Posts from 1st September 2002

Sep 02

The Golden Triumph Of Naked Hostility – My Hardcore 90s

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For a long time, hardcore was my secret shame, a big red H sewed to my side of anti-modernist thinking, an albatross from my misspent youth. Its strictures, its anti-pleasures, its ugliness are very far indeed from what makes up the bulk of my “adult” listening. Yet, for the past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly drawn back to it, less out of a desire to “examine my youth” (that comes whether I want to or not) than a simple revived interest in these records as collections of sound rather than totemic items.

This was the first music I ever loved, but that’s not surprising really. It’s a music that encourages being Loved by its very modes and methods, which can’t survive without it, in fact. Hardcore, as a lifestyle or A Way of Life, is best viewed as a monastic order: daily penitence, reflection, reduction. It feeds on the fanaticism of its followers, uses its form to erect walls to protect it from outside intervention. Far from isolating me from other music, as I had feared, hindsight reveals that hardcore was actually a gateway to any number of outsider strains: free jazz, Swans, post-punk, No New York, minmalism…

In terms of the explosion of other genres between 1990-1999, hardcore was pretty low on the futurist role call, yes. But to say that an interest in hardcore was foolish when hardcore/jungle, hiphop, whatever was exploding into wider public consciousness is myopic if not a little chauvinistic. (Oh, the irony!) The 90s were far and away the most forward thinking years the genre has ever had.1

Unfortunately – perhaps – this was also its undoing. As people began to travel more and more frequently between hardcore and its contentious border regions – noise, industrial, metal, free improv, gabba/splattercore, no wave – the internal integrity it has always prided itself on began to splinter under the weight. More and more often bands were releasing records that fell into some area of unclassifiable intent. Naturally, though, these were some of the best.2

So I decided to do a rundown of 20(+1) hardcore records – singles, EPs, albums – from the 90s. The records were chosen basically at random, whatever I happened to have with me since most of my hardcore records are 2800 miles away in my parents attic. As such, they don’t necessarily represent my Favorites – and I’m too distanced now to remotely call them The Best – but somehow they do represent Me.

So you’re missing some important trends – I make no claims that this is in any way an impartial survey. There are no straight edge records, no mosh-metal (really quite a helpful predictor of nu-metal in its way), no arrpeggiated melodic emo, no Fugazi-alikes, no neo-glam, no Slint clones. I do have some standards. (I was going to include a Huggy Bear 7″ too, but riot grrl is too broad a subject to comfortably fit within this article.)

Listening to some of these records for the first time in two, three, even four years, I’m amazed at how fresh a lot of them sound. I can’t quite discern if that’s my own distance creating a new frission of excitement or something inherent in the records. In any event, I’ve chosen not to enforce any sort of master narrative on top of these records. I’m going to simply present them – the decade, my decade, in hardcore – and if any story develops, if anything is seen to have been “learned” or “lost” or hell even “gained”, so be it.

Born Against – Battle Hymns of the Race War 10″
Born Against began in 1989 in New York City. Originally peddling engaging, if very generic, political metalcore, they made an early name for themselves being ultra-strident defenders of old school values. In an infamous radio debate with Sick of It All, they passionately argued for hardcore as something More Than Music, a way of being in this world. SOIA countered, as boys are want to do, that hardcore was about power and speed and fucking shit up.

It’s telling that Born Against didn’t get really good until the po’face started to slip, the stridency lagged, and they turned that scalpel not only on hardcore but themselves. In an era where “self-examination” meant flailing into the stacked folding chairs at the VFW and bawling, Born Against cut like a knife and it felt so right. Battle Hymns… was their last major release and their most accomplished. “Poland” remains the best summation of the tedium and grind and struggle of this Get In The Van style touring I know: “We came to take over your one room or maybe displace your parents from their bed as the special guests of honor…what we know is from the world of sound-checks and gas money and maybe a few tales from warmer climates where we were once paid well and I can’t stand to think of all the bastards that are coming to sleep on your floor.” And of course, “Born Against Are Fucking Dead” where our heroes meet their demise Zeus vs. Cronos style at the hands of their ungrateful children: “Born Against are fucking dead that’s what the answering machine said looks like this is it! They talked one too many shit about the working class and the government! Did you hear what those faggots said in some fanzine someone else read?! I heard they’re a bunch of spoiled little rich kids who need to get their asses kicked! Fucking ingrates! Fucking pussies!”

