and place, and my short introduction is by no means a comprehensive deposition of all the facts—one could fill books and books and still have more to say. This was, however, the most relevant information I found, in large thanks to the aforementioned paper by Gregor Tomc. There is probably less written about punk in Yugoslavia during the Yugoslav wars that followed Tito’s death, but that is not to say that it did not exist. The idea behind this Ex-Yugo Special is to learn more about how and why punk erupted in Yugoslavia under socialism, and to shed more light onto how punk survives during and after wartime. Hopefully in the process we can broaden our horizon of punk history, helping us better frame our own perceptions of it. One of the most important characteristics of punk, for me, is the realization that, since we chose to create, and thus define the culture we engage in and the life we lead, then it is also up to us to preserve and document it. I am honoured to be able to offer these pages to some of the unsung progressives of the first wave of punk, and in doing so express my admiration for their contributions to it. Ladies and germs, Slovenia.

I have put together a shortlist of some of my favourite Slovenian punk songs. Not a comprehensive list by any stretch, as there are many bands missing, but here you go anyway. In no particular order:

Read the rest of this entry »



We Got Ways #5: LÖGNHALSMOTTAGNINGEN


June 10th, 2014 by

LÖGNHALSMOTTAGNINGEN – Öron Näsa EP (555 Records, Slumberland Records)

Mimicking earlier eras is not merely a current trend in punk. The first band to transform DISCHARGE from an influence into a template was post-MOB 47 Swedish thrashers DISCARD, whose lone EP Death From Above was released in 1990, when I was just eight years old and you members of today’s DIS-bands were still swimming in your mums’ placentas. Mob 47 was, of course, an early popularizer of the Discharge sound — though they had not yet thought to fully plagiarize Discharge’s art and lyrics too — and is, along with ANTI-CIMEX and the SHITLICKERS, the holy trinity of what we have long-called “Swedish-style HC.” In other words, for hardcore to sound “Swedish,” it must ultimately sound like Discharge.

Except, like any other truism, this handy platitude helps us forget as much about Swedish hardcore as it helps us to understand. In the same year that Anti-Cimex was in the market for all the uranium you’ve got, a Swedish band called MISSBRUKARNA put out a tape called Krigets Gentlemän, while another Swedish band called ABSURD put out a now incredibly rare EP — so rare I would cheerfully hand over any of my internal organs in exchange for an original copy — called Blodig Stad. Neither Absurd nor Missbrukarna appears overtly obsessed with the Discharge template. Instead, both bands’ output is perfectly nestled in that heavenly space where “punk” and “hardcore” blur; their raw-yet-tuneful music helped create a cult-within-a-cult Swedish hardcore template of their own.1

Lognhals_EP_1

Fast-forward to 2008, when two friends-in-twee — Stewart from the noise pop institution BOYRACER and Martin from THE FAINTEST IDEAS — came up with the seemingly unlikely idea of forming a Swedish-style hardcore punk band. Just as enigmatic was the band’s mouthful of a name: LÖGNHALSMOTTAGNINGEN. When I first heard about the EP, I was full of questions. What did it mean that some pop heads wanted to make a Swedish HC record? Was it going to be D-beat? Was it going to be awesome? Embarrassing? Actually just a twee record? Another dull crust record? The idea started to make more sense after some internet sleuthing revealed that Martin is in fact a Swede long obsessed with classic Swedish punk and hardcore. And of course, I already knew that Stewart loves distortion. Intrigued by the incongruity of it all, and a P-NISSARNA reference in an online review, I sent off for their first EP Öron Näsa.

Fast-forward again to 2014, and Öron Näsa is still on regular rotation in the We Got Ways bunker. The record’s sleeve — a grainy jobber on various colors of paper — pulls off the classic DIY fucked-up-and-photocopied look almost too well, veering into slapdash territory. Meanwhile, the vinyl features the sound I crave most in this stupid world: raw, in-the-red guitar squealing, spastic drum bashing, and some crazy person shouting at me in a language that I don’t understand.

