Saturday, 17 October 2015

I Still Listen To Punk (And So Should You)


It would be a shameless lie for me to say that punk-rock doesn’t hold a particularly special place in my heart. Sure, I have a genuine love for all genres (and probably always will), but nothing has ever truly compared to the loud visceral charge of punk. Everything about it remains oh-so-thrilling, forty-plus years after a young Iggy Popwrapped his sweaty hands around a microphone for the first time to promise our parents and grandparents that they ‘will have a real cool time, tonight.’

Whether or not you’re onboard with the message and/or the music of punk, the fact of the matter remains that even today, the genre is far from dead. In fact, the mere suggestion that it has lost any of its vitriolic spark is downright ludicrous. There is proof of this all over the place - all you really need to do is open your eyes and ears a little.

New Jersey band Titus Andronicus’snew album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy– an exhilarating, twenty-nine song, ninety-three minute punk-rock opera revolving around the subject of manic depression – stands as a perfect example of just how far the genre has come. And while the record itself might sound like a whole hell of a lot to take in initially (and don’t kid yourself, it most definitely is), it is absolutely worth the time and effort.

Interestingly, The Most Lamentable Tragedyisn’t the first left-field punk-rock opera to be released by a reputable band this decade. Just four years ago, Canadian act Fucked Up proved similarly adventurous by unleashing the mind-meltingly great David Comes to Life onto the unsuspecting masses. For those who hadn’t been paying much attention to the world of punk at the time, the albums arrival came as a bit of a shock. However, to the rest of us who were still very much under punk’s powerful spell, it was simply another in an impressively long line of great modern releases to see the light of day. These albums, like all the very best music, are overflowing with individuality and diversity – two qualities that have always been an essential part of punk’s DNA, even going back to its earliest days.

The often turbulent history of punk-rock is an important thing to consider when discussing today’s artists, as it provides some valuable insight into why, all these years later, the real-deal bands still have the ability to kick even the most overly-cynical music fan’s ass. And while there continues to be passionate debate as to when exactly punk first took shape, what is generally agreed upon is the moment in which it all came together and rose up from the underground: right smack bang in the middle of the crazy seventies.


By all accounts, the mid-seventies was a fascinating period, one in which an increasing number of artists chose to defiantly stand away from the generic mainstream’s reach in order to let their freak flags fly. The ultra-unique personalities of these reckless trailblazers were on full, uncensored display - both in their music, and in the ways in which they chose to present themselves: The Ramones had the matching leather jackets, skinny jeans, fake last names and two-minute punk anthems; Richard Hell had the torn shirts, the safety pins (a style later adopted by The Sex Pistols), and dark, poetic lyrics that spoke directly to an entire ‘blank generation’. Divisive two-piece Suicide, meanwhile, had their own unique brand of electronic nihilism going on, one that both baffled and compelled the lost souls who stumbled through the doors of now-legendary New York venues CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.

As the artists on the scene continued to evolve and change in interesting and unpredictable ways, so too did the scene itself, and not always for the better. While shows were initially only attended by genuine, like-minded individuals who were there to celebrate punk’s original vision, things altered rather dramatically the second punk gained the unwanted attention of the previously dismissive mainstream, who – let’s be honest - still didn’t really know or care about the true meaning of it all. This inevitably led to gigs becoming over-crowded affairs full of clueless trend-followers who saw punk as little more than a radical fashion statement to piss off their Elvis-loving parents.

Still, the arrival of posers on the scene, while initially problematic, was an issue that was relatively short-lived. As many at the time probably guessed would happen, it didn’t take long for the fake fans to grow tired of drinking beer from plastic cups in dark clubs while attempting to sing along to lyrics they didn’t quite understand. Before long, most had ditched their pre-torn jackets and perfectly-groomed Mohawks in favour of white Armani suits and horrible mullets. By the time the eighties finally rolled around, every last one of them had vacated to the next ‘happening scene’, which, given the musical trajectory at the time, no doubt entailed snorting ungodly amounts of cocaine and sweating profusely to the sounds of early Duran Duran.


Following the mass-poser-exodus, punk suddenly found itself in a very different place. When the dust had settled, it became immediately apparent to those who stuck around that the music had morphed into something altogether different; something far more serious and intense. Within the burgeoning scenes in major American cities like Washington DC and Los Angeles, the bands populating the stages inside ratty venues were suddenly a whole hell of a lot louder, faster, and angrier. Punk had entered a new phase, one that was soon bestowed with its own appropriate title: hardcore.

Hardcore quickly gained all kinds of notoriety thanks in part to the no-bullshit, D.I.Y attitudes of bands like Dead KennedysBlack FlagBad Brains andCircle Jerks, whose chaotic, blood-splattered live shows became the thing of legend. Sadly, like the scene proceeding it, hardcore was sadly not built to last – at least not in such a large-scale way.

Many of the complications that led to the demise of the original punk movement soon overlapped into hardcore. Like before, crowds of trendy outsiders were slithering their way into shows. Now, however, they were joined by an even worse element - violently-minded thugs who were using the music emanating from the stage as their own personal soundtrack to beat in the skulls of nearby audience members.

Complicating matters further was the fact that the police were starting to pay a great deal of attention to the comings and goings of hardcore bands (and their fans), which inevitably led to numerous tension-fueled run-ins. All of this, it goes without saying, didn’t exactly do the movement any favours. In a 2013 interview with LA Weekly, Black Flag front man Henry Rollins spoke with writer Ben Westhoff about the exact moment it all went south, stating, ‘We were picking a fight with the police and we got it. We got really vilified because of that, and the police ended up winning.’

