Monday, April 30, 2018

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Lucky You Fest: Day One
Saturday, April 14th 2018
Lucky You Tattoo, St. Petersburg FL

Who needs The Fest?  A legendary punk party up in Gainesville (that just announced another amazing line up) that I’ve never been to in my many years living here because it’s never been convenient.  Who needs Manchester Punk Festival?  The latest in a long line of musical landmarks courtesy of my home city that is run by veterans of the scene and that just this past week hosted Propagandhi and a tonne of nostalgic UK bands from my youth.  I’ll tell you who needs them: not me.  All I need is my local tattoo parlour, and I’m one of those increasingly minority weirdos with naked skin.  It’s time for the first Lucky You Fest.

It takes a lot more than luck to pull an event of this size together: 19 acts over two days, loads of different styles and some delicious seitan sandwiches.  Christian from promotions team Robot House has been spreading the word relentlessly for months (along with several others), while putting on regular gigs on a seemingly weekly basis.  On top of all that, his new band Joyeater are bravely going first today, ready to feed on any happiness they might invoke within you back into their quartet and continue the cycle.  They are definitely not Joy Division, which is to say, talented but a complete downer.  The band also features Laura from Piss Ghost on guitar, Tim of Gutless on drums (remaining happy even as he accidentally flings a stick) and Jack from Lipschitz, whose singing is light in an effortless sense but still audible above Joyeater’s groove-laden punk.  They have a more gigs coming up soon that you can see at their Facebook page.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Anne of The Nervous Girls informs Lauren as they prepare to begin.  Hey, this crowd won’t bite you!  Well, except maybe the members of Joyeater.  But then isn’t that why people make music, to let the tunes do the talking for them?  This would appear to be the impetus behind this band, as for their first song Pick Up the Phone all three members are belting their lungs out, trying vainly to overcome that swipeless barrier.  It’s in contrast to the rather quiet vocals on their uploaded material, which frankly doesn’t do them justice.  The Nervous Girls are not too nervous to have formed a post-punk, all female ensemble with no fuckin’ bassist, and they seem to channel their nervous energy into breaking your entire idea of what a band line-up is, with Amanda and Lauren swapping between drums and guitar twice in just a five song set.  Introducing an “angsty 90s” number, Anne asks for a show of hands of people born before 1994; everyone loves generational divisions, as much as they love being told that according to a recent announcement from demographic dons at the Pew Research Center they are a millennial even if they’re as old as 37.  Finally, the body image themed Hunger is strangely reminiscent of If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next by Manic Street Preachers, full of slow crashing majesty.  Which is a masterpiece, if you’re too fucking young to know, for fuck’s sake. (live clips by Christian of Robot House)

I had been wondering how ten artists were going to fit into six hours, but it turns out the secret is having incredibly fast, 10 minute average turnaround times.  Every occasion that you’ve spent three-quarters of an hour staring at your shoes was a manufactured lie.  Speaking of fast and short, Big Puppy from Tallahassee.  I make this connection not because vocalist Chelsaint Bernard has a song about being 5ft tall and not appreciating your condescending bullshit, but because their blasts of 80-second 80s hardcore are awesome.  Each number is part of a loveable, huggable, comforting litter, overwhelming you with its strength as it might.  Chelsaint catches my eye with a drinking bottle exactly like my own, proving that no matter their crimes here in the Gulf, BP do in fact depend on clean water for survival like the rest of us (sorry).  It occurs to me here that I think I really like when bands have standalone singers.  Not only is it easier to imagine myself getting to do it, they’re much more likely to jump around like a rabid dog if they aren’t holding an instrument. 

