2012 Top 5 b/w Austin scene report where applicable.
Jason Lee wrote this for Nuts! #11 (COMING SOON!!) The part about Jason’s favorite band, CULO, (not shown here) will be included in the new issue, but this is what didn’t fit on the printed page.
FAVORITE SONGS THIS YEAR: Oblivion (Grimes), Feeding Time (S.H.I.T.), Down in Ecuador (Cülo), Telepathy (Wiccans), I Don’t See Nothin’ (Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, Statues (Recide), Leave Me Alone (Hysterics), Reject (Bloodkrow Butcher) Thinkin Bout You (Frank Ocean), Grown Up (Danny Brown)
I. WICCANS – Field II (The New Wave of Texas Hardcore)
It’s 2011. At this point I’ve lived in Austin for 2 years and there is this awful thing going on where the few good punk bands get tacked onto garage shows, so for most of the show you’re stuck listening to the scores of a goofy bands that plague this city with their songs about holding hands and convertibles on two lane blacktops, bands made up of people who get mad when you slam, who say they like punk like a closet says he’s down with black people, and if you’re not careful all this misbegotten nostalgia just wracks you till you go dull, till you’re at your weakest, susceptible to Austin and its ease of living, its one more beer won’t hurt mentality. In for a lot of days that aren’t that bad. But if you’re not that guy or that girl, you get the sneaking suspicion that nobody is listening to these bands in any specific sense really, and that the songs aren’t actually about anything per se—they’re just songs that work within an easy system of images that everybody knows, and all around you people dance because they recognize the chord progressions and the words even though they’ve never heard this band before, because really all they’ve ever done is hear this band before. You take a step back from it all and all you see is a room of brainwashed Burger Records zombies doing some leather-clad rock ‘n’ roll version of the Macarena. There are, by your estimation, two good punk bands in town: Creamers and Criaturas. They’re both really good, they’re just kind of disembodied—there is no, for lack of a better word, “scene” around them.
Enter Wiccans, a band of five guys from Denton who look decidedly less punk than people in Austin (nevermind the “punks” in Austin, I mean the general population of Austin). But put them together and they form the best hardcore band in Texas, if not this side of the Mississippi. They manage somehow to combine melodic guitar lines at the speed of KBD with vocals that lie somewhere in between tough-guy and powerviolence and none of that really jumps out, in fact the blogs’ll even called it “oi-influenced” or whatever else is en vogue right now. But there’s just something about this band that makes them stand out, even though you can’t put your finger on it just yet.
2012 saw the release of their second LP, Field II, and in Field II that interesting thing they had going on became more than an undercurrent—it’s still a punk record, but it’s the kind that leaves you with the impression that you’re listening to a hardcore Blue Oyster Cult or maybe psychedelic era Pink Floyd. There’s a 7 minute song on it and it’s not one of those contrived “long slow last songs”, it’s a real song that happens to be seven minutes long, the hallucinatory apotheosis of a record you’ve been slamming the shit out of for twenty minutes.
What I’m trying to say is that Wiccans are a great band, and a great live band, and it’s no mistake that the year that Wiccans started playing all-ages shows in Austin every month or two is the year that “the kids” in town came alive. Though technically they’re a Denton band, the importance of this band to Austin punk cannot be understated—Texas is too far East for west coast tours, too far west for east coast tours, too far south for most Midwest tours, so we pretty much only get touring bands during festivals when we’ve got to fit 30 sets into a manic 4 day span to make due, and for a lot of us, Wiccans shows were the only thing to get really excited about for the rest of the year. They filled that 51 week void when there was no new excitement to get people off their couches and behind instruments.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have one of the country’s best punk bands in your city you know the feeling—you go to the show and it makes you throw a trash can at a disco ball and turn the venue into a kickball arena. You come home and realize that there are boot prints all over your torso somehow, and dress your wounds with a smile on your face. You call everyone you know so you can start your own band because you cannot wait till Wiccans play again to feel this way again (even though you gladly would). Wiccans gave life to this hunger for more punk; by the time summer rolled around a couple people moved to Austin, and from then it was only a matter of time. Within a matter of months there were five new bands in town, not to mention the new bands in Northern Texas. I’m not here to say that this “New Wave of Texas Hardcore” has become some world-class force to be reckoned with, but for the first time in a while it’s something that gives you something to do every week.
II. RECIDE – Statues 7” + (The Internet)
And it wasn’t just a matter of new bands, Austin had a new enthusiasm and energy to it that pushed some already good bands over the hump. Criaturas, for example, went from being a good band to a well-oiled d-beat monster. But given the pedigree of those involved that was only a matter of time. At first only known to me as “Albert from Creamers’ mysterious band,” Recide too turned the proverbial corner this year, going from a band that was fast, raw and good live into a band confident enough in its abilities to give its riffs enough time to take hold. By the time their record came out in December they’d become a band I couldn’t stop listening to.
