Recently in LA, I sat down with Kyle Kilday, the director of the forthcoming documentary The Last Scene. Kyle invited me to talk about the turn-of-the-millennium burst of mainstream interest in pop-punk, hardcore, emo, and “emo.” We had a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product. If you’d like to support or learn more about the project, you can do so at the official website, here.
Hey, I’m back. I also gave no real indication that I was gone, since finals made that fairly difficult. I’ve also been working on my end-of-decade music lists, which I’ll post here next Monday. A lyric in one of my top 10 records of the decade says, “the city is an empty glass,” but this week’s retrospective says that “the city is an open score.”
Last week, I was privileged to join Theatrum Mundi for their annual Crafting a Sonic Urbanism conference at EHESS (Campus Condorcet) in Aubervilliers (Paris) on Friday. It was exactly what one would want out of a conference: laid-back, collegial, thoughtful, and concluded with a mind-melting talk by Saskia Sassen.
At the beginning of my talk, I cited a portion of my 2016 interview with Ian MacKaye where he reflected on Fugazi’s success in France. He said (to paraphrase) that he felt like the French and some other European punks had a certain appreciation for what artists were doing outside of the capitalist paradigm of production, and that finding that appreciation for your efforts was simply a universal human desire. For similar reasons, I appreciated the opportunity to present my research across the pond.
Theatrum Mundi have no qualms about pushing various envelopes, drawing heavily on abstract thought and experimental art to propose new ideas or ways of thinking about landscape. Even if some of it went over my head (especially as a ostensible non-musician), everyone there was eager to learn from one another. I was grateful to be able to join some of the conference family on Thursday for a “Scoring the City” workshop:
The main colloquium on Friday ran from 9.30 until 17.00, with Dr. Sassen’s presentation ending the evening at 20.00 (I’m still somewhat on the 24-hour clock). I was introduced to several musical experiments, thought exercises, and moments in sonic political history, among the most notable being Lin Chi-Wei’s Tape Music (Jonathan Packham) and Ella Finer’s discussion of the use of vocal noise at the 1982 Greenham Common protests. It was also my first bilingual conference, including a handful of talks and presentations in French. I wish my French comprehension were better, but it forced me to practice, at least.
While I was in town, I also had the chance to catch up with a pair of my top Capitals of Punk informants (though of course I won’t play favorites). With new things coming for the book and the greater surrounding project in 2020, it was rewarding to hear more stories and approach future collaborations that may actually bring me back to Paris before too long.
I’ve also been fortunate to experience Paris in moments of political upheaval: one was an isolated incident (anti-austerity, Greek solidarity protests in July 2015) and the other was a protracted mass-scale industrial action this past month. Due to the strikes, almost all of the Metro lines were closed or profoundly compromised, and the (limited) buses were rolling sardine cans:
Still, save for a handful of participants who had difficulty making it into Paris from elsewhere in France (the SNCF was on strike as part of the greater grève), the Sonic Urbanism conference went off without a hitch and I was able to get around the city and Ile-de-France with little incident. I joked with one friend that being an American used to relying on public transit in a variety of cities back home had prepared me for bad public transit. Even on Paris’ worst day, it was still not that bad, comparatively. I did not come across any protests around Les Halles, but I did not spend too much time down around there. The footage from cities like Bordeaux on the news every night was pretty harrowing, though, and it was a welcome change to see protesters presented in a marginally positive (or at least objective) light on a National platform, which is more than can be said for most any 24-hour American news outlet.
All that being said, and despite how lovely France was in the Holiday Season, I’m grateful to be back in the States. 2019 was an amazing year for me. Cumulatively, I spent over a month of it overseas, and coupled with an affiliation switch and big move, suffice it to say I’m still exhausted as I write this. It’s a good exhausted, however, and I’m eager to relax over the Holidays and return to Central Michigan in 2020 with a head full of steam.
Thank you for reading and thank you for your support through this past year! To you and yours, I wish you:
FROM DR. CHRISTINA BALLICO
- How do these scenes construct themselves in relation to larger, ‘core’ scenes?
- What role do social networks and Communities of Practice play in the functioning of these scenes?
- How do temporal and financial barriers impact being able to connect with audiences and industry beyond musicians’ home locale?
- What role does migration and mobility play in ongoing career development?
- How has social media broken down barriers to larger centres?
- What role have governments played in overcoming the isolation faced by musicians and industry?
- How do industry workers navigate their careers in these centres?
Happy New Year, everyone! Classes start in one week, and I have a mountain of items to catch up on after being out of town for so much of December. Two of these items include posts for this website, one of which is long overdue and another was inspired by a stops I made on the road in the Midwest last month. One of the most pressing, however, is putting the finishing touches on a project over three years in the making that I look forward to announcing soon.
I thought I would share this video I found of a SYNDROME 81 gig I attended in Paris in the summer of 2015. This was the night I met Fast Fab (the vocalist), who became a good friend and great informant for my dissertation. I wasn’t able to spot myself anywhere in here (probably hiding off to the side, snapping photos), but I had a good time.
Fab later told me that the moniker Syndrome 81 is a joke (much like the name of his old band, Thrashington DC) that makes fun of how people think it’s completely insane (“syndrome”) for somebody born in 1981 to still be making music like this. I could probably ask myself the same question and rename half of this blog “Syndrome 83.” Regardless, Syndrome 81 have released a solid brief catalog of music over the past few years to solid critical acclaim from blogs and zines that appreciate the classic style.