From the land of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando we are next trick or treated to Witchbender.  How does that track go?  “Don’t bend the witch, do bend the rich.”  Describing their messy clattering punk as "smeared, volatile, unleashed or something,” I also get something of an Issa Diao from Good Clean Fun effect from the singer, identified as Julio Felix or something.  There’s a slightly gritty friendliness to his vocals and his movements are like if Diao broke edge and had a sudden massive intake of coffee.  While a bit more of the fringe, Witchbender are also like GCF in that their heavy music project appears to be a wide concept comedy vehicle, and at the very least drug-critical (not going on many benders then I imagine).  Speaking of wide, Julio has not one but two simply gargantuan sandbag sized beverage containers for the physically demanding set.  Basically enough water to melt any pissed off witches in the crowd.  And if you haven’t got the message that hydration is important, an overreaction to the availability of Coke rather than Pepsi earlier that day leads to a strangely amusing intro in which the whole band groupscreams Julio’s pain.  Merely hinting at a more serious side, yet leaving us guessing, Witchbender perform a song about immigration, but speaking personally it is not nearly tedious, slow or dehumanising enough.

For the second half of the witching hour we have Night Witch, again from Tallahassee.  Will they be the Coke to Witchbender’s Pepsi?  Or perhaps the pummelling of chauvinists to their eye of newt.  In their first gig since January this feminist hardcore act are arguably the most abrasive of the day.  I’m not sure why there seem to be so many angry as fuck feminist punk bands at the moment.  It’s not as if politicians in Ohio are introducing bills to ban abortion in all circumstances, for example.  To go with the contemporary sounds that I know of, I’d say Night Witch sound like Lauren Kashan of Sharptooth guesting with Fucked and Bound (with a startling similarity in their recent album covers).  Even for hardcore, the tunes are almost comically short on occasion, but like all polite hardcore acts Night Witch compensate with a large Minor Threat-style discography release, and (if I heard singer Rosie correctly) a 20 song album on the way.  It’s also a little amusing (I say this in complete respect) that the onstage banter often dwarves the songs waiting in the wings.  Either way, Rosie has a lot to say, and her bandmates are as patient as the audience as she allows herself to be vulnerable, talking without clear script about issues such as sexual assault, including how a simple pleasure like riding a bike can be ruined through association with a bad memory.  Eco-feminist theory springs to mind. 

On the subject of environmental factors, watching The Zeta from Puerto La Cruz in northern Venezuela is like watching the sun explode in your face.  Holy shit!  This is a sort of post-rock punk, growing and building like much mostly instrumental music, but as seen here in the confines of a festival set it’s quicker and more immediate.  You see the mass they’re going for in their album titles like Explosi√≥n Del Cosmos Del Alma (Explosion Of The Cosmos Of The Soul) and En Medio De La Tormenta (In The Midst Of The Storm).  I’m drunk on the vibrations and vegan barbecue.  In an oversaturated field where there’s a chasm between how boring it can be to listen to some of these artists at home and how phenomenal the experience can be live, The Zeta are making their own epic chasm in any room they’re invited into.  Rather than post-metal growls, towards the back end shouted Spanish vocals come in suddenly from Juan Ricardo Yilo, while guitarist Daniel Hernandez Saud jumps onto some sort of bodiless bongo drums (I tried in vain to find the technical term for these).  This is the second day of an ongoing U.S. tour, but the band is currently based in Florida, with certain members having just received work permits.  I suggest keeping the hard work for the shows, because it pays off. 

I’m really loving the trajectory of styles on display here.  No two acts sound the same, with Frameworks from Gainesville being a great choice to follow The Zeta, holding their own in the post-chasm.  If I’m reading the social media breadcrumbs correctly, they are, also appropriately, doing sporadic local gigs after a couple of years of touring Latin America, with a recent live tape split with Mexico’s Joliette out on Deathwish Inc (Jacob Bannon’s label).  Frameworks are a five piece, justifying each member with an incredibly heavy post-hardcore approach, √† la Small Brown Bike or a faster and more melodic Glassjaw.  The performed track Tangled off their last album Smother is a perfect example.  There’s really nothing other than music going on here, exposing hacks like me who think they’re funny, and they’re so into keeping the focus within the Framework of music that doing the journo-digital-stalker thing to find out who is playing what has brought me up mostly empty-handed.  Respect.

