in recent years there has been a deluge of memoirs and published histories of the PUNK ROCK movement and all of its sub-genres and related SCENES. what makes SMASH!: GREEN DAY, THE OFFSPRING, NOFX AND THE '90s PUNK EXPLOSION (DA CAPO, 2018) by VETERAN BRITISH music journalist IAN WINWOOD (NME, ROLLING STONE, REVOLVER, Q, THE GUARDIAN, MOJO) so FASCINATING is that fact that it effectively elaborates on the expanded trajectory of the WEST COAST expansion of PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE into the 1990s. from THE DAMNED and THE SEX PISTOLS LEGENDARY late 1970s performances to the advent of the early LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK SCENE in the late 70s/early 80s with THE GERMS, X, THE SCREAMERS, FEAR, THE WEIRDOS and THE BAGS to the HARDCORE BANDS from nearby counties infiltrating the SCENE throughout the 80s like BLACK FLAG, WASTED YOUTH, CIRCLE JERKS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, THE ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L. and DESCENDENTS to the 90s BANDS at focus throughout SMASH! and beyond. it is that very tension within that lineage of generations of PUNK BANDS that makes this book such a UNIQUE and COMPELLING read.
when AMERICAN HARDCORE was initiated in the 1980s, various BANDS started their own RECORD LABELS (DISCHORD, SST, ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES) out of necessity and begot a COTTAGE INDUSTRY of viable ALTERNATIVE options for artists. they also provided a lean BUSINESS MODEL and strong DIY ethic for the next generation of INDEPENDENT artists. such is the case with the BAY AREA's LOOKOUT! RECORDS which famously released early GREEN DAY offerings and the catalogue of OPERATION IVY. within the PUNK ROCK COMMUNITY, this effective FETISHIZING of what it means to be truly AUTHENTIC and INDEPENDENT had a huge effect on PUNK and PUNK-influenced BANDS of the 1990s.
case in point, arguably at the center of SMASH!'s narrative is the melodic SAN FERNANDO MELODIC PUNK ROCK BAND BAD RELIGION and the INDEPENDENT RECORD LABEL its guitarist BRETT GUREWITZ founded, EPITAPH RECORDS. unlike LOOKOUT!, EPITAPH found itself in 1994 with an UNEXPECTED diamond album [i.e. 10 million copies sold] in THE OFFSPRING's SMASH (EPITAPH, 1994) that effectively forced the LABEL to expand rapidly while defying continued efforts from most of the MAJORS to buyout their operation and/or poach their artists. in essence, the commercial success of this INDEPENDENT PRIVATE LABEL put them in the same stratosphere as publicly traded MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATE ENTITIES with larger checkbooks and a deeper well of resources. all PUNK and HARDCORE LABELS were never at that level and it was a situation GUREWITZ never anticipated. in the wake of such there was a new equilibrium and expectations game internally amongst the BANDS, their MANAGERS and the LABEL that took years to level off and resolve itself. in essence, the BANDS that stayed INDEPENDENT (NOFX, RANCID, PENNYWISE) by and large were critically rewarded long-term and with the exception of GREEN DAY (who didnt come off unscathed in terms of their reputation). even GUREWITZ own BAND BAD RELIGION signed during this period with ATLANTIC RECORDS for several releases and eventually successfully came back to EPITAPH at the beginning of the new millennium with new ENERGY and a return-to-form recorded offering.
whereas EPITAPH RECORDS exemplified this dynamic from the BUSINESS and LABEL perspective, undoubtedly GREEN DAY are the poster boys for the pitfalls of working with the MAJORS during this pre-digital era (because currently nobody cares about this puritanical litmus test since no one is selling records at this scale anymore). they famously were effectively abandoned and ex-communicated by their SCENE and the ARTISTIC COMMUNITY from which they developed, the 924 GILMAN STREET venue in BERKELEY. all for signing to WARNER BROS. they were in a bind. touring nonstop throughout the states and EUROPE, LOOKOUT! couldnt keep up with demand. their fans couldnt locate product. GREEN DAY didnt believe that PUNK ROCK was about being ELITIST with hard-to-locate OBSCURE records in limited supply. the widespread DISTRIBUTION of a MAJOR would change all that. and it did. but it came at a high cost to their personal sense of IDENTITY, especially in the wake of DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) and its MASSIVE diamond-level commercial success. success only counterintuitively exacerbated that sense of ALIENATION and DISLOCATION from their small BAY AREA SCENE and even their FANBASE. eventually newcomers would replace that shedding of ORIGINAL SUPPORTS tenfold but that was the bargain back during this heady period.
