13 July 2009

Retrospective Introspection: Birthday Party, Loop and Flipper - The Glorious 1980s & Some Reasons Why This Is So

It's sad but true: 99% of what the mainstream press called Rock today is just a joke: a dead facsmile of what went before or simply necrophiliac, and I am not even being retro. Where is the pure unrelenting power and energy? How about the sneering attitude with loads of real kick-ass out-of-control guitar riffs, plodding bass digs and no-frills drum thuds? What about the in-your-face confrontational live antics to end it all (even though I was not there but enough rock lore just keep me drooling)? None of the above and then some. Today's bands pose aplenty but there is where their creatvity, vitriol and awareness end. Period.

I have been listening to many 1980s stuff for the past few months: the Wipers, Half Japanese, etc. and I am impressed with these underrated/unsung musician heroes. I am impressed with the pure idealistic drive to play what they believe in with no or little commercial considerations. Yet, they push on hard, no harder than ever. Many of them (the Americans in particular) trawled through the inhuman circuit of the mid-1980s with almost no-pay, wet dorm floors and crammed vans which could break down any moment in the middle of the Mid West. Some went to see them, a few of them had their lives changed forever, and they went on to form bands of their own. Any lovely tales of such today, hardly, really.

I am just randomly picking out 3 bands: the Birthday Party, Flipper and Loop. Three acts of differing ideological. musical or motivational backgrounds to pick up a guitar or mic to rock out in the first place and they are so good that they just blow the hell out of 99% of the current bands (below 5 years of age but making some bucks cos they are so cool and hip with "in" hair-do or hip make-up) out there.

Nick Cave's second band (after Boy Next Door when they were in Australia then changing their name to Birthday Party soon after), Birthday Party is a pure machine of rage and musical debauchery personified. Sloppy at times but when they were together they could take on even their own heroes like the Stooges and the Pop Group. Listening to their live album again recently just reminds me that this is what great rock and roll should be.

Flipper is another great post-punk band from West coast USA. Moving through the circuit during the heydays of Hardcore Punk they were just so different: sludgy, heavy, intelligent but decadent all at the same time. They were able to fuse Black Sabbath, Chrome and Wire into a primal ball of rock energy with no effort at all. The two classic albums, Generic and Gone Fishin' were so ahead of their times that few appreciated what they meant and were trying to do. The Melvins, a seminal band which started their career in the mid 1980s basically tells us what we needed to know: without Flipper, the Melvins and whatever genres they spawned subsequently would have not happen. In other words, they were trailblazers of the highest order.

Loop, on the other hand, was seen as copyist band of another great act of the 1980s, Spacemen 3. But how could they have done so? Even though nominally both acts were influenced by the Stooges and MC5, the Nuggets compilation garage punk bands and etc but Loop added in krautrock and more drone than meandering vibe into their music. They represented the pushing of guitar based molten rock (in the aftermath of the pig-fuck bands on Blast First Records like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and Big Black which first stirred the imagination and furor of the British underground)to near catatonic forward-motion motorik psych rock ooze of the first degree. Their sound has been closer to the post-power electronics rock flail of Ramleh and Skullflower than the more shoegazing contingent which they were sometimes placed together then.

The three acts are just the tip of the iceberg of what real great rock means. They belong to the lost continuum of the alternative Rock genealogy starting from the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and 13th Floor Elevators. An alternate history which needs to be told, soon.

No comments: