DETROIT HARDCORE (and more) IN THE PRINTED FORM
In recent years, my bookshelves have been crushed under the weight of the seemingly endless glut of tomes concerning various aspects of the history of punk and hardcore. In terms of the latter, Steve Blush’s American Hardcore seemed to get the ball rolling—both the printed version and the film that followed. I’ve expounded on AHC in the past, finding it to be a flawed work with its good and bad points and also recognizing the fact that no one book or film is going to provide a comprehensive view of hardcore (or any musical genre, for that matter). I did think it was lame that Blush referred to hardcore (or Hardcore, since he felt the need to capitalize the term) as a “lost subculture.” The book had a consummate “in my day” attitude, dismissing anything that had come in recent years as redundant or not worthy of attention. Not to generalize too much but it seemed as though the people who loved the book and film the most were the “old timers." There seemed to be a split verdict among the younger folk.
Over the years, there have been different projects aimed at covering certain geographical areas and a pair of books connected to the Detroit scene have come out practically simultaneously—one is Why Be Something That You’re Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985 by Tony Rettman and the other is Touch and Go, The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-83. The former takes the oral history format, bringing together such scene “movers and shakers” as Tesco Vee (who wrote the intro in his inimitable style), members of the Necros, The Fix, Negative Approach and other bands, Touch and Go co-founder Dave Stimson, even the teacher who helped create the cable TV show that book is named after (which came from an NA song, of course) and featured these bands playing live in the studio.
The book’s broken down into short chapters interspersing Rettman’s observations with recollections from the various parties. First-hand accounts of such “legendary” events as the shows at the Freezer Theater, early Touch and Go record releases, the Process of Elimination tour and their invasion of the “Saturday Night Live” set for the infamous Fear appearance. It documents the rise and eventual fall of that era—regressive elements being introduced (nazi bullshit) and band members moving on to new musical and life adventures. There are plenty of vintage photos, flyers, set-lists, et al, with the last third of the book given over to a gallery of such ephemera.
It’s also humorous to see that certain rivalries persist a quarter century after the fact—I’m thinking of the mutual admiration society that Steve Miller from The Fix and Barry Henssler from The Necros still seem to have for each other. When I interviewed Barry in ’92, he expressed a less-than-complimentary viewpoint about the virtues of The Fix’s music and Steve wrote a rather caustic letter in reply, which I printed in the following issue. It seems as though time hasn’t softened those feelings.
As for the T&G anthology, it's over 500 pages that will keep you occupied for weeks and a warning--if you read it on the hopper, it'll make your legs go numb if you sit there too long. It includes all 22 issues of the ‘zine, reproduced exactly as they first appeared, along with brief introductory pieces by Tesco, Stimson, Miller, Ian MacKaye and a few others. Tesco and Dave weren’t afraid to call things as they saw them, barbs pointed and expelled very sharply at their targets. These targets included a good chunk of the original crop of Detroit punk and new wave bands, radio stations and DJs peddling safe swill and whatever else bored, bemused or enraged them. As Tesco mentioned in Rettman’s book, that necessitated the creation of his pseudonym. Tesco said, “I came up with the pen name so I could trash the people I hated while extolling the virtues of others without being tracked down and killed. We always tried to write reviews that entertained first and informed second.”
Their musical taste was unpredictable—in the pre-hardcore days, there was an affection for plenty of British post-punk/experimental music such as Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Gang of Four, PIL et al, along with late 70s/early 80s west coast bands (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, Avengers) and such UK fodder as 999 (Tesco’s first zine, reproduced here, was 999 Times, devoted to that band), Blitz, Revillos, etc. But it was the burgeoning Detroit hardcore punk scene that provided the most inspiration, documenting in real time what the Rettman book covered, so they complement each other very well.