“This is a punk show right?  You’re not writing this up for Rolling Stone?”  Yeah, and I’ll be telling the dear readers that You, Reality Asylum, are a punk band with no guitars of any kind.  Yer out of the box and into the talk box, with Ricky’s vocals expressing vocoder contortions and Lauren’s having a bit of a sympathy mellowing.  Not in a bad way, mind; compared to my previous exposure to the darkwavers things in general just seem more subdued, sinister and psychedelic, which is all reasonable for an asylum episode.  Even the acid house diluted in a water slide-fuelled Sewer of Love seems a little calmer than the recording.  I continue to be amazed by the giant flasks on display for some reason (it’s not as if I’m thirsty since Lucky You kindly provides free water).  Maybe Reality Asylum’s approach today is vast consumption of various colour local kombucha, and they finally reached the fabled land of getting tipsy on the trace alcohol beverage: a sleeper scoby within the punk scene.  Fun and palate cleansing natural product made with modern tech!  Just what is needed at this point in the evening.  Lauren is still however wading through the fizz of synths and F-Zero noises to get up in the crowd’s business in a brite tank of amorous fermentation.  I can see how some would find this sort of venture into their carbonated bubble uncomfortable, but this festival is a community space, and you can’t sustainably build a bridge without taking bricks off a wall. 

It is getting pretty late, with PM in the PM bringing us up to midnight.  After their opening flex Permanent Makeup ask us to fill in the gap left by nervous Reality Asylum viewers and we creep forward into the void.  Chris gets back to doing his bassman in a caveman jigs and drummer-drawer Susan is channeling pure glee when her expression isn’t deep in concentration.  This trio is committed to permanently making up, with improvisation essential to the songwriting process, but whether it’s live or on wax (I picked up their recent album Scrape on Record Store Day) it always feels organic and cool.  Today I feel compelled to describe them as the offspring of J Church and The Fall, their respective deceased singers (R.I.P.) having forged an experimental intelligentsia project in the post-punk-post.  And John Peel’s going, “This is Permanent Makeup” in his red wine tone, as if he isn’t about to play something odd.  At the close of the session Chris reminds the gathered that there is “no special art club” and anyone can do it, a sentiment he expressed in the first No Clear Records blog post almost 10 years ago.  Just going for it certainly seems to be working for them.

And on the subject once again of working and regular people expressing themselves we come to the Lucky You Fest first day closers, Brooklyn oi quartet The Brass.  The suitably rank and file name (reminder to self: watch Brassed Off this May Day) and source inspiration combines with your New York muscle hardcore influence for a bracingly bracey performance of the kind I rarely see around here.  One number reminds me of Work Together by Welsh legends The Oppressed, with vocalist Clay bearing a gravelly similarity to Roddy Moreno.  Representation for further UK nations continues with a cover of Alternative Ulster, and I must have misheard Clay saying the song was twice as old as him, because that would make him 80, and to that I’d have to say that looking at him he’s not been living nearly hard enough.  A brass horseshoe of space slowly expands into the venue as punters clearly here to see this band especially finally bring some physical friction to proceedings.  There obviously should be a place in the punk arena for working class men to express their base instincts if they want; if you don't think that to some degree, then let’s forget the whole thing.  Sharing is good.  That said, with possible justification given for travel time (the band were in New Orleans the day before, and perhaps their friends were with them), these boot and beefcake boys in the crowd weren't here clapping politely for the other 9 groups, so there’s something of a confrontational takeover vibe to what’s going on, or at least an unfortunate separation.  As for The Brass themselves and their music, it’s refreshing enough to end the day on.  Their new album Our Own Path is available now on snazzy as fuck brass colour vinyl from Insurgence Records.

