photo manipulation by nacrowe
ok i realize that BAD RELIGION by no means is a new band and that in the past i only highlighted recent, more obscure bands in this CHECK OUT THIS BAND series. but really i just felt the need to write about them.
with all this shit surrounding DONALD TRUMP and the dire future of american democracy conceivably going the way of a strong-man dictatorship like those i've lived under in the past (ALBANIA, NIGERIA, MYANMAR and VENEZUELA), its disheartening how few recording artists these days have explicitly addressed this sense of existential dread in an intelligent manner.
enter BAD RELIGION. they're whole career has been a rallying cry against corporate greed and fascism since the 1980s, but to continue doing so publicly at THIS stage during THIS political moment with THIS proto-fascist in charge is beyond admirable, its a necessity. i can't express how much i respect them for that, giving an intelligent voice for the opposition is unequivocally HARDCORE, absolutely PUNK ROCK. i would argue it is their finest hour.
i just wish other musicians would stop worrying about the music industry and how to maximize their market-share and consumer brand identification and just go for the jugular like these QUINQUAGENARIANS! it bothers me that a group of BABY BOOMERS are the only relevant cultural force out there addressing this sort of thing, but then maybe i shouldn't be that surprised with everyone inwardly concerned about their social media presence and sponsorship/cross-branding opportunities. just a shame.
we still have BAD RELIGION thankfully. support them and the organizations they assist. and register to vote. please.
collage by nacrowe
earlier this summer i did a DEER GOD RADIO show on a topic i am particularly passionate about, INDIE ROCK.
i've spotlighted several bands in this genre (LA LUZ, JAPANESE BREAKFAST, EL GUINCHO, GIRL IN A COMA, DRAB MAJESTY, GRAHAM COXON) with several more planned in the coming weeks (WARPAINT, LA VIDA BOHÈME, THE COATHANGERS, IRON REAGAN, ANA TIJOUX, BATTLES, LE BUTCHERETTES). i've also written several book reviews on this topic (GIRL IN A BAND, LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION, MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM) with have several more lined up (SET THE BOY FREE, THIS BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, CLOSER YOU ARE, HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL). all due to the fact that this is arguably my favorite genre. for me what edges it above METAL and HARDCORE is the experimental aspect of it, the fact that like HIP HOP, it is a form that at its core challenges the musician and listener alike to seek new sounds. this fact makes it infinitely intriguing to read about and explore as people came to it from different viewpoints along gender, class, geographic, political lines that ultimately complicated and strengthened the fabric of the by definition open community.
looking back, this was one of my favorite playlists yet. i see this specific show as being a sister piece to a previous episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE, since both were concurrent scenes that supported and in many cases had a similar DIY ETHIC surrounding it. if anything, i see MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC as a community built on that same ethos of independence, integrity and passion.
if the artwork didn't clue you into the playlist, you can always catch that at the episode's page HERE. take it all in and enjoy this show. i definitely had fun with it.
photo by nacrowe
when the british concocted their COTSWOLD GAMES in the 17th century, a forerunner to the modern olympic games, they touted "amateurism" as a way of assuring that the sporting event was kept pure from debased notions of professionalism. after all, they wanted to showcase their self-assured physical superiority over the constituents of their imperialistic holdings without looking as if they actually tried.
this was the prism i viewed CALVIN JOHNSON and the cult surrounding his legendary indie label K RECORDS and the whole 1980s INDIE music scene of OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON through in general. primarily known for his decidedly non-professional musicianship in his notable group BEAT HAPPENING, as well as late projects including THE HALO BENDERS, DUB NARCOTIC SOUND SYSTEM, and THE HIVE DWELLERS, JOHNSON has been renowned for popularizing what has since to become known as TWEE POP. this genre usually denotes music by amateur or non-technical musicians.
before reading MIKE BAUMGARTEN's "LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION" (SASQUATCH BOOKS, 2012), i mistook JOHNSON and his ilk as being inept, arts-fartsy elitists that look down upon musicians with actual talent, like say the concurrent GRUNGE scene that blew in neighboring SEATTLE. perhaps that notion came from reading books about NIRVANA and PEARL JAM and SOUNDGARDEN and how acolytes of the underground made them question the purity of their careerist motives in making music.
