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Detroit, Michigan, United States
I'm a punk rock guru from Detroit. Part skinhead, part crusty, part metalhead, part hardcore kid, part party kid, 100% punk rocker.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Band profile: Hash Blazer

Hash Blazer hails from the culturally rich, poverty-stricken wasteland of Detroit, following yet surpassing former local heavyweights Halloween, Ugly But Proud, and Heresy.  While most often a three-piece, they are amidst toying with a quartet, sharing vocal duties between the two mainstays, drummer Louie and guitarist Kyle.  The band started in mid to late 2010, just months after the demise of former sludge band Stabbed in the Face.  This time, these two former members of that band decided to take a brand new direction musically- they went towards metal; more specifically, a mix between New Wave of British Heavy Metal and traditional thrash.  Little over one year after their formation, the band has opened for the likes of Destruction, Hellbastard, and Upsidedown Cross, not to mention having recorded a stellar demo, now this…
The band is a perfect example of moderation between influences and originality in music; yes, traces of many bands come to mind listening to Hash Blazer, but they don’t sound like a single one of them.  Coming from the perspective of a 80s hardcore and peace punk worshipper, I really respect a band capable of effectively walking this line.
Still, influences play a part in the lives of the ‘Blazer.  In the drums, one can hear traces of Motorhead, Sodom, very early black metal, and Hellbastard; lots of double bass, consistent energy, and a few metal breakdowns.  No two songs sound the same with these drums.  In the guitars, there’s a considerably wider spectrum:  Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, Teutonic thrash, Megadeth, Painkiller-era Judas Priest, Exodus, Armored Saint, and even a little Slayer.  There’s no limit to the array of riffs and licks that can be used, and the band uses many of them to create a sound to call their own.  The vocals are not so easily pinned down; primarily melodic and clear-sounding, this is a breath of fresh air in an era of barks, growls, and annoying cacophonous screams and utterances seemingly dominant in today’s metal and punk bands.  Both singers/ band members take from the sounds of Armored Saint/ John Bush, Diamond Head/ Sean Harris, Iron Maiden (both Paul and Bruce), Megadeth/ Dave Mustaine, and even from cheesy 80s hair metal bands a la W.A.S.P., Motley Crue, Dokken, and the like.  In short, the band is that very evasive mix between melody/ rhythm and natural aggression in singing.  In this age of indecipherable singing, the band takes an undeniable step outside the box, for the better.
Though it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what Hash Blazer sounds like and there’s no one band to offer a near perfect or side-by-side comparison, they certainly fit well with a number of bands, all the while carving a unique path.  However, imagine Megadeth circa 1985-1992, playing Sodom’s music with a unique tinge, with John Bush in the early days of Armored Saint.  Even that is only a shell of what Hash Blazer is and represents.
They hash, they thrash, and goddamn it, your head will whiplash!
Full length album “Welcome to Detroit Destruction” to be released on Pirated Records in late 2011/ early 2012

Band profile: Swine Flu

The band started not in its current location of Detroit, but all the way on the West Coast in the Bay Area city of Oakland, California.  It started with bassist James “Juvie” Palmer and Dan “DMT” Mahler.  The band made their way around the Bay Area, even befriending famous 80s hardcore band Verbal Abuse, who also reside in that area.  Some shows, a rough demo, and a year or two later, both the founding members moved back to their metropolitan hometown area of Detroit.  In short order, Swine Flu picked up drummer Phil Warren and guitarist Brian Weisserman.  Here is the stable line-up that would sustain the band for six months to a year.  In June-July 2011, they added female vocalist Emma Pestilencia to their line-up, which where they currently stand.
The band, while having multiple songs written and pretty much perfected (including Abortion Survivor, All Cops Have AIDS, Nuclear Holocaust, amongst others), has only an old demo with a former line-up recorded.  The band, though very tight musically (when sober and relatively drug-free), is in need of a push for merchandise, imagery, and higher-quality recordings.  However, on the plus side, the band has played many shows in the Detroit area, playing with bands such as State, Seeker, the Ratfinks, and others, primarily local bands.  This is a band who has put their time into the local scene, and they deserve the recognition that comes with having imagery and good merchandise.
This band’s sound is a fusion sound, not exactly able to be pinpointed into one genre other than punk rock.  It has dual vocals (usually an anarcho punk/ crust approach), extraordinarily high-octane pace guitar (usually a fastcore/ thrashcore technique), and the songs are short, sweet, and cynical, (a standard hardcore approach).  Somehow, metal influence seeps its way in; there are a few leads, a few breakdowns, and recognizable riffs.  Whether one calls it crossover thrash on PCP or Drunk & On Drugs thrash punk, it’s the Swine Flu sound.
The band is poised to take off in a Hellmouth-like way; they have paid their dues, they have the ability to rage a show, and they know exactly what they want to sound like.  They are also trying to add a second guitarist to see if it can complement their sound; despite this mild turmoil from a change-up, the hard part of starting a band and getting a band going is over.  It’s time for Swine Flu to smell the bacon, grind the gears, and fly into action!
-Aunty Social