I think that the fact that a band as good as Recide is still this unknown while something like the platonically good but ultimately anti-septic Prisoner Abuse 12” is one of the year’s most well-known records is a testament to the 21st century’s perverse new take on hype. I’m left feeling that the bands I consider underrated are the ones who release great records after demos that went largely unnoticed. The internet is a big and easy target for blame, but it does play a big role into the way things happen now. I’m not one of those people who thinks the internet and internet hype is ruining punk. When I think about it I don’t think it’s changed much beside the mechanics of hype. Though things enter our conscious immediately because every demo ends up on a dozen blogs, there’s still a lot of amazing punk which for all intents and purposes goes unrecognized. Maybe because Facebook, where “hey look at this funny picture of my cat” and “hey check out my band’s new record” break praise into likes/comments/shares, the value or worth of something is a lot harder to determine. I read punk blogs daily, but still never feel that bands are getting big until they’re in my friends’ tape decks, on big punk blogs, or in the zines I read. So whether it’s through friends, particular zines or blogs, the hype probably starts where it always has, from opinions that people trust. What changes I guess are the number of eerily similar blogs and tumblrs that replace in person conversations about what people are listening to.
Recide’s been around long enough now that they can no longer be called new—they’ve been working at it for a while, just in relative obscurity. Lots of times these days, I guess because of the way the internet hype machine works, the perceived value/goodness of a band starts at the beginning, and builds up so quickly that there are record offers before there are any recordings at all. My 7” boxes are full of mediocre EPs which were rushed into fruition after (or even at the same time as) great demos. When the first idea for my band getting a record was floated out to me we had two songs which only the four band members had heard, and neither of which had vocals. A couple people had already said on the internet that they were fans, though we didn’t even have plans to play a first show yet. Recide was different in that they were around for over a year before even putting out a real tape. The 7”, which came out nearly a year later, had eight songs, many of which were just reworked versions of ones that had been around since they began. Obviously I sit in a different vantage point given that not very many people have heard this band (let alone over the course of a two year progression), but in a year when two of my ten favorite releases were demos (S.H.I.T., Violent Future, and one or two more if I’m being totally honest with myself) it was rewarding to see a decent band become good.
A lot of the new writing on the band rehashes the old writing of the band: “Koro,” “Void,” “fast,” “young,” etc. (nevermind that by now they’re pretty just average punk age). That’s mostly a product of reviewer laziness. Mostly a product of the fact that most people who write reviews or do blogs have no idea what they’re talking about and/or are too scared of being wrong to write what they really think/feel about the band, more concerned with being a part of the machine than contributing anything interesting. How many more times do we really need to read a bunch of clichés about “moshing alone in my bedroom to this” or a band that “KILLED IT” before we realize that punk rules and this is just what happens when you experience a really good band?
III. HYSTERICS – Tour Tape, (Olympia)
I first started to wonder about Olympia when I was compiling by top tens of 2011 list and realized that 3 of my 10 favorite records of 2011 (Hysterics, White Wards, Milk Music) and my favorite demo (Crude Thought) came from a small town in Washington. I couldn’t start to wonder how a town with fewer people than Austin has college students could manage to pull that off. Though not even I would hesitate to call Austin a music town, but the culture surrounding the music here seems to breed gigantic international festivals like SXSW, Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Chaos in Tejas) instead of vital bands.
The first time I saw Hysterics was in Olympia, my first night in town. They were on a bill with Hoax, who I’d last seen about a week before when I’d booked a show for them at a recycling plant during Chaos in Tejas. I’d always been into the Hysterics recordings, had asked them to come play Austin and even about putting out their record, so I was really looking forward to the show more as a first time seeing Hysterics than another chance to see Hoax.
I didn’t know Hysterics were an “all-female” band until I’d listened to it a bunch of times, and I opened up the record so I could learn the lyrics. Seeing that picture in a record that so plainly did not fit my preconceived notions seemed really aggressive and exciting. I think like a lot of people I’d unfortunately come to expect “all-girl” to be a genre of punk unto itself, complete with its own style and lyrical content. It’s not that the band isn’t about the experience of being a woman or a woman in punk, a lot of it is, but it explores that through a different kind of social experience than any of the other stuff I was familiar with—absent from their lyrics are any provocations, and their sound owed a lot more to classic USHC like Articles of Faith or Minor Threat than Poison Girls or Bikini Kill.
Seeing them for the first time, and then a second time just a couple of hours later didn’t really change my opinion of the band, but it kind of made physical, tangible, and confrontational this intrigue I’d been mulling on. So to see them a third time that week I stowed myself in the backseat of a car and rode to Seattle lying beneath a guitar cab. Most people I know who’ve seen them live can agree that Hysterics are one of the best live bands working right now. They bring it with a really strange and unique energy unlike that of any other band. And their live sound is much heavier and driving than their recorded material to date, making for a much more slammable show than you might expect. As a jaded little turd of a man I’m always blown away and grateful when a record I think I already know well continues to surprise me.
