Tag Archives: punk

Feature interview: Sleaford Mods’ Deep Discontent

Sleaford Mods Paul McBride interview 2020

At first glance, Sleaford Mods might seem easy to pigeonhole, but scratch just below the surface and there’s a seething mass of contradictions and complexities ripe for discovery.

The English duo of vocalist Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn has been aggressively yet cleverly ripping apart the ruling classes, societal norms and austerity-era politics across 13 years and 11 albums, but not everything is as simple as it seems, Williamson says.

“I’m wary of the fact that I don’t have to struggle any more, so sometimes I feel that I’m not the person to ask about frontline politics,” he says. “I personally don’t want to repeat myself on each album by saying how shit everything is, do you know what I mean? At the same time, I want to talk about how shit it is, but you can’t just talk about things in a clichéd manner, because that’s just fucking rude. These things are serious; they affect people. You have to talk about things like that in ways that people will feel. I’m not talking about some fucking bolshy, middle-class audience that just wants to hear you say ‘fuck whoever’, but real fucking connection with misery. It’s a bit of a tightrope; you’ve really got to think about it.”

Embittered rants about unemployment, working life, human rights, pop culture and capitalism layered over punk/hip hop sounds are the duo’s bread and butter. Williamson is hyper-aware of the power of words and forthright about his process of getting his lyrics to the right place.

“I just make sure I’m checking myself because it’s easy to fall down the cliché trap,” he says. “It’s easy to be lazy. If you’re talking about a situation you’ve experienced or a feeling or somebody you don’t like, it’s important to dress that with something that is as potent as how you feel about that subject. [Writing is] cathartic to a certain degree, but I can be a very resentful person, a very bitter person, or full of self-doubt. I’m never fucking happy really [laughs]. You could see me as a successful singer in a successful band, but I’m never content about it. I feel good about myself a lot of the time, but, at the same time, I get pissed off and take things personally when things don’t change. It’s swings and roundabouts, innit?”

Williamson, who has been teetotal for over three years, and Fearn are making their first visit to Australia to play WOMADelaide and a run of shows starting 29 February in Wollongong.

“It was always something we wanted to do but just weren’t in a position before,” Williamson says. “I don’t want to sound like a complete idiot, but, in the past, we would have been literally paying to come over and we’d have no money to take back. We were a grassroots band and we came up together. We were doing it on our own and didn’t really connect with the proper industry until later. It feels like the time spent in Australia will be put to good use, although I can’t fucking be doing with wankers on drugs in my face, talking shit [laughs].”

Wankers aside, Williamson is keen to connect with audiences here, and isn’t worried about his often bleak, UK-centric subject matter resonating with fans in the southern hemisphere.

“People get the gist, do you know what I mean?,” he says. “The music speaks for itself. It’s kind of a universal feeling you get from listening to it. Yeah, the lyrics are a bit alienating, I guess, but, generally speaking, it’s a sound that’s familiar with people. It carries a lot of aspects of sounds that have gone before, but it’s also got a modern, new approach to it as well. Nobody really sounds or operates like us. We’re kind of on our own.”

For Mixdown Magazine

A Critical Analysis of Blade Runner as a Resource for Speculation on the Possibilities of New Media and Cyberspace

blade runner poster

Humanity has a complex and sometimes concerning relationship with technology and the roles it plays in our lives, and this relationship has been examined in an array of cultural forms and contexts over a long period of history. Technology not only provides us with new tools for communication and expression, but continually-evolving social contexts for our daily existence (Lunenfeld 2000, p.1). From the conception of human engagement with technology, there has been concern about the potential for the end of humanity (Hansen 2004, p.14), and while this may seem like an extreme way of viewing technological progress, these fears remain today. Some of the most powerful arguments for and against the use of technology in our lives have been made in utopian or dystopian texts. Film has, for many decades, been a vehicle for bringing these arguments to mass audiences; both in terms of their historical context and its possibilities for the future. Technology or new media has, at different times, been shown on film as being the saviour or the downfall of humanity, or sometimes both simultaneously. This essay will critically analyse the 1982 film Blade Runner in the realm of new media and technology as resources for speculation and possibility, and the science fiction genre of cyberpunk from which it was spawned, and show that it is a culturally-significant example of technology and humanity colliding in fiction.

Directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is partly based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The plot follows ‘blade runner’ Rick Deckard, as he hunts four renegade human-like androids, or ‘replicants’, who are on the run from authorities in a dystopian Los Angeles. The clash between “creatures engineered in biomedical laboratories and those who create them to achieve colonial ends” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165) form the basis of the dramatic narrative. Originally released in 1982 to a poor showing at the international box office and mixed reviews, the film gained a cult following in the following decades, and, today, is “consistently listed as one of the most important science fiction movies ever made” (Latham & Hicks 2015, p.1). Hailed for its production design, showing a retrofitted future, Blade Runner remains a leading example of the neo-noir genre, is heavily indebted to the femme fatale and cyberpunk genres, and has been the subject of much scholarly debate and examination since its release. It is a difficult film to examine as it exists in so many states, having been re-released in 1992 with a ‘director’s cut’ label, and again as a ‘final cut’ in 2007 (Dienstag 2015, p.107), and latter versions of the film make increasing suggestions that Deckard himself may be a replicant. Despite this, it is a prominent early depiction of the questions posed by combining high technology and humanity.

An obvious question posed by Blade Runner and similar texts is one which concerns the point at which technology moves from being beneficial to humanity to being a threat. The complex relationship between the two principal characters, Deckard and Rachael, could be seen as symbolising the relationship between humanity and technology. At first they are highly sceptical of each other: Deckard because Rachael is not human, and Rachael because Deckard is a murderer (Dienstag 2015, p.108). At the start of the film, Deckard remarks “replicants are like any other machine” (Locke 2009, p.115), and when he meets Rachael, asks her maker “how can it not know what it is?” (Locke 2009, p.115). Immediately, Rachael challenges Deckard’s ideas about the difference between human and machine by asking him “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” (Locke 2009, p.115). Deckard breaks the news to her that she is a replicant and a single tear is shown to fall down her face. In this scene, it is the machine which is shown to have emotion, while Deckard remains cold and detached. As the story progresses, the pair come to respect and rely on each other, to the point at which their lives become irreversibly intertwined and they escape to be together. In a speech delivered four years after the publication of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick suggested that: “In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves” (Galvan 1997, p.413). Suggesting that technology is infiltrating our lives and changing our characters in subtle ways, Dick said we risk being reduced to “humans of mere use – men made into machines” (Galvan 1997, p.414). The film tempts viewers to imagine themselves in Deckard’s position and wonder if they would succumb to the same temptations posed by technology. The answer, in most cases, is likely to be in the affirmative.

The film also explores the difference between what defines humanity and technology (Locke 2009, p.113). The most obvious answer is the ability to feel emotion, or most importantly, empathy. However, the suggestion that artificial intelligence has the potential to become ‘human-like’ while humans themselves become increasingly less so is perhaps one of the most interesting areas for speculation within the film. The predominantly human traits of community and togetherness are more apparent in the replicant world of Blade Runner than in Deckard’s lonely existence – they fight to survive together and mourn when one of their group is killed. Batty, leader of the replicants, is, at times, playful and amiable, despite the certainty of his impending doom. Batty exhibits a sense of high culture and “proves his humanity by demonstrating that he is physically, intellectually, and even morally, superior to everyone else in the film, humans as well as slave” (Locke 2009, p.120). At the film’s climax, the exemplary and human-like behaviour of Batty, as he dies on the rooftops fighting the blade runner (and also saving his life), sees him transferring his freedom to Deckard (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165), and Deckard, as a result, is free. Deckard realizes that similarities between men and replicants “run deeper than their differences and that they are in fact the same type of man, ‘brothers’, regardless of any distinction between human and android” (Locke, 2009, p.138). Deckard comes to grips with his own humanity by falling in love with a replicant and deciding that he wants to live his life with her.

Blade Runner Roy Batty

Writers have also, at different times, used an analysis of the themes in Blade Runner to explore issues affecting vast numbers of people in the world today. Workman likens themes in the film to issues of a medical nature, comparing the replicants’ desire to not die an early death to that of people with fatal diseases. “Almost all of us shall feel the pain and frustration that comes from living with the knowledge that we will in some sense die prematurely” (2006, p.95), he suggests. It has also been argued that Blade Runner uses the relationship between technology and humanity to make political statements. The film’s humanization of its replicants is a “compelling statement against exploitation and domination” (Dienstag 2015, p.101), although this could be tempered with the argument that it is necessary for humanity to control technology to prevent technology from controlling it. Dienstag (2015, p.108) argues that Blade Runner shows us that to “live freely in any regime, we must understand the dangers of representation, even if, in a large state, we must continue to make use of it”. If the success of democracy relies singularly on representation, it risks being dehumanized, much like the initial relationships in the film (Dienstag 2015, p.119). Furthermore, Brooker (2009, p.79) proposes that the ‘final cut’ of the film constructs it as “a fictional world with some parallels to contemporary transmedia franchises”, as it creates a narrative path with several possible routes.

Blade Runner is an early example of a film containing cyberpunk elements, as defined by Bukatman’s definition of cyberpunk as being particularly concerned with the “interface of technology and human subject” (1993, p.54). Mead (1991, p.350) describes cyberpunk as depicting the type of radical technological change seen in Blade Runner as an opportunity to positively change the “perceptual and psychic definitions of what it means to be human” (Mead 1991, p.350). Deckard fits the description of an archetypal cyberpunk character perfectly: he is a “marginalized, alienated loner who live[s] on the edge of society in [a] generally dystopic future, where daily life [is] impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body” (Person 1998, online).