House Shows: WTFH (What the Fuck Happened/ Where’s the Fuckin’ Houses?)

How did unpopular bands of kids, young adults, and those of the straight-edge brood get their start?  They sure as hell didn’t start by playing the Royal Oak Music Theater, St. Andrew’s Hall, or the Fillmore.  Some bands had an “in” and were able to play their local bars, such as notable Detroit groups Cinecyde and the Sillies with Bookie’s in the mid-to-late 70s.  However, those that didn’t were out of luck for the longest time.  Finally, someone, somewhere (be it John Brannon in Grosse Pointe or John Lydon in the motherfucking OCEAN) decided that there had to be another way.  Bars, shady promoters, and a general lack of autonomy finally created a real underground, one that had not been touched by the hand of subversion.  There WAS another way:  Abandoned buildings with generators, a closed business with an empty basement and access to legal electricity, a rented community center/ VFW hall, or maybe, given the right people in the right place, a house.
Collectives are not nearly popular or relevant enough to generate a mention, because here in the United States, we are too individualistic and money-minded to successfully run a collective for very long (the ones that do, like ABC No Rio and 924 Gilman St. are the exception, not the rule).  With that being said, a house of composed of a relatively limited number of residents is an ideal place for a local show.  No a band like the American Anthrax, the British Subhumans, or Blood for Blood is not best suited for a house, living room, or a basement.  These bands draw considerable numbers, but only with the assistance of a good local promoter; some fans are not in touch their music scene, and only pay attention and go see their favorite bands if it’s advertised in the local alternative paper; for Detroit, it’s the Metro Times and Real Detroit Weekly.  Old metal-heads and punks who went to shows in their younger days may be preoccupied with the rest of their lives (or just plain LAZY) and only come around for the big-name bands at the well-known bars/ venues, and frequently but get drunk, sing along for a few songs, and go back to their life as though nothing happened.  From an American perspective, I do understand why it is so with them; however, as a contributor and a dogged pursuant of new, fresh music within and separate from the local music scene, I too can condemn this apathy without being hypocritical.  Perhaps it can be nailed down to priorities; many of us, young and old, have jobs that take up our time and energy, sapping s of the ability to find and listen to new music.  Regardless, even with a 40-50 hour work week, there remains plenty of time to invest in local music, an evening to visit a local house show (the information for which needs to be made available as public domain, be it by fanzine or locally-run website) or even a bar show with local bands.  At some point, the problem is NOT door cover, lackluster promotion, or preoccupying circumstances of life.  In the end, some of these patrons, regardless of who they are, simply do not care, at least to get out more than a couple of times a year to throw on a denim jacket and be your fucking metal or punk self.
The problem of powerhouse shows and apathetic fans is intertwined; when a show passes through, a band or two that’s local will play first and possibly second, then the touring group goes on, and those fans go crazy for the touring band(s) they came to see, maybe buy so merch, and go home, ever forgetful of that opening group they sort of liked.
With this, it’s simply more profitable to play a bar, cater to the lazy fans, sell merch, and move on to the next town to it again; after all, bars offer better guarantees, promotion, and sound systems.  However, not only does this not cater to the high-potential, low-profile local scene, it undercuts the underlying point behind music, which is a personal, intimate expression of one’s ideas and thoughts to an audience of people.  Here, a house show is merely a representation of music being played as it should be, and as it is best understood by the fans who enjoy it.  It is a scenario where people are forced to be right up front, to REALLY listen to what is being said, and it breaks down the walls (in the kids’ eyes) set up by big venues, like security, regulations, raised stages, time limits, and content control.  What it does is gets to the heart of everything music is about and sheds the frills that can unnecessarily accompany it.
In addition to this, house shows require some effort to discover and plan out; those who partake in house shows are inherently have-nots, lacking the promotional ability (or money) to touch the fan base of the proles and the know-nots.  It seems as though all the odds are stacked against houses that host shows, at least business-wise.  Considering these points, there still exist benefits that will always trump bar shows, or things that bar shows will never have, and vice-versa:
       I.            No/ fewer rules, more personal contact with the band and venue “management”, fewer guarantees/ hoops to jump through to book a show, and ultimately, let’s face it, it’s just more fucking FUN.
    II.            In contrast, the inconveniences of difficulty in information availability, less readily available parking, smaller capacity, lack of immediate availability of alcohol, and a weaker sound system are things to consider.
However, given all of these pros and cons, ultimately DIY house shows are more inclusive, less restrictive and correspondingly, more FUN.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if it’s my favorite band or some local band that has energy, I will still have ten times the fun than if I’m stuck in some urine-infested, alcohol-infused shithole filled with 70% people I don’t’ like.  Even if it’s just 30-40 people for a house show, it doesn’t matter; those people are new friends whom you can share a mutual memory with in the future and build a community.  When 1000-1200 people show up for a show at the Majestic or the Fillmore or wherever, it’s routine and boring; when it becomes primarily about the earning potential and gets away from the music, it quits being fun.  When it becomes primarily about getting drunk or high and gets away from the music, it stops being fun.  Coke Bust, an awesome D.C. fastcore band, put it best:  Fuck Bar Culture.
-Aunty Social

