Noel’s Straight Hedge: Punk & Hardcore In Review For June

Noel Gardner gets to grips with the good, the bad and the ugly of international punk rock - from queer Mexican goths to anti-establishment Australian firebrands

Sure we’ve all had the experience, as fans of weird stupid life-affirming music, of encountering things whose premise isn’t matched by the reality. Bands, or whatever, with the sickest name or flyest look or combo of professed influences or ideological stance to hang your own politics on… and then you listen and it’s kinda dud. Maybe you kid yourself about this because you want the jigsaw to complete itself. Or maybe you skip the heartache and cane Queremos Ver El Mundo Arder (Drunken Sailor), the debut LP by queer Mexican goth punks Heterofobia, because you figured that queer Mexican goth punk was an infallible combination of descriptors… and by gum you were right!

From their excellently sardonic name onwards, Heterofobia, a four-piece from Monterrey, profess to relish their status as a counterblast to the overtly macho Mexican rock culture. (There’s been a blessed clump of great Mexi-hardcore bands in the last few years – Riña and Anti-Sex for example – with the caveat that they’re not necessarily representative of much but themselves.) Queremos manages this through a despairing vulnerability in Daniel Álvarez’s (Spanish) lyrics and a dark-centred slinkiness to their post punk-inflected songs, while still remaining tough as old boots. Álvarez, who sings with a waspish hoarseness, and drummer Alex Castaño are the two main drivers of Heterofobia into hardcore territory: whip-fast pounders with chorus pedalled-out deathrock guitar and stoic basslines. A fairly faithful cover of ‘Ya Está Bien’ by 80s-era Spanish punks La Uvi stands out for its holler-along directness, but this thing is riddled with hooks if you just stick your hands in and prepare to bleed a little.

Also on Drunken Sailor, which is putting out at least one legit banger per month these days, is Cruelty by London’s Negative Space – a seven-song, 19-minute 45rpm 12-inch, as opposed to Heterofobia’s ten-song, 15-minute 45rpm long player (as per the label’s Bandcamp). Dunno what the categorical difference is, but both releases leave me wanting more because they’re tasty, not for reasons of brevity. Negative Space, too, have stern rhythms, a booming anarcho-goth mix job and an existentialist lyrical eye. Since their previous album, late 2017 debut Gestalt, they’ve tacked to a noisier, more belligerent sound – slightly unusually for this sort of thing, although Bad Breeding would be a loosely comparable group with a similar arc.

Much of Gestalt’s lyrics, according to vocalist Sean Haughton, addressed “the effects of gender dysphoria on the self”, and this seems to have continued into Cruelty’s opening song, ‘Negative Freedom’: “Binaries from which your brain can’t shield … never being how you perceive.” Paired to an unlikely but highly effective Crisis-via-Live Skull martial stomp spiked with feedback sculpture, it’s a brain-grabbing opener, its energy maintained by anarchist fantasy ‘Theft Utopia’ (“Your kids, your wife, your home, your money … I know where to get it / it’s coming from you”). The Gang Of Four vibe which a few people, myself included, had noted on Gestalt has mostly been siphoned from Negative Space’s present sound – apart from Ross Blair’s bassline on ‘Eternal Rotation’, where it’s more profound than before. Other things that elevate Negative Space amidst a crowded field: the way that a song like ‘Performative’ is composed of several distinct sections, transferring from one to the next without seeming fussily showy (or indeed performative); the noise and electronics which undergird many sections without exhausting the breathing space of the arrangements.

Seven songs, 15 minutes, 12-inch, 45rpm: that’s 2020 Vision by Negative Gears, who also play post punk with steam coming out of their ears and a tump of supplementary electronic FX. And their name also starts with ‘Negative’. Obviously. These lot are from Sydney and formed about two years ago; 2020 Vision is their first release (on Static Shock in the UK, following an Australian pressing earlier this year), although most of the quintet played in a reasonably similar sounding band, Sinkhead, immediately prior. If not blisteringly original, 2020 Vision nevertheless stands out for the mood it transmits, a kind of yearning bolshiness: blunt-end, bassline-driven chugalongs where Julian Duxson’s vocal goes all dub-console trippy now and then, yet blessed with guitar figures which possess a mass-market melodicism behind the scrubby production. ‘U.M.’ is notable, in the record’s context, for its direct lyrical target (sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic church, with particular reference to paedophile ex-Archbishop George Pell); ‘AYOD’, which succeeds it, for being a melancholy instrumental that sounds vaguely like Dif Juz. The insecurities that prickle to the surface on final song ‘Identifier’ (“Look me in the eyes and tell me I’m worthy”), their vehicle sounding akin to a sped-up Joy Division, add an extra emotional dimension to a strong debut.

