At the school in which I work, the past week has been “Arts Week”. Every day we’ve had a variety of musical artists come and give a concert for the students. We’ve had some crappy boy bands, a beatboxing singer/songwriter with a guitar, some rappers, and the 6th Form band played for their peers. All in all, I think it’s been a great idea, as many of the kids at school will rarely get to experience something like this.
The music however, for the most part, fucking sucked. Don’t worry though, this is not a rant about modern pop music (although I could easily write one of those). You see, I’ve been having my own little impromptu “Arts Week” myself.
On Tuesday night I drove to Bristol, a two hour drive, in order to see one of my all time favourite bands, Boysetsfire. BSF is a band which to my mind at least, have pushed the envelope as far as hardcore punk is concerned. Their early work was very experimental (and pretty poor, all things considered), but when they eventually found their own style around the turn of the century, they nailed it.
See, this was back in the day when “Emo” was short for “Emotional Hardcore”. Some years later, the Emo label would be applied liberally to a whole raft of goddess-awful acts like My Chemical Romance, because they sang whiny songs about how miserable they were and wore lots of eye-liner (I don’t actually recall anyone in BSF wearing eye-liner ever now that I think about it). Guys: misery is not the only emotion.
And so bands which had previously been labelled “Emo”, like BSF, Thrice, The Used etc. etc. became known as “Melodic Hardcore” or “Post Hardcore”. There is a difference between those two genres, but most decent bands can’t really be pigeon-holed into a specific genre anyway, so I don’t care. But I’m getting off topic.
BSF seem to have produced each album for a different record label. This is due in large part to their attitude of never conforming to any party line when asked to “reign it in” by the labels. Their lyrics are politically charged, they sing out against injustice and they take political stances which many people may find uncomfortable, ostensibly because such stances dissolve the good/evil dichotomy perpetuated through mainstream media. People get scared when they have to think. But of course as I’m a “troublemaker”, the attitude of the band is one which appeals to me immensely. Some lyrics I’m rather fond of:
“Just enough freedom to forget you’re a slave / just enough anger to make sure we get paid / easy does it baby don’t lose your head—cause we both know / that ideals don’t sell come now pass us the saccharin” – from the song “So long, and thanks for all the crutches”, a song about the record industry.
“No one will ever understand / cause they don’t have to feel his crushing hands / And the ears that ignored her screams before / are now wondering what she did it for / But with a bottle of kerosene / she found her freedom / And then burned the bastard to the ground and ran / The fire will now wash away the blood on her white wedding dress” – from the song “White Wedding Dress”, a song about domestic abuse.
I could go on quoting lyrics all day, but I’m straying far from my original point. The performance.
The band were quite simply incredible. The whole night was, to be honest. The support act, Bane, are old-school Boston hardcore, and they’re masters of the format. I was surprised that there were only a few of us going berserk, but we all got to scream into the mic, which made me happy, and everyone seemed to have a good time, crowd and performers. The two hour drive home was killer – I flopped into bed at 2 AM, knowing I had to be up in 3 hours for work…
Then on Thursday, I went to see New York Hardcore outfit H2O in my home town. It was a bizarre concept – run down dive bar in a crap dead end small town, big NYC band playing on the 4th of July of all nights, to a “crowd” of maybe twenty or thirty people. The support acts were so-so, although the final support, Giants, were pretty good. I was the only one dancing for them, which was kinda odd, but it earned me a free CD. I never understood the point in going to see a band live if you’re just going to stand there and sip drinks, but maybe I’m odd.
H2O themselves were stupendous. despite it being a tiny venue with a miniscule crowd (or perhaps because of it), they put on an unbelievably enegetic performance, with all manner of crowd participation and more than a few laughs. Here’s hoping that my backwards town gets some more decent bands in soon.
The walk home from the H2O gig was filled with reflection. I have written on this blog before about how the hardcore punk scene in my home town has all but dried up. On reflection, thinking about the small crowd at the Bristol gig, I realise that it’s not just my town. It seems to be the whole country. I started pondering the reasons why. Sure, the punks all grew up… but BSF, Bane, H2O – they’ve all be going since the mid to late 90s if not longer. They grew up and they’re still going for it. Hell, I grew up and I’m still going for it. But I realised there’s something worse at work here
It’s “style”, or “image”. People seem intent on dressing a certain way, doing their hair a certain way, listening to very specific bands – and criticising those who do not conform. As an aging punk, I wear what the hell I want. I listen to what the hell I want. I have no rulebook to follow. I always thought that was the point in punk. But many of the kids these days seem to wear those skintight jeans, with a belt hanging off their arse, and some designer t-shirt they’ve spent a ridiculous sum of money on (although probably less than they’ve spent on their hair care products). Like little clones of each other… I’m reminded of the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “YES! WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!” the crowd chant in unison.
Of course, if you want to dress that way then more power to you, it’s always your choice. I’m not judging people for what they wear. I’m all about freedom of expression. But when they turn their nose up at people because they’re NOT conforming to the “drainpipe chic”, that’s when I take issue. The “hardcore” scene as it stands, seems to be populated by a bunch of cliquey kids who care more about looks than music, who listen to bands which do the same. I don’t like it.
But enough of the punk scene – my Arts Week Odyssey isn’t over yet! See, just down the road from me in Coventry is the Godiva Festival. It’s a free festival held every year in the beautiful War MEmorial Park. In the past there’s been some great acts there, including Senser, Human LEague, Ozomatli, KRS-One and Hundred Reasons, catering to a wide variety of musical styles. The line-up this year on the surface doesn’t look amazing, bust last night, Echo and the Bunnymen played.
It’s free, right, so what did I have to lose. I went along and had a great time standing in a nice field watching a bunch of aging post-punks play a bunch of songs I’d either never heard or completely forgotten. There were some pretty bizarre moments, but that is a story for another time.
Today I’m off to the festival again to see what’s on. It might be good, it might be bad, but I’ll be out in the sun surrounded by happy people, so to my mind, that’s got to be good.