The T&G honchos’ bible was Slash and it certainly inspired their own irreverent attitude and, at first, a more “artistic” layout approach. To quote Don Imus (does anyone quote him anymore?), this is laugh-out-loud funny stuff. These guys eventually took scatology to new heights—or, more accurately, depths. In fact, the gross-out humor only increased over the ‘zine’s life span. There are some screamingly-funny forays into juvenilia. When I interviewed Tesco for issue #20 of SV, he talked about driving around in a $40,000 RV talking about poop. Well, here, they put it on the printed page--euphemistically speaking, of course. While we're on the subject of private functions and body parts, I’ve never seen so many creative descriptions for male genitalia—“pork sword”and "beef bayonet" are just two favorites.
As T&G progressed through subsequent issues, they tightened up the layout and increased the content, introducing an increasing number of interviews with many of the “choice” (one of Tesco’s favorite terms) bands of the time. The layout never reached a slick level--it still had a cut and paste look--but they made better use of the space. And you can see how they inspired other punk zines, Forced Exposure in particular. Both zines championed their respective scenes but also made connections outside the city, generating a solid network particularly connecting Boston, DC and Detroit, although not so much New York. The exception from that area was the Misfits, who were from New Jersey, anyway. To use yet another cliché, you’re watching history unfold as it happened. (Why Be Something: Revelation Records Publishing, www.revelationrecords.com/T&G: Bazillion Points, www.bazillionpoints.com or www.touchandgobook.com; Amazon has ‘em, as well)
THE RETURN OF UPHEAVAL 'ZINE
One of Boston's longest-running punk zines makes a return and in a different format than before. Craig is back for his first full issue since 2002 (hell, even longer than the last printed SV!) although he did a few single page issues in the interim. In the intro, Craig said it took him about 3 years to finish it. Tucked inside a screened manila envelope, you'll find 17 double-sided 8.5 x 11 pages--they were originally packaged loosely, like the one I got, but Craig decided to staple the rest when people found it unwieldy. Craig has always been a tireless supporter of the underground, international DIY punk scene and the coverage of bands from around the globe, both in the reviews and interviews, proves that out. He writes passionately about this music, knowledgeably describing the sonic contents and often the way he interacts with it. The interviews are with Agitator (Serbia), Malazar (Turkey) and Hellowar (Indonesia). In those interviews, he tries to go beyond the music to find out more about their respective countries and lives. There's also an interview with another Boston mainstay, Pat "Opie" Foley, who currently spews his venom for the band Nothing But Enemies and is quite candid in revealing his life story and opinions about punk rock. Good job. Now where's my stapler? (email@example.com)
RECORDS AND STUFF:
ANTI YOUACEPHALIX-Aporia (Prank, CD)
Molten emanations of metallic savagery that attack without mercy. Sorry--I guess I was channeling the Puszone there for a moment but that's the kind of reaction Acephalix bring out on their first album, following last year's 7". Although there are crusty trappings, Acephalix are, for all intents and purposes, a metal band harnessing crossover elements, the occasional Voivod-ish guitar line and nasty, gut-heaving vocals. I'm not talking bandana thrash but the kind of brutal metal that hardcore people can appreciate. Heavy-duty riffage, quite a bit of it delivered at sprightly tempos, although they often opt for the crush effect, such as with "Gift of Death" and the closing epic "Only The Dying," concluding with the final expelling of vocal venom. You feel relieved for the guy. It does drag a bit in spots but the crushing nature of this band's pillage is quite effective. (PO Box 410892, SF, CA 94141-0892, www.prankrecords.com)
ANTI YOU-Two-Bit Schemes And Cold War Dreams (Six Weeks, LP/CD)