Lognhals_EP_3

For whatever reason, zillions more bands have been content to mimic the sound perfected by the Swedish HC holy trinity (to review: Cimex, Shitlickers, Mob 47) rather than to notice their bouncier, snottier cousins. Öron Näsa, on the contrary, is a rare contemporary record that captures the most delightful qualities of the Absurd school of Swedish hardcore. It is fast without being full-bore thrash, it is lo-fi and raw without being tuneless, and, like most of my favorite music, it is as much a punk record as it is a hardcore record. (And, unlike much post-Criminal Trap Swedish HC, it is never, ever, ever a metal record.) This is Swedish hardcore that — happily! — doesn’t even know that crust happened. There are songs for mixtapes on this EP, my friends.

There is absolutely no new musical ground broken on Öron Näsa. Still, the EP succeeds on the je ne sais quoi of two punks who seemingly couldn’t wait to get into a garage and bash out some primitive Absurd worship, and then press it in a too-small quantity with poorly photocopied sleeves. Maybe the sound isn’t new, but the feeling of the record is one of exploration, experimentation, and the having of kicks — and what is punk if not these things? — rather than the stultifying pretention of so many “cool” bands aiming to mimic popular sounds.

Listen to “Jävlar Igen” by Lögnhalsmottagningen:

By definition, treating an earlier band/sound as a template or overwhelming influence strongly lends itself to the creating of generic sounds2 but this doesn’t by definition have to lead to dreary and uninspiring music. We should applaud and not belittle any band that is capable of creating something great in a relatively limited framework. Because despite what the haters say, I am as convinced as ever that punk as a form is neither exhausted nor easily exhaustable. This is why we’re the punks! We don’t want to listen to experimental jazz prog!3 Still, so many bands that go the retro route are incredibly boring. Why why why but why?! As a fanatic of punk music, a 35-year old genre that largely comprises bands that sound like other bands, I have long been trying to put into words the razor-thin difference between good, life-affirming bands-that-sound-like-other-bands and boring, brain-numbing bands-that-sound-like-other-bands. Is it a matter of songwriting? A matter of perfecting the template? Pushing the boundaries of that template (without ever becoming a free-form band)? Honestly, after nearly two decades of listening to punk and hardcore, I don’t have an easy answer to that question. But perhaps another fifty or a hundred listens to Öron Näsa will help us figure it out together.

Lognhals_EP_2

Scum stats: 
One-time pressing of 300 hand-numbered copies with two different sleeve variations (the “man strapped to bed” sleeve and the “fighting roller derby girls” sleeve). 75 copies on white paper with hand-colored sleeves. 225 on colored paper (I’ve seen red, green, purple, and blue) with no hand coloring. Unsolicited opinion: the “man strapped to bed” sleeve is cooler looking.

Postscript:
Lögnhalsmottagningen has a few other EPs, and while all of them are worth a listen none of them reach the blissful perfection of Öron Näsa. Accept no substitute.

Post Postscript:
I briefly mention Totalitär in this essay. This is no accident. It is my belief that Totalitär’s unparalleled genius comes precisely from their ability to take the Swedish D-Beat school and blend it with the bouncier, punkier Swedish stuff. That is to say, Totalitär is a glorious amalgamation of both of the impulses in early Swedish hardcore that I discuss above. And, along with the Ramones, Totalitär is one of the bands to which I point to show that it is possible to be endlessly creative within a limited genre framework. That is to say, it is not in spite of their formal restrictions that Totalitär wrote awesome songs, it is because of those restrictions. I’ll just come right out and say it: it is my opinion that Totalitär is the perfect hardcore punk band. Stay tuned for an upcoming We Got Ways in which I review every single Totalitär record. Spoiler alert: they’re all ragers.

Listen to “Bodybuilder” by Lögnhalsmottagningen:

1This is not to say Missbrukarna and Absurd didn’t know or care about Discharge. One look at Absurd’s mushroom cloud art should dispel the notion that these particular Swedes were any less susceptible to the powers of Fight Back than the rest of us. Missbrukarna in particular got thrashier with every recording; their first songs (from a 1980 split EP with a band no one cares about called Panik) are pure punk, while some of their final songs are clearly more in line with those of other early international HC bands that worshiped at Discharge’s studded altar. To be sure, Missbrukarna’s recorded output doffs its cap at Discharge more than once, a fact that TOTALITÄR noticed — and mimicked — better than any band. Perhaps my point would be clearer if I merely stated that Missbrukarna and Absurd cannot accurately be described as D-beat bands, their songs are often bouncy (rather than “pummeling”), and their vocals never hint at the gruffness that bands like SVART PARAD and BOMBENFALL would later make synonymous with the Swedish sound.

2That is to say, sounds of a certain genre.

3Except for when we do, but I’m not here to talk about that.

[Thanks to KBD Records for the MP3’s!



We Get Better — a guest column for Mental Health Awareness Week


October 6th, 2013 by

GuestColumn1

Greetings to my fellow peers and punk rockers. October 6th through the 12th is Mental Health Awareness Week. This reminds me of the fact that for me and for many other people out there, every week, day and hour that we live and exist in this world requires a healthy degree of “mental health awareness” for us to get by in one piece. Thank goodness there are people out there who want to help make things a little bit easier for those of us who experience the twisted distress and pain of living with a mental health condition. With that said, for those of us who deal with these difficulties on a daily basis, having allies who are supportive and empathetic is crucial to our mental wellness, happiness and stability.

This is where you come in, the allies and supporters… Let me state here that without any hesitation, I am not crazy. Yet, this terrible word “crazy” has been used to describe me for decades. Calling me crazy because of the mental health struggles I experience is hateful and degrading. When we call someone crazy we are reducing them to a subspecies; something less than human and undeserving of basic common decency and respect. Calling a person “crazy” is something that people do to discredit someone who is struggling and often when someone is being abused or messed with. This is just as demeaning and reprehensible as insulting a person due to their skin color, country of origin, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and the list goes on.

You may disagree with me, and that is fine. I am not here to control you or what you do, think or say. What I am here to do is convey that real damage is done to our peers and our friends when we identify them as a less important and less valued human being. What I am asking of you is to be conscious of how you talk to us.

But wait there is more to discuss… how we talk about ourselves! As people who live with mental health struggles we must stop insulting ourselves. You are not crazy! You are a human being with some tough stuff to deal with. Life has been hard, unfair and painful; this does not make you crazy. It makes you a unique and interesting human being with a complex life and this means you have value, just like everyone else. Please stop hating yourself.

There are better ways to describe our experiences. You are not a mental illness. I am not bipolar. She is not schizophrenic. We are human beings with endless interesting and unique parts that make up who we are. Having a mental health condition does not define you. It sure as hell does not define me. Heck, I will not allow it to! Having a mental health condition is one small part of who we are. We are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, aunts, students, teachers, writers, artists, musicians, music fans, scholars, photographers, florists, bus drivers, bicyclists, doctors, lovers, cat lovers (I love you Max and JB), visionaries, healers, supporters, athletes, chefs, peer counselors, volunteers, leaders, creators, phlebotomists and the list goes on. We all have value and we are all complex, interesting, unique individuals. Having a mental health condition is a tiny part of who I am and who you are. We must be liberated and we must be free!

Now keep this in mind: We get better! Every week must be Mental Health Awareness week and we must make this so. We get better! With hard work and dedication, we can all get a better handle on our lives and be happier and healthier people. We are the Punx and we get better! Love yourself, honor yourself and please, I am begging of all of you, peers, allies, supporters, everyone, please be good to us and please be good to each other. Support your friends. Help your friends find out about what they can do to help themselves. Do your research. Ask around. If you don’t get helpful information the first or second time, then keep asking. Search the internet. Don’t pass judgment. Don’t discourage. There are people everywhere working hard to get better. Join this community of wellness. Join this powerful force for dignity, liberation, self-love and recovery. Do it for you because you are worth it. Do it for your friend because they are worth it. Fight for your better life and never ever give up. We get better!

Perhaps it is a bit of self-promotion, but screw that, I have something to offer you and I know that it works and I know it will help you. There is a new book that was just recently published and yes, I am the author. I have lived the life of a horrendously sick person for decades on end and now I am living the life of a tremendously healthy person. I have been through hell and come out the other end in much better shape then I ever was in before. Also, I work professionally as a mental health peer counselor and I work on developing my helping skills every single day. I am the real deal and I wrote this book and I know that it works. The book is called Better Days and you can find out more about it and order it HERE.

