Punk rock is something to many and notably not all the hype for some. It can be dirty, violent and unforgiving. Well, It's meant to be, right? At its core, punk rock is not a sound, it's a universal language of revolution and change. It has something to say and doesn't care who or what gets in the way of it. No matter how much you want to separate specific sounds into genres and sub-genres alike, punk rock is not how you play a guitar or start up a pit. It's the energy that flows from simply striking a guitar to the tone of the amp resonating across crowds of 50 in a basement to 1,000 in a venue where you finally made it. Even that description doesn't matter. None of anyone's opinions of how something sounds or acts matters. At the end of the show, what you take away from it, the feeling of emotional release - that's what matters. Punk rock is supposed to invoke something special inside you and exorcise it for the thirty minutes to hour long sets of any band. Two very big people reminded me of that this weekend on separate occasions during this year's Chaos in Tejas festival in Austin, TX.
I met Moss Icon's Tonie Joy on Thursday night meeting up with my friend Derek who so happened to also handle the band's press for their reissue through Temporary Residence. Though our conversation was short lived before Toys That Kill hit the stage (and put on a stunning performance they did), I got to ask Joy at least one question I was curious about. I asked him what he thought his band was at their height. What genre did he think he was in versus what people thought of Moss Icon now? His answer wasn't that all surprising - he simply thought he was in a "rock band." Fast forward to after Moss Icon's incredible hour long reunited set (and only one thus far or possibly ever), and I got a chance to talk to Pygmylush's Chris Taylor. Taylor of course was one half the vocals of hardcore greats pg. 99. If you remember the band's interview with NPR, Taylor's take on where he saw his old band at the time and what people deem pg. 99's legacy now, it's certainly a matter of "he said, she said" dribble that's been passed along through media-heads and elitist alike. What has since carried through into Pygmylush is the state of simply doing without a purpose or foresight. There is no image, no gimmick and no predestined answer to what a song, record or band as a whole should sound like. The Ramones were a dirty pop band but they're herald as "punk pioneers." Led Zeppelin were taking a new spin on the blues and considered metal to others. Watching Tonie Joy's mini-solos on some of Moss Icon's songs Sunday night - he really was playing in a rock band.
The great thing about punk rock is also its bastardized downfall. It sums up the phrase "This is why we can't have anything nice!" We're all guilty of it - especially we, the media plethora of writers. I wonder why that is - is it the fear of association with one sound and not another? "Oh, well, they're not this, but they're more that. I don't listen or like that." It just seems dumb, and it's finally snapped in me how irritating it can be to breakdown what music isn't instead of what music is. Watching Nasum on Thursday night was no different than Dropdead on Friday to me. Both were brutal. Sure, one's "more metal" than the other, but they both invoked similar damages among the crowd and through my eardrums. I can also see the separation as well. To me, Thou is not only one of the heaviest bands, they also standout in how clean their execution is and how forceful they come off compared to everyone else around them doing the same thing right now. It's simply terrifying. Is it it doom? Is it hardcore? Is it metal? I'm sure if you asked different people, they'd give you a different answer depending on what they know and what they like.
Festivals like Chaos in Tejas and The Fest down in Gainesville remind us about the importance of community of punk rock, no matter what genre specific band you're going to see, what you're wearing to go see it or how old or how young you are still trying to attach yourself to the reason you never let that anarchist and revolutionary inside you ever completely die off. That feeling is global and seen across the overseas acts of Chaos in Tejas. Reality Crisis put on a raging set Thursday night, I almost forgot in all the media imagery I see that tells me what Japan is and isn't into that there is massive punk and metal scene in Japan. Then there was Ice Age from Denmark on Sunday before Moss Icon. It was raw, angry and slightly harmonic. It wasn't exactly grunge and it wasn't exactly hardcore. But their set sure was punk as fuck. Who the hell knew Denmark had a punk scene?!
