overground scene


An auto-biography of gig attendance #1: Rock Of Gods, 1996

Some of my ticket-stubs.

Many years ago I wrote a post about how music gigs are the best form of entertainment. Having reconsidered, I decided that music gigs used to be an amazing form of entertainment when I was young, when I hadn’t seen many bands live, and when I had like-minded friends to go to gigs with. Attending concerts has lost its appeal for me in more recent years. A few weeks ago my mother sent me some old ticket-stubs and rekindled all those memories of gig attendance of my youth. A few days later I learned that Immolation are coming to Brighton, UK, as part of Mammothfest. Immolation is one of my all-time favourite death metal bands, and in terms of consistency, endurance, and creativity, the best death metal band of all times, in my opinion. In anticipation of this gig and in remembrance of the music gigs of my youth I decided to start a new series of posts where I will share with readers some of my favourite moments of gig-attendance throughout the years. I will start with the first heavy metal gig I ever attended: the Rock of Gods festival in Piraeus, Greece, on July 12 1996.

The news of the Rock of Gods festival hit during a summer English course that some of my friends and I were taking. The line-up included Slayer (a band that I worshiped and still do), Blind Guardian (another favourite among certain members of our group back then, myself included), Motorhead (not a favourite at the time, but, still, exciting), Rage (hadn’t listened to them at the time), Nightfall (Greek black metal band), and Fatal Morgana (Greek progressive metal band). At the time I was 15 years old. Although I wasn’t particularly young, my parents were negatively disposed to heavy metal music and the wider subculture. Yet, the congruence of several factors around Rock of Gods allowed me to convince my parents to permit me to go: it was a summer festival (so we didn’t have school-related responsibilities), it was taking place close to our home-town (Piraeus), and several of my friends would accompany me (among whom a friend my mother considered the “ideal student”). So, I bought a ticket.

Most of my memories are of peripheral things around the concert rather than the bands themselves. My friends and I (a group of five) met with some older kids from school in a public square, and together we took the bus to Piraeus. The fan credentials of those older kids were much better than ours; they had long hair, they wore cool old t-shirts, they knew all the bands, and they were doing drugs. Savvas, one of the older kids, grabbed me by my Iron Maiden t-shirt (Fear of the dark) and, half-jokingly, told me “when Rage come out on stage, I will kill you!”. I laughed, but I was also a bit worried. In any case I made a mental note not to be near him when Rage would come out.

The bus dropped us off and then we had to walk for a bit in order to get to dock 3 where the festival was taking place. Our group was walking alongside hordes of heavy metal fans with smiles in their faces. On the way to dock 3, I remember seeing the following slogan written in spray on walls: “Αγαπάς το Rock; 7χίλιαρο!” (“Do you love rock? Pay 7.000 drachmas!”). Although I remember getting the anti-commercial message of the slogan, I was also confused. I was not sure whether the slogan was directed to fans (that were seen as passive dupes of capitalism), music promoters (that were seen as exploiting the fans), bands (criticised for not playing for free), or the broader system including all those actors together (the culture industry). That was a festival that cost money to organise, with an international bill consisting of several awesome and successful bands, so I couldn’t see how the price would be an issue. Upon reflection, I guess it was meant as commentary on the culture industry; a system whereby heavy metal music is mass produced and marketed as a commodity. The slogan was trying to point out that “if you love rock music you are forced into market exchange relations”. The contradiction in this message is that rock music itself, as we know and love, is the product of the capitalist economy; an economy that is producing albums, and has allowed relatively affluent kids from around the world to own instruments and make bands like Slayer and Blind Guardian, that are eventually recruited by the music industry. I still think that rock music as a commodity should be critiqued, but that slogan did not offer any meaningful critique.

Inside the festival area the atmosphere was beautiful. I had never seen so many heavy metal fans at the same place. I remember feeling quite awkward and slightly scared, so I made sure I stayed close to my friends. Before any of the bands started playing, I spotted Thomen, Blind Guardian’s original drummer, in the crowd. The feeling of seeing one of my music heroes up-close was unique, so without much thought I went to get an autograph. Thomen was very friendly and happy to sign our ticket-stubs. I thought about my friend, Nick, who couldn’t attend the concert because he was away on holiday, so I found a piece of paper and asked Thomen to sign it for him. I gave it to Nick when he came back from holidays and the bastard couldn’t care less. Around that time, we heard the disappointing news that Motorhead were replaced by Saxon…

