Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Top Ten Punk Rock Records of 2006

It might seem a bit late but the issue of MRR with the year-end top tens has hit the newsstands. Here are mine, with the non-print benefits of hyperlinks. To read what I actually wrote about each record, as well as to learn the top records of 2006 for many other MRR contributors, you'll have to actually buy the magazine, which you can do here.

FUCKED UP - Hidden World 2XLP (Jade Tree/Deranged)
THIS IS MY FIST - A History Of Rats LP (No Idea)
CRIMINAL DAMAGE - s/t LP (Feral Ward)
NIGHTINGALES - Out Of True CD (Iron Man)
LOVE SONGS - Behind Enemy Lines In G# Major CD (625/Wajlemac)
TRANZMITORS - Bigger Houses, Broken Homes 7" (Deranged)
THE VATICANS - Little Jimmy/Digital World 7" (Pure Filth)
HARD SKIN - We Are The Wankers 7" (Rudeness)
LOSER LIFE - Things Will Never Change 7" (Bakersfield)
DECONDITIONED - Big Act/Compartment K3 (Beginning Era)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Disillusioned Youth

This band have been around for a while (since the 80s I think) but for some reason, apart from a demo I first heard in the early 90s, they've never had any vinyl. They seem to be happy enough with that and are content to just poke fun at the punk scene while writing some of the funniest hardcore lyrics ever. They have a few songs on a MySpace page now.
I recommend 'Bad Feedback', a mid-paced later-BLACK FLAG rager. Check out the lyrics:

Took you for your money, now you're gonna cry
Postman never came, I wonder why
I never sent the records, but I got your check
Cashed it when I got it, I got fuckin' wrecked

Bad Feedback
See if I give a fuck
Bad Feedback
You're shit out of luck
Bad Feedback
I just don't care
Bad Feedback (x2)

I don't know what happened, they got lost in the mail
Send me some more money, scam never fails
I'm not your paypal ,so don't bid on my past
Stick to what you know, Chemical People and Blast

{Monday! Tuesday! etc, everyday!}

Poseur wants to bid, I'll take the money
You say it's criminal? I say it's funny
I'll do it again and I'll do it some more
Someone should've told you, you can't bid on hardcore!

Maximumrocknroll #285 February 2007

Paul and Jason shared a flat on South Van Ness. It was an old Victorian and in a bit of a state but the landlord was never about so they could do what they liked. They'd painted the walls some decent colors and there was loads of Jason's art lying about so it looked OK. They worked at a yuppie health food store so money was pretty tight. They always seemed to know someone who was DJing somewhere but hanging out in bars required buying drinks. They spent a lot of time on the couch, drinking 40s of malt liquor, watching afternoon TV meant for old people and stay-at-home mums. Columbo was their favorite programme.
There was this one guy they'd always see around the Mission. Tall and skinny but with these dark, serious eyes. He frequented the same thrift stores. Everyone was looking for the same shit. Velvet paintings, kitsch ashtrays, 70s McDonalds glasses. This guy was always hunched over the stacks of used vinyl. What was he looking for? Everyone knew there was nothing good in those stacks. If someone had something good to sell they went over to Berkeley and sold it at Amoeba. (This was before they opened up the massive Amoeba in an old bowling alley on Haight Street). The other thing about him was he looked exactly like the murderer on an episode of Columbo that seemed to come around on TV every other month or so. It got to the point where Paul and Jason were calling him 'Killer' to just about everyone except the man himself. "Saw Killer at the corner store today, he was buying Anchor Steam. Must have dough." It got so that just about every white, gay hipster in the Mission knew him as Killer, although he was none the wiser.
Well back then the neighborhood was like a tiny desert island. People hardly ever left. The beach? That was miles away, the streetcar took like an hour, are you crazy? Especially for artists and musicians, and the people who dressed like artists and musicians. Rent was still cheap and you could work in a pizza place and hang around the rest of the time trying to look like an artist or a musician. No one remembered how it happened but one night Jason went home from the Uptown with Killer and soon after that they began dating. Eventually the rest of us got to know him too and he turned out to be not that scary. The name Killer became ironic as it couldn't be further from the truth. I forget what his real name was actually.
One night everyone went back to Killer's apartment on 18th Street after the bars closed and he played records 'til 4am. We found out what he'd been looking for all this time in the thrift stores - absolutely anything. He had wall after wall stacked with albums, the kind of stuff you find for 25 cents in any thrift store in America. You know, some of it was good and some of it was shit but it was all there. Genesis "Invisible Touch" - check. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - check. Michael Jackson "Bad" - Check. Plus the obligatory marching band, gospel, and classical Christmas themed compilations. He wasn't a discerning record collector, like I was used to, he just collected anything, so long as it was cheap and he couldn't recall having it already. Fair play to him. Statistically, there had to be something amazing in those stacks, but I wasn’t going to spend hours inhaling dust-borne germs trying to find it.
Not long after that people started drifting away. Paul moved back to Boston and Jason moved to New York. Last I heard he was making music videos. I still see Killer around from time to time. Word must have got to him about the nickname because now he has it tattooed on the back of his neck.

