Saturday, 16 July 2011

So Scratched Into Our Souls #7: Los Olvidados - Something New

"I just want to hear something I haven't heard before" - John Peel

I recognise the irony of using a song which is 30-odd years old to make a plea for inventiveness and freshness, so there's that.

This Los Olvidados track is an early 80s skatepunk number mainly about the restlessness of youth. That essential drive for something better, at one level it's an already thwarted cry for the greener grass on the other side, the smoother pavements, the pools you never get kicked out of, but more than that it's about getting the feeling that's you've been sold a false bill of goods but twisting that frustration and betrayal into a driving force for change, more than "Do they owe us a living?" or even "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" it's (until the very end) a positive take on those lamentations. It's a push for a place to find yourself, escape, a break with tradition, away from "I just got a job/Not feeling too alive/It's like working in a funeral home/Everyone has died". The central cry of "I'm just looking for something new!" builds and build until it's screamed so loud it warps and snaps into "I got nothing new!"

Such is the permanent nature of teenage rebellion, the athanastic renewal of the longing for escape, for freedom, for relevance and meaning that cannot be comprehended by those who have defined relevance and meaning for the short blissfully ignorant life that is falling apart as self-awareness dawns like a fresh painful day; such is the drive for more than they have been handed, than they have been told they deserve or should aspire to; such is the fuck you; such is the belief, strong and pure and still childlike in its strength and purity, that life can be different, better somehow; such is the sense that something is being lost and slipping through their fingers every day that they do not scream at the night, every day that they waste following the paths laid down for them by progenitors who will never ever understand, never ever. Such is life, in all its intricacies and burning passion, with souls fired at the heavens like AK47 oblations from street corners and bedrooms, from clubs and park benches with bottles of liquor, cheap shitty weed, patchwork ideals and hate, love so tight it constricts the arteries and needs stents of beer and bullshit and punching walls to keep them open. Such is life, as it remains, beautiful and collapsing in on itself like waves throwing themselves at the beach determined to soak one grain of sand that has not yet been wetted. The youth revolt, the revolutions spin, the heads and hearts and fingers of a billion strong pour aimlessly and beautifully at the sky and earth. The sky splits. The earth cracks. Then it heals and the scars fade, but there’s still a story to them.

That's the long of it, the short of it is that I latch on to that desire for newness, the climb before the fall, and always kind of relate it more to my approach to music than any wider sweep of revolving life.

In a fuckload of places I have seen this image surrounded by righteous cries of 'Yeah!'.

And fuck that.

Fuck that not because I like dubstep, I only have a vague idea of what it is, or dislike punk (chief creative and moral force to my existence, yo). Fuck that because no genre is inherently better than any other (FUCK ROCKISM!), and as soon as you dismiss something new as shit and immature and noisy, you’re stepping into the exact role that punk is on many levels a reaction against. Whatever you think of the music in itself, any art that speaks to people because it’s being made by people like them is vital and exciting, the same way punk rock was in its initial blast of popularity and the same way it persists today in its own underground sphere. When British students and kids occupied Parliament Square in December in protest against the prohibitive raise in tuition fees, they weren’t playing punk rock but there was a portable soundsystem blasting out dubstep and grime, they were dancing wildly to a pounding beat produced by their own peers and heroes that nobody else really gives a shit about as they're trapped in the cold a couple hundred yards away from the seat of the country’s power while hordes of riot police stand all around you. And tell me that's not fucking punk rock.

John Peel was a fucking amazing man. One of the few people I'd regard as a hero. I will never approach anything like the beautiful anarchic spirit he had with music because I am fairly locked into one scene, one genre and culture, but he brooked no such bonds. Most cultural figures have a moment of relevance and then fade away looking lustfully back at their glory days, think Chubby Checker producing inumerable twists on The Twist (Let's Twist Again!, Twistin USA, Slow Twistin, Yo Twist!). John Peel remained relevant and brilliant for decades by constantly searching for that something special, the feeling of g, he pioneered, punk, ska, reggae, post-punk, rap, grunge and dozens of smaller and weirder subgenres. He was a man who would play grindcore on the biggest radio station in the country. (An oft-repeated story is of him getting forced to cover for a mid-afternoon DJ and on receiving complaints about the dismissive tone he adopted for the pop pap he had to play responded by playing a Bolt Thrower record during drivetime.) He also was the first person to play dubstep on the radio, and if he was around today I'm sure he'd be playing a bunch of stuff that wouldn't be picked up on by most people until a few years from now.

So while I'm stuck fast into punk rock, attached limpet-like to its crusty stinking heart, I'll always try and bring his restlessness to the way I listen to music, because cultural calcification is the fucking enemy to me. I'm on the look out for new bands and new albums, old bands and old albums that I missed on my last sweep around, and I know that if I look hard enough then I'll find it. I know that somewhere in the world there is a bedroom with a kid thrashing about badly on their guitar who in 6 months or 6 years can produce something amazing and beautiful and silly that'll make me feel the good parts of sixteen again, but I've got to keep looking for it, I can't let it just come to me because it fucking won't. Every year brings new pleasures. Every year brings new sounds, new punks, and I always want to be on board for that something new, clawing forward in bursts like a breaking wave. Maybe I'll slip out at some point, just get tired or bored or just too old to get the slashing new thing, but I'm gonna try my hardest not to dismiss it out of hand, because fuck being that guy.

There are countless great punk bands. There always have been countless great punk bands. There always will be. Punk rock is in a constant state of renewal and reinvention. A hydra built on frustration and ineptitude and loathing and hope and love, both immutable and transitory, obsessed with sincerity and silliness, aping the Ramones, ripping apart The Germs, building up the Circle Jerks, shredding the Minutemen or Husker Du or The Dicks, leaping from Crimpshrine with a line wound tight in its heart and spit in its eye, screeching vindictive oblivion over riffs stolen from F.Y.P., throwing the best parts of The Clash into a huge giant clustering fuck of melody and power, poetry and bile and dumb fucking attitude. Punk rock is dying, dead, birthing, alive in every single 4-beat count-off and song sung like it was the last one. And the most interesting stuff to me will always be what’s going on right now because it’s fresh, fresh as a wound, and falling over itself because it doesn’t know where it’s going. It’s a van full of kids in the dark and there’s a show somewhere out there full of people who also know the words to Propagandhi songs. Despite all its forebears and all the tradition and shite it's aping and building from, it's the fresh unsteady rush of Something New.

"What emerged from reading Rose's book was the affirmation that every generation feels this way about its music, whether it's Grieg or Simon and Garfunkel or Girls Aloud. It's a feeling written down in the rings of our grain. And in the generations to come we'll still be singing along in the kitchen, and buying records while drunk, and leaping down the aisle, feet round our ears. It's a human condition, I think, to be always stumbling out of concert halls feeling as if we have been drugged, to be forever finding ourselves back on our front step, surprised we have not been run over." - Laura Barton

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