SMASH! really elucidates on an that INTERESTING convergence of PUNK ROCK ethics and all the GUILT, CONTRADICTION and seemingly socially enforced LACK OF AMBITION at the heart of it. when NIRVANA exploded, close behind it was the dismantling and/or renewed RECALCITRANCE of all that undercurrent of TRADITIONAL mores at the heart of the genre that separated it from other music sub-genres. it is still in retrospect a topic that is absolutely FASCINATING to consider almost three decades hence. i dont know if it has an analogue to today, which is more ECLECTIC, GENRE-LESS and far less TRIBAL musically than it was back then. politically today is a whole 'nother story entirely.
definitely a INTRIGUING book well worth checking out. even if its BRITISH perspective on the CULTURAL PHENOMENA that was 90s PUNK ROCK does get a little weird at times.
the BRIGHTON-based METALCORE band ARCHITECTS has been around for more than a decade and are a leading force in the genre utilizing both EXTREME DYNAMICS and expertly precise CHUNKY RHYTHMS that are INFECTIOUS, KINETIC and nearly impossible to not enjoy. this is a band that by no means needs any additional publicity, but like GOJIRA before, i wanted to just put it out there that this is a band worth checking out regardless of your affinity for all things METAL.
ARCHITECTS is just well-produced AGGRESSIVE music that is both INTELLIGENT and BRUTAL. again, definitely worth checking out.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK icons NOFX!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
photo manipulation by nacrowe
THE EPITAPH STORY (EPITAPH, 2003) is an interesting mini-documentary i found online about the legendary independent SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUNK ROCK record label EPITAPH RECORDS that was originally issued as an add-on to a now long out-of-print PUNK-O-RAMA DVD. obviously its an EPITAPH-produced film released by EPITAPH about themselves so clearly their built-in bias is to be expected, but what i found interesting was the band-centered ethos that the label was founded on.
you get the sense listening to label founder BRETT GUREWITZ (of BAD RELIGION fame) the impetus was for bands to have a label that supported and worked for them, not financially screw them as had been the practice dating back to ELVIS PRESLEY. helping sell that point are notable interviewees FAT MIKE (NOFX), FLETCHER DRAGGE (PENNYWISE), and JON WALL (CLAWHAMMER) as well as long-time label management and employees in ANDY KAULKIN (PRESIDENT), JEFF ABARTA (ARTIST DEVELOPMENT) and RHONDA JESSEE (PRODUCTION / MANUFACTURING). also included is the noteworthy under-the-radar CANADIAN recording engineer DONNELL CAMERON who co-owns the recording studio WESTBEACH RECORDERS, where the second coming of the label was based out of. where i feel this documentary succeeds is how it puts you in the business mindset of GUREWITZ, especially with the risk involved in putting up capital to front the manufacturing and warehouse costs of upcoming records. and i am specifically talking about the mid-1990s when landmark, best-selling records by the likes of THE OFFSPRING, RANCID and PENNYWISE came out. its crazy to think that when the iron was at its most scalding, he had his home put up as collateral in the mix to front those costs. that could not have been a fun experience, nor the same decision-making on follow-ups. for a documentary about an iconoclastic record label that defied business logic, its ironic that the most interesting aspect of it is the talk of their actual business strategies. i was not anticipating that, especially given that having a successful PUNK ROCK label must have been such long-shot for being profitable. it is a bit mind-boggling, but obviously it sparked a cottage industry in its wake.
i thought it was interesting that there werent more interviewees from the likes of RANCID, THE VANDALS and THE OFFSPRING participating or even then-emerging label-mates such as THE BOUNCING SOULS, MILLENCOLIN or GUTTERMOUTH. probably more of an omission was the lack of any mention of the emerging threat surrounding piracy and digital file-sharing, which was years-old at that point. i know this was more a celebratory homage to themselves but it seemed like a lost opportunity to predict how a community that defines itself by authenticity and individuality would respond to the concept of free product.
being that the label is still around means that question has been answered over the intervening years. the idea of PUNK ROCK guilt surrounding major labels is laughably an artifact of its time. i wonder aloud now what the PUNK ROCK ethos means now in our current cultural climate dominating by online bullying, corporate micro-targeting and social media trolling. seems to harder than ever to be a kid these days.
i wonder what this documentary would like if it was made today. what aspect of the company would they choose to celebrate?
if this topic interests you then definitely check out the excellent recent BAD RELIGION biography DO WHAT YOU WANT (review linked HERE).
i know its hard to believe now, but there was a period - however brief - that THE OFFSPRING did not suck.
1994 was a big year in music for a lot of reasons, but i distinctly remember what it was like to be in elementary school in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA when SMASH (EPITAPH, 1994) went big that year. at the time i was big into BASKETBALL and played lots of tournaments of with a traveling team, i even knew the coaches at the three high schools in my area (ORANGE COUNTY) as i was a known entity at that time. so i remember going to basketball tournaments all over the state when songs like "COME OUT AND PLAY" and "SELF ESTEEM" got played during warmups. at the time i knew THE OFFSPRING were a local band (BUENA PARK) and i knew the record was massive. i didnt have MTV as none of my friends had cable, but i did listen to 106.7FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES. at the time i became conscious of music, the SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene was massive and ubiquitous so it was cool to know that a local band was on that level. this was a time that was before the national emergence of SUBLIME (LONG BEACH) and NO DOUBT (ANAHEIM) but concurrent with that of GREEN DAY (EAST BAY).
