Women In Punk Music

Just an ordinary Wednesday for celebrating all the brave women in punk rock music. The playlist is one I created for our ongoing themed radio show on CFRC 101.9 FM (Or maybe not. I never get the station frequency right… give it time!)

Essentially, this is also me learning how to use technology and marvelling at how a playlist embeds… which was something I was pretty 50-50 on whether would happen or would fail and vanish midway, and will continue to be unsure of until I’ve hit publish… ah, technology, how I marvel at thee in spite of being a computer science major funnily enough.

Enjoy the music, appreciate the circumstances it was made under, and continue to cheer on the courageous women who continue to inspire the genre!

Bikini Kill onstage. Credits: Pitchfork; by Debi del Grande

(Yes, I should’ve talked more about each song and the wonderful stories behind them. I did on the show. And I will here too. I’m just a little busy gaping with a dropped jaw at the embed. Technology. All hail programmers.)

(In short, yes, this whole post was just me testing out whether I can embed Spotify content on a blog without using the new editor, or not.
The answer is a frustrating no.)

Goodbye Skepticism, Hello Alt-Rock

Canadian alt-rock band Goodbye Honolulu live at the Mansion, Kingston. Supports: Figure-8 and Fade Awaays.

Rock music lives in its clubs, bars and taverns. Anyone who has been to an “underground” gig can attest to that. There’s something about having a few hundred people tapping their feet to gravelling distorted sounds originating from an amplifier helped by a microphone, sounds that a little bar couldn’t possibly contain for any longer than an album or two; something about the dim, neon lights and black ceilings and dark walls; something about being so close to the ones trying to explain the inner workings of their minds on a little raised platform we call the stage, as they belt their hearts out, vocally, instrumentally; expressively. To anyone decrying the death and decline of rock music, a peek into its true dwellings would prove educational.

On Thursday, 24th October, Toronto-based alt rock band Goodbye Honolulu decided to give a demonstration worthy of representing the 2019 rock music scene as they opened their Fall 2019 tour at the Mansion in Kingston, ON.

They were joined in their endeavour by Gananoque punk rockers Figure-8, who opened the gig with a burst of energy, rocking out to a sum total of ten people as the sparse crowd got moving to fast paced, upbeat songs about growing up, tinged with a hint of Green Day’s 1994 hit Dookie.

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Tour poster taken from Goodbye Honolulu’s website

 

Following them were fellow Toronto indie rockers Fade Awaays, a band with a sound bigger than the venue they filled tonight, with a tight, layered wall of sound emanating from the two guitars on-stage, occasionally doubling the rhythm section to form a formidable wall of sound. (For a band that only released their first EP this January, they have some surprisingly heavy weight behind them, having opened for alt rockstars Wolf Alice and up-and-coming Canadian rockers the Beaches.)

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Fade Awaays in action on stage

Goodbye Honolulu, who had been in the crowd for most of their supports’ sets, came on stage to a well warmed and receptive audience. This band packs fully formed chord progressions and rock riffs into a neat, loud singable pop package that makes their songs so memorable. Their on-stage personality is dynamic, and guitars and basses are frequently swapped onstage as they rip through their long setlist.

 

 

 

Tonight, the band gave the crowd many songs off their yet-unreleased album, a little dose of their own political opinions, in light of Canada’s just concluded federal election (“fuck Andrew Scheer! Fuck Andrew Scheer!”), many little exchanges with the audience, and on popular demand, crowd favourite single “Typical”.

I saw Goodbye Honolulu live at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto six months ago supporting Californian punk rockers SWMRS, and had thought them to be a very well organised act. This time around, in, if possible, an even more intimate setting than Toronto’s iconic club venue, the band let loose the raw energy of a band rearing to take on the notions of what it means to be a rock band as they embark on their latest tour.

Find all three bands on their respective websites (or better yet, at a North American live venue near you!)