Despite its roots lying in the cyberpunk genre, Blade Runner offers so much more thematically. It considers political, moral and technological issues, has stood the test of time and is more popular today than when it was released, unlike many early cyberpunk works. Many of these set out to demythologise technology and failed, but, interestingly, Blade Runner found a greater number of fans as time passed and technology – especially the Internet and robotics – evolved and flourished. It also influenced films featuring similar android or human-like robot storylines which are still popular in cinema in the 21st century (such as The Terminator series of films). In this way, it could be argued Blade Runner contributed to expanding our ideas about the limits of technology, and how it interacts with humanity, in exciting and possibly concerning ways.

Blade Runner also sits thematically within the postmodernism movement, and adopts and puts creative spins on many of its assertions about society and technology, although it has also been argued that the differences between the 1982 and 1992 versions “thus establish a foundational tension that fuels both modern and postmodern interpretations” (Begley 2004, p.186). Jameson explains that “cyberpunk offers privileged insights into contemporary culture providing a cognitive space through which we can understand the postmodern condition” (1991, p.96). Harvey (1990, p.323) suggests that “Blade Runner hold[s] up to us, as in a mirror, many of the essential features of the condition of postmodernity”, while Clayton (1996, p.15) explains that “[s]ince its first release in 1982, Blade Runner has been taken by critics as a vision of a particular historical epoch, the period many people today are calling postmodernism” (1996, p.15). The film rejects the idea of social progress and promotes pluralism in the form of multiple, co-existing realities, while the human-replicant bond between Deckard and Rachael “manifests a form of hybridized love” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165). This bond becomes a crucial plot device for the film, as well as contributing to the “continued relevance of Romanticism for postmodernism” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165). The film’s depiction of Los Angeles is of an orientalised, post-modern, noir-ish city that is an archetypal cyberpunk landscape, offering the viewer at a glimpse at both a high level of technological advancement and increasing social breakdown. A dark, despoiled environment, dominated by the towering pyramid of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters – a metaphor for the class system depicted in the film – is the setting in which the story plays out. The postmodern cityscape depicted “shares the attributes of the globalised, transnational, borderless space” similar to the notion of cyberspace (Yu 2008, p.46).

In conclusion, it can be said that Blade Runner’s many narrative and thematic complexities offer ample opportunity to explore the world of new media and technology as resources for speculation and possibility. The relationship between technology and humanity is at the core of the film, and, in essence, the film tells the story of one individual’s gradual acceptance of the changing parameters of how technology and humanity interact and operate together. How this happens is a complex tale with many elements open to interpretation. The ability for artificial intelligence to show humanity, while humans simultaneously become increasingly dehumanized, is perhaps the most interesting subject presented by the film, and worthy of further examination. The system of master and slave is turned on its head by the very suggestion that machines may have the ability to show humanity. By being saved from death and set free by Batty, has Deckard been set free by technology, or set free by humanity? It’s an interesting question which leaves plenty of room for speculation and possibility.

References

Begley, V, 2004. ‘Blade Runner and the Postmodern: A Reconsideration’, Literature/Film Quarterly, Volume 32, pp.186-192

Bukatman, S, 1993. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press, London, p.54

Clayton, J, 1996. Concealed Circuits: Frankenstein’s Monster, the Medusa, and the Cyborg, Raritan, p.15

Dienstag, JF, 2015. ‘Blade Runner’s Humanism: Cinema and Representation’, Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 14, pp.101-119

Galvan, J, 1997. ‘Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”‘, Science Fiction Studies, Volume 24, pp.413-429

Hansen, MB, 2004. New Philosophy for New Media, MIT Press, p.14

Harvey, D, 1990. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Blackwell, p.323

Jameson, F, 1991. Postmodernism, or, The Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, p.96

Latham, R & Hicks, J, 2011. ‘Blade Runner’, Cinema and Media Studies, Oxford University Press, p.1

Locke, B, 2009. ‘White and Black Politics versus Yellow: Metaphor and Blade Runner’s Racial Politics’, The Arizona Quarterly, Volume 65, pp.113-138

Lunenfeld, P, 2000. The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, MIT Press, p.1

Lussier, M & Gowan, K, 2012. ‘The Romantic Roots of Blade Runner’, Wordsworth Circle, Volume 43, p.165

Mead, D, 1991. ‘Technological Transformation in William Gibson’s Sprawl Novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mono Lisa Overdrive’, Extrapolation, Volume 32, pp.350-60

Person, L, 1998. ‘Notes Toward a Post-Cyberpunk Manifesto’, Nova Express, online, accessed 22nd April 2017: https://slashdot.org/story/99/10/08/2123255/notes-toward-a-postcyberpunk-manifesto

Workman, S, 2006. ‘Blade Runner’, BMJ: British Medical Journal, Volume 332, p.695

Yu, T, 2008. ‘Oriental Cities, Postmodern Futures: “Naked Lunch, Blade Runner” and “Neuromancer”’, MELUS, Volume 33, p.46

The Punk Movement in the Realms of Subculture, Fashion and Style

punk subculture

Style and fashion play important roles in distinguishing one social group from another and from the rest of society, and are vital in giving individuals and groups both a sense of belonging and of being unique. Through sartorial and behavioural choices group identification is produced, and just as fashion encodes style, members of a group bearing a particular fashion reinforce their tribalism. Simultaneously able to be both a whimsical pleasure or novelty and a bold social or political statement, fashion is, in modern society, a functional equivalent to good taste, although the idea of using dress to distinguish oneself is age-old. With their ability and track record of traversing class and social status, fashion and style can be discussed in relation to individuals and groups of people as diverse as monarchs and heads of state, to gatherings of fans of a particular band or genre of music. This essay will examine the punk fashion and youth movement of the late 1970s in Britain and America in the realm of the youth culture it was formed in and influenced, including how it was received by the wider Western society of the time, and its long-term impacts on Western society as a whole.

There is a strong argument for fashion not having existed in any major sense before the growth of capitalism and the formation of industrial cities in Western Europe, although there is some evidence of ancient Roman and Greek ideas of fashion remaining static (Wilson 1985, p.16). By the fourteenth century, trade expansion, the growth of urban life, and the increasing sophistication of aristocratic and royal courts led to an increase in tailoring (Wilson 1985, p.16). Communications technologies introduced at the end of the nineteenth century helped spread knowledge of the latest fashions worldwide, and fashion and style have been a part of Western societies ever since.

Although closely linked, fashion and style can be defined in different ways. A dictionary definition of fashion is “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration or behaviour” (Oxford Dictionary, online), whereas style is defined as “a manner or way” (Oxford Dictionary, online). However, the terms have much deeper meanings when explored further and compared.

While Gronow (1993, p.89) describes fashion as a “socially acceptable and safe way to distinguish oneself from others and, at the same time, it satisfies the individual’s need for social adaptation and imitation”, Mauss (1973, p.70) went further by explaining how even the most mundane bodily activity is a cultural technique. Fashion and style can have effects on societies and cultures on a much grander scale than the individual; a person’s fashion choices do not merely represent their taste in clothes or hairstyle, but the attitude they adopt to the world and the people and objects with which they choose to surround themselves (Merleau-Ponty 2004, p.63). With the arrival of mass communications technologies in Western societies, it became possible for individuals or entire subcultures to become famous on national or international scales, and for individuals and groups to seek fame with the use of fashion and style.

Style, in a broad sense, has been defined as “the counter-hegemonic practices of youth subcultures” (Hebdige 1979, p.2) and, in Hebdige’s description of style in the realm of subcultures, style is a form of social refusal or “criminal art” (1979, p.2). Like fashion, the concept of style can be relevant when discussing both individuals and cultures.

As the idea of ‘youth’ appeared in post-war Britain as one of the most obvious social changes, the social landscape changed accordingly. The appearance of youth brought about new legislation, official interventions, and was signified as something “we ought to do something about” (Jefferson 1989, p.10). Youth was a metaphor for social change in ways which took many years to pinpoint, and an idea aided by media constructions and exaggerations about what was organic and what was forced (Gramsci 1971, p.177). Images of youth were self-destructive, misdirected, criminal, impressionable, apathetic, victimised, cool, and cutting edge (Wilson 2006, p.5). As cultural social groups within the arena of youth developed, identified by their distinct patterns of life, they formed ideas about the meanings and values embodied in institutions and traditional customs (Jefferson 1989, p.11). Youth subcultures formed as “crimes against the social order” (Hebdige 1979, p.3); perpetuated by a change of clothes, hairstyle or adoption of fandom of a particular type of music or band.

Subculturalists have been described in many different ways, as both “postmodern in their identification with fragmentation and heterogeneity” and “modern in their commitment to individual freedom and self-expression” (Brodie-Smith 2000, p.174). It has also been argued that subculturisation is the result of urbanism; cities having large heterogeneous populations and thus weaker interpersonal ties (Fischer 1972, p.187). These newly-formed groups engaged in a struggle over cultural ‘space’ and expressed themselves in new ways, but were not able to solve many of the problems associated with the peripheral social position of youth (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.1).

The exact definition of a subculture is always in dispute and boundaries remain a problem, but the concept style is important as it is “the area in which the opposing definitions clash with the most dramatic force” (Hebdige 1979, p.3). Indeed, possibly the most important aspect of a subcultural group is its use of symbolic style (Brake 2013, p.12), with the dominant values of style being image, demeanour and ‘argot’, or a special vocabulary and how it is delivered (Brake 2013, p.13). The nature of subcultural groups’ clothes is very complex: they are the “system of signals by which [they] broadcast [their] intentions, projection of [their] fantasy selves, weapons, challenges, insults” (Carter 1967, p.10).

Historian Jon Savage said “Many of the people whose lives were touched by punk talk of being in a state of shock ever since” (1991, p.4). It is generally accepted that the punk movement began in America in the early 1970s, but it became to be perhaps most closely associated with Britain in the mid- and late-1970s: a time when an economic recession, with its high levels of unemployment and increase in poverty-line living conditions, provided a catalyst for a new youth movement. When John Lydon – then know as Johnny Rotten – wrote the lyrics to his band the Sex Pistols’ single ‘God Save the Queen’ in late 1976, at a time when young working class English people were facing grim economic prospects, little did he know of the cultural and social impact his band and songs would have. The social meanings created by English punk bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Slits and The Damned, their American counterparts the New York Dolls and the Ramones, and Australia’s The Saints, have been pored over in the ensuing decades, and for good reason: very few youth subcultures have had such an impact on Western society as punk.

