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

Noel Gardner is back with this month's best in punk, hardcore and OMFUG from around the globe. Home picture: Soakie live

Don’t think there’s much more to it than happenstance, really, but every so often in UK DIY punk you get periods of a few months where a surfeit of rad new bands serve up product, and the near future looks even better than was already the case. In relation to the musical subculture this column is about, that is. I’m not fucking mental.

The last occasion I gave over about half a Straight Hedge column to a bunch of debut demo tapes was this time three years ago, which included the still-active, still-killer Pink Grip and Gutter Knife. The equivalent crop for 2020 more than keeps its collective end up, and I do believe psychedelic hardcore wranglers Blind Eye from Nottingham are my pick of the lot. Mind you, don’t get too hung up on the hot! new! band! thing, as they recorded their seven-song tape in late 2018 and released it on the Viral Age label about a year later, playing their first few local shows in between. Which is to say they basically walked into the studio and cold rocked it. Bow down!

With members approaching or surpassing twice the age of some other people (i.e. young bastards) in this month’s column, Blind Eye sport backgrounds of note. Guitarist Andrew Morgan has featured in here with Endless Grinning Skulls and Bloody Head, both of whom could/can lean into a solid sheet of strafing noise; Steve Charlesworth’s myriad drumming credits also include EGS, and long before that pioneering UK speed merchants Heresy. Vocalist Annie Spaziano, meanwhile, has no past bands I’m aware of but runs an eponymous mini-chain of burger joints, which is obviously a smarter idea than trying to make your mark on the world through discredited artform ‘music’. She has a ripper set of pipes, too, variously apoplectic and snarky and with a trashy drama to her tone that could fit an 80s speed metal band. Her musicians flit between full-tilt 80s USHC and spots of wailing, smoggy psych, Morgan’s serpent-squirm solo excursions being the bridge between these modes. And in case you thought Blind Eye were half-assing their trippy side, closing number ‘End’ lasts nine minutes and hammersmashes all my Geld/ Destruction Unit/ Butthole Surfers (who I’m guessing inspired their name) brain-bite buttons.

Sniffany & The Nits’ three-song debut tape, conversely, lasts just under six minutes, but again it offers us a healthy juxtaposition: ass-kicking debutante’s bawl and warmly familiar engine room. Sniffany is the alter ago of Josephine Edwards, new to this listener at least but known to some as a comic artist; The Nits, Welsh exiles in London and Brighton, all played in Joanna Gruesome at one point and have played in several other things since. I Love You (…But You’ve Got Nits) (Gob Nation) mulls three distinct themes of female domination: ‘Nit Nurse’, Rule 34 notwithstanding, has perhaps the least fetish potential, Edwards (who wears a nurse’s costume onstage, and is a top drawer frontwoman to boot) garbling about moving things and turpentine over effervescent pogopunk. All very Lumpy & The Dumpers – and why not? – although there’s much more of what you might call a pop sensibility. ‘Piggy Bank’ and ‘Good Boy’, brattier and more obnoxious in both music and vox, are from the respective perspectives of a findom and a slave mistress.

The debut Consolation cassette is available either through the band direct or bassist Mikee’s Boslevan, a Norwich label named after its previous location near the farthest tip of Cornwall. A nearby hamlet, Crows-An-Wra, was appropriated Portishead-style by his old screamo band (tangentially: as someone who grew up in Cornwall and left over twenty years ago, it’s still a culture shock to me to hear tell of bands from there who don’t sound like the Red Hot Chili Peppers), but Consolation – who also feature Tom and Sam from the Jackals, the latter in Revenue as well – are fairly removed stylistically and geographically.

Like with Midnight Parasite, a post-Jackals band formed by two other members, it’s reasonable to think of this project as a run-on, to an extent. As in, we still want to make distortion-caked livid hardcore noise, just not as Jackals. These six songs wilfully go to town on the reverb and delay: cuts like ‘Devoid’, a broadside against faux proletarians, sport war-summoning drum intros, serious bass tonnage and the hoarse, powered vocals of Sean. Consolation, like many hardcore bands of the moment, lick the stamp of psych noise by way of a farewell – ‘In Vain II’, chaotically brisk like a broken-parachuted plane jump – but this spiffy introduction, standing them alongside newish UK bands from Permission to Misery Guts, makes further transmissions a tantalising hope.

