A Certain Ratio's Jeremy Kerr: still dark and menacing
Old men acting weird. That’s one way to look at it, and if I were one of the four pre-teen boys in the band Daytime Television, whose versions of the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” "Part Time Punks" and “Teenage Kicks” were highlights of yesterday’s Part Time Punks festival, I’d look at the grandmas and grandpas up on that stage and think on the nature and purpose of rebellion. The festival, organized by the estimable Part Time Punks posse, collected a couple dozen guitar, synth, and bass-thumping humans together, bands who were either inspired by or rose from the ashes of the first wave punk explosion of the late 1970s. The post-punk echo sparked one of the most diverse and inspired bouts of musical expression of the 20th century, and for the past half-decade the sound has enjoyed a renaissance, which has rescued some of the lesser knowns from the dustbin of history.
Bands like Medium Medium, Pylon, Nervous Gender, the Wild Stares, A Certain Ratio, Savage Republic and the Urinals, all of whom gigged at the festival yesterday, rose as punk youth in their teens and twenties pushed for nihilism and destruction, and actually kinda sorta meant it. Thirty years later, they're middle aged and have moved on with their lives. All are, by necessity, part time punks with full time jobs (and spouses and kids and mortgages).
Robert Lloyd of the Nightingales
Take the Nightingales' lead singer Robert Lloyd. Pushing 60 and wearing a well-tailored sportcoat, he stood over the crowd at the Echo like a disapproving boss, arms crossed, frowning, growling into the microphone, bitter. At one point the Birmingham, England native, whose great early Rough Trade singles were rough, urgent and drunken, barked at a photographer, "Don't you ever take my picture again drinking a Bud Light again." Anger is an energy, indeed.
It's hard to watch your idols age, see the men and women you placed on such a high pedestal in their vibrant youth descend from the throne to become mere mortals. It's tough to see a middle-aged man take his shirt off in a fit of musical passion and not look a little askance.
Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls
What's wondrous, though, is watching young fuckers take what you thought was your domain and rebuild it as something alive and thrilling, like the Vivian Girls' insanely great set. The NYC three-piece killed, were simultaneously loose and harmonious. The Girls, whose self-titled debut is on LA's In the Red Records label, clonked on their bass, guitars and drums like they were just piecing it together, thrilled at the notion that they've made a good song and rejoicing at delivering it. It was as though the songs were driving the band, rather than the band driving the songs (which is perhaps the difference between the first wave of British punk and the second).
And that was the greatest challenge for the second generation of punks. Inspired by the notion of three chords and dream, bands picked up guitars and sat at drum kits and figured it out. Within a few years this obsession, and dose of fame, became a profession. They learned how to play their instruments -- which isn't always a good thing. Take Medium Medium. They're an interesting band that never rose above cult status in England. Their off-kilter rhythms and complicated constructions strayed far from the three-chord monte of punk, and drew on the Gang of Four slap-bass funk and reggae-tinged Police-isms. And it suffered as a result, sounding dated and overly academic.
Athens, Georgia's Pylon, however, stormed onto the stage, and though they now look like architects, kindergarten teachers and attorneys, their age wasn't a concern. The band, who inspired a budding R.E.M. in their youth and gigged house parties with the B-52s, brought their angular, rhythm-heavy punk to an incredibly excited crowd. (The hot DFA label, home to LCD Soundsystem and the Juan MacLean, recently reissued the band's first album, which scored them bonus points among the hipsters.)
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Josephine Olausson of Love is All
Other highlights included newer bands like Sweden's Love is All, who managed to turn the worst thing about the first wave of post-punk -- an affection for the saxophone (usually a recipe for disaster) -- into a positive. They rode on the wings of their music, a joyous, celebratory set that tackled old songs and new, like they could barely contain all the sounds coming off the stage. The Muslims brought urgent, solid guitar rock that gave a nod to the great northern bands of the mid-1980s -- the Replacements, Volcano Suns, Big Dipper and Dinosaur -- in their focused love of tangled guitar melody.
And then there was Daytime Television, who looked to be between ages 9 and 11 and did four cover songs at the Echo. Though the first song was a little tentative (and I'm wracking my brain trying to remember what it was; I forgot to write it down), by "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" the band was on it. "Life's an illusion, love is a dream," sang the kid in the cockeyed cap, looking as detached and unflinching as Lou Reed, "but I don't know what it is." They kept the song going way past the obvious end point, repeating the last sixteen bars over and over again -- because they couldn't figure out how to stop. Every time they came to concluding chord, the momentum carried them back to the start. Over and over it went, a joyous runaway train of three chords.
They went into "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones, which was a great choice. It's one thing to sing about getting your kicks when you are, in fact, a teenager, or to sing the song from the point of view of a 20- or 30- (or 40- or 50-) something, but another thing altogether to sing it when you're ten, and those kicks are still on the horizon. "I wanna hold her want to squeeze her tight/Get teenage kicks all through the night" takes on a whole new meaning, like Disneyland before you, all that sweetness still to come.