Goodbye Honolulu: YouTube | Spotify | Soundcloud
Fade Awaays: YouTube | Spotify | Soundcloud
Figure-8: YouTube

Has Rock Music Changed?

People are always complaining about how things have become so much tamer. People aren’t wild enough. They don’t take enough risks. They don’t step out of home, or their comfort zones.

It’s ubiquitous enough a complain, but it really seems to roar louder in the world of rock music. There are reasons for this.

Since the demise of the grunge movement following Nirvana legend Kurt Cobain’s death, the entire rock music scene lost momentum and spiralled inwards. By the end of the nineties, only the bands that survived the chaos of the younger half of the decade would go on to make it into the next era. The others would be lost, and so would their fans.

Kurt Cobain on stage, Ireland, 1991. Credits: Pinterest

As a kid of the aughts, bands from the zeros seem closer and more familiar to me, but on the grand timeline, it could be argued that they were definitely more obscure than rock musicians have been in past decades. For those that did prevail though, the set of problems they faced were a little different in nature than their predecessors.

Of course, those who grew up in the ‘golden ages’ of the sixties, seventies, or even the nineties, claim that they don’t make it like they used to. The nature of showmanship has changed. The faces of venues have changed. Artists’ demeanour is more closely scrutinised than ever before, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

This is a big change. Earlier, the only exposure you’d have to your favourite artist would be through an interview they did with a music magazine, or an MTV special on the late night telly. You’d hear from them when they dropped their music, and of course, in their music, where they’d always be with you. None of these have changed, although as a compelling article in Spin Magazine argues, the interviews have become rarer, and the music has broken itself into smaller and smaller pieces: from albums to singles, and singles to snippets and breadcrumbs (a phenomenon I recently explored and outlined in this article).
What has changed though, is that in addition to this, you can find your favourite bands on YouTube, their personal Instagrams, Twitter, and for younger artists, even Snapchat. Like every other person, they find these platforms ideal to express their own thoughts and opinions. Of course, for a fan what this means is that your favourite stars are now living in your face, having comfortably nestled there after building themselves a little fire and drinking hot chocolate.

Metal exposed to free air for too long begins to rust, and the same is true of your interest in your favourite musicians. The tabloid has exploded, and everybody can be a reporter; heck, the artists themselves can do it. As you scroll through your news feed in infinite scroll mode, there’s too much stuff to catch your eye, and soon enough, the fifth reposted promotional picture of favourite artist becomes boring. You cast a momentary glance at a gothic, high-heeled, heavily made-up picture of that band you like who would swear to be so strictly folk rock that their getup would be otherwise shocking. But then you move on, because you just saw another picture yesterday.

Rock music was built on the social foundations of ‘rebel and shock’, but what used to shock people is either seen so often that it’s just not shocking anymore, or it’s simply unacceptable.

If Iggy Pop were a rising musician today, he’d have had a tough time.
Iggy relied heavily on the effects of the shock he could have on people, and do it more subtly than contemporaries who would proclaim themselves rebels. (See: MC5)

In particular, Iggy used to cut himself up with a blade live.

Today, he’d probably be cast as having mental health problems. He’d be told, it’s okay, everyone has darker days, and it’s great that you’re putting it out there for everyone to see. Self-inflicted harm? Total sign. Do talk to someone though, please!

And he’d have been a mental health advocate, broken by the stress we all face, a product of that system, with all our respect and our sympathy.
Rebels don’t get your sympathy, and that’s what endeared young rock and rollers to him. That’s what shocked people, and what made him a rebel. It simply wouldn’t work today.

In the face of this, the Noel Gallaghers of the world say that bands simply don’t have it in them anymore, that they’re not dangerous enough. They don’t wake up stoned or turn up drunk onstage (au contraire, only a month ago I witnessed a bassist down seven cans onstage). Artists do what they do. Only the implications of their actions have changed.