The Annihilated are a London foursome fronted by someone with no on-record bona fides and backed by geezers with, almost, too damn many. Is this sounding familiar yet? Honestly, I love UKHC’s projectaholic way of existence, and would never consider it my place to call for streamlining, but maybe there’s an innate disconnect between what I hear – glorious first blood, could be worldbeaters in a couple of records’ time – and the attitude of the members, a cool-for-now pastime that can be shelved as soon as it gets slightly less fun. If nothing else, it seems like The Annihilated have the backing of ‘the scene’: people have flipped out over this demo, which apparently exists on tape but has only been sold at gigs to date, and if you like merciless ready-to-ruck hardcore you’ll be handspringing too. The vocalist, a youthful Eastender named Bobby, has clearly absorbed the cream of the early 80s American midwest, yet there’s no questioning the Britishness of his brick-hard hollering about creeping fascism and police brutality. Ramping up the Abused, Fix and (especially) Negative Approach vibes are drummer Nicky Rat, alumnus of umpteen bands including Game and Arms Race; bassist Ryan Tong, recently moved to London but still a member of Toronto’s S.H.I.T.; and Jon Whittle, drummer and fellow Canadian invader.

Now why don’t you get yourself acquainted with Cardiff hardcore ambassadors Glib? Because they broke up right after releasing Smear Campaign, their second tape, that’s why. This is what I was talking about just now! I’m still going to write about them in the present tense, though. What are they going to do about it? A five-piece with two guitarists, Glib make good use of those numbers via a dense production and stompy approach, intros making their point within five seconds or so before everyone goes ham (‘Fucking And Breeding’) and clusters of nerve-shredding scree coagulating into guitar solos (‘Culprit’). Vocalist Keiran Welton has one of those voices that feels ‘classic’, in a hardcore context, without coming off as simulatory, though there’s a bit of Ian Svenonius sass in his manner, too: Glib, if the eponymous final song on Smear Campaign is to be believed, stands for ‘good loving is back’. “Who needs a ballot box when you’ve got an Armalite?” asks ‘Blood And Steel’, and if you want to know if Welton or any other members of Glib actually have an Armalite, drop them a message and see if they have any of these banging tapes left at the same time.

And/or hit up the consistently on-it Cold Comfort cassette label for some spools of Saliva, a London band which YET AGAIN features some storied instrumentalists and a singer shivving my ears for the first time. I didn’t plan it this way at all! I’d lay a small wager on Avalon Thomson, the singer, having chosen the band name: Saliva’s lyrics teem with disease and bodily impurities, vengeful in their phrasing but delivered with a sort of haunted, night-terror tenor rather than just yelled at max volume. Musically, these seven songs are somewhere between pogopunk and hardcore, intentionally or otherwise copping that dishevelled racket Spanish bands made in the 1980s and adding an extra helping of squealy noise and, on final number ‘Taint’, a sick goth-punk riff from guitarist Tallulah Hoffman (also of Brighton’s Vile Spirit). Picked this tape up when I saw Saliva play a few weeks back, where they were sufficiently good for me to forego my “play your hit single ‘Hero’ featuring Chad Kroeger of Nickelback” joke. Which I also won’t be doing now.

Harm Passes Forward is the first vinyl release by Punch On!, who are at least three things rarely found in this column: a two-piece, from Bristol, playing dramatic, heart-on-sleeve screamo. For a period about 15 years ago, emotional hardcore in its various microcategories accounted for at least half of the DIY shows I attended and records I bought, then it just seemed to kinda dry up. Skramz, to use its mildly annoying colloquial title, has enjoyed a fairly comprehensive revival, but its fanbase and distribution network feels quite separate from most of what I usually cover in here, for whatever reason. Kudos to the keepers of the flame regardless, and specifically Punch On!’s Sean Addicott (who had a solo release reviewed in my New Weird Britain column last year) and Isaac Windsor, who have crafted a frantic power surge of an EP containing uncomfortable, but necessary, subject matter.

The backstory behind Harm Passes Forward concerns a one-time friend and bandmate who was outed as an – especially prolific and grim – abuser a couple of years back, at the height of the post-Harvey Weinstein #metoo exposés. (Something that doesn’t get credited enough in my book, and speaks to the nature of how power functions in abuse, is that despite the popular imagination framing this movement as a means of taking down big celebrities, in many cases it also galvanised communities to hold to account scumbags who were essentially no more famous than you or I.) As such, the lyrics reference Punch On!’s own feelings of anger, betrayal and guilt, and although much of the imagery employs allusion and wordplay, their stance rings through with full clarity. An outsized sound is wrenched from guitar and drums alone, too, helped by crust metal doyen Brad Boatright on mastering duties I daresay: the duo’s basslessness even forms part of their slogan, but if you told me there was one in play here I’d believe it. Some minimalist post-rocky tinkling opens the EP and returns on occasion, but primarily the tempo is frantic, the interplay chaotic: stops, starts, breakdowns and chugs all flow forcefully like Raein, La Quiete and other bands immovably linked to the mid-2000s. Proceeds from this release also go to Solidarity Not Silence, an ongoing legal case relating to another abuser in the music industry.

