Subculture Sunday Vol. 7

I have been writing these short posts about subcultures I have been a part of, or respect on my personal social media for a few weeks now. It’s just something fun to do to practice writing.

I’m going to repost some of the longer entries here.

I still feel a certain way whenever I see the distinctive cover art for the early Sisters Of Mercy singles. I am forever taken back to that twinge of clove cigarette and leather scented subterranean excitement upon coming across one of these gems in the record store. They felt like these beautiful black pillars, shaping what the goth subculture that my generation of outsiders inherited looked like. We were just a decade too young ⁣to catch this band in their prime, but so much of the scenes we loved were influenced by those deep and dark bass lines and Andrew Eldritch’s just slightly overwrought baritone. ⁣

I know this band means a lot of things to a lot of people. I still remember where and when I heard them for the first time – a candlelit attic room in a farmhouse in New Freedom, Pennsylvania on a frozen night in January. I will always love how they took so much what I loved about punk and turned the lights down on it, adding melodrama and a healthy dose of brooding melancholy. I was an obnoxious punk kid; hyperactive and an opinionated loudmouth, but also hypersensitive and insecure. After the shows, or late at night alone these records were the perfect soundtrack for laying to rest the hundreds of tiny heartbreaks from the day. They still are, even with my youth long behind me.

For a while when I was sixteen, one of my best friends was this burly skinhead kid who would just destroy himself in the pit at whatever show we had been at that night, especially if there were anyone we suspected of being Nazi skins at the show to tussle with. Later, we’d get home, and he’d take his boots off and collapse on the fold out bed in my room, claiming to be too sore to move. “Oh… if you can’t move, you can’t stop me from putting this Sisters Of Mercy tape on…”, I’d laugh in the dark. He would swear he was going to kick my ass in the morning for subjecting him to my gothic rock, but he never did. The tape would run out into the night and we were always friends again in the morning, listening to more knuckleheaded Last Resort and Blitz records to greet the day.

Andrew Eldritch is arguably the most hard headed shithead in all of goth, and that’s saying a lot, not only because he’s always claiming to not be goth (scroll all the way down to see two pictures of him and his bandmates looking very, very goth. He supposedly wrote all the lyrics to their first full length in a few days while on an epic speed bender. When the first incarnation of The Sisters Of Mercy acrimoniously split up, he wrote a throwaway record under the similarly named “Sisterhood” in an attempt to snatch up the recording advance for the unreleased follow up to that first LP and so his bandmates couldn’t use the name. He then reformed the band without them and continued to put out new music until the early 90’s when conflicts with Warner Brothers led him to simply stop recording rather than put out new music that would financially benefit the label at all. I remember reading an article he wrote in the 90’s where he listened to contemporary bands and pointed out where they must have taken influence from him.

The Sisters Of Mercy also played a horribly matched gig with Black Flag that Rollins wrote about in Get In the Van. I have always wondered who booked that show, and just… how that happened. They went on a brief (and very awkwardly received) tour with Public Enemy, and made a rad shirt saying Nazis were not welcome at their shows sometime in the early 90’s.

I’ve been arguing with one of my childhood friends for something like twenty-five years about how good these records are. If he’s reading this, here’s to another twenty-five, buddy.

Like Andrew, I am also maybe just a bit of a hardheaded shithead.

Untitled

How many graveyards
Of the soul
Live on
And on
In your skull

Every night

Are you tired
Worn down
From the years
Spent dragging your
Heart through
The abyssal dark
Alone

All the late nights
In cold rooms
Lived in loops
Playing the same
Sepia soaked scenes
On repeat

I don’t want them anymore

I’m tired, baby
Just so tired
Of restless ghosts

Falling forever
Through the firmament
Of the lives
We could have
Should have
Lived

Here’s to the past
Raging beneath tired skin
Like an ocean
With no end
The tides of comfort
That never come in

Here’s to the futures
Lost and mourned
Faded and yellow
Brittle
Maps to a country
That never existed

Twenty-Eight

Ugly people
Haunt you
Just enough
To remind You
The day you left them
Felt
Like a first breath
Back
From the shadow
Of the valley of death

There is magic
Living
Breathing in
In this world
I know this much
Is true
Too bad
There’s none left
Living in you.