Thank you to MRR for this wonderful opportunity to reach thousands of our punk rock peers and friends with these healing and empowering messages. Thank you to all of you for reading this column. Thank you to all allies and supporters who do their best to be good to us and thank you to all of us who struggle day in and day out to live a better life. You are all inspirations to me. Peace and tofu grease!

Sincerely and with non-possessive love,
Craig
betterdaysrecovery {at} gmail(.)com



We Got Ways #4: SIN ORDEN


February 21st, 2012 by

SIN ORDEN – Brutalidad Junvenil EP (Lengua Armada Records)
Released: 2000

It occurred to me recently that for the young teenage mutant just getting into DIY punk, LOS CRUDOS’ existence as a band is as far in the past as BLACK FLAG’s was for me when I first got into hardcore. The ’90s, while still much maligned by punks1—for reasons both good and bad—are now two decades into history. As hard as it is to believe for those of us who remember them live and in the flesh, the marching on of time has transformed Crudos from a furious new sound annihilating the (then) stale HC scene, into a band from way-back-when whose records you have to search for on eBay or steal from your older sister in order to have. Of course, whether ones relationship to Crudos was formed when the band was still around or through a hand-me-down tape, used record, or fileshare, time has definitively spoken: Los Crudos is one of the absolute greatest punk/HC bands ever.

It would be difficult to exaggerate Crudos’ impact on my punk coming-of-age. I had read about hardcore breaking down the walls between audience and band; Crudos showed me how cathartic that could be with their red-hot live show. I had heard about the do-it-yourself ethic; Crudos showed me how cool it could be to hold a record in my hands that had literally been constructed by my favorite band. I craved punk music that could speak to my emerging political and intellectual ethos; Crudos showed me that a band could be fiercely political but not sloganeering. Indeed, despite all of the shit talk from some subsequent punks on how the ’90s were “too political,” the predominant politics of the day were often little more than a smug blend of holier-than-thou moralizing and irritating liberal angst. Worst of all, it seemed like everyone else had decided that they should give a shit cuz they read it somewhere in a book (or record insert). I felt extremely alienated by just about everything, and I related to none of that navel-gazing bullshit. As far as I could tell, neither did Crudos.

It would be similarly difficult to exaggerate Los Crudos’ influence on the DIY punk scene in general. When they first emerged, the number of people interested in raw international hardcore was microscopic, as the vinyl detritus produced by the tiresome decade-long beard-core trend can attest. Even the other cool USHC bands of the era couldn’t quite boast Crudos’ thrashing ferocity; HIS HERO IS GONE was basically a crust band with melodic (dare I say emo?!) proclivities, BORN AGAINST was more-or-less an Articles of Faith rip-off band with a Crucifucks sense of humor, and what the fuck was up with all those skits on the ANTISCHISM LP? In any case, none of these bands could honestly boast WRETCHED, IMPACT, or ATOXXXICO as their major sonic influences.

I have heard a myth repeated that Crudos created a Latino punk scene out of thin air by singing in Spanish, but the truth is that there have probably been more Spanish-speaking punks than English-speaking punks the world over since approximately punk year zero. Crudos didn’t create Latino punk in the US (they would have been the first to tell you that), but they did help publicize a network that—in large part because of their efforts—no longer toiled in relative isolation.

Despite their prodigious impact across the DIY punk world, Los Crudos was perhaps most influential in their own city. I don’t think that it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that, along with Naked Raygun, Crudos is the definitive Chicago punk band, the Effigies, AoF, etc. be damned. I know a good number of kids from Chicago – brown, white, black, whatever – who proudly claim that they wouldn’t have gotten into punk rock the way that they did without the influence of the crude ones. To this day DIY punk shows in Chicago—north and south side alike—boast more Crudos shirts than I see anywhere else in the US; Chicago just wouldn’t have been the same without Crudos, and Crudos wouldn’t have been the same without Chicago.

