SOFT RIOT PRESENTS: White Belt Hardcore/Improvised Waves
Early influences and electronic education
by Jack Duckworth:
WHITE BELT HARDCORE (Side A)
This mix is a balance between being about influences, about being a bit autobiographical and also about documentating bands in a general nation-wide “scene” I was in at the time. It starts off with some key influencial bands for me that were more in the early 90s punk/hardcore scene and then newer bands that appeared in the fold that shifted things in a more post-punk and synth direction out of the more “punk” sound they had been more associated with years earlier. A lot of these bands were favourites of mine, or I vaguely knew some of the people involved. Overall, I felt it was important to provide notes for each entry as the whole playlist would actually make no sense to anyone who didn’t grow up without knowing at least half of these bands.
IMPROVISED WAVES (Side B)
I thought originally about doing an wave/synth mix for the “un-educated” but there’s soooo much stuff out there and I really wanted to avoid all the standard bands. Although I kept it to bands from way back in the day, this mix is actually a lot more random and unplanned than how I’d approach doing an educational mix. It’s stuff I’ve listened to recently, or stuff I found scouring through records or old mixes or just chucked in for no reason. The mix does however work more coherently than I’ve described in this overview.
Fugazi “Walken’s Syndrome” (In On The Kill Taker — Dischord 1993)
I always pin this one is the first record I actually planned to buy as I bought it shortly after it’s release date. I was 15 and already a fan of their previous albums which older friends introduced me to. This is a decidedly more expansive and “darker” record than their previous output as well as being a bit more discordant and noisy. Fugazi never were as big in Europe (especially the UK) as they were in North America and most people will associate them with Ian Mackaye or their infamous politics. Fugazi however for me was more about the other foil and vocalist Guy Picciotto, who was an absolute force in the band and the main attraction for me. This track features Guy on vocals and one thing I always note in this track is riff around the 1 minute mark and switches to a tight 7/4 time signature. I like the subtle, unexpected harmonics the muted guitar and bass create in this section. Over the years I found out that the title and lyrics to the song reference Christopher Walken’s performance in the film Annie Hall, quoted by the lines: “Can I confess something? I tell you this as an artist, I think you’ll understand. Sometimes when I’m driving. . .on the road at night. . .I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast. I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car. I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The. . .flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.” — this sample was used in a track by the punk band Jawbreaker as well.
Nation Of Ulysses “A Comment On Ritual”(Plays Pretty For Baby — Dischord 1992)
Through Fugazi I started digging through a lot of releases on the Dischord label at the time, all the way back to 80s classics like Rites Of Spring, Grey Matter, Embrace and Ignition to the current stuff happening in the early to mid 90s. Nation Of Ulysses stood out from the politically correct atmosphere of early 90s punk and hardcore with their slightly tongue-in-cheek far-left situational politics and unique fashion sensibilities at a time when fashion was sort of looked down about (but aren’t we all into fashion, whether it’s “anti” or not?). Their live shows were were to be reckoned with although I never actually saw them. Their influences came from the Motown and funk/soul groups of the 60s and 70s but imprinted in a noisy, post-hardcore format. Ian Svenonious, their singer and “mouthpiece” for the group is still active today having fronted groups like The Make-Up, Weird War and more recently Chain And The Gang. He’s authored several books on “rock n’ roll” and politics which are genuinely entertaining. Moreover, he’s carried on his unique identity, showmanship and personality for close to three decades now. Quite impressive.