“Punk” is a vague concept, but its origins can be traced to the 1960s as a reaction to the cultural landscape of the time. It was “a subculture that scornfully rejected the political idealism and Californian flower-power silliness of the hippy myth” (Christgau 1976). It also followed the lead of much of the mod youth movement; bands like the MC5 and The Stooges brought a stripped-down version of rock and roll into the arena of popular music. There is an intersection between youth and extreme fashion as a method of asserting an attitude of dissent in times of crisis (Fury 2016, p.230), and strong visual styles accompanied punk’s music, with the American bands sporting mainly black leather jackets and blue jeans, and the British bands tending towards ripped shirts, safety pins, Nazi imagery, and bondage wear in a self-mocking, shocking image (Isler & Robins 2007, p.23). ‘Porn chic’ was a style of punk clothing which can be viewed as a critique of patriarchal fashion codes, giving female punks a new basis of empowerment and authenticity (Langman 2008, p.1). The power of ‘otherness’ was deliberately harnessed as a tool of protest, as a way to provoke and agitate. A post-modern society, transformed by evolving fashions, music, and attitudes, emerged as a challenge to the status quo; the prevailing social and cultural positions of modern life (Chambers & Cohen 1990, p.143).

The British punk movement was a much more politicised version of the American movement, and arguably had a greater cultural impact in its own country. However, it could also be argued that the British movement would not have happened without the American movement occurring first (Henry 1984, p.30). As a social movement it was considered fresh and exciting by many young people, with the feeling that “it made one feel that maybe music had some sort of relevant part to play in one’s life” (Vermorel 2006, p.1) being common.

The subculture’s high point was reach between 1976 and 1979, but throughout this period it had no set ideology or agenda (Sabin 2002, p.2). However, certain attitudes were prevalent across this time-frame and were common across all geographical locations where the subculture was apparent; including an awareness of class politics, a belief in spontaneity or “do it yourself”, and a focus on negationism (Sabin 2002, p.2). It is generally accepted that the movement ended in 1979, when other youth subcultures became more prevalent as fashion and social culture evolved. The movement’s most prominent band, the Sex Pistols, broke up in acrimony in January 1978 after a chaotic and shambolic North American tour. It has been claimed that the movement died with the death of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, who overdosed on heroin in early 1979, shortly after the stabbing death of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in unknown circumstances (Sabin 2002, p.2).

In the summer of 1976 the punk movement gathered speed as the number of participants swelled, reproducing the “entire sartorial history of post-war working class youth cultures in ‘cut-up’ form” (Hebdige 1979, p.27). The rhetoric of punk as a subculture was steeped in apocalyptic words, many of which were painted or stitched brazenly across garments in the style of the movement, yet the movement as a whole was obviously innocent of literature (Hebdige 1979, p.28).

Alienation and cosmetic rage were the manners of choice for all the major participants, in the same way that most youth cultures are a reaction to bourgeois values (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.232). Langman (2008, p.1) describes how any form of fashion or lifestyle can be understood as a way of “claiming agency to resist domination, invert disciplinary codes and experience ‘utopian moments’”, although this theory has been disputed. The punk subculture was in many ways defined by the idea of its participants being ‘outsiders’, or opposed to bourgeois institutions, although it has been argued that the irony of this situation is that the punk movement’s reaction or resistance to bourgeois society takes place “as a result of their incorporation into bourgeois institutions” (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.236). Foucault (1972, p.778) described how, when a human turns himself into a subject, the human subject is “placed in power relations which are very complex”. Describing the punk movement’s reaction to institutional power is not as simple as saying “it was against it”. In examining possible answers to the question “What legitimates power?” (1972, p.778), Foucault suggests that in examining the aspects of power relations between two entities, there is more to be learned from the subject of power than the holder of power.

The idea of punks being oppressed by the state is therefore open to debate; they were self-excluding and went to great lengths to keep it that way. Similarly, it has been suggested that the concept of a ‘generation gap’ is not an appropriate reason for the prevalence of many youth subcultures, including punk: it is inappropriate for youth’s reactions and attitudes to institutions to be blamed on institutions, as their responses to them are likely based on the same value systems used by the institutions themselves (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.236). It is most likely that the combination of elements in their lives – including school, family, job, police, courts, youth clubs, social workers, mass media, and commerce – that decides a young person’s reaction to institutional power (Hall & Jefferson 1976, p.237). Foucault (1985, p.28) describes how all moral action involves both a relationship with the reality in which it is carried out and with the self. Self-formation as an “ethical subject” concerns a participant deciding on a certain method of being which will serve his moral aims (Foucault 1985, p.28).

In other ways, the punk movement has been described as “dole queue rock” (Marsh 1977, p.10), and it has been argued that level of education and income are unrelated to fashion leadership (Goldsmith et. al 1991, p.37). The punk movement was initially a reaction not to institutional power, but to the over-inflated ‘superstar’ stadium rock acts of the early- and mid-1970s. In an era when musical technical virtuosity pointed to commercial success and concert ticket prices were often too high for most working class youth to be able to afford, gaps emerged between millionaire musicians and unemployed fans (Brake 2013, p.77). The punk movement has also been described as a “condition of postmodernity” (Moore 2010, p.305), or a crisis of meaning caused by the commodification of everyday life, bringing about a reaction in the form of a “culture of destruction” (Moore 2010, p.305).

In saying this, there were more than one class of subculturalists within the movement itself, ranging from the art school students and cultural rebels who developed bohemian careers, to working class youth who refused to conform to anything and remained unemployed (Brake 2013, p.78). In some cases, the punk fashion movement saw the blurring of boundaries between art, fashion and everyday life; in others, art, fashion and everyday life were seemingly disparate objects and behaviours (Henry 1984, p.30). There also existed a hierarchy of members based on their perceived level of commitment to the scene (Fox 1987, p.344), and a paradox between the unaffordable fashion items sold by the primary trendsetting designer of the movement, Vivienne Westwood – partner of the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren – and the ‘garbage bag’ fashion she created.

Perhaps the best way to encapsulate how the fashion and music of the punk movement had an effect on Western society in the 1970s is to examine the wider public’s reaction to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ tour of December 1976. ‘Moral panic’, or a process by which “politicians, commercial promoters and media habitually attempt to incite” (McRobbie & Thornton 1995, p.559), surrounded the band’s concerts, and many were picketed by local residents, cancelled by venue owners, or overcrowded by hostile press. London councillor Bernard Brook Partridge infamously declared in a television interview: “Some of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death” (Simpson, 2007, online). The response in the form of a moral panic to a youth culture shows the complexity of feeling towards subcultures, and while the response to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ tour was partially socially-constructed by media and politicians, “reactions by trade unionists, students, feminists and socialists show that concerns about British society in 1976 were not confined to religious pressure groups, conservative media commentators and political elites” (Gildart, 2015, online). The band played up to their supposed role as trouble-makers, deliberately provoking media and politicians alike, and the result was a general increase in intensity of the moral panic.

Although the intensity of, and participation in, the original punk movement was high for only a short time in the 1970s, it had a sizeable impact on fashion, music, and culture, and thus wider Western society as a whole. The fashion, music and attitudes of the Sex Pistols, in particular, facilitated a “reframing and a re-imagining of English culture” (Adams 2008, p.469), which has been drawn on by a number of subsequent fashion, art and music subcultures. The evolving punk subculture of the 1980s attempted to tackle many of the problems of inner-city life, most especially on the east coast of the United States, and soon after embraced much larger social and ethical issues (Parkes 2014, p.42). Although the original punk subculture failed to create the revolution in everyday British and American life that many of the bands involved called for in their lyrics, the punk fashion and music movement changed the way people thought about and discussed social stratification in Britain and America from the late 1970s onwards (Simonelli 2010, p.121). Unfortunately for the participants themselves, their efforts – using fashion and music – to protest and agitate against the bourgeois culture of their home countries was doomed to failure, as the main players involved could not resist becoming professionalised themselves (Simonelli 2010, p.121). A prime example of this happened in 2005, when the Sex Pistols’ logo and branding appeared on a Virgin credit card, with many news headlines containing words similar to the affect of “Punk Rock Dies a Little” (Tuttle 2015, online).

Towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s the punk movement “began to produce its members, as opposed to its members producing it” (Parkes 2014, p.80). The punk aesthetics of awareness of class politics, a belief in spontaneity or “doing it yourself”, and a focus on negationism (Sabin 2002, p.2) largely disappeared; an ironic turn typified by subcultural patterns. The musical, and accompanying fashion, form found a new audience in the 1990s, when mainly American bands like Green Day, The Offspring and Blink-182 brought a more pop-oriented version of the genre to the mainstream. The genre as a subcultural movement has since not been able to match its 1970s heyday for social and cultural impact (Brake, 2003, p.24). It is no longer the subculture ‘of the moment’ since going mainstream, but the after-effects are still present: it is studied in universities and art colleges across Britain, America and Australia, and its music press has long since made the move from the underground to the overground (Sabin 2002, p.2).

In conclusion, it can be said that the punk fashion and music movement had effects on the wider society of which it was part, albeit a lesser one than was intended by many of the participants of the subculture. If culture is defined as “all the characteristic activities and interests of a people” (Hebdige 1979, p.137), then the punk subculture took – however temporarily – a prominent position, and had an affect on, those cultures. While initially a subculture alienated from contemporary mainstream culture, the movement was absorbed into the mainstream within a few short years; completing what is considered by many to be an inevitable cycle (Hebdige 1979, p.137). This is perhaps best summed up by Barthes (1972, p.10), who wrote: “Everything nourishing is spoiled; every spontaneous event or emotion a potential prey to myth”.

