Straight Hedge: Punk & HC For June By Noel Gardner

Noel Gardner probes the boundary areas of punk and finds much to report back on

One hundred years ago, when I first hassled tQ top brass about writing this column, there weren’t any especially developed principles as regards what it would cover. Just a futile urge to rep some of the DIY/underground/noisy/outsider punk and hardcore I was buying, for a readership who probably wasn’t being told about it elsewhere in their browser history. Maybe 300 record reviews later, does anyone actually care?

Search me pal, I’m having too much fun to find out. Still, one thing I’ve stuck to my guns on is that the music I seek to highlight here is made by punks, as in people who self-identify as such and are (as far as my observational skills indicate) part of a punk subculture. This isn’t because I believe punk to have some innate moral superiority over other types of music; if anything, it tends to irk me when it’s used as a synonym for decency and righteousness. It did a lot to mould my ethical code, but has also harboured any type of foul bigotry you care to name and remains dominated by white men, notwithstanding the vast array of wonderful exceptions to this.

That’s the thing – there’s so much killer slop down in these sewers, a lot of it barely discussed in the ether, I don’t have the money to buy all of it or the wordcount&time to write about it. And I certainly don’t need to pull some stunt where I go THIS IS THE REAL PUNK NOW about a techno or folk artist who probably doesn’t give a shit about punk. (This impulse often has good intentions and is about great music! But it’s also corny and delegitimises their own scenes, which are often tres radical, y’know?) What we can however acknowledge is that punks who break, or never learn, the quote-unquote rules of the genre and float to the fringes often make the music that slaps the hardest. This particular column has roped a bunch of them in – argue amongst yourselves about their right to be here, why don’t you.

Binary Or Die by FNU Clone Inc is even on a label (one intermittently featured in Straight Hedge) called Total Punk – why would they call themselves it if they weren’t it, huh? A 45s-only imprint which welched on their policy for this 15-track LP, Jim Vail – who used to front FNU as a trio, and now runs it solo style somewhere in California – has repaid their trust with this exemplary murky fizzbomb of digitally-driven punk. With Vail’s voice cranked through a horrid ring modulator/mincing machine, drum machines make noises as onomatopaeic as an old Batman episode, synths wail for their lost freedom and riffs of noiserock, garage and glam jut out of the melee like limbs from a car wreck. There are blues and country turns, but they are (perhaps wilful) red herrings; a barnstorming cover of Mötorhead’s ‘I’ll Be Your Sister’ is not, slotting the less than electronically-inclined Lemmy into a headcanon featuring Chrome, The Spits, Royal Trux and Men’s Recovery Project. This has technically been out since February, but took ages to make it over to the UK, so fuck it, and if you’ve had a copy for months, be smug as you want.

The second tape album by ISS takes the duo’s comprehensive education in punk and uses it to make music completely antithetical to punk’s tenets. Or so it might be deemed. From North Carolina (one member Raleigh, one Charlotte, I think), ISS’ Endless Pussyfooting (State Laughter) cops drum breaks from old punk/HC numbers and uses them as rhythm tracks on arch, effervescent noisy pop compositions of their own making. Even acknowledging that punk is hugely self-referential, and that it’s been sampled in all sorts of odd places over the years, I can’t think of anything remotely comparable in both execution and sound. The Genocide Association demo tape – Digby Pearson, later founder of Earache Records, screaming over fast early-80s hardcore music by other bands – is ostensibly similar, but ISS pen the shiniest radio hits by comparison. Meanwhile, Kool G Rap and ODB samples nod to the pair’s obvious debt to hip hop.

You might be better than me at actually identifying the beats as they’re employed on here (I’ve probably heard most of them a bunch of times, but am terrible at this sort of thing), but really, the crucial factor on here is Rich Ivey’s ear for a hook. They enliven loosely gothic synthpunk bangers like ‘It’s A Chore’ and ‘Endless Drip’, and higher-tempo bursts of Polysics-esque fruit juice (‘PenISS Envy’, whose lyrics consist entirely of Crass song titles and which sounds nothing like Crass). ‘(919) SUI-CIDE’ would probably be their one-off college radio new wave hit if this was 1985, but the Coneheads-ish geek-bleep of ‘Texting Pig’, which follows it, doesn’t feel misplaced. This is getting a vinyl pressing later in 2017, apparently, but why not start cramming in advance?

The jaunty conceit behind Psudoku, a one-man studio band from Trondheim in Norway, is that it’s what happened to that one man’s other band Parlamentarisk Sodomi when “a rift in the space-time continuum” caused him to hurtle into the future. So where Parlamentarisk Sodomi is fairly rote dirty grindcore business, Psudoku pinballs all over the shop, with jazz fusion, brutal prog and math-metal tropes ejaculated forth at grind-and-then-some tempo. Deep Space Psudokument (released by Behind The Mountain, Selfmadegod or Drid Machine depending on what format you want) requires intensive gerrymandering and an expert genre lawyer to be allowed in a punk reviews column, but Steinar Kittilsen, the one man behind both bands, has paid his dues at the grindstone.

