When I first heard San Antonio's Fearless Iranians from Hell, I thought they were terrible. Just another thrash band, with predictably bad metal leanings. But, twenty years later, the project's singularity is painfully obvious.
Faux-Middle Eastern hardcore, featuring the bass playing of an ex-member of the Butthole Surfers on the late, great Boner label, I played this hilarious 1986 EP back to back this morning with Muslimgauze, and it made a whole lot more sense.
While I'd argue that the concept is definitely stronger than the execution, one of the great things about punk has always been that as a form of critique, given the right context, sometimes a good idea is all that's really required.
It's finally out, and boy does it look good. Strolling through the Haight yesterday, Jennifer and I stumbled upon the brand new edition of the Punk Planet interview collection, We Owe You Nothing, at the appropriately DiY, volunteer-staffed Bound Together Books.
Toronto's Eye Weekly reviewed the collection on the 9th, together with former Punk Planet Associate Publisher Anne Elizabeth Moore's excellent Unmarketable. Putting Anne's book in the mix not only was smart. It also explains why PP remains essential to understanding the zeitgeist.
Ramsey's guests include yours truly and Craig O'Hara, the author of The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise, a new edition of which is scheduled to drop in the new year. If you're interested in the band, in punk, or in how music and politics collide, we pretty much cover it all.
2007 was an astounding year for dubstep and Indo-Arab impacted American hip-hop. Chicago's long gone Los Crudos finally made it back into print, while baile thug funk and Tuareg guitar rock reminded worriers about the world music category that it's not just about happy natives penning primitive campfire songs. Thumbs up to Pressure Sounds for putting out the best dub reissue of the year. As usual, Sublime Frequencies outdid everyone by coining the term 'jihadi techno.'
In light of these observations, here's what we played the most:
The new issue of Other is officially out. Though I'm running a little late posting this terrific postcard, (the release party took place a couple of weeks ago), we finally had the time to scan a copy.
A contributor (and sometimes contributing editor) to this great, freethinking mag since it was first launched, there's a piece in the current issue by me, about my years editing the late Punk Planet.
For the first time since 2003, when I served up a really loud noise set for a bunch of tranny friends at a local hair salon, I brought my Macbook and MIDI controller to the Other party and played DJ.
Speaking of Punk Planet, Paul M. Davis posted his article on the distribution crisis that triggered PP's collapse to the magazine's website. Click here to read his analysis. It's from the very last edition.
You know you're starting to feel old when, in the space of one month, three films about three dead musicians hit the theaters, and you can still remember when their very first records came out. Such was the case when, watching the previews before the new Anton Corbijn biopic about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, I saw plugs for new feature films about The Clash's Joe Strummer and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.
Two down, one to go, so far, Control is the winner. Casting Ian Curtis as the unstable, miserable genius that he was, the black and white feature debut by the famous Dutch photographer has a truly literary feel to it, eschewing Curtis' star quality for an up-close study of a talented young man totally falling apart. Julien Temple's homage to Strummer, The Future is Unwritten is Control's polar opposite.
A documentary portrait of an equally brilliant middle aged rock star burdened with enormous regrets, Future is best summed up in the highly critical words of my wife, who published her own terrific take on the film last night. Check it out. If you haven't read the Bionic Farmer blog yet, this is the perfect introduction.
Between the fall of 1999 and the summer of 2001, I spent an untold number of hours capturing field recordings of anti-capitalist demonstrators from around the world. Posted to an assortment of websites ranging from Indymedia to the BBC, once I'd start playing a file, I'd record it in real time to a Phillips 765 CD-R dubbing deck.
The best example of these recordings is a montage I pieced together of a demonstration in front of the IMF HQ in Washington DC, in April 2000. Cut and sequenced manually, and then placed over a heavily edited hip-hop percussion track, the song, What's Your Badge Number?, ended up on the first Elders of Zion record, Dawn Refuses to Rise.
Today, at the request of a listener, a community radio DJ posted the piece to her blog. Click here to read the entry and download the track.
Speaking of the golden oldies, in today's Guardian, there's an absolutely terrific article on the continuing relevance of The Clash's 1979 LP, London Calling. Penned by Joe Queenan, this is the kind of exquisitely written, politically-charged music criticism glaringly absent from most US news periodicals.
Part of an ongoing series of articles commemorating the 30th anniversary of the first punk explosion, The Guardian's special focus on '77 contrasts sharply with the near-exclusive emphasis placed on remembering 1967's Summer of Love in the arts sections of numerous American dailies over the past few months.
None of this is to say that similarly high quality, big picture music writing can't be found here. I've worked with countless first class writers for whom this kind of journalism is second nature. The problem is a resistance to commissioning such pieces outside of indie music magazines and alternative weeklies.
For the last three years, I've been the owner of a satellite radio. Early adopters, we both installed them in our cars because of the access it gave us to non-American news services and genre-based music channels. (I was immediately sold on the idea of a 24/7 death metal station.) Given what poor reception the radio received in my twenty year-old Volvo, and how long my commute to work was (an hour and fifteen minutes either way) for the first few months, my new radio was an enormously refreshing change of pace.
Unfortunately, Sirius' allure ran out rather quickly. Each one of its channels - even when they weren't run by the host company, such as the BBC's World Service - sounded far too disciplined. Everything came across as being so thoroughly programmed that if an announcer so much as made a pronunciation error, you'd fear for their careers. (The word 'cautious' always came to mind.) The lack of ads was great, but the absence of spontaneity was even more noticeable.
Perhaps the worst aspect of our Sirius experience was the alternative music station, Left of Center. At times sounding like it was programmed by the editors of London music tabloid NME, the endless repetition of throwaway British bands like Starsailor seemed like a very curious choice given how ill-fitting such groups sound in domestic indie context. What about a band like Spoon? Totally beige, but less obvious. Equally awkward was the fratboy-friendly vibe of Sirius' reggae station.
Driving our new, satellite radio-free car home today (we couldn't afford the option), I turned on KUSF and heard an absolutely iconographic, mixed-genre set of electronica, post-punk and hip-hop. Sometimes the DJ spoke too softly. Sometimes he segued a little too quickly. Nevertheless, it sounded like manna had descended from radio heaven. Moving from the great new Zeph and Azeem record to the Slits' classic New Town, listening to our local college station was like running into a cherished old friend you'd mistakenly assumed dead or disappeared.
Yesterday's announcement that Punk Planet was closing its
doors did not come as a surprise. Still personally close to the
magazine that I helped edit for over seven years (between 1997 and 2004 I
served as the periodical's associate editor and books editor, in
addition to writing a column), I was entirely clear about PP's
situation. That does not mean, however, that the news was not
upsetting. Yes, I was intellectually prepared for it. But emotionally,
I was not. I've spent the better part of today dragging, going grocery
shopping instead of writing. Coming home from Trader Joe's an hour ago, I even
missed my exit, and had to drive several extra miles to rectify the error.
Over the course of the last 24 hours, press coverage of Punk Planet's closure has
been intense. From an SF Bay Guardian piece (GW Schulz waxing about the
days when Annalee Newitz wrote for us) to the Village Voice (a critical overview of the magazine's history, by Tom Breihan) the entire alt.press world seems to have gone into
mourning with us. It all very much reminds me of the fact that Punk
Planet was really a writer's magazine - staffed by serious, young
writers, and admired by left-of-center journalists in
the rest of the U.S. press. As a young editor, that
always meant an enormous amount to me. The
journalistic focus on the magazine was a deep and lasting complement that helped us all get by
under less than ideal economic circumstances.