CRUSHED!

I first encountered the music of Olympia, Washington’s Clayface during the summer of 2016.  At an early show show at the long since shuttered Obsidian bar to, be precise.  The music moved me for sure, but it was more of a gentle sway, and not the kind of elegant goth in black lace with a raven’s nest of hair sway, but just a “Hey, this sad music is pretty alright.  I’m fucking old and my back hurts and how come it’s so hard to go anywhere in this town without feeling like a thousand eyes are on you?” sway.  In fairness to Clayface, my inability to properly goth-sway had nothing to do their music, and everything to do with the sunlight creeping in through the door.   You see, dear darklings, these gloomiest of gloomsters, the heirs to 40 years of darkness and forgotten bedroom recordings with the feeling of a cold grave in autumn (in the best way!) simply had the rotten luck of opening the gig just after the 7:30 door time.  ‘Round the Pacific Northwest in the summer, well the sun doesn’t go down until 9:00.  We were stuck watching music I would later affectionately come to refer to as “Like if Robert Smith had way less money, and way more genuine misery” while the sun was still up, and goddamn if it wasn’t hard to feel the darkness a little less in the presence of the sun.  Creatures of the night don’t stalk the streets during the light of day, and I can all but gurantee you Peter Murphy would throw an absolute prima donna shitfit if Bauhaus had ever been asked to play a gig beneath the burning day-moon.

Somewhere in the years that followed ( I don’t remember when, because so many gray days long since blurred together and I always joked that every year spent in Olympia aged my pretty face twice that.) I came to actually know the music of Clayface and call Jacob a friend.  I couldn’t tell you when, but I’m pretty sure I was standing on the back table next to the devil statue at Cryptatropa watching the band absolutely scorch through Sister Is Dead, the title track of their sole LP when I just sorta got it.  The story behind the record is not mine to tell, but I will say this:  Lots of people experience tragedy.  Sometimes its hard to not feel like life is just a series of reprieves between the tragedies that define us.  I can also say that I know few people who people who have come out the other side of their tragedies making art as painfully honest, vulnerable and beautiful as Sister Is Dead.  It remains one of my favorite records to come out of Olympia.  A quiet and sadly dignified, criminally overlooked slab of wax sulking in the shadows between your RVIVR’s and your G.L.O.S.S’s and your Wolves In The Throne Room’s.

I was lucky enough to go on tour with Clayface and Harsh R, an equally beloved project making fucked up abyssal noise in the dank and dark venues of Olympia.  To this day, I count that week traveling up and down the west coast just at the end of a dry summer, heavy with wildfire smoke lugging heavy ass equipment and boxes of records as the highlight of my 2018, if not the entirety of my time in Olympia.  Last spring when I left for an extended absence, my last night in town, I went to see Clayface play and stood at the soundboard next to Avi laughing and crying all at once.  Thinking “Goddamn, if this song doesn’t just rip my heart out every time, and I love that Avi is all grins anyway.”  A perfect sendoff from a town I loved and hated to drive three thousand miles through the rain into uncertainty.  I wore my Clayface shirt the whole drive.

The morning was already hot and dry this July when Jacob and I caught up at a vegan restaurant on Capitol Avenue.  I was sad to hear him say he was thinking of retiring the Clayface moniker for something fresher, maybe a little less heavy.  I was relieved to hear him say the project already had a name and was beginning to play gigs.  Only recordings so far are a nightmarish soundtrack to a short flim made by Jacob.  I haven’t seen the film, but after listening to this, I fear the images that might haunt me in my sleep when I inevitably pass out as soon as I’m done typing this mess.  The first track is deceptively soothing, drawing the listener in, lulling them to a false sense of rest before the nightmares move in.  My first thought was how much this too short of a recording reminded me of the Hellraiser Themes by Coil without sounding derivative.  I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.  I’d like to think John Balance and Peter Christopherson are smiling from whatever acid-laced glitched out afterlife they inhabit.

Listen to Crushed here!

