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Intelectual Punks*

 

Punk rockers have long loathed scholarly analysis of their subculture. There are many good reasons for this loathing, not the least of which is the massive amount of craptastic analysis, scholarly and otherwise, of punk over the years. More and more scholarship, however, continues to appear about the subculture—though not necessarily about the music itself. One of the chief problems is that punk itself has an inward-looking discourse about itself (and a belief that outsiders, those who weren’t or aren’t there couldn’t understand), much as the parameters of scholarly inquiry can be exclusionary to those not already trained in how to read them. Thus we often find two forms of discourse with a large space between them, filled by mistrust of scholars by punks, as well as by a range of demands upon scholarship that have little to do with appeasing the often unappeasable punks. Still, many punk rockers, or former punk rockers, have made successful careers in academia, and they want to write about it. As someone who has been writing about punk rock for more than half my life, but also as someone who is becoming a professional academic historian (or historically minded interdisciplinary scholar, if that distinction matters), I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with both the auto-archival mode of punk writing about itself as well as by the semi-distant scholarly mode of writing about punk. That is my own problem, not anyone else’s, but the gulf between the two forms of writing, and therefore knowledge production, is real. It perhaps cannot be overcome, nor should anyone lose sleep over it. Still, I would say to scholars that it might be you have more to learn from punk rockers than the other way around. Indeed, the rejection of scholarly analysis itself is a finding. Try to understand it! On the other hand, not everything written about punk rock by someone with a PhD is bullshit.

One of many folks’ pet peeves within punk today (and among punks within the academy) is the repetitiveness of punk historiography, which too frequently continues to focus on the same old stories, same geographies, same characters. Certainly there are always new angles on old stories, but there are also many new avenues of inquiry to take. The massively increased access to punk archives afforded by reissues, blogs, online archives, YouTube, traditional historical repositories and archives collecting punk ephemera, and even marketplaces like eBay and Discogs, calls out for rethinking what constitutes punk’s foundations evidentially, temporally, and spatially.

There are innumerable subjects within the broad umbrella of punk that could/should be investigated. To catalog the subjects for study would be impossible, but I believe far more needs to be written about the following (focusing on the 1970s and 1980s): the relationship between punk and neoliberalization; punk and the Cold War; punk in the Third World; punk and deindustrialization; pseudo-punk or punk cash-in music and movies, particularly outside the North Atlantic; the general transformation of rock music coincident with punk; punk/queer intersections; blackness and punk; pre- and proto-punk music; punk fanzines, flyers, badges, and other ephemera; punk and the Left; the contemporaneity of punk and hip-hop; punk and violence (eg, someone needs to write about the effects on Los Angeles’s punk scene of the Hillside Strangler murders); punk’s declension narrative (ie, why it’s wrong); punk sounds (in terms of playing, recording, production, reproduction); punk in pornography; the circulation networks (DIY and otherwise) of punk music and ideas; punk archives and archiving; cover songs; and the how and why of the memory, history, and citation of punk within punk. There are surely many others. The internet’s archival resources and connections can facilitate much of this research, which would have been far more difficult earlier. (I have, I suppose, been doing some of this work on Shit-Fi for several years now, and some of these have already been subjects of others’ analyses.)

A recent issue of the interdisciplinary academic journal Social Text bears the title “Punk and Its Afterlives.” There is some good stuff in the journal, which has also published articles on punk previously. One of the orienting principles of the issue is to reject both the linear-diffusion story of punk (it began in London/New York and then spread elsewhere, but the origins were its most true/authentic moments) as well as a compensatory effort to put the margins in the center (punk in some place distant from London/New York deserves to be central to the story).

I agree that this is useful principle. (And I apologize for veering toward academic-speak now.) Yet I also worry about the implicit antifoundationalism here. Rather than a rejection, more useful would be a historicization. It is important to explain how punk emerged across spaces and times, how and why the uneven geographic development of capitalism in the 1970s and 1980s affected its conditions of possibility—and how punk tells us something about those in return. Although I don’t believe the empirical evidence supports the claim that punk began in London/New York and then spread geographically outward from those places, if it did not, why not? In what ways are typical categories like urban and rural, or metropole and periphery, rendered less analytically salient in an examination of punk? Why was it that the “first” punk bands in many so-called Third World locales sang in English and tried to sound like British bands? To understand this phenomenon, as well as the ones that do not fit, requires not just a rejection of diffusion stories but close attention to race and class dynamics across neo-imperial geographies and also within places.

The editors of the issue of Social Text quote Golnar Nikpour’s masterful review of White Riot, a review that contains many ideas we shared in years of conversations/reading each other’s writings. She makes the point that the volume White Riot tries to escape a comparative mode, which has bedeviled so many of the participants in punk’s memorialization. The book, for her, still falls short: “If the purpose of the study is not to compile and compare ‘experiences,’ however, but rather to provide a geographically contextualized, historically attentive study of how punk scenes are implicated in, produced by, and absorbed into racialized structures of power—and of course they are—White Riot misses the mark.” Social Text’s issue tries to avoid this pitfall, and actually succeeds.

But there is something more to be said about comparison. Yes, we can recognize that old punks ranting (comparatively) about how the present is not as good as the past is uninteresting. We can also recognize that the anxious comparison of British to, say, French punk by British punks for the purpose of insulting French punk as inadequate is also uninteresting. But we should think about how comparison itself has been a mode of punk’s production and reproduction. The reason a comparison of experiences of punk in New York and Oslo, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, or Peoria does not work is simply that those experiences were linked and coproduced. Linked, they were, by the uneven fabric of a capitalist world-system, whose many facets punks opposed and refracted in varying but not random ways. But they were also linked by the acts of comparison that is the unfolding of punk’s dialectic. The bricolage that is said to have defined the punk aesthetic also defined the collisions, reformulations, mistranslations, and imitations of the world-scale punk mosaic across and through the capitalist (and, indeed, state-socialist, as if that distinction mattered much by then) world-system. Innovation, like the development of hardcore punk, occurred through comparison. It was something historical actors did, not simply something analysts now do retrospectively. To take comparison as an object of analysis, not simply a method, would open fresh lines of inquiry into punk's historical past and present.

I started to work on this mixtape after reading Social Text’s issue on punk. I thought it might be a useful counterpoint and complement to the mixtape the journal produced. Last weekend I participated in a series of panels organized by Patrick Deer and Sukhdev Sandhu on the theme of “punk and the city.” These panels were part of the American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting. It was my first time talking about punk in a strictly academic context. It was a bit weird for me, as someone who has written and thought about punk for so long but for different purposes, yet it was rewarding. Deer is one of the co-editors of the issue of Social Text and Sandhu is a friend and the organizer of the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture, where I previously talked about the Rondos, in a semi-academic but mostly just nerdy fashion.

At last weekend’s panel, petulantly, like a proper punk rocker, I rejected the framing of “punk and the city” at the outset and presented some of my thoughts that you may have already read here on the relationship between the punk explosion and the rise of neoliberalization/changes in the capital-labor relationship in the 1970s. Anyway, I emerged from the experience having met some great people and having heard some really interesting and provocative ideas about punk rock. So, in return, out of gratitude, I send my love (and Molotov cocktail too), with this mixtape of mostly crude and obscure tunes. It includes some of my favorite songs to get you dancing the pogo and doing the strangle (and, uh, some other songs), but I think these bands/songs are also worth considering as we continue to rethink/reevaluate punk’s complex and fascinating history. Once you academic types have listened to these songs, I have 77,777 more for you to check out before you write your next peer-reviewed article.


About the songs:

Among the first punk records released in Belgium, certainly the first sung in Flemish, definitely the first released independently, Basta’s single is a riff-laden, saxophone-laced landmark. The song “Abortus Vrij, de Vrouw Beslist” is about abortion rights, and the record’s sleeve includes information on women’s health clinics across Belgium. The song title invokes a slogan used in protests at the time, still deployed or reworked today by socialist-feminist activists. This record poses difficulties for the typical narrative of punk’s emergence: corporate collaboration followed by resolute anti-corporate independence. It’s not simply the other way around, Basta was not even on that track.