***

All of this circumlocution brings us to SIN ORDEN, who in 2000 released their first EP (Brutalidad Junvenil) on Lengua Armada Records, a label run by Martin Sorrondeguy of Los Crudos fame. Based in Chicago’s south side (also home to Crudos, of course) Sin Orden was at the time a bunch of teenaged Latino boys playing in their first ever band. Now, I have no way of knowing how many kids worldwide Crudos has inspired to pick up instruments and thrash ‘til death, but Sin Orden undeniably began as a Crudos worship band in a scene that had equally undeniably come to view Crudos—who broke up in 1998 after seven years as a band—as big brothers.

At the same time that Sin Orden was honing their chops, a revival of the straightforward hardcore approach of the early ’80s was being championed in a DIY HC scene finally over the excesses of emo. The millennium hit, and these bands (What Happens Next?, DS-13, etc.) started wearing bandanas, playing fast HC again, adopting some ’80s aesthetics, and being called Y2K thrash. Because they played fast hardcore in the year 2000, Sin Orden’s first EP was often — erroneously, I think — lumped in with this trend. Why was this classification an error? First of all, Sin Orden was not a self-consciously retro band. Secondly, they didn’t fit in with either the aesthetics or goofball sensibilities of the major West Coast (US) Y2K thrashers, or with the more brooding East Coast bands, many of which were self-consciously rocking a Black Flag vibe. Sin Orden was a serious thrash band, but not one whose major self-expression resulted in the dour manfeelings vibes of bands like Tear it Up.

Now, this first Sin Orden EP did not go unappreciated in its day. It sold out quickly, and I remember it got great reviews at the time. It was often either compared to Crudos or some Y2K band, and most of those comparisons were certainly favorable if not downright excited. And, over the years, Sin Orden has gained a cult following—and one MRR cover story—that could have some arguing that they’re not underrated at all, especially compared to some of the other bands I’ve written about in this forum. Still, looking back I think that the constant comparisons to other bands and the deluge of fast hardcore bands that emerged when the millennium hit meant that, for some, Sin Orden’s first EP got lost in the shuffle.

I can’t believe how infrequently I hear people reference Brutalidad Juvenil. So I will talk about it here. You want to know what I think? I think that Brutalidad raised the bar for how good some random Midwestern teenage hardcore record not from the ’80s could be. This record is not just a period piece; it stands along side the classics. We’re not talking a pretty good band that gets overlooked. We’re talking about an all-time band that needs to take its place on the HC pedestal. Reader, it you are not slamdancing when the needle hits the first groove on this 7”, you are probably not into this kind of music.

Here’s the thing: from day one Sin Orden was—and they probably remain—the best band directly influenced by Los Crudos. But they have never been “just” a Crudos ripoff band. Maybe some old timer who saw their first shows can remember when they were just a “little brother” band, but by the time Brutalidad was recorded, these students had become hardcore masters. And two EPs, two split EPs, and an LP later, they remain masterful punk elder statesmen that some (smart!) young kids are probably trying to emulate as I type. I hope by now that it’s clear that my long intro about Crudos is not meant to further place Sin Orden in Crudos’ shadow, but rather to remind us all about how rock ’n’ roll history is made and then transformed. One band influences another by shaking up an old formula—I mean, no one thought ’80s style hardcore would be made relevant again in the ’90s, and then again in the 2000s—and both bands add enough spark and originality to the formula to make us listen afresh. The cycle continues unabated.

If you’re not yet convinced, just listen to the cyclone-like ferocity of the guitar riff on “Perro Mundo” and tell me that it doesn’t rip. Sin Orden has got everything working on Brutalidad; the caustic vocals are completely unhinged and furious, the guitar sounds timelessly catchy but raw, the lyrics are charming and insightful, and the songs are memorable stompers through and through. (For those of you familiar with the records Sin Orden released after this first one — I don’t think the second EP came out until ’06 or so — I should note that the songs on Brutalidad are not as lightning fast as what that band came to play, but that only helps the riffs stand out all the more.)