If those three releases, and their ilk, leave you smiling politely while craving toxic earslaughter, here be Mortal Wound (Rawmantic Disasters/D-Takt & Råpunk) by Extended Hell from New York. Eight songs, 15 minutes, 12 inches at 45 and exemplary Scando-psycho crust noise ravaging without cease. Extended Hell’s ‘ex/current members of’ list sloshes with the kind of minor league hardcore you can probably rest easy not hearing (although bassist Mike Hillerson’s Long Pigs were underratedly ripping for their brief existence), but whether or not Mortal Wound breaks ‘em out of NYC basement suffocation, I doubt there’ll be (m)any better dives into the piss-yellow pool containing Anti-Cimex, Poison Idea, Totalitär, Disorder and Doom this year. Joe Aquilina has a eyebrow-singeing hooligan bellow, ensuring you don’t forget Extended Hell’s USHC roots; the mix is a gluey throb of kängpunk kaos through which bone-piercing guitar flashes like sunrays, regardless. The disc’s two epics, by which I mean upwards of three minutes each, betray an interest in experimentation: ‘Operational Exhaustion’s last 80 seconds feature what I think is supposed to be free jazz saxophone, while ‘Dissident’ evolves from a straight-ahead rocker into a last-lap sprint of wind-tunnel feedback.

Nowhere To Run (Ugly Pop), the debut release by PlasticHeads – ten songs, 18 minutes, 45rpm 12-inch – is by some distance the most punk qua punk thing in this month’s column, in that it’s no-deviation turbo rock & roll that could have existed in 1977 without suspicion of having travelled through time, and would surely pick up new leopard-printed fans if they played Blackpool’s annual punk nostalgia jamboree, Rebellion. It may also be my record of the month. That’s the way the hipbone crumbles sometimes.

As it goes, I fell for this album before actually finding out who PlasticHeads were, but this Toronto band have form. Jon Sharron, one of two singing guitarists in the four-piece, has burned through an acre of Ontario ensembles: most relevant to Nowhere To Run, perhaps, are hyperbrisk garage jesters Brutal Knights, inactive since early this decade, and Career Suicide, who Sharron joined for their fine 2017 LP Machine Response. Matt Ellis’ Flesh Rag and Erik Lovblom’s School Jerks were as relevantly snotty as their names imply, far’s I recall, but for now these fellows are stationed here and smashing it beyond, at least, my expectation. There are no slow parts at all, several rad Chuck Berry-through-kingsize-amps guitar intros and metallic powerpop solos, stick-slender and steel-tuff lead melodies, lyrics that enjoy a taunt or five (“She doesn’t like you / she might despise you!”; “Human pig … you’re stuck in the city”) and an overall way with hardcore-paced garage punk that’s got me recalling good times spent with The Shitty Limits in a past era.

The debut EP by Pinnochio on Toxic State – eight songs, 12 minutes, 33rpm 7-inch – are you getting bored of this yet? – has been out for long enough that I could have reviewed it in my late-April column. Full, latepass-collecting disclosure: I wasn’t feeling it at the time. In hindsight, there is plenty to like – plenty full stop – about Pinnochio, it’s just somewhat piecemeal and unconventional. The aforesaid octet includes two groups of three songs which are interlinked either musically or by their titles, so ‘My Time Vol. 1’ and ‘Your Time’ open and close the EP with glammy handclaps and gaspy Slits/Kleenex vox from Mary Jane Dunphe – ex of Straight Hedge favourites Vexx and Gen Pop, and never not good to have returning. ‘My Time Vol. 2’? That’s a beefy rocker with lyrics about hurting one’s toe, ergo a highly distinct animal from the other ‘Time’s. ‘Light Speed’, volumes one to three, are scrappy wailers vaguely akin to early Black Flag, or at least much more like Vexx than any of the members’ other bands: Pinnochio’s instrumental section are from the NYC DIY scene and include Eugene Terry and Keegan Dakkar, recently together in choogle-punk hedonists Cheena. Fans of whom oughta zoom in on ‘Behind You’, replete with an insolent buttrock riff and an entertaining video.