Last year, between a heavy weekend of work, I was only able to attend a handful of shows and see a handful of bands. This year I tried to attend as many shows and see as many different bands as possible. On Saturday I saw the brutality that is the heralded Dropdead, immediately heading over to see the lush layering of one of my new favorite acts, Chelsea Wolfe. As the excitement began to calm inside me during Wolfe's intoxicating set of harmonies - opposite that of the heightened feeling I witnessed just minutes later - it dawned on me that revolution has always won out among the masses and lasted. I've said it before, I'm just some kid who writes behind a computer and can only offer insight, and hitting 26 in a few months, what I now know of what "punk can be" versus "what punk was" when I discovered the word a decade plus earlier, they are two complete variations. For the most part, the bands that I've seen to be "the best" lasted a good long time or are still talked about among "the know" - ahem*EngineDown*ahem. The bands that I didn't get to see and understood years after their demise, still last today with generations to come - as seen by the ramped hype of reunions as of late. This weekend I probably couldn't talk to you about half the line-up of Chaos in Tejas, but the venues were packed with kids and adults alike that could. Punk rock is not a fad, and the media and press and labels that make it out to be will fail for all the wrong reasons. Punk rock isn't a specific sound. It's always been a feeling. You'll know it when it hits you. You'll know it when the idea of punk rock expands when you grow older as well. I can promise you that. If you don't get that feeling ever, than you were just one who held punk rock in the wrong hands.
Chaos in Tejas is now a week behind us Austinites and the crust of the punk and hardcore stage divers are all back working our crappy 9 to 5's. If there's one thing I was reminded of this weekend, it was the power of music to bring people together. People from different backgrounds, incomes, lifestyles, haircuts and musical taste all came together for the "spirit of."
It's not exactly The Gathering of the Juggalos, but I would say there was a bit more substance going on this weekend.
I'm very glad I ended the weekend of great shows seeing Fucked Up. A long way South from their home country, I saw Fucked Up for the first time two years ago at Fun Fun Fun Fest and they blew my mind. I hadn't seen a "punk" show like that in Iwouldthink ever up to that point. Even at a smaller venue like Mohawk this past Sunday, the band still commanded the crowd - and vocalist Damien Abraham was NOT part of the band, he was part of that crowd. Only for the last song and an encore, Abraham was on the stage. Other than that, he was being fed his mic and chord, throwing kids on his shoulders and hugging everyone who reached out for the frontman's grizzly stature. Though many will see Fucked Up's new album, David Comes to Life, as a crowning achievement in its ability to turn forward thinking punk into a playbill (and it's pulled off quite successfully), Abraham's interactive actions help set his band on another level all together.
Now, I know most D.I.Y. settings don't involve a barricade or a high stage, and that most of Chaos in Tejas and your local house shows are quite interactive. If you haven't seen the video of The Chariot playing a house in Australia, well, you need to. The fact stands that Fucked Up are not the only band to interact with their audience, but they are one of the few bands that can do it well. In a scene that's usually synonymous with aggression and anger, Fucked Up's set seemed the most on the Haight-Ashbury side of punk rock. That's not to say there were daisies being handed out instead of shoving and stage diving, but there's certainly a more caring and fun vibe to all the malice that's exerted at most shows.
As Abraham told a story about how Chaos in Tejas was the first time he ever took off his shirt and felt comfortable, it made me want to do the same. In fact, some much heavier kids DID take their shirts off during the vocalist's speech. At that moment I realized that among all the critical spewing I as a writer will do during my time as one (or at least until someone shuts me up), I remembered why I fell in love with punk rock in the first place: my attraction to being part of something positive in the face of so much negative. Now, I'm sure the same thing can be said about most styles of music lumped in a particular genre, but I'm speaking specifically about the general idea of community (there's that fucking word again - I promise I'll stop using it after this blog - or at least try to) and why punk rock attracted so many misfits to try something new (and sometimes not even something new, just authentically different) and make it a mass alternative to certain norms and criticisms.
It's a different time now. I'm not speaking specifically about my views on eyeliner and "that same fucking riff for the eighth time in this song but at a slower tempo" critique. I just feel like for the past few years the idea of punk has been packaged and sold like any sort of commercial movement. It's no longer this thing for some, but it's this look for everyone. While making something like the ideals and community of punk open to whoever - because being narrow-minded never got anyone anywhere - we also have to evaluate what others can turn it into and be aware of manipulation and false stereotypes.
What is punk to me? Well, seeing Damien Abraham pick up a kid, give him a fake pile driver and then hug him before chanting a chorus together…yeah, that's a good start.
In such a crummy time for everything but music, it was nice to see a lot of smiles on a lot of faces this weekend. Remember, the Ramones just "wanted to do" a lot of stuff. So let's keep up that spirit of that good time.