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Maximumrocknroll #284 January 2006

How old is old?

The other day someone asked myself and a few other (over 30) friends what it felt like to be the older person at shows. He was thinking about the shows he used to go to when he was 16 and there would always be a couple of weird older guys there (probably in their 30s, which must have seemed ancient at the time). He remarked that he thought to himself back then, "I don't want to still be doing this at their age."
I don't want to turn this into another rant about "the kids"... it's true that I have a hard time relating to teenagers these days, and that's only right. If I'm old enough to be your father, I shouldn't be able to relate to you. It's like those 'cool' parents that try to be their kids' best friends - the kid doesn't need another friend, he needs a parent. However, there are plenty of people in their 20s that I can relate to on a number of levels. Working at MRR brings me into contact with plenty of cool folk, both younger and older, that are an inspiration. So yeah, I often feel a bit out of place at a house show with a bunch of underage punks, or at Gilman. The alternatives for people my age seem to be to either stop going to shows altogether, to only go to reunion concerts of old bands, or to only go to bar shows, where everyone will be over-21 and you can drink overpriced beer or cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. And to be honest, those over-21 shows are starting to be a lot more attractive. Some of my absolute favorite shows of 2006 (Fucked Up and Hard Skin) were at the Hemlock Tavern, a cool bar/venue in the Tenderloin. I'm not ready to give up on the DIY all-ages shows yet though, especially because I believe in principle that all shows should be all-ages. In practice though, either can be fun.
When our first band Teenagers From Mars broke up because the bassist and drummer didn't want to ever play shows, Sandy and I put an advert up in Rat Records in Glasgow looking for new people to start a band with. The only person to respond was this guy Angus. He was pushing 30, about ten years older than us, and the first cool older person we'd ever met. He had as much energy as anyone else we knew. He was an amazing bass player, he loved skateboarding, and he was one of the few people we knew with a full-time job (which he put to good use, eventually using his savings to put out our records). He also had a large record collection, through which I was exposed to loads of great stuff I am still into to this day. He dedicated himself to booking tours, putting on gigs in Glasgow, having bands stay at his house, etc. Eventually, he even bought a van and used it to drive other bands around on tour. Angus is a father now and I don't think he's in a band any more, but I think he can still be spotted occasionally at the new skatepark in Kelvingrove Park. He was the first person to demonstrate to me that there was an alternative to conforming to expectations as one gets older. I know he felt frustrated that many of his friends abandoned their youthful passions once they hit their thirties. I can certainly relate. I think he also felt a certain amount of frustration that we (the younger kids) were squandering our time and energy, not realizing how finite it was.
In the years since then I've encountered countless other older people who have been an inspiration, many of whom still inspire. Tons of people from MRR's 'Punks Over 30' issue (from 1992!) are still active, maybe not in punk music, but in some kind of creative pursuit. So let's hear it for the OAPs. If Mike Watt, Nomeansno, The Stooges, The Ex, Mission Of Burma, Bruce Roehrs, Al Quint, etc are still going strong, I've got a few good years in me yet. I also draw inspiration from the many people close to my own age who show no signs of slowing down. This doesn't necessarily only mean those who are 'lifers' in the punk scene, but also people who have grown up as punks and are taking the lessons of independence into other realms, whether it's art, journalism, education, whatever... just not turning their backs on their options. Cheers!