Spring’s territorial march into summer brings with it a microglut of cool debut tapes by UK bands, so here are some words about them. Terra Soror are a three-piece from London, each member having done at least two other bands in the last few years to say nothing of other time-sinking activities. The lyrics of Revenge, six self-released songs which thread an almost surfpunk groove through blown-out gothic anarcho vibes, make extensive reference – so I’m informed by one of the group – to ecofeminist theory (I figured out their name’s translation from Latin on this basis, and I didn’t even go to public school). Terra Soror is also the first vocal gig for Ellie Roberts since Good Throb did the long hiatus thing, so that’s clearly great, and she sounds more capable than ever of shooting lasers from her eyes. Virulent fuzz-bassed opener ‘Hot House’ is a paean to antisocial rewilding: “Thorns / thistles / briars / brambles / cover everything: REVENGE!”; ‘Lover Nature’, if not quite self-explanatory, is perhaps a sly wink to/at anyone who might assume a song titled ‘Lover Nature’ to be the work of insipid hippies.

Terra Soror have a song called ‘Troglodyte’ and Machiavellian Art have one called ‘Neanderthal’. Which is nice! If not relevant to anything much. Not much background on this lot right now, at least without getting nosey: a five-piece from the Midlands (Walsall, sez their Bandcamp) who include Joe Parkes of skill sludge/grind merchants Vile Sect and have barely played live. Machiavellian Art’s cassette, another six-tracker, is shapeshifting dirgepunk enlivened by noir-y saxophone and our old pal the echo-treated vocal. I pick up base notes of Flipper (MA’s ‘Verbal Lobotomy’ has pretty much the same bassline as ‘Ha Ha Ha’), No Trend, Brainbombs and Dethscalator, but there’s tangible care and thought in these arrangements, which not all cribbers of this sorta sound can truthfully claim. Machiavellian Art may be a hairy and misshapen baby, but it’s neither Neanderthal nor troglodyte.

Apedreado were supposed to play their first ever gig less than an hour before I started writing this sentence (why would I lie about something that mundane?), but cancelled shortly beforehand, making them a Studio Project until further notice. Their four-song debut, released by tape label Cold Comfort, is everything-on-red D-beat savagery which puts the ‘dis’ into ‘dismiss the prospect of being able to hear yourself think for the next nine minutes’. An esteemed, mostly Leeds-based assembly of the current UKHC scene – including Liam Fox of The Flex and many others, Ben Hills of Brighton’s Vile Spirit and Beta Blockers’ Paddy Carley – Apedreado’s vibe is Spanish-language noisepunk that runs up on the big dogs of Japan, Sweden and suchlike for sheer dentist-drill tone foulness. Gaby Ujueta is a fine vocalist, sounding appropriately desperate in the eye of the storm, and the mastering is loud almost to the point of cruelty. Investigate!

Manage your time wisely by giving Maladia, also streamable at the Cold Comfort Bandcamp, a whirl too. These five songs are the London band’s first shared music, as far as I can tell, although personnel includes Marta Zabala of Score and Los Cripis plus Simon Marsham of gloompunx Fex Urbis, which I for one consider a pedigree. It’s creepy crawl hardcore with a dark psychedelic spike through its frontal lobe – a weirder, less dudely answer to the recent, oddly slept-on album by Leeds’ Whipping Post. Some guitars spiral like grease down a plughole, others jut out like broken limbs, and singer John Weston sounds like he never met a tether he couldn’t end. Like all the other debutantes in this particular column, I hope Maladia stick around for a good stretch.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today