My memories of the actual bands are extremely blurry. I think I was over-stimulated, by the crowd, the bands, and the newness of the experience of a heavy metal festival, so being attentive of the actual music-listening experience was hard. One of the things I remember clearly is the asphyxiating atmosphere at the front of the stage. Especially when Slayer came out, kicking off with “South of heaven”, the heat combined with the the crowd crushing on me, made me feel faint. I was next to my friend Mark, and when the first notes of “South of heaven” came out of the amps we looked at each other with surprise and started screaming like the little fanboys that we were. Mark then asked me “which song is this!?”, to which I replied “Dead skin mask!”, a mistake that I eventually corrected a few seconds later. I have no other recollection of Slayer that night, apart from the fact that they played quite a few of the punk covers off Undisputed Attitude (1996), and, if I remember correctly, Jeff’s guitar with all the punk stickers. Similarly, I have almost no recollection of Blind Guardian, apart from “The bard’s song”. This is really peculiar, especially since I was dying to see them, and Imaginations from the other side (1995) was (and still is) one of my favourite albums of all time. Although I was not listening to Rage at the time (I fell in love with them after the concert) I vividly remember Peavy at the front of the stage singing “Alive but dead”. Under different technosocial circumstances, a recording of this concert would be widely available, and I would love to be able to experience it again. The only thing I could find online was the YouTube video below, of an audio track from Blind Guardian’s performance on that evening, 21 years ago.

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Guilty pleasures #1

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.

 

 

 

 



A day in Brighton’s record fair

Today (Sunday, February the 16th) was the third time I attended a record fair in Brighton. The event took place at the Brighton Center, a huge building at Brighton seafront that accommodates all kinds of cultural/commercial events. The event started at 8:30. The early entry fee was a bit higher than the late entry fee (£5 before 9:30 and £2 after). I arrived around 13:00 so I missed the slaughter among those record collectors who derive their identity from their record collection. Luckily those types are less likely to be interested in the kind of music I like so I was not too worried about missing out on amazing finds.

The entry fee was not unreasonable but, nevertheless, has some weird implications. By charging people to attend an event as this one, the meaning of the event is effectively constructed as a service provided to record-buyers who are given the opportunity to buy records, rather than an opportunity provided to a bunch of record-merchants to sell their stuff. In other words, the fee signifies that as a record buyer you should feel lucky.  Anyway, I guess both things are valid and as I said the fee was not unreasonable. The music coming from the speakers on my arrival was African. There were not too many people so it did not usually require waiting for one to check out their preferred section. On my arrival and after paying the £2 fee I decided to start my quest by genre. This means that I decided to go from merchant to merchant focusing initially on the genres in which I am more interested. Thus, the record-hunt started with heavy metal and punk.  Few merchants were specialised in a specific genre, one was specialised in rap-hip hop, another in punk and hardcore, and a couple were specialised in funk. Most merchants offered records in a variety of genres. As expected, metal records were thin on the ground. Wherever there was a heavy metal category it contained mainly lame hard rock and glam metal records from the eighties. This is not surprising given that metal was a phenomenon of the 80s, a period where dreadful bands sold lots of albums to masses which were doomed to get rid of these records once they grew a bit older and the fad was over. Now all these rejected records by bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Krokus, Def Leppard, and so on, are doomed to haunt the “on sale” sections of record stores around the world.

The punk sections were a bit more interesting, albeit sad reminders of the fact that US and European punk never reached England. An exception to the trend was the guy who specialised in punk and had goodies from around the world who also used to run a cool local record shop at Kensington Gardens, in the North Laine. 51PfthVgR-LEarly on I was lucky to find Electric Frankenstein‘s Don’t touch me I’m electric (Twenty Stone Blatt records, blue vinyl) there for only £5. This was my only purchase during that initial phase.

The music coming from the speakers eventually changed from African to psychedelic rock. After I finished my search based on genre, I went back to the start and begun the tedious process of looking through the “on sale” sections. Through this process which caused ankylosis on my right hand I got Killing Joke‘s Revelations album for £4. Killing_Joke_-_Revelations-coverA bit disappointed from the lack of good records I decided to buy a record from the NWOBHM band Tygers of Pan Tang. I never listened properly to this band, and those songs that I had listened off their first couple of albums I thought were cool but nothing special. However, I had never listened to an entire album by them. I found their fourth album The cage for half a pound so I bought it. A guy next to me bought a bunch of records (more than 10) from the half pound section.

As time went by, record sellers started reducing the prices of the records. Around 15:00 and when the event was about to finish I happened to be going though a bunch of heavy metal records which I thought were a bit pricey. At that point the guy who was selling them announced that all records go at half price. I bought two albums I always thought were brilliant but I never owned in any form, Judas Priest‘s Sin after sin for £4 and Helloween‘s Pink bubbles go ape for another £4. Sin after sin has always had a magical influence on me, as I have always been enchanted by its cover and songs like “Dissident aggressor”, “Here come the tears” and “Raw deal” always gave me an uneasy feeling of melancholy. Pink bubles has some of my all time favorite Helloween songs, like “The chance” , “Someone’s crying” (establishing Grapow as a worthy replacement of Hansen) and “Number one“.

As I am writing this post I am listening to Revelations, an album I have never heard before, and I have to say that it sounds pretty awesome. Electric Frankenstein is a band I love and Don’t touch me I’m electric was amazing, as expected. I also listened to Sin after sin twice and got chills down my spine. The quality of early Judas Priest records is unprecedented. I only heard side A of the Tygers of Pan Tang record and I’d rather have my little toe repeatedly hit against sharp corners than listen to the other side.



Nomeansno in Brighton

After a prolonged period of no concerts at all, I experienced live two of my all-time favorite bands, Suffocation first and, then, Nomeansno a few days ago, within a period of three weeks. That was the second time I was at a Nomeansno concert, the first time being back in 2007.

nmn1

Nomeansno has been a great love of mine since the first time I listened to them around 2002. I discovered Nomeansno in the context of my Jello-obsession; a period when I thought that whatever Jello Biafra touched turned into gold. Nomeansno had collaborated with Biafra on the album The sky is falling and I want my mommy, which was released in 1991. So, during my Jello-obsession I tried to get my hands on that record. Getting my hands on anything Nomeansno-related in Athens at the time proved to be very difficult. Until one day I found their CD The worldhood of the world (as such) at the Sonic Boom record store in Kypseli. However, I was not sure I was going to like them, since that was not their collaboration with Biafra I was looking for, so I asked George (the record store owner) to listen to the CD.  As Cheryl Lynn has said, it was instant love (not with George, with Nomeansno). Buying that CD was also symbolic of my transition from straight-on punk music to more “ambiguous” punk music.

Nomeansno tick most of the boxes on the “Best band in the world” list. They have consistently been releasing monumental albums since the mid 1980s. They are an amazing live band. They have been adding something new to their music with each new album. Their most recent offerings (e.g. All roads lead to Ausfahrt, Old, Jubilation) can easily compete with their best offerings from the past, although it is really difficult for me to decide which has been their creative-zenith. For some time I considered Wrong (1989) to be their best album, then I settled for Small parts… (1988). Then I switched to Dance of the headless bourgeoisie (1998) and more recently I particularly appreciated Why do they call me… (1993).

Their gig the other day was better than expected. The band was passionate and enthusiastic and gave an amazing performance. The setlist covered almost their entire discography. Glaring omission was the brilliant Small parts… album. Six Ramones songs where also thrown in for good measure in a show which included two encores! My favorite moments included, the tower, graveyard shift, the world wasn’t built in a day, slave, and everyday I start to ooze. After the gig I got their Jubilation e.p. which I couldn’t find since the time it was released back in 2011 and, like the good fanboy that I am, I got John and Rob to sign it for me.

Setlist: obsessed, the tower, oh no Bruno, everyday I start to ooze, ghosts, joyful reunion, the river, cats sex and nazis, he learned how to bleed, the world wasn’t built in a day, the graveyard shift, in her eyes, the hawk killed the punk, slave, Jubilation, sheena is a punk rocker, suzy is a headbanger, I don’t care, gimme gimme shock treatment, do you wanna dance, today your love tomorrow the world, plus another song which I did not know, probably from their Jubilation e.p.