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Maximumrocknroll #283 December 2006

Common Sense Ain't That Common

Thursday night, 11:30, somewhere on the edge of West Oakland. Someone took it upon himself to push a drum kit out into the middle of the intersection on a trolley. He began to play, to the amusement of the punks gathered in front of a nearby house, where a show was taking place. Like most punk shows, the excitement all took place outside. Not all the punks were into it, some people asked him to stop and were laughed off. Eventually a woman appeared and berated the drummer for waking up half the neighborhood on a work night. "You wouldn't try that in a white part of town!" What the fuck was he thinking? The answer: he wasn't. Maybe he was rushing on the excitement, the freedom that comes from being away from home for the first time, living in a punk house in "the ghetto", being a fucking punk, man, and fuck the rules. Fuck the squares that have to get up for work in the morning. They need to hear these drums, need to be woken up from their materialist stupor! Of course, I'm projecting. He was probably just drunk on Old English and thought it would be funny.
It's glamorous, in a way, to emphasize the shitty nature of your surroundings. A badge of honor, to proclaim that you live in a crime-ridden, violence-prone part of town. I understand the allure of cheap rent, tons of space, a place to have shows. Hell, punks and artists and musicians (and people who just like to dress like punks and artists and musicians) need places to live too. At least make friends with your neighbors, be respectful of them, keep the noise to a minimum on work nights. What is merely slumming it for you is matter of fact for them. Do I sound like your Grandpa talking? It seems like it should be common sense.
By now, for all intents and purposes, the gentrification debate is done and dusted. Everyone knows the cycle: the stormtrooper brigade of low-income artists, musicians, students, etc move into an historically working-class, immigrant, or poor community for the cheap housing and gritty, ghetto-chic appeal, then create a culture there that makes the area attractive to more affluent middle-class types, who then move in, buy up property, and push out both the original inhabitants and the very people who created the culture that made the place attractive to them in the first place. I've seen it happen (or rather, been part of it) in the West End of Glasgow (resulting in the cycle starting all over again on the South Side) and the Mission in San Francisco, but punks and artist types have set up camp in Oakland for years without much in the way of gentrification taking hold. Recently, though, the Oakland art scene (predominantly, but not exclusively, that created by twenty-something white hipsters) along with the city's vibrant culture of underground music venues has started to garner some mainstream attention. Not to mention, the thousands of high-rise 'loft apartments' being built all over the place. To be honest, it would be great to see some positive economic development coming to Oakland, but it looks like it's going to be more of the same: gated communities separating the haves and the have-nots, and the only opportunities for most of the original inhabitants will be minimum-wage service industry jobs catering to the newcomers. You can't fight progress.
I was moved by fellow resident alien Timmy Brooks' review a couple of issues back (along with gutter-minded long-time shitworker Shane White's enthusiastic recommendations) to pick up 'Cockney Reject - My Life of Music, Football, and Blood' by Jeff Turner (better known to fans as Stinky). This won't be a proper review as that would be redundant after Tim's comprehensive appraisal, but I have to say I did find it a rollicking good read. Could hardly put it down as they say. One thing that I thought was particularly funny was that through all the stories of getting thrown out of studios for stealing, getting in fights, brushes with the law, etc, it's always someone else's fault! Stinky Turner must be the unluckiest bloke in the world; he's always in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong guy. Also, while it was entertaining to hear about some of the more spectacular rucks the Rejects and their entourage got involved in, a lot of the violence made me pretty uncomfortable. Basically, if you so much as looked at Stinky or his brother, guitarist Mick Geggus, the wrong way, you were on to a kicking. Turner puts this down to some mythical East End 'code', but I've known people all my life who were on a similar hair trigger. The kind of people it's hard to be around because you know they could snap any minute and you'll have to deal with the repercussions of their actions. It's a quandary – to enjoy the Cockney Rejects' music, do you have to accept the glorification of a violent, football hooligan lifestyle?
Recently, the West Coast was graced by a tour by those redheaded (sorry, bald-headed) stepchildren of the Medway sound, the Armitage Shanks. I managed to catch them in the salubrious, genteel surroundings of John Patrick's, a cinderblock haven of cheap beer sandwiched between car dealerships on the Oakland side of Alameda Island that was previously the location of Maggotfest 2004, when the rumblings of the music shook live maggots (the remnants of years of BBQ leftovers tossed onto the roof) down from the ceiling and into unsuspecting revelers' hair and pints. Luckily there were no maggots this time, only a rousing evening's entertainment, whereby two actual Shanks (ably backed by San Jose's The Runs) plodded through an hours worth of original material and classic covers, including songs by The 101ers, Television Personalities, The Mekons, and more. In fact, I think the Cockney Rejects were one of the few bands left out. After the show I picked up the band's cracking new four-song 7" on Cock Energy, which includes a tasty parody of my new best mate's band, The Fall. Get it at
(A Google search attributes the title phrase to the folksy Oklahoman cowboy wisdom of Will Rogers.)

