Label Of the week – Alternative Tentacles

alterntativetents

One could easily be forgive for forgetting about a record label that has been releasing classic albums for nearly 40 years. it’s a sign of todays mobile world. We no longer need to rely on a labels good name for records to listen to. Alternative Tentacles started in 1979 and since then it’s roster has included (wait for it), Alice Donut, Citizen Fish, Leftover Crack, Noam Chomsky, Pansy Division, Unsane, Butthole Surfers, DOA, Nomenasno, Neurosis, Victims Family and of course Jello Biafra and his various music associates including the Dead kennedys.

They have been releasing records since California Uber Alles was unleashed amongst a legion of punks. It is almost impossible to get a list of releases as there has been cd’s, 7″‘s, digital releases and t-shirts all seem to have catalogue numbers. I can safely guess at around 400 releases. 400 picks of rockin’ hardcore and off kilter country tunes designed to educate a nation and overthrow the machinations.

When Crucifucks were singing about Wisconsin or the Beatnigs telling us that Television was the Drug of the Nation alternative tentacles were shouting from the rooftops.

After the Dead Kennedys gave us Frankenchrist the label started to run into trouble due to the amount of attention PMRC were putting. I contacted the label in the UK to see if Irish Punks could help out with No More Censorhip Defense Fund. We put a gig on, showed solidarity in the way the label have been showing since.

It isn’t just a label for punk rock and up front hardcore there is alternative twang of Evan Johns and Eugene Chadbourne or the rockabilly blues style of more recent visitors to Ireland, the Legendary Shack Shakers

It is still releasing records, bringing out podcasts and finding new ways to encourage subversion. Jello is still playing music and releasing records, Winston Smith is still producing art and the label still flourishes

niallhope

Jello Biafra and John Lydon…the punk jesters.

The punk jesters

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine came to Dublin this week and they entertained a large and receptive crowd in the Button Factory. When I say ‘they came to Dublin’ I actually mean that some promoter brought them over and make it happen….in this case, as Jello acknowledged from the stage, the promoter was one Timmo, or Paul Timmony. Jello explained to the crowd that Timmo was the only person who ever promoted shows for him in Dublin.

In which case, Dublin has a lot to thank Timmo for, Jello Biafra is one of the most articulate, thought-provoking and interesting characters from the early US punk/hardcore movement. Yet with the Dead Kennedys he always seemed to stand apart from that movement…if he was one of its leaders, he was also one of its innovators and most unorthodox figures. Maybe people like that are what stopped punk becoming so (or more) formulaic and standardised, even when commercial forces seemed to drag it in the direction of a generic identikit market segment.

So we have a lot to be grateful for to promoters like Timmo and acts like Jello B.

Seeing Jello with, what was a really cracking band, in Dublin, also brought home how funny he is. Onstage, he was almost a cartoon character, which rather than make his words feel like gimmicks, or his points silly, actually made his message sink deeper. He runaround actions drew me in, made me pay close attention…and made me smile. He would probably have been an excellent stage actor..although probably one who would not be constrained by a script. I can imagine: “To be or not to be…..hey, why don’t we think about that for a moment!”

So he is a Merry Prankster, making serious points and making us laugh by ridiculing situations and power. What an intriguing way to Fight The Power. Maybe laughter is the best medicine.

Mirroring this idea..punk frontmen as Merry Pranksters, this week Neil McCormick (former Hot Press writer/artist) printed a really good article/overview of one John Lydon, whose excellent PiL have released a new album.

I haven’t heard it yet, but the interview reminded me why I look forward to buying it. Lydon achieved the unthinkable when he formed, and maintained, PiL and became an even more fascinating front-man that he had been with the Sex Pistols. And that is not to deny what a thrilling and innovative frontman he was with them!

Funnily enough, for such a lightening rod of controversy, for such an engaging and vibrant front-man, he also professes to be a very shy individual.