Suffocation in Brighton

Last Tuesday I had the honor of attending for the second time in my life a Suffocation gig. Suffocation has consistently been among my all-time favorite death bands since I first listened to them around 1997. By that time European death metal was dying off, with cornerstones of the genre either disbanding (e.g. Carcass, At The Gates, Pestilence, Asphyx), morphing (e.g. Napalm Death, EntombedGorefest) or crossing (way) over (e.g. Massacra, Afflicted). Moreover, during and after that period many old-school bands, such as Unleashed, Grave, Benediction went into extended hiatuses (or maybe hiati?). During this period the European death-metal fan went through serious musical identity crisis. For sure bands like Bolt Thrower and Dismember went on but, still, with less enthusiasm. Shining exceptions to this trend were brilliant old-school bands such as Sinister (Hate, Aggressive measures, Creative killings, etc.) and Vader (De profundis, Black to the blind) which kept releasing uncompromisingly fresh and innovative death metal.

On the other side of the Atlantic, though, the majority of old-school brutal death metal was still going strong. Malevolent creation were releasing brutality in the shape of In cold blood and The fine art of murder, Deicide were releasing one of the best records in their career (serpents of the light), Monstrosity released the monster called Millennium, Cannibal Corpse were making a new (brutal) start with Vile. Most importantly a new breed of hyper-brutal death metal (e.g. Deeds of flesh, Dying fetus, Nile, Hate EternalDisgorge, etc.) was finding its identity and was making things very interesting. However, lack of interest (from both the media and the fans who were turning their attention to the new trends emerging during that period) in death metal in the late 1990s took its toll in the US too. Apart from Obituary, who disbanded after the release of Back from the dead, the other huge band that called it quits was the mighty Suffocationsuffocation_invert

The first album I heard from them was Pierced from within and it was love at first listen. I bought Effigy of the forgotten during one of my record-hunts of the summer of ’97. A while after that I bought Human waste from a local record-store (i.e. Paranoid). The last album they released before breaking up, Despise the sun, did not really impress me. I thought it was their weakest effort. For sure Culross’s drumming was fascinating, but I though that the music was not as versatile and groovy as their previous works. Anyway, when they got back together and released their masterpiece Souls to Deny, I was seriously chuffed. Me and my friends spent a lot of hours headbanging to that album. Although Cerrito was no longer there, the album was full of amazing grooves, crazy riffing and sick lyrics. Their next album was, in my opinion, equally unequaled. A true masterpiece. Since then they have released two more albums, both of which I like a lot.

The first time I saw Suffocation live was in Athens, in 2006. It was the first time I saw Frank live and it was kind of insane. Frank’s performance is something that everybody should experience in their lives. This second time that I saw them the line up was different. For one thing, Dave Culross has taken the place of Mike Smith. Mike has earned his place in modern music history as a true drum legend and nothing can change that. However, Dave is also an excellent drummer, passionate, fast, really fun to watch and, in terms of speed and precision, I think him too has earned his righteous place in death metal history (his drumming on Despise the sun and The fine art of murder have been blueprints of modern death metal drumming). The other big line-up change was that John Gallagher was filling in for Frank. Frank cannot afford to follow the band’s extensive touring plans because he has a day-job which pays the bills. Nobody can fill Frank’s shoes. However, I have to admit that John is brilliant. His vocals are extremely brutal and he can easily pull off Frank’s style, doing more justice to his extremely guttural style during the Effigy era. Not to mention that John is a mastermind of brutal death metal and his band (Dying Fetus) has probably influenced modern death metal as much as Suffocation has. During the concert, I was positioned near Terrance Hobbs, who is a death metal hero of mine, and I once more enjoyed watching him chugging out with passion and enthusiasm all these crazy riffs that have shaped modern music. Respect their authoritah!

p.s.1. Setlist: catatonia, liege of inveracity, infecting the crypts (closing song), mass obliteration, pierced from within, thrones of blood (opening song), funeral inception, purgatorial punishment, as grace descends, my demise, rapture of revocation. Definitely not my favorite setlist as it completely overlooked albums-monuments such as Breeding the spawn, Souls to deny and Suffocation.

p.s.2.The amazing artwork as seen above in its original form (I inverted the colors) is by Mark Riddick. Check out Mark’s art here.

p.s.3. Cephalic Carnage was one of the supporting bands and they were awesome!



Pier and the pier
April 17, 2013, 10:21 am
Filed under: Brighton, brutal memoirs, people | Tags: , , , , , ,

Contrary to popular belief, Brighton does not only have two piers. Besides the new fancy pier and the old burnt-down pier Brighton also has Pier, with capital “P”.