Straight Mind...Narrow Mind?

In the ever-pervasive wasteland of liquor stores, bars, taverns, pubs, and churches in our city, it seems that there are a number of ways to numb one’s mind to the bleak existence within which we live.  Whether it’s a drugged-up loser stripping property for copper wire or a drunken asshole stumbling around and starting fights, sometimes it seems that everyone’s mind is taken away to an ignorant place, albeit a blissful one.  Instead of withdrawing from our social ties because they’re watered down with whiskey, there must be a way to break from this conformity of ignorant minds.  At least, this was the thought back when straight-edge was formed as a full-fledged movement in the early 1980s, and it is, to an extent, still the thought that steadily persists in any punk scene, resonating with anyone who wants to keep a clear vision and a functioning mind.  At first, this positive approach was fresh and new, it was nonconformity in a drug-saturated social scene.  However, it would be the growingly narrow minds of some of these nonconformists that defined the scene; it was a negative positivity, a conforming nonconformity, a similar characteristic of a new variability.  The archetype of the straight-edge movement, Ian MacKaye and the Minor Threat crew, envisioned a more accepting society of punks, and his vision was taken in the wrong direction by some, and became an equally ignorant subculture, enforcing “rules” in a clique-like and socially isolating way.  This is the vision that has imprinted straight-edge, for better or worse.  Time to set the world straight…
The bad side of the straight-edge movement, a question mark so tall, on steroids, and clad with a varsity jacket that most are afraid to speak up, or speak to other cliques about it.  The straight-edge “scene” has, in times past, been rife with shit-starters and ignorant assholes:  the S.S. Decontrol kids slapped drinks and smokes out of peoples’ hands (as singer David Springa hit his joint backstage); the Chain of Strength kids got into the faces of bands like Social Outcast, trying to create problems because of perceived “wrongs” committed (that were later resolved); Friends Stand Together/ Fuck Shit Up, who are notorious for their Boston-based violence that injured (and sometimes, even killed) those that crossed their path, mainly non-edgers and nonconformists of the FSU lifestyle; and, of course, the Courage Crew, who have chapters throughout the Midwest, and began to build up influence and notoriety for their very apparent presence at hardcore shows.  These are the folks that have been the most noticed in local punk circles, and therefore (unfortunately) have been the ones who define straight-edge as it is understood by outsiders.  Though most of these adherents are easy to poke fun at for their generic jock-disguised-as-punk actions and public presence, I know that this is NOT what’s at the heart of straight-edge; it’s more than stopping people before they voluntarily inebriate their minds, it’s more than even convincing people to voluntarily abstain from the consumption of mind-altering substances.  There is an underlying raison d’ĂȘtre.
What is it that even makes it worth giving up mind-altering drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and/or meat and dairy products?  What is it that even alters one’s mind and body to the point of these substances being considered bad for someone?  It isn’t about using these products, not at all; in fact, most of the crutches that negatively impact humanity are not tangible things, but states of mind submerged in failed truths and victorious lies.  It has to do with the underlying reason one commits to using or not using substances; do you run ahead as a herdsman, as one of the herd, or as a deserter?  This is the question one must answer to understand the REAL reason why an adherent does what they do.  In other words, a straight-edge adherent could be hopelessly addicted, a member of the herd of his/her friends, unable to stray because of their dependency.  Conversely, a lifetime alcoholic could have a far straighter mind than any edge kid; it’s not about sobriety, it’s about autonomy.  If this alcoholic works, pays his/her bills, maintains a family & social life, and contributes to his neighborhood and community, he is of far more value than any reclusive, selfish potential straight-edge adherent.  This mistake of straight-edge is what keeps people at bay, away from embracing the positive-world-change mentality that is the original, ideal reason behind straight-edge.  It is the narrow-minded clique-like ways and the limited spectrum of thoughts, ideas and music that hurts straight-edge as a positive movement, and as a mostly sober, clear-minded person who wants to make a positive impact on the world, it’s painful to see the movement get crushed by the same narrow mindedness that other subcultures have faltered from.
It’s about respect, not ascetic adherence.  It’s about autonomy, not socially enforced sobriety.  It’s about being positive, self-loving, respectful, modest, humble resident of the planet Earth, it’s not about how “edge” you are, who you associate with, and why you “became edge”.
Be a modest human being who respects those who live differently, and in turn, are willing to respect your lifestyle.  Respect begets respect, and disrespect begets disrespect; this is not a new idea, but neither is conflict, and that has persisted for humanity’s lifespan.  If a bon-ripping, vodka-drinking punk rock fan likes your straight-edge band and doesn’t talk shit or pester you to participate in their individual partying actions, show them as much respect as you would your best friend, and if a varsity-jacket wearing, shaved-headed, weight-lifting, tattooed edge guy likes your party punk band, do the same for him.  You want unity in a scene?  There it is.
-Aunty Social

The Grindcore Phenomenon: We Suffer, But Why?

How did this botched abortion of music begin?  Music is primarily based upon melody, rhythm, and euphony in sound (overall).  Punk rock, to an extent, turned this idea on its head, eventually becoming a voice for anger in music, a voice for the discontent to express themselves with.  Even within this, there was a method to the madness; even in the raw anger and cacophony, there still existed some necessary level of order, some small level of routine that remained for the purpose of remaining heterogenic.  Band A has Song One, and that song belongs uniquely to THAT band, THAT artist, and it can be heard and identified as such.  In time, this cacophony grew greater, and one day, one moment in time, this cacophony grew so large that it was no longer music, it was sheer noise.  This movement is commonly known as grindcore, the fusion of death metal and hardcore punk started by British metal-heads Napalm Death and Flint fuckers Repulsion.  Now, the drums were so fast, the guitars so out-of-tune and loud, and the vocals so indiscernible that the essential attributes of music were unable to be met, and thus, grindcore was born.  Even after wearing out its welcome 20+ years ago, the phenomenon persists.  In fact, Michigan is a distinct home for the genre; now, understand this is not a devaluation of this music/ noise- value is always subjective, and it ought to remain that way.  However, it is fundamental to understand that music has qualities that define it, that separate it from mishmashes of noise, and grindcore is close to the latter than the former.
The lobotomized praise of this “music” and creation of this “scene” befuddles me, and it seems those that partake in creating this genre fail to see the inherent ridiculousness of the genre, and the perfectly competitive economy of grind bands that has arisen.  At what point is a band writing music that is both linear and unique, and when is a drummer just beating the fuck out of the drum kit and the singer/ guitarist (because it’s very rare to see a grindcore band with more than two members) playing notes at complete random and re-enacting a fight between a parrot and a pitbull (or an argument between Rob Halford and Dave Haze)?
Let us honestly try this out:  Play five Anal Cunt songs, five Knuckle Sandwich songs, five ACxDC songs, and five songs of your friends drunk at band practice, fucking around with their instruments (with a portable tape recorder, no less).  What’s the difference between those sets of samples?  Because I sure as hell don’t fucking know.  Even substituting grindcore “legends” Napalm Death, Repulsion, Electro Hippies, Bloody Phoenix, and Magrudergrind, I’m willing to bet that it is still so similar that it’s a waste of time to try and discern bands from one another, let alone one song or album from another.
I wonder, what would have happened if grindcore had emerged alongside bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Black Sabbath in the late 1960s and early 70s… what would the reaction to the genre have been then?
-Aunty Social

