Friday, August 13, 2010

Buy or Die

In Dutch historical lore, Balthasar Gerards was responsible for what was possibly the first recorded assassination of a political leader by firearm when he pumped three shots into the body of William the Silent, the successor to Philip II of Spain’s throne, in 1584. He was caught immediately, but was said to have remained perfectly calm during his four days of torture before finally being executed. Nearly four hundred years later, a new breed of anti-establishment figures adopted Gerards’ name and used hardcore punk to effectively spread their message of discontent with the world: Balthasar Gerards Kommando, or BGK.

Back when I posted Bastards’ Siberian Hardcore LP, I mentioned that my favorite early European punk bands were the ones who emphasized instrumental power over speed for the sake of speed. Jonestown Aloha!, BGK’s first album, is a fine example of this preference. For more than ten years, this record has done battle with Raw Power’s Screams from the Gutter for first place on my list of favorite Euro punk records. Both of those classic albums found their way into my life at the same time. They were both dubbed onto the same tape to listen to while hanging West Coast Pizza ads in doorways around town. I don’t know that one album is necessarily better than the other is. Really, I’ve given up on trying to decide. It’s like eating ice cream. On some days, I like chocolate. Other days, I prefer vanilla. Neither one is the wrong choice. Both are good for different reasons.

I do recall that Screams from the Gutter won me over instantly, whereas Jonestown Aloha! took a little bit longer to sink in. At first, there were individual songs that I enjoyed. For instance, it seems like every time I’ve made a hardcore mix tape for a friend, the song “Race Riot” shows up on the track list. “Buy or Die,” “Spray Paint,” and “Get Killed” were also early favorites. I continued listening to Jonestown Aloha! on a regular basis that summer. The more I listened to the record on my Walkman, the more I liked it. By the end of the summer, it hit me: this album is actually really awesome. Don’t you love it when records do that on the odd occasion? Or are you one of those pansies who only listens to a record once or twice before filing it away?

There’s two more BGK records after this one: 1984’s White Male Dumbinance EP and the Nothing Can Go Wrogn! LP from 1986. The seven-inch is fine, but it doesn’t take the listener on a ride like Jonestown does. However, it does have some GREAT songs in “Action Man,” “Kids for Cash,” and “Follow the Trend.” As for Nothing Can Go Wrogn!, there are some good songs, but ultimately they sacrifice the power for a more frantic pace. Consequently, it’s not as memorable of a record. Dare I say it comes off as a bit generic? But it all comes back to the first, the most, the best—Jonestown Aloha!

BGK could play hardcore better and meaner than most American bands. They were taller than you and could drink you under the table. They could kick your ass and steal your girlfriend. Crack open a Heineken, blaze some hash, and drink the Jonestown Kool-Aid here.

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