“What are the young people doing here?” a friendly Ithaca local asked me at The Haunt this past Friday night. The crowd, mostly 45-65 year-old Ithacans, was there to see John Doe, the now 63-year-old front-man of the 80’s LA punk band, X. My answer was that I was curious about what he’s gone on to produce as a solo artist. John Doe has come out with six records in the past decade, each far different from those produced by X. His most recent album, The Westerner, was released just this year and features some Western-inspired, psychedelia-tinged, Americana rock. The older artists get, the bolder they get. They write for themselves.
Last night I saw The Decline of Western Civilization at Cornell Cinema (everybody, go support your campus movie theater). Decline is a documentary directed by Penelope Spheeris (weirdly also the director of Wayne’s World) about the Los Angeles punk scene, and was filmed between 1979 and 1980, just as thrash-hungry scuzzballs were beginning to coalesce into a “scene” of sorts. I went to see the film because I’m taking a class about punk culture (ENGL 2906) this semester, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the music or punk’s almost unfathomable effect on American/western/global culture. For me, this class has largely meant returning to artists that were heroes and obsessions of mine in junior high, and finding that today I’m pretty much repulsed by a whole lot about them. Decline, which is fascinating in the way that watching a dog eat its own vomit is fascinating, really brought my new and possibly curmudgeonly distaste for punk and particularly for its audiences to a head.
In her Sept. 14 piece “Views from The Edge of the Mosh Pit: Making Peace with Periphery,” Sun columnist Jael Goldfine ’17 approached the topic of moshing from the perspective of an observer, and ended up tackling a more general subject: what it’s like to be at a punk or hardcore show, and how the experience is different for everyone. “I’ll leave the space of a column about moshing,” wrote Goldfine, “to someone/anyone who a.) semi-regularly inhabits mosh pits and b.) engages a perspective somewhere in the vast space between the belief that moshing is the salvation from the crippling boredom of the postmodern condition…and [the belief] that it’s a feminist nightmare …” I match these two criteria, and like Goldfine, believe moshing to be a subject fraught with multiple levels of socio-politics, and well worth writing a column about. To call myself even a “semi-regular” inhabitant of mosh pits would perhaps be a stretch, but I’ve moshed a handful of times in my life, and as recently as last month at the Pig Destroyer concert at The Haunt. Of all of my moshing experience, however, the only one that was truly significant was my first at the age of 14: an all-day, body-ravaging bender at, of all things, a Christian music festival in New Jersey.
For about a day now I’ve been entertaining writing an article about moshing: Some kind of article-y feminist critique of or spatial-political inquiry into the act of a kinetic mass of bodies violently jumping up and down, and deliberately slamming into each other. “Mosh pits! What an Interesting Phenomenon,” I thought. “Wow! What a good column topic! Very Fraught!
On Thursday, Cornell’s Fanclub Collective organized yet another fantastic line-up for a sweet night of trippy light shows and punk and noise music at Cayuga Lodge. Up first was Nicki Duval of What Nerve. Unfortunately, I could only listen from several stories up in the building as I was hurriedly finishing school work so I could head to the show. Luckily, their glitchy dance-noise beats shook the whole house. I only heard positive things about the performance.
If you haven’t heard of Parquet Courts by now, it’s too late — the bandwagon has collapsed under the weight of their fandom. The band’s just-released fifth full-length album, Human Performance, is as strong a showing as any of their previous records, although their energy has shifted a bit. Frontman Andrew Savage’s neurotic sensibility remains consistent, but, to some extent, he’s turned away from the overtly political and thrown a microscope onto his own anxieties and romantic flings. Parquet Courts self-consciously follows a lineage of New York groups that goes back to the Velvet Underground, by way of punk acts like the Ramones, Suicide and New York Dolls, as well as via No Wave acts like Sonic Youth. At the same time, they’ve relished comparisons to British post-punk group of the ’70s — bands like Gang of Four and Wire.
I remember when Wavves’s King of the Beach came out in the summer of 2010. Wavves was the perfect band for me at the time: they had all the melody and fun of bratty pop-punk, but balanced snotty singalongs with trippier, psychedelic haze. They were somewhere between the critically-lauded experimental indie rock that I wanted to love, and the three-chord power-pop bands that I really did love. I thought they were the peak of careless cool. Based on their performance at Bailey Hall on April 8, they’ve lost this quality.
Titus Andronicus play their own music to warm up the crowd. This is fitting; Titus Andronicus don’t seem scared of over-indulgence. Their breakthrough album was 2010’s The Monitor, an hour-long kitchen-sink explosion of punk riffs, honky-tonk piano, a bagpipe solo and lyrics that used the American Civil War as a metaphor for personal strife and alienation. Their latest album manages to surpass The Monitor in grandiosity; 2015’s The Most Lamentable Tragedy runs an hour and a half long with several intermission tracks and two tracks titled “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant” and “No Future Part V: In Endless Dreaming.”
Luckily, Titus Andronicus balance the pretension of their album formats with unpretentiously great songs. At their best, they meld arena-rock riffs with a ferocious punk attack.
Though Ithaca has a thriving basement scene, the undisputed DIY capital of the U.S. is another college town: New Brunswick, N.J. Advantageously situated within an hour of NYC, the scene attracts alternative acts from across the globe, and has spawned an impressive number of punk and indie bands, a small sample of whom found themselves on Saturday night, playing to a modest crown in the cozy, polychromatic basement of 660 Stewart. On their ninth day of touring, the bands were tired and apparently low on funds, but their spirits soared nonetheless, and each put on a high energy performance. The band originally set to open the show, Hoboken’s Rest Ashore, unfortunately had to cancel, but were replaced by Cornell’s own _____: an instrumental math-rock outfit with a name not meant to be pronounced. Jersey City’s Kadian Quartet followed, playing a progressive jazz-rock set, and though their music made them an outlier, both for the night and among the set of bands brought to campus by Fanclub Collective, they managed to be an audience favorite, generating eruptions of applause after each impressive piano and guitar breakdown. To those weary of what sometimes feels like the cookie-cutter DIY punk sound sported by so many of the bands brought to Ithaca by Fanclub and IU, the quartet came as a breath of fresh air.
American DIY music is squarely in the era of Exploding in Sound Records. The Boston-born, Brooklyn-based label has quickly evolved into the premier tastemaker among a certain crowd with a certain sound, claiming a massive range of artists spanning from Big Ups to Palehound. And let’s not forget the integral hand Exploding in Sound played in launching the careers of Speedy Ortiz, Porches. and LVL UP. Just two weeks after releasing Washer’s stellar Here Comes Washer — and two weeks ahead of a slated Kal Marks drop — EIS is making ripples with a new Two Inch Astronaut record, Personal Life.