I enjoyed writing that last one. So I’ll continue. Again, absolutely none of this is intended to be “Things were better back when…”, more of “Now I come to think about it, such and such was really important.”
Exhibit A: Gigs in houses
I used to play in a band, we played quite a few gigs and had a fun time. This, in fact, is a picture of my band playing the kitchen of my old house. I wish I had more pictures, but Seedi was using my camera. Anyways, in his brilliance, he caught this.
Playing in houses is fun. It adds to the intimacy of an event, plus, this was a house party, so the audience was pretty much my best friends, mostly drunk. That adds to the heckles, which is an important part of any gig. This picture has pretty much everything: Dearlove actually playing an instrument, an old friend of mine Khaled pretty wasted, and an unknown person flipping me off. That’s why I picked this one over some of the more descriptive shots, the swearing.
I dunno what it is like now, but back when every muppet and their mother started waving digital SLRs around, there was a real tendency for the same picture to be re-produced over and over. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but have you seen that perfect sing a long crowd shot where everyone is shouting into the mic with the singer and it is all perfectly illuminated? Kinda from the top so you can see the faces of every participant? Yeah, it was that picture, over and over and over. The thing is, it was usually a lie, and it never really captured what it was about anyways. Back then, I got the gist that the reason everyone dug these photos is that they could see themselves singing along and so on. Really, I think it was to hide the fact that it wasn’t always like that. Sometimes I’d go to a pretty weak gig, see some people sympathy-mosh to their friend’s band, and then the pictures would hit the internet as if it were the second coming of FEAR on Saturday Night Live. Don’t get me wrong, there were more great gigs back then than I can remember, but not all of them were like that, and even in those gigs, there would be lulls and pauses. To return to the example of Endless Blockade in the last post, it is extremely rare for an audience to go for it 100% of the time, the whole way through.
So why this? Well, the thing about house parties is that you don’t “need” people moshing to have a good time, or singing along or whatever. Even for punk bands (Armed Response Unit also played), the vibe is different. People still dug us, but instead of a wall of mosh, it was a wall of people whooping, headbanging, heckling and taking the piss. Y’know what? It was pretty fun (nb: massive understatement). My kitchen got wrecked. A couple of days after I found a massive sticky patch where Sheep’s can of Irn Bru (or other carbonated sticky drink) managed to get spilled on the highest shelf in the kitchen. It is all a bit of a blur. Oh, and the picture proves that I wasn’t going bald at the time. The odd thing about the whole deal was that all that energy could never be captured on camera. Most of the best bits about gigs cannot be captured on film. This might seem odd for someone writing about photographs of gigs and stuff, but it is true. It is doubly true when the only thing a photographer is interested in is nailing the gang vocal bit to a Minor Threat cover.
The problem with the endless gang vocal pictures is that they lose the absurdity that goes hand in hand with hardcore. The yin to the hardline crimethinc revolutionary freegan yang. Heckling and other forms of abuse are key equalising factors in a culture that axiomatically produces self-important bands and people. I have no idea who is taking the piss out of me in this photo, but I do know that a ton of my best friends probably laughed at it, and me, at the time, and the gig was better for it. If you were to write a history of UK hardcore in gang vocal pictures, you’d lose that comraderie, which has existed in its own unique fashion in pretty much every corner of the country where I’ve been to gigs.
Lesson: I dunno, house parties are fun to play? But seriously, heckling and insulting your friends and total strangers in a gig environment is a legit activity, do it more, do it often.
Exhibit B: JLJ’s Construction Gloves**
The awesome thing about belonging to a sub-culture is that there are certain things which are inherently un-translatable. There is no way for you to explain it to someone “outside” your given little cultural bubble. Okay, that’s a lie, but doing so would be such a lengthy process as to make it both tiresome and boring. And you’ll probably mess it up anyways. Other people can’t relate.
So, in regards to the picture above, how the hell could you relate to someone stone-cold ignorant of hardcore and its many varied traditions why someone would write offensive slurs and X’s on a pair of construction gloves, and why, instead of it being totally offensive, is fucking hilarious in this particular context?
I could say: “These gloves were the property of a guy called John Lockjaw who used to play in a bunch of bands and was reknowned as a wind-up merchant par-excellance. He wrote that on construction gloves because construction gloves used to be worn by a number of “tougher” hardcore bands of the 80s and 90s. The reason it is daubed with Xs is because he was straightedge, and writing a big fuck off X on the back of your hand is a straight edge thing to do. Anyways, after the first One Life Crew LP, JLJ made a career for himself out of being insanely offensive wind-up merchant to everyone and anyone. See the second OLC LP and also the Pitboss 2k shit. The whole point was to be so offensive as to annoy 99% of the community of which he formed a part. So yeah, he wrote that to piss people off, and it probably worked. Anyways, it isn’t even remotely the most offensive thing he’s done, after 9⁄11 he got a “Fuck New York” tattoo replete with a Red Sox “B” and smiling WW2 bombers knocking down the WTC.”
I could say all the above, but really, it wouldn’t mean jack shit. It would still be fucking offensive, and wouldn’t explain why when some dude whipped these gloves out at Trashfest, in front of a bunch of pissed people (pretty much everyone I was with), the whole crew jumped at the chance to rock them. I understand that Tobs is probably offending straight edgers worldwide while posing with a beer and fag (yeah, that’s what we call cigarettes in the UK) and crossing his arms. But hey, compared to the guy who crafted the gloves, he’s an amateur. Like I said, there’s some things about being in a sub-culture (any sub-culture, mind, not just punk) that outsiders can’t understand.