This, the third Psudoku album, contains wit, finesse and grandeur, but is rarely less than evisceratingly intense. ‘KcultraVIII8000’ (all the tracks have these sort of sub-Autechre titles) has something of Orthrelm about its machine-gun repetition; ‘hq[LQ]’ is what Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity sounded like when its eventual audience of vaguely restless Korn fans heard it for the first time. Previous LP Planetarisk Sudoku had a bit more overt Rock In Opposition steez about it, but it still lurks inside ‘ZpRNVphNtz’ and ‘KOSMISQUE_trapp’, just cubically mangled by a trash compactor and kicked down a mountain. Located at the point where Discordance Axis and MXLX meet, Deep Space Psudokument is an extraordinary testament to singular obsession. Additionally, its streaming page gives the release date as New Year’s Eve 2037, and while I have my doubts about whether grind will actually evolve into this, I share Bandcamp’s optimism about still being operational two decades hence.

Aaron Turner has thawed out his Hydra Head label to release two albums, Oxbow’s The Thin Black Duke and this one by Tokyo quintet Endon, and they’re both complete stoaters. Oxbow you might have read about on here already, but Through The Mirror – Endon’s second album proper, with some EPs, compilations and a collaboration with Boris in the middle – sprang from nowhere for me, and is just sickeningly overwhelming. Equal parts strafing electronic noise and chaotic old-skool emo violence/metallic hardcore, all 47 minutes bulge with operatic bombast, and amount to something ineffable and stunning.

Kicking in with ‘Nerve Rain’, six minutes of Lasse Marhaug-style noise maximalism given a healthy extra dimension by Shin Yokota’s live drums, Endon inch towards a form identifiable as a rock band on ‘Your Ghost Is Dead’: blastbeat punishment, guitars that sound like sheet metal being torn apart (or possibly are), vocals ranging from 90s screamo shrieks to guttural grindcoreisms to choking sobs (which are reprised on the title track). Taichi Nagura, the vocalist responsible, certainly seems to be from the ‘human voice as a noise instrument’ school: more Junko than Jacob Bannon. The 102-second ‘Pensum’ is the closest thing to what I’d call conventional hardcore on Through The Mirror, which is to say it sounds kinda like Reversal Of Man with keyboards. ‘Postsex’ is gibbering grind that deviates into Craw-like math-sludge (albeit with a heaped plate of feedback) near its end; ‘Perversion Til Death’ tops ten minutes and finds Endon trying Corrupted-style brontosaurus sludge on for size. This is a monumental work that should be heard by anyone interested in the forging of new paths in extreme music, and if you want to invoke its closest comparison point, it pisses over the latest Full Of Hell album.

Many Straight Hedges ago, I waxed fruity about the debut tape by Irish experimental hardcore group Wölfbait – stating, with all the misplaced certainty of a centrist political commentator, that an album this great would clearly be rewarded with a vinyl pressing in due course. That didn’t happen, but now Wölfbait personnel are in Worst, who have just had a cassette, MMXVII, released on Swap Meat, Riot Season Records’ tape label. So I can once again tell other people what to do with their money.

A single 22-minute track split over two sides, MMXVII is less overtly brutal than Wölfbait, but kicks up sizeable clouds of dirge dust, using repetition in a style that’s part Krautrock and part Kilslug. Much of the second side marries squealy tones which I think are electronic in origin, though sound somewhat like Tony Conrad’s violin, to crashing, growling doom metal, before a drunken chant of “WE – ARE – WORST” hammers on the walls until you move house. There’s a decidedly starkers-in-the-forest ritualistic feel to this music, much like Worst-affiliated group Woven Skull, and slightly less evidence of also-related Dublin noisepunk groups Disguise and Gaze – but a great, boundary-crossing trip all ends up.

And now, back to dry land. Hard Wax are from Plymouth, which was the closest city to me with an identifiable ‘punk scene’ when I was growing up. Don’t recall any superyob singalong Oi! groups, mind you, but Tom Boutwood plays in three: Arch Rivals, Hostile Minds and this lot, which he started as a solo vehicle to indulge his bovver rock tastes. Bovver rock was a kind of forerunner to Oi!, crystallised in The Sweet and rebadged skinheads Slade but home to many more junkshop glam never-weres. Latterly, it’s been revived by Italian band Giuda and others in a small but chipper scene, and Boutwood – now joined in Hard Wax by Matt Couch – leaves no bovver cliché unturned on debut LP Diamond In The Rough (Rebellion). Hard work is rewarded by a weekend blowout; escapism is found in music, ideally 45rpm seven-inches; snakes and pricks are all over town, and sometimes you have to get a bit tasty; you don’t have to understand this pocket of culture but it’s not going to buckle to outside influence, dig?

Diamond stomps joyously around its niche with no care for how narrow it is: its default bumptious street-glitter Mott The Rejects / Cock The Hoople bangers, sometimes with Hollywood Brats piano (‘Boot Boy Stomp’, ‘Shouting Out Loud’) and sometimes with Turbonegro garage-metal guitars (‘Bringing Back The Noise’). The elephant in the room, though, honks loudest on ‘Head Held High’ and the title track: Oasis, if they were an Oi! band. I’m talking Definitely Maybe era, natch, but “Oasis, if they were an Oi! band” has to be the platonic ideal of ‘type of music tQ would never, ever write about’, and will probably have Hard Wax calling me a cunt as well. Seriously, though, listen to the lyrics on that last link, and the guitar tone on the chorus, and tell me I’m chatting shit. This album is ridic but loveable, and a mandatory purchase for anyone who’s also the target audience for this T-shirt.

Mister Lizard come from London or thereabouts and play fast hardcore, quasi-powerviolence some might say (that’s not an Oasis reference, but it’s the closest I can do for a segue from the last review). Their debut seven-inch on the Hominid Sounds label features seven songs, all under a minute long, and for some reason the band seem to have ditched all the track titles since putting it online a year or so ago. They stuff a lot of ideas into such short timespans, most songs changing direction two or three times before thudding to a close; this, and the faint tang of zaniness in general, might irk many listeners, but should also thrill ones who miss both the more oddball parts of the Slap-A-Ham label’s roster and white-belted irritants (in a good way) like XBXRX and the Blood Brothers circa March On Electric Children. Also, Mister Lizard don’t seem to have, y’know, paid their dues in the London punk scene at all, but are still going on a US tour this summer and playing with Siege. Ha!

COMPUTER… tell me when I’m due to get bored of the noisy, enraged hardcore bands formed entirely or predominantly of women that keep appearing. Hmm, looks like this will happen on New Year’s Eve 2037 – plenty of time to bug out to Nekra’s debut tape, which is on La Vida Es Un Mus and is a diamond-studded bulldozer. These London scene heads have def paid their dues: Alex from Efialtis and Sarcasm, Paula from Frau and Kai from Dregs, plus a vocalist called Spooky whose origins are less known to me. Suffice it to say she has an American accent and sounds badass. “GET OUT OF THE WAY” she barks over creepycrawl midpaced NYHC mosh fodder. “Get the fuck out of here – no-one fucking cares,” she elaborates on ‘Art School’. “He’s a bad, bad man / But I’m not allowed to speak,” goes ‘Photoshoot’. I don’t know the genesis for these lyrics, but their intensity feels entirely real, and we all oughta pray together that Nekra stay together. COMPUTER… can I put a drawing of a knife and some chains on the cover of my tape, like Nekra did? Hmm, looks like I can’t.

Morbid Opera came into being in early-80s Florida, one of several US states that punched below its weight in terms of punk rock output. Moreover, they were out of step with what was happening there: jangly, loosely gothic post punk rather than gonzo-bozo hardcore. Their brief recording career – they pressed on for a decade or so, but only recorded one actual single – has been assembled into an LP, Collection (Vinyl Rites), by the husband of late frontwoman Lisa Hodapp, and it’s a worthwhile excavation. A Young Marble Giants vibe creeps into songs like ‘Deep End’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ (although YMG would probably not have sung “I shit my pants,” as Hodapp does on the latter); bassist Libby Bentley was the postpunk booster in the group, apparently, while Hodapp’s hardcore tastes come to the fore on the caustic likes of ‘White Flag’ and ‘Eat The Rich’. This X-Ray Spex meets Dangerhouse Records style serves them as well as their more minimal, scratchy leanings; ‘No Dwarfs’, a muddy proto-grunge thing sung by drummer Mike O’Brien, is a less rewarding gambit, but a one-off. Objectively speaking, the world probably didn’t need Morbid Opera’s cover of Divine’s ‘Female Trouble’ either, but by this point on the record – it’s track 14 of 16 – Collection has earned its place in the admittedly overstuffed punk reissue market.

A reissue of Eat Hot Lead, the sole release by Puke Spit And Guts, has been mooted for a good decade: Alternative Tentacles squatted on it for much of that time before bailing, and it’s now been picked up by Slovenly Records, via their sublabel Black Gladiator. You, a rube, are now saying to yourself “wasn’t Puke Spit And Guts Björk’s first band?” No, that was Spit And Snot; these guys existed in early-80s Los Angeles and made wilfully bad taste r&r punk whose absurdity was accentuated by the members not being ‘actual’ punks (lengthy philosophical discussion on how, or whether, one can empirically ‘be punk’ follows), like an American version of the Pork Dukes or someone like that. As quasi-novelty items go, Eat Hot Lead has legit staying power and bonzer tunes: the highlights are those sung by Marie Manslaughter, about mutilating oneself for her love (‘Send Me Your Ear’), getting her pet spiders to lay eggs in a foe’s hair (the girl group-styled ‘Spider Pasture’) and her antipathy towards bum sex (‘You Ain’t Never’, covered by Good Throb a few years back). The guitarist, one Dick Head, has a blissfully raw and squealing tone, and they were probably better musicians than they make out, but this kind of fakery brings home the overratedness of realness. There is also some casual homophobia here and there, but you can’t sign up for bad taste and then object when you actually get it.

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