In the interview, he spoke about how humour was a great weapon….and clearly in his hands, just as with Jello, it is a wonderful tool/skill to make your point, to be heard, and to be sensational!

To me, Jello and Lydon are valuable contributors to our culture, and also possess sharp minds and know how to cut through a cluttered media landscape.

Long may they entertain us.

Wild hearted outsider

Rebellion Festival 2015 Review Day 4

Rebellion Day 4 Another day of highlights New Model Army Probably the band that I have seen the most, as well as a band whose albums and songs I have looked to for inspiration for almost 30 years. At Rebellion a snippet of a documentary about the band as shown, followed by a Q&A with singer, Justin Sullivan and art-work designer, tattoo artist, author and one, manager of the band, Joolz Denby. She described the process of managing musicians/creative people as not just herding cats…but herding headless cats! And that is the crux of the inter section of art and commerce….by both of their admissions, Joolz and Justin have no head for money….their focus is naturally on creating art and expressing themselves. The film looks great, although getting the human first-hand version of the story was even better. They are a disarmingly honest pair of modern troubadours…and it was interesting learning how the decision by Malcolm Gerrie from The Tube to put an unsigned independent band on the show changed the band’s fortunes. Every artist needs a break. I look forward to taking time. To watch the film when it is released next month…so much to be learnt for New Model Army. The Avengers and Penelope Houston were another eye-opener. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that The Avengers were one of those bands I knew I should listen to…yet never had! They were fantastic on the main stage. Tuneful, dynamic, exciting, vibrant and with so much to say about youthful possibilities and challenging orthodoxy. And this was a female-led band from San Francisco in 1977!!! It is funny how history coalesces around big names and chart bands….the strivers, the innovators, the pioneers get undeservedly forgotten. That is why a festival like Rebellion is so enlightening for me. The Q&A sessions are a big part of how I learn the secret history of punk. Theorem Peneople spoke about how small yet innovative and exciting the early SF punk scene was…and this was all pre-Dead Kennedys. To her, thee were no barriers to entry…anyone could do it regardless of class, colour, sexual preference etc. It was fascinating to learn how before the ‘codification’ that came with hardcore….punks rock was an open canvas! The Q&A is naturally enhanced by a good moderator…and the ‘battle of the Dead Kennedys authors’ hosted by Andy Higgins was fantastic. Alex Ogg’s book is, quite simply, one of the best books I have every read about music. It is funny and heart-breaking and full of lessons, not jus tab out the music industry and cultural files, but also about art, creativity, collective action and the law, I bought Michael Foley’s book, and have not read it yet but it promises to be excellent, covering the political and social context to the band in the tumultuous times of late 1970s San Fran. Foley spoke about how the band emerged from a highly politically city where young people were taking an active…and creative…stance in the democratic process. As a historian he placed this activity in the context of other social movements and concluded how the pivotal Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables album was one of the key documents/artefacts from American youth of the era. That is a remarkable legacy for a band who were formed with the idea of: ‘imagine if Crass were funny’, I felt very privileged to be in a room listening to Higgins, Foley and Ogg speaking with such knowledge and insight about the band. I only wish they had longer to discuss it. Ignite They were new to me…that exciting tight passionate intensity of the Revelation bands. Quicksand always have a special place in my heart. Anyhow, Ignite had plenty to offer musically and in terms of advocacy. The singer urged people to get involved in the political process and democracy. perhaps the legacy of the Avengers and the Dead Kennedys survives and thrives! He urged the audience to think about. The consequences of war, the reality of migration from war-torn places, and also about the conservationist group, the Sea Shepherds. In one of the most shocking moments of the festival, he dedicated the band’s next song to them and it was Sunday Bloody Sunday. Yes, a U2 cover by a tight and talented post- hardcore band!! And guess what? It worked. They pulled it off….dragging an 80s MTV staple into the punk present. It was surprisingly great…..the song really invigorated by Ignite’s classic up-to-date punk rock vision. And it made sense because punk has always been able to draw from its neighbours…to recombine different music in different ways and make something fresh and new. And here was a youthful and exciting Californian band who were inspired by One Way System as well as Peter and the Test Tube Babies….and also found something in early 1980s U2! I don’t think any band in Ireland could openly admit to being influenced/inspired by the UK punk of the class of ’82 and play a U2 song without ridicule..or ridiculing it. Good on Ignite for their open hearts and open minds…they inspire me and make me feel that the future of punk is in great hands. And that is important when both Justin Sullivan and Penelope Houston spoke today about how in 1980-1982 punk began to have rules and restrictions placed on it…it was ‘codified’ as Penelope said….and here’s to the rule breakers….The innovators..long may they bring excitement to punk, art and life! Other highlights Snuff….one of my fave bands….a band I saw countless times back in the day…and here they were….with new members, granted, yet still playing barmy, brilliant, playful, tuneful funny and exciting songs….hooray for trombones and punk rock! Roy Ellis Always a highlight…..ska from a pioneer….fun fun fun. John Langford The soundtrack for young Niall McGuirk…and a big part of the soundtrack of my youth too. Very inspiring to listen to his songs about democratic struggles in Wales in the 1800s, as well as his songs about gamblers, outlaws and do men who didn’t ‘walk the line’. He played a song he wrote with The Sadies (who opened for Treble Charger all those years ago in Toronto) as well as X-Ray Style by the great late Joe Strummer, and even Waco Brothers and a Mekons’ song! Another pioneers at the crossroads of punk and so much more… Carly Slade No disrespect to all of the other acts that I saw over the 4 days…but this was the voice that stopped me in my tracks…incredibly beautiful. I only saw a little of her set with Josh Chandler Morris, but that was enough to make me want more….it didn’t sound like punk rock..maybe Americana is how it would be described…and maybe that made it very punk rock at the punk rock festival!! And finally….the night belonged to TV Smith the quintessential punk troubadour….getting hoarse by the end of the weekend yet still leading the singalong with veins on his neck bulging and his skinny frame straining in tie-dyed outfit. A prefect summation of all that is great about the Rebellion festival punk rock and music!