Not to position myself as the centre of the universe or owt, but La Vida Es Un Mus Records’ blurb for the self-titled 12-inch by Soakie could hardly have appealed to me more if it was assembled from a wishlist. The Feederz, Good Throb, Poison Girls, Rudimentary Peni and Teddy & The Frat Girls? You had me at ‘The’. Soakie, who’ve been active for about two years and who have two members living in New York, two in Melbourne, aren’t quite as spitefully atonal or freakily deathrockin’ as those names might suggest, though. The seven songs here are highly efficient never-slow chunters which make a nonsense of the notion that ‘punk’ and ‘hardcore’ are empirically distinct forms, and also prove that you can be pissed off and party-hearty, polemical and celebratory, at the same time.

Summer Perlow (singing in, wait for it, her first band; other Soakies have various combos under their collective belt, Nellie Pearson’s Ubik the only one I’ve previously reviewed) has an heroically piercing screech, somewhere between Doc Dart of the Crucifucks and Vanilla Poppers’ Christina Pap, who released Soakie’s 2018 debut tape. A hard stance against machismo and patriarchy prevails, jargon fully ditched in favour of being as direct as possible. ‘Boys On Stage’, a song which I suspect might become Soakie’s defining anthem if it hasn’t already, qualifies its chief objection – “there’s too many fucking boys onstage” – with the upbeat addendum “there’s girls here now / Girls onstage!”, as well it might.

A Hallelujah! gig will welcome onstage one girl and two boys – latterly scaled down from three, the departure of guitarist Mirko Marconi seeming to have prompted a modification of this Verona band’s sound. On debut LP Wanna Dance (Maple Death) the scuzzy melange of garage punk and noise rock, while by no means eradicated, has been partway usurped by Scoia Berardo’s synth, with which he douses most available sonic surfaces from opener ‘Pink Socks’ onwards. Sometimes the beep and burble adds up to spoddy Coneheads-y ‘egg punk’, other times post-millennial Fall (‘Minipony’ has the same sorta rigidity to its boogie as ‘Theme From Sparta FC #1’). A cheap electro cover of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, retitled ‘Your Duck’ for reasons unexplained, was done better twentysomething years ago by Dakar & Grinser , and there’s a bit of makeweight content on what’s a fairly brief album in toto, but when Hallelujah! hit their stride, Wanna Dance is a hoot, and a welcome revival of that electronics-heavy smartass sound bands like Men’s Recovery Project and Six Finger Satellite served up in the 90s.

Column closer and cockle-warming curio is this self-titled LP by The Uncommitted, a project by Tim Freeborn of London, Ontario. Tempted, in fact, to say ‘solo project’, although there are four people credited on the insert; none are names one would expect to find on a birth certificate, and Never Met A Stranger, who released this, talk of its whipspeed 40-second blazes in a way that suggests it’s Freeborn’s baby alone. This ain’t hardcore-for-the-hardcore, though: apart from The Uncommitted, this label’s beat is Appalachian folk and related North American old timey music. The squalling lap steel solos dotted liberally across The Uncommitted may, therefore, be contextually relevant.

Anyone majorly into their 80s obscurities may in fact know Freeborn as vocalist in Sons Of Ishmael, sardonic Canadian thrashers best remembered for their debut EP Hayseed Hardcore. The Uncommitted’s sound isn’t quite as unhinged, but it’s equally economical – 20 songs in 14 minutes – and pretty much as fast. Freeborn’s throaty bark is fairly distinct from his teenage-era delivery, which is reasonable, and I’m guessing he’s kept a close watch on the Ontario punk scene, as he now reminds me of Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham a fair bit; the music, melodic and muscular, gives me an early Career Suicide vibe to boot. No issue with either of these points. Nor this being possibly the most loquacious hardcore record I’ve ever heard (to wit: “Pecksniffian”, “menticide”, “tettery” and “dormophonics”, the latter a word Freeborn, an English professor, appears to have invented). Nor there being a Fugs cover (his second, following a romp through ‘CIA Man’ on the debut Uncommitted tape) which implicitly recognises that band’s ‘Nothing’ as spiritually proto-hardcore. In fact, this whole package makes me very glad that 2020s culture still permits marginal artists like Tim Freeborn to do their thing.

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