“Depois de um Ataque Aéreo” 7" (Room 101)
“Hear Bombs See Blood Feel War” CD (Speedstate)
Primitive, rough, raw, urgent, desperate, angry—Besthöven’s first EP exudes every quality I desire in a hardcore record. The recording is thin, the drums and vocals are too high in the mix, and the tape used was obviously damaged, but this thing is perfect. Besthöven hail from a tiny industrial city not far from Brazil’s bizarre experiment-in-modernism capital, Brasilia. This record was the band’s first vinyl release, and is, as far as I’m concerned, the last gasp of a disappearing form of hardcore punk, and also the record against which all recent South American releases should be judged, however unfair that may be. Five of the six songs on this EP were recorded in 1999, the other in 1997. It was first released early in 2001 in a micropressing of a couple hundred copies on a Finnish label, and now it has been reissued on a US label. Even though the punk world has witnessed rapid changes due to the speed of communication in recent years, Gama in 1999 is a far-off place from the present, as shown by this record, which has the feeling of a lost relic. The band’s reputation stems wholly from this incredible piece of plastic, and though Besthöven, whose sound is a hybrid of ‘80s Swedish Discharge-style hardcore and Brazilian hardcore, have released several great records in the intervening years, nothing will match the jaw-dropping what-the-fuck power of this record. (Full disclosure: I had a hand in releasing some of the records since.)
Simply put, the rawness of this recording and the earnestness of the delivery, especially present in the vocals, match the desperate conditions of its production. Fofão, the main force behind the band (it is now mostly a one-man band), has told me that he believes Besthöven to be the poorest punk band in the world. I’m not one to argue with this claim, and the primitive sound of the record seems to substantiate what he says. This record includes tape dropouts that serve as proof of the difficulties of recording in deep poverty. The first song, “Mutilados Pela Indigência,” about poverty, is appropriately the most Brazilian sounding, with a metal tinge akin to Armagedom. But it is the on the next few songs where Besthöven hit their stride. These songs may lack the bombast associated with some latter-day Swedish-style hardcore like Totalitär or Framtid. Instead, the feeling is somewhat more ethereal and certainly more desperate. I especially enjoy the way “Bombardeiros” ends without concluding, as if the band realized they had to run for their lives half-way through the song. Anyway, these songs, despite the thin recording, are memorable and tuneful (especially “Horror Apocaliptico”), showing that even seeming “genre” bands can achieve something more than the sum of the meagre parts under the right—difficult—conditions.
For the shit-fi connoisseur, Speedstate’s new CD compilation of Besthöven’s early material is a revelation. When I first started to correspond with Fofão, he sent me dubs of their early demos, which, at the time, I found less appealing than the 7". Perhaps this is still true, and the ‘97 recordings are certainly more powerful than the ‘95 recordings, but man oh man, the ‘95 material, most of which uses a drum machine, is insanely primitive. It is difficult to believe that music this primitive could actually have been made in ‘95. It rivals legendary early ‘80s Brazilian demo and live tapes that circulate among the most hard-core of traders (mostly from Finland), by SP Chaos, Armagedom, Ruidos Absurdos, etc. The bass and guitar are mostly indistinguishable, except during the solos, which blatantly bite solos we can all hum on command, by Anti-Cimex and Shitlickers. The vocals are predictably desperate, and there are strange noises in the background likely created by whatever decrepit tape recorder Fofão could get his hands on. The cover of “Warsystem” on the first demo seems to be its only track with real drums, and it sounds like the band was locked in the closet and the mic was left out in the hallway—a recording method that should be used more often. My favorite iteration of Fofão’s guitar sound, the most cutting and raw, appears on the ‘96 demo. With each passing year, the sound seems to grow heavier, which is a trend continuing in the band’s most recent recordings. Two songs on the ‘96 demo, a cover of a Fear of War song and “Nos Campos de Exterminio”, stand out because they are mid-tempo, almost Oi!-ish rough anthems. Also, the songs released on the compilations “Damn the Control” 7" and “Chaos of Destruction vol. 2” are all excellent, with fuzzy guitars and urgent vocals. The riffs are probably the best on the first 7", especially on the songs I highlighted earlier, but overall I can think of few other bands’ recordings, especially from the ‘90s, that impart such a feeling of otherworldliness as the early stuff on this CD. In the end, I can hardly say enough good things about this band. It is one close to my heart, and these early recordings are unique, demonstrating exactly why I believe primitive, rough, and geographically marginal—shit-fi—music can achieve something more professional music, even that of some of Besthöven’s Brazilian raw punk contemporaries, cannot.
Maybe it is due to my own awareness of being personally mired in this hypercapitalist system, what with the Internet at my fingertips all day, owning a car, working in Manhattan, carrying credit-card debt, and so on ad nauseum, that I find Besthöven’s anticommercial DIY music so compelling. In some small way, one impoverished punk rocker in a shitty town outside a shitty city deep in Brazil, playing rough music inspired by the conditions around him, and sharing it with friends around the world, represents a way of using global interconnectedness to our own human advantage, rather than as a means of corporate expansion. At the same time, I must admit some pessimism: these recordings are over 10 years old. Though it is great that Fofão continues to record, and the newer material is strong, it has lost the air of mystery that this early stuff carries. The current sound is not as primitive, and the ability to contact the band on Myspace or watch a video on Youtube seems to compromise exactly what made the early material feel like buried treasure. If this is nostalgia, so be it, even as I recognize that nostalgia is ultimately a politically conservative emotion. The difference between the ‘95 demo and the recent recordings is undeniable, so I must leave it to someone else to explain, in a non-nostalgic way, why this difference exists, and what makes these early recordings so wonderful. And I will keep listening to these demos, continually in awe.