Back In School
Yup, it’s October and your MRR column class has resumed. Time to get edjumacated.
Or at least find a way to cope with what’s going to happen over the next 8-10 months—that’s if you’re still involved in some kind of academic pursuit or have college students disrupting your otherwise-tranquil life. Educational topics have long been a mainstay of punk and hardcore i.e. how much school sucks, being the victim of bullying, how awful some teachers can be, but also how education gets devalued. I know many people from the punk scene who have become teachers and it’s often a thankless task. I admire their dedication and sacrifices to make people’s lives better. Any time I hear some asshole wondering why teachers complain about their pay because “they only work six hours a day for part of the year,” I want to clean their clocks. They spend a lot more time than that at their job, preparing lessons, meeting with parents, and so on. I think of my friend Mike, who teaches in a rough area of Chicago and how he takes great pride when his students succeed and move on to rewarding careers or higher education. I don’t think he’s doing it for any sort of back-patting but I’m happy to provide some right here. Mike has been the vocalist in a hardcore band and it’s great to see him putting his sense of punk ethics to make others’ lives better.
On the other hand, one inevitable fact of life is the return of the college students. That’s particularly acute in Boston where there are many great institutions of higher learning. Still, some of the students can be a flat-out pain the ass. And around here, at least, it’s had an often negative effect on house and basement DIY shows. We’ll get to that in a bit.
A few of my favorite songs that poke fun or show outright hostility towards college students come from the FALL and TOXIC NARCOTIC. “Hey! Student” appeared on the FALL’s 1994 Middle Class Revolt album. Their late vocalist and sole mainstay Mark E. Smith was a crank and a contrarian. He was abusive and tyrannical. He was also damned near a genius. Mark E. is in fine curmudgeonly fettle on this track. The song actually dates to the band’s early days. The original title was “Hey! Student” and a Melody Maker article from 1977 said that, at the outset, they refused to play college gigs. The song’s title soon changed to “Hey! Fascist.” In that article, Mark E. said “One of the reasons we changed that was it’s become very trendy to bash students. The sentiment’s still there maybe, but the main reason we changed it to ‘Hey Fascist!’ was that we thought it was more relevant.” I guess by the mid-’90s, Mark E. had definitely had his fill of students—“…I clench my fist and sing this tune / I said Hey! student, Hey! student, Hey! student / You’re gonna get it through the head…” and there are references to PEARL JAM and Shaun Ryder of HAPPY MONDAYS. The funny thing is the HAPPY MONDAYS hailed from Manchester, as did the FALL. In his autobiography Renegade, Smith showed some affection for them. I guess he didn’t like their fans all that much. I wonder who he’d take potshots at now? Probably just about everyone.
Meanwhile, closer to (my) home, there’s “Allston Violence” by TOXIC NARCOTIC, which takes aim at the Allston neighborhood of Boston, the nexus of off-campus college life. Hearty fuck-yous are given to Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern and UMass-Boston. Vocalist Bill Damon and guitarist Will Sullivan told me the tale when I interviewed TN in Suburban Voice back around 1999. It was a classic frat boys vs. punks confrontation that had been simmering for awhile. Bottles flying, people leaving “duct-taped in stretchers,” according to Will. (ANAL CUNT had an answer song of sorts—“Everyone In Allston Should Be Killed” and that included TOXIC NARCOTIC.)
CORROSION OF CONFORMITY and Connecticut band BROKEN both had pissed-as-fuck sounding songs called “College Town.” COC’s song, off their first and best album Eye For An Eye, starts with a tension-packed intro before hitting thrash speed. Lyrics are minimal but I’m sure there was plenty of town vs. gown sentiment fueling it. That’s definitely the case for BROKEN, who were from New Haven, CT, home of Yale—“Hiding in their ivory tower / Surrounded by human decay / They cut line while I’m waiting for service / And never heard the phrase ‘excuse me.’”
I mentioned the negative effect on DIY house and basement shows in Boston. There are still a few doing shows and there were some long-running spaces (including the Boiler Room, which was in a truck lot) but, these days, some spaces only last for a few shows. I can’t remember ever going to a basement show in “liberal” Cambridge, although the Democracy Center, near Harvard Square, has been a mainstay for over 15 years. Boston passed a “nuisance control ordinance” in 2012, meant to crack down on house shows. You know, instead of fighting real crime. They also try to sniff out activity on social media sites. In 2013, a cop posed as someone named “Joe Sly,” trying to find out about “DIY punk concerts.” I mean, who the fuck calls a show a “concert”? Except for some narc. The short-lived local band BAJA BLATZ even wrote a song called “Joe Sly” that mocked fun at him/her/them.
I guess I’ll be humming Boston punk legends UNNATURAL AXE’s “Summertime” until then… “When the college kids get out of the city / I’ll take over and the city is mine… I can’t wait for the summertime…”
What about high school? It’s always been a ripe topic for punk and hardcore bands, back in the days where you’d get called derogatory terms pertaining to your sexual preferences for being a punk. DIE KRUEZEN wrote about that on “In School,” which appeared on both the Cows and Beer EP and their self-titled album. Same for RED CROSS (before changing their names to REDD KROSS) on their snotty “I Hate My School,” from their first EP. The REPLACEMENTS’ Stink album might have been something of a hardcore piss-take but I’ll be damned if they didn’t pull it off well. “Fuck School” will have you wanting to pound on the lockers. The ’PLACEMATS could shake the walls when they wanted to. ’80s-era teenage punk scuzzballs the DISSIDENTS talk about getting stuck in detention on, you guessed it, “Detention,” during the course of 51 fuzzy seconds. In more recent years, MACHO BOYS expresed hate-filled disgust towards abusive teachers on their scrappy “Class of 1984.”