References

Adams, R, 2008. ‘The Englishness of English Punk: Sex Pistols, Subcultures, and Nostalgia’, Popular Music and Society, p.469

Barthes, R, 1972. Mythologies, p.10

Brake, M, 2013. Comparative Youth Culture, Taylor and Francis: London, pp.12-25

Brodie-Smith, A, 2000. ‘Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style’, Library Journal, p.174

Carter, A, 1967. Notes for a Theory of Sixties Style, p.10

Chambers, D and Cohen, H, 1990. ‘New Colours: Post Modernism and the Visual’, Australian Cultural Studies Conference, 1990: Proceedings, University of Western Sydney, p.143

Christgau, R, 1976. ‘Yes, There is a Rock-Critic Establishment (but is That Bad for Rock?)’, Village Voice

Fischer, CS, 1972. ‘Urbanism as a Way of Life: A Review and an Agenda’, Sociological Methods and Research, p.187

Foucault, M, 1982. ‘The Subject and Power’, Critical Inquiry, pp.777-795

Foucault, M, 1985. The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality, p.28

Fox, KJ, 1987. ‘Real Punks and Pretenders: The Social Organization of a Counterculture’, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, pp.344-370

Fury, A, 2016. ‘Fashion as Protest’, The New York Times, August 21st 2016, p.230

Gildart, K, 2015. ‘The Antithesis of Humankind: Exploring Responses to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy Tour 1976′, accessed 5th October 2016

Goldsmith, RE, Heitmeyer, JR and Freiden, JB, 1991. ‘Social Values and Fashion Leadership, Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, pp.37-45

Gramsci, A, 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart, p.177

Gronow, J, 1993. ‘Taste and Fashion: the Social Function of Fashion and Style’, Acta Sociologica, pp.89-100

Hall, S and Jefferson, T, 1976. ‘Resistance Through Rituals’, Youth Cultures in Post-War Britain, p.1

Hebdige, D, 1979. Subculture: the Meaning of Style, London: Methuen

Henry, T, 1984. Punk and Avant-Garde Art, p.30

Isler, S and Robbins, I, 2007. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, p.23

Jefferson, T, 1989. Resistance Through Rituals, Taylor and Francis: London, pp.10-20

Langman, L, 2008. ‘Punk, Porn and Resistance: Carnivalization and The Body in Popular Culture’, Current Sociology, p.1

Marsh, P, 1977. ‘Dole Queue Rock’, New Society, p.10

Mauss, M, 1973. ‘Techniques of the Body’, Economy and Society, pp.70-88

McRobbie, A and Thornton, SL, 1995. ‘Rethinking “Moral Panic” for Multi-Mediated Social Worlds, British Journal of Sociology, pp.559-574

Merleau-Ponty, M, 2004. The World of Perception, Abingdon, Routledge, p.63

Moore, R, 2010. ‘Postmodernism and Punk Subculture: Cultures of Authenticity and Deconstruction’, The Communication Review, p.305

Oxford Dictionary, online, accessed 4th October 2016: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fashion

Parkes, A, 2014. ‘This Small Word: The Legacy and Impact of New York City Hardcore Punk and Straight Edge in the 1980s’, Digital Commons, online, accessed 7th October 2016: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1100&context=forum

Sabin, R, 2002. Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, p.4

Savage, J, 1991. England’s Dreaming, p.4

Simonelli, D, 2010. ‘Anarchy, Pop and Violence: Punk Rock Subculture and the Rhetoric of Class, 1976-78’, Contemporary British History, p.121

Simpson, D, 2007. ‘Memo to the Sex Pistols: Get off Your Arse and Out of London’, The Guardian, online, accessed 6th October 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2007/sep/18/memotothesexpistolsgetof

Solomon, MR, 1985. Psychology of Fashion, Lexington Books

Tuttle, B, 2015. ‘Sex Pistols Credit Cards Are Here and Punk Rock Dies a Little’, Time, online, accessed 7th October 2016: http://time.com/money/3914318/sex-pistols-credit-cards/

Vermorel, F, 2006. Sex Pistols: The Inside Story, p.1

Wilson, B, 2006. Fight, Flight, or Chill: Subcultures, Youth, and Rave into the Twenty-First Century, p.5

Wilson, E, 1985. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, IB Tauris Books, p.16

<END>

Richie Ramone: 1, 2, 3, 4…

richie ramone

THE Ramones kickstarted punk, inspired a generation of kids to pick up guitars, and shook the rock establishment to its core.

Now, forty years after the New York band sang about beating on the brat with a baseball bat, drummer Richie Ramone is keeping their spirit alive with his own blistering punk-rock shows. Ramone touches down in Australia in late April for a run of east coast gigs with promises to play rock ‘n’ roll as loud as it should be.

“I’ll play some of the material from my last record and the one coming out.” Richie says. “Also songs I played with the Ramones back in the day, then I’ll play some Ramones classics. It’s a really good set, you know? It’s a complete Ramones set. In 2013 I played ANZ Stadium with Aerosmith. I had a good time and it’s beautiful over there. I’m really looking forward to this trip.”

In 1983, the then-unknown 26 year-old joined the legendary band just after the release of ‘Subterranean Jungle’, the quartet’s seventh studio album.

“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Richie says. “Somebody told me they were auditioning drummers, they gave them my name and that’s how it worked. I didn’t know them beforehand, and they called me and I just did the audition like any other audition. It was an amazing thing that I ended up in one of the greatest bands of all time. Right away we hit it off. Joey took me under his wing.”

His song-writing and vocals provided a much-needed new dimension to the band, and Richie went on to appear in over 500 shows. Singer Joey Ramone is quoted as saying Richie “saved the band” when he joined.

“The last two or three records, the last two especially, before ‘Too Tough to Die’ were probably not great records,” Richie says. “When you get a new person in the band, it changes the blood and energises the band. ‘Too Tough to Die’ came out in 1983 and did that. They accepted [my songs]. A good song is a good song, you know? Johnny didn’t want me to have more than one or two songs if he didn’t make the numbers, but they accepted it.”

Dysfunction was allegedly rife within the Ramones, including constant tension between guitarist Johnny and singer Joey, mental illness, drug abuse, and betrayal.

“All of it was exaggerated,” Richie says. “They were one of the most professional bands. We worked, you know? But it’s also like a family that’s together a lot; there’s weird shit going on. But when it came time to play a show, we were all together; we made sure of that. But they wanted to break up many times, I think, but I don’t know what caused them to stop [in the end].”

Since departing the band in 1987, Richie has had an eclectic career in music, including composing classical suites and releasing his debut solo album, ‘Entitled’, in 2013. A follow-up is in the works and is set for release this year.

“I’m my own artist now,” he says. “I have the last name and the Ramones taught me a lot. They gave me direction and taught me about how to respect the fans, and I carry that with me, but I’m my own artist, not the Ramones. I can’t be the Ramones. [The new album] is a fucking really great record and I’m really excited about it. I’ve got a Depeche Mode song [‘Enjoy the Silence’] on there, which I really like. I’ll be playing one or two songs from it when I get out there. I don’t like playing a lot of new songs when I’m on tour, so it’ll be only one or two.”

The death of drummer Tommy Ramone in 2014 meant that no founding members of the Ramones are still around, but the spirit of the band is as strong as ever, helped by the ubiquitous Ramones T-shirt and logo.

“There are a lot of new fans,” Richie says. “The thing I see is parents bringing their kids. There’s a fourth generation Ramones thing happening now. Parents want to introduce their kids to good rock ‘n’ roll. There’s tons of fans all over; we’ve got people coming to shows from 65 to 16. But it works. And they’re all wearing the T-shirt [laughs].”

Richie Ramone plays:

Thursday 28th April 2016
Great Northern Hotel – Byron Bay NSW

Friday 29th April 2016
Wooly Mammoth – Brisbane QLD

Saturday 30th April 2016
Social Club – Sydney NSW

Sunday 1st May 2016
Cherry Rock, Melbourne VIC

For Scenestr

Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks: “We never expected 40 years”

buzzcocks pete shelley

WITH a forty-year career and string of bonafide punk-pop classics under his belt, Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley could be forgiven for wanting to slow down and take stock. In true punk fashion, however, that’s exactly what the 60 year-old is not doing.

The frontman and songwriter of ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ is taking his band on a world tour to celebrate four decades in the business. Just don’t expect the understated and softly-spoken Shelley to do anything but take it all in his stride.

“We’re naming all our shows this year our 40th anniversary shows,” he says. “But it’s something which has snuck up on us really. We never expected 40 years; even 40 minutes would have been stretching it when we started. We started off with small expectations and didn’t know how long we could carry on before someone stopped us. [Punk was] the most un-commercial form of music we could imagine. It was completely the antithesis of what popular or critically-acclaimed music was at the time, and that’s probably why it worked, because it wasn’t the same old, same old. I tend to see how it actually was, to keep myself from slipping into nostalgia. I think nostalgia is for other people, but it does occur to you sometimes; I think ‘Oh, there are quite a lot of good songs we’ve got’.”

The quartet, also including long-serving guitarist Steve Diggle, are bringing their glorious punk-pop anthems to Australia to play Golden Plains Festival and a string of state capital shows. Preparations have begun in earnest.

“We started rehearsals on Wednesday and have a list that is 48 songs long,” Shelley says. “There’s no way we’re going to be able to play all 48 at one gig. We’re trying to get up to speed on enough songs so, during the year, we can chop and change to keep it fresh, instead of having the same 20 songs being played all the time. I think I’ve written about 120-130 songs, or maybe up to 150. Even choosing 48 out of those; there are still lots of ones I’d forgotten I’d written, so I suppose we’ve got an expansive piece of cloth to cut our modest garments on.”

While the vast majority of bands from the original wave of punk are long gone, Buzzcocks have endured line-up changes, break-ups, and the stress of putting together nine studio albums and countless tours. The secret to the band’s longevity is simple, Shelley insists.

