Saturday, 18 January 2014

V/A - Ground Zero NYC 2013

"No other city is so spitefully incoherent." - James Baldwin, on New York

In 1977, The Randoms wrote the classic Dangerhouse clatter Let's Get Rid of New York, a west coast anthem calling for the destruction of the east coast behemoth, for a wiping of away of it's cultural and social taint, four years later, Fear, led by the country's number three Bill O'Reilly-impersonator Lee Ving, did a similar dance on the sneering New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones. New York was the enemy, its Ramones and CBGBs, Reagan Youth, No Wave, a suffocating presence that stole national attention away from the huge sprawl of punk rock across the culture, but by the time I got into punk rock, like twenty something years later, New York wasn't shit. CBGBs was on its way out, most of the Ramones were dead or about to die, Reagan Youth had dissolved in the most eyeshittingly awful way imaginable, No Wave bands had imploded or attained respectability. New York hardcore was shorthand for the dumbest most macho kind of hardcore, big bro-y meathead shit, breakdowns on top of breakdowns, songs about how tight you are with your friends and how they'd never betray you and songs about how all your friends betrayed you. The Randoms wish had been belatedly granted, and not by some cleansing wave or by a mass round of heroin overdoses, but by a bunch of bands that sounded like Madball. Sick of It All? Boy, were we ever. SKARHEAD WAS AN INSIDE JOB.

"Our way, our life, our scene. The definition!" gurned NYHC totem Roger Miret on 2004 sub-mediocre crossover thrash album Another Voice's song Hardcore! (The Definition), which is a song as subtle as the title would suggest. He probably wasn't wrong though, that is what punk and hardcore is about, about making these spaces for yourself and for likeminded others to express themselves through channeling noise, but these spaces don't have to be about stompy gangvox iterations of inane self-help books blathering on about, Pride, Faith, Respect, Blood, Honour, Truth, other intensely tedious palpably abstract concepts. So if, after all this time, you've got a scene on the rise in New York city, playing hardcore and punk rock, and you can't call it New York Hardcore, because of all the aforementioned Pride, Faith, Respect, Blood, Honour, Truth etc. associations then what do you call it?

Ground Zero hardcore, claiming to spring from the city's most obvious wound. Hank Wood and the Hammerheads' 2011 LP came with a poster of depicting the destruction of the twin towers with the phrase I AM BIGGER plastered across it. Agnostic Front's LP Dead Yuppies was released in September 2001 and had to come with a sticker expressing their sorrow and anger at the WTC attacks. Now here 12 years later, you've got a bunch of gleefully nihilistic punk chumps, treating that event like some sort of cultural eschaton, responding not with the panicked jingoism of Frank Miller, or the glib postcard humanism of Richard Curtis's Love, Actually, but with this explosion of punx invention, this attempt to revel once more in a city's dangerous bits, in its unsanitised dirty corners, to imprint new paths on old maps. "Raze this city deserving of death/Burn in agony, conflagration" as Perdition rage on their song Conflagration. That sort of desire, even in the warworld melodrama of d-beat, maybe couldn't have sat in place then. Now it nestles nicely between Goosebumps's guilty slime, Black Boot's interior conflicts. Not papering over the cracks with patriotism or economics, no pride or defiance, just picking at the scab of lowlife city existence, subway monsters and ratpiss alleys.
At any one time punk is in the middle of dozens of mini-revivals and reconstitutions, as older sounds are rediscovered, repurposed, bent into shape for the next attack, and it's really impossible to keep on top of all of them, so why you might see someone decrying 'this goth shit trend' that's they're tired of spreading through punk, at the the same time you might see someone praising 'the fresh wave of deathrock' that seems to be just springing up. Punk splinters and runs in divergent furrows, constantly crosscutting, doubling back on itself, reworking older forms, combining them. So in Ground Zero Hardcore you've got the gothy Anasazi, the pogo nonsense of Sad Boys, the garage slop of Hank Wood, the Japanese noisepunk worship of Nomad, the crashing d-beat of Perdition.

Yet despite these many subgenres, this comp does seem to have something of a unified sound. There's this chuntering punk rhythm, train track hardcore, scratching maniacally as it tumbles downhill, that you can find in the literate scramblings of La Misma's Saudade, the witchy mutant gallop of Crazy Spirit's Rough on Rats, in Murderer's Hush Baby, Don't Cry and it's driving despairing repetition, in Dawn of Humans comp-stealing in-and-out toddler whine and insectoid madness. And if they haven't got that particular shiver, they've got the hissing noise of sewer steam.

Noise and rhythm pull this together, Black Boot's The Ladder dragging equally from both, starting all crazed incomprehensibility, and then in the latter half descends from the more terrible noise, into this rumble and ruckus digging it's way through the murk. Bortgang seems to be some approximation of searing Japanese hardcore lost in the fuzzstorm. The noise blooms across the records, giving some tarnish to the shimmering goffpunk of Anasazi, wallowing Putrida's echo-drenched chaosbath, almost engulfing Sad Boys' delirious pogo runs. Each track offering a different take, each track burbling with spit, streaming out of this citystatic.

Another thing that happened in New York in 2013 was that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had an exhibition called Punk: From Chaos to Couture. I have a very important fully-formed lengthy opinion on this: lol. Celebrate the dead and appropriated culture from thirty years ago if you want, there will always be new scenes popping up, small groups of determined weirdos forging these places, doodling these doodles, crashing around in the ugly dark shitheart of the city, making what can be. La Misma, on the opener, sing of reinvention and refreshment "From what was is now only debris/Once reality faded thoughts have been/released to the sea", Perdition sing of destruction, Sad Boys of isolation. All the bands sing of New York, whatever it means to them, free to blast apart whatever has come before, free to build anew, or just keep destroying, chaotic and shitty sloppy. On Toxic State records.


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