...the thing we do instead of the things we're supposed to do...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Special Comment: All the Young Punks.

Thanks to Sir Ape for the chance to guest blog.

"The kids grow up faster and faster these days." That's not just an aging punk's dismissal of younger kids in the scene, its meant to be as close to a literal statement as possible. I'm old enough to remember the invention of CD's, which makes me feel like a grandpa. More than that though, it means I had to work a lot harder to dig new music when I was in high school. Everything was harder back then; finding new music (before itunes), making a fashion statement (before Hot Topic), setting up shows or tours (before email). It goes on and on. Today it takes 4 minutes to drag and drop a playlist when it used to take 4 hours to fill a blank tape with just the right mix.

The new user friendly underground has been good in many ways, but has had its drawbacks as well. Its also had some unintended consequences which are somewhere in between, and its one of those consequences which I intend to discuss here on the record.

The kids are growing up faster because they're starting much younger. When I was coming up you needed your own car just to get to the record shop or the shows, which were all few and far between and located in the inner city, and sometimes in downright shitty neighborhoods. When I started at 15 and 16, being punk wasn't easy, and it sometimes even felt dangerous. (the Loft, the Virgin House.)

Now after the incorporation of punk and the advent of the internet, there's no need to drive for an hour to pick through stacks of records. You can buy any record in the world online. There's no need to comb PP or MRR for new bands or record reviews. New bands come into your friend request folder, with reviews & mp3's posted on their page. This is not such a bad thing at all, but it has lowered the age of a 'young' punk from 15 or 16 to 11 or 12.

So what happens when kids get sold on Blink 182 and Fallout Boy from the age of about 10? You end up with bands like the Brace Face Mini Punx, who are 13 and already playing shows, and already jaded enough to be 'like so over' Against Me! (Who suck anyway.)

Now, I think myself, and most of my friends have made logical musical progressions, starting out by listening to The Misfits, Minor Threat, DK, OPIV, Black Flag, etc. and exploring other sub-genres like anarcho-punk, ska-punk, HC, et al, moving into some form of post-punk, and having an all around good ear for music, keeping an appreciation for the standards, and measuring new music against them.

What are the Standards? What wears well? What is good taste? If you read Primitive Offerings you already know what I mean.

After careful observation, I've begun to notice a new pattern emerging. With kids being plugged into music under 10 years old, and having hundreds of myspace friends and playing shows in middle school, more and more kids are having a sort of 'musical mid-life crisis' by the time they're old enough to move out of mom's house and go to college.

A crisis is serious. When you're in crisis, its not enough just have a song that you can relate to, with rhythm and melody and decent hooks. No. What you need is...

SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW AND ORIGINAL!!!

Looking around Baltimore scene, there's not a whole lot of originality. All the kids work the same jobs (at Rocket to Venus, as a sound guy, or a bike messenger). Everyone lives in the same places (Calvert Street, Hampden, communal houses), screws the same women (you know who you are), and even sell each other the same tired old used vans to tour in. There is nothing new under the sun.

So what does this mean to a jaded 22 year old (anti) hipster? It mostly means sitting around the practice space, smoking a joint, drinking untold amounts of Boh, staring at an exposed brick wall and trying to think of some new way to distinguish yourself as a musician. Which means

METAL!

Let's be very clear about this... metal sucks. Speed, thrash, doom, drone, sludge, death... all of it. (Well, except Anthrax.) Ever since the beginnings in the 70's, metal and punk have been completely separate and distinct. Then a couple of things happened...

1. Rap divided popular music into two kinds; the kind with guitars and the kind without.

2. Mtv pandered to the lowest common denominator. Anyone with a leather jacket was percieved by the general public as a headbanger.

3. "Alternative" happened. And then it didn't happen anymore.

4. Mtv stopped playing music altogether, and myspace became the new Mtv. And everybody's friends on myspace.

There's more to it, but since the days of Black Sabbath and the Ramones the 'underground' or 'scene' has become less distinct and more of a mishmash of cross-pollenating styles and genres served up by nameless and two-bit bands and labels.

How many times have you, gentle reader, struggled to describe some band you saw last weekend? "Ummm they were kind of a proto-drone-sludge-noise-post- doom electro no-wave blasting degenerock?" ? (yeah. two question marks in that sentence.)

I will admit that it takes more and better musicianship to craft a metal song than a punk song. However... I am not a musician. And most consumers of music are not musicians. And we don't give a fuck how technical your song is, what your time signatures are, how long or short your compositions are, or the decibel ratio between notes and growls. Metal is fucking boring. Where punk is socially aware, metal is self-aware. Where punk is for everyone, metal still largely the province of white macho-men... just a different sort of macho man who doesn't play football. Where metal is always negative, hardcore and punk have always been a balance and contrast between the positive and negative; Hope and No Future.


But mostly, metal is so goddamn serious and punk is fun. What's a typical metal song? Grief, doom, armageddon, arcane metaphors that just sound creepy, and in growling lyrics you can't comprehend anyway.

What makes a good punk song? Your greedy landlord, that girl you like, your piece of shit car, your asshole boss... you know punkrock. I don't have to tell you.

So with more and more bands playing out who are un-genre-describable, and influenced by Motorhead and Celtic Frost I've chosen to go back. All the way back to number 3 on the bullet list above... to alternative.

If Baltimore bands are going to continue to serve me downtuned, metaphoric, hypnotic, noisy crap, I'm going to keep going back to the music I was just a little too young to fully appreciate when it came out, when i didn't have social networking to feed it to me, and when I was too naive realize what it meant when it was an 'alternative'... stuff like Steven Malkmus and the Jicks, Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Afghan Whigs, Sugar, Love Spit Love, the Breeders, Catherine Wheel, Charlatans, Replacements, Mudhoney, Buffalo Tom. etc. These bands had a good thing going before Pearl Jam sold them out.

And as far as the division between punk and metal... If a great artist can make something new out of paint of clay, then your band should be able to make something new and fun out of the same 3 chords and rhyming words. Dead Mechanical and Deep Sleep can, and if you can't then why the fuck should I come to your show? I'm gonna stay home and listen to No Alternative and the Singles soundtrack.

All your jeans were too tight.

5 comments:

Ape Mummy said...

That was the most fun I've had with my pants on in at least a week.

gabbagabbahey said...

I have a pathological dislike of metal... for most of the reasons specified here.

but black metal (at least the one pretty good album of it I listened to 1 1/2 years ago) sounds quite a lot like speedy melodic hardcore.

and I really dig Grails, who basically play - on Burning Off Impurities - heavy riffs without distortion.

cool post.

Ape Mummy said...

The name is Ape Mummy, you Vonnegut lover!

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