I was unfortunately unable to attend day two of the Lucky You Fest due to another gig (you can listen to everyone from the weekend here).  But day one was enthralling enough to hammer home the current health of things in our area.  Long may it continue.  You can see the various future gigs coming up at Lucky You - of which many are from Robot House Presents - right here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thursday, April 12th 2018
Jannus Live, St. Petersburg FL

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

Photo by Jay Cridlin (Tampa Bay Times)

Where’s Milo? is a tough game.  You find a terrific spot on Jannus’s raised balcony in the back third, and are quickly baffled by the sight of bespectacled, ageing, happy looking men all over the place.  They and many others are wearing the attractive orange and green pastel tour shirts, and yet more imposters appear to be Milos of the future. “Wait a minute,” snaps your partner in observation.  “What if he’s directly behind that huge tree between us and the stage?”

Luckily, I’m as much a treehugger as my girlfriend is short, so we make the spot work well enough.  Roger Lima of Rehasher might have a crunchy inclination too, his whiteboy dreadlocks swinging as he jumps about thrashing out skate rock.  When I saw the band at Lucky You earlier this year I could have sworn he had short hair, so I wonder if the dreads are clip-ons, but it would later turn out he must have had them tied up.  There’s to be no clip-on trumpets either, with Lima once again rebuffing apparently frequent demands for subJake performances (“no we will not be playing ska, sir”).  Legendary musician status is all relative I suppose, with Rehasher blasting through songs only to pause and bullet-speed comment on this being their biggest gig ever or the headliners their favourite band.  Lima is an effective and happy enough candidate to rile up our dormant adolescent enthusiasm to get cheap Descendents-anticipation cheers (Cheer!)  There are no lighthearted covers this time.  For you’ll surely get egg on your face offering such semi-shallow fun when everyone knows that very soon we shall have it ALL.  The sun is setting over the courtyard, with Rehasher having done exactly what a warm-up act is meant to do.

In continued ecological harmony with the surroundings things get just slightly gloomier but no less enjoyable with Radkey.  What’s interesting about the three Radke brothers is that they don’t shy away from their historical position as black punk contributors, but they do place it off to the side in the details.  Like fellow sibling trio and latter-day stars Death they’re playing garage proto-punk with the chunk, thick chords that age well plus solos (“we like solos”). Radkey be making Rad Beats. Their first gig was opening for Fishbone, and they have some imagery that pays homage to the Bad Brains lightning strike (Bad Brains rejected being labelled a hardcore band, and when Radkey kept getting the same treatment they penned the performed Core, so at least the broken clocks might be right twice a day).  Accompanying the proto-punk are Dee Radke’s dark vocals with their shock-horror similarity to Glenn Danzig.  Content including black reapers and vampires and record titles such as Dark Black Makeup (later renamed Delicious Rock Noise) and Devil Fruit adds to the Misfitting about.  But they have other areas of interest, with one performed cut about a Dragon Ball Z villain and another, near the end, being described as “surfy as shit”: that sort of gives you a clue as to why Descendents picked them for this tour.  To draw on their beach-lovin’ youthful lifeforce, obviously.

Nicely edited clip from Certified PR’s Videos

An incredibly illuminating interview over at Creative Loafing last week must have prompted Milo Aukerman to do some tourage research.  He informs the crowd that Descendents last played in Tampa Bay 21 years ago, then pushes us all down the rapturous mountain of pop-hardcore with Suburban Home and Everything Sux (a song that was new at that time, to put it into perspective).  I know how that wait goes, with over 15 years of pent up fanticipation for me before I finally saw them at Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival; now I’m seeing them for a second time in under two years thanks to Milo getting the corporate elbow and putting his science career on the back bunsen burner.  The first gig was an insane release of emotion. This time it’s different, but still a shade of euphoric, which is to be expected from a band who can make me feel amped up when I’m scrubbing plates in my kitchen. What I can now as a musical scientist call a trend is that Descendents want to give you value for money and they do not want to fuck about.