The two piers of Brighton have something to say. The new one is a symbol of consumerism, wealth and fun. The old one is a relic of the past and a reminder of the transience of youth. It is also a contemporary piece of art with no functional purpose; proudly posing in the sunset waiting for the next ambitious photographer. The two piers together reveal Brighton’s identity: cultural consumption for those who can afford it.

It could be worse. If the truth be told, Brighton’s relative abundance combined with Bohemia also serve as the breeding ground for all kinds of movements, usually positive ones. Indeed, our local population might be mostly well-off, but at least they occasionally show their support for those less fortunate than them. Evident in those displays of support is that the latter come from people who predominantly occupy positions of domination in society. Peaceful rallies, dressing up to protest, un-dressing to protest, dancing and singing to protest, are definitely not the ways of protest of the dispossessed. I often get the impression that protest is often more a way of performing one’s identity than a manifestation of actual concern and discontent. Anyway, I guess it is better than nothing.

Within this theater that Brighton is, the third Pier, the one with a capital “P”, maybe felt he did not belong.



the charity shop experience

I am often asked the question “are you a record collector?” and I always get offended and answer “no, I’m not!”. It may indeed be difficult for people who are not very interested in music to understand the difference between loving music and loving objects. Of course I like records, the physical thing that is, but they merely represent the means. Would you call someone who loves to cook and therefore has a lot of cooking books, a cooking book collector? If you did you’d be missing the point.

Having said that, I must say that I have always preferred records and cassettes over cds or mp3s, to the point where today I most certainly love them. The reason why that happened is partly rational thinking, partly peer pressure and partly conformity to a specific vinyl collector discourse. When I first started listening to music that I choose in the early 90s, instead of just listening to what my parents listened to,  my first purchases where the “Dangerous” album by Michael Jackson and “Both sides” by Phil Collins. The reason I got these two albums on vinyl (actually the Phil Collins album was a gift from my brother, but I had asked for the record) was that they were cheaper than the cd version! The fact that the artwork was bigger and therefore more detailed and impressive also helped (especially with the awesome Michael Jackson layout). After starting listening to heavy metal, I got the “fear of the dark” album by Iron Maiden. Again the reason I choose vinyl was the lower price and the more capturing artwork. The whole technological progress discourse was not sufficiently persuasive in that sense. Then a couple of my friends, Nick and Kostas in specific, made fun of the fact that I got vinyl instead of cd. So after that and for a few months I would buy only cds. The reason why I started buying lps again was my friend Nick again, who had apparently heard from an older friend that cds are not cool and that what has real value are collectable lps that have gone out of print. Soon after that revelation I got the first Helloween album from a friend who had inherited some records from his aunt, and then I bought Xentrix’s “Shattered existence” for around 4 quid.

In any case, for more than 15 years record stores have been my favorite places on earth. I am sure that I have spent about 10% of my life inside record stores. Looking through endless piles of records is a pleasure in itself. The occasional amazing found at an incredibly low price is a worthy reward. Then I moved to Brighton. The first thing I needed was to make sure that there were enough record stores in Brighton and, most importantly, sufficiently specialised and up-to-date record stores. Unfortunately, the first record stores I found (The Resident and Rounder) were mainstream and totally uninformed on the two genres I mostly care for, punk and metal. In relation to similar independent alternative record stores in greece, these two stores were a disgrace… Enter the charity shops!

Charity shops have effectively substituted record stores in Brighton. Near my old neighborhood (Norfolk Square), there were two charity shops and a flee-market where I would go when I was getting bored of studying. Instead of a walk I would go to the charity shops. And new used-records would arrive almost every week! Way better than proper record stores. The fact that I live in a fairly bohemian/alternative part of England also helps. The reason being that people who live in Brighton are more likely to be listening, or better to use to listen, to punk or more “alternative” music.  When these people decide that records are obsolete or when they grow up and decide that they don’t like that type of music any longer, they give them away to charity shops.

Amazing records I have bought from charity shops include Septic Death’s “Now that I have the attention…” (1 pound), Amebix’s “Monolith” (1 pound), Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales” and “Emperor’s return” (3 pounds), Nomeansno’s “The worldhood..” (3 pounds), a couple of Siouxsie albums (1 pound) and many more. If I include flee-markets then the list grows exponentially and includes records like the first two Adicts albums (3 pounds each), Sepultura’s “Morbid Visions” (the cogumelo version, 1 pound) and many more! So if you ever find yourself in Brighton and wanna look for cheap records check out places like Oxfam, Shelter and Snooper’s Paradise.