Of course, this also makes a band like Coldplay so likeable. In short, Coldplay are anodyne rock and roll: maybe a gateway band to artists more rock and roll, but also a band that you, your mother and your puppy can bond over. They aren’t out to offend and mum and dad won’t hate them. They won’t be in the news for the wrong reasons. In fact, all Coldplay have done to iff anybody is make more mainstream, pop radio-friendly music, and that seems to piss you off more than it does your mum.

But they’re hitting the charts alright.
This is something you’d see showing up all over the charts. Softer pop rock and more mainstream friendly artists are dominating the rock airwaves. Imagine Dragons, Coldplay and Twenty One Pilots are the biggest things rock on the charts. Oh, and probably Billie Eilish.

So is this the changing face of rock music? Has it become so mainstream friendly that it’s no longer friendly to those who created it in the first place? (Case in point: Greta Van Fleet. You either love them, or you love to hate them.)

The short answer is it’s not the end. The rock music scene was always stronger underground. A quick glance at Billboard’s archives tells you that rock music seldom dominated the hot music charts. There were moments when artists shone bright before being replaced by hotter tracks. The limelight was never meant for endurance, only an upthrust. And all legends are written in hindsight. Maybe we’ll be looking back on something we may have missed in our Instagram feeds and think it an incredible display of rock and roll showmanship.

In the meanwhile, do us all a favour and hit your local club, or a bar. There’s tons of good music buried under the unassuming air of carefreeness there that’s just itching to be discovered.

Tip: If you are looking for new music right now, here are some artists I could suggest.

Looking for some laidback surfside Cali blues, and generally a good time? Check out the Beach Goons. In their own words, they hate the beach. San Diego based surf blues-with-a-dash-of-Mexican-rock and roll, they’re my age.

Looking for something with the punk attitude but with catchier tones? I’ve said this before, but check out SWMRS. They’re also a lot better live than their records suggest.

While we’re talking punk, check out PUP. Even Pitchfork seems happy with them, which either means they’ve all caught the flu, or we have a rare conciliatory two seconds before they’re back.

For a classic throwback, try Greta van Fleet. For some good alt rock, try Wolf Alice, or even Royal Blood.

Wolf Alice

Looking for some old fashioned indie rock? Come on, there are tons of bands out there, I won’t even try. Just go to a club, for goodness sake.

Looking for some hard hitting garage rock? Do, do, do check out Phono Pony. It took me forever to remember their name right, but it’s all worth it. British Columbia based duo hitting it in the vein of the White Stripes. Also, in the words of their drummer, “We’re not the White Stripes”. As a bonus, if you happen to be in Toronto tonight, hop down to the Horseshoe Tavern, they’re playing a midnight set.

Then come back and answer me, is rock music dead?

I Can’t Hear Myself Think

I don’t know if that’s physically possible, but I’m feeling it right now.

My ears are ringing out of sheer shock. I have not heard a band play louder. (But then again, it may be argued that I haven’t had a chance to see Muse live. Yet.)

So every once in a while, miracles do happen.

(A little recap for context) After coming to know at 3:30 PM that British grunge/alt-rockers Wolf Alice were in town and playing a gig in the city at 7 PM, I had a long two-hour theatric on why I should be going.

It touched upon everything, a very versatile and diverse argument, I must admit.

I’m the science student, I’m paling because I’m in here studying, (absolutely irrelevant to a night gig– unless we’re talking about “darkening” due to pollution), how with me soon to be a full-time computer science student, I may just die before I get a whiff of life (… I don’t know if this is true, but I do not want it to be. Can anyone vouch for that?) how we’re not risk takers and are just not game for life, and why does it matter that we’re booking a few hours, and not a few days, before the gig?

Mum was particularly concerned about leaving my sister to study on her own for a few hours (and being unable to reach her because her phone’d Ben in aeroplane mode).

Anyway, I won’t bore you with gory details (according to my English teacher, I’m guilty of that often… to be fair, it was a chapter involving murder. But to get to the point now.)

Somehow, things worked out, and I have now bright prospects of a career in acting.

I went for the Wolf Alice gig.