Despite the forces working against hardcore, it wasn’t all bad. Along with the hordes of detractors came great numbers of passionate believers. One notable example was filmmaker Penelope ‘Wayne’s World’ Spheeris, who was not only completely on board with hardcore and everything it represented, but who also went out of her way to capture the action on film as it was taking place. This resulted in the exhilaratingly raw moment-in-time documentary The Decline of Western Civilisation, which is today considered a classic.

As hardcore gradually screeched to a depressing halt, the future looked pretty grim for punk. The rising tide of glam/hair metal- and all of the hedonism, misogyny, and ego-fuelled excess that went along with it – came close to being the final nail in punk’s coffin. Thankfully, smarter listeners were able to block out the awful sounds coming out of L.A’s Sunset Strip and sit and wait patiently for music to once again return to a more exciting and dangerous place.

Soon enough it did, in the form of genres such as grunge and riot grrrl (a movement that deserves its own dedicated article). Yet, while these new musical movements were undoubtedly a breath of fresh air, many fans continued to pine for the specific thrill that only old-school punk could provide and remained hopeful that it would someday return in a big, bad way.

Little did they realise just how big and bad it was about to get…


While grunge shared some obvious commonalties with the punk scenes of yore – with young upstarts like Dave Grohl toEddie Vedder heaping endless amounts of praise onto the genre any chance they got - it still wasn’t punk, exactly. That said, it came a damn sight closer than the next movement to eventually carry the punk moniker - a type of radio-friendly aural excrement that, all these years later, still has the ability to send a cold shiver down the spine of the even the most resilient punk rocker. I speak, of course, of the much-maligned sub-genre known as pop-punk.

Pop-punk –at least in its overtly commercial form - wasn’t exactly what the purists had in mind while waiting for the next era of punk to reveal itself. In fact, the shiny, over-produced puppy dog version of a once beloved genre was so bad that many old school fans couldn’t help but involuntarily vomit in their own mouths. As far as they were concerned, punk had just died the worst death imaginable.

It was easy to understand why so many were so horrified. While the genre had up until that point been on a commendable winning streak (despite lapses in its cultural prominence), this brand new, heavily neutered version of the genre was threatening to undo all of punk’s hard work by turning it all into a pathetic joke. What was especially disturbing was that a great majority of the pop-punkers burning up the charts were - at best - skinny, helpless puppets attached to strings being yanked at by drooling record executives with dollar signs in their eyes. Inevitably, words such as ‘integrity’ and ‘individuality’ were replaced with ‘relatability’ and ‘popularity.’ It was a worrying change of pace - one that came frighteningly close to killing off the genre entirely.

Luckily, it would take more than a few money-hungry musicians with nothing of worth to say to destroy punk completely; and while the faux-punks had stolen most of the spotlight, the real artists were still around, soldiering on in the shadows and waiting ever-so-patently for audiences to grow tired of the musical crimes perpetrated by the likes of Good Charlotte and Simple Plan. When the moment finally arrived for pop-punk to draw its last, wimpy breath, theactual musicians returned with a vengeance to bring the genre back to its rightful place – which wasn’t, as some mistakenly seemed to think, plastered across the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
Following the genre’s mid-late nineties low-point, punk returned to a more solid and steady path. The tragic events of 9-11, along with the horror show of the Bush administration, understandably gave the music a much-needed shot in the arm. There was, after all, a lot to speak out against during those dark years. And while all the negativity at the time wasn’t quite enough to bring about an earth-shattering movement on par with those of the late seventies and early eighties, one really has to question whether another highly-publicised scene is what the genre really needed anyway. After all, over-exposure didn’t exactly do punk any favours the first time around, did it?


Today, punk no longer dominates the headlines of online music blogs, and it is certainly not a part of any national conversation – it is a niche genre that is adored by some, and ignored by others. But let’s be absolutely clear – this is a good thing. The genre – and the many, many sub-genres that have subsequently popped up since its inception - is as vital now as it has ever been. Better yet, it can now exist without the imminent threat of pre-mature flame-out.

The sorry state of the music industry has also, in a strange way, helped transport punk to a better place. At one time, there may have been thousands of talentless wonders looking to form bands with only the shallowest of intentions (fame, money, sex). However, the grim realities of being a musician in 2015 has rightfully scared most of these goons away. This has, in turn, left the real punk-rockers to pick up the slack, with the best of them – artists like Titus Andronicus and Fucked Up - embracing the punk ethos of old, while simultaneously putting their own unique spin on a genre that now encapsulates the very best qualities of old school punk movements.

Listening to any of this year’s best punk records – including releases from the likes ofDesaparecidosRefusedRadioactivityand Ghetto Ghouls – is really all the proof you need that the music still has the ability to shake us from our dazed human state and remind us all what being alive is really supposed to be all about.

I am entirely confident this will remain as such for the foreseeable future. Unless, of course, there is a pop-punk resurgence on the cards. For the sake of all that is good and right with the world, let us pray that neverhappens…

For further punk-related reading, check out:

American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush.
Get In the Van by Henry Rollins
Rip It Up And Start Again by Simon Reynolds.
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad.
Please Kill Me by Leg McNeill and Gillian McCain
England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell
For further punk-related goodness on film, check out:

American Hardcore, dir. Paul Rachman
The Decline of Western Civilization, dir. Penelope Spheeris
Suburbia, dir. Penelope Spheeris
Punk: Attitude, dir. Don Letts
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, dir. Julien Temple
The Filth and the Fury, dir. Julien Temple
The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle, dir. Julien Temple
Repo Man, dir. Alex Cox
Sid and Nancy, dir. Alex Cox
SLC Punk, dir. James Merendino
The Punk Singer, dir. Sini Anderson
For further punk-related listening, here’s ahastily thrown-together modern punk playlist to wrap your eyes and ears around:

OFF! - ‘Borrow and Bomb/I’ve Got News For You’ (OFF!, 2012)
Pissed Jeans – ‘False Jesii Part 2’ (King of Jeans, 2009)
Brand New – ‘Mene’ (Single, 2015)
Desaparecidos – ‘Backsell’ (Payola, 2015)
Fucked Up – ‘Queen of Hearts’ (David Comes to Life, 2011)
Refused – ‘Dawkins Christ’ (Freedom, 2015)
METZ – ‘The Swimmer’ (METZ II, 2015)
Perfect Pussy – ‘I’ (I Have Lost the Desire for All Feeling, 2013)
Ghetto Ghouls – ‘Peepshow’ (Ghetto Ghouls, 2014)
Radioactivity – ‘Silent’ (Silent Kill, 2015)
White Lung – ‘Bag’ (Sorry, 2012)
Titus Andronicus – ‘The Magic Morning’, ‘Lookalike’, ‘I Lost My Mind (DJ)’, ‘Mr. E. Mann’, ‘Fired Up’, ‘Dimed Out’ (The Most Lamentable Tragedy, 2015)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Benjamin vs The Age of Disposability


A link from a friend. A tour announcement. Two new movie trailers. A long form article. An album stream. A film review. A breaking news story. An interview. A viral video. A new podcast. A book recommendation. A ‘best of’ list. Competitions! Sales! Fuuuuuck!
It's just hit seven am, and even before my first sip of cheap instant coffee I am dangerously at risk of my brain melting out through my ear holes, and not just because of how great the new Julian Casablancas album I am midway through streaming sounds. A majority of the blame goes to the various social media feeds flinging content my way at ludicrously unbearable levels. And It never stops.

So why exactly do I put myself through it, then? Can I not just choose to look away? Do I have some kind of sick addiction? Is it time for a good ole' fashioned 'social media intervention'? Maybe. But I also think there is something far more important going on here.
Only recently, I woke up to the fact that online content, in its many forms, had officially taken the place of the morning newspaper. Now, however, instead of walking out through the front door, half-dressed and bare foot, stumbling zombie-like across the lawn to retrieve the daily addition of the City News, I can simply roll over, tap the screen of my smart phone and scroll through the hundreds of new developments that have occurred the world over since my head last hit the pillows. Usually, it's a whole helluva lot to take in through my foggy - occasionally groggy - early morning daze.
One news item may appear multiple times over across various news feeds, with each featuring links to numerous sites offering up the very same story, though often from extremely different viewpoints. This is most definitely a positive. We are insanely spoilt for choice when it comes to the information we receive. And so we should be. I mean, why settle for the Fox News version of any given story when there are so many other - saner - options?
As the avenues for choice regarding online news content continue to expand, however, so too have the avenues for almost everything else. This is where, along with the pros, the cons begin to show their ugly faces. The most glaring downside is the really most obvious, at least for me - stuff no longer sticks in the mind like it used to. And it's because of this sad truth that many are now referring to our modern information age as 'the age of disposability'.
One area close to my heart that appears to be suffering in this regard is the world of Cinema. To illustrate, allow me to take you back to a great year for film: 1994. If you were to ask me what my favourites during that rather impressive twelve month period were, there would be little hesitation to my answer:  Just off the top of my head, there was Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers and Ed Wood (I still think Shawshank Redemption is overrated - sue me).

Now, if you were  to ask me the same question relating to any recent year, I would honestly struggle to conjure up any kind answer. But why? Do I think the quality of cinematic fare has dipped of late? No, not really. It's just that twenty, hell, even ten years ago, there was a build-up and anticipation that would keep a film somewhere in the front of one’s mind, not only leading up to its initial release, but also long after viewing the finished product. Simply put, there wasn't an avalanche of content diluting the experience - or helping to erase the films from the mind completely.
Things are very different now. There is so much out there now that I often struggle to remember when the recent films I liked/loved even arrived on our screens... Was Drive 2012 or 2011? The Master was only released a year ago, right? And what of the masterpieces I may have somehow missed? Will I ever find the time for them?

Honestly, who the fuck knows… The only thing I am really sure of any more is that films are now but a small component of an overcrowded wave of information and entertainment that's damn near impossible to keep up. For a borderline-crazy cinefile like myself, this is proving to be increasingly problematic.
A quick search through the occasionally reliable IMDB reveals that in 1994, 3165 films were released theatrically. Alternatively, in 2013, 8769 films were released, via a variety of platforms: DVD, bluray, iTunes, and VOD among them. Because of the substantial increase in numbers, films that at one time may have been on people's radars, either because of their quality (Cold in July, Blue Ruin, Listen Up, Philip) or controversy (Cheap Thrills, God Bless America), no longer are. In fact, if a movie like Bobcat Goldthwait’s brilliant God Bless America were released at an earlier point in time, there is no way it could have managed to keep such a low profile, given the uproar it would likely have caused with the more sensitive and/or right leaning members of the American public. 

Music, sadly, sits in a similar boat. There are so many bands out there releasing new or re-issued work that a large chunk of it can't help but fall by the way side. I mean, with the exception of Arcade Fire, has any band from the last five years built up a large enough profile to command a headlining spot at a major music festival? Probably not, and the reasons are much the same - it's harder to standout in such a content-heavy world. From a listeners perspective, it is nigh on impossible to find the time to see and hear it all... and to not forget about it when the next shiny thing inevitably comes along.
Last year, I attempted to post quarterly lists of the music I had recently heard and loved. Challenging doesn't begin to cover it - after making the lists I would, without fail, discover around ten or so other albums/bands I had somehow missed out on along the way. Like films, great music is constantly at risk of being lost amongst the massive, soon-to-be-forgotten herd.

I am not alone when it comes to (over)thinking about all this, either. On a recent episode of his podcast, author Bret Easton Ellis broached the subject, making mention of a recent article by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. In the article, Scott posed the question "What does it even mean to be a cinefile anymore in such a disposable culture?"  Ellis, quite the film buff himself, admitted to initially felling "kind of shitty" upon reading the article, actually going as far as giving serious consideration to the idea that perhaps A.O. may just  have a point. Thankfully, he just as quickly snapped out of this negative mind-frame, realising that it is now more important than ever to be a supporter of film, given the present state of things. 

I couldn't agree more.

Look, I will always hate the idea that great films - along with great music and literature, for that matter - could ever possibly be considered only short term distractions. I don't want any form of worthy art to be diluted, or worse, forgotten. I want fans to remain passionate. I want interest to be sustained.  I am not ready to surrender to the idea that cinema is dying, that new bands are doomed, that novels no longer have a place.  And it is because of this that I will continue watching, reading and hearing all that I possibly can, no matter how colossal the wave of content ultimately becomes.

Either that, or I'll drown in the process.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Return To Big Sound


There are many reasons I love attending gigs and festivals, but positioned firmly at the top of that list is the whole "discovery" aspect of it all. Very few things get me wetter than randomly stumbling across a band I had no idea existed, only to be transformed into a salivating, borderline-psychotic fan over the course of their set.
I often repeat to friends, ad nauseam, the story of how I once came across a tent located on the outer edges of some now long-forgotten music festival. Stopping in for what I only planned to be a brief gander, I was met with the sight of three noisy unknowns putting on a show so intense it almost made everyone else playing that day seem unquestionably lame in comparison. I was won over immediately, and in the weeks and months to follow I made every effort to keep track of these inspiring young fellows, utterly convinced that they somehow were going to be the next big thing.

The band I saw that fateful day was a pre-lightshow, pre-theatrical, pre-crap version of Muse. And while I could give two shits about the Muse of today, the feeling I had upon first seeing them all those many moons ago is the very feeling I continue to chase at any festival I am lucky enough to attend. And this, in essence, goes a long way in explaining the over-the-top feelings of pure, undiluted love I have for Big Sound, the annual festival/showcase that plays out very much like a little brother version of Austin’s  SXSW Festival - that awesome sense of discovery.
Last year, I attended Big Sound for the very first time... hey, better late than never, right? There were countless glowing reports from many of my like-minded, live-music-loving friends and acquaintances over the years, but somehow the stories were still not enough to push me into actually showing up. Well, at least until 2012. After many failed attempts and empty promises, I finally got around to making my way into the belly of the dirty two-day musical beast, located right in the heart of the always welcoming, family-friendly Fortitude Valley.
What transpired was a fun, lively and inspiring experience.... though it could hardly be called perfect.  It is never advisable to attend two nights at Big Sound - or any festival, for that matter - without first getting time off work, which is already painful enough without the addition of a relentless hangover.

So, with that in mind, I decided early on that this year I would not be rushing home midway through the last set of the night, or worse, passing up the after parties in a misguided attempt to make the last train home. This time, I would be attending Big Sound as it was meant to be attended  - with a complete disregard for time, day or personal health and safety. If I want to be drunk and deranged at Alhambra Lounge at three o'clock on a Thursday morning, then so fucking be it!

When the first day of this years event finally rolled around, I stumbled out of the office with an unfamiliar sense of optimism. For the first time since, well, the last Big Sound, I was actually looking forward to the rest of the week, for once not feeling paralysed by the horrific thought of having to survive two more days in my air-conditioned nightmare. My working week was over.

Over a few post-work,  pre-Big Sound drinks, I began to look over this year's program, making attempts to recall the bands I had seen the previous year. I reached for my iPhone, vaguely remembering taking notes during the previous year's shenanigans for inclusion in a blog post that never came to be.

Oddly, the drunken notes I soon found listing the venues visited on each of the two days, but absolutely nothing about the actual bands I saw. If I could give you any kind of explanation as to why I did this, then believe me, I would...

I promised myself that this year would be different: I would take actual, detailed notes relating to the bands I saw, regardless of how many beers I ended up consuming. In a move very out of character for me, I actually ended up sticking to my promise. Listed below are the resulting entries from night one of Big Sound. Some of it actually makes sense. And the rest? Eh...
Night One

Fabian, Kelly and myself,  probably the most pathetically indecisive group in existence, take a little over half an hour to decide where we are going to start. After an extended period of procrastination, we collectively decide  to move over and catch Billy Bragg at Baker Lane.

Upon arriving, we are met with the line up from hell and a fifteen minute wait to get in. Eventually, we are let into the venue, where we quickly endeavour to move ourselves into a position where we are lucky enough to get a great view... of Billy's arm, and occasionally the top of his head.

It matters not, though, because the songs are loud and clear, and they're amazing. One of the great things about events like Big Sound is that the crowd is actually here to watch the music. The Billy Bragg crowd hang off every line, every note. But really, how could you not? Every person in attendance is completely transfixed... even those of us who can only see his goddamn arm.

09:20 pm
Post-Bragg, we head down the road a little to Electric Playground in order to catch the rest of the Dune Rats set.
Because I have seen Dune Rats multiple times before, it doesn't really bother me that the place packed to the gills, and that any chance of seeing anything at all is an impossible dream.

Defeated, I grab a beer and settle for simply listening to what sounds like another great set. Sometimes being a little vertically challenged can be a real fucking bummer.

Yes, queue the violins...

10:00 pm
Somewhat reluctantly, we head over to Rics to catch Bad//Dreems. I say "reluctantly" not because of the venue or the band, but rather due to how insanely crowded the front bar/stage area can get during Big Sound sets.
Luckily, we time our arrival perfectly. For one, the front bar is empty, which allows us to grab some awesomely positioned seats to the left of the stage. Of course, when the band get going, the last thing I want to do is sit... 
The area in front of the stage predictably grows more and more crowded, so much so that being inappropriately rubbed up against by one hundred sweaty strangers simply becomes unavoidable. While I wouldn't go as far a comparing it to catching public transport at peak hour, it's still pretty fucking crammed.

I emerge from the crowd around half an hour later, drenched in sweat and booze and God knows what else. I would have been disappointed if my first time seeing Bad//Dreems ended any other way.

10:50 pm
We decide to head back to Electric Playground to catch Bleeding Knees Club. This plays out very much the same way as the Dune Rats experience from earlier in the evening (in other words, I see nothing). Frustrated, I head off for  a long overdue toilet break.

While standing at the urinals, I somehow find myself in a random conversation with a complete stranger about, among other things, our shared artistic aspirations, being at the age we are without having achieved our goals (I don't mention the fact that I'm likely ten years older and thus, twice as fucking bummed out about my lack of advancement in the area) and last but not least, death. Yes - all very uplifting stuff.

Ten minutes and another Canadian Club later, I grow impatient with the crowds and choose to make a break for it, taking off in the direction of Alhambra Lounge for the I Oh You after party.

11:50 pm

In my Canadian Club-induced haze, I mistakenly turn up waaay too early for the after party.

This turns out to be for the best, though, because Gay Paris are on, and they're the very definition of fun. They put on such an great show, in fact, that I forget for a brief moment that I'm here for the after party at all.

The time for the after party finally arrives, with Philadelphia Grand Jury  kicking it all off with a set that I am only able to see snippets of in the brief moments I am not either a) lined up for the bar or b) struggling through the intimidatingly attractive crowd in a desperate dash for the bathroom.

Midway through the PGD set, my body starts to ache, telling me in a not-so-subtle way that it might be time to call it a night. My response - more Canadian Club! (Thursday will not be pretty).

I manage to soldier on until around 2:30 am, when I finally decide to chuck it in for the evening/morning. There is, after all, a whole other night to go, and I highly it's possible to consume any more booze than I already have.

With that, I head on home for some much needed shut-eye, already preparing myself for round two in around about twelve hours from now...*

* So, the original plan was to have a "to be continued..." at this point, with a follow-up post focusing on the Thursday night to come soon after. However, my memories of night #2 are vague at best, and any report on the events of that evening would only be pieced together, with minimal accuracy, from photos, (more) unintelligible notes on my phone, and equally foggy recollections from friends I was in attendance with. Given that, I have decided to skip that entry all together and simply say with the utmost confidence that it was a great end to a great festival. Or so the photos on my phone tell me...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Your Local Multiplex: The Ultimate Experience In Gruelling Terror

There is a scene midway through the film God Bless America that I probably shouldn't admit to finding as hysterically funny as I do, given the events of the past year. But to hell with it, it is only a movie, and if one can't laugh along with a work of fiction simply because it happens to mirror recent real life tragedy, then surely the bad guys have won... or something... right??

The scene in question involves the films protagonists, Frank (Joel Murray, brother of Bill) and Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), taking a break from their cross country, reality-television-celebrity-murder-spree to kick back and enjoy a film within a seemingly quiet multiplex. What eventuates within those cinema walls - rude, ignorant, inconsiderate asshole patrons being violently dispatched of one by one, is darkly funny, especially to those of us who have ever had to sit smack-bang in the middle of a cinema overflowing with groups of loud, obnoxious bastards fucking up the experience for the rest of us.

Now this is certainly not to say I would ever think of disposing of these jerks in such a grisly manner - a more realistic and relatable example of where my mind drifts to in these unpleasant moments can be found within the pilot episode of Californication, where, during a solo-trip to the cinema struggling writer Hank Moody (David Duchovny) angrily removes a phone from the hands of the obnoxious douche-bag cinema parton talking loudly in front of him, eventually hurling the offending handset across the room and smashing it into a million pieces. As a grand finale, he then wrestles the owner of said phone to the ground, much to the delight of the audience in attendance. Classic stuff.

Now, I count myself as a fairly serious movie goer/buff/nerd, with my visits to catch a flick on the big screen being on the upper-end of regular. Yet, no matter how many times I've been made to sit next to some ghastly cretin intent on destroying my afternoon, I  still naively continue to hand over my hard earned cash in exchange for a cinema ticket, deliriously optimistic that the experience will turn out to be a positive one.

Unfortunately, more often than not, there will be all manner of horrors waiting for me beyond those cinema doors.

It can all be a bit of a bummer at times, given the fact I love nothing more than experiencing a great film by a great director on a massive screen, backed up by an absolutely kick ass sound system, just the way the filmmaker intended. Sadly, it's starting to feel as if the days of sitting down with an audience displaying any level of respect for the entire cinema-going experience are quickly disappearing into the ether, and that once-obeyed message played in cinemas all over the globe advising those in attendance to "please turn off their motherfucking mobile phones" is now as ignored as anti-drug warnings at a Summer music festival, or Paul Shore at an Academy Awards Ceremony.

So, who or what is to blame for the alarming increase in horrible patrons? I mean, obviously, people have always been dicks, and dicks enjoy movies as much as anyone else. It just seems that lately, the dick/non-dick ratio has shifted, with a higher percentage now positioned firmly over on the dick side of the fence.

The most blatantly obvious reason for all this, to my mind at least, appears to be the shortening of attention spans the world over. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, sitting down to watch a great film on a big screen while consuming bucket loads of buttered popcorn simply isn't enough. Things have been steadily tumbling downhill, and fast, to the point where now, a great deal of the population can no longer so much as take a dump without tweeting about it (or heaven forbid Instagramming it).

Even those who are able to manage a little social-media self-control during a films runtime can still be both visibly and audibly restless.  A large of the modern movie going public, it seems, have grown so accustomed to watered down, lifeless, CGI-crammed crap, that anything produced with a little heart or originality is usually dismissed out of hand.

I still remember one particularly painful Sunday afternoon back in 2011. I had decided to make my way to the nearby moron-magnet of a multiplex to catch Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, a film I had been looking forward to for quite sometime. Twenty or so minutes into the film, I began to notice awkward shuffling throughout the crowd. It soon got to the point where any scene in the film not involving a fast car was met with either sighing, whispering, or flat-out conversations about the lack of fast cars.

The only time the audience actually shut the fuck up and sat still was during the sudden bursts of brutal violence scattered throughout the film. I guess there's nothing like the sight of Ryan Gosling crushing in some dude's skull with his boot to force an audience to behave.

A couple of days after the screening, I stumbled across an article about a useless waste of space from Michigan who was suing the distributors of Drive for what she claimed was a "misleading trailer". The preview in question had, according to this zombie, presented the film as a "Fast and the Furious" style action piece, not the stylish cinematic triumph it actually turned out to be.

My reaction to the story was neither surprise, nor amusement, nor anger. It was acceptance. This is the headspace a great many members of today’s cinema-going audiences now reside in.

Another recent, similarly asinine example is a story involving some senseless dumb-fuck who thought it only fair to file a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority against Hollywood Studio Paramount Pictures because... wait for it... an explosion that made a split second appearance in the trailer for the film Jack Reacher did not find its way into the final 130 minute cut of the film. A COMPLAINT. FILED. FOR A MISSING EXPLOSION. Yes. This. Actually. Happened.

If the above stories serve any purpose at all (besides providing fleeting amusement), it is to help to make sense of why certain people or groups act the way they do within the cosy confines of the local multiplex. It's because of the very same reason shows like The Biggest Loser remain ratings mammoths, why Justin Bieber continues to sell millions upon millions of albums, and why planking was once "a thing": Simply put, a great percentage of the human race are insufferable morons. Nothing new, really. The late, great George Carlin said it best decades ago: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realise half of them are stupider than that". Disturbing, depressing, true.

The whole "Drive" scenario has continued to happen countless times since that particular cinema outing, and while it is annoying, I have found ways to minimise the possibility of having another great film ruined, mainly by avoiding big-time modern multiplexes altogether. While smaller cinema chains and boutique art house theatres may be steadily decreasing in numbers, they are still out there, and are a refreshing alternative, especially considering that, more often than not, the audiences in attendance are there because they fucking well wanna be, not because they are just "killing time." It's hard to imagine finding a  tweeting teen sitting in the audience of an art house cinema watching Michael Haneke's Amour, correct?

If you pride yourself on being even a semi-serious cinema goer, isn't it best to give the film you're planning on seeing the respect it deserves, by watching it with an audience worthy of it's time? Where possible, why not leave the larger commercial multiplexes for the uncaring tweeters, tweekers, texters and talkers, happy to sit and barely watch the latest in a never ending line of crap-tastic crowd pleasers.

If, however, you're only choice is the multiplex, as is the case in many parts of the country, then you had better hope to high hell that you have your own Hank Moody in the audience, ready and willing to knock the problem patrons on their fat asses, and hopefully before the start of the Coming Attractions.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Keeping Inspired in the 9 to 5 World

That damn alarm first thing in the morning is absolutely my worst enemy on this planet. There is no birds-are-chirping-it’s-a-beautiful day-in-the-neighbourhood crap upon hearing that horrible fucking thing come to life in the early a.m. My hatred for it cannot be overstated.

I have made attempts to improve my “morning alarm experience" by setting songs that are alive with raw attitude, such as McClusky’s “To Hell with Good Intentions”, to play just as the time arrives for me to emerge from my dream state and re-enter the cold, shitty real world. Sadly, it does little to help. In fact, I have come to hate “To Hell with Good Intentions”, now forever associated with those rude, unwanted wake-ups.

For the first few hours after my alarm, my outlook usually remains dour, especially when it comes to the horrors I will inevitably be facing outside my apartment on any given weekday:  crammed buses, street-walking sales people, junkies attempting to bum change, and, most prominently, endless office drones, looking more like extras from The Walking Dead than actual living, breathing human beings, mournfully making their way to one of many office buildings spread out across the city - it’s all painful, soul-crushing stuff. Oh, and speaking of soul-crushing, let’s not forget about that little destination we're all hurriedly making our way towards - work. Ah yes, work - the glorious, time-killer/life-waster that for many of us, usually takes place between the hours of nine to five.

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this whole "work" thing I just made reference to really only serves a single purpose: paying the bills (barely). That is where my interest begins and ends. Beyond that, it only keeps me from spending my days doing anything I actually enjoy.

The depressing daily grind can really get to you, especially if you're not really designed for the line of work in which you now find yourself. Many, like myself, no doubt stumbled into their respective jobs as a means to an end, a stepping stone, or a temporary source of income until something better and more promising came along. But time has a funny way of disappearing into the ether, and before you know it, you will have been sitting at the same desk, working in the same factory, or waiting the same tables, for more years than you care to remember (or admit to).

Worse, getting bogged down working a thankless job can lead to your real passion fading into the abyss, long before you even realise it. Then, one lonely night, sitting on your couch, watching Conan and enjoying a quiet nightcap, your mind will randomly flash back to a better time, a happier time, and for a brief, sad moment, you will remember that you were once a much more interesting person.
I have found myself in the very same position, on more than one occasion... It is a strange feeling to suddenly recall and miss something you hadn't realised had even gone away, until that painful moment when memories of the real you come rushing back.

Hopefully, this quick flashback to a better version of you will be enough to kick-start you into once again getting yourself back on the right path. If a little more motivation is required, trying thinking about what the eighteen year old version of yourself would think if he or she were ever unlucky enough to somehow look into the future and catch a glimpse of the present-day version. Would they be happy, or would they not think twice about taking a dive off the nearest roof and ending it all right then and there?

What also works, as I recently found out, is an honest, no-bullshit, just-the-hard-facts style talking to / lecture courtesy of a concerned - and understandably frustrated - friend. It may feel like a cold, hard slap to the face, but damn if it doesn't work. Bottom line, if you're not in a job that is your passion or your dream; one that fills you with an absolute joy for life, then at the very least try spending a few hours outside of said job doing something that is. It will make one helluva difference to your whole outlook.

All this is easier said than done, though. Whether your bag is painting, volunteer work, bondage nights, or writing a shitty blog that no one reads, keeping motivated enough to continue pursuing that special something you actually enjoy – the reason you feel you were put on this earth - while spending five days a week in an air-conditioned nightmare, can prove quite the challenge.

Let's take my typical working day, for example - Usually, it will take me until around about eleven
am to reach a point I would consider “fully awake” (again - not a morning person). Then, around one - post-coffee, post - lunch, when the blood is flowing and focus finally returns, inspiration will finally begin to kick in - not for anything actually work-related, mind you, just the post-work activities I actually give a shit about. The important stuff.

From here, the struggle will be to then hold onto this inspiration until the clock strikes five, and even after this, there will be further hurdles, the most glaring of which will be the strong desire to partake in a little post-office relaxation time. Avoiding the couch, in particular, is far from easy;  it's pretty damn tempting to head straight to a comfortable three-seater after eight straight hours of soul-crushing, mental ass-fuckery.

On the days where I am personally able to pass the "couch test", there are still further considerations – cooking dinner, washing those dishes that are now stacked all the way to the ceiling, doing something about that pile of clothing that has somehow grown into something resembling Everest.

After all those obstacles are out of the way, it will finally be time to focus on my passion profect. At this point, however, it will likely not be early, and by the time I am finally on some kind of a roll, the unwanted realisation will hit that it’s now about five hours until I have to get up and do the whole "work" thing all over again. This is the part I struggle with the most - cutting myself off to get a little shut eye before doing it all again the following day.

If I am motivated enough to stick to this schedule,  I will find myself growing more and more zombie-like as the week progresses until, on Friday, I will enter through my front door to collapse on my couch to catch up on the sleep missed over the course of the last four days.

Surely there's a better way to pay the rent and follow your dreams right? Perhaps that is a better questions for Anthony Robins. As far as I'm concerned, there's really only two choices: 1) Quit your job, live like a true artist (poor and starving) and commit full time to your life’s dream, or 2) Stick with your job and learn to live with a complete lack of sleep, happy in the knowledge that you are not wasting the moments that truly count, the hours outside of 9am - 5pm.

For me, it will need to remain option two, at least for the time being, because livin’ ain’t cheap, and fuck it, sleep in overrated anyhow.

Besides, no matter how sleep deprived you ultimately are, or how much of a struggle it can all prove to be at times, it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative - finding yourself sitting alone on your couch late one night, well rested but desperately unhappy, reminiscing of a time long since passed, a time when you actually gave a damn about yourself.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The World Is a Better Place With The Replacements Around

I was late to The Replacements. Very late. Eighteen years after the fact, to be exact.

Sure, I was aware of their existence due to, among other things, occasional viewings of the black and white "Bastards of Young" video on late night television, or the fairly regular mentions and shout-outs from various artists I admired regarding the band’s massive influence. There were also countless articles and stories on this debauched group of young, drunken scallywags. For whatever reason, though, they did not actually have my full attention until the day I received an unlikely wakeup call courtesy of a guy by the name of Greg Mottola...

In 2009, two years after directing Superbad (a film that single handily reinvigorated my love of the teen comedy genre), Mottola unleashed his next cinematic gem onto the movie-going public, a little film called Adventureland.

Adventureland was more personal a film than Superbad; you could tell Mottola knew these characters: the employees of the theme park, in which a majority of the film takes place, were, no doubt at one time, his co-workers, the experiences were his experiences, the music these character's enjoyed was the music he enjoyed.

Ah, yes. The music.

Look, I'm just gonna come out and say it - Adventureland has, without a doubt, one of the best goddamn soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Not only did I fall immediately for the characters and the movie in which they are contained, I was also hopelessly in love with the great collection of tunes featured throughout, which included (among others) Husker Du, Lou Reed, and of course, The Replacements, whose unbeatable "Bastards of Young" opens the film.

I recognised the song immediately, though at that point my familiarity with it may have had more to do with seeing Against Me! performing a killer version on their Live At The Key Club DVD, than with seeing the original black and white clip in my youth.

A little further into the film, Jessie Eisenberg's character James compliments Kristen Stewart's "Em" on her record collection ("Replacements, cool”). That brief throwaway line stuck in my mind, as did a scene toward the end of the film featuring Eisenberg staring out through the rainy windows of a bus destined for New York, while another Replacements tune, "Unsatisfied", plays over the visuals.

Immediately after my first viewing of the film, I took off to rabidly hunt down the very awesome soundtrack. Sadly, my long, persistent search through the city's many music stores did not prove successful. However, during my last stop at the usually reliably Rocking Horse Records, I came across a name that caught my attention: The Replacements. The CD in question was their greatest hits collection, Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? (which could not have been a better entry point to the band). And for under ten bucks! Jackpot!

A couple of hours later, I hit play while reading though the CD booklet, which contained not only a brief history of the band, (including their early days as Dogbreath), but also insightful details on each of the albums, stories of the notorious drinking, and references to shows (both good and bad), all of which painted a vivid picture of a band truly like no other.

The remarkable thing for me about this collection of amazing tunes was that there didn't appear to be any significant drop off in quality as I made my way through the chronologically sequenced tracks (unlike many other career-spanning greatest hits compilations). To my ears, from the first song to the last, it was perfection. There were certainly changes, sound-wise, but it was all good, positive progression. The compilation was even topped off with two new tracks, specifically recorded for inclusion on the set, both of which remarkably kept the quality levels as high as what had come before. One listen in, I was dedicated, devoted, and obsessed. I needed every single thing this great band had ever put to tape, and I needed it yesterday!

While it was somewhat maddening to me that I had taken so long to catch on to the complete and utter awesomeness that is The Replacements (or The ‘Mats, as they are affectionately known to their die hard fans)  I guess  I was meant to find them at the point in my life that I did. Given the reissues that were released around the same time, it wasn’t exactly the worst timing in the world.

The first albums I got my hands on (based purely on availability) were Tim (the highly-praised, Tommy Ramone-produced 4th LP) and Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (their mighty debut). I listened in that order, effectively starting Mid-career, then heading right back to the beginning.

Next I rounded up Let It Be (the 3rd LP and quite possibly the BEST.ALBUM.EVER.), followed by Stink (EP), and Pleased to Meet Me. Soon enough, the collection was complete.

Midway through all this, I knew I had found my new (old) favourite band.  There was a magical combination of music, attitude and personality within the music like no other. They were, by all accounts, a completely unpredictable quartet who were, on any given night, too drunk to play a note, or, alternatively, sober enough to pull off a completely life-changing show.

Luckily for late-starters like myself, this stuff has been well documented, whether it be from Michael Azerrad's This Band Could Be Your Life, Jim Walsh’s All Over But The Shouting, or Gorman Bechard's great documentary Color Me Obsessed, which, like the band itself, stands out from the crowd due to being defiantly different (in this particular case, containing no band member interviews or music, just first-hand accounts from fans, critics and admirers).

In the time since my first proper exposure to the band, rumours have surfaced here and there regarding potential reunions (including a possible Coachella performance in 2011 that, of course, never eventuated). However, the band have always played coy regarding such claims. Members have either been too focused on Solo Material (Paul & Tommy) busy playing in a lesser band (Tommy again) or have moved on from the music industry completely (Chris – now an amazing artist). Then there’s Bob, who sadly shuffled off this mortal coil back in '95.

Flashing forward to 2012, and through not very ideal circumstances, rumours slowly became reality, and, almost out of the blue, a reunion of sorts finally came to be, though not under ideal circumstances: Slim Dunlap (The Replacements post-Bob guitarist) sadly suffered a debilitating stroke that resulted in ongoing medical expenses.  It was decided that, in order to raise the money needed to cover these costs, the guys would reform (at least in the studio) to record an EP of covers, with all proceeds to go toward helping out their former band mate. Thus, the Songs For Slim project was born...

That brings us to right now, the eve of the EP's release. I can only imagine what the wait has been like for those who were with them from the beginning...

If you require any proof at all that a covers EP from The 'Mats makes for an exciting proposition, feel free to check out any number of cover versions from the back catalogue and listen first-hand to what it sounds like when a band completely fucking owns a song  originally written by another group (Kiss’s "Black Diamond" and The Only One's "Another Girl, Another Planet" among them) .

I am as excited, hell, more excited , to hear this EP than any other full length release this year. And there are A LOT of great albums coming out in 2013, trust me.

Anyway, you'll need to be excusing me now, as I’ve got some new Replacements to prepare myself for, and, come Monday, listen to. I suggest you do the same. You can thank me later.
Tommy Stinson (twitter): @tommy_stinson