Right, or Rawn? The "worship" of Rodney "Rawn Beauty" Barger

The legacy of Cold as Life is rather storied, as many know.  Tales of Jeff Gunnells, Roy Bates, and CYTC are a part of Detroit hardcore folklore, to an extent.  The band is undoubtedly one of the most well-known punk bands to emerge from the city, and that is because of their skills and their stories.  The skills are a completely separate story, best reserved for an album review.  Multiple demos, two full-lengths, and a compilation CD are displays of beyond-par hardcore straight from the inner city of Detroit; Detroit, however, is and always has been (since the 1960s, at least) an irregular mishmash of wasteland, developing neighborhoods, yuppy-fied sections, and fully developed neighborhoods.  Cold as Life lived somewhere between the two former sections.  One story places an early version of the band at a home next door to a crack house, back when they were known as the Mattress Rats.  At this point, the band found its focal point of their sound and stage presence:  The ferocity/ intensity of embattled frontman Rodney Barger, who went by the name Rawn Beauty.  Even some 23 years after the formation of the Mattress Rats, which became known as Cold as Life, the band is still best remembered by most as a mythological, somewhat hyped band.  This hype doesn’t necessarily entail untruth, but a basis of reputation upon anecdotes, hearsay, and “you had to be there” moments.  When Detroit was at its worst reputation (amidst former mayor Coleman Young’s final reigning years), Rawn Beauty was, no doubt, a central figure in the Detroit hardcore/ punk scene at that time.  Two decades later, he’s still revered as an impossibly great hardcore frontman, whose life was tragically taken by a roommate (who is on the lam to this day).  But, is that the whole story?  Not at all.
That’s not the whole story; a simple inquisition of “Why?” to the reason Rawn was murdered opens a floodgate of factual ambiguities and a plethora of lunatic apologists and arguments.  Why was he killed indeed?  It’s exceptionally rare, even for man, to kill without cause.
Who has positive things to say about the embattled frontman?  Surely those who knew him best must know the man at both ends of his emotional spectrum.  There are those who did not see a legacy of a band tainted by the personal life of the frontman.  One such witness to the band’s rise said that “[Cold As Life] were, back in their day, worth going to see,” specifically referring to the era when the band “played, AND filled, the Magic Stick.”  Some decent-sized praise, especially from the source, a respected, though reserved frontman himself.  Notable CTYC crew member known as “Beast”, though somewhat biased by his affiliation with the crew, had valid praise for the man too, though it did come with a couple of barbs (he noted that Rawn was “full of piss and vinegar”).  Having been party to his company personally, “Beast” has witnessed Rawn’s dogged defense of his friends and crew, putting his dukes up, so to speak, in defense of them.  Another member of the scene, Jeff Uberti, has remarked that Rawn was “an energetic, commanding frontman”, noting that he had a reputation for more than just his folk hero/ enemy figure.
What of the negative parties?  Who had something to counter the positivity of Rawn’s musical endeavors as the frontman for Cold as Life?  There are, no doubt, critics of his character, almost all of which relate directly to his personal life and not his tenure in the band.  Numerous are the stories of Rawn’s temper, anger, and drunken antics that often included some kind of beating; a critic remarked that despite the band’s great, well-deserved reputation, he “liked to get drunk and beat the hell out of people all the time.”  Everyone’s had their bad moments, their drunken moments, and their bad, drunken moments; however, when these moments are frequent and incorporate isolated, aggravated violence against others, it begs the question as to what kind of person does this without just cause.  His fists of drunken fury were not limited to rules and showgoers; yet another source quoted two anecdotes of misogynistic violence- one with a significant other of Beauty’s, and one against the sister of this significant other.  This was not one knee-jerk reaction punch, quickly regretted and reprimanded; this was an externally visible, full-fledged attack.  How much longer until the boys in blue take this assault-addicted musclehead away for his personal violations?