“I think the obvious reason is we couldn’t take a hint,” he laughs. “We’re almost like brothers now. I’ve probably spent more time with Steve in the past 40 years than with my own brother. We still disagree on most things, but we agree to disagree. It’s an important step in life to be able to do that [laughs].”

In an interesting twist of fate, the DIY aesthetic of ’70s punk is once again an element of Buzzcocks’ recording, with 2014’s The Way being made with the help of online crowd-funding.

“We went back and made our own album again, so we were right back to the DIY principle,” Shelley says. “It gives you the control and you have a relationship with the people who are buying your records and appreciating it. I’d rather that than getting someone else to sell it to complete strangers. You’re making music for your friends. Making an album can be quite daunting because normally it’s done in complete secrecy and nobody knows you’re doing anything, but with this, it’s a bit more transparent and people’s enthusiasm that you’re doing it is something that gets relayed to you.”

buzzcocks

The chances of Shelley adding to his 150 tracks written isn’t exactly helped by his song-writing style. The suggestion he makes it hard for himself is laughed off in his typically understated manner.

“I’m not actively writing at the moment,” he says. “The way I write songs is, if I have an idea, I give myself the luxury of being able to forget it. When it comes back I’ll think about it some more, then forget it again. I work on the assumption if it’s such a great idea and even I forget it, it’s not all that good an idea [laughs]. I’d rather have things I can remember. When it comes down to record the music is when I crystallise the song.”

As veterans of multiple world tours, Buzzcocks know Australia well, and it’s always a good place for the band to get into tour-mode.

“I remember driving through country roads and avoiding cane toads,” Shelley says. “It’s so much different to the UK; there’s no escaping it. It’s always good to go; the people are friendly and we’ve always had a good time. I remember the first time I was in Adelaide and it was about 40 degrees and was like being in front of a blast furnace. The trip to Australia is the first of the world tour trip. Then it’s the west coast of America, France, Italy and Holland. In the UK we’re doing some festivals; the Isle of Wight Festival is one of them. It’s going to be a full year.”

BUZZCOCKS PLAY:

Thursday, March 10 – The Triffid, Brisbane
Friday, March 11 – The Factory, Sydney
Saturday, March 12 – Golden Plains Festival, Meredith
Sunday, March 13 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tuedsay, March 22 – The Gov, Adelaide
Wednesday 23 March – Rosemount Hotel, Perth

For The Brag

Glen Matlock: Tough Cookie

matlock phantom slick

What do you get if you cross a Sex Pistol, David Bowie’s guitarist, and a drumming Stray Cat?

The result is Matlock, Phantom & Slick: a trio of legendary musicians set to serve equal portions of anarchy, glam and rockabilly on their upcoming Australia tour.

The band – Glen Matlock on bass and vocals, Earl Slick on guitar, and Slim Jim Phantom on drums – has been a going concern for around two years, and while former Sex Pistol Matlock is keen to talk about a range of subjects, the band’s live playlist is another matter.

“I’m not going to tell you,” he laughs. “It’s a bit like telling the punchline of a joke too soon. Not that it’s a joke, but you’ve got to have some surprises. But, there are certain songs [to be expected]; if I went to see the sadly-deceased David Bowie and he hadn’t done ‘Heroes’, I’d be going home disappointed. So we all know there are certain songs people expect to hear, and I’m sure you can work out which ones they might be. We do songs from all of our careers. That’s fair enough, innit?”

Refreshingly humble for a co-writer of what is often considered one of the most influential rock albums of all time in Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Matlock is keener to talk about the future than his illustrious, if short-lived, punk past.

“We’ve actually got an album in the can of mainly my material,” he says. “We did it about a year ago and have been talking to people about getting it out. We went to a studio in Upstate New York with this guy Mario McNulty who engineered the Bowie album before the one that’s just come out. It’s cracking stuff and I’m proud of it. We do a cover version of ‘Montage Terrace (In Blue)’ by Scott Walker, believe it or not, and Jim plays kettle drums on it. You’ll have to hear it to understand where we’re coming from. It’s hard to describe your own music. The record business is quite different now; everybody is chasing the latest 17 year-old they think are going to be the new Beatles, but invariably aren’t.”

A big fan of Australia, Matlock is looking forward to making his fifth appearance Down Under.

“The first [visit] was in the eighties and the America’s Cup was on in Perth,” he says. “I remember when the sailing started in Fremantle, the boats were so far in the distance you couldn’t see anything, so that was a bit of a washout. That was in ’85, I think. I came back with the Pistols in ’96 for four weeks, then I’ve been over playing with Robert Gordon at the Byron Bay Blues Festival. Then I was there about two or three years ago with a guy called Gary Twinn, who had a band called Supernaut. His mum and dad were Ten Pound Poms. Also I have some relations there; my cousin lives in Melbourne and my ex-wife lives in Sydney. All good reasons for coming, and the weather’s a bit better over there.”

Having individually played parts in many historic moments in rock history, Matlock, Slick and Phantom have direct playing connections to both the recently-departed Bowie and Lemmy Kilminster: a possible hint to that live playlist.

“I knew both of them,” Matlock says. “I was fortunate to meet Bowie quite a few times and I got on really well with him. I met him in ’79 and then in New York in the early eighties and he was fantastic; really magnanimous and interested in people. He sought other people’s opinions and listened to what you had to say and took it on board. But he was a laugh as well, you know? Lemmy – I’ve known him for years. He used to knock around with all the punks not long after he’d left Hawkwind and was trying to get Motörhead together. The last time I played in the States with the Pistols at the Whisky a Go Go he came backstage to say hi and everybody had a lot of time for him. We’re just that generation now where people are shuffling off their mortal coil. I suppose they’re the ones who survived all the immediate excess of being rock stars, but it has ultimately taken its toll.”

While all four founding members of the Sex Pistols are very much alive and kicking, hope remains for another reunion tour.

“[There’s nothing] I know of as yet, but never say never,” Matlock says. “It’s the beginning of 40 years of punk this year, but also 40 years of the Sex Pistols, if you want to hang it on something. It’s down to John [Lydon’s] whims quite a bit, but I know my bank manager would be happy.”

Matlock was famously dumped from the Sex Pistols in 1977 in favour of the chronically-untalented Sid Vicious. Claims by manager Malcolm McLaren the reason was “for liking the Beatles” have been repeatedly refuted over the years.

“That was bollocks for a start,” he says. “It was just something McLaren said. I left because John could be really hard work. When you’re 19 going on 20, you don’t always see the wood for the trees. When we reformed in ’96 I felt vindicated, because of all the people in the world they could have asked, they asked me again, so they possibly came round to my way of thinking a little bit more.”

When it is suggested he might not have been given fair dues for his song-writing contributions to the Sex Pistols, Matlock shrugs it off with characteristic humility and humour.

“I think I’ve managed to claw a bit of that back now,” he says. “I think people have [recognised] my contribution to the band. But I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how I used to be in the Sex Pistols; there are lots of things to do in life. The phone always rings with interesting projects and invitations to go and do this, that and the other. The only time I think about the past is when [journalists] ask me about it, you know what I mean? So neh neh neh neh neh [laughs].”

Dubbed the ‘Men of No Shame Tour’, the upcoming run of shows will see the band perform seven times along the east coast, with a pre-show Q&A session giving the audience a chance to verbally prod their hosts.

“I would rather have called it the ‘Tough Cookies Tour’ because that’s what we are,” Matlock says. “[The Q&A] is something the promoter dreamed up, but I’m used to it. I’ve done similar things at the Edinburgh Festival; playing acoustic shows, telling stories and inviting questions. That was during the show, but before the show will be a bit different, because you’re usually worried about where you left your eye-liner, you know? I’m a big boy and I can deal with it.”

For The Beat and The Brag

Live review: Rise Against + Clowns + Outright – Brisbane Riverstage – 4/12/15

rise against brisbane riverstage

“This is the sign that it’s been a great gig,” says Tim McIlrath, holding aloft a rancid, steaming trainer which has just landed next to him. Like with everything the Rise Against frontman says or does at Brisbane’s Riverstage on Friday night (4th December), a deafening roar is hurtled stage-wards from a ferocious audience. And after this comment, the shoes keep coming.

Every great gig need to start with great supports, though, and tonight’s show is lucky to have two of them. Melbourne hardcore outfit Outright are first to force the dials into the red with an intense early set. Singer Jelena Goluza will have undoubtedly won her band new fans with an impressively brutal vocal onslaught over a 25-minute set and a passionate speech about domestic violence before the track ‘A City Silent’. Fantastic work Jelena; the music world needs more of you.

Next up is Melbourne’s hardcore/punk gang Clowns, whose frontman Stevie Williams finds himself with a ripped shirt as early as the first song after getting among the audience at front-and-centre. The quartet are typically energetic and charming over a furious 30 minutes; in turn mounting monitors and amps, demanding that some dude “delete his fucking Tinder” and get off his phone, playing monster riff after monster riff, and finally, posing for a photo with their audience. These guys have got to be near the top of the pile in terms of what Australia can offer the genre right now.

As the R, I, S and E are unveiled from beneath their drapes and the steam begins to rise from a heaving crowd in front of the barrier, an obviously up-for-it band get to business with ‘The Great Die-Off’, ‘The Good Left Undone’ and ‘Satellite’ as an opening salvo, with a few hundred metres already run by guitarist Zach Blair and bassist Joe Principe, as they switch position and stances repeatedly. A testosterone-heavy crowd laps up everything coming from the stage and shows its appreciation with the aforementioned soaring shoes, pinging plastic bottles, and a cacophony of tone-deaf vocal accompaniment fit for a footy match.

‘Prayer of the Refugee’ receives a huge response, as does a towering ‘Ready to Fall’, and while McIlrath’s solo section, including ‘Swing Life Away’, takes the sting out of proceedings for a while, a massive finish is assured with ‘Savior’. Rise Against loves Australia and Australia loves them back is the takeaway from this evening.