Some bands have written about the emphasis on sports in school, often at the expense of more pressing academic needs. I just read an article about a multi-million dollar stadium being built for high school football players in Texas (where else?). It’s serious business down there. The amenities in the locker rooms compete with or possibly outdo some college and pro teams’ facilities. But you also hear stories about teachers having to buy supplies out of their own pockets or using old, out-of-date textbooks. I don’t know how that particular school ranks academically but Western MassHoles LAST IN LINE nailed it on “Go Team,” from their killer 2000 album L’Escerscito Del Morto: “Corporate welfare / A rich man’s loan / Needy schools ask for funding and officials groan / We need our sports teams, the kids can wait / It’s about time we got our fucking priorities straight.” Same for the FREEZE’s “Go Team Go,” taking a first-person point of view and mentioning threatening teachers to give passing grades in order to stay on the team.
Class dismissed. But let’s continue with…
A MUSICAL EDUCATION
I’m still catching up on the review pile but here are a few recent highlights… ALPHA HOPPER’s Aloha Hopper LP kicks out some spacey, abraso-punk and post-punk, accompanied by against-the-grain, nearly taunting vocals. Guitar tones that are heavy and snaky, with a lot of effects, including a synthy-sounding one on “Once Again With Feeling.” Hints of ’90s AmRep rock, DRIVE LIKE JEHU, JESUS LIZARD, etc, where the six-string slam is underpinned by solid rhythms. Furious, but also nuanced, as the songs don’t crush under their own weight. (Radical Empathy / Swimming Faith, alphahopper.bandcamp.com)
That’s a sample of Dee Dee’s “1-2-3-4” that starts CEMENT SHOES’ Too album. It crashes and then the real crush begins. Richmond band CEMENT SHOES kick out some jams, motherfucker, taking rock ’n’ rollitude and harnessing it to a hardcore punk engine. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, this is high energy stuff. I might be breaking punk omertà, since they use pseudonyms, but the guitarist is Brandon Gaffney from BROWN SUGAR and that band’s muse definitely informs CEMENT SHOES. Grunted vocals that sound like the descendant of Mike Brown from UNITED MUTATION, reinforced by hot riffing, rubbery basslines and strong drumming. Also, any album that starts with a song called “Unite the Right in Hell” is all right with me. So is one that ends with someone cursing out a sample of Willy Wonka. They’ve got yer musical golden ticket right here. (Feel It, www.feelitrecordshop.com)
DOTS include two people from BAD DADDIES (Camylle and Matt) and their self-titled album is a strong debut. Dirty, fuzzy punk with echo on the vocals and alien keyboard swooshes to go along with the gnarled guitar/bass/drums attack. Jabbing compositions that also sneak in the occasional hook. And the album keeps picking up steam throughout. Some real potent bashers, especially “Surfs Up” and “Spinal Tap,” with the closing track “Judgement” taking a CHROME-ish turn. Not far removed from what their former band were doing—mixing driving punk with quirky elements. (Dirt Cult, dirtcultrecords.com)
IDIOTA CIVILIZZATO are from Berlin but the members are from all over the world. Their vocalist is Italian and that’s where they come from musically, in a decidedly INDIGESTI and CCM vein (there’s the occasional yelp in the vocals), along with some ’80s-era US hardcore influences. Their new 7” Civilta Idiota is loud, fast and a bit twisted-sounding. They absolutely burned when I saw them earlier this year. (Static Shock, staticshockrecords.limitedrun.com)
Austin band OBEDIENCE kick out relentless hardcore punk with a fuzzy rawness on their MMXIX 12″. Yeah, you’ve heard that a million times but, goddamn, this is the real deal. Not ’80s US revival, not tough core, just a fast and furious sound. That’s to expected when Dave from TEAR IT UP and members of the Austin Punk Rock Wrecking Machine are involved. One rager after another, with blowtorch guitar, rumbling bass and scampering drums. And as I sit here contemplating the latest news headlines (taking a break from them right now, though), “Snake Oil” perfectly captures the current situation—“We let a madman fabricate a reality of fear and hate / This will never go away when we listen to what you say.” Dave could have yelled the same thing in the ’80s—shit never changes that much, unfortunately. In the meantime, prepare to be obliterated. (Fair, Warning, fairwarningrecords.bandcamp.com)
And, finally, Massachusetts band SAP put out one of the best local demos I’ve heard in awhile (their second). It’s one of the better demos from anywhere, in fact. SAP are a scrappy, high-energy punk band who mix different strains together—incorporating post-punk, hardcore, garage and melodic touches into their sound, accompanied by Alex’s hyper, expressive vocals. Well-played—the bass playing, in particular, is stellar throughout. Some impressive runs on “Carrot and Stick” and providing a solid counterpoint to the stinging guitar on “Short Stick.” Apparently, they’re on hiatus for awhile as two of the people are moving to Philly. I hope it’s not permanent—I’d love to hear more from them. (sapma.bandcamp.com)