The weirdest thing would be explaining the differences. For instance, there were bands around the UK at the times with pretty homophobic views, and there was a trend for people being “sketchy” and using words like faggot to get a rise out of more “PC” scene members. I was never down with that, because it was pathetic and dumb. Don’t get me wrong, hardcore and punk is always going to offend someone, but the good stuff transgresses social taboos in a smart way, or because the transgressor is such a nutcase that they do what they want and are liable to lashing out at anyone who tries to stop them, regardless of whether they will win or not. There are very few in the latter category, especially in the UK. Either way, I was against all that stuff, yet found JLJ’s gloves funny for a whole host of reasons that are essentially incommunicable. If that makes me a hypocrite, so be it.
Hardcore will always produce people like JLJ, and Tobs for that matter, because it is the nature of the beast. Punk has a Loki-like quality. Its raison d’etre is poking fun at the boundaries, sending up taboos in flames and generally being a nuisance that an efficient liberal democracy would erase in favour of either socially conscious college rock, or metal-pop about ex-girlfriends. It exists in contrast and diversity, it dies in conformity and apathy. Of course, it is also cyclical, that’s why no scene survives long. It is why “glory days” come and go. But at the same time, it always manages to resurrect itself, a bit like Doom on Nightmare mode. The problem with all that is that people will go way, way too far in search of boundary transgression, and idiots who don’t even perceive a boundary will follow them because they’re too thick to notice how offensive they are. But, you know, Loki didn’t care for any of that, he offends, he builds, he destroys and once in a while they tie him up and drip venom in his eyes. But he always escapes, that’s the point.
Lesson: You are always going to offend people. Do it for the right reason, and keep it smart.
Exhibit C: The Process
The early 2000s were a weird time. We were on the cusp of the social network revolution, but still existed prior to youtube and facebook. Myspace _became_ a big thing during this period. Prior to that there were weird messageboards, Make Out Club (jesus fucking wept) and Friendster (featured on the front cover of Murder Contest #1). Importantly, music swapping was still done in a mostly physical way. The Process were one of the first bands I got wind of electronically, being slipped some MP3s by Sean McKee and subsequently looping track one of their demo for far, far longer than is healthy.
To cut a long story short, this band smoked. But they (and this picture) underlined the weird-ass invisible lines in hardcore at the time. I don’t know if these still exist, or if everyone lives in some post-bit torrent musical utopia where they judge bands purely on their musical merit, but hey, it wasn’t like that back then.
Through a weird trick of fate, The Process existed subsequent to the most famous “Metalcore” bands of UKHC (see: xCanaanx, Raiden, Stampin’ Ground when they were actually a hardcore band) and just prior to every heavy band re-naming themselves “Clevo”. They coexisted with bands like On Thin Ice, The Break In, November Coming Fire etc, but passed pretty much the entire “mainstream” UK hardcore scene like a drunken Scottish ship in the night. This may or may not have been intentional on their part, but on “our” part, forces as diverse as Burial Records, me and Nate were all singing their praises to anyone that would listen. Alas, it didn’t quite have the required effect. Burial put out a seven inch that should be required listening, but I think McKee still holds excess copies to this day.
Again, this isn’t meant to be an aging guy mouthing off, but the picture made me think about all this stuff. Pictured is The Process rocking The Poison Club, which used to squat a place just down the road from Dalston Kingsland. Dalston used to be a rough place, and the only reason to go there was this place (Holier Than Thou? played an awesome gig there and the singer squared off with I don’t know how many drunk Polish punks when they were ruining the place) and Bardens, which existed as a quasi-legal venue under a sofa shop. Now it is the new Shoreditch, pretty much, and a place like the Poison Club couldn’t exist there.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some halcyon thing, the place was a fucking shithole, they had knocked through supporting walls to increase capacity so it was also structurally unsound. The toilet was a hole in the floor. It was, to not put too fine a point on it, a squat venue of a very particular kind that most people involved in DIY will have visited at some point.
The weird thing about London is that it has all these little musical scenes existing almost independent of one another, with not much cross-pollination. So you could have The Process shredding one night, and a bunch of CT metalcore bands shredding the next, and not many “kids” would cross between the two. And on one side of the divide were a load of people talking about “tough” music, and on the other was a six foot five scotsman missing a front tooth. The point is not, however, that everyone should get together and hold hands, but that thinking back, some of the places we held gigs were kinda crazy, and a lot of people missed them entirely (I am sure that I missed more than my fair share of weird and wonderful venues over the years). For me, walking down an unfamiliar street and finding the anonymous venue entrance by virtue of accumulated punks outside was a bit of a coming of age ritual. It is fucking sketchy the first couple of times you do it aged 16⁄17. It is also difficult to “bring the mosh” in an environment studded with nails, broken bricks and other health hazards. Similarly, it is also difficult to run a gig at which every third participant demands entry of 47p while carrying a bag full of beer cans. But hey, them’s the breaks.
Lesson: I’m running out of lessons here, but squats are fun places to attend gigs. Try not to trash them though.