For Scenestr

Going Swimming: “If you’re having fun, people have fun with you”

going swimming band

Melbourne monster-punk upstarts Going Swimming are on a mission, and it involves a heavy helping of the F word, an excellent debut album and an upcoming national tour. Hold the language warning, though, as singer Nick Leggatt explains exactly what the F makes his band tick.

“If you’re having fun, people have fun with you,” says Leggatt. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We try to play shows that we think are going to be fun, with bands we like; shows we think we would want to go to, not just any old show. And I can’t see us [writing about] any subjects too hard-hitting or anything. One of the guys tracked a demo the other day that was about three-and-a-half minutes and we accused him of writing an epic.”

The quartet have taken three years to release a debut LP, after Leggatt and guitarist Aswin Lakshman spent time in several bands together since meeting at school. Wanting to play music which better reflected the tunes they listened to, they formed Going Swimming with bassist Callan Trewenack and drummer Ben Barclay. The result is the hot-off-the-press Deadtime Stories; a 12-track collection of raucous garage, surf and punk tracks, executed with a healthy dose of piss-taking posturing.

“The four of us have all been a lot more serious bands [with] longer songs [which were] a bit more wanky,” says Leggatt. “We wanted to be in a band that didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We recorded a few tracks as demos and put out a five-track EP in 2013, which we did ourselves. We played as many shows as we could and put out a couple of double A-side singles later that year. We thought it was time to put all our new songs into an album, and thought it wouldn’t take us very long; being a very no-fuss, lo-fi recording. The whole recording process took us a lot longer than we thought. We probably laid down the drums tracks maybe 15 months ago, and between drum tracks and tracking everything ourselves, the tendency is to get a bit lazy. Three of us live together as well, and we thought it would come together quicker than it did, but we got there in the end and we’re stoked to put it out and move on to play the newer stuff. Progressing as a band has felt pretty natural; we’re still enjoying it and having fun.”

Not quite garage and not quite punk, the band might have invented a genre of their own: monster-punk. It’s a fitting description for not only the Goosebumps-inspired album cover and title, but the often-ramshackle way they attack their music.

“When you think of the word punk, I don’t think we fit that bill,” Leggatt says. “And we’ve played with a bunch of garage-punk bands, and sometimes we don’t fit that bill either. So, we’re kind of our own little niche, and I think part of that is my vocals; I yell and do weird stuff. Someone came up with monster-punk and we kind of like it. One review called us ‘piss-taking punk’ and I like that, too. I don’t think we were looking for a theme too much [with the album]. To be honest, the tracks are pretty random and a lot of that is to do with the fact whoever writes the demo, they tend to give it a working title. I like to try to riff on the working title and see if I can keep the working title as the final title. It’s not like I have a big scrapbook of heartfelt lyrics I want to put into song. That’s the fun part of it; just writing fun little ditties.”

A quick glance over the Deadtime Stories tracklist reveals an additional level of humour with some creative and funny song titles.

“‘Yoko, Oh No!’ was a tough one as it’s an instrumental,” Leggatt says. “That song has changed titles a million times. At some stage it was called something like ‘YOLO’, but we decided we can’t have that. ‘Cosmonauts and Crosses’ was a riff on the original title, which was something about being a cosmonaut. The lyrics are a bit messed up and all over the place; we almost wrote it as we recorded and I couldn’t get the lyrics right. We got really drunk one night and I just spat out the verses.”

A national tour is locked in for October and November, so expect to be experiencing the F word on a stage near you.

“It’s that fun vibe,” Leggatt says. “We’re pretty loose on stage. We try not to be loose musically, but sometimes that works its way in. Our songs are short and sharp; we smash them out and pack as many songs as we can into a half-hour set. At the same time, we know what it’s like to be a punter and stand there in the crowd and be a bit bored. You don’t want to see anyone yawning, so we get out there and smash it out. We want to leave them wanting more, so hopefully they’ll come to another show. We love touring; it costs us a lot of money, but it’s like a little fun holiday for us.”

DEADTIME STORIES IS OUT NOW. GOING SWIMMING PLAY:

SUN OCT 18 – FRANKIE’S PIZZA
FRI NOV 13 – THE WORKERS CLUB

For The Brag and Beat

Record review: Going Swimming – Deadtime Stories (2015, LP)

Going Swimming Deadtime Stories

Calling your band Going Swimming and putting a song called ‘Shark Attack’ on your debut record can only mean one thing: you see piss-taking as a duty rather than an option. A quick glimpse at the track list provides confirmation: song titles include ‘Yoko, Oh No!’, ‘Cosmonauts and Crosses’ and the supremely satisfying ‘I Think I’ve Been Had, Lads’. Ramshackle garage-punk is the vehicle which takes the Melbourne quartet’s howling horror stories and tales of debauchery on a gutter-bound journey, but while the whole deal threatens to fall apart at any second, the band just about hold it together until the final chords ring out. Single and opener ‘Them Shakes’ wastes no time getting among the surf-punk licks, with lyrics which could pass for both a bedtime story about friendly monsters or a transcript from your latest therapy session; whichever suits the mood. ‘Your Sister’ follows in a similar vein; its commanding and raucous riffs hint at the scrappy punk aesthetic being a construct rather than a necessity, although ‘Whatever Happened to the Plan?’ suggests the contrary. The aforementioned instrumental ‘Yoko, Oh No!’ could have been lifted from an alternative-dimension Rocky Horror, and ‘Careers Counsellor’ finds the gang railing against convention. Nick Leggatt’s tireless bawling and Aswin Lakshman’s red-hot riffs are at the centre of Going Swimming’s piss-taking punk, and make for an album which is frantic, frayed and damn good fun.

For The Brag

Interview: Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

FORMED in 1977 at a time of deep political and social turmoil in their hometown of Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers are the original punk-rock mainstays. Known for their energetic live shows and angry lyrics tackling subjects from sectarian violence to teenage boredom, the band will make only their second ever trip to Australia to play Soundwave Festival. I spoke to singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Jake Burns.

Tell me about the recording of your new album, No Going Back. How does it sound so far?

At the moment we’re only getting started; the drum tracks are down and Ali is working on the bass tracks at the moment, and that’s kind of how it works, we build these things up in layers, you know? We all go in together, play all the songs through once and they get recorded, so Steve has a basic skeleton track to work with, and then he does the drums for real. Then Ali goes in and replaces his skeleton bass-lines with the real ones, and so it keeps going. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin on the guitars. We’re actually slightly ahead of the game, which is always a good place to be, as you can never be sure when there’s a nasty little hiccup just around the corner; something which will take a day out of your schedule.

When are you expecting to have it finished?

February 5th is the last day in the studio. Then I get to fly home to Chicago on the 6th. I’ll have about six days to unpack, do my laundry, re-pack, then fly to Auckland. Then, we’re on tour until May. It’s a long time away from home, but it’s what we’ve signed up for.

In terms of lyrical content, could it be called a classic Stiff Little Fingers album?

I’m not going to say it’s a classic; that’s for the audience to decide. There aren’t any “I love her and she loves me” songs on there, because it’s not what I write, you know? I’ve never been able to do that; every time I’ve tried it sounds like bad schoolboy poetry or something. They’re all songs about things that have made me angry. Steve and Ian have both written a song, and they’re all songs about things that have fired us up in one way or another over the last few weeks and months.

You went down the crowd-funding route for this album. Are you surprised at how well it turned out?

I think everybody was. We allowed two months for it, and we reached the target in under twelve hours; it was incredible. I was sitting at home and I knew it had been launched, when my wife came running down into the studio in the basement and asked me if I was watching the pledge figures, and I said no, as it had only been launched that morning. She told me to stop what I was doing and come look, and we sat and watched it. The best description was made by her; she said it’s like election night, and nobody goes to bed until this thing reaches a hundred. Literally, within an hour of saying that, it reached a hundred percent. It was astonishing; I don’t think any of us realised the regard the audience has for us. We always knew we have an incredibly loyal audience, but that was truly – without wanting to sound fake – humbling. And they’re still pledging!

Do you see that as the future for bands making records now? Would you do it again, for example?

I’m sure we would. When the Internet took off in all it’s glory, it was basically the end for traditional record labels. The writing was on the wall when even the likes of Madonna and U2 were doing deals based on touring and merchandise rather than record sales. At that point you think if U2 can’t sell bloody records, what chance has anybody got? When it came up we were hesitant, but then we realised this would make us a proper, independent band again. This takes us right back to where we started, but with thirty-six, thirty-seven years experience behind us. It can only be a good thing, and it’s turned out to be an astonishing thing. It seems like we’re masters of our own destiny, whereas in the past, when you’d go in to make a record you’d have it in your mind that you’re spending EMI’s money. Not that you’d be slapdash and throw it around – at the end of the day it’s your money anyway – but we’d just give the record to EMI and it’d be up to them to go and sell it. Now, it’s the audience’s money, and they’ve already bought the record; that’s effectively what this is. They’re putting a huge amount of trust in us, and what if they all hate it? They’ve all already bought it, pretty much. We feel a huge amount of responsibility – much more so than any record before – because this is our audience we’re genuinely playing for; they’re our bosses this time around. We don’t want to let them down.

You’ll be playing Soundwave Festival very soon. What can fans expect from the show?

We’ve only played in Australia once before, and even then it was only in Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a festival setting, and I don’t even know how long of a set we’ll be given. So what we’ll basically try to do is keep the chat to a minimum, play as many songs as possible, and try to cram as much of our career into whatever time we’re given. We’re doing two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, so we can stretch out a bit, but we’ll work on getting the balance of the set right. Sometimes it’s harder to work out what to leave out, rather than put in, you know?

Do you still feel that songs like ‘Alternative Ulster’ are relevant today?