Anyway, 2019 – how about that? More posts and announcements very soon.
This is so cool.
This video [Teen-Beat catalog #535] is a little unusual, so let us explain. Record labels are the glue that binds musical creativity together into a product that can stand the test of time. The DC area in general, and Arlington in particular, greatly benefited from two independent labels that did amazing work documenting and organizing their scenes. Teen-Beat is a record label founded by Mark Robinson of the band Unrest in 1984. It has since moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, but in its DC heyday featured indie rock bands such as Tuscadero, Phil Krauth and Jonny Cohen’s Love Machine. This video was shot and scored by Robinson at Dischord House, the Arlington home of Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson’s label documenting the punk, post-hardcore and rock output of DC for decades. It’s a brief and intense glimpse into the creative space that’s shaped our city’s musical legacy, and it moves…
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[I wrote this a few months ago upon hearing about my former colleague’s passing. Due to travel and teaching commitments, I unfortunately never completed it. In the interest of getting this out of my drafts folder, I’ve decided to publish it and give you all some reading material for this Monday morning. This may become a paper about the US Mayors’ Conference and “the selling of” cities on day. We’ll see. – Tyler]
I received some very sad news recently from some colleagues from my DC life. John, our longtime Managing Director at the PR firm where I worked passed away from cancer at age 70. As tragic as the news was to hear, it was nice for us to share some memories of perhaps the best person I ever have been so fortunate to work under. I went through old files to see if I had any mementos of John, with no luck. However, it did lead me down a rabbit hole of memories from my twenties, some stories which would find a good home on this site now. I don’t think I’ve shared this story anywhere online, either, so here we go.
The best assignment I had for that job sent me to Oklahoma City in 2010 for the US Conference of Mayors. Twice a year (once in DC and once in a roving location), leaders of towns and cities from across the country meet to trade tips on civic programs, navigating political minefields, image curation, and other tacit knowledge. Despite the number of big-name politicians in attendance (some of whom are currently countenancing Presidential campaign rumors), I don’t remember the meeting getting much national media coverage outside of our radio campaigns. Since few of these mayors are real celebrities, it didn’t get the slathered attention of an election-year Democratic or Republican National Convention. That being said, CNN was on hand, going live with then-LA-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who deflected rumors that his city was considering bankruptcy. What was going on in LA in 2010 that would have generated such rumors is beyond my immediate knowledge.
As one might expect, the host mayor is keen to show their city off to visiting dignitaries quite enthusiastically. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett was that host, and show the city off he did. In 2010, he was in the midst of a banner era in his mayoral tenure. He appeared on Ellen in 2008 on the success of his anti-obesity campaign, giving Ellen Degeneres her own holiday in the city. The next year, the Thunder rocketed into playoff contention, bringing the city and state onto the national basketball stage and facing the Lakers in a contentious playoff series. What Cornett had going for his spectacle, though, was something intangible that his fellow Mayors would have killed for: the cool.
Most Mayors, especially for non-Major cities, are very down to earth. Their governance does not span an insurmountable area, so it’s easier for them to be on the street, interacting with their constituents and actually functioning like the citizens they need to impress. Though there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with corruption, the instances seem fewer and farther between; they are still beholden to their neighbors. It also follows that Mayors are predominantly Democrats, people of color, and in some cases LGBT.
Cornett was none of those things, but coming from within Red-State political hegemony didn’t prevent him from charming everyone by propping up his city’s greatest counter-cultural export: The Flaming Lips. His committee arranged for the band to play a private concert for the conference attendees and their families. All of the conference contractors got passes, too. As a music nerd who came of age when the Lips were at their creative and critical peak (1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots mobilize something of a consensus here), imagine my excitement when I read that they were in the program for the third night.
I’ll get to the concert shortly. On the first night, the coordinating committee set up a private tent near the Sonic headquarters in Bricktown, the finely redeveloped, expertly walk-able downtown area. The party’s location came at the hands of some meticulous planning. It gave them an excuse to show off the relatively flashy downtown district (which, according to members of Red City Radio, the city paid for with a 1-cent sales tax hike).
On the second night, the conference piled everyone onto chartered buses and, with an roving wall of police escorts, led us out to a big warehouse in the city’s hinterland. Before we got a taste of Cool Oklahoma, we were to indulge in every Cowboy stereotype imaginable. A country string band played on a stage built on the opposite end from the entrance. A electronic Buckin’ Bronco ride sat immediately to the right, and a set of lanes for tossing Horseshoes sat between bales of imported hay to our left. In all fairness, “played Horseshoe against my boss in Oklahoma” is a claim few DC yuppies ever got to make. The well-orchestrated hoedown was fun, between the two-stepping lessons, barbecue, and open bars that surrounded us. I vaguely remember having a wonderful conversation with Mitch Ward, a retired actor and then the mayor of Manhattan Beach, CA, while standing in line at one of them.
On the third night, everyone headed over to the Ford Center (then in its final year with that name; it’s now named Chesapeake Energy Arena). We waited in the concourse, where they set up snack and drink tables, along with (from what I recall) showcases of local students’ artwork. I snapped a photo of a big mural they had painted that said, in airbrush-novelty font, “Rock and Roll with the Flaming Lips.” At the time, it seemed somewhat tacky and off-putting, but in retrospect they probably employed a local artist and some printers for a few days in order to make it, so who was I to hurl judgment? It was eye-catching.
After an incongruously formal dