No Talent, No Camaraderie, No Hope

Originally posted on 10/2/10
I stepped into the room gingerly. A bunch of Rocksoc kids are gathered around the stage making noise. Four boys stand nervously on a stage. A row of judges are being announced; none of them really matter. I pick a spot at the back behind the sound guy and wait. Battle of the Bands fucking sucks.

It’s been a very long time since I attended one of these affairs. Back in the day when a few friends had bands together, I’d go along and support them, but these were bigger scale events, meant for people who were actually serious about music. Bandsoc’s humble affair is a bit of a shambles in comparison. Six bands, each with a fifteen minute set – winner gets through to the final, a runner up goes through to a semi final where they pick one more band to go to the final. And it’s most likely rigged to hell. Unfortunately, for a competition so small, that’s how it works. Best friends, members of the society’s committee, the band that won last year… it’s all a bit incestuous, really. And almost all the bands are absolutely fucking terrible.

I just don’t know what it is about Battle of the Bands that draws such bad acts out. The fact that they can’t get shows anywhere else? Or because it’s the only place where they can get away with their generic, under rehearsed bullshit? This is synonymous with pretty much all BOTB competitions that aren’t being sponsored by some industry bigwig that require a comprehensive demo before they’ll let you anywhere near a stage. Also, it’s always the same type of band. Through the two heats I have seen thus far, there have been about seven out of twelve ‘generic rock bands’, a couple of prog bands, a bad excuse for pop-punk, a weird Yellowcard-esque post-hardcore band and a shit indie band. The overwhelming amount of ‘insert generic rock here’ involved in this competition is ridiculous. It’s easy, but it sure as hell isn’t any good. And I think this is generally why I don’t go to these kind of things – there’s no real variation. Any band that steps away from the formula doesn’t really get taken into account because the judges go batshit insane for… well… shit. It’s as if nobody’s learnt to diversify and are still digging their dad’s Def Leppard cds he keeps in the glove compartment because he can’t play them in the house.

But ultimately, what I hate about Battle of the Bands is the way that each band bitches about the other. Okay, I’ll admit, that in some cases (like last night), it’s a totally valid practise, especially when your band does happen to be much better than everyone else on the set list. However, in general, there’s no camaraderie. I realise that ultimately, BOTB is a competition. The term ‘battle’ is in the name, so of course people are going to begrudge their fellow bands a win. However, there’s no need to take it out on the rest of the guys when you lose. I always think back to the Cobra Skulls song “Anybody Scene My Cobra” (look it up, it’s a damn good song) and the chorus in it –

No scene, no scene, no scene
No camaraderie, this might as well be battle of the bands
No scene, no scene, no scene
No common enemy, we might as well be playing in a talent show

The fact that BOTB and talent shows are being used as a negative example of how music should be conducted… well, I think that says it all.

So, why do I subject myself to it? The hope of scoping out pretty boys? Vaguely. The fact I have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night? A contributing factor. Because it gave me inspiration to start my own band based on how awful the majority of bands have been so far? Most definitely. The truth is, there is this part of me that wants to support live music as much as I can, especially in the student union where there is hardly anything to cater to somebody with my specific musical interests. So I go, grit my teeth and think of how scathing an article I can write about it the next day.

Why ‘Trainwreck’ Matters

Originally posted on 25/2/10

It was the year 2005. I hit up a random music blog in the hope of finding something new, my listening habits being diluted and destroyed by a teenage obsession with Fueled By Ramen. I wanted something visceral, something destructive, something that had a little bit more than ‘I want to fuck you and hope you want to fuck me too’. So, clicking the post-hardcore tag (I was getting pretty into At The Drive-In and Circa Survive and thought that it might be a good bet), I stumbled upon an album entitled ‘Trainwreck’ by Boys Night Out. I vaguely remembered the name – they’d been reviewed in Kerrang! for their debut – and the cover looked pretty awesome. I wasn’t quite aware what was going to happen. But as soon as I unzipped that album and listened to it through, I knew that I had discovered a musical masterpiece.