That song was never specifically written about Northern Ireland. Yes, there are R.U.C. references in there, but it was basically a song about being young and having nothing to do. It was set in Northern Ireland, which of course just meant having even fucking less to do than if you’d been somewhere else. But, it’s just a fairly universal song about being a teenager, which I was when I wrote it. Sadly, that’s still the case with teenagers today. Those who were living in what was basically a war-zone in Belfast at the time; I could see why they were bored. It always used to annoy me when bands from London would say they were bored and had nothing to do. Are you kidding me? Hadn’t they seen the back page of the NME? There were always about ten gigs I’d kill to go and see and they were all on that night!

Can you tell me a little bit about how Ali (McMordie, founding bass guitarist) came back into the band?

When Bruce (Foxton, bass guitarist 1991-2006) said he wanted to go, we had a long talk about it. Those were a big pair of boots to fill. Bruce was a big name, and he is a fantastic bass player and singer. We tossed a few names around, and realised that auditioning people probably wasn’t going to work. After a while we thought about asking Ali if he was interested in coming back. I’d kept in touch with Ali over the years; if he ever passed through Chicago we’d go for a beer or whatever, and he’d come to see the band and stuff. But I hadn’t really spoken to him for a while, and I wasn’t even sure if he still had a guitar and was still playing, but eventually I gave him a call and left a message saying that he might be able to do me a favour. He returned the call, and as luck would have it he was due to come through Chicago in a few days time, so we met up and discussed it. Initially I asked him to only do the one tour to see how it went. He’d been doing tour managing very successfully, but he came back, seemed to have a ball and I don’t think we ever asked him to stay, but he’s still here (laughs).

And finally, I told my brother I was interviewing you and he wanted to ask you a question, so here it is. Why did Jim Reilly (drummer, 1979-81) leave the band? Was it because he’s a complete tit?

(Laughs). Umm… no! Jim just didn’t like the new songs I was writing and I think by that stage we had toured America a couple of times, and Jim had one eye on wanting to try his luck there, and that’s exactly what he did. He jumped ship and moved to San Francisco, and ended up in a band called Red Rockers, who got themselves signed to C.B.S.. They had a little bit of success with a top-forty hit and toured with the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, so he had a half decent run. Last I heard, he was back in Belfast.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS PLAY SOUNDWAVE FESTIVAL BEGINNING SATURDAY 22nd FEBRUARY IN BRISBANE. TICKETS FROM http://soundwavefestival.com/tickets

Record review: Clowns – Bad Blood (2015, LP)

clowns bad blood

Here’s a question you’d expect to hear at a football riot, not read in a music review: who’s ready to have their face ripped off? This second album from Melbourne punk quartet Clowns will not only do brutal things to your kisser, but it’ll have a go at putting your ears out of commission while it’s at it. Their 2013 debut album was a savage tribute to partying and punk rock, and while Bad Blood continues in a similar vein, it comes with a growing range and belief. Like a school bully who lets you think you’re off the hook before hitting you a slap, opener ‘Human Error’ takes a full minute to kick into gear; its scratchy riffs build anticipation for what’s to come. Single ‘Euthanise Me’ is an early highlight; its melodic elements and broken-down interludes are welcome additions to a powerful punk track. Next comes a trio of 90-second hammer blows in ‘Figure It Out’, ‘Infected’ and the title track, which is perhaps the most metal here. Closing anomaly ‘Human Terror’ is easily the most interesting; at 11 minutes it’s at least three times longer than anything else and isn’t a journey for the faint-hearted. While Clowns’ brand of punk is as ferocious as ever, it’s the longer songs that impress most, as the band have grown significantly in terms of musicianship since their debut. That isn’t going to do your face any good, all the same. (Poison City)

For mX

Directors of Good Vibrations: “It felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig”

richard dormer

TORN apart by the violent sectarian divide known as The Troubles, Belfast in the 1970s was the last place you would have expected to see a musical revolution.

Enter Terri Hooley: founder of the Good Vibrations record store and label, which helped kick-start the bomb-ravaged city’s punk scene. The film of the same name tells the story of Hooley’s life and the bands his determination inspired, as directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn explain.

“We became involved in the film while there was just a brief outline written by Glenn [Patterson] and Colin [Carberry], the writers,” says D’Sa. “They had originally come up with the idea. We knew a bit about Terri Hooley through the music scene he was involved in, and we knew of him as an extraordinary man who had lived through extraordinary times. I think what really appealed to us about the story when we came across it, was that we realised that this was just not a story about a local legend, but a really universal story about someone who was a light in the darkness during the worst of times for a lot of people. It was a story about music and youth in general; just that spirit of youth that won’t be downtrodden. This was a time when young people wanted to be going out, meeting people and working out they were, but it wasn’t safe for them be to be out, meeting their friends in town and doing those kinds of things. It’s a story about that compulsion, that determination to go out and live your life, despite whatever dark forces are closing down the city you live in. That was something we felt that audiences all over the world might respond to. We also knew it was an opportunity to tell something that was celebratory with that distinctive dark comedy wit that is born of this place. I think we found that we had the opportunity to show all of that in the story and to create something of a celebratory spirit that was perhaps going to be a new way of looking at it.”

The Northern Irish conflict is not widely known about or understood internationally, but ‘Good Vibrations’ is a story with universal themes, says Leyburn.

“I think there were a lot of things about this story that we hoped would have a universal resonance,” he says. “Especially in the times we live in today. There’s conflict all over the world, and there are kids and teenagers facing the same challenges as those in Belfast at that time. Our story is a positive one; one that we hope has been told with humour. There have been films about The Troubles in Northern Ireland that tend to focus on soldiers or prisoners or whatever. That is the story we’re telling; it’s just about a different thing. It’s about that spirit of resistance and people who refuse to be defined by the dark forces around them. We’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world to film festivals. It’s been played in South Korea, the Czech Republic and the list goes on. A lot of those audiences have connected with it, and there’s a resonance to their own recent histories.”

At 65 and retired, Hooley no longer owns the store, but was an active influence in the making of the film.

“To tell the story, Terri had to be on board,” Leyburn says. “The fact that he was able to get to know us was important to him and to us. I knew of Terri and his legend; I’d seen him around Belfast and bought records from him, but I didn’t really get to know him. Through the process of developing the script and the film I got to know him really well. Terri has a very unique way at looking at the world. He’s a unique story-teller, and tells stories that are very vivid and interesting. I think for us to get to know him as well as we did helped us to bring a bit of his verve for life and telling stories to the screen. Also, just for the spirit of the thing; he came to the set and there was always an open door for him. You can’t make a story about somebody who’s still around and shut them out; I think that’d be the wrong way to approach it.”

While the story is one of inspiration and punk rock, the directors were keen to paint Hooley in as realistic a light as possible.

“He’s obviously a flawed human being, as we all are,” says D’Sa. “He’s a very generous person, and that comes across in the film, and once he was happy for us to make the film, he was particularly generous about it. He trusted us to go and make the film. It’s not going to connect with everyone if you make someone appear like a saint, and we had to tell the story to be true to what we were trying to say. The first screening we had when we finished the film was for Terri himself. We sort of hoped it would be just for Terri and his close friends and family. We wanted him to see what was a potentially difficult portrait of himself in a way, and we wanted to give him a chance to see it without anyone there. Typically for Terri, he wasn’t worried. He did bring a group of close friends, but for Terri that tends to mean about 200 people. We watched it in a room full of people who had been there at the time, and of course we were worried about what his reaction was going to be, but at the end Terri was in tears and made a lovely speech; he was very gracious and said how much he had been moved by the film. He has travelled with us a lot, and come to screenings all over the world. I think it’s just typical of the person that he is that he’s felt good about supporting it and sharing his story with the world.”

Game of Thrones actor Richard Dormer plays the title role, and was an easy pick for the job, says D’Sa.

“From the very first stages of developing this film, we knew Richard was the actor we wanted to cast,” she says. “Not only is he a phenomenal, subtle actor, we knew he was going to be brilliant at inhabiting the role and soul of this character. He also understands the DNA of the place and the time. We did a pilot, and Richard kindly agreed to come and play the role in a few early scenes. That was job done; once we had screened the pilot to the financiers, any of their concerns seemed to wash away at that time, because they could see what they believed, and that was that he was going to do an incredible job. It’s a very dynamic, charismatic performance, but one which also allows you access to the vulnerability to of that character. We’re really glad he’s been cast in things like Game of Thrones and big movie parts, and it’s incredibly well deserved.”

richard dormer

The story culminates with a huge punk gig, organised by Hooley to pay off the label’s debts. Luckily, the directors were able to call on another Belfast band to help out.

“We had a lot of support from Snow Patrol, who are executive producers and financiers of the film,” D’Sa says. “It was really down to them that we were able to get 2000 extras. On our budget we couldn’t afford to do that, but the Snow Patrol guys put out a call on their fan site asking people to show up at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, dressed in appropriate punk clothing for a couple of hours filming. Of course, within an hour, we had our 2000 extras for the scene, and the treat for them at the end was that the guys would play a two-hour acoustic gig after filming. So, we all these extras in punk clothing, the entire cast and crew was there, and it was a really joyous experience that felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig.”

GOOD VIBRATIONS IS IN CINEMAS JUNE 12.

For Scene Magazine/Scenestr.