This year Austin struck up a sort of bond with Olympia and some other places that I think has done a lot for Austin punks. I figure in a lot of ways that any punk scene is usually made up of like 10 or 20 people. Regardless of how big a city is or how good the bands are it seems that a punk scene usually works in small groups. At their worst these scenes act like separate social cliques with their own gossips and petty beefs, and the big city scenes are just a matter of multiple groups that get along and work off/with each other. But when you live in a relatively isolated place like Austin you kind of grow to rely on people in Washington and Missouri and Illinois and wherever else you have friends to keep you enthusiastic and close to new, good stuff. Because there’s nothing that makes you want to take part than watching your friends do cool shit. I don’t think punk would’ve happened in Austin the way it did this year without the confidence-boosting support of friends in Chicago, or the awe-inspiring slamming style of the freaks in Kansas City, or that strange ambition of Olympia bands that make them tour to Austin when other bands don’t. In the past six months I’ve watched shows double in size, as the small circle of younger punk kids grow into a considerably larger group, slamming like worms, getting low and sexy in the pit, throwing fireworks, weekend warriors plugging in, inspired enough to start bands and book their own shows.
IV. Hank Wood and the Hammerheads – Go Home, (Ground Zero Hardcore)
I went to New York because I’m a chump and I believed that I’d be witnessing this band’s last show. That it was on September 11th, made it too perfect to pass up, a chance to watch this Ground Zero generation of kids, who grew up in and around New York as the city became a rallying cry for war and police heroism, calling bullshit on all that noise. And Hank Wood leading the whole room into yelling “I don’t see no future” over and over again.
Of all the records I bought this year, the Hank Wood and the Hammerheads LP was my favorite. I remember listening to it after seeing them at Chaos in Tejas and just thinking that beneath the sound of the band, with the keyboards and percussion that people talk about, it was just New York and punk as shit. It was one that seems to owe nothing sonically to NYHC or even hardcore, but at the same time it’s probably both my favorite and most New York record that’s come out of that city in a while. I’m the one who doesn’t belong? It’s catchy and has ideas about simplicity and pop, all drowned in filthy percussion and organs. It’s a record that barely sounds like any of the other punk happening right now. The only thing that qualifies it for all the top ten punk/hc records of the year lists I saw it on are the people who are in the band and how fucking upset the vocals are, confused about how this is my home and not your home and I don’t want you here so how come I feel like I’m the one who feels like I don’t belong here? The alienation that comes through in this record reaches almost hallucinatory proportions, and I feel more like I’m watching Midnight Cowboy than some new kings of New York punk.
And as if that record wasn’t enough, they were at the center of the hc year’s most interesting controversy. The chicken thing became a conversation topic that I could not avoid, and had a lot of things to say about even though I didn’t particularly care for any of the dialogue that was sprouting around it. It was kind of like the presidential election. No meaningful dialogue ever comes of this stuff for the same reason that no meaningful dialogue ever comes in the House or the Senate or any bar-room argument. To say that it should be any different in punk, or to think that punks are or should be safe from the same petty social rivalries or gossips or bullshit that plagues basically all human social interaction is just naive. It all amounted to serious people and trolls alike arguing for a while and really just amounting to a chorus of fuck you you’re not punk coming from all sides, right over the Hammerheads as they basked in their grimy image.
Vegetarianism, animal rights, poltics, etc. aside, I’m writing about punk and it’s the “that’s not punk” argument I hear so many times when things like this happen that really gets to me. There are a lots of people in punk, lots of very different people who (in theory) think for themselves, and it makes for lots of lines in the sand, drawn or waiting to be drawn, lines and stances have everything to do with them and nothing to do with you, or me, or punk as a whole. I don’t mean to say that the lines don’t mean anything (they do) just that it’s not for me say what is and isn’t punk, just like it’s not for me to tell another Korean person that something isn’t Korean. If that were the case, punk would be as dumb as any other institution. As much as someone people would like to make it one, I can’t see punk as some Utopia for the Rejected operating outside of everything—to me it’s as appealing as it is because it’s kind of just a microcosm of people in general, complete with the same bullshit you find in any office building or high school, all wrapped in a form I can better relate to and enjoy. This band doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about any of that.
Their total lack of obligation to ideas people have about an enlightened hardcore scene is a necessary if frustrating and abrasive attitude for someone to take. To me, the fact that the band didn’t respond to the outrage in any way was actually the most interesting thing about it, making it seem like less of a stunt than just some crazy guy doing some crazy thing. I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about records and shows and caught in insipid gossip and it’s exciting when a band sort of disengages from the machinery like this and just does stuff that pisses people off without making a scene about it. It was interesting to watch a bunch of people who say/post/do things to offend “the norms” get so worked up about something like this—it spoke of some bizarre sense of entitlement that a lot of us have when it comes to a right to offend with some kind of protection from being offended.