The thing is, ‘Trainwreck’ is the only good Boys Night Out album. Their first album, ‘Make Yourself Sick’ isn’t anything to shout about. Their self-titled, which came after ‘Trainwreck’, is fucking awful. It defies all logic, but there it is – ‘Trainwreck’ is potentially one of the best albums ever written, and it comes from a less than average band. Perhaps it has something to do with the appearance of Kara Dupuy, their short lived keyboard player/backing vocalist, which added a completely new dimension to their sound. Or maybe, it has to do with the fact that ‘Trainwreck’ is a concept album, and a pretty screwed up one at that.

Coheed and Cambria officially stole the spotlight when they released ‘The Second Stage Turbine Blade’ in 2002, and subsequent albums all based upon an absolutely crazy comic book world (of which comics actually exist) which would take at least another article to explain. Curious? Go here. But either way, the world of Coheed and Cambria and their children captivated the ‘alternative’ listeners, to put it simply. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before. Concept albums were relegated to power metal and prog rock, and here was something that… rocked! The Coheed revolution sparked a few other fantastic concept albums, including the first two Armor For Sleep albums, but that also requires another article to discuss and perhaps one day, when I write a book on the rock scene in the 2000s and how much it equally owned and sucked, I’ll go into greater depth. But we’re here to talk about Boys Night Out. And well… ‘Trainwreck’ is pretty incredible, and certainly the best of all the concept albums that began to spring up in the scene.

The story isn’t too complicated, but insanely fucked up. In essence, the main character, The Patient, has excessively violent nightmares which one day, spill over into real life, and he kills his wife in his sleep. After a murder trial, he is declared insane and sent to a mental hospital in the hopes of rehabilitation. A brief stint makes the Patient believe he’s getting worse by being in there and he’s ready to leave, so the Doctor releases him back into society where he retains a massive sense of guilt and cuts off his hands to prevent himself from killing anyone again. And this is told in the most graphic of ways. Needless to say, he goes back into hospital and is given a shit ton of drugs, and ends up writing this song in his head which becomes the key part of the album – he just can’t get it out of his head and it drives him further into insanity. He convinces the Doctor to let him have friends over and kills them so he can see his wife again and try and finish off the song. Oh, and she’s the one singing this song in his head, to make things even crazier. So, to finish the song, he either has to kill the Doctor or himself, and well… it isn’t the Doctor who ends up as a bloated, overdosed corpse. Yeah.

It sounds like something out of a comic book, although it’s not imitative of the Coheed stuff at all. And whilst the story itself is compelling, it’s the music and the way that it interacts with the story that really shines throughout. Opening track, ‘Introducing’ is chilling to the bone, opening with muted guitar tones and a voiceover provided by the Doctor. Unlike the rest of Boys Night Out’s material, it’s relatively sedate for the most part, despite being excessively dark. The screaming is limited, and this really aids the album, by providing just moments of anxiety and paranoia. Kara’s vocals on ‘Relapsing’ as the Patient’s wife are the high point of the album and fit perfectly in a wonderfully tender, yet haunting song. It’s ridiculously romantic – the acoustic guitar alone sends shivers down your spine – but you can’t deny the underlying feeling that something is very, very wrong. The soft tones just don’t seem right straight after one of the most intense and metallic songs on the album (‘Purging’). This is a reasonably common theme throughout the album, and a lot of the time, the darkest moments are juxtaposed with the most melodic and calming riffs.

And that’s the beauty of ‘Trainwreck’ – it can completely knock you sideways when you aren’t expecting it. It’s also ridiculously catchy in places that shouldn’t be; for example, in ‘Composing’, the lyrics “So come over to my house/Catch up over dinner/We are having strychnine and sirloin/Port wine and paint thinner” are sung in the most upbeat and awesome way. I can’t convey it with justice via text, so you’ll just have to go pick up the album and find out for yourself.

But why does ‘Trainwreck’ matter so much? It’s fairly unknown, virtually impossible to find within the UK and didn’t attract much of a fan base. However, it’s one of the biggest influences to me as a writer. Upon first listen, my thoughts were “Fuck, I wish I could write something as incredible as this”, and not from a musician’s point of view either. The story is one of the most compelling and haunting I’ve ever come across and if I can think of something anywhere near as original, then I’m onto a winner. It’s also proof that concept albums can transcend the banal (read: The Black Parade) and the metal to combine both great music and a great story, which unfortunately, doesn’t really happen any more. The post-hardcore concept album reached its height at 2005-2006 with Circa Survive, Coheed and Cambria, Armor For Sleep and Boys Night Out. Therefore, ‘Trainwreck’ matters, not because it stands alone, but because it’s timeless, unlike the latest Armor For Sleep album, it’s got a definite and individual story, unlike Circa Survive, and it’s easy to understand and appreciate, unlike Coheed and Cambria. That’s not to say that a concept album needs to be viewed as a concept album – it’s easy to appreciate them on a purely musical basis, and it’s very easy to do that to ‘Trainwreck’. But ‘Trainwreck’ simply stands apart from the rest of the crowd and provides a musical experience like no other.

The Top Four Reasons Why Black Flag Are So Awesome (by ninthandash)

Originally by ninthandash, posted on 8/9/2009

Black Flag, a name known by every punk rock kid worth their salt. In the hardcore genre, Black Flag are named as being one of the three most important and influential bands, according to the documentary film American Hardcore. And Michael Azerrad, author of the book This Band Will Change Your Life, calls Black Flag the ‘godfathers’ of the genre. There’s no doubt about the fact that Black Flag are certainly a hardcore band to be reckoned with, one of the most popular and well-known. But why are they so unarguably awesome?

Reason #1: The Ethics.

Black Flag were formed in 1977 by Greg Ginn; the guitarist, songwriter and — unusually — the only continuous member of the band through their many member changes. Black Flag are important not only for their music, but also for the ethics surrounding them. They were one of the first bands to tirelessly promote a very strong DIY ethic; Black Flag were all about what you can do yourself, without relying on anyone else, particularly the major corporate record labels. This is emphasised by the way Black Flag released the majority of their material through SST Records, which is Ginn’s own independent label.

Black Flag started a revolution. There’s absolutely no arguing with that. They started the whole idea of doing it yourself, of booking your own tours, releasing your own music, and many bands followed their lead. They were all about the word-of-mouth network, utilising hardcore and the punk scene as a community. Black Flag toured relentlessly, barely stopping, so dedicated to making this work. Before you even listen to the music, Black Flag demand your respect.

Due to their strong work ethic, many members quit in the early days. Ginn was the guitarist and songwriter and Keith Morris was the original singer, but they had a hard time finding a bassist. I’m trying not to turn this article into a history lesson, believe me, but there’s so much more to Black Flag than just the music. Black Flag are, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, about the lifestyle. They’re more than just a band; they’re a subculture, an ethic, a revolution. When they started, there were barely any places for punk rock bands to perform — because as well as pioneering hardcore, Black Flag were part of the first wave of American Coast punk rock.

They would perform at picnics, house parties, schools, anywhere that was available. Imagine growing up in ’70s California and having Black Flag perform at a picnic. The kids who were there for those first few shows were a part of history, and it must certainly have been an enviable experience. Morris was still the singer at this time, and he is without a doubt my personal favourite of the singers that Black Flag have had. The original line-up; Greg Ginn on guitar, Morris singing, Brian Migdol on drums and Chuck Dukowski on bass, was undeniably amazing.

Reason #2: The Members.

Keith Morris is, without a doubt, an amazing frontman. His stage presence is one of the most energetic seen in punk rock; throwing himself about the stage with a boundless and manic energy. He helped the band gain a reputation in LA, commanding the audience and demanding all their attention. Dukowski was also key. Although Ginn formed the band and wrote the lyrics, Dukowski was usually the spokesman to the press. Very intelligent and a fast talker, even after he left the band as bassist he stayed with them as tour manager and his contribution should not be overlooked.

Migdol was replaced as drummer by Roberto Valverde, known as ROBO. ROBO was such an awesome drummer, and he had a new sound due to the metallic bracelets he always used to wear. They’d clink as he played the songs and this soon became a part of his unique sound. After Morris left, Ron Reyes was singer, and after him came Dez Cadena, who was originally a fan of the band. He was much more reliable and the band started to become much more commercial and popular, although he’d had no formal training as a singer and soon had to leave.

Then, came Rollins. Henry Rollins was Black Flag’s longest lasting singer, and attracted a lot of attention from critics. Sub Pop critic Calvin Johnson wrote: “Henry was incredible. Pacing back and forth, lunging, lurching, growling; it was all real, the most intense emotional experiences I have ever seen.” Even after a lot of the members have left Black Flag, they are still important parts of the music and punk rock scene. Keith Morris now fronts Circle Jerks, and Rollins is well known for his spoken word, as well as campaigning for human rights in the United States.

Reason #3: The Music.

This, is a difficult one. Black Flag’s music is absolutely fantastic, but I’m bound to be entirely biased as they are one of my all-time favourite bands. They were one of the first punk bands (a phrase I’m sure you’re sick of hearing but, as I said, Black Flag were completely revolutionary and therefore one of the first punk bands to do a lot of things) who incorporated heavy metal melodies into their music. Not just that, but Black Flag also used a lot of different elements from different genres, such as free jazz, breakbeat, and contemporary classical. Black Flag’s discography sounds so much more varied than pretty much any other punk band’s due to this.

Black Flag have a lot of albums and EPs, so I’m obviously not going to talk about them all here in detail. My personal favourite has got to be the Nervous Breakdown EP. Released in October ’78 while Morris was vocalist (he never sang on any of the band’s studio albums), Nervous Breakdown is probably the band’s most well-known song, and according to Dukowski was used as a ‘badge of legitimacy’ and led to them getting a lot more gigs in the LA area. It was also the first release on Ginn’s SST records.

Nervous Breakdown is an absolutely classic song. Morris’ raw energy is audible through the sound, and the band sound both rough and together at the same time. For me, Nervous Breakdown as a song sums up Black Flag as a band — raw, loud, and slightly out of control. If you only ever listen to one Black Flag song, it should be this one.

Damaged is, arguably, the band’s best studio album. Damaged was incredibly controversial and many thought it would single-handedly corrupt America’s youth. Not so. But Damaged could even be called one of the best albums to come from the ’80s California hardcore punk scene. Rollins gave Black Flag the edge they needed to attract attention; his guttural roar energised the songs and pulled them together, providing the missing link.

Although My War has been called “a pretentious mess of a record” by critics, there is no denying the influence it’s had on many other bands, who cite it as influential for the departure it showed from the standard punk rock model. Although side two was not the great music expected from Black Flag, it wasn’t bad, just not up to their standards. If any other band had released side two of My War, it would’ve been awesome, but for Black Flag it was distinctly lacking. But that’s not to say that the album was worthless. The title track is formidable, with Rollins ‘howling like a caged animal’, and it is definitely worth checking out.

Reason #4: The Legacy.

This section is going to be a little less formal, a little more flailing. Black Flag have basically left a mark on musical history. Their experiences have become legendary, apparently blacklisted by the LAPD and clubs in the LA area, mainly due to the violent nature of their shows. So many bands have covered their songs, become influenced by them, so many bands have simply just formed because of Black Flag. They are a band who everyone into punk or hardcore has an opinion on. They are a talking point, a revolution, an inspiration.

Black Flag are what got me into hardcore, and I have never looked back since. I heard their song playing on a jukebox at some shitty run-down venue and found out who it was, and what song it was (unsurprisingly, Nervous Breakdown). I went home and I found out everything I could about this band. Black Flag led me to Bad Brains, Minor Thread, the Bouncing Souls. They were so unlike anything I had heard before — and they still are.

In conclusion? If you haven’t listened to Black Flag yet… why not? Go. Listen. And be inspired.

A Short Guide To Anxiety Attacks by soufex

Originally by soufex, posted on 8/9/2009

I am 19 years old and I’ve been living with clinical depression for around five years or so, and since the age of sixteen I have been having anxiety attacks – ‘panic attacks’ – ranging from once a year to several times a day. In any case, they suck, and are horrible for everyone involved. Anything can trigger them off, and in my experience they have lasted from 10 minutes or so, to several hours. I’ve been a few types of medication for them. I’ve had them at shows, at work, on train journeys, and in my own bedroom; in the company of complete strangers, my girlfriend, or no one at all. Sometimes I can tell when I’m going to have one, and other times they sneak up on me out of nowhere. The experiences can differ from person to person, but there are a few things that essentially happen to everyone:

  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
  • Loss of concentration or track of time
  • Nausea-inducing fear and/or terror

(The last one might sound a little harsh, but anxiety attacks are pretty terrifying, and personally, very embarrassing; breaking down in public is not my thing at all.)

My experience of an anxiety attack, in retrospect, is usually the same (excluding the times where I’ve been kicked in the head, because you never see that coming unless a security guard leaps in front of you). For some time before the attack, I’m generally very quiet and my attention span is much shorter than usual, and I find myself distant from, or disinterested by my surroundings. I get snappy with people, lose my temper quickly, or become apathetic or ignorant to whatever is going on around me. (At the time I really don’t know I’m doing this, but I’ve been told that I tend to display the same behaviour, and after the attack I realise I’ve probably been a proper bitch to anyone who happened to cross my path, which usually happens to be my rather suffering but incredibly patient and loving girlfriend…) Then, for the next however long, my skin (especially around my face) becomes tingly, and I generally curl up into a little ball and cry and hyperventilate until the attack is over, in which I am left twitchy and exhausted for quite some time. (The only good thing about them is that I sleep like the dead when I go to bed after one.)

An anxiety attack is basically the body’s means of protecting itself against a situation it feels it can’t handle, and the body’s natural instinct is to brace, and try and get more oxygen into the bloodstream. With this in mind, the next part is much like an airline safety card. Life does not come equipped with safety cards, however, so here is a short guide to dealing with someone having a panic attack from my personal experiences:

  • Make sure they can breathe. Get an oxygen mask, take them outside or to a clear area, hold them so they can’t constrict their breathing – whatever works. However, because they’re freaking the fuck out, they probably won’t be listening to any offers of ‘breathe in slowly’, do bear this in mind.
  • Find a balance in your tone of voice and actions – be firm enough to try and get their attention, but not so much that make the situation worse – yelling at a person who’s freaking out anyway doesn’t do much good.
  • Be patient. It’s horrible being trapped inside a panic attack, and it’s horrible watching someone else stuck in one, but eventually it will end and they will calm down. Don’t try and move them straight away, because they’ll probably be exhausted and shaky and standing them up will probably mean they’ll just fall flat on their ass again and funny as it might look, it hurts.
  • This isn’t necessary, but is (probably) appreciated: I’ve yet to have a panic attack, or meet anyone that experiences them, and hasn’t sobbed their fucking guts out during the attack, so try and find something to wipe all the ick and snot away with, either during the attack (if you can get in there) to make it easier to breathe through the nose; or after the attack, just because it’s grim having your face, hands, shirt, knees, and everything else covered in watery slime.

I hope this is helpful to anyone – I’m sure those of you who live with, or are people who have anxiety attacks already know the drill pretty well, but personally an Idiot’s Guide To Anxiety Attacks would have been hella useful for me in the beginning!

PS. Further reading:
Panic Attack and Anxiety Awareness
Wikipedia’s article on anxiety attacks

Live: Against Me! – O2 Academy Birmingham 2, 3/6/10

Originally by Ripper, posted on 10/6/10.

On 31st October 2007, something momentous happened. Normally, Halloween is a very big deal for me. Everyone else’s favourite holiday is Christmas and shit like that, but I’m a huge advocate of Halloween. However, I forsook my usual party/trick or treating/movie fest (whatever my friends were into at that point in time) and went to go see Against Me! in Birmingham. I’d seen some shows in my time, but I’d never seen anything like that. And I met fightclubsandwich for the first time, but that’s a story for another time. Therefore, I went into this show with very high expectations and was fully prepared for disappointment. I was also bringing along a very sickly friend – Sarah had caught some stomach bug but wasn’t prepared to miss the show – and I had a shit ton of sunburn from an afternoon of watching people get drunk in a field. At the very least, it was going to be an interesting night, and I was comforted in the knowledge that fightclubsandwich would be there with her boyfriend, so I knew it wouldn’t be a terrible night.

And then I momentarily forgot how fucking good Against Me! are.

But first, there was a support band. Canterbury are a band I saw play with my ex’s band a good number of years ago. To this day, I maintain that the sticker one of them gave me is one of the most adhesive things I’ve ever had in my life and it’s still stuck to my dresser. The first time I saw Canterbury, I wasn’t paying much attention, but I didn’t like them very much. It seemed ridiculously generic. I can say now though, that with my full attention, they’ve much improved. While not in line with the folk punk glory that is Against Me!, they played slightly more non-generic rock music that has the potential to be very catchy. It’s clear that there’s a bit of a Muse influence in there with some of the guitar, but old Muse, leading to a much more energetic set. The band themselves were really going for it, and as they are young and hopeful, they looked pretty adorable, like kids playing rock stars. They had a somewhat enthusiastic following, probably brothers, sisters and girlfriends, but there’s enough ‘la la la’s’ in there to form a good singalong. Surprisingly, for a support band, the sound quality was great and the band themselves sounded well rehearsed and to be honest, quite impressive. They might have looked like they were playing rock star, but I really hope that one day, that dream becomes fully fledged. They certainly seem like they work hard enough for that to be a reality.

Against Me! completely destroyed the venue though. While not packed out to full capacity, it felt as if the whole world was there. As lame as it sounds, moments like last night are the kind of moments I live for – watching something incredible, fists in air with a bunch of people who don’t even know your name, but they know what’s inside you, what makes your heart beat, because that’s what makes theirs beat too. It’s almost impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced it. And oh, I experienced it. I experienced it so much that my sunburn hurt. A lot. Because that’s what happens every time I go to see Against Me! – I jump around like a crazy person, throw myself around into other people doing the same and lose my voice because I’m screaming my throat out. I am currently suffering because of it, but it’s not a show unless I’m not.

And a show it was. Against Me! had their own light set put up, which I can only imagine was torture for the sake of aesthetics – Tom Gabel was looking excessively sweaty by the end of the set, Andrew Seward less so, but he has a beard to soak it up – but damn, did it look cool. In imitation of the new ‘White Crosses’ cover, there were dressing room bulbs stacked all around the set, lighting up with every ‘woah’, and it was pretty awesome. fightclubsandwich and I were commenting greatly on how classy it looked. For the songs from ‘White Crosses’, the band brought out a keyboardist, who had the most incredible curly moustache I’ve ever seen and a snazzy trilby. He may or may not be from The World/Inferno Friendship Society, but as I don’t have internet from where I’m writing this, I’m going to leave that research to you.(Just discovered that it’s Franz Nicolay from The Hold Steady – thanks to tayzowns from Last.FM for that one!) And as much as I complained previously that the amount of keyboard made ‘White Crosses’ seem more like a Journey album than an Against Me! album, I have to admit that it did bring an entirely new dimension to their sound and well… it was fun! People forget that because Against Me! are really politically minded in some respects that their music is pretty fun to sing along to, so why not?

The set itself was very evenly put together. Of course, it was heavily weighted towards material from ‘White Crosses’ as they played the title song of the album, new single ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’, ‘Suffocation’, ‘High Pressure Low’ and probably other things that I can’t remember. It was surprising to see how many people there knew the words, but then again, I guess it did get leaked, and Tom did put the lyrics up on his blog for everyone who downloaded it. What a gent. I found it amusing that he had the cheek to play a song from his solo EP, but if I had to place it, I’d say that ‘Amputations’ is a lot more of an Against Me! song than it is a Tom Gabel song, and it fitted right in with the set. I can honestly say though that only me and about five other people were singing along to it though. They pleased the crowd with a few songs from ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ including ‘Baby, I’m An Anarchist’, which they very rarely play. There was a reasonable amount from each album, including most of the singles and ‘Sink.Florida.Sink’ which happens to be not only one of my favourite Against Me! songs, but one of my favourite songs ever. There was plenty to shout about in ‘Miami’, which sounded complete with the addition of the keyboard.

Against Me! have a great reputation as a live band to uphold, and they certainly did just that. While I was a little disappointed with the lack of Warren, due to his departure to pastures Floridian and gatory, George seemed to fit right in with the dynamic and everything sounded perfect. One of my favourite things about Against Me! is the way that James, Tom and Andrew harmonise and when this is accomplished live, that’s the mark of good musicians. Because regardless of what people think, punks can play music well in this day and age. Tom’s voice may be a bit more refined these days, but it’s not lacking any of the vitriol and passion it’s always had and as a unit, the band perform together perfectly. While they’re not really ones to mix things up a bit, they don’t need to, because seriously, every song is great as it is. There’s not a single song that I can say is bad by this band.

And it really says a lot when my only disappointment is that Tom was playing a Telecaster instead of a Rickenbacker.