Record review: Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else (2014, LP)

Cloud Nothings Here And Nowhere Else

Cleveland, Ohio trio Cloud Nothings broke through in no uncertain terms with 2012’s Steve Albini-produced Attack On Memory, which established them as an exciting new addition to the pop-punk and noise-rock scenes. Having dropped out of college to work full-time as a musician, singer-guitarist and founding member Dylan Baldi has never looked back, and this fourth album will further cement his band’s position, although there’s a feeling that it’s just another step towards something even better, rather than a musical pinnacle in itself. Baldi’s songs are as abrasive as his previous work, while simultaneously being unable to shake off a recurring pop element, making much of the eight tracks present here as catchy as they are urgent. Opener ‘Now Here In’ starts at breakneck speed, and the seven tracks which follow don’t let up the pace, with ‘Giving Into Seeing’ being a particularly frenetic effort. Guitarist Joe Boyer has departed since Attack On Memory, leaving Baldi to cover both lead and rhythm guitar duties, but the sound isn’t thinner as a result. John Congleton (Modest Mouse, St. Vincent, The Walkmen) takes over production duties, and doesn’t smooth out any of the band’s viciousness, urgency, or – at times – savage scratchiness, with a result that isn’t dissimilar to some of Husker Du’s better work. There’s no obvious radio-friendly material though, and Baldi frequently unleashes throat-destroying screams that would cause lesser men to faint, but with this album Cloud Nothings have further confirmed that they’re the real deal. (Carpark)

Interview: James Williamson of Iggy and the Stooges

james williamson

IN 1973 Iggy and the Stooges – Iggy Pop, James Williamson, and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton – released Raw Power; a seminal rock album that stunned audiences of the day and introduced the music world to the first spewings of punk. After the band fell apart in 1974, guitarist Williamson left music behind and had a successful career in the electronics and software industries, before rejoining the band in 2009. In 2010 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and released their latest record Ready to Die last year. Williamson’s new project involves re-workings of songs from the Raw Power era; a collection which will be released as an album entitled Re-Licked.

Why did you decide to re-visit these songs?

You know, it was a series of things. I’ve always kind of wanted to hear those songs recorded properly. Back in the day we thought when we wrote them that they would be on a studio album, and we toured with them. Then we changed management, and unfortunately we didn’t get the option for another record from Columbia Records after Raw Power, so all that existed of those songs was the bootlegs for all these years. I started out wanting to find a female vocalist, as I thought ‘Open Up And Bleed’ would really be good for someone who sang kind of like Janis Joplin, and so I looked and looked and a friend of mine in Austin, Texas sent me a link to Carolyn Wonderland singing, and I just said ‘that’s my girl’. I got in touch with her, and she was totally cool; didn’t know me from anybody, but was totally cool to record it. That’s the first single [and is] coming out on Record Store Day on the 19th of April. I was pretty inspired to go on and continue doing them, and I’m so glad I did as all these singers have stepped up and done a fantastic job. Really, I think you’re going to be pretty amazed at some of these performances.

What other singers do you have on there and how did you come to work with them?

The next single is with a girl called Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays; she just completely rocks on ‘I Gotta Right’ and ‘Heavy Liquid’. That’ll come out around June-ish. I’ve got Ariel Pink on ‘She Creatures From The Hollywood Hills’, Jello Biafra on ‘Head On’, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream is going to do ‘Scene Of The Crime’, Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart and on and on. There’s thirteen of them altogether; it’s a real showcase for singers, if you will, and a tribute to our song-writing.

Did you originally want Iggy to sing on the album?

Well, you know, initially I did. Initially he and I discussed it as a possible album instead of the last one that we did. We decided against it because of the obvious comparisons between the young Stooges and the old Stooges, and so it just didn’t seem like a good idea to get bogged down in all these comparisons. I feel like we made a good album with Ready To Die, but I still had it on my bucket list to do these songs properly, and so the obvious way for me to avoid the comparisons was to have a fresh look at them, re-arrange the songs and bring in other singers. Then it becomes a tribute to the song-writing, rather than an attempt to compete with your younger self.

What makes Raw Power so damn good?

I think it’s the song-writing; pure and simple. Those songs – and God knows, they’ve been mishandled in every way possible by many different people – still sound good, even if the mix is crap or whatever. It just doesn’t matter. The song-writing is the most essential ingredient, but also the playing was ground-breaking. That was my first album, so I didn’t know anything about the studio and had to defer to Iggy. Iggy’s not the most technical person in the world, and he’s a very creative guy and wants to push the envelope, but sometimes in the studio that’s not a good idea. With that record we made the engineer do a lot of things he probably shouldn’t have done, and there were some technical problems; the bass was like mush and the drum track was almost non-existent. Given what Bowie had to work with, he did a pretty good job, albeit a little bit arty. Anyway, he made me sound great, and I’ve got to be thankful for that [laughs]. For an album which is essentially guitar and vocals, it’s pretty good. Jack White has made an entire career out of it.

How did you feel when people said Iggy and the Stooges couldn’t play properly or weren’t real musicians?

Well, I think we proved them wrong. History will probably show that we were good musicians, and we were also very creative and willing to take chances, and not just try to to imitate what was popular at the time. God knows, when we made Raw Power, they were still tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree, you know? That was the popular music at the time. We pushed the envelope, and although it didn’t do us any good career-wise until much much later, we were successful; it just took a really long time.

There seems to be so much of the Vietnam War in Raw Power. Was that a major influence on the recording?

Yes. No doubt about it. Certainly the riffs from ‘Search and Destroy’. The genesis of that was me in the rehearsal room screwing around with the guys, playing ‘machine gun’ on the guitar. They kind of liked that, and that’s how that song started. There was a little bit of influence on our playing, but there was a ton of influence on Iggy’s lyrics. He’s a very topical writer; if you look at any of his stuff, it’s stuff that’s in the newspaper at the time. That’s the way he writes.

Any chance of a trip to Australia any time soon?

I’ve been asked that question a lot and I’d absolutely love to do it. The thing is trying to organise thirteen singers to show up anywhere is daunting, never mind get them all to Australia. It’d be a challenge, but I’m up for it, and if we can find a promoter to step up and do that, I’d love to. I love Australia; I’ve been there a couple of times now. The Stooges aren’t touring this year, but when we do start touring again, Australia is certainly a viable venue for us.

Do you think you’ll ever retire from music, like you have done from your electronics career?

I’m sure I will, but before I do I’d like to work on a different type of music. Because I was out of music for so long I’ve got a lot of music still in me, and that’s part of what doing this new album is about. The stuff has a fresh new look and sound to it, and I feel good about that. How long more The Stooges go on; I don’t know. There’s not many of us left, for one thing. What I do on-stage is just stand there and play, and assuming I don’t get arthritis or something and can’t play – like Keith Richards or someone like that – I can do it for a long time. But Iggy; he’s 66. When we go back out again he’ll be 67, 68. How many guys are going to stage dive at that point? If anybody will, he will, but I’m just saying, you know?

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND CAROLYN WONDERLAND’s NEW LIMITED VINYL SINGLE ‘OPEN UP AND BLEED’/’GIMME SOME SKIN’ WILL BE AVAILABLE AT INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES WORLDWIDE ON RECORD STORE DAY, APRIL 19TH 2014.

Scott Owen of The Living End: “I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other”

living end

THE LIVING END have just played five Soundwave shows and will headline The Big Pineapple Music Festival next month; not bad for a band technically on a break. Upright bass player Scott Owen explains why the Melbourne trio doesn’t sit still for long.

“Soundwave was fantastic,” he says. “We didn’t know what to expect as it was all very last-minute; we only got added to the bill two weeks before the festival. It was unexpected, but you can’t complain about getting up in front of audiences like that. Everyone seemed to file in there early and there was a really respectable amount of people there. [Short notice] can work either way for us; sometimes we rehearse our arses off before a show and for one reason or another it’s difficult to pull it together, and then sometimes you just have to jump into the deep end without a chance to rehearse, and they can be the best gigs. We went for the middle ground and only had a couple of rehearsals in the week leading up to it, and left it at that; just enough to dust out the cobwebs a little bit, but not overthink it.”

The band will be the top-billed rock act at next month’s second Big Pineapple Music Festival, which also features Dead Letter Circus and Spiderbait.

“Because we’re at a stage right now where we don’t have a new record out, we’re just kind of getting up and trying to tailor our set – and this probably sounds wanky – to please everyone,” Owen says. “We figure with festivals you’re there for a good time, not a long time, so we just try to play things that we think people are going to know and things people can sing along to; I think that’s our job at a festival. We didn’t really think of doing [AC/DC’s] ‘Jailbreak’ until the day of the gig at Soundwave in Brisbane, but every now and then we’ll pull out a cover and it’s normally something that’s planned. We’ve got six albums, so there’s a lot of catalogue to choose from and it can be difficult to try to think of what will please everyone, but that’s why we tend to rely on the songs most people are going to know. It’s not our own show; people are there to see a bunch of bands, so we just try to offer a good time.”

This year marks two decades since the band formed in Melbourne, but Owen isn’t keen to make a fuss of the anniversary.

“We did a retrospective tour the year before last, where we went out and played all of our albums for seven nights in each city, and that was a good way to look back over everything,” he says. “I think we’re more into looking forward than looking back now, although the plan is to do nothing for pretty much the rest of the year, apart from a few gigs here and there, and then sometime next year we’ll get together again and start thinking about the next record. This is the first time we’ve all not lived in Melbourne. Over the last couple of years we’ve all moved in different directions; Chris [Cheney, singer-guitarist] is over in America, I live in Byron and Andy [Strachan, drums] is down the coast in Victoria. There’s a bit of a distance between us and we figured it’s a good opportunity to just chill out for a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately we’ve never had any major difficulties with each other and we’ve been lucky to continue to get people to want to watch us play. I guess we just get along as mates and respect each other, and just enjoy getting up onstage and playing together. I really don’t know how to read it any more deeply than that.”

The band’s sound includes elements of rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and punk; a formula that has worked well for the trio, although Owen’s ‘bass stunts’ – primarily standing on his instrument mid-performance – wasn’t always the polished party-piece it is today.

“When Chris and I were in high school we were only interested in’50s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly,” he says. “Getting up on the bass was always part of the act; it was happening from day one. The funniest time was when Chris and I started playing; we were only about 16 or 17 years old when we started playing pubs around Melbourne. One of the very first times we played a proper pub – and we were still just doing rockabilly covers at the time – Chris climbed up on my bass to play a guitar solo and it all went horribly wrong and we ended up in a pile on the floor. It was devastating; we were thinking we could never get up onstage and show our faces again after such an epic fail. But we got over the hurdle. Luckily it hasn’t happened in front of an enormous audience.”

THE LIVING END PLAY THE BIG PINEAPPLE MUSIC FESTIVAL SATURDAY MAY 17.