Friday, May 28, 2010

Construct & Demolish

Prank Records recently released a new seven-inch by mid ‘90s experimental hardcore cult legends Ice Nine, who have apparently reunited. I really liked their side of the split with Charles Bronson back in the day, so I was intrigued when I found out that one of their members had a new band called Time in Malta. This was sometime in maybe 1998. Grind and “extreme hardcore” in general was the big deal…and so was emo. Every once in a while, you would hear a band that crossed the then-current emo and hardcore genes and did it well. Time in Malta was one of those bands. More importantly for me, they were locals, meaning I could see them often. For a while there, they were a fantastic live band. Their songs had an uplifting quality, which was sometimes refreshing after being inundated with the doom and gloom of His Hero is Gone and the like.

When Time in Malta started undergoing lineup changes, that was when I lost interest. They became better known after that, but I gather that their later material didn’t exactly deliver. I guess a lot of people have a hard time believing that Time in Malta was a great band at one point, but here’s the proof. Construct and Demolish is their debut seven-inch and it’s still a good one to listen to over ten years later. Make it part of your summertime jam sessions here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Join the Army

Standing in line with the rest of the street scum at the soup kitchen. Panhandling money for booze and drugs. Acts of senseless violence. Urban Assault came out of the side of San Francisco punk rock that was more concerned with that sort of stuff than saving the world and telling people how to live. They expressed a snarling unfocused sense of rage via metal-tinged hardcore that Fowl Records saw fit to release as a seven-inch in 1982. Later on, Urban Assault contributed the song “Night on the Town” to Mystic’s We Got Power compilation. They may be relatively obscure now, but there are definitely some stories behind this band. For instance, old school punks may remember the infamous Exploited show in LA back in the mid ‘80s. During “Fuck the USA,” the pro-American members of Urban Assault stormed the stage after tossing a cup full of piss in Wattie’s face, causing a riot to ensue.

The song that might raise the most eyebrows on this record is “Join the Army” with its use of the dreaded N-word (“Join the army, be a man. Fight for Exxon until you die. Be a Nazi, join the Klan. Kill a nigger, don’t ask why…”), although the lyrics in their entirety appear to be more about criticizing the need to conform to select groups. Interesting to note, because Urban Assault vocalist Marc Dagger later co-founded the notorious SF Skins, one of a couple skinhead gangs who terrorized punk shows during the mid ‘80s. Immortalized in print in William T. Vollman’s The Rainbow Stories, these skins were no joke. This gang of vicious drunken brawlers actually got the attention of Peter Jennings due to their acts of violence in San Francisco’s Haight district. Dagger went on to gain quite the reputation amongst various skinhead circles. But these days, he’s apparently living the quieter life, choosing to raise a family instead of running the streets.

But before he became MRR’s worst nightmare, he was a crazy punk rocker running wild in the Tenderloin streets long before hipsters decided that it was a cool place to live. And that’s what this record is all about in the end. File it next to your copy of the Fuck Ups’ FU82 EP.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Time You Die

One of the cool things about volunteering at Gilman Street every weekend was seeing all the different aspects of the punk scene congregating at “their” respective shows. If anything else, I had my own experiences at particular gigs as my reason for liking or disliking any number of the varying sub-genres that the booking tried to represent. Most of the time, I found that there were usually at least one or two bands that managed to impress me, regardless of the style of punk rock they covered.

Around the time I really started trying to put in more time at the club, the hardcore scene began being represented more by one or two Gilman bookers. When I say “hardcore” in this context, I mean the kind that is usually preceded by adjectives like “tough guy,” “straight edge,” or “youth crew.” Or “yo-core,” like my friend Pete used to say. It was a relatively new scene, but was catching on fast thanks to bands like Powerhouse and Redemption ’87, as well as zines like Colby Buzzell’s Breakout. The Powerhouse guys also ran their own venue in East Oakland called the Bombshelter, which played a big role in establishing the local hardcore scene by hosting all of the big NYHC bands who toured around that time. “Hawrdcore” at Gilman was often a source of controversy amongst different volunteers. Virtually no one on the staff was happy on those nights when those damned macho hardcore kids would show up with their windmills, karate kicks, and attitudes. A lot of times you just had to let them do whatever they wanted and wait for the show to be over. Other times, hardcore shows were just as exciting as anything else I saw on the Gilman stage.

Of all the hardcore gigs I saw, one of the most memorable (in a good sense) was the first time I really got to see the Sacto Hoods. They were opening for 25 ta Life at Gilman in early 1998, so there was a big crowd that was ready to go off. By that point, they’d already been around for a few years and had their craft honed to the sharpest edge. I was instantly hooked on their vicious fusion of Slayer riffs with a brutal hardcore beatdown. A lot of bands do this style, but not many are able to register on my musical radar. Hoods managed to be a band that did because I could tell that they actually listened to real metal. It also helped that their lyrics weren’t of the “step da fuck up, and I’ll bust you in da lip” variety. Sure enough, when I engaged Mikey Hood in a conversation about music, I found that not only did he know his hardcore, but he could hold his own in the metal department too. Mike was their guitarist and leader, for all intents and purposes. He was an interesting character with an equally interesting background. Before hardcore, I seem to recall Mike saying something about how he used to play pro soccer in Europe. I’ve heard people say various things about Mikey Hood that were good and bad, but he was always a nice guy to me.