Clayface

clayface
Clayface, September 2018.  Riverside, California.  Photo by Sass

HARSH R

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Harsh R.  September, 2018.  Arcata, California (I think) Photo by Sass

 

Falling Asleep to 1990’s marketing Extravaganza Dick Tracy

The plot isn’t much to speak of
Scattered and hard to follow, but the colorful and garish
Sets, they just soothe the edges of my soul
Eyes adjusting to the darkness ahead of rest

I might always live like
A faceless wraith stalking my way
Through the avenues and alleyways
And haunted spots of anytown, USA

I liked that about the movie
How those obviously painted hulking
Concrete and steel monstrosities
Static and frozen, yet still somehow in motion

Could be a metaphor for the underbelly
Of any city, the concrete canyons of New York
The cold labyrinthine streets
Carving the wastes of Chicago

Okay, those are actually the only
Two cities that come to mind
When I think about just where
“The City” might have been based on

Not nearly enough sunshine
For the soulless sun soaked streets of LA
But I’ve always been such a sucker
For a hardboiled detective anyway

I love the two-dimensional villains
Out to get theirs at any cost
All physically deformed and amoral
Impeccably dressed in tailored suits all the same

After a day’s worth of eating shit and air pollution
Cutting two wheels across cold pavement
For a hundred bucks and some exercise
Knees that creak and wrists that ache

I think I understand
Just how busted hands
Could reach for a gun
Trading the violence wrought

On aging bones
Through toil and exhaustion
At the end of every workday
For the violence of

Striking out into the cold
Of this heartless world
To take what’s rightfully yours
Instead of what those hogs at the top say you deserve

So meet me tonight at the docks
Underneath a yellow moon peering
Indifferently though the smog
Down at streets seeped in soul and sorrow below

I’m a sultry songstress
Bruised but unbroken, just like you
Always on the same side
With a loaded .45

Pressed against my thigh
Sticking to circles of streetlight
Until the hour arrives
To slink back into the shadows

Of The City and strike
Out at its black heart
Because in this life
There are hard truths they teach us

Before we can even grow
First and foremost
We come to know
That only suckers fight fair

HIDE – 8/15/19

It’s nice to go to shows and see gray hair, and crow’s feet and smile lines.  It’s a relief to see aging punk rockers still rocking the double studded belt look coupled with their receding hairlines.  I don’t know if I was totally aware of what a toll it took on me to go to shows in a city where I would often be fifteen years older than many of the punks in attendance.  This especially in a subculture that discards and writes off its elders every generation or so. 

Speaking of the new destroying the old, each time I see HIDE perform, Heather Gabel and Seth Sher outdo themselves completely, both sonically and in stage presence and intensity. So much so, that I think back to the first time I saw them in a near empty bar in Seattle with one of my very dearest friends, and how that gig almost seems like a tame folk punk show played in a community garden in comparison to the aural horror and menace they unleashed on Brilloboxtonight.  I go to shows in my new city alone a lot, which doesn’t bother me at all.  I just hang in the back and read in between bands.  I find that the sense of being alone in a crowd helps me concentrate more than I might at home.  Tonight, I biked to the show late, with a copy of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado in my backpack.  At the show, I read “Inventory” from that collection of short stories while I waited for HIDE to set up.  If you haven’t read the story, I’m not going to give you spoilers, if you have, you might have an idea why that particular story felt fitting to read while waiting for HIDE to set up.  

Better writers than me have argued that the best music and art holds a mirror up to the culture at large, reflecting its ugliness back to us.  In doing so, it forces us to face our failings both subculture wise and as a species.  I know this is what drew me to the worlds of punk and goth in the first place and I know this is the argument so many of us used on our parents when they wanted to know why we insisted on listening to Dead Kennedys (or really whatever offensive band you loved as an adolescent) loud in our rooms decades ago.  “Fuck you, dad!  They’re just telling it like it really is!”.  I feel like I once saw Marilyn Manson, a far lesser artist than HIDE, and one with a much more contrived presentation and aesthetic make the same argument on Donahue or some similar television show in the 90’s, that he wasn’t telling kids what to do or think, but was just a vessel with which to expose them to the hypocrisy and contradictions of the dominant culture.  

Somewhere though, that message became compromised and watered down, and this writer felt like Marilyn Manson gave suburban kids permission to be shocking and edgy at the mall before going off to college and getting a job. HIDE is holding up a very different mirror to our culture and our collective participation in the both quiet and loud atrocities that take place across the world and at home.  When Heather Gabel opened tonight’s show repeating instances of verbal harassment experienced while simply being a woman walking through the world in the coldest and most guttural screams imaginable, you get the feeling she is not only railing against the outside world, but demanding the audience examine what parts of that world they have internalized and brought to this small, smoky room with them.  One song blended into the next and the venue fell into brief silence punctuated by the sample of a voice saying “When you depersonalize another person… it seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.” while Gabel writhed on the floor in front of the audience in mock submission.  I couldn’t help but think back to being a child in South Florida in the late 80’s, coming in from playing outside to my mother watching Ted Bundy’s final interview on the night of his execution.  I watched a few minutes of the interview with my mother, long enough to watch Ted Bundy blame place the blame for his hatred of women on pornography all while the jackass from Focus On The Family ate it up because it fit his agenda, more than examining our collective hatred of women did.  

I can think of few bands I’ve seen in recent memory that take the stage with a more driven intensity than HIDE in the past few years.  I don’t really know how to write about the mechanics of creating music, so I don’t really know how to write about it in a lot of ways. I could scarcely begin to understand how Seth Sher creates the noise onstage that he does, but he does so to astonishing effect.  I’m going to admit here, that even scarcely an hour after getting home the details of the show are a bit fuzzed out.  I spent the entire set standing up front stage left, not even dancing, just standing transfixed, aware that I was witnessing something truly powerful and cathartic, and occasionally pulling out my phone to snap a photo or take a video, more to document how the show made me feel for self-reference, than to take any sort of fancy photos.  I’m not a good photographer anyway.  

 I remember when Trump first got elected, some were moved to comment along the lines of “Well at least we will get powerful at and music out of these dark times.”.  While acknowledging the privileged nature of that statement (as in, there are a lot of people experiencing these dark times from cages, and a lot of people who might not live to see the end of them), I don’t disagree with that sentiment.  The Punk and Industrial scenes were borne of the turbulence and tension of the 70’s and 80’s.  While I feel like HIDE’s art stands powerfully on its own, regardless of whether it is being created within the confines of an ascendant fascist state or not, I cannot help but find the synchronicity HIDE’s momentum as artists coupled with the particular cultureal moment we are in to be both terrifying and comforting at once.  I just looked at my journals and photographic records and found that my aforementioned dear friend and I first saw HIDE on March 13th, 2017, just two months after Trump’s inauguration, and just a year and a half after thinking we were going to get beaten to death by Nazis together.  I distinctly remember returning home to Olympia late that night and sitting beneath a cold winter moon on the shore of the Budd Inlet, promising one another that we would continue our shared resistance to the powers that shape our world, be it through art or activism.  We had just witnessed something that powerful.  Tonight, at the conclusion of HIDE’s set, the stranger who had been standing next to me snapping photos (no doubt, better than my own!) and I simply turned and acknowledged one another with an exhausted warmth as if to say “Did you fucking see what just happened, and are you okay now?”  

I rode my bike home, exhilarated, feeling hopeful for our collective subcultural future, if nothing else.  These are vicious times, and HIDE creates art to not to provide comfort in those times, but to encourage the listener to rise up in the face of them.  On my ride home, I couldn’t help but think of two very different Industrial and Post-Industrial acts of a bygone era – Death In June, and Boyd Rice’s NON.  Both bands have created searing industrial soundscapes and both bands have been dogged by accusations (that this writer happens to agree with, and an immense amount of evidence easily found via google seemingly supports) of fascist and far-right sympathies, if not outright agendsas for much of their careers.  In defending themselves, both individuals (I cannot bring myself to refer to Douglas P as a musician) often use the same argument – that they are just utilizing fascist imagery, referencing it in song, and lastly dressing up in its trappings to hold a mirror up to the culture at large, to make the listener uncomfortable, to think.  