To rethink the typical New York-London, rise-fall narrative, it is useful to think with the Desperate Bicycles, the most important “do it yourself” band, who created the clarion template for autodidact punk music. They aligned musical form with record production and political content. In effect, they called the bluff of the Sex Pistols.

Amidst the arguments about who invented punk nests a sub-argument, which perhaps is or should be the real argument, about race and the invention of punk. Since the early 2000s, punk cognoscenti have known about Death from Detroit, the subject of a recent documentary film. That Death, a trio of brothers (in both senses), invented punk in sound and spirit by roughing up the already rough Detroit rock sound should be no surprise. As a well-known theory of racial formation in the United States has it, Black people are the country’s miner’s canary. So it went for rock music too. Here is Pure Hell, from Philadelphia, another pioneering all-Black punk act. They recorded this track in Feburary 1978. Their sound represents a fusion of rocker bombast, glam performance, and had-it-up-to-here punk sneering. The photo of them taken in London that graces the cover of the Social Text punk issue shows members made up in white-face. It’s complicated, as they say.

La Banda Trapera Del Río, from the industrial outskirts of Barcelona, took, like so many early punk bands, musical proficiency from a quickly receding era and married it with the desolation, self-destructiveness, and abjection that was the only appropriate response to the implosion of Fordism, particularly in its most authoritarian forms, like Franco’s dictatorship. To sing in Catalan in 1978 may have seemed a point of cultural pride and independence; to sing about the rottenness of it all in Catalan was a scathing indictment of both Spanish national unity and Catalan nationalism. Sorry about the tape drop-out.

Legend has it that Rotterdam’s Rondos was the first punk band to break up because they became popular. Rondos has been compared to London’s Crass but also accused even by Crass of being Maoist thugs rather than peace-loving anarchists like their London peers. In the view of Rondos members, the short career of their Red Rock Collective represented the meeting of theory and praxis, whereas Crass were lofty idealists who disdained the often unpleasant street-level work revolution would require. Ultimately, between their austere sound, commitment to independence, and supplementation of their music with magazines, comics, graffiti, films, and other forms of cultural production, Rondos set the tone for the extremely militant left-wing Dutch punk scene through the first half of the 1980s.

If, according to the accounts of Birmingham Cultural Studies, British youth subcultures emerged from the contradictions of race and class formation in the post-imperial era, Alien Kulture put deep, visceral insights on the moment to music. With one Welsh member and three Pakistani members, Alien Kulture confronted both the racism of Thatcher’s ascendancy and their families’ encouragement of conservative behavior. Affiliated with Rock Against Racism and always eager to erase any divide between band and audience, Alien Kulture represent some of the highest political possibilities of punk rock.

In addition to Rock Against Racism, which had chapters far beyond England, where it was born, organizations and concerts like Rock Against Sexism (Sweden), Rock Against Religion (Netherlands), Rock Against Prisons (Canada) and Rock Against Reagan (USA) soon formed. Sweden had one of the largest punk scenes in the world, and it also had a strong feminist component in the early days. The politics of the Swedish punk scene, in addition to some of the sounds, connected it strongly to the so-called “Progg” scene that preceded it, which was far more politically radical and engaged than US hippie-dom. Rock Against Sexism (actually “Rock Mot Sexism") was one example. Fega Påhopp, whose 45 came out from the main label of the Progg movement, was on the outer rings of Rock Mot Sexism, and sonically on the outer rings of Saturn. Bands like this explode notions of internal conformism within punk.

The Injections, from San Diego, had big dreams. But a bunch of Navy enlistees playing songs about Eldridge Cleaver, prison abolition, Communism, and drug abuse, whose 45 was funded by a massive supply of LSD courtesy of a guy named Starhead, playing lo-fi reggae-punk—they never really had a chance.

Latin America’s first punk bands emerged in Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, soon to be followed by Ecuador, Colombia, Uruguay, and elsewhere. Pinochet’s Chile may have been one of the least likely spots for a punk band—or maybe that made it most likely that a band would appear there under the moniker Pinochet Boys (in the sarcastic tradition, though probably without knowledge, of Reagan Youth and others). Under the dictatorship, giving your band that name and calling a snotty punk tune “Musica del General” was no small risk. They recorded only two tracks in 1984, which were recently issued on vinyl after languishing unknown to most of the punk world for over 25 years.

National Wake was the only mixed-race punk band in South Africa in the late 1970s/early 1980s to release a record. Due to Apartheid, they encountered difficulties playing gigs, and their 1981 LP was censored. It was released in the United Kingdom with the intended tracklisting, but it did not garner much attention. Their mix of straight-forward punk, ska, reggae, and some indigenous rhythms should have attracted a wide audience. Today, thanks to a CD reissue in South Africa, coverage of the band in the documentary Punk in Africa, and a recent CD/2xLP that compiles unreleased tracks and some of the LP’s tracks, National Wake may finally get the acclaim the band deserves. But if the lesson of the song “International News” holds true—that the international media were complicit in Apartheid by reporting favorably on South Africa—we have reason to be pessimistic.

The Reversible Cords or Re-Cords from Austin was one of several female-fronted or all-women punk bands from Texas that bore a resemblance to the DIY movement that had occurred in the UK. They mixed blank irony with total improvisation, including using instruments that were seemingly the only things laying around on the day of recording. (See also Meatjoy, the Foams, etc.) More complicated than simple nihilism, hilarious songs like “Legalize Crime” reward multiple listens. “Throw all the Democrats in the lake. Let’s all eat Republican steak.”

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, most Eastern Bloc countries had punk scenes. Many produced records, with Yugoslavia and Poland setting the standard. In Poland, the state released punk records on its own official record label. It was better to exercise some control over youthful dissidence went the thinking. East Germany apotheosized this approach when its secret police provided impossible-to-obtain Western punk records to informants; true punks knew to be suspicious of their fellows who possessed such verboten materials. Poland’s KSU, from a sparsely populated rural area, became punks in total isolation. It’s said they thought they were the only punks in the country. Radio broadcasts from overseas as well as a Greek expatriate community in their area provided information on the effervescent new music. (The effects of Cold War broadcasting across the Iron Curtain have yet to be studied in depth; it is clear they rendered the Curtain porous.) Despite the rough recording, KSU’s aggression and energy are clear here, and other Polish bands took a couple years to match this intensity. It must be noted that this mixtape has included mostly well-recorded bands, but that is not be an accurate representation of punk history generally. Moreover, close attention to fidelity, production techniques and values, and other technical aspects of punk remains absent from most academic analysis.

Karaganda, Kazakhstan, 1986: 12 Podvigov Nurkena, a gang of angry 16-year-olds, record snotty punk rock. Twenty-seven years later, neither unidirectional diffusionist accounts nor poststructuralist antifoundationalism can quite explain it.

So stick sophistication up your ass. Composed of relatively well-off kids in Manila, Third World Chaos, released their LP in 1984, which had been preceded by a 45 (as simply Chaos). The Philippines would go on to have a large punk scene in the 1980s, second in size among Asian countries’ scenes only to Japan. This LP reproduced all the clichés, or should I say characteristics, of British punk rock, to brilliant effect. Originals are impossible to locate nowadays, but it recently received the unofficial reissue treatment. Copies of this high-quality bootleg are easy to find. Four tracks from the LP also appeared on a bootleg single from France over a decade ago.

Canada’s Subhumans grabbed international headlines when a former member went to prison on charges of conspiracy to rob an armored car and possession of a stolen weapon. Bassist Gerry Useless was one of the so-called Vancouver Five, a group of militants (with punk rockers among them) linked to a series of bombings and industrial vandalism, including of a hydroelectric substation and the offices of the manufacturer of cruise-missile guidance systems. The utterly classic “Death to the Sickoids” from the Subhumans’ first single seems to portend these militant actions—except that the song fantasizes about vengeance whereas the ‘Five never intended to harm anyone.