Over the course of an hour plus of delayed afterglow performing, most of your top 30 chainsaw cuts -- a list you should have -- are present here.  The bald and white-bearded gents (the latter in Karl Alvarez’s case) pull out I Don’t Want To Grow Up and My Dad Sucks for the sons and daughters present.  Tracks from 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate such as On Paper and Shameless Halo are now officially part of the canon, which is to say we’ve had time to learn and sit with them and they largely meet the standard.  I could go on, but you know the songs, and if you don’t know them, get to knowing them. Milo and Stephen: “So you’re gonna tune for a song about living in a cave?”  “This song is important to me!” The time it takes for them to make this exchange is all the time that is taken tuning. Everything looks effortless because they put the effort in when they were writing the things.  Every note is perfect. Even the upcoming Record Store Day release Who We Are (a protest song so limp and bathed in nationalist mythology it makes M-16 and ‘Merican seem like weighty political tomes) is enjoyable in the live setting.

It’s possible I’m both a shit fanboy and shit critic, or that the two roles tripped over each others’ ankles, but in that CL interview Milo promised Pep Talk, and I don’t recollect hearing it.  But Bill Stevenson, the big beaming beautiful bear that he is, announces an encore where we get the modern friend-to-friend equivalent of Smile.  And smile we should.  One last quotable from the interview is that Descendents are committed to not giving it yet another decade before their next LP, with perhaps half an album already written.  We are in the midst of a renaissance for the Church of ALL. You can get old. Just see this band before you die.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Dub Righters
True Sound Killaz EP
Plasterer/A World We Never Made, 2018

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

I get homesick relatively often. It’s usually mild, and can result in a wide variety of questionable viewing and listening choices. Something pretty effective at both provoking and scratching that itch is what King Prawn termed “Wildstyle”: the likes of Mouthwash, Dub Pistols, Asian Dub Foundation, China Shop Bull and The Mighty Mighty Boom.  Bands with names as spaghetti-like and involved as their musical output, quintessentially English potpourri for the stagnant armpit of guitar rock music; all different, all brilliant at their best. They more effortlessly provide a multicultural experience than yer typical guitars-to-the-hilt punk act. My going this route doesn’t happen much more frequently than a true-blue pleasant English summers day, but boy it’s sweet when it all lines up.

So it’s with pleasure that I come to finally review True Sound Killaz by London’s The Dub Righters (apologies for the delay, band -- I wish my email would let me know when I get an actual personal correspondence, rather than filtering it through hundreds of messages from organizations asking for money to elect people I’ve never heard of).  The ideal length for a visit, this is seven sunny slices of punky reggae party, English style, without the crusts cut off. It’s revelling in lifestylist subversion with a smile instead of a snarl. It’s a sunny day in a grim global power centre. It’s feel good music in the capital of grime.

Or at least that’s the tone set by the opening track Archway Keith. This is the story of top times living ideals in a home that was definitely a dump -- but it was their dump.  An infectious chorus accompanies details of a likely squatted shithole, with the comfortable knowledge that putting their freedom ahead of their comfort paid off. “The plugs are dodgy and the toilet’s fucked/The cost of living for free never too much.” The satisfaction of manageable dilapidation usually only lasts so long though, begging the question of how we make these options wider ranging for more people and more time.  A bug ran about on my screen during this analysis. Immediately the band then apply the same thinking to humans as buildings in Life is For The Living, honouring the past while asking how best to improve and keep honouring it in the future.  Having just passed the birthday of a lost friend of my own, I consider his tragedy whenever I’m contemplating how I spend my remaining time.

That friend absolutely loved Sublime.  Couldn’t get enough of them. The three-piece Dub Righters have been compared to the groundbreaking group, so he might have given them a go.  It’s not a comparison they mind, and you can see the logic as Sublime are one of few bands that did an American version of wildstyle that I’d say works on a similar level as the UK acts (especially their underappreciated weird middle album, Robbin’ the Hood).  With the track Boom Box the Righters not only celebrate the power of a wide variety of music, they make potential lyrical echoes of fellow gravelly-voiced vehicles Operation Ivy and Rancid (and the intro resembles Caress Me Down).  The street party widens with “skins, punks, travellers, squatters, ravers and you,” making for an anarchist travelling circus, a Who’s Who of SchNEWS contributors.  Tapes don’t skip though, mate -- signed, fellow analogue luddite.

