Tuesday, 30 October 2007


LA scene report for Gaurdian Unlimited Blog in unedited form.

“This Is Boston Not LA”

So sang The Freeze in 1982. A period when L.A. burnt so brightly that other American regions felt the effect of the areas thriving musical growth so fiercely it became both an epicentre and a powerful galvanising force. The Freeze sang out of defiance but also out of realisation and acceptance. Los Angeles had become the benchmark and for a brief moment, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Seattle and pretty much anywhere just looked stagnant and irrelevant. Progression into challenging and innovative new realms of both music itself but also of the very means by which music was consumed and distributed had come about as a direct form of reaction.

This cause and effect dialogue is a natural manifestation of musical evolution. Just as the Sex Pistols and The Clash razed the excess of Floyd, Old Grey Whistle test bucolic rambling and Prog frippery to a new ground zero in mid 70’s London so the late 70’s and early 80’s hardcore punk movement in L.A. that Fear and The Germs began and Black Flag continued railed against the skinny tied, cocaine fuelled New Wave bands that had succeeded in destroying all sense of purpose and integrity.

A quarter of a century later this binary is repeating itself in eerily similar circumstances. Black Flag, The Minutemen and The Circle Jerks were railing against new-wave mediocrity and Reaganite repression at DIY shows in venues like the infamous ‘Church’ in Hermosa Beach while releasing affordable 7” records on labels like Greg Ginn’s own SST. Innovation came musically by playing at greater tempo’s and with more anger than had been witnessed up until that point in time thus simultaneously subverting the status quo and innovating from within.

After years of enduring bland Red Hot Chili Peppers funk, awful Papa Roach style nu-metal and in a political climate of fear, corruption and Bush administrated lies a group of bands have emerged in Los Angeles centred around the West Hollywood all-ages venue The Smell and leftfield record, clothes and general make-your-life better shop Ooga Booga all of which is chronicled by the movements own newspaper the LA Record < http://www.myspace.com/larecord >.

By sidestepping the daily socio-political strife and distractions and operating through the traditional punk-rock DIY channels that their early 80’s forebears created a scene has slowly been allowed to develop around and has been nurtured by putting on shows that anyone of any age can attend and self-releasing records through small independent labels like Post Present Medium and Ol Factory .

The most exciting development is of course the music that this support network has allowed to come into being. Buoyed by a sense of artistic security, freedom and support a diverse and innovative array of bands and artists have emerged over the last 18 months to create what Angus Andrew described in a recent Pitchfork interview in very excited terms: “I am excited about what's going on in L.A. right now. I hate the word "scene," but it's a good community of artists making interesting music. Bands like No Age and Mika Miko, and of course the Smell being the genesis of all that. I've been in L.A. a lot recently, and I've noticed a lot there, and I hope it gets more attention.” . It was the stifling effect of formulaic musical structure that rent the original LA hardcore scene asunder. The flexibility that the openness of the current scene offers allows such divergent musical exploration to positively effect and improve the overall quality of the scene’s output. The juxtaposition of Mika Miko turning a Misfits song into a 2 minute junkyard Rrrriot Grrrl rant and Health creating loops of impossible to replicate ever again sound is the kind of refreshing variation that can only breed further creativity.

Arguably the most well known of the current L.A. crop are No Age who recently made the leap from the comfort of DIY to what in comparison seems a corporate blood sucking major in the form of independent label Sub Pop. The band comprises Dean Spunt and Randy Randall, formerly of arty, noise-hardcore party starters Wives who would end shows in blows on a regular basis. Sonically No Age acts as a continuation of Wives in an instrumentally stripped down but musically fleshed out fashion. Ideas that would have been battered to death in a minute and half in Wives are played out with in an almost Krautrock sense of repletion by No Age. The bands debt to the early 80’s scene is immediately clear from their name, the title of an SST compilation. Dean also sees the band as “the fulfilment of my childhood Husker Du fantasy. Now I get to sing and play drums all at once just like Grant Hart”. The band’s adherence to DIY is unquestionable: Dean runs Post Present Medium out of his bedroom and their debut CD Weirdo Rippers is in fact a compilation of five vinyl EP’s released on five different independent labels in five different countries. The UK leg of the EP was released by London DIY promoters and label Upset The Rhythm . Chris Tipton general UTR impresario commented that: “they are one of the most exciting bands we have ever been involved with in any capacity”.

Of the rash of bands that have followed in No Age’s wake possibly the most exciting are Mika Miko . They manifest the early 80’s aesthetic of bands like Reagan Youth or The Urinals but inject the raging framework with the nihilism of The Germs and The Wipers and perhaps most excitingly the sheer shake yourself danceability of ESG or Liquid Liquid. Much is made of the fact that they are all girls, this however is something that “we couldn’t give less of a shit about, it only ever even gets us shit in like the Midwest”. Live the band represents a thrilling proposition: microphones are substituted for telephones, saxophones wail and everybody dances. It’s pretty much impossible not too. In a just world they would be filling the hearts and ears of kids everywhere who are rotting themselves from inside wasting their time listening to New Young Pony Club and CSS.

Although both of these bands have, to some extent, broken out of the close-knit L.A. Smell based scene it is the strength in depth and variety of the other bands vying for attention and creating in a communally creative environment that mark a movement as opposed to flash in the pan. From (deep breath) Brendan Fowler’s dialogue obsessed, spoken word set to music project Barr to the wondrous rolling psyche garage of Abe Vigoda http://www.myspace.com/abevigoda. The spooked experimental free noise freak-outs of Pocahaunted sit
alongside the Silver Dagger’s scatterbrained, skronk no-wave, Lavender Diamond’s delicate, melody-infused pop, Carla Bozulich’s synth spookiness and the Mae Shi’s screamed art-punk. Got your breath back? There is basically a lot going on and no two things sound the same. An accusation that could never be leveled at London’s consistently derivative creative axis.

The story of Los Angeles musical past is one of innovative swings and barren roundabouts. The area offers a soulless expanse that allows a blank canvas of such magnitude that any vision can be realised yet this freedom equally engenders the power to quash dreams and aspirations in an instant. Saturated as it is with the false facade of Hollywood the city’s size and the superficial embrace that it offers can eat as many young, talented prospective musicians alive as it does motivate others to the point of creation. By operating within a viable alternative network the current L.A. scene has to some extent woven its very own Los Angeles allowing talent to be nurtured, developed and set free to soar in whatever direction it chooses. For this brief moment in time I would far rather be in L.A. than Boston.

Neil Richard

1 comment:

Pablo said...


i wrote a similiar piece for vice spain in september