This year I'm attending my first Chaos in Tejas for three of the four nights. For those (including myself) who are unfamiliar with the festival, it's a gathering of punk, hardcore and metal from around the world. There are usually some reunion shows thrown in, as well as classic acts that the most knowledgeable of crust-punks would only know about. Honestly, just looking at the poster, I can pull out a few honorary acts, but it definitely makes me want to dig deeper into history just seeing the looks on some of these kids faces for some of these bands.
As for the history of Chaos, from what I could gather from one of the security guys on hand, the festival originally started in Atlanta as Prank Fest (associated with Prank Records) before moving to Austin under the same Prank Fest moniker. Nothing more than house shows, it switched over into Chaos in Tejas sometime in 2007 and has been going strong ever since under the festival name, and is beginning to include everything from a few indie acts to a few hip-hop ones as well. What's more punk than that?
What continues to draw so many from out of the state in their sewed patches, old school screamo t-shirts and a plethora of tattoos, is the line-up. Thursday night was quite a line-up even if you knew a decent bit about the festival. While it was getting tough-guy crowded for the Cro-Mags over at Emo's, I planted myself at Mohawk to see Converge absolutely knock it out in 30 minutes - and possibly one of the best 30 minutes of music I've ever witnessed. But I'm definitely getting ahead of myself.
The opening Trap Them was a band heavy on rock and aggression. The technicality and brute force of the band's set as it evolved in the dwindling daylight certainly set the mood of the night. By the fourth song, no fucks were given, and vocalist Ryan McKenney broke open his nose/mouth in blood - an opening statement to a weekend that will most likely see more of the same.
After a bold start, Touche Amore took the stage to an even bigger crowd of fans. On the edge of their second full-length release, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me, the band didn't let up (except for technical difficulty with the drums), per usual, when "Cadance" was played, Jeremy Bolm dropped the mic and nothing but a scream-a-long was heard throughout the venue.
Title Fight took the stage to an even bigger crowd. Coming off the success of the more melodic Shed, fans are still sticking by the young band's gritty decor of driven punk music notable to that of Fat Wreck, BYO Records and their current label - Side One Dummy. It sheds a simple light on the fact that no matter how much the "sound of punk" changes over time - emo, screamo, post, pop, hardcore, etc. - there are always going to be kids, outcast and passion from a younger generation searching for answers they're not getting from the likes of the Leave it to Beaver, Pleasantville, "American Dream" society we're all taught to believe in from the beginnings of kindergarten to our first year in debt and middle class squaller.
So after Title Fight left the stage, it was gutted clean, and we all waited patiently for the arrival of Converge. Due to news received earlier that day, we all knew Converge were driving as fast as possible to get to the show before leaving home to take care of personal matters. After ten minutes past the original starting point, we were told the band would play inside - a capacity at least three times smaller than the crowd waiting outside. As some of us quickly made our way inside, we were then told the band would be playing outside again to a shortened set. With a quick set-up and not much of soundcheck, Converge plowed through one of the most powerful sets I've seen a band play ever. In a little over 30 minutes, I've never seen a crowd lose their shit in one act of pent up aggression and fun. (Surprisingly, only only kid got kicked out.) There's not really much I can say that could exceptionally put into words how amazing Kurt Ballou is at his craft. Besides his engineer work, his guitar skills are unholy, unreal and relentless. Sometimes it looks like he's not even trying. Even in Nate Newton's medical state, he still murdered his bass against Ben Koller's drums. What hasn't been said about Jacob Bannon's attitude towards crowds, life, and this scene that Converge has been staple of for almost two decades now. A band that continues to keep both old and new comers to hardcore on their toes in their technical prowess and intensity. It's very hard not to find a hardcore band not influenced by the group, and in the past five years, I've definitely come to more than appreciate everything the band has to offer to the table.
Bands like Converge are necessary to continue what is right in the punk scene: ethics, musical progression, honing of talents and continual support of the word "community." It's about playing down to the bullshit, but welcoming newcomers into something special. Unfortunately I missed the inside bands (very bummed about missing The Menzingers), but I was quite wiped out from work earlier in the day. Festivals like Chaos in Tejas and Fest are necessary. For some it's a family reunion of sorts. Others, it may open their ears to missing links in their back catalog. For me, especially after last night's show, it's about seeing that the ideals of punk - the rawest rooted morals and common threads of angst, will be around from generation to generation for some time.