The reverence doesn’t appear to extend to The Exploited though, with Beat The Bastards being far from a cover.  Exactly when you might expect aggression, it’s one of the lightest cuts here with it’s woozy dub cushioning.  Other than the friendship/brag title track the remainder is also a relatively laid back affair. The closing Black Coffee is a situation where a band hits a tender groove so hard that they basically just go around again and you do not mind.  It’s the best tune on the whole record, closely accompanied by the opener. In fact, this EP is shaped like a sideways rainbow or a neatly layered, dumpster-retrieved sandwich: 1 and 7 concern love and friendship, 2 and 6 are about making the most of life, and 3 and 5 are about music.  So at this point of course, I am obligated to get questionably thoughtful and semi-serious...

I’m one of those people that believes the left needs to refine and finesse the ways that we discuss issues of social hierarchy, if we are to learn anything from the current state of things.  So please believe me when I say that I don’t bring up the following topic lazily. Generally, the vocal style here is nothing but enjoyable, but there were a couple of moments when I asked myself if there was an element of having it on with the West Indies-influenced accent.  And the surrounding promo lingo. Fetishising of diversity, or at least the diversity of genres? The minor gripe that the band describe their sound as incorporating hip hop when I hear really no evidence of it beyond some clever wordplay -- not a single solitary scratch -- doesn’t help.  I don’t know anything about the personal background, experiences, or life of singer Lawrence Harrington or the other members, so this is not a “hit and run” criticism, and perhaps there is more nuance to it.

I’m also not saying this is a new trend in Jamaican-origin music, or even binarily saying that it’s a bad thing.  I did learn that the area of London The Dub Righters appear to be based near or in (Tottenham) is by some accounts the most ethnically diverse place in all of Europe, with 300 languages and 113 ethnic groups living alongside one another.  Which is pretty damn cool, and suggests that whatever is going on here is probably coming from a place of respect.  But I think it’s something to think about, whether the embrace of the cultural mosaic can be more honest, and get further to the heart of why it’s a great phenomenon for us all.  You don’t have to lose or hide parts of your identity. Keep it real. Especially when using a phrase not yet entirely ruined by white society like “keep it real.” For all their genre-mashing, Bradley Nowell didn’t generally sing in accents other than his own, and it’s difficult to imagine Sublime would be so widely lauded if he had made a habit of it. Tim Armstrong's success on the other hand I can't explain, but I think he's a joke, so maybe it's just me building a molehill-shaped mountain.

This is not the heart of the record however and I’m troubled by the fact that it takes up so much page space here (I sometimes wonder if I need a Saturday Night Live-style intervention to learn when I’m going on too long).  True Sound Killaz is a great time without being mindless “zany” drivel, and I enjoy it a bunch.  Reading about The Dub Righters they clearly give a shit about important rad issues, but none of that is directly addressed here, which at this point is frankly a relief.  The upstroke twangs are crisp, the messages and lyrics are positive and the dubby reverb is right on. If you want a break from the norm, or this sounds much like the norm for you, I’d definitely work it into your rotation.  When you’re being a lazy bastard on a pseudo Sunday, when coffee is doing nothing and the cider doesn’t yet seem wise, the Righters won’t do you wrong.

You can hear True Sound Killaz at the bandcamp link below.  To buy it on CD, send money through Paypal as a gift to, including an address and the name of the album. For other detail, see the Plasterer Facebook here.

You can see the Dubs’ upcoming gigs at their Fedbook page, including with Plasterer Records founders Wonk Unit in London on the 18th.