In a remote corner of Alaska, there is an Island. On that Island, a band is in the process of brewing up their own particular strain of mutant music. Recently, a member of this band contacted us with the most deadly question a musician can ask a rock journalist: “What do you think of our stuff?” Here’s the reply:
During my time here on this spinning orb, I've heard a lot of music. Some of it deliriously fantastic; where the urge to run out into the street and share it with everyone has to be repressed (like, say, the new White Stripes - more on that later), some of it so bad...well, there are urges involving shallow graves, no witnesses, and plausible deniability involved.
I'm also a lifelong follower of the writings of Lester Bangs.
That said, I’d like to think that I know what I'm talking about. :)
Ok, now that I've pulled the laurels I've been spending far too much time resting on out of my ass; let's get down to why we are here – your band’s music.
I found it to be quite good. Is it L.A. Good? No (we'll get into that later). However, considering where you are, and how much time you've been playing, I was quite impressed.
Now, on to Los Angeles, why you shouldn't be good enough to play here and what you need to do to blow the barn doors off of any other place that you play:
At the time of this writing, the music scene in Los Angeles is miserable. Those on the stage can be divided into several bands of effortlessly classifiable, soulless artists. First, there is the collection of artists & individuals who actually think that if they get onto American Idol, all of their dreams will come true. Comedian David Cross observed that many in this group usually say the phrase “Ok, but please just don’t get it in my eyes” at least once in their long, wretched climb to obscurity.
Up next, we have a group that’s actually two - the “metal” heads: Retro-Hair, & Nu.
I have to admit that even though I cut my teeth & evolved on Punk, I have always been a fan of Heavy Metal. From its humble beginnings rooted in amplified, psychedelic blues & the sludgy, doom & gloom, polluted, industrial wastelands of Birmingham to the fuck-you, loudest, fastest, shortest refinement of bands like Slayer, to the revival of the dredgy, sludgy sound being championed by the likes of Sleep.
But I can’t fucking stand Nu-Metal, and I definitely do not like the current revival of Hair-Metal. Let’s start with the easiest target - Hair-Metal.
Early on, I will admit that I did find the boy-bands decked out in spandex, and poodle-hair interesting. But then again, I did get the shit beat out of me in Great Falls, Montana because I liked faggot bands such as The New York Dolls & Aerosmith (during their Seconol-fueled ‘Rocks’ phase) far more than the likes of Kiss, The Bee Gees, or any other numerous black taints on the human collective unconscious. But this interest quickly faded, after being whipped to death by the likes of Venom, & Motorhead.
Hair Metal is the absolute worst components of Heavy Metal, watered down in sappy, let-me-lick-your-under-age-cherry-pie bullshit. A bunch of privileged, upper-middleclass motherfuckers who realized that all they needed to fake street-cred (and in turn get more shallow, band-skank pussy) was play impressive licks, have big hair, and look pretty in a codpiece. Like it or not, there is nothing Heavy or Metal in any way, shape or form to be found in bands like Cinderella, Poison, or Winger. Frankly, the most girly I’ll get when it comes to Heavy Metal is Judas Priest. And that’s only if Rob Halford rejoins the group and wants to suck my dick.
As of late, there has been a revival of Hair-Metal. The absolute worst of the genre is leading the pack. Were you one of the many that realized Ratt were boring and should be forgotten? Well, you could have had your chance to see them live once again, but a sacrifice has been made to the rock gawds to prevent this perversion from ever happening, at least for now.
On the night of Feb 21st, the hair-metal band Great White, on advice of their road manager, threw themselves a little fan “Bar-B-Q”. In a matter of minutes they temporarily pushed the beast in spandex, hairspray & makeup back into its unholy, unmarked grave.
As I said earlier, Hair Metal is an all-too-easy target in this day and age. A far more difficult target is Nu-Metal.
Nu-Metal tends to be harder, because it’s both underrated & over exaggerated - something that is quite common in every single generation of rock & roll. Does this make it good? In a simple, single word: no.
Nu-Metal is, simply and accurately put, a marketing term, used (but not limited) to describe the glut of bands who have decided to fuse hip-hop with metal. Never mind that various bands (both Metal & Hip Hop - in some cases together) have been doing it for more than a decade.
The idea of such a fusion is a good one, when it’s correctly executed by people who actually have something to say, but for the most part there is no message to the Nu-Metal, or it’s a tired, overdone, angst-filled bitch about suburban life.
I have three big beefs with this marketing label. First of all, realize that the only purpose behind this pigeon-holing is the almighty buck, and not for the benefit of the artist. Just like when Sire Records re-christened “Punk” as “New Wave”. Its goals were to sell more records to mainstream America. This should not be confused with advertising, which is a different beast altogether. Advertising lets people know that a product is available, and how they can get it. Marketing serves only to convince people that they should buy a product, whether they want it or not. Usually the more inferior or worthless a product is, the more marketing is used.
Secondly, any band that actually mattered (note that this in past-tense. No, that band doesn’t matter. Neither does that band) disintegrated or moved on long before the likes of Limp Bizkit and their bag of blandness bought their way to the top. Does Faith No More or even Phunk Junkeez ever get written up for being pioneers of Nu-Metal? Fuck, even Rage Against the Machine preceded and did what is being touted as “pioneering” a good five years before this latest crop.
And third, most of the bands sound… well, they all sound exactly the same. I don’t say this from an old man “music-was-so-much-better-back-in-the-day” point of view. It’s said because they all DO sound the same. Sure, I can tell them apart. But what they are doing does not differ stylistically from what happened just a generation before. They are the new Styx/Foreigner/Firefall. They are just as boring, and just as faceless.
I have to give credit where credit is due, though. System of a Down has managed to break the expected mold by writing incredibly interesting, intelligent, and intense stuff year after year. But then, there are always exceptions to every rule.
Now that we have a bit of an idea about this faux genre, let’s talk about the glut of bands that have taken over Sunset. No doubt about it, almost every single one of them is technically competent. But then so are the thousands of cover bands that play throughout the world. The music each and every one of these bands play is no different than the band that was on stage before them, or is even the band playing further down the strip. If you were to take a song from each of these bands and make an unlabeled CD, then play it for people without telling them anything about the contents, chances are the listener would think it’s just one band. When I see an ad for one of these bands, all I can think of is the line in the King Missile song - “I wanna be unique, just like everybody else!” Finally, we come to the last thing you would expect to see in Los Angeles - an empty stage.
The stage is not empty because the band is horrible. It’s empty because no one showed up, thanks in a large part to the radio station that was sponsoring them in the first place.
Have you ever heard of The Faint? Better yet, have you ever *heard* The Faint? In all probability, you said “No” to both questions. The odds increase that you haven’t if you live here in Los Angeles - and Nic Harcourt is to blame.
Here in Los Angeles, the top “alternative” station is KCRW. (Sorry kidz, KROQ is actually owned by a large faceless corporation who doesn’t really care about the music, only the contents of your wallet.) For those of you who have not had the frustration, KCRW is lead by the spineless, yet loveable Nic Harcourt. Nic’s grudging philosophy is a simple one - those that give the money determine what gets played. Unfortunately, in this town, those with the money have notoriously bad taste. “Here Nic, have a few thousand dollars. Please don’t play that strange, clanging, noisy band. Play instead the latest from milketoste.”
On the other hand, the radio station (mostly because it gets its call-letters in the spotlight and it receives 20 minutes of street cred) will sponsor a band they never play. When no one shows up, they’ll use the event as proof that no one is interested in a harsher genre than the mellow rest-home music that’s in rotation. If they manage to fill the venue to capacity, watch as Nic and his lackeys fall over each other trying to prove they always supported the band.
Now, let’s you and I hop off that hot stage, and grab a brew at the bar in the back. Sure the two beers cost over ten bucks, but it’s the only place we’ll get a decent view of the audience- Look around. No one is moving. No one is dancing. No one is doing anything but drinking overpriced mixers. It’s an audience of zombies! Wanna know why: Image.
