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.

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

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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