Antioch Arrow “Picnic Pants” (Gems Of Masochism — Amalgamated 1995)
While Nation of Ulysses were turning things up on the east coast, their attitude and direction started triggering new bands elsewhere, including Antioch Arrow on the west coast. Part of the infamous Gravity Records-based “San Diego” sound of the early to mid 90s, Antioch Arrow polarised many in the scene at the time and got a lot of flack from the “PC hardcore” types at the time. But they certainly shook things up! They started out as more of a conventional hardcore band and quickly progressed into something far more manic, pretentious and weirder when how they started. This track comes from their third and final album released posthumously in 1995 called “Gems of Masochism” — the title and album cover are as ridiculous as the music itself. Here they started merging in a lot of “gothic” influences, most notably the Birthday Party, Christian Death or The Damned. This particular tracks sounds like the Birthday Party on high-grade amphetamines. I love how it sounds like it’s going to fall apart or crash at any minute and no real coherence except for some vague melodies from the distorted organ and at times the vocals. It’s like the soundtrack to falling down several flights of stairs very quickly or briefly turning on a broken industrial vacuum cleaner (check out some of the archived live clips on YouTube for a better idea). It packs in so many riffs and ideas within the 2 minute span that this song runs, and sort of crumbles nicely at the end.
Shotmaker “Failure” (Mouse Ear [Forget-Me-Not] — Troubleman 1996)
Shotmaker were a Canadian hardcore band from Ottawa and well-known in the underground and with friends of mine in the scene at the time. For me they’re one of the select bands from my youth I can still listen to and get energised when I listen to them. I think this in part has to do with their rhythm section. Whereas most hardcore drummers lifted their chops from the metal or 80s punk they grew up with, Shotmaker’s Matt Deline used mostly a four-on-the-floor kick drum within synchopated beats, making the music sound a lot more propulsive and primal. Add this to Nick Pye’s gain-heavy, rumbling bass and they were a rhythm section to contend with. They released a few albums in the mid-90s, this being from their last which was released on Troubleman Records, a record label got more attention paid to it starting in the 2000s as it was the launching pad for acts like Glass Candy, Black Dice, The Walkmen, Zola Jesus and more. I should also note that I think this is the first LP I bought where the band put an internet website URL in the liner notes for more information, which was the catchy and memorable “http://wabamiki.carleton.ca/~tmckeoug”
Unwound “Corpse Pose” (Repetition— Kill Rock Stars 1996)
I think across the board I think Unwound might be the post-hardcore band that I grew up with in the 90s that ticks all the “boxes” for me. I still listen to them often. Their tracks could range from noisy bursts, hypnotic grooves to more expansive, darker plotting dirges. Again, this is band with a great, unique rhythm section made up of drummer Sara Lund and bassist Vern Rumsey. I like how their sound locks together mechanically and even myself working within synth music these days I’ll reference their compositions at times when writing for that reason. It’s hard to pick a favourite album of theirs — it’s sort of a split between 1994’s “New Plastic Ideas” and 1996’s “Repetition”, the latter from which this tracks is from an more tighter and focused. This track is more “Hypnotic Groove” Unwound. Some great guitar figures here and Sara and Vern’s locked rhythm in this track is still a bit of an enigma to me even after over 20 years since first hearing it.
The Audience “Love A Doorframe” (Das Audience— Hymnal Sound 1997)
I was really into the final album by the San Francisco-based hardcore band Portraits Of Past that was released on the Ebullition label in 1996. After that band split up most of the members re-surfaced to form The Audience which was a total shift in direction. I have no idea how to describe this record but they adopted an overall glam/proto-goth image, incorporated analogue synths and what might be loosely described as new wave — at least that’s what people were calling it at the time. It’s post-punk, a bit goth, a bit no-wave and overall really dissonant. You really have to listen to it yourself. It released on Hymnal Sound (San Francisco), which was run by a guy I used to know called Julian and that was the label that The Rapture put out their first releases on. One of my old bands played our first show with them in 1998 in Vancouver. At that point they were starting to shift to a more garage rock sound and later morphed into Vue, who released a few records on Sub Pop back in the early to mid-2000s. This record I guess foreshadowed some of the post-punk revival that would come into swing a few years later.