With links to anarcho-punk and the more esoteric UK DIY practitioners around Street Level studio and Fuck Off Records, originally from Stevenage, north of London, the Astronauts at once never fit within punk’s contours and also realized punk’s promise more than any other band. Their sound at times recalls the West London proto-punk/weirdo scene associated with the Deviants, Hawkwind, and Pink Fairies (Hawkwind’s Nik Turner plays sax on their first LP), but it was also a sound that was constantly evolving and remains difficult to pin down. A true street poet and troubadour, band leader Mark Astronaut is responsible for some of the most unexpectedly brilliant lyrics of the era. He also has supposedly never paid to ride public transport in his forty-plus years in London. Their first release, under the name Restricted Hours, was a split single on Stevenage’s own Rock Against Racism imprint. It has recently been compiled on LP along with their first two singles as the Astronauts, and the same label, Hackney’s La Vida Es Un Mus, has reissued their hard-to-find first LP, the source of this song.


* The title refers to the splendidly spelled first EP by Spain's HHH, or Harina de Huesos Humanos. The attached photo is of an article about Hackney's God Told Me To Do It, who famously squatted the Libyan embassy in the 1980s after the UK severed relations with the country.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #9: Sludge Music

Sludge Music

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One of the reasons punk (and hardcore) defies definition, and is thus subject to all manner of maltreatment in the hands of commentators and pseudo-historians, is that it always contains its own ideological and formal negation. For every Crass, there is a GG Allin (maybe not quite in actual numbers, but you catch my drift). And for every Gang Green, there is a Kilslug. Indeed many bands that pushed the sonic envelope in one direction pushed it as far in the other: Siege is the best example. Conserving its energy, seeming to follow the laws of physics, every punk action results in a reaction. This set of forces has almost always kept punk vital and dynamic—but it makes it slippery, elusive, even as one of its seemingly perpetual characteristics is its thudding obviousness. In recent years, sludgy, downer hardcore, influenced by Flipper, No Trend, and Kilslug, among others, has emerged as one of the more unexpected trends. Bands like Pissed Jeans, whom I quite like, capture this influence and push it in new directions. Just as the initial bands of this style were clearly reacting with alacrity to the faster and shorter sounds and exhortations of early hardcore, the resurgence of the early hc sound in the 2000s led to a similar retort. I do not find many of the original bands in this mode a particularly easy listen. That’s the point. They challenged the conventions of the convention-challengers; they were more antisocial than the antisocial. Notably, whereas some strains of punk and hardcore grew to be male-dominated, macho, and misogynist, some feminist women turned hardcore on its head and played uglier, more sarcastic, more angry, and more extreme music in response. Overall, the vibe here is slow, plodding, negative, downer, misanthropic music. It dovetails with one of the strains of hardcore that was prevalent in the US, in contrast to what prevailed in the UK: the “I Hate Myself” school, as opposed to the “I Hate Them” school (them = the system). But the canniest bands, particularly the feminist ones, noticed that the system was inside the myself of legions of hardcore boys. This mixtape is far from exhaustive, and I am tentatively feeling for the edges of this hard-to-identify sound and vibe. Most of the bands are from the US; examples of variations on the sound—though with quite different inspirations I think—from the UK and Australia are included as well.

To start off, Bobby Soxx’s “Scavenger of Death” seems to capture the loner, outlaw, weirdo, misfit stance at the core of Texas punk. Yet no one else sounds quite like this. The live album of his band Teenage Queers is one of my absolute favorite records—punker than punk it is. This version is from his 45. Can you feel the room getting smaller? First incarnated as Sheer Smegma, who in 1980 released a rare 45 with confounding pressing variations, a 12" on Alternative Tentacles, containing that 45 plus one extra track, appeared some years later with the name Teddy & the Frat Girls. This recording predates the macho hardcore movement; it’s clear its anger is directed at sexist men in society at large. Another favorite of mine, all the tracks, which vary in sound, ooze with anger and sarcasm. Still pre-hardcore, Hawaii’s Fuckin’ Flyin’ A-Heads defy categorization. They were inspired by punk, but this slab, recorded live, is a psychedelic experience for sure. In the late 90s, thanks to intrepid Bavarian punk detective Behjan Mirhadi, collectors were hipped to this bizarre record. I spent my lunch money on it. Over the years, it’s continued to grow on me. Unfortunately, skipping meals to buy records as a teenager stunted my growth. Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter: the Bay Area. Of course, the lineage of SST, Negative Trend, and then Flipper is one of permanent marginalization: DIY-weirdness-to-punk-to-hardcore-to-antihardcore, aided by copious substance abuse. Supposedly, Church Police came up with their sound before ever seeing Flipper perform. Nonetheless, they are kindred spirits, though I’d say Church Police is a more unsettling listen. Two posthumous 7"s have increased their popularity, from zero to fewer than a dozen fans, I reckon. Their sole release back in the day was a track on the first MRR compilation, with the title “The Oven Is My Friend,” a phrase that pops into my head at the oddest moments. Subterranean Records, still alive today, was the center of Bay Area nonconformism when it came to punk’s trends. Along with Flipper, Subterranean put out a little-known single by a group of pissed-off lesbian separatists called Wilma. Each of the songs on the record sounds different. This one probably took some influence from Crass, but it has its own sound and motivation. Across the country, many considered No Trend to be Flipper’s east-coast counterpart. For my money, their first 45 is better than any of Flipper’s material. “Mass Sterilization Caused By Venereal Disease” ought to be in the Shit-Fi hall of fame. Too bad about the Steven Blush connection. Back to the left coast, Feederz don’t fit in exactly, but they’re one of my favorite bands and the closing song on their first album, "Fuck You," may be their most angry, acerbic, and blunt—and certainly their sludgiest. A total unknown, NJF (Negro Jazz Funeral) from Toronto released an average hardcore single in 1984. One of the four songs is a dirge, so I’ve included it here. (The other three, which are fast hardcore songs, have a woman singing.) Bizarrely, this record was bootlegged a few years ago. I have previously mentioned my love for the Four Plugs single, a classic of UK DIY. The mixture of tension and lack of affect, combined with its minimalism, makes it stand alone. Perhaps it doesn’t fit in the company of the other records included here, but one can’t listen to it too often. The members of Manchester’s God’s Gift, whose CD is one of the best Messthetics releases, all worked in an insane asylum. Whereas some weirdo US punk bands may have feigned mental illness, God’s Gift knew of what they spoke: depression, hopelessness, listlessness. With music like this, the lines between fan, musician, and patient, between normalcy and social unacceptability, fade—quite an achievement. Although I tend to prefer music not sung in English, for whatever reason, few bands fit this bill from countries other than the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. I’d be eager to hear your recommendations. (Japan's ADK label is a whole 'nother story.) To close, here are a few rarities from downunder. Slugfuckers released two extremely rare singles in 1979. Bridging the nascence of punk, DIY, and industrial, and perhaps with some free jazz thrown in, they are truly unique records (and I need them still!). Here’s the aptly titled “Cacophony.” Until this year, I had never heard of Robert Trimbole’s Hat. Then a copy turned up on eBay and mp3s began to circulate soon after. It has a mid-80s death rock feel. No one seems to know anything about it, but you can be certain that my pals over at Wallaby Beat will provide the details if any are to be had (check there for Real Traitors and the Terse Sampler, which may fit in here). Finally, the Yettis. What can I say? This thing is primo shit-fi fuck-core. It leans more in the Chemotherapy/Psycho Sin direction than the Flipper direction, but it’s about as abrasive and ugly as they come. Enjoy and die.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #8: Metal

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As an ethos, punks hate metal. As a reality, punks love metal. The problem with reality, as far as I see it, is that many punks love the wrong metal. For a long time, after the pre-teen experience many of my generation shared, of headbanging to Metallica, as a punk, I was resolutely uninterested in metal. Any experimental forays in the genre resulted in disappointment. Now older and wiser, I still fail to understand the fascination many punks have with the majority of metal out there. I mean, let’s face it (back to the ethos part), it’s moronic, commercial, overproduced, and moronic. Thankfully for thirty-something punks not willing to spend hours trading tapes with basement-dwelling longhairs in acid-washed jeans named Dieter, Al Gore invented the Internet. My previous experience of hearing supposedly awesome metal that actually sucked has been replaced by the experience of hearing supposedly terrible metal that actually sucks—in just the way I can appreciate: lo-fi, primitive, unpolished, simple, aggressive, uncommercial, and moronic. Thank Satan for South America.