Unfortunately, hardcore – like any number of already whipped dogs – will bite back when prodded too much. “Born Against Are Fucking Dead” opened with an actual answering machine message wherein a clichéd New Yawk tough guy voice ominously states: “Yo, Born Against, you better be extremely fucking careful about who you talk shit about.” Born Against were bitten by indifference; amongst the hardline politicos they were sell-outs, not arty enough to break out of the scene ghetto, frozen out by those they would rile and defame. They scrabbled on until 1994, increasingly despondent, running out of cash, trapped in a moment that had the foul luck to be one of those tectonic plate shifts in popular culture. They ended four hours and a couple hundred miles away in Virginia, succumbing to the normal internal tensions and apathy, the all-too-common whimper instead of a bang.

1. The appearance of three major bands/trends is to blame. The Hated: who, despite the trumpeting of Rites of Spring (or, god help us, Sunny Day Real Estate), are really responsible for emo, at least in MY definition of it as used here. (As well as a handful of other bands from the D.C./Virginia/Maryland area: Honor Role, Moss Icon, King Crimson.) Napalm Death: who introduced both the 15 second “song” and the slow grind, as well as “metal” in a broader sense. (Alternately: Carcass.) And new wave: which reunited hardcore with its long estranged step-cousin the keyboard.
2. The best way to gauge this was to see which records MaximumRock&Roll wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot cattle prod.

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YOU SAD BASTARD! – Carter Reconsidered

FT/79 comments • 24,151 views

I don’t think much of the idea of ‘guilty pleasures’ but there’s guilt and there’s guilt, isn’t there? There’s guilt for something you might be doing wrong – breaking some invisible law of taste, maybe – and that guilt you can and should kick aside. But then there’s guilt for the things you have done, and that’s what I felt when I listened to Carter USM.

The USM stands for Unstoppable Sex Machine, and like everything else about them it seemed like a good idea at the time. Which was 1989 to sometime in the mid-90s – they lost their major label deal and faded from sight; they’d faded from fashion long before. But for a while they were kings – a No.1 album and Top 10 singles when ‘indie bands’ didn’t routinely achieve such things, in the music press all the time, et cetera. In their pomp they were as big as The Smiths ever were, I’d guess. They had a high profile for so long that their profile now they’re uncool is absolutely flat – they don’t even get referenced by mags who want to wink knowingly at their readers and say, hey, even we get it wrong sometimes, because with Carter the NME and other zines got it ‘wrong’ continually, for years.


Underworld Live

FT1 comment • 8,975 views

(That Thing I Never Wrote About X-Press 2)

In the end the main reason I quit my job is because I despise working. Despise is too flowery a word even, to be honest I’d prefer ‘hate’. I hated working in a petrol station. I hated two of the managers, I hated when the customers asked me if sweets we sold tasted nice. I mean how the hell was I meant to know? I hated the way the shop opened at 7 in the morning and closed at midnight, ensuring if you got unlucky your whole life for one week would consist of dreading work, and working.

Or the guys who asked why our petrol costs 79.865 cents instead of 79.877, or the people who insisted on telling me what price something which wouldn’t scan was, despite the fact I knew the price all too well from having bashed in the 14 digit barcode ten times per day to ensure it actually went through. In time I even grew to hate everyday words and phrases which took on an altogether more hateable new context, ‘pump’, ‘unleaded’, ‘Ronan could youÖ’ etc.

The theory that everyone hates their job was thrown in my direction a few times and it must be true, however it was scant consolation. Not everyone is as good at hating their job as I was. I managed to ruin days off for myself by thinking about when I’d next end up in work. I’d come home at 1 in the morning and eat food from whatever greasehole happened to be open and sit by the TV staring vacantly like one of the characters in the crap films that always seemed to be on. And even while I knew this was all melodramatic, it didn’t change the fact that I had and still have a burning hatred for that fucking Service Station. I am totally lazy, and my imagination is a pretty potent hate generator. A few years ago I felt similarly about school. I’m not too keen on college either.