No bullshit, no muss, no fuss hardcore courtesy of the Anti You paisans. The low-distortion guitar sound keeps things clean and very lively. There are definitely moments where you suspect they've got crib notes on American hardcore--"Contaminated" sounding like the Circle Jerks' "Coup D'Etat" or the bass intro to "Cop Out" making you think they're about to cover the FUs' "What You Pay For." Danged catchy, too--if "Operation SS" or "H-Bomb" don't get your toe tapping, check your pulse. As for "Punks Quit"--a song about growing out of punk, abandoning all those ideals you once vehemently spouted--the thought crosses my mind occasionally. After all, this music has been around 30 years, it's been done the same way a million times and is it possible to get excited about every no bullshit, no muss, no fuss hardcore band? Not always but Anti You's rambunctiousness still manages to win me over. Good job, boys, and I'll stop the navel-gazing for now. The CD version also includes the "Johnny Baghdad" and "Pig City Life" EPs and serviceable covers of Discharge's "Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing" and the Descendents' "I'm Not A Loser," both played with their scrappy style. (www.sixweeksrecords.com)
CEREMONY-Rohnert Park LP (Bridge Nine, LP)/Sick (Bridge Nine, 7")
Anyone used to Ceremony's spasmatic hardcore is in for giant shock with "Rohnert Park," because it's almost a 180 degree change in direction. Ceremony remain an edgy band but in a much different manner this time. The intro, "Into The Wayside Part 1" makes you think they're about to break into the Minutemen's "This Ain't No Picnic," then the drum pattern leads into a numbing mid-tempo rocker, "Sick." That's a litany of complaints from vocalist Ross Farrar, emitted in a convincing rasp as he goes off on everyone from Republicans to Obama to Baptists to Black Flag to himself. Completely equal-opportunity. "MCDF" follows with a jabbing garage style. There are also forays into moody rock that's almost Pavement-esque ("The Doldrums") or the bitter, My Bloody Valentine-ish acoustic guitar sound for Parts II and III of "Into The Wayside." "Don't Touch Me," "All The Time" and "Night To Life" are searing mid-paced rockers ala Black Flag/Bl'ast/early Fucked Up, while "The Pathos" provides a brief throwback to thrashy hardcore. Same for the uncredited bonus track tucked onto the end of the album. I'm sure some of Ceremony's older fans might end up scratching their heads but it takes cojones to radically alter things and talent to completely pull it off. That's the case here. The single has a brief non-LP track, "Life As A War" that seems to bridge the old and new, with a speed attack going into an abrasive pound. (www.bridge9.com)
CITIZENS PATROL-s/t (Way Back When/Even Worse, LP)
Hardcore for the rejects, for those lacking social skills, who suffer from cabin fever, who live with panic attacks and need medical care and dental work but can't afford it. Talk about a song I can relate to--it's the latter one, entitled "Plastic Teeth." I guess the Netherlands' dual health care system doesn't work for everyone because it's not single-payer. Anyway, Citizens Patrol had some previous releases on No Way and they continue to play their hardcore punk in competent, straight-forward fashion. Raspy, ranty vocals over clockwork, thrashy arrangements. Not one positive song, either. Somehow, I don't think it would be fitting. The world does pretty much suck these days. (www.waybackwhenrecords.com or www.evenworserecords.com)
PAHAA VERTA-s/t (Bad Hair Life, LP)
Finnish rippers with an old school tinge encompassing US hardcore from both the east and west coasts, perhaps similar to their countrymen Hero Dishonest. The drumming and the rest of the instruments are a bit out of sync at times. The aggressive nature gets 'em by, though, and they're unafraid to throw in catchy bits here and there, such as for "Krapula" or "Kirje Rintamalta." A solid release. (www.badhairliferecords.blogspot.com)
THE PIST-Live And Still Pist (Rabid Dog, LP)
I'm not really a fan of live albums and it's probably a safe bet that I'll continue to listen to the two volumes of "Input Equals Output" (which anthologizes EPs, comp appearances and the like) and "Ideas Are Bulletproof" more than this one. Those were released by Havoc Records awhile back, incidentally. That stated, this disc documents a September 2007 set at Emo's in Austin and was released at this year's Chaos In Tejas fest. The recording quality is so-so--the vocals and drums are mixed way higher than the guitar and bass. The songs still resonate--catchy, timeless street punk/UK '82/hardcore and all the "classics" are here--"We're The Pist," "Black & Blue Collar," "Street Punk," "Destroy Society"--basically, every song you'd want to hear. I think if they'd wanted to make this better, including a DVD of the set might not have been a bad idea although that might have made the price prohibitive. Limited to 400 copies, in a heavy stock, screened cover and a keepsake for the kids. I'm not sure about availability so drop 'em a line to find out (www.thepist.com)