Anyway, 1985–1986 was, as far as I can tell, to death metal what 1980–1981 was to hardcore (though this analogy has some problems we’ll leave aside for another discussion). It was the period of experimentation and of simultaneous discovery in separate geographical domains of the same form, which would coalesce into death metal. But before it became death metal as such—while taking influence from the tangle of hardcore, speed metal, crossover, thrash, etc.—it was much more exciting, in my opinion. Though not everything featured on this mixtape is from those years, some of the best primitive, ultra-fast, and unimaginably aggressive metal is. Consider this mixtape both an introduction to the invention of death metal and a sampler of some of the most primitive and ugly metal of the 1980s, two fields that would overlap in a Venn diagram.

To begin, White Hell, from Japan, with a member or two from New Zealand, is a perfect example of the Shit-Fi aesthetic: completely accidental greatness. These Venom-worshipping lads made it so close but remained so far. What more do you need to know beyond the ultra-(not)-menacing lyric “I wear the cross dirty, filthy, and upside down”? Recorded in one take, methinks. The band received a mention in a Japan scene report by Roger Armstrong in MRR #26. Next up is Exorcist from Poland, a country with a surprisingly strong metal scene in the mid-80s. This band is the best one, as far as I can tell. More on the thrash tip but without the “good” production endemic to that style, this ripper is from their 87 demo. Hadez from Peru is a recent discovery for me, but their 86 demo, “Guerreros de la Muerte,” might be one of the finest achievements of primitive South American metal. It certainly gives some Brazilian contemporaries a run for their money in the speed and brutality departments. Though not quite at the level of Parabellum, Hadez nonetheless is transcendent and essential for fans of extreme music of any genre. One of the first US metal bands to release a record that would today be recognized as primitive and proto–death metal was Black Task. Their 4-song 12" has been a collector classic for a decade at least, with more and more scums catching on. Luckily, an official reissue is on its way soon. Insanity, Archenemy, and FCDN Tormentor constitute the classic California trifecta of underground inventors of death metal, as far as I’m concerned. That’s the order of quality, too. FCDN Tormentor was the least innovative, but they were ultra-fast and very crude. Warhammer, with Shane Embury of Napalm Death, was the first death metal band in the UK, and a lo-fi one at that. At this point, the underground metal tape-trading circuit and the hardcore punk tape-trading circuit had significant overlap, as zines from the UK of the period demonstrate. From New Jersey, Savage Death was another of the inventors of death metal, with their 1985 demo, where this ripper originates. Lace up high-tops, condition long hair, watch porno, drink 12-pack of Busch, listen to Savage Death, fight guidos in the 7-11 parking lot—all in a day’s work for NJ metallists circa 1985. Virtually no information is available about Sons of War from Brazil, but “Fuck Off or Die” from 1986, ostensibly recorded live, is a prime cut of early Brazilian death-thrash, with ultra-fast drumming, thin guitars, and all-around primitive, violent mayhem. The two volumes of the “Warfare Noise” compilation would lead many in Brazil to call this type of brutality “war metal.” Now that your ears are beginning to suffer repetitive stress injuries, it’s time to get real. Dead, from Florida, who released the “Musical Abortions” demo in 1986 set a new standard in ultra-rough, totally unhindered by talent, shit-fi metal. Few who are not readers of Shit-Fi would likely appreciate this, well, musical abortion. Check the review on Metal Archives: “Before going ahead with the review I'd like to point out that I myself am a fan of very raw, primitive music on the occasion. I am fully aware of the purposes and goals of such a style of production and composition, and I can confidently say that when done right, that shit kicks ass. . . . However, that being said, it is the single worst sounding pieces of recorded music that I have ever heard.” Indeed. Trust me: metal like this—which verges on industrial and/or noise—should be left to punks to appreciate, because ‘bangers just don’t seem to get it. (See, also, Hellhouse.) I had to include a song from Possessed’s “Death Metal” demo because some claim it’s the original source of the style. I disagree, but this ripper is noteworthy nonetheless, even if it’s not as extreme and raging as some of the other songs included herein. Next up is Insanity—as good as it gets. Nuff said (also, see Dull Knife #6 below). Many aficionados believe Master’s unreleased LP, and particularly this version of “Funeral Bitch” was the high point of the invention of death metal. Few songs are quite as aggressive and ripping as this one, so it seems worth highlighting, even if, from my point of view, the uninteresting aspects of post-86 death metal are beginning to creep into the picture here. To conclude, I once called Necrófago the second most primitive Brazilian metal band. Surely you have been wondering for years what the most primitive one is. Bestial War, naturally. Forget the invention of death metal. These cavemen pretty much invented Norwegian black metal too. It’s another example of a band that deserves acclaim from the Shit-Fi perspective but most metallists scoff at—just check their review on Metal Archives.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #7: Psych

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Here is another Shit-Fi Mixtape, following up on #4, that plumbs the depths of the late 60s and 70s underground, inspired by Patrick Lundborg's book The Acid Archives.

Rayne deserves to be one of those legendary restlessly out-of-place bands collectors and aficionados alike treat with deep reverence. Though their lone LP’s release coincided with the punk era, it was not of the punk era. Yet it doesn’t belong to the classic 70s sound, even if we stretch that sound to include outsider, underground weirdness. In fact, I’d argue it would’ve appealed to New York’s or Ohio’s 70s punks if they could’ve taken off their ideological shades for a moment. From Louisiana, Rayne caught the attention of Jello Biafra a long time ago and received a mention in Incredibly Strange Music Vol. II. Anyway, this band deserves the long-form treatment, so I’ll cut my effusiveness short here. Nightshadow, aka Little Phil and the Nightshadows, has been well-known on the psych collector circuit for a long time, but I didn’t hear this guitar-overdriven gem until last year. Thank you, The Internet. It’s pretty far out for 1968 in my opinion, so check out all nine minutes of this lo-fi rocker. Another awesome recent discovery of mine is Neutral Spirits, a band that managed to play to two different styles and do both well. Although I’m including a caveman-beats-guitar-with-rock-and-invents-riff instrumental called “Scenic Void” here, the band has a few more melodic tunes with urgent, earnest peacenik lyrics. Keeping with the antiwar theme, “You May Be Religious” by One St. Stephen gives the feel of being sung by an acid-casualty ‘Nam veteran. Tactless, crude, and uncouth, with lyrics meant to point out religious hypocrisy, though no early punk would’ve been caught dead listening to a band like this, you can see the outlines of some commonalities. “The Bible” by D.R. Hooker is about as sublime as it gets. Rather than saying much about it, I’ll let you decide if Hooker convinces you to believe as you listen. (If not, just consider the song to be about The Acid Archives book.) Cellar-dweller bullet-belt and flairs–wearing deadbeats from New Jersey, Sainte Anthony’s Fyre, who channel Grand Funk Railroad and other hedonistic acts of the 70s, could represent everything analyses of the white working class of that era would need to understand before explaining how and why punk could have arisen. Who’s up to the task? Kath’s 1974 LP is all over the map sonically, ranging from relatively sunny almost West Coast sounds to songs with a dislocated and disaffected protopunk/avant-garde sound, but always from a lo-fi, basement stance. The sum may actually be less impressive than some of the constituent parts in isolation. Check out “Say What You Feel,” which is heavy on the fuzz. The enigmatic Mystery Meat destabilize the boundaries we have constructed between garage and psych of the 60s. A relentlessly primitive recording that sounds like it was made in an airplane hangar, this LP definitely deserves a place in the lo-fi cesspool of fame. Finally, Stone Harbour represents a brilliant use of primitive, basement recording techniques to create part of their psychedelic soundscape, rather than the typical sensibility, wherein such techniques would be thought to work against sophisticated song-writing and -texturing. Here’s the rawest song on the record, “Workin’ for the Queen,” which may not really be representative of the LP’s achievement.

