FILM REVIEW | PUNK: ATTITUDE
photo manipulation by nacrowe
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.
parodies by nacrowe
one reason i love having a radio show is that it gives me an excuse to investigate unfamiliar music genres really take a deep dive. not being from NEW YORK and having most of my musical education take place outside the country, NYHC was something i was tangentially aware of given the influence of the scene on other bands (BEASTIE BOYS, RANCID, METALCORE groups). around the time of the airing of this episode i had finished TONY RETTMAN's book (review linked HERE) on the subject NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-90 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014), which i highly recommend.
full disclosure: i am an admire of the NYHC scene from afar but by no means am i an expert or a participant. if you are looking for that, i highly suggest you seek out the WORLD ENRAGE SHOW on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC and specifically the memorable EPISODE with special guest LOU of SICK OF IT ALL.
i had fun doing the show and the prep work for it. enjoy.
photo & text by nacrowe
NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 (BAZILLION POINTS, 2014) by TONY RETTMAN is a compiled series of interviews regarding the origins and influence of the HARDCORE community in NYC by the participants that were there. It would seem that this book is more of a document cementing the legacy of the NYHC scene for and by the community itself, rather than as an entry point to those that were not there. part of that is due to the structure of the book itself.
unlike UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN (book review linked HERE) which covered similar ground for the LA PUNK scene but gave each participating voice a chapter, this book chooses to go paragraph by paragraph. this results in more participation and coverage at the risk of redundancy as often many people kept repeating the same thing over and over again. the impression it gave me was the uniformity of opinion regarding the history of the scene and that concerned me a bit just in terms of the anthropology of it all. when humans get together and agree on things so thoroughly it usually means either there is a hierarchal power structure playing out or a very strong peer group influence.
when i think of the music produced by this scene, especially the celebrated marquee second wave bands (AGNOSTIC FRONT, CRO-MAGS, MURPHY'S LAW, SICK OF IT ALL) what always stood out was the uniformity of its sound and approach. call me crazy, but music is universal and the whole idea of "you had to be there" or "you wouldn't understand because you weren't a part of the scene" is a weak argument for substandard product. i'm not trying to be harsh on the music itself, but at times it is almost laughable when people from this scene talk about how it wasn't fair that bands like NIRVANA gained popularity at their supposed expense. bands from the pacific northwest came from an equally insular scene that celebrated diversity and inclusivity, often at the risk of alienating more conservative elements in their ranks. the NYHC bands where conservative in their approach to their craft and politics, which veered from reactionary to downright thuggish.
what i gained from this book was a wider appreciation for the origins of the NYHC scene, which grew out of a legendary punk scene that celebrated a diverse community of artists (PATTI SMITH, TELEVISION, THE RAMONES) and initially attracted a like-minded next wave (BAD BRAINS, KRAUT, THE MOB, THE UNDEAD, THE NIHILISTICS) before the second wave took cemented the rules of the scene from there on out.
i made reference to the LA PUNK scene already but it followed a very similar trajectory. to me it is always interesting how with social movements new opportunities beget new rules and both scenes are guilty of such. it is just human nature i guess. i wonder with our modern digital social media world where access to music is immediate via the internet and streaming services whether or not such regional genres can develop apart from one another. i doubt it.
in this way i think a book like NYHC: NEW YORK HARDCORE 1980-1990 is a beacon to a mode of culture that can literally never be repeated as technology has erased the potential of such. whether that is good or bad i don't know. my only hope is that it won't lead to more uniformity because then we all lose.
cover by nacrowe
today's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 4PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about NEW YORK HARDCORE. full disclosure: i am not originally from NYC or part of this scene, i am an outsider so don't get mad! if you want to know more about the scene from an insider's perspective definitely check out the WORLD ENGRAGE RADIO show hosted by the guitarist of OG staten island NYHC survivors ENRAGE.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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