Mum wouldn’t let me go by myself, but she did end up tagging along. She ended up spending her time taking a good long hour’s walk around pavements!

As for me, I was in.

Wolf Alice came on at 7:30, their set lasted nearly jour and was a good mix of new old stuff, though leaning on the side of songs off their latest album released on 29 September 2017, Visions Of A Life.

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Early on. (I’ll admit, phone photography isn’t the best, but is that the point of a live gig?)

The band was in the city for an Amnesty International awareness event, on violence against women online.

There seems to be some sort of trend, bands touring here for a cause (remember Coldplay and the Global Citizen fest, anyone?)

But anyway, it wasn’t amazing to see that they have a pretty neat following here! I could estimate around five hundred people, maybe more.

They have so much energy, they rock out like crazy. Second best new(ish) band I’ve seen! (After Royal Blood, of course. Seeing them live would be super cool, though!)

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Ellie Rowsell was tireless as the band kept belting out track after track, with just the occasional pause to interact with the crowd. Speaking of engagement, bassist Theo Ellis was incredible: the guy didn’t have a dead bone in his body!

Jumping around, inciting the crowd, grooving as he played his bass, he was in his own element.

There was only a slight hitch in the middle when guitarist Joff Odie’s guitar temporarily went dead as he helplessly tried to shake some sound out of it and ended up swinging it around for the rest of the song, annoyed, till he could make a swap for the next song. (My best bet for why he didn’t doc that before is preset sounds and settings.)

Personally, there was only one thing I wish was better, apart from which the band was perfect: they rock hard, take that from me. They’ve blown my ears out. Every hair on my arms was reverberating with the loud music, it was almost a wonder to me that the band was so comfortable, the speakers being right behind them. They were owning it.

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One of my personal favourite of this band’s gimmicks is towards the end of You’re A Germ, when Ellie’s vocals descend onto a manic, deranged laughter. It’s beautiful, and it’s perfect where it is in the song. But live, the intensity was a bit lower, and the laughter sounded kinda mechanical.

No fault of Rowsell’s, I can’t  imagine recreating that manic laugh every gig, and that’s what studio recordings are for, right? You go for a live gig for the experience, the emotions, raw and unfiltered, not polished or perfected over four takes.

But you can hear the manic laugh, and the rest of the song for yourself and decide!

The gig lasted roughly an hour, and it was one of the best hours of the year for me!

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(Do I sound like a music journalist here?)

Man, after seeing these guys live, my will to be up there on stage doing just what they’re doing has gotten even stronger. It’s back to my beloved piece of wood an month’s time! I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

This band rocks out almost like bands did in the nineties! And that’s a good thing.

We like them ‘cause they’re pure
We like them ‘cause we know they’re cool

(My little play on You’re a Germ’s lyrics,
He likes her ‘cause she’s pure
She’s likes him ‘cause she’s heard he’s cool

Minus the creepy connotations.)

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Lessons learnt?

Don’t ever pass up the gig. And don’t ever underestimate the power of a good argument. And the good bands will eventually come to a city near you– with their dedicated group of globe-trotting fans! Sure saw a lot of those today.

I have quite a few video grabs from the gig, from songs I am ore familiar with. Trust me, I’m a fan, I love these guys, but i haven’t been listening too much this year— not to much of anything, in fact! Catching up to do.

I can’t upload them, however, WordPress on my current plan doesn’t let me. Oh well. What’s YouTube for, right?

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(The videos were mostly for my sister, who did definitely pitch for me good; I don’t suppose mum would’ve agreed if she hadn’t been so thrown off by my sister’s support for my case, but I did mostly try to enjoy the  live experience.)

So with this gig and thousand-word review, (was it really a review? Perhaps not) I’ve ticked two things off my bucket list!

Now it’s back to integrating. The next time I upload pictures, it’s may  of a two-page long sum.

Integration… I currently can’t really hear myself think, and perhaps that’s a good thing!

Until next time!