photo & text by nacrowe
L7 is the shit.
just wanted to get that out of the way right at the beginning. i got their album BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) my senior of high school in the early 2000s after reading somewhere that BUTCH VIG produced them and that they were part of the early ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene before it blew up. when i first heard them i remember thinking that this band is so heavy, so political and just so incredibly badass. like i stumbled on my new favorite band. specifically songs from that album like "SHITLIST," "WARGASM," "EVERGLADE" and, of course, "PRETEND WE'RE DEAD" as well as "FAST AND FRIGHTENING," "FUEL MY FIRE," and "ANDRES" from other albums just made me so content as an angry recently relocated teenager stuck in a boring suburban hell-hole. it was just the aggression, attitude and assault of their sound. very similar experience to when i discovered THE GERMS a few years before and GG ALLIN a few years later.
i recently came across this documentary L7: PRETEND WE'RE DEAD (BLUE HATS CREATIVE, 2016) which follows their career from navigating the concurrent LOS ANGELES 80s SUNSET STRIP / HARDCORE PUNK scenes to riding the ALTERNATIVE ROCK wave of the 90s as it ebbed and inevitably waned. interviews with band members DONITA SPARKS, SUZI GARDNER, DEMETRI PLAKAS and JENNIFER FINCH as well as the likes of SHIRLEY MANSON (GARBAGE), ALLISON WOLFE (BRATMOBILE/SEX STAINS), LYDIA LUNCH, VALERIE AGNEW (7 YEAR BITCH), JOAN JETT, LOUISE POST (VERUCA SALT), EXENE CERVENKA (X), ALLISON ROBERTSON (THE DONNAS), CSS, BRODY DALLE (THE DISTILLERS/SPINNERETTE), KRIST NOVOSELIC (NIRVANA) provide context to their ability to conquer the competition and, even if misogynist fans or music magazine editors couldnt get past their gender. it sucks having to even bring up gender at all, since it has literally nothing to do with their musicianship, but the fact is that stories like theirs is long overdue within the context of music history. it is too often overlooked. hopefully this and other documentaries that have popped up over the past decade (THE PUNK SINGER: A FILM ABOUT KATHLEEN HANNA, JOAN JETT BAD REPUTATION, PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER, PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE) will begin to reshape that unfortunate narrative.
i remember watching an interview with GARBAGE once where they described the beginning of the millennium as a pivotal moment in their career, basically because file-sharing had cut into their record sales. L7 ended in 2001 but little mention is made regarding such factors as widespread piracy. sales dwindled after HUNGRY FOR STINK (SLASH, 1994) only matched its predecessor, BRICKS ARE HEAVY (SLASH, 1992) in sales and they were eventually dropped. i mean it all makes sense that they were never huge because of said reasons earlier, they were authentically aggressive with attitude and a bludgeoning sonic assault. they were too original i guess. i thought it was real interesting that the only mention of technology was how fans gathered online and effectively forced the band to reunite in 2015 and tour.
this is mentioned in the film, which released in 2016, but it also makes sense that they released a new album in 2019 on JOAN JETT's label. women supporting and promoting women. L7 did the same when they started ROCK FOR CHOICE nonprofit back in the 1990s to promote FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, they just put themselves out there. im glad that they are similarly being supported by the wider rock community writ large in recent years.
that and they came back to take on TRUMP with their latest album and how can you not love that?
photo manipulation by nacrowe
KILL YOUR IDOLS (HUNGER ARTIST, 2004) examines the NO WAVE scene in the late 1970s in the lower east side and is largely a return to the more sonically experimental and lyrically ambitious origins of the PUNK movement (think PATTI SMITH and RICHARD HELL-era TELEVISION). almost ironically given that last statement is the fact that what largely unifies all these bands was their capacity to scrape away and put aside all their influences and create something wholly original. no recycled BLUES riffs, no clever allusions. this was direct, visceral, confrontational music that was meant to alienate the listener and make them uncomfortable.
essentially NO WAVE served as a new cultural year zero.
the music is described by some of the participants as being a byproduct of a deep need to emotional purge themselves. it transmitted a basic consciousness through music that embraced the moment and extreme dissonance of what is essentially ANTI-MUSIC.
this documentary interviews both those initially associated with the scene such as as SUICIDE, THEORETICAL GIRLS, TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS, THE CONTORTIONS and DNA and those who formed bands in its wake like SWANS and FOETUS as well as musicians that were informed by the scene down the line when this documentary was being recorded in the early 2000s; bands like A.R.E. WEAPONS, GOGOL BORDELLO and the YEAH YEAH YEAHS.
whats interesting about this documentary is not the actual music itself, which i find unlistenable by design; it is literally music not meant to be listened to. what interests me is how this brief moment in time freed future musicians to attempt unconventional techniques that embrace dissonance and disharmony into a sound that is wholly listenable and enjoyable to an audience. much like the beats with the cut-out method added the chaos of random chance into their writings to create meaning, this new generation was using the most confrontational of scenes to model their ideas of what was possible in creating harmonious music by nontraditional means. anti-music beget music. they created "new traditions" in DEVO terms. its an interesting idea.
you can see the legacy of this era not just in looped, feed-backed curations of INDIE ROCK bands like SONIC YOUTH and THE BOREDOMS, but also proto-INDUSTRIAL groups like EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN. like all experimental music or scenes based on such they are short-lived by necessity. experimentation calcifies into patterns which turns into modes of expression and techniques that further get introduced as new orthodoxies. thats why bands that truly take on the mantle of the spirit of this scene sound nothing like it.
kill these idols as well no doubt.