After watching HIDE perform tonight, I couldn’t help but think that the music of DI6 and NON could more accurately be described as the artists holding a mirror up to the culture as they wish it to be, one where the might makes right and the strong tread upon the weak, a world where white men get to speak and act with impunity – The very same world HIDE seeks to obliterate.  Where Death In June, so many of the bands they inspired provide the listener space to fantasize they are the perpetrators of atrocities (If you can make a convincing argument here that the song “Of Runes and Men” is anything other than Douglas P jerking off to the thought of being born 30 years earlier so he could have joined the SS, I will eat that “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist shirt I wear 8 days a week.*).  I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of relief at a changing of the guard of sorts within the Industrial and dark cultures.  In the crowd tonight there was none of the fascist dog whistling sometimes present at Industrial shows of yesteryear.  No boys with dumb fashy haircuts.  No fucking pseudo SS uniforms.  No Totenkampf or Sonnerad patches..  Just a bunch of outcasts gathered together in a small room, and two uncompromising musicians, asking, no, demanding that the audience confront their collective demons and their complicity in the horrors of rape culture and misogyny.  

What are we going to do?  What are we going to create in the face of such horror?  What are we going to do to bring it all crashing down?  What are we going to build in the ruins? 

*Just kidding.  I won’t.  Douglas P is a fascist.  Period. Point blank.  Fuck that guy.  

Mediocre photographic evidence:

The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

The Downward Spiral cover
The album cover that graced countless adolescent CD collections in 1994. 

Happy 25th birthday to an album that defined my adolescence and gave voice to my tween angst. I bought this record the day it came out in 1994. My father had died very suddenly just under two months prior, and it was the coldest and snowiest winter Pennsylvania had seen in something like 50 years. The snow kept falling, making a mess of the roads in the rural town where my mother and I lived; cancelling school for days at a time. We lived in a small housing development at the edge of town, and I didn’t have a lot of friends.  I found myself alone in the house a lot with my mother spiraling into an abyss of grief from which she would never really crawl out of.  I would hang out in my room for countless hours, listening to this album.

I was a lonely and weird kid with not a lot of social skills (this hasn’t necessarily changed) and cheesy and cliché as it sounds, while I had not yet lived enough to fully understand some of the themes and concepts Trent Reznor was exploring in this record, this album did keep me company during a pivotal period when so much of my young life was defined by chaos and isolation. I will always be grateful for that company. I know I’m not alone in this gratitude, considering just how many copies this record has sold.  As an adult, I would argue that this speaks more to the loneliness and isolation that we collectively feel as a culture, but at 13 years old I didn’t really quite grasp such concepts.  I just knew that I was hurting and lonely a lot, and this record gave voice to that hurt.

I played this album heavily for a few years, all the while immersing myself more fully into the punk and goth subcultures, searching out more obscure bands and ways of being. This record served as a starting point for that immersion though. Everyone talks about the band or record that introduced them to the underground, that made them want to dive in and see what else was down there.  For a lot of people my age, it was Nirvana.  For me, it was Nine Inch Nails.  There was just something so much more honest and real about this band for me, much less silly.  Where Kurt Cobain used clumsy metaphors and thinly veiled references to express alienation and pain, Trent Reznor just bluntly put it out there for the world to take or leave.  A year later, I would come to associate this mode of expression with punk and hardcore when hearing Black Flag for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks.  I see now how The Downward Spiral primed me for the world of punk rock.

Despite moving on, I remained a quiet fan. I listened to the new records with a polite detachment; more connected to nostalgia than anything else, connecting with a song here and there, but nothing quite recaptured the significance of this record.  It remains a time and place piece for me.  Had I not come across this album when I did, and where I did, I think my entire life would be very different.  I’m not always sure if this a good thing or bad thing.

Revisiting this record as a maladjusted adult, I still wince at the rawness and vulnerability of this album – documenting your own descent into self-hating annihilation with but the faintest glimmer of hope for crawling back out at the end of the record. There is a subversive power to all that vulnerability and transparency.  I see the influence in my own life and art (ha!) of just sitting with naked pain and transforming it into something so ugly and beautiful all at once.