Dead Kennedys – fresh fruit for Rotting Vegetables – the early years

Dead Kennedys
Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables
By Alex Ogg
PM Press
SKU: 9781604864892

fresh fruit for Rotting Vegetables

This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion

Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released. The first two being “California über alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, both having raging guitar hooks, intelligent lyrics and breakneck rhythm. The story behind the controversy of the artwork and Biafra’s onstage antics is given great detail. How the album came about and the involvement of cherry red and subsequent setting up of alternative tentacles is included. All necessary components to the make up of the dks

Most of us now that the band did not finish on a good note or certainly the trajectory since their finish has not been a mutually happy event for the members. However it is good to see that not getting too much exposure here as that can be the sequel. For now we can read about one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the most innovative bands ever. We can get an idea of America at the time, the punk scene and the socio economic environment.

It is quite obvious, reading between the lines, that vocalist Jelllo Biafra, has a completely different outlook then guitarist east bay ray on pretty much all matters Dead Kennedys relating. It is hard to see what tale is fiction and what one isn’t but the fact is the record came out with those songs and we have been able to listen to them for years. The dead Kennedys had such a huge influence on music and this is summed up by the many quotes at the end from people like actor Elijah wood or slash from guns and roses or dave grohl from foo fighter/nirvana. The effect this album has had is phenomenal and is most worthy of the written word too

Another thing the book offers is a reminder of how great the artwork of Winston Smith is. It is reproduced here as are many of the fliers and posters of the day. Considering the author was involved in the art of punk book that came out over a year ago it is no surprise now has teamed up with once again with russ bestley to ensure that the words are accompanied with the relevant graphics and it’s all packaged very well

If you have ever listened to a punk roots and enjoyed it ten you should have a read of this

niallhope

dks logo