Shit-Fi Radio Volume 2: Third-wave Japanese Noise-core

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1. Extreme Noise Terror and K.L.F. “3 A.M. Eternal” (from 7"; Relapse)
2. Exit-Hippies “3 A M Club Night” (from split 7" with Tantrum; Distort)
3. Death Dust Extractor titles not listed (from 12"; New Smell)
4. Stagnation titles not listed (from “Destruction” 7"; Whisper in Darkness)
5. Deconstruction “Alternate Society” (from demo cass.; self)
6. Total Noise Accord “Continuation ~ Never Rot ~ Where Are We Going?” (from 7"; Crust War)
7. Exit-Hippies “Alcohol Life ~ Dodder” (from “Record and Fantasy” 7"; Bong)
8. Toxic Sex titles not listed (from demo cass.; self)
9. Toxik Trash “Many Kat ~ Cruelly” (from split 7" with Heavy Water; Teenage Scrap Sounds)
10. Exit-Hoppers “100% Pure” (from split 8" with Joy; We Suck)
11. Caravana Anarquista “Poverty, Exploitation, and Apathy” (from split 7" with ADA; self)
12. Aostrapos “Rusty Feeler” (from split 12" with Exit-Hippies; Depression)
13. Filth Militia titles not listed (from demo CD-R; self)
15. Struggle for Pride “Summer Never Ends” (from split 7" with Abraham Cross; Paank Levyt).

 

 

Third-wave Japanese crust/noise-core began to evolve around 2002. If Confuse exemplified the first wave and Gloom the second, Exit-Hippies define the third. But I’m using the rubric “third-wave” because not all these bands sound like Exit-Hippies. In general, the third wave is characterized by incorporation of somewhat diverse influences with the usual-suspect crust influences. Thus, Abraham Cross combine Doom with Krautrock; Exit-Hippies, Sore Throat with 80s acid house; Death Dust Extractor, Shitlickers with Black Sabbath. The cumulative effect is one of ear-shattering noise, unpredictable song structures, and psychedelic sensations. To a degree, I feel these effects also resulted from the direction in which Confuse was headed by their “Stupid Life” 12". Anyway, there are no rigid boundaries between the waves of Japanese noise-core, which overlap temporally, and even the Tokyo-centric nature of the third wave’s initial explosion is now diminished. My own hypothesis on the emergence of the form is that Japanese crusties had basically exhausted to possibilities inherent in the second-wave form by perfecting it. Gloom, Deceiving Society, and even Atrocious Madness (from the US) put out 12" records that pushed the limits set up by Disorder, Chaos UK, Confuse, and Gai. These crowning achievements are among the finest hardcore records of the late 90s/early 00s, and, based as that form of noise-core was on a balance of imitation and newness, it was impossible to continue in the direction these bands were headed while maintaining that balance. So other bands took it upon themselves to change course. I hope this radio show documents that course with some generosity. It’s been exciting to watch (and hear) it develop over the past few years. Punks’ seeming polarization over the third wave of Japanese noise-core may indicate that it is quintessentially punk. It’s worth noting that many of these records are split releases, indicating the cooperative nature, the punk ideals embodied by the third wave. Also, like the original hardcore bands, before the codification(s) of the style occurred, these bands take influences from outside hardcore punk. From the shit-fi perspective, the sheer exuberance on display with a band like Exit-Hippies, who don’t seem to have bothered to learn how to play anything other than rudimentary hardcore and rudimentary techno, is inseparable from their originality in combining the forms. Not that I think noise-core should or could become popular, but I think the inventiveness of these bands could have broad-based appeal. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Luckily, nearly all these records are so hard to find, it’s unlikely we’ll see Death Dust Extractor in the pages of Spin any time soon.

Shit-Fi Radio Volume 1: Protopunk

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1. Rotomagus “Fightin’ Cock” (France, 71[?])
2. Antorcha “Nada” (Mexico, 67)
3. Los Amigos De María “Vuelve a Comenzar” (Chile, 73 [released, recorded earlier])
4. Clem East “Jupiter” (Australia, 79)
5. Vibracion “Vuelve a Mí” (Spain, 72)
6. Velvet Underground “White Light, White Heat” (US, 69 [from “Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes”])
7. Third World War “Ascencion Day” (UK, 71)
8. 3/3 “???” (Japan, 75)
9. Coloured Balls “Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” (Australia, 73)
10. The Jam “Friends” (Germany, 70)
11. Docdail “Aere Perennius” (France, 69)

 

Special thanks to Joao, Paco, Luke, and Troy for mind expansion and info.

 

Dull Knife #6

I was invited to contribute to a curated series of compilation CDRs, called "Dull Knife," distributed for free in Austin, Texas. I'm sharing the mix, which is a microcosmic introduction to the world of shit-fi. Thanks to Brent for the invitation!

 

From Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in 1967 Index released what has become one of the most sought-after psychedelic-era records. “Feedback” is the noisiest of their tracks but their entire first LP demonstrates how sheer ingenuity and geographic isolation allowed them to create quite a riposte to the early Velvet Underground. Except I doubt they had ever heard of the Velvets or even cared much what was going on in the Village in 1967. Confuse, from Fukuoka in the far south of Japan, is one of the most important early 80s “noise-core” bands, but “General Speech,” from their 1989 12", showcases what can only be considered a psychedelic influence (something I believe they hinted at 6 years earlier on their finest release, the “Spending Loud Night” 7"). Eu’s Arse, from Udine, Italy, played rabid Discharge-influenced anarchist hardcore punk; nowhere was their sound more rabid than during this December 1984 rehearsal session, soon before the band broke up. This song puts most hardcore before or since to shame. Wretched, another anarchist hardcore band from Italy (Milan), captures the essence of the Italian hardcore sound. These two tracks, probably dating from early 1984, are played live about twice as fast as on the records, at speeds pretty much unthinkable for that time and place. Insanity, for my money, is the best proto-death metal band and can be credited with having invented the style with flare. Their 1985 rehearsal tape is the pinnacle of that brief moment when hardcore punk and underground metal coalesced to produce a totally new and extreme sound. I’ll just say it bluntly so there is no confusion: Parabellum is the most extreme band ever. From Medellín, Colombia, their sound matches the violence and desperation that characterized everyday life in that city in the 1980s. I would say they invented a genre but no other band has ever sounded anything like them since. This very rare track, recorded live in 1988, appeared on a cassette reissue of their classic “Sacrilegio” 12", which is actually more nutso than this track. The other most extreme band ever is surely Australia’s SPK. Their first 7" included “No More,” which can be considered their “punk” song. They invented industrial music as far as I am concerned, but never has industrial sounded so punk (or punk so industrial) as on this sublime track. This thinking man’s nihilism gives me goosebumps. Beyond the Implode was one of the thousands of UK DIY bands that pushed the boundaries of what punk could encompass in the late 1970s. This track shows them at their most inventive. It captures the playfulness often associated with UK DIY, but it also portends the direction so many bands would take punk’s individualism, away from traditional instrumentation and rocknroll song structures. The Mekons, who, unlike 99% of shit-fi bands, would go on to some international fame and repute, did manage to start out by pissing off the music business through sheer ineptitude (with a punk rock song taking the piss out of punk rock). Their crude and ultra-simple “Never Been in a Riot” is another fine example of the breadth of the UK DIY moment. If you’re weeping at the sound of that guitar, you may be what I refer to as “a grown record collector.” Time to move out of mom’s basement. Australia’s Sick Things seem to channel SPK, as well as nearly every other extreme band that preceded them, with this so-punk-it’s-hardcore antisocial attack recorded on a 2-track in 1982. “Rough” doesn’t begin to describe their “sound.” From Fort Worth, Texas, the Dot Vaeth Group, named after the members’ junior high teacher art teacher, was one of the state’s earliest punk bands. Their crude, lo-fi single, featuring “Armed Robbery” on the A side, came out in 1978. Howls of execration surely ensued. Abraham Cross began in the mid-90s as a relatively typical, though highly accurate, Tokyo crust imitator of England’s Sore Throat, Extreme Noise Terror, and Doom; today, they combine noisy crust with a krautrock influence to create a hybrid sound quite unlike any other band I have heard. “Message from Forever pt. 1” is their most meandering excursion. Bedemon was a heavy, Sabbathy lo-fi basement rock band that shared members with Pentagram. Bedemon’s melancholy, primitive guitar-based metal captures the feel of life for many white working-class men in the early 70s, as the economy began to fall into the shitter and the optimism of the 60s evaporated—in my mind, Bedemon should be the background music to the audiobook of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. Bedemon’s story is marked by sadness and unrealized promise, but listening to “Touch the Sky,” one gets the feeling it couldn’t have been any other way. I know absolutely nothing about Ellis Dee & the Dans. This record is rumored to date from the late 1960s but it could just as easily be from the 1980s. Other songs on it are inna wasted 60s garage style but “Wind Awrays” (what?) is shimmering, noisy acid-cas proto-shoegaze. Finally, Les Rallizes Denudés is the finest band that never released a record. They began at Doshishi University in Kyoto, Japan, in late1967 and after a horrendous and shameful experience in a recording studio, band leader Takeshi Mizutani decided to limit the band to live shows only. They spent the next three decades or so playing relentless, blinding, feedback-laden, caveman-simple, bumptious psych. In 1988, 17 years after the bassist helped highjack a Japan Airlines jet under the banner of the Japanese Red Army Faction, Les Rallizes Denudés recorded this version of their most thudding, doomy tune, “The Last One.” It sounds like an A&R guy’s night-sweat nightmare.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #6

by Teodoro Hernández

Shit-Fi proudly presents a virtual mixtape of raw 80s hardcore punk from the Basque region. Teodoro Hernández compiled it as an actual cassette mixtape and gave it as a gift to some friends on his birthday. Teo has played in some of the best raw, anarchist hardcore bands of recent years, including OTAN, Infierno de Cobardes, Firmeza-10, and others.

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Most of the bands on this tape are virtually lost to hardcore history outside Spain, but, as you'll hear, some deserve to be included among the highlights of European hardcore of the 80s. Autodefensa, Mierda Radioaktiva, Tortura Sistematika, and Delirium Tremens certainly produced world-class shit-fi hardcore, but even the less raw and lo-fi tracks herein are great. Just a couple months ago, La Vida Es Un Mus Discos from London released a Delirium Tremens 7" with recordings from 1984, one of which appears on this mixtape. Hopefully, additional vinyl releases that unearth the fertile history of Basque 80s hardcore will follow. I have separated the sides of the cassette into two mp3s, with the tracklisting above as Teo designed it.

 

Shit-Fi Mixtape #5

by Dave Hyde

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Since the old-timer wierdos don’t have the market cornered on shit music, I figured it was worth a shot to assemble a mix tape of cruddy punk made by folks who weren’t quite a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when Dee Dee met Joey. As all things shitty should be, this tape was hastily assembled and sounds a bit like a third-generation dub. My mistake, but it sounds good if you crank it. 

With its fuzzy mess of a guitar track and “found” percussion, The Reatards “You Got So Much Soul” seems a fitting opener. Their debut EP, from which this track is taken, was recorded when the group was just one fellow with a healthy Oblivians obsession; these early recordings are an amateur wreck, which puts them leagues above their peers in my eyes. Until discovering Sad Sack’s “Heinous Bitch” single, my immediate mental association with the upstate college town New Paltz, NY, was a sidewalk lined with bead-selling hippies. Stereotype or not, perhaps this single, dirgey and mean, was somewhat of a reaction to the town’s atmosphere. The Ginn-esque guitar leads, Soxx-ish vocals, tin-can drum machine, and layers of sludge are a true joy to listen to. Few bands strike me as being from the wrong era as much as the Icky Boyfriends. Fifteen years in either direction may have seen a warmer reception for their sardonic sound, as I’m not so sure it gelled with the SF scene of the time. “What We Had” was released in 1992 on their “Miss Nevada” single and later reappeared on their first album, “I’m Not Fascinating.” In addition to these and a handful of other releases, the Boyfriends also starred in the world’s greatest rocknroll move, I’m Not Fascinating by Danny Plotnick. Monster Truck Five were perhaps the noisiest of bands to emerge from the Columbus, Ohio, scene of the early 90s. Their needles-in-the-red, wall-of-sound take on Mike Rep & the Quotas’ “Rocket Music On” is among my all-time favorite covers. Recorded in a dorm room in Austin, TX, and released in a micropressing of 45 copies, “Crosswalk” by the Nubees is a benchmark of lofi punk in the 90s. This is the perfection of the “bang on what you can find while I crank up the practice amp” approach! Though the Action Swingers would have a long career with a rotating cast of players, they never sounded as good as on their debut single from 1989, “Kicked in the Head.” The song, with its buzz riffing and primary school drumming, provides a hypnotic skeleton for guitarist Ned Hayden’s spastic, off the wall soloing. This track is an undeniable classic. “Model Citizen (Nitroglycerine)” is Monoshock’s most off-the-hook moment and, consequently, my favorite. From Oakland, CA, the band released a couple of singles, a double album, and members were involved in other bands such as noise-makers Liquorball, the brutal, free-form Sternklang, and current rockers The Bad Trips. The only track on this mix recorded in the last eight years, Home Blitz’s “Apocalyptic Grades 2005 A. D.” is just too good to ignore. Informed by a voluminous musical lexicon, this first Home Blitz single was a one-man effort that seemed to come out of nowhere and was clever and catchy enough to bring a tear to the eyes of even the most jaded among us. It seems that Mindburger was the brainchild of a 60s rocknroll enthusiast (and, I believe, record dealer) from the Chicago metro area. Twenty-five years too late, “Reflections of Infinity,” the A-side to his 1991 single, is a spectacular garage-psych track. The sleeve mentions an upcoming album but so far I haven’t been able to find any evidence that it exists. New Orleans’ Persuaders’ 1997 debut EP is a fine slab of teenage trash. The distorted vocals on “Southern Wine” and dirty recording carry this one. Front-man King Louie has played in countless other bands, but his earlier singles as a one-man band may be particularly appealing to fans of primitive shit rock. I particularly like how the Evolutions transformed “Band Aid” from the Trend’s punk-pop original into this blown-out, disgusting mess. Members had previously played in Last Sons of Krypton but the Evolutions’ all-treble noise upped the ante. This track is from their 2000 single on Yakisakana Records. Unlike the previous track, I don’t get the impression that The Fingers were trying to destroy “First Time” (The Boys). Instead, it seems as though they were striving for power pop but weren’t quite adept enough to get there. Thankfully, I prefer shit-sounding trash rock any day! From Ontario, The Earthlings released one mighty fine single in 1995 (recorded straight to VCR!!!). They’d play gigs decked out in full space suits but it’s the fuzzy guitar and immature, otherworldly (perhaps a little out of breath) vocals that really win me over. Along with the Fingers and Mummies, Supercharger were instrumental in forging a no-talent, lo-fi aesthetic that’d be adopted worldwide during the mid-90s garage rock explosion. From 1992, “Icepick” is about as good as they—or anyone who followed—got. Following Supercharger’s breakup, guitarist Darin and drummer Karen formed The Brentwoods, a budget-rock version of a 60s girl group. “Little Barfy Bobby” is off of their “Fun in South City” album. As much UK mod as 77 punk, “Speed” by, um, Speed is one of the finest tunes I’ve had the pleasure to hear. A raw little rocker with androgynous vocals, these German lads could sure write a song. Up in Maine, Jumpin’ Beans and Willie has cranked out a slew of challenging, abrasive singles. “Bus Driver” has the boys pounding and yelping over a sludge of distortion. A one-off band featuring veterans of outsider rock (TJSA, MR&Q, Gibson Bros, Vertical Slit, etc.), Ego Summit released one fantastic album on Mike Rep’s Old Age label that runs the stylistic gamut without straying from its rough, honest aesthetic. “Black Hole” is the most aggressive track on the album, which I thought would fit better in this mix, though “Half Off” or “We Got It All” may be even better.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #4