Six Finger Satellite “Babies (Got The Rabies)” (Severe Exposure— Sub-Pop 1995)
The first album “The Pigeon Is The Most Popular Bird” is one of my all-time favourite records. It still totally freaks me out when I listen to it and sounds totally fucked and alien for when it was released in 1993 — sort of like atonal, cyborg-esque no-wave disco but with no synths used at all. The guitar work is insane on that record and both guitars are panned completely left and right for maximum disorientation. However, this track is actually from the following record which on the surface was a little more “straight forward” sounding but it was when the band started to incorporate analogue synths into their sound; probably one of the first punk/post-punk bands to do so in a revival sense. It was noted by me at the time when I was a teenager, hearing synths used in that timeline of music i was listening to.
Satisfact “Life Abroad” (7” single— Up Records 1995)
When I listen to Satisfact now I’m amazed at how this first wave revival record was released in the tail end of the first half of the midway point (is this making sense?) between right now and when the original “new wave” started coming out in the late 70s. They were a band from Seattle that were loosely affiliated with the Olympia K/Kill Rock Stars scene (Bikini Kill, Unwound, etc.) at the time. It’s a 90s indie/post-punk band with heavy influence from new wave — Gary Numan and Ultravox come to mind. I’m sure their influences weren’t as specific as many current listeners with a good internet connection and time to read obscure music blogs that exist nowadays. Satisfact put out a few records in the mid-90s then split. Their drummer played in the far more well-known indie group Modest Mouse as well.
The VSS “Lunar Weight” (Nervous Circuits— Honey Bear 1997)
Whenever I get asked about my “top 5 influences” or whatever this record is always on the list. I own the original pressing on Honey Bear when it came out as well as the CD and vinyl re-releases that were released in the late 2000s and early 2010s on the Hydrahead and Sergeant House labels. Again, this was a band that started out as more of a noisy hardcore band on their initial 7” singles and then they dropped this as their last release and was a pretty bold statement for the time, especially the “wet” style production more associated with the 80s, totally at odds with the school of production that was more in vogue in the 90s (read: Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Don Zientara, Steve Fisk, etc). I can’t describe this one really: bits of Public Image, Gary Numan and horror sci-fi analogue synth texture. Very tense and alien. You just have to listen the whole album to get the vibe and I admit, it’s not for everyone, especially if you have no context not being involved that general scene at the time. Sonny Kay’s lyrics are totally way out there and reading them on their own makes for some interesting poetic prose. It was one of the key records I was listening when my tastes turned more out of punk and into discovering classic synth and post-punk bands leading to what I’m doing musically and listening to today. Unfortunately I never saw them live and missed out on chance to see them in Seattle when I was 19. Oh well.
Long Hind Legs “A Curtain Is Drawn, A Veil Is Worn” (s/t— Kill Rock Stars 1996)
This two-piece band was a side-project of Unwound’s Vern Rumsey. I don’t think they actually played live but just released a couple of records in the 90s with a bit of that bedroom-recording aesthetic that was popular at that . There’s a lot of influences from the previous decade on this album, most notably with the use of drum machines, effected guitars and sullen vocals. With this track Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychedelic Furs of House of Love come to mind. This is one of the more “pop” tracks which balances out some of the more odd, experimental tracks that have a slight Coil feel to them.
The Faint “Victim Convenience” (Blank-Wave Arcade— Saddle Creek 1999)
When I first heard about The Faint I was already well into listening to a lot of the bands that were formative influences for this band. As they were from a more punk background their initial reviews were in magazines like Punk Planet, resulting in major confusion or severe backlash from the purists. This is probably one the key records that triggered the synth revival of the 2000s: a nice mix of the hedonism of early Duran Duran with some post-hardcore grit. I’ve seen them an many occassions around this time and shared a few stages with them in old bands I was in. This is a standout track for me. One “easter egg” for me on this record is how they use one riff in two tracks if you listen carefully: “Call Call” and “In Concert”. I found that pretty clever and have always wanted to do that myself.