looking back now, SMASH and its predecessor IGNITION (EPITAPH, 1994) were both albums that were made by musicians that obviously had a love for LOS ANGELES HARDCORE bands like THE GERMS (HOLLYWOOD) and BLACK FLAG (HERMOSA BEACH) yet were noticeable influenced by the melodicism of other local acts like THE ADOLESCENTS (FULLERTON), AGENT ORANGE (PLACENTIA) and THE DESCENDENTS (MANHATTAN BEACH). to my ears this record is a marriage of those two approaches and a fairly successful one at that. for some odd reason which i cannot explain, after this record the band decided to go a more "WEIRD AL" YANKOVIC route and make novelty songs that double as lame social commentary. for me and a lot of other earlier admirers this really killed their appeal. i am almost certain that there are some reading this that share this antipathy for the band in general.
but there was a moment that THE OFFSPRING didnt suck. and this album was it. what caught me off guard was when i moved to NIGERIA in 1996 and met fellow classmates from places like ISRAEL, NORWAY, KENYA, LEBANON, ENGLAND and GHANA who knew about the band and were fans of the scene they came from. i realized then the true scope of this record. all future releases by seminal bands from my former hometown would be experienced as an outsider as i never moved back. i dont feel nostalgic about my time in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (i was happy to leave), but hearing this record, especially lesser known cuts like "GOTTA GET AWAY" and "NOT THE ONE" take me right back to being a pre-adolescent in ORANGE COUNTY.
with the rise and proliferation of RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION, CLIMATE SCIENCE DENIALISM, the SOCIAL MEDIA BOTS, AMERICAN WHITE NATIONALISM and rampant cable news sanctioned XENOPHOBIA being experienced across the UNITED STATES, its likely that there has ever been a more prescient time for a book about SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HARDCORE PUNK ROCK legends BAD RELIGION than our current TRUMPIAN post-fact moment of existential peril. when i consider their influence and legacy, ironically what comes to mind is how throughout their career they seemed very much focused on the present. HARDCORE PUNK ROCK, especially those that descended on the original LOS ANGELES/HOLLYWOOD scene in the early 1980s once the SOUTH BAY, ORANGE COUNTY and the bland extended SUBURBAN wastelands of places like OXNARD and the SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (where the members of BAD RELIGION resided) joined the party all were inherently aggressively transgressive.
but BAD RELIGION was different. as pointed out repeatedly in their recently published autobiography DO WHAT YOU WANT: THE STORY OF BAD RELIGION (HATCHETTE BOOKS, 2020), written by current and past members of BAD RELIGION with help from scribe JIM RULAND (who also collaborated on KEITH MORRIS' 2016 memoir, review linked HERE), the band was focused on using the template of PUNK ROCK as palette to project their musings and observations about how the world works.
the two central figures in this narrative are singer GREG GRAFFIN and guitarist BRETT GUREWITZ, who met through a mutual friend in high school. their songs explore a strident philosophical strain that puts them in concert with the humanist tradition dating back to the enlightenment. again, its beyond timely that their songs as treatises about issues both political and personal are being presented again in an era where lies and untruths have smothered both our political dialogue and our self-conception as AMERICANS.
but i should back up. the book covers their origins, development and ability to move forward despite constantly revolving line-up shifts, music industry cycles and regressive political climates. their independence and longevity is largely due to the relationship of GRAFFIN and GUREWITZ. famously GRAFFIN pursued a side academic career as an EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST, receiving his doctorate from CORNELL UNIVERSITY no less, and his availability based on these pursuits both determined the schedule of the band and provided GUREWITZ the time and space to both run his independent label EPITAPH RECORDS and write songs for the band. as fan, i always wondered how that arrangement worked. through this book i learned that when the band jumped to ATLANTIC RECORDS it disrupted both GRAFFIN's academic schedule (as he made himself more available for extensive touring) and GUREWITZ' ability to pull double duty with the band and label, leading to his departure.
eventually the band came to a balance after fulfilling their major label contract after four albums to return to EPITAPH and allow GUREWITZ the freedom to produce and write songs, but not tour. this arrangement has been going on now for the better part of twenty years and counting and no doubt has resulted in their longevity and current status as elder statesmen.
for me they are the LENNON/MCCARTNEY of PUNK ROCK. i also feel that what JOE STRUMMER attempted to convey with limited success is what they both actually achieved as songwriters. this is partly due to their songwriting prowess and production abilities, but i also feel it is due to their creativity and profoundly inquisitive nature. i think longtime fans will be pleasantly surprised to learn how many songs were written by GUREWITZ that most no doubt assumed were GRAFFIN compositions. GRAFFIN is renowned as the PUNK ROCK professor but GUREWITZ is very much his equal and this book sets the record straight on that accord.
great autobiography the presents them and their message of bringing intelligence and intellectual rigor to PUNK ROCK lyricism that is often maligned and derided, especially during the HARDCORE scene that birthed them. if you are interested in PUNK ROCK or meaningful music that asks its listener to think for themselves, then definitely check out this book.
otherwise just go listen to KID ROCK. or KANYE.
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.