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Patrick Lundborg’s Acid Archives of Underground Sounds 1965–1982, published last winter, opened many eyes to a world of music that might best be described as the forgotten underbelly of the American counterculture, the side that never quite fit into the political ladder-climbing and academic theorizing. Not long after I bought the book, I visited the Whitney Museum’s exhibit of psychedelic art and memorabilia, and from that mainstream accounting of the 60s and early 70s, one would never have known that thousands of artists put out decidedly non-mainstream records then. Before the infrastructure and cohesion of “independent” music developed in the 1980s (thus nullifying what made it really independent), the American spirit of self-realization infected myriad musicians, weirdos, and visionaries across the country. Of course, collectors have known about many of these records for years, but this encyclopedic book, with its judicious descriptions, introduced many to records that otherwise might’ve simply been names on sale lists followed by high price tags. The LPs covered in the book range from professionally played psychedelic rock to hippie folk to basement hard rock to loner, outsider, real people weirdness. For the purposes of Shit-Fi, I am mainly concerned with the lo-fi, the inept, the teenaged, and the bizarre. Here are songs from a handful of the many incredible records covered in the book.

To begin, here’s the closing track from the first LP by Michigan’s Index, called “Feedback.” Considering that it was recorded in 1967, its nearly power-electronics, noisy beginning is remarkable to say the least. This LP might be my favorite Acid Archives record. The whole record, with out-of-tune vocals and an echoey, lo-fi recording, has an otherworldly quality. It manages to parallel the Velvet Underground’s early approach in an intelligent but utterly unpretentious and unprofessional way. Baltimore basement rocker George Brigman was rescued from obscurity by the advocacy of Anopheles Records, which re-released his 1975 “Jungle Rot” LP. I actually prefer the 1976 “I Can Hear the Ants Dancing” LP, which didn’t make it to vinyl until 1994. This LP is uneven, but the fuzzy hard rock numbers on it are great, especially “Vacation,” a quintessential “basement shredder.” I wish San Francisco’s Shiver (as in “one who uses a shiv”?) had been my soundtrack to Hunter Thompson’s writing about Hell’s Angels when I first read it over a decade ago. With a sound clearly influenced by early Blue Cheer, but much rougher, this band’s 2-track 1972 recording was not issued until thirty years later. Lo-fi, aggressive, and unpolished, “Boneshaker” is quite different from what I would consider the Haight-Ashbury feel. Stonewall’s shit-rare-see-bank-officer-for-loan LP, released on a tax-scam label, is one of the finest obscurities of the 70s hard rock world, with nearly proto-punk vocals and catchy, heavy, songwriting. Here is “Outer Spaced.” Shit-rare ≠ shit-fi, but we’ll take this killer song anyway. At times ineffably touching, Bobb Trimble’s “Harvest of Dreams” LP from 1982(!) is a cohesive whole, from which the constitutive parts cannot justifiably be isolated—nonetheless, here is “Selling Me Short While Stringing Me Long,” which makes great use of dynamics and layering, especially when the buried fuzz becomes a fuzz rocket blasting off. I highly recommend the recent reissue of this outsider, noncommericial, and brilliant album on Secretly Canadian. Read Aaron Milenski’s review of the original here (review #62). New Jersey’s Kenneth Higney was late for the trend (though I don’t know which one) in 1976 when he self-released an LP in the hopes of garnering attention for his songwriting skills. Ironic because he didn’t have any. “I Wanna Be The King” is actually from a later single (1980), which is more “normal” rock than the LP and modestly influenced by punk. When he drops the N bomb in the verse, it’s a reference to the punk band New York Niggers—though that doesn’t make the lyric any less lunkheaded. Good grief. To conclude, the scrapings from the bottom of the chamber pot: Fire-and-brimstone mother-and-son Canadian Christians New Creation released one extraordinarily rare LP in 1970. These no-fun fundamentalists differed from hippies who “saw the light” in that they adopted an ascetic approach to life and spat venom at their peers who drugged and fucked their way into God’s graces. Oh yeah, they also couldn’t sing or play their instruments, making their Shaggsian approach to bombastic proselytizing believable and creepy. “Sodom and Gomorrah” is actually one of the most competently played tunes on the album. I promise to return to the Acid Archives on future Shit-Fi Virtual Mixtapes.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #3

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The third shit-fi virtual mixtape is dedicated exclusively to ‘60s garage punk. I have tried to seek out some of the most primitive, inept, lo-fi, and proto-punk tunes among the thousands of sides released in the mid-‘60s. In general, ‘60s garage punk, which is a broad term with many possible interpretations, comprises a great deal of amateur, noncommercial, homegrown, untalented, and derivative rocknroll. A great deal changed in the music industry between the mid ‘60s and the punk explosion, so ineptitude in the ‘60s probably should not be thought of in the same way as the reactionary ineptitude of ‘70s punk. Still, even in the ‘60s, there was bad and there was bad—and, of course, the baddest are among the most loved today. Consider this an introduction to the shit-fi aspect of ‘60s garage for those who may be well-informed about obscure punk or hardcore and are interested in learning about its shit-fi forebears. It’s not meant to be thorough or definitive, just, I hope, a killer listen. Where applicable, I’ve included the record’s ranking on the G45 list of top garage records in parentheses after the band name. (I highly recommend reading this list closely, as it is one of the best resources on this music and also one of the coolest examples of record collectors doing good.)