But that's only half the story. Punk Planet was a cultural event as
much as it was a magazine. Unlike other similar events associated with
youth culture, it was a product of immense ingenuity and tireless, hard
work too. Thus, when its talented writers started to get offers from
other periodical and book publishers, and record labels saw Punk Planet
as an important place to break artists, the reason was obvious:
Because the work PP was commissioning was insightful, well-written and
passionate. During an era in which every 'punk' career move was
considered suspect, imagine what a wrench this threw in the so-called
works. For once, or so we felt, our subculture was being recognized for
non-musical achievements, like political writing, which there was no
point in feeling conflicted about.
Punk Planet allowed us to live 'punk' lives without the fear - or the
anxiety - of selling out. Sure, we might end up working for a New Times
periodical, or sell in excess of 60,000 copies of a novel. But in the
grand scheme of things, that's still chump change compared to the
'sinful' kinds of music-derived incomes that punks always complained
about. What giving its staff such opportunities entailed was a right to
be equally culturally influential without any of the ideological excess
associated with the so-called culture of careerism. By itself, that is
an absolutely immense achievement, particularly considering how we
defined success. The proof is in the pudding: thirteen years of
successive issues, a first class book imprint, and thousands of
ex-contributors in every wing of publishing.
I could write more about PP, but I've done it before, and I think I've said enough. If you'd like to read an earlier piece about working at PP, which details a bit more about what I personally think about the magazine, check out Punk Planet Forever in Stylus. Written after the first IPA-induced storm clouds began to gather in late 2005, it does a much better job of saying what I've already said above, if not a bit more.
Every weekend - or so we intend - Jennifer takes one day for herself. I assist by either working at cafes, seeing friends, or spending the day perusing the aisles of one of my favorite local record stores (or two). In either case, its a good weekend ritual for us. After an exhausting work week, we both need a break from our routines. Having a little personal downtime is always helpful.
Last weekend was no exception. On Sunday, a close friend who moved to Arizona several years ago was in town to see his family, who were out here visiting from New York. We met up for breakfast at the Pork Store Cafe on 16th street, and then made a beeline for Streetlight Records on 24th. Eager to take advantage of a sale, Joe indulged me while I worked the bargain bins.
Thinking of myself as the champion discount music shopper, I said goodbye to Joe, and proceeded to walk home feeling absolutely triumphant. Delighted at the prospects of Jennifer's reaction to the purchases (for several years, she's expressed interest in owning nearly all of the records I'd bought), nothing prepared me for what I encountered three blocks from our house.
Standing near the corner of San Jose and 30th, a woman in her mid-thirties was hosting her own DIY music sale. In front of her stood two makeshift tables. One held gangsta and crunk CDs and DVDs, while the other sported piles of unsorted grime, electronica and indie rock discs. Tight on cash, I decided I'd still take a look to see if there were any absolute must-haves.
Low and behold, a number of records fit the bill: Lady Sovereign's Vertically Challenged EP, DJ Clever's Science Faction: Dubstep comp, Panjabi MC's Beware LP, and Rammstein's Reise Reise (featuring the hilarious 'Amerika') all caught my fancy. Looking over the 15 discs I ended up holding in my hands, the person selling the records sighed and said, "Take 'em, they're free. I'm having a hard enough time moving the hip hop as it is. Nobody likes music anymore."
Not the best time writing-wise this past week. I've been finishing the bibliographical work that I've needed to complete for my book, and have spent a lot of time gathering together any remaining news articles I can find in order to bring myself totally up-to-date. I feel pretty good about what I've pulled together so far, though, as with other book projects I've worked on (this is my fifth), I've had to set severe limits to my source material so I don't find myself overwhelmed.
As a rule of thumb, once I've acquired everything I need to start writing, I focus on covering only the most representative instances of my subject matter and comment on them until there's hopefully nothing left to discuss. If I have material left over that I might find useful later, voila, its always there. I hold on to everything. I can't tell you how many times over the years that I've found myself grateful for my packrat habits. Sometimes I wish I'd become a librarian.
Despite this self-congratulatory pat on the back, there are two standout occasions in which I've failed to live up to my archivist's ethos. The first was during high school, when my then-classmate John Whitson gave me his only copy of a live soundboard tape of a Husker Du show in Walla Walla, Washington. Unmarked, I recorded over the cassette, thinking that it was a blank. Talk about stupid. Even then, in the spring of '86, I knew I'd committed a horrible mistake.
The second time was equally profound. In the fall of 2005, director Julien Temple contacted me, explaining that he was making a documentary about the life and times of his old friend, Joe Strummer. He wanted to know if I could give him a copy of a recording of an interview I'd done with Joe, which had been the cover story of the January/February 2000 edition of Punk Planet, (and had just been reprinted in Let Fury Have the Hour, an anthology of writings about the late Clash frontman edited by Antonino D'Ambrosio.) Temple explained that he wanted to use the recording in his film, and was hoping I would allow him to do so.
Several hours later, as I searched through boxes of cassettes in my basement looking for the interview, I found the tape. Unfortunately, along with a number of recordings of my old radio shows at my alma mater, Reed College, the cassette had been damaged by water, and was in an advanced state of deterioration. Even though Temple's crew kindly offered to try to restore it, the recording engineer that I am knew that the tape was beyond repair.
Clearly, I should have known better. It would have been great to have been able to give the Strummer interview its proper due. It was a terrific recording, and Joe was in absolutely marvelous form. As much as I like the written transcription of the interview, nothing comes close to how charming and witty he sounded on the phone. Even Strummer's coughs (was there a bong nearby?) were hilarious.
It's taken nearly four years, but the second Elders of Zion record is officially out. Released by Sounds From the Roof - a terrific new LA label run by Rooftop Promotion's Garo Kuyumcovic - this eight track EP compiles a number of songs we wrote for queer festival porno shot Damnaged, our final pieces recorded with Pansy Division/Plus Ones drummer Luis Illades, and a remix of the Tight Bros From Way Back When's "Show Me," which spent a good number of months housed on the front page of the Kill Rock Stars website before disappearing into the hipster ether.
Like the last Elders record, Dawn Refuses to Rise, Twilight War features a few interesting guests in the sample department. Mixing Ho Chi Minh with a group of Russian Jews recorded at a passover service during the 1950s (saying "next year in Jerusalem" in Yiddish) on album opener "Viet Cong Jerusalem," we have our fair share of fun again employing obscure vocal parts. However, what makes this record distinct from our last is that it is primarily instrumental. The politics, as it were, are carried forth by the tone the songs set rather than by traditional protest music polemics.
Released as an iTunes exclusive, we'll be following up Twilight with a brand new full-length album on SFTR in the fall. Delightfully enough, it'll appear on vinyl as well as CD and downloadable formats. I'm quite excited about producing a vinyl version. By no means an analogue loyalist, (I've been composing music on computers for eleven years), I still prefer the sound of analogue over digital. The former label manager in me is also tickled by the fact that vinyl LPs and 7"s have been going through a sales resurgence over the last several years.
Despite all of this business nonsense, its just nice to have a new record out again.
Anarcho-punk nostalgia has finally kicked in. Perhaps the only kind of 80s retro that's remotely acceptable, this beautifully pieced together compilation CD released late last Fall (the 4th in a series issued by the UK's Overground label) is an absolute must-buy for anyone interested in the intersection between music and radical politics. Written by former Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud, the liner notes are worth the price of admission alone. Get it in the US from AK Press.
For those looking for an excellent monograph of the genesis of the UK anarcho-punk scene, the American edition of Ian Glasper's excellent The Day the Country Died is forthcoming from Reynolds and Hearn in March. Hallelujah.
The 1980s marked the most profound political rationalization of popular music ever. Given how absolutely dire the events of the past five years have been, (and how impovershed most musical responses remain), the rise of anarcho-punk historiography seems utterly appropriate.