Red Asphalt is a new series by Sam Lefebvre examining recent activity in the punk and hardcore scene.
Punk and hardcore lives and dies by its ties to the community, but what happens to that community when all music is global and local at once? Hand-made flyers promote local shows on Instagram; limited-press demo tapes stream for free online. It can sometimes seem, as a result, that the very idea of a “homespun scene” is outmoded. And yet, regional character persists; in this edition of Red Asphalt, we look at recent punk and hardcore records in their local context.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
Lumpy & the Dumpers, Collection (Space Ritual/Erste Theke Tontrager)
“Too much slime/ No such thing.” So snarls Lumpy on “Too Much Slime,” a statement of intent on Lumpy & the Dumpers’ recently released Collection compilation. Lumpy’s fetid fixation finds its way into every aspect of the Dumpers: The lyrics are slathered in slime, the shows feature budget-Gwar amounts of goo, and the mid-tempo punk songs seem to sputter in sludge. Lumpy & the Dumpers began self-releasing tapes and 7-inches in 2012, which led to singles on the reputable Total Punk label and now this catch-all Collection, but their songs propose an alternate genesis myth: In their telling, Lumpy sprung from the sordid “Sex Pit.”
Lumpy & the Dumpers lean on reliable punk form: two-chord, up-tempo vamps with cymbal clamor and guitar feedback in the negative space. Still, Collection features notable exceptions. “Face the Meat” has a baffling jazz-hands moment, with drum fills trading phrases with feedback, while an inexplicable sax caterwaul appears on “Gnats in the Pissa.” On one of their best songs, the aforementioned “Sex Pit,” the Dumpers thuggish mid-tempo backbeats foreground Lumpy’s five stanza ode (no chorus) to a fantasy ditch of filth. As Lumpy explains in the song, “The only truth is at the bottom of the pile / Not holy and white but sticky and vile.”
Lumpy plays the willful idiot in interviews, attributing every move to a quest to be the dumbest. Asinine gimmicks are familiar to punk and garage rock, but Lumpy’s infatuation is exceptionally thorough. Nastiness is his only goal, so being nastiest is glorious. Recently, at the annual punk and hardcore summit, New York’s Alright Fest, Lumpy presided shirtless over naked, writhing attendees, slinging slime. Lumpy’s fantasy, made flesh.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Ivy, Ivy 12-inch (Katorga Works)
The entrenched conservatism of New York hardcore — beholden as it is to purity and mimicry, humoring even Madball’s 2014 rehash album, Hardcore Lives, and adopting phrases like “ignorant riffs” as compliments — was bound to spawn a radical alternative. Brooklyn’s current punk axis, as heard on record, tape and free MP3 through imprints like Toxic State, Katorga Works and Burn Books, upends expectations. In 2012, debut LPs emerged from Crazy Spirit and Hank Wood & the Hammerheads through Toxic State, two takes on mid-tempo hostility with the urgency and piss-poor fidelity of bands playing their final notes in a plummeting elevator. Dutifully screen-printed and hand-stamped at home and hardly promoted, they were game-changers nonetheless, and their spirit looms behind Ivy.
Ivy — which shares member and punk scribe Shiva Addanki with another Toxic State affiliate, Deformity — fails at playing hardcore fantastically. It fronts as tough and volatile, but the tracks stagger and collapse too often to effectively threaten. “Arch-Foe” threads queasy, serpentine guitar leads through cracking, sickly yowls that detail a host of imaginary spiritual healer and drug dealer buddies. “Antsy,” where riffs are vaguely distinct behind scratchy guitar scree, doesn’t tear into a breakdown so much as clumsily tumble. At its fastest moments, Ivy doesn’t like an ensemble so much as escapees who happen to share a similar velocity. Like other bands in the scene, Ivy finds opportunities on the other side of disaster, warranting the scene’s unofficial catch-phrase: “Ground Zero Hardcore.”
Snob, Snob EP (self-released)
Good Throb member and DIY Space for London organizer Bryony Beynon was recently quoted in an NME article about the perseverance of collectively-run music venues, saying, “With no bosses and no bouncers, [DIY Space for London] will be about music…but also confronting the inequalities we see every day.” Beynon’s quote — equal parts snappy contrarianism and social practice — speaks to the defiance and critical acumen of several upstart London punk bands. Good Throb’s impeccable 2014 debut LP, Fuck Off, is riotous and smart, while the orbiting Londoners in Frau released the dazzling “Punk is My Boyfriend” earlier this year as well.
The most recent example arrives from Snob (which shares a member with Good Throb). Snob’s debut EP reveres low-end, and where the aforementioned bands are respectively rigid and shambolic, Snob’s pulse is a syncopated gallop. On “Harassed,” trenchant vocals condemn unwanted attention masquerading as flattery, “Piss” is a bodily function misadventure, and the title of “Shoveling Idiots” speaks well enough to Snob’s combative, guttersnipe sneer — which is perhaps the scene’s strongest bond.
Institute, Salt EP (Sacred Bones)
Sacred Bones justly prides itself on championing regional scenes, but local context doesn’t help explain Institute, or their Salt EP, very well. The press release references great Austin hardcore bands like Wiccans and Glue (from which members of Institute hail) as peers, but the Jean-Paul Sartre-referencing Tejano act mostly sounds like Crisis, the cult English punk band fronted by Death in June’s Douglas P. in his leftist youth.
Vocalist Moses Brown’s sputtering, wily gusts of invective repeat lines in quick succession. His spittle is practically visible, moistening and emphasizing different syllables with each repetition. The instrumentation is keenly separated in the mix. Lead melodies are distinctly there, rhythm guitar firmly over here, and every drum is stripped of bleed and sustain, which leaves only treble.
The rigid performances and control hearken explicitly to Crisis’ mock-militarism and austere demeanor. Mentioning Institute’s peers in Austin is supposed to establish credibility; Salt sounds great with or without it.