So when charged with ‘you don’t like anything except your music and going out’ by a relative, I had to plead guilty really. It hasn’t always been like this, I used to at least pretend to care about other things. I don’t know if it’s laziness that has made me love music even more, or if my love for music has just made me lazy. Either way, there’s no escaping it now, I have no interest in anything else. I guess it’s a pretty surly, adolescent and even simplistic hatred. I’ve sold my soul really, and reached a point in my life where I spend my weekdays in an imaginary waiting room. And the events which occur are just distractions, the equivalent of the shit magazines flung around to keep people occupied. The week is just a drone, a dull and never ending prog track. And then finally, eventually, just when you can’t take anymore; Saturday explodes back into your life.

‘Fun’ is a word used to describe countless things the childish punk in me hated for years, so I don’t want to use it to describe my Saturday nights. And to be honest, it wouldn’t quite fit. Of course I have fun, but it’s an intense experience, the music I love is my whole life. I’ve heard so many mind-blowing, head fucking classics, but none of them seemed to capture my feeling that they, the songs are all I have. Songs like ‘Take Me With You’ by Cosmos, lots of songs by the Chemical Brothers or Orbital, stomping house journeys like ‘Smoke Machine’ by X-Press 2, all these and about a thousand more have had something to do with the highest points of the best nights, but none of them have touched on the dull days quite enough. I guess doing the two at the same time isn’t easy.

Nothing had managed it really, until recently. It seems seeing Underworld live was the key to it all. I should have been prepared. Afterall I was driving to work a few weeks before and “Two Months Off” briefly whisked me away, far away from the grim reality of things I can’t stand. Underworld are the sound of hating your job and a lot of your life, of the gritty and constant struggle to get through the monotony and find a passion, ‘there is a sound on the other side of this wall, a bird is singing on the other side of this glass’. Out of the context of Underworld’s locomotive, euphoric productions, the lyrics can seem pretty stark and grim. Inside it, they’re flashing beacons of the outside world, quickfire glimpses of irrelevant things, the half thoughts and half fears that shoot through your brain while you drag yourself into the sound of an evening.

Underworld’s music shows a total understanding of just how vital it really is, of the fact that the moment it’s played in is the crucially important one and everything beyond that moment is an irrelevance. “Born Slippy” live is modern soul, the sound of work and play and death and love and everything else that makes life the lottery that it is, with the toughest, leanest, most punching beat straight out of dark streets in London or subways in New York. And just as you mentally look at the pavements that famous synth stab floods back in, and you think that even if this is the only reason you have to put up with weeks which are 90 percent boredom and frustration, it’s still enough.

And it’s clear to me now that this music represents a certain attitude to life, total euphoria surrounded by a darkness which is totally necessary and unavoidable. And behind all the washy synths and the dark relentless pounding of it all is one vivid manifesto, give everything you have to everything you love, and nothing to anything else Hear it in Rez/Cowgirl’s spiraling, deep tones; ‘I don’t dream. Ice Cream, I scream so much you know what I mean this electric stream, and my tears in league with the wires and energy, and my machine, this is my beautiful dream, I’m hurting noone, hurting noone, hurting noone, hurting noone, I wanna give you everything, I wanna give you energy, I want to give a good thing, I want to give you everything. Everything, everything, everything, everything, everything’

I don’t dream. Who needs dreams or nightmares with a reality like this.

SIX LEGS GOOD EIGHT LEGS BAD: Why giant spider movies aren’t scary

Do You See/9 comments • 26,796 views

2102998558_3659431774.jpgSpiders: creepy, crawly little critters which seem up to no good – hanging in the corner of your room, leaving webs around just to make a mess – definitely with their own agenda. Not the most obvious creature to base a film on. Yet Hollywood returns to the theme of spiders every ten years or so in its endless recycling of material to try and sell films. Unfortunately they have not learnt from their mistakes. Spider films are generally unsuccessful, even more so than insect films. The success of Spider-Man this year might lead some execs to assume the success was in the spider part of the formulation. The lack of success of Eight Legged Freaks however should put paid to that.


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