Beautiful Skin “Sex Is The Triangle For the Perfect Square” (Sex Is The Triangle For the Perfect Square/Work Will Set You Free 7”— GSL 1999)
Sonny Kay from The VSS had started the Gold Standard Labs label sometime in the early 90s and by the late 90s it was thee “go to” label for all things post-hardcore that involved a revival of synth, new wave and post-punk styles. I always thought he had a good balance between putting out the releases that would sell to “the kids” but also taking a chance on some more daring stuff. Beautiful Skin was such the case, who formed by Nick Forté (guitarist from the early 90s hardcore band Rorschach) and Ross Totino, an analogue electronics guru from Brazil. This band sounded nothing like them, opting for an analogue-synth heavy sound remiscent of “154”-era Wire, John Foxx or even “minimal wave”, before the term was created retrospectively years later and got rediscovered by a larger audience. They released the “Revolve” album in 2000, did one short tour and that was it! A unique blip on the post-punk revival radar. It’s hard to find any info about them online, as it is with many bands from this time in the few years proceeding the social media/YouTube explosion.
Glass Candy & The Shattered Theatre “Metal Gods” (Metal Gods 7”— self-released 2000)
Before the far more well-known Glass Candy that we know today, there was Glass Candy & The Shattered Theatre who were DIY road warriors constantly playing small venues and basements across Canada and the US. I’m trying to remember how I found out about this band but I do remember buying their first 7” in Portland in 1999, on the recommendation of this guy Mark Burden, who was the drummer on the first record and later in Get Hustle (with members of Antioch Arrow, covered earlier). Anyway, this was a more synthier number from their early theatrical glam/no-wave phase. It’s great seeing where they started and where they’ve got to over the years. Much deserved.
Adult. — Lost Love (Resuscitation— Ersatz Audio 2001)
Closing off this playlist is a track of the Adult. release that put them on the map I guess, that being 2001’s Resuscitation. It was mainly an LP collection of their early singles and more. This was probably one of the first current bands at the time I got into that was purely electronic. I think their sound was right at the time; they had a punk approach and incorporating the darker, cold electronic sounds that appealed to people like myself that sort of avoided the whole EBM, rave, industrial scenes of the 90s so they had some wider appeal. And they’re still going today, now as strong as ever.
Closing out this side is one of the more dronier, abstract tracks from Labradford’s “A Stable Reference” LP (Kranky, 1995). It is one of my usual top 5 LPs and had been a large influence I suppose. Most of the tracks have reverb saturated guitar and bass but I used this track to drone out side A. I didn’t get this one in the mix as it didn’t really fit the program I had set out for with the mix.
SIMPLE MINDS - “Citizen (Dance Of Youth)” (Reel-To-Real Cacophony - Zoom Records, 1979)
MARTIN DUPONT - “He Saw The Light” (Hot Paradox - Facteurs d’Ambiance, 1987)
PARADE GROUND - “Gold Rush” (Dual Perspective EP - Play It Again Sam Records, 1987)
HELEN - “Witch” (Witch 12” - ZYX Records, 1983)
NOVEMBER GROUP - “Put Your Back To It” (Work That Dream - A&M Records, 1985)
ROBERT GÖRL - “Darling Don’t Leave Me” (Night Full Of Tension - Mute Reocrds, 1984)
JYL - “Mechanic Ballerina” (Syl - Inteam GmbH, 1984) 8. SHOCK - “Dynamo Beat” (Dynamo Beat 7” - RCA, 1981)
HARD CORPS - “Je Suis Passée” (Je Suis Passée 12” - Polydor, 1985)
SHINOBU - “Ceramic Love” (Ceramic Love 7” - Kang-Gung Records, 1984)
ANNA - “Systems Breaking Down” (Systems Breaking Down 12” - RCA, 1982)
SECOND LAYER - “Fixation” (World Of Rubber - Cherry Red, 1981)