And you know what? Sin Orden has been playing vicious, intoxicating thrash for a decade now. Their records are all stalwarts in my collection. I’ve seen them play in both New York and Chicago and they’ve torn it up in both cities to sweaty and appreciative audiences. As far as I know, they are never not good live. But there are a lot of you out there not yet worshipping at the altar of this band. What the fuck are you waiting for?

(Scum facts: 1000 pressed: 900 with regular red and white sleeve, 100 with black and red hand-screened wood cut art and “SOA” hand-stamped on A-side center label & “SOB” hand-stamped on B-side center label.)

1That is, for those punks not in riot grrrl revival bands, AmRep-style mysterious guy acts, or uh, Milk Music.



We Got Ways #3: DEATHCHARGE


August 30th, 2011 by

DEATHCHARGE — “The Hangman / New Dark Age” 7” (Whispers in Darkness Records)

Generally speaking, this column—with its focus on punk records from 2000-2009—has two separate but related aspirations. The first is the more ambitious, if not occasionally pretentious: rethinking the conventional interpretations of and opinions on punk rock’s most recent past. I do this because I believe that the big picture of DIY punk music is often more complicated than a game of follow-that-trend would tell you. The second aim is more simple: providing quintessential drooling fanzine appreciations of songs/records/bands that are too eye-poppingly good to ignore, but have perhaps not been given their proper due. This particular installation of We Got Ways is meant to be more of the latter than the former, but in the end it may come back around again.

First, some background…

In the late 1990s into the early 2000s, Discharge-worship was simply not popular in the U.S. hardcore scene. Most bands were still in the throes of the emo (or the bring-your-dog-to-the-show crust) era, and the few interesting bands going were not overtly worshiping at the altar of that one beat popularized by those four blokes from Stoke-on-Trent. There were, however, a few relatively obscure exceptions, most notably some primitive sounding bands manned by a few obsessive, paranoiac, black-clad HC enthusiasts based in (pre-Portlandia) Portland, OR. One such band from that scene was the goofily named DEATHCHARGE, whose first EP (the even more goofily named A Look at Their Sorrow) came out in 1997 to absolutely no fanfare. Of course, given our current moment—in which a band that proudly calls itself “D-CLONE” is popular among DIY punx—it is difficult to comprehend how truly not of the zeitgeist Deathcharge’s Dis-obsessed music (which was simple, raw, minimal, and bordering on pastiche) was in 1997. If they had gained any casual fans with A Look at Their Sorrow, they promptly lost them both by not touring and by waiting four years to release their second EP, 2001’s Plastic Smiles. Despite apathetic responses among the punk masses, both EPs (which were pressed in microscopic quantities) have over the years come to be well regarded by a handful of the most obsessive fanatics of Discharge-influenced raw punk, who champion Deathcharge as a band that carried the torch when others didn’t seem to care. (In this way, the two Deathcharge EPs can be favorably compared to the 1991 Warcry 12” by English D-beaters DISASTER, who played “Discharge-worship HC” at a time when that sub-genre was not yet codified as such. Without a doubt, both bands were true disciples of you-know-who, and as a result subsequent cultish devotees have made these bands part of their pantheon. Readers of this column should take this comparison as both a compliment and a warning: at this point in time—at least for this author—both that Disaster 12” and the first two Deathcharge 7”s are more interesting as historical anomalies than as stone classics of the genre, especially given the transcendent output of recent bands such as, say, FIRMEZA 10.)

***

The few hundred words you just read notwithstanding, this column is not really about those first two good-but-not-great Deathcharge EPs. Rather, it is about one of the best—and most surprising—punk records from the 2000s: Deathcharge’s 2006 two-song single “The Hangman/New Dark Age.” Truth be told, I just spilled so much cyber-ink on those first two DC EPs in large part to accentuate how unexpected “The Hangman” was the first time I tossed it on the turntable. Let me set the scene: it was almost two AM at the MRR HQ in mid-2006, and I was in the midst of assigning that month’s vinyl to reviewers. (That’s how it works at Maximum: someone, usually a coordinator, listens to every record that comes in and decides 1. whether or not it is reviewable, and 2. who will review it.) When I first grabbed the record out of the bin, I raised a skeptical eyebrow at its art, which bore little resemblance to the thin-papered cut ‘n’ paste sleeves of the first two DC records. I grew worried that the record was going to flat out suck: there was a Very Serious Rock Band photo of the boys on the front cover (complete with messy hair, leather jackets, and uh…English Dogs pins…), and their name was written across the front in what seemed to be (horror of horrors!) a font dangerously close to that used on Discharge’s Grave New World. I figured that Deathcharge had tired of crude Discharge worship, or maybe that they had noticed the popularity of bands like INEPSY (not to mention countless less worthy pretenders), who married the D-beat to a Motörhead and/or hard rock vibe. Certainly, they wouldn’t be the first (or regrettably, the last) HC band to “go rock.”

Before I continue, let me say that assigning records at MRR is a fairly thankless task, as it is quite difficult to listen to 75 or so records in a very compressed period of time. It is like eating 30 cupcakes in one sitting—i.e. way, way too much of a good (and sometimes not-so-good) thing. It is a time-consuming process that has little to do with what we usually mean by “listening to records.” The tedium of this task meant that while assigning records, I would listen to each record for only a handful of seconds at a time, get a quick sense of it, and then assign it for review. Occasionally, with bands I liked, I’d listen to a song or two. But once in a great while, I would be rendered unable to lift the needle off the grooves due to some arresting melody or unexpected riffage.

Anyway, back to the story at hand… As I was saying, I put the needle down on “The Hangman” and sat back to listen. That first go ‘round, I listened to the song all the way through. And then I listened to it all the way through again. And then again. I was struck dumb: this song was an unrelenting monster. I had been expecting more-or-less pedestrian Discharge worship but got something else entirely; this version of Deathcharge sounded like a totally different band. Suddenly, the cover photo didn’t seem so cheesy anymore—in fact, it started to seem kinda cool. “The Hangman” was slow (by punk standards), and it rocked, but it was not the dreaded punk ‘n’ roll throwaway. Instead, it was a creeping, lurching, and dark death punk anthem, the likes of which were—unsurprisingly, given Deathcharge’s apparent disinterest in punk trends—utterly unpopular in DIY punk at the time (unlike, ironically, the straightforward D-beat they had played to deaf ears the decade before).

Today it’s 2011 and dark, gloomy punk/HC with anarcho leanings is enjoying a revival in popularity despite the utter mediocrity and soullessness of most bands currently attempting the style. Deathcharge’s “The Hangman,” however, remains a fucking monster. I still put it on mix tapes all the time. The disgusted vocals on this song carry the day; the singer basically just spits and moans the words “ughhh…the hang…maaan” over and over on top of disturbed, claustrophobic, almost goth rock (but still extremely catchy) guitar riffs. Honestly, this single is tough for me to describe, because it doesn’t call to mind any one obvious band a la Deathcharge’s early material (I’ve heard bands like Killing Joke, Amebix, Southern Death Cult, Antisect, etc. bandied about in regard to this record; I’m not sure if any of those are exactly apt). I can tell you, however, that this song is all about suffocating repetition: the guitar parts, vocals, and drums all repeat over a riff just slow enough to sound demented and menacing but just fast enough to still induce headbanging. I don’t know anything about the dudes in Deathcharge, but I am glad that they decided to ditch the D-beat and write this song. Oh, and the B-side “New Dark Age” is pretty cool too…

***

Too often, we buy records based on “sounds like” – if we like Gloom, we buy umpteenth generation Japanese crasher crust records. If we like Leatherface we buy Florida melodic punk records. If we like early Agnostic Front we buy whatever Counterfeit Garbage tells us to (that is, if we’re smart Agnostic Front fans…otherwise, who the fuck knows). But “sounds like” doesn’t always (or even often) tell us if a band is good or bad, or if their records are worth listening to. As punk record reviewers, we have to throw “sounds like” out of our review vocabulary. As punk record buyers, we have to give up on the urge to form our taste through “sounds like” (or even worse, “looks like”). The moral of this story is that we have to keep our ears perked for interesting or remarkable sounds, rather than just carbon copies of our already standardized tastes. Otherwise, where’s the fun?