Los Angeles is a city of image. Everything you do, say or look like is remembered by someone - and the person who remembers may be the person who hires you on to the next project. No one wants to be the village idiot. No one wants to rock the boat. This can lead to some interesting situations. Example - a while ago, a friend’s band got booked to play at one of Hollywood’s trendiest clubs - The Knitting Factory. In all honesty, I couldn’t tell you who the headlining act was. They were incredibly horrible. But to make matters worse, was the tone-deaf retard that didn’t have any idea of what the hell he was doing at the mixing board. My ears took as much torture as they could, and screamed after three songs. I marched upstairs, located the soundman and screamed “LOOK YOU MOTHERFUCKER! THE BASS SHOULD NOT BE LOUDER THAN THE SINGER. THE DRUM SNARE SHOULD NOT BE SHAKING THE RAFTERS, AND THE KEYBOARD PLAYER SHOULD NOT SOUND LIKE HE’S DROWNING IN A POLLUTED RIVER!!!!”
He just stared at me, in the words of Bill Hicks, “Like a dog that had just been shown a card trick.” I couldn’t take it any more. I hopped over the separation rail, and made the adjustments myself. Frankly, it wasn’t that hard - lower everything that was swimming in the red zone.
As I walked away from the brain damaged sound guy’s playpen, the upstairs audience stared at me like I had just played with their mother’s tits. As I walked by I snorted. I went downstairs, and joined my friend in pelting the audience with ice cubes.
The kind of audience I am in interested in is the kind of stuff I expect of myself: an audience of total jackasses.
I’ll make no bones about it. Every now and then, I’ll get totally trashed and will be the drunken, drooling village idiot of the night. I will make a scene one way or another. My preferred environment is one in which people look at me go “Yeah, I was there last night,” and vice-versa. The freedom to make a total and complete jackass out of yourself - this is what Rock & Roll has always been about. In this “village idiot” freedom lays a very important glint of artistic evolution. If you aren’t worried about being shunned due to some action the night before (and in many cases that action may even be celebrated), you are free to explore boundaries that in most cases would be taboo. The freedom to stand before a group of people, covered in unknown substances, and shout to the heavens “FUCK ALL Y’ALL, I’M HAVING FUN, EVEN IF YOU AINT!!!!”.
A friend of mine recently said of Los Angeles, “There’s lots of good stuff going on, you just have to hunt for it.” Fuck that. Why the hell should I plunk down my hard earned cash in order to watch yet another band fuck the family dog on stage, just because there was a slight chance they could’ve been good? I’ve only done this once, consciously, in the past fifteen years. And that was so that I could get laid.
The band was as horrible as the sex. I prefer, instead, to spend my time just a bit south, in Long Beach, California.
In this day & age, Long Beach is mostly known for being the home of Snoop Dogg & Warren G. It’s also the home of such snooze acts as the “Long Beach Dub Allstars” (who wouldn’t know real dub if it came up and mugged them). But behind it all is an army of bands and artist that power the blue-collar backyard & rooftop parties. Bands like Thu Winners, Squeaktoy, and others who all realized that while they aren’t self-destructive, they have little to no chance of becoming popular in the constructed environment of the modern music industry. This gives them carte blanche to waltz though the gates of the village as the idiot, and make incredible music without boundaries, and do shows that will last in people’s memories for years. And for that, I love ‘em all!
More importantly, I love the audiences. The audience that shows up to see the bands every weekend. The audience that stages fake fights in front of the stage. The audience that’s busy dry-humping in the dark, ill-lit corners of the space. The people getting near-vomiting drunk & rambling about how they would kill any given politician, if they only had a death ray they saw on a Z-grade movie they night before. This is the environment I like, and seek out. I want the unwashed masses rolling in the mud to a cacophony of noise & rhythm that can only be described as the nearest thing to holy.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s the musical equivalent of drunken baboons at feeding time. If anything, come away with the impression that you have the freedom to act like drunken, dung-tossing baboons at feeding time, and you should. This is how all great rock & roll came to be. Everything from Elvis Presley goofing around with blues riffs in-between takes at Sun Studios, to John Lennon manipulating tapes to produce strange and exotic sounds, to Jack and Meg White blasting re-tooled blues riffs to a brand new generation.
The future is yours, baby. Do something amazing with it. And don’t be afraid to be a jackass.