The history of violence with regard to Rawn is a story best exemplified in a neutral eyewitness account from mid-1993, as told by Jason McGregor, then-vocalist of local peace punk band Social Outcast, who saw this outburst of Rawn-rage at a show at the 404 Willis (paraphrased from a third person point of view):
Rawn arrived at the show, and Jason asked a mutual friend of his and Rawn’s if there would be any trouble, knowing Rawn’s historical temperament.  The friend replied that there wouldn’t be any problems, as he wasn’t in the mood for any of his usual antics, he was just there for the show.  The two bands (Chaos UK was scheduled to play, but cancelled), Public Nuisance and Social Outcast, played with no problems and the show went off without a hitch.  Perhaps things would finally return to a level of normality in the Detroit scene…
Nope.  Upon discovering the identity of the now-calm Rawn Beauty, one of the local hippies who helped to run the 404 Willis began verbally abusing him in true condescending, pacifistic hippy manner.  As she continued, Rawn would repeatedly ask others, “Can someone please get this girl out of my face?” or requesting to the girl directly to do so.  Eventually, it came to an ultimatum, where he stated that he was going to clock her unless she ceased her verbal abuse.  Needless to say, she persisted, and was swiftly knocked out by just one of Rawn’s fierce punches (he should’ve gotten into boxing).
With this, it seemed that it was time to “get Rawn” (he had accumulated a number of enemies over time, and this was towards the end of his reign), and all hell broke loose.  Not one, not two, but FOUR punks pulled out baseball bats and closed in on Rawn.  One at a time, he knocked each one back, and as more of his enemies descended on him, some of his boys joined in on the fight- it looked like one of those old-school beat ‘em up games from the 1990s, like Final Fight or Double Dragon, where one or two people are fighting against ten.  One of his adversaries, a bigger, more muscle-y man, approached him, ready to “bring it”.  In one punch, Rawn reached back, swung his fist and the man’s jaw, and broke it.  The man reeled back, blood gushing from his face, his jaw indeed broken in one blow.  This fight eventually dissipated, a strong highlight of the violence lived by Rawn Beauty on a frequent basis.  To end Rawn’s story, he was shot three times in cold blood by roommate Richard Werstine as he slept on August 15th, 1993.  Though the killer was apprehended, he skipped bail and has been on the lamb ever since.
This is not an article meant to dismiss Rawn as a heartless, soulless monster who was deservedly put down by someone who was supposed to be his friend, nor is it meant to be a glorification of a frontman who happened to have his demons with which he struggled valiantly.  The Cliff Notes of his life include that he was an eternally loyal friend with a substance abuse problem that caused him to harm others, and despite his fantastic presence as a frontman, his antics caught up with him, and his legacy still lives.  However, do ponder this as one comes to a conclusion regarding value judgment:  If the column had been started with only the description (not the name) of Rodney:  a drunken, meat-headed ogre of a hardcore singer, who assaulted his girlfriend and his friends, most would be up in arms condemning the sociopathy of this man.  Why should that change if the man’s name was Rawn Beauty?
-Aunty Social