Might as well start off at the top of the shit-heap: Teenaged Randy Alvey and the Green Fuz (17), from Texas 1966, whose “Green Fuz” was recorded in a stone-walled diner, are responsible for one of the most primitive and otherworldly records of the ‘60s. It was reissued on a 45 by Norton and is still widely available. Not particularly primitive, but extremely aggressive and irate, even with socially directed lyrics more typical to punk rock, “Social End Product” by New Zealand’s Blue Stars was included on the compilation “Trans-World Punk Rave-Up” #2 LP. Sing along with Missouri’s Cholos, if you can call this singing. Air guitar along too—sike. Still, despite the ineptitude, I find “Last Laugh” from 1966 stuck in my head all the time. Hear it on “Teenage Shutdown: ‘No Tease…’” LP. From the same compilation, here is The Mere Existence with “The World Still Turns.” Seems like they dealt with the pain of their mere existence by taking copious ‘ludes, especially the, uh, crooner. I wish I could’ve witnessed his surely charismatic stage presence. Hopefully, the screaming on “To Find Out” by The Keggs (15) will reinvigorate you. A bonzerfied unpolished lo-fi classic rarity among collectors, it has luckily been booted multiple times and can be found easily (the song’s also on “Back from the Grave” #5 LP). The Sloths (3)produced the rarest and most desirable picture sleeve 45 of the garage era according to the G45 list, and “Makin’ Love” is a stomping killer that captures the slight menace, which may or may not have been real, that imbued rocknroll before the hippie era (see Joyce Carol Oates’s classic short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” for more on that menace). Hear the singer’s lispy imprecations on “Back from the Grave” #4 LP. Perhaps the only creature less rockin’ than the sloth is the snail. Yet, if you add alcohol, Snails apparently are capable of chaos. I wonder if the crapulence associated with “Snails Love Theme” ever impaired their potency. Check it on “Back from the Grave” #7 2xLP. Peru’s Los Saicos penned “Demolicíon” in 1965 about blowing up a train station (it became a minor hit in Madrid among the truly tasteless after the bombings in 2004): truly sublime, extraordinarily raw, and punk as fuck. A Saicos discography 10" came out on Munster a couple years ago. One of my favorite garage tunes is “Rats Revenge” by The Rats, though it seems that serious garage-heads consider it to be a novelty track. This cheap-beer snot party spreads across two sides of a 45. Here’s the first half, which receives frequent plays at Shit-Fi HQ. Every time I listen, another nuance reveals itself. Check it out on “Back from the Grave” #1 LP (and check out how their manager then looks like President Bush now). In a search for proto-punk, I read about the extremely obscure 45 by Skip Ellis (215). This record has never been reissued, but some kind soul (whose name I have forgotten) shared an MP3 of it on the Garage Punk Forums. “Ice Cube Girl” is a lo-fi cacophony with ‘tude to spare. Prefiguring The Door And The Window by a decade and change, Kim Fowley (possibly the sleaziest man ever to slink around the planet) gathered some women off the street and made them sing back-up vocals on “Worse Record Ever Made” (yes, that’s right), issued under the name Althea and the Memories. It appeared on “Girls in the Garage” #1 LP. Finally, it just doesn’t get any better, or worse, than The Modds (50). Insane fuzz and howling bile seem to have been smeared atop a perfectly respectable garage tune after the singer’s sweetie done him wrong. The solo beats just about anything since and makes my blood perk-u-late. This beshitted song was included on “Teenage Shutdown: ‘Target: Fuzz’” LP. Garage experts, I’d love to hear suggestions for lo-fi garage disasters I missed.

Shit-Fi Mixtape #2

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Rudimentary basement bile from Holland’s The Ex, originally released on v/a “Utreg Punx” 7" in 1979, “Stupid Americans” is one of the most simple and effective songs that band recorded, following in the footsteps of Wire and Rondos; though these lyrics sum up a popular sentiment around the world today, it seems back in ‘79 anti-Americanism had its roots in tourism, not imperialism—a quote: “Stupid Americans are walking in the way / Stupid Americans see Holland in a day.” One of the many druggie-punk bands from San Diego, The Injections, mixed shit-fi punky reggae with more typical shit-fi punky punk, always accompanied by angry radical (and paranoid) lyrics; “Panther Anthem,” which veers toward hardcore, is about Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers. This song was released on a tape distributed by BCT in the ‘80s and then on an LP reissue by Rave-Up a few years ago. “Pets” by Anorexia is stuck in my head nearly every day. Combining the lyrical silliness/inventiveness of UK DIY with class of ‘77 vocals and class of ‘79 guitar-playing, this is bliss. Fuzz-laden outsider/acid casualty one-man punk from Chicago, “Deathtrip” from the megarare first single by J.T.IV appeared on v/a “Staring Down the Barrel” LP, which I reviewed in 2005. Is that a drum machine? Very early Italian hardcore, Sottocultura appeared on vinyl only once, on one of the first international hardcore compilation records, v/a “Papi, Queens, Reichkanzlers, & Presidennti” 7", in 1982. The Italian hardcore aficionadoisie will recognize this tune, “Attack,” as one played later by Rappresaglia on v/a “Skins E Punks = TNT” 7" and  also included on v/a “Killed by Hardcore #3” LP. The bands shared a member or two (for those counting, Rappresaglia is one my five favorite Italian hardcore bands). The only mid-tempo song by Anti-Cimex to make it to vinyl, “Heroindöd” was on v/a “Vägra för Helvete” LP on Rosa Honung Records (nb, a different song by the same name appeared earlier on their first EP). Even at this pace, and with Jonsson “singing,” Anti-Cimex were one of the most brutal bands ever. The demo version of “Suburbio Geral” by Cólera that appeared on Xcentric Noise Records and Tapes’ v/a “Beating the Meat” LP is a classic of rough-hewn early Brazilian hardcore punk. Sink your teeth into that guitar sound. Eye of a cat, skin of a duck, this short 1981 demo track by Olho Seco does not quite match the intensity of their vinyl releases, but the lazy d-beat, punchy rhythm, and killer guitar make me listen to “Olho de Gato” over and over again. From v/a “Nobody’s Perfect” 7", a remarkable compilation of obscure and atypical hardcore bands from around the world released on a Finnish label, comes Yugoslavia’s answer to RAPT, Opdaki Civilizacije, also the most brutal band on v/a “Hardcore Ljubljana” LP. Sekunda, appropriately meaning second-rate, is the second-drunkest and second-crappiest hardcore band of the early Finnish scene, surpassed only—on vinyl at least—by Kuolema. All 30 seconds of “Suomi Vapaaksi,” meaning “Liberate Finland,” appeared on v/a “Russia Bombs Finland” LP in 1982. Wrong Kind of Stoneage, from Australia, released this chaos-punky caveman ditty, “Run Amok,” in between two world-beat improv compositions, on an EP (with a very noisy pressing) in 1984. Japanese hardcore heroes Gauze rip off Discharge in 1982 with this live version of “Drug Addict” taken from v/a “Outsider” LP; a studio version of the song appeared on v/a “City Rocker” LP and was included on v/a “Killed by Hardcore #3” LP. Here’s an embryonic version of The Maggots snotpunk classic “(Let’s Get, Let’s Get) Tammy Wynette” from Haight Asbury 1979; this song was released recently on vinyl by Discourage Records. As a one-man band, The Good Missionaries (now sans Mark Perry of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine) released this social critique on the “Deranged in Hastings” single in 1980; recorded at Streetlevel Studios, “Attitudes” is just this side of a UK DIY classic, with its sharp guitar sound crossed with white-boy reggae riddims. A genuine UK DIY classic, the single by The Raincoats on Rough Trade was met with critical reception in this vein: “This is atrocious. The sound is terrible, the drums sound like Mars bars boxes, the guitars sound strangulated, the bass isn’t really there and the tune isn’t either. The Raincoats are to music what Wimpy Bars are to food.” Clearly, The Raincoats, as UK DIY’s interpretation of the Velvets, were doing something right. Another bonafide shit-fi classic, “Dead Flowers” (and the other three tunes on the first EP) by The Urinals is untouchable sheer genius. On a roll here: Tapeworm. Break My Face. The sound of the messiah shitting, as interpreted by high-schoolers from the richest town in America. Fuzzbox! After that, it’s only appropriate to play my sweetheart’s anthem: “I Won’t Pay for Punk Records” by Australia’s Thought Criminals, re-released by Ascension Records last year. To close, my favorite song released on the Scottish Groucho Marxist label, by Mod Cons. “Buildings of the ‘70s” is a stark, astute critique of Modernist urbanism—and you can dance to it. See Mike Clarke’s exhaustive article about the punk scene in Paisley, Scotland. A coda: Chelsea, the guitar genius behind Death Side, Poison, and Paintbox, recently died unexpectedly. None of his bands really qualifies as shit-fi, but they are among my favorites of all time. On “Lonely Blood” by Mino-5, from v/a “Enjoy Your Youth By This Hardcore Sampler,” Chelsea showed that he was a gifted drummer too. This 1988 track also features Katsuta from Tetsu-Arei on bass and United’s guitarist soloing wildly. Chelsea was an irreplaceable, singular character and will be missed deeply.