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Maximumrocknroll #282 November 2006

Where are the ideas?
I was indulging in my latest hobby, browsing the YouTube website, when I came across a trailer for Made In Sheffield - The Birth Of Electronic Pop. This film deals with the influential music scene that blossomed in the northern English steel town immediately following the explosion of punk rock. For the most part, the punks of Sheffield took the influences of punk and applied them in unorthodox ways, forming synth-pop bands like The Human League and Heaven 17 or avant-garde groups like Cabaret Voltaire and DAF. It's a side of post-punk that I'd never paid too much attention to – I hated those new wave bands when they appeared on Top Of The Pops. If you'd told me they had come out of the punk scene I'd never have believed it. Later on I was vaguely aware that those bands had put out their earliest records on punk labels etc but it was only when I read Simon Reynolds' book Rip It Up And Start Again - Postpunk 1978-1984 that I became fully aware of those bands and their members' connection to punk. Of course, like a lot of punks, post-punks, and new-wavers, they saw the opening of the floodgates of independently released music as simply a new way to get on the first rung of the ladder of success. The Sheffield contingent also believed, with their synths, drum machines, and lack of guitars, that they were destroying rock'n'roll. For those who actually liked rock'n'roll, this didn't go over very well.
At any rate, the trailer excited me enough to send off for the documentary. It came out last year and was produced and directed by Eve Wood, a Dutch immigrant to Sheffield. She uses archive footage along with current interviews with scene participants and band members as well as journalists and notably, with veteran BBC broadcaster John Peel (RIP), who gave most of the bands their first exposure.
As in provincial towns the length and breadth of the UK, Sheffield saw its share of bands starting up after the infamous Sex Pistols vs. Bill Grundy incident on television. It seems that because of some unexplained experimental, artsy strain that was running through the outsider kids of the town, though, they expressed themselves in different ways, rather than just aping what the Pistols, Damned, Clash etc were doing. One could argue that the musical fruits of this labor might leave something to be desired when compared with, say, what was happening in Manchester or Leeds at the same time, but questions of musical taste aside, watching this film I was struck by the way the bands all seemed to be striving to do something new. They were competing with each other to be the first to come up with a certain sound, to play something that no one had ever heard before. Now, I should add the caveat that I don't necessarily enjoy all the sounds they did come up with, but I can't help being impressed by the commitment to innovation and creativity.
It makes me wonder what happened to that creativity within the punk scene. I'm not saying that everyone should be trying to come up with sounds that nobody's ever heard. I like songs, and rhythm, and hooks, and structure. I've listened to noise music and frankly I can do without it. But it seems like these days, people are happy to just pick an already-popular or overdone style, ape it, and sit back and watch the records fly off the shelves. I'm not talking about mainstream pop music here. I mean in just about every genre of punk, from pop punk to power violence, the focus seems to be on how authentically a band can recreate a style from yesteryear, rather than add something new to that style. Again, I'm not saying that people should give up on punk or hardcore or whatever and devote themselves to inventing some kind of space music from the future. I'd just like to see bands express themselves through their music a little more, lend their own voices and creativity to the massive collective output of the punk scene month after month, rather than trying to make their records look and sound as if they came out in 1982.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation with someone who was getting a new band going. "What kind of stuff are you playing?" - "Just generic early 80s thrash." Fair enough, but why? Why would you sell yourself short? It's the generic part that particularly bothers me. I mean, you can only play the music you want to play - if it's early 80s thrash that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then go for it. But don't be generic about it. It seems like a lot of people are starting bands not out of a compulsion to create something, but because it's so easy to put together a set, shit out a poorly recorded 7" with a xerox sleeve, and go on tour all summer with your friends. It might be fun, but it contributes to the glut of crappy punk records coming out every month, and makes for some packed and boring bills at gigs.
One band that I think is an example of someone doing it right is Fucked Up. They take the basic ingredients that go into making a good hardcore or punk song, and somehow manage to come up with something that sounds totally classic yet amazingly current at the same time. You know how when people try and 'challenge the boundaries of punk rock' they end up watering it down, or becoming too (nu-)metal? Fucked Up have managed to expand upon punk and hardcore without losing any of the bite, anger, or power. Listening to them, you get the feeling that they have really thought about their songs, actually sat down together and talked about ideas. Why is that refreshing? Why isn't that the norm?
In case you haven't figured it out yet I can't say enough good things about this band. I just wish I could make it to Toronto for their three-day record release extravaganza. If anyone who goes wants to pick up the limited records for me, it would certainly be appreciated!
For more information on the Made In Sheffield DVD you can go to

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