BAUMGARTEN's portrayal of JOHNSON in essence is that of a curious music fan that sought out an artistic community that didn't exist in his youth. the narrative of K RECORDS is the story of his efforts to nurture that community, employing a strong DIY ETHIC that put artistry above profit margin. this mindset comes directly out of his involvement with various INDIE and HARDCORE scenes in the early 80s and his connections to institutions like DISCHORD RECORDS and arguably most importantly, EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE's unconventional KAOS 89.3FM college radio station. if anything, the story of the label is an outgrowth of the community surrounding the radio station, university and the underground independent tape-trading communities across the nation.
i can understand how successful GRUNGE musicians felt pigeonholed by "Calvinist" acolytes from OLYMPIA and the burgeoning scene including fiercely strident labels like KILL ROCK STARS. by making their bed with the "corporate ogre," they were essentially a part of the machine, a by-line on a quarterly report, a commodity and they knew it. yes, the music produced by K RECORDS was decidedly unsophisticated and had what FRANK ZAPPA famously coined in another era as "zero commercial potential," but their motivation was to sell records but to showcase artistic freedom.
and on that scale he flourished having collaborated with/and or helped promote a fertile cultural scene that gave the world HEAVENLY, BIKINI KILL, MECCA NORMAL, BRATMOBILE, HEAVENS TO BETSY / SLEATER-KINNEY, UNWOUND, HEAVENLY, MAKE-UP, THEE HEADCOATS, KICKING GIANT, THE GO TEAM, D+, THE MICROPHONES, BECK, MUDHONEY, TIGER TRAP, THE MELVINS, and even NIRVANA.
so there you go. K RECORDS is almost a modern VELVET UNDERGROUND-like phenomena in their cultural relevance wasn't rooted in the records they sold, but in the bands they influenced. and their influence according to the book was their DIY ETHIC, GRUNGE bands be damned.
last christmas was the perfect time to take stock and celebrate the omnipresent hellscape that is the current TRUMPOCALPYSE we are all living through by playing nothing but 1980s HARDCORE.
at the time i was revisiting the subject by reading two books on the subject: Lexicon Devil (2002, Feral House) by Brendan Muller and American Hardcore: A Tribal History (2001, Feral House) by Stephen Blush. both are oral histories of the scene. the second publication was the impetus for an excellent 2006 documentary on the subject also titled American Hardcore (Sony Pictures). while we are on the subject, i would also recommend the 2014 documentary Salad Days (New Rose Films) on the 1980s D.C. punk scene as well as the SOCIAL DISTORTION documentary Another State of Mind (Time Bomb, 1984) and, of course, PENELOPE SPHEERIS' classic The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris Films, 1981). and now i'm just gonna push my luck by also recommending two books by JOHN DOE of X, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2016) and the recently published sequel More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press, 2019).
the immediacy of the music is the draw for me. there is a no-bullshit, take-it-or-leave-it aesthetic to 80s hardcore. it is what it is. if you want musicianship, go listen to RUSH or your parent's stuff. if you want a soundtrack to brutality, you are in the right place. politically i don't understand how this music or something in the spirit of it doesn't exist today. as bad as RONALD REAGAN was, he's nothing compared to our current RAPIST-IN-CHIEF.
art by nacrowe
essentially this is the book on punk.
ENGLAND'S DREAMING (1991, St. Martin's Press) by JON SAVAGE goes into the cultural and socio-political morass that was 1970s england, which birthed the whole scene in tandem with their american counterparts.
central to the whole story is the singular figure of enfant terrible MALCOLM MCLAREN who was essentially the precursor to what we would now deem an internet troll. his whole cause célèbre was coming up with interesting attention-grabbing press events to both stick it to the uppercrust of the british establishment and promote his businesses, including a boutique store called SEX that he sold garments and wares designed in consultation with his partner VIVIEN WESTWOOD.
so essentially the SEX PISTOLS were assembled to promote a business, which is a fact i love. they are as manufactured with intent to exploit a dormant market as the BACKSTREET BOYS, N'SYNC and NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK were decades later. its just a fact, i still love them and appreciate their artistic contributions to modern music. its just an interesting fact given the later 1980s HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK scenes that channeled this scene into their own local scenes with a heavy DO IT YOURSELF ethic. this scene was anything buy DIY given that most of the major players on both sides of the pond were on major labels, including THE CLASH (CBS), THE RAMONES (SIRE), PATTI SMITH (ARISTA), TELEVISION (ELEKTRA) and of course THE SEX PISTOLS (EMI, WARNER BROS, VIRGIN).
you can also see punk as a return to basic rock formula's of the 1950s as most of these bands initially started out retreading then 20+ year old CHUCK BERRY riffs, despite their claims to the contrary and supposed revolutionary posturing.
i think the reason later musicians, most notably KURT COBAIN who later sought out SAVAGE for interviews in the british press specifically because of this book, respect this book is due to its empathy for the subject matter without romanticization or worse, hagiography. SAVAGE largely comes off level-headed in his analysis of the movement, at times letting his subjects speak for themselves and complicating a very messy period with a very messy influence on modern music.
bottom line: this book is a must read for anyone interested in punk rock. read this first and then everything else.
art by nacrowe
watch HERE our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO where we go all DIY and pay homage to INDIE ROCK of the 1980s, 90s and 00s. a companion piece of sorts to our 80s HARDCORE playlist back in december, this show explores the ethos of the movement and how that mindset affected musicians thereafter.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.