SECRET PROSTITUTES-Mati Di Moskow (P.Trash/Bad Hair Life, 7" EP)
At first, I couldn't figure out if the record was supposed to spin at 33 or 45 because at the latter speed, the vocals sound sped up but after going to their MySpace page, that's the way it's supposed to be--and their vocalist/drummer Adit sings in Indonesian! This is deliriously jittery and thumping punk from the ever-incestuous Houston scene. There are several bands from Astros-land that share members--The Energy, No Talk, Crime Wave and some that I'm no dobut missing. These guys love to cross-pollinate different punk sounds, but it mainly sounds like KBD fodder on speed or at least some pretty strong coffee and they take a pretty successful stab at the Nubs' "Job." Looking forward to hearing their album. (www.badhairliferecords.blogspot.com)
SICK/TIRED-Highlife (To Live A Lie, LP)
Mainly tuneless blast-core, although the instrumentation is pretty solid. They favor howling vocals that sound like the guy is in the middle of being electrocuted. That's not necessarily a bad thing--and what I mean is the vocals are cool, not that he sounds like he's being electrocuted. He reminds me of Charles from Rorschach, in a way. I do like their cover of Phobia's "Day By Day" and the metallic guitar sound is appealing, particularly for the slower, heavier "Banishment" that closes things out. Maybe that's the way to go for them, because their thrashier songs are far from memorable. (www.tolivealie.com)
UNDER AL KRITIK-s/t (Bad Hair Life, LP)
So let's see--there are bands trying to replicate the early 80s US sound, there are bands that take more than a few pages from west coast/Dangerhouse type punk and others who go for the crossover/thrash inspiration. Under Al Kritik, from Denmark, are somewhere in the middle. Their influences come mainly from the mid-80s--not so much crossover but it was a time where bands would flirt with metallic squeals and melodic, moodier inclinations in their sound. Darker shadings--there are ominous guitar lines and screams on both "Sort Psykose" and "Forrykt," exploring the regions of craziness and psychosis (I translated the titles--I admit it). A familiar ring but not sounding like it's been beaten to death and with an engaging quality. (www.badhairliferecords.blogspot.com)
UNDERDOG-Matchless (Bridge Nine, 2xLP)
This collects two demo sessions on the first LP and the "Vanishing Point" album on disc #2. Hate to say it, but "Vanishing Point" has not aged well, at all. First, it has that cavernous late 80s production which detracts from the overall effect and their attempt at an "I Against I" Bad Brains sound isn't all that successful. What we have is rock with a mid-tempo groove and some reggae flourishes and it lacks the full-on forcefulness of their NYHC contemporaries at that time. The musicianship isn't a problem, especially Chuck Treece, who has always been a talented guitarist but the songs don't really go anywhere. As for the demo tracks, the first side is the 1985 session that yielded their debut 7" (re-released by B9 awhile back). Granted, there were some of the same elements but it had a directness, a punchiness that "Vanishing Point" lacked. As I said in the review of the 7", "Say It To My Face" is the kind of song that makes one want to break things. The b-side are early demos for the album, with vocalist Richie Birkenhead playing guitar instead of Chuck and the rougher quality works in their favor although the songs still don't really connect.
When the LP package was being compiled, there was too much material for a small insert so they put together a 64 page booklet that includes photos (including pix from recent reunion shows), flyers, interviews and other ephemera in scrapbook fashion. Worth checking out if you're interested in the story of the band as it happened in real time. Bass player Russ Iglay apparently saved every last letter (including a letter from an A&R guy at a label who wanted them to have more "metal-flavored material") and it's a fun scrapbook for fans. (www.bridge9.com)