I haven’t kept up with what they’ve been doing in the past ten years or so, but a cursory look online says that Mike’s been keeping the faith with an ever-rotating lineup. Apparently he’s entrusted the guitar duties to someone else (really?) and is handling things vocally now. Three releases on Victory Records, another European tour coming up next month, and who knows what else. I don’t know that I care so much about actively following them now, but it’s nice to break out my Hoods CDs once in a while and remember those times when Gilman would become a veritable war zone while they played. Here’s the Alone CDEP, released by Breakout Records in 1998. If I know anything about NorCal hardcore, I know that this disc is a classic. Most, if not all of these six songs became live favorites. “Endless Pain” was always the one that inspired the animals in the pit to reach levels that were often frightening in their intensity.

Break out the baseball bats. Beat down some Nazi skins. Catch a stagedive or two. Do that here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Real Men in the Hour of Chaos

It’s been exactly one year since The Evil Eye first opened to these weekly music posts. Here’s a two-for-one deal to celebrate our first anniversary.

The Young & the Useless has roots in NYHC’s first generation, claiming future Beastie Boy Adam “Adrock” Horovitz as a guitarist sometime during their 18-month existence. I’ve read online articles claiming that the Young & the Useless had potential to be even bigger than the Beasties, which is difficult to believe when listening to their lone seven-inch titled Real Men Don’t Floss. Frankly, I’m more inclined to believe Stephen Blush’s anecdote about them in American Hardcore. But I wasn’t there, so what do I know? Maybe the proof was in their live sets. Or that unreleased recording that’s been lost to the sands of time. We’re just unable to comprehend the genius behind lyrics like “I’m the leader of the Manly Crew/I hate fags and sissies too/My man Perez is the best/He gives a cut to all the rest.” We just had to be there, in the moment. Right?

Although this record doesn’t exactly evoke the idea that these knuckleheads could have been the biggest band in New York, it does have a certain charm to it. It’s shitty teenage hardcore, scrappy and stupid. The lyrics are of that weird, drugged-out early-NYHC stream of consciousness that some bands had. You know what I mean—when the lyrical topic seems to completely change in mid-verse. The correlation between, let’s say, the need for unity and an unnamed skinhead girl sucking big dicks made total sense when I was huffing glue and smoking angel dust at practice last week.

This record may not resonate with you the same way those seven-inches from Urban Waste and Antidote do. But it’s a product of the same era, another piece of the puzzle. I think records like that are always worth hearing, regardless of teenage ineptitude levels.

The second Young & the Useless is actually the band I sang for when I was a teenager. We stole the name from Adrock’s old band because…uh…I don’t know why. Not a bad name for a teenage suburban punk band really, but there was also some lame story I made up about “paying homage” to the old New York bands or something like that. Similar to the joke about NYHC lyrics, it made complete sense when I was drunk, stoned, and taking legal speed pills. I’m pretty sure most people rolled their eyes and said “Yeah, whatever” upon hearing that one. Four suburban smartasses with Mohawks and Docs playing noisy chaos punk garbage with dumb lyrics. Like the song about surviving on Taco Bell. Or the song about incest. Remember when punks had a hard time admitting that they liked metal bands too? We had a song that sort of touched on that subject as well.

This is the posthumous Young & the Useless CD, released by Six Weeks in 2001. It gathers live recordings from Gilman Street with the four-track session that produced the song “Cider Sluts” for Six Weeks’ America in Decline compilation LP. That was all we had to offer—the band imploded before we could get into Bart Thurber’s Guerilla Euphonics studio and record the songs the way we’d envisioned them sounding. That’s how it was for a lot of bands back then. Most of them didn’t really know what they were doing. Recordings often failed to capture what the bands really sounded like. They were lucky to have their collective shit together to be able to go to a real studio and do stupid things like pay close attention to how the recording was mixed. The Misanthropists were the only younger local hardcore band that had jobs and the money to do split seven-inches with Godstomper that sounded good. Bands like the Young & the Useless and the Masked Men? Not really.

Between January 1995 and September 1996, we somehow managed to average one show a month. Sometimes we’d crash shows and jump on a band’s equipment for a song or two. I’m sure that was a big part of why the Gilman staff hated us and eventually passed a “no jump-on bands” rule. But we were enthusiastic teenagers who had also seen similar bands like the Unhappy do the same thing. We managed to play with most of the good local bands that we liked at the time. Cyco Mike from Oppressed Logic and John Mendiola from Subincision threw a few shows our way. One seminal show was a party at the Vomitorium, Subincision’s old house on Rose Street in North Berkeley. It was the summer of 1995, and the PC/anti-PC war was starting to heat up. But the warring factions came together for a few hours and got drunk to Oppressed Logic, Subincision, and Blackfork. Eldopa and Skaven played one of their first shows that afternoon, and we opened.

There was also a ridiculous show at Epicenter where the place essentially got trashed. Although nobody pulled a sprinkler pipe out of the ceiling, there was a grocery bag full of Taco Bell sauce packets emptied into the crowd. Bands were attacked by drunken audience members and the PA was nearly destroyed. Self-inflicted bloodshed and nudity. A couple even began having sex onstage during Subincision’s set later on. The freight elevator got broken at the end of the night. Needless to say, the Epicenter volunteers were NOT pleased. I thought that was how all shows were. Then again, most shows were sort of like that at the time. People would get drunk and lip off to each other. A huge fight would break out, sometimes resembling an atmosphere akin to that of a riot. The venue would get destroyed. Bands would manage to play somewhere in the middle of this mess. Most of the time.

It was both fun and frustrating, and the events that transpired during that year and a half (give or take) had a lot to do with me getting more involved and taking a more proactive role in making shows happen. For better or worse. A lot of other people were fueled by the lack of support and organization taking place some fifteen years ago and started doing what they could to improve things too. Despite our (deserved) status as a forgotten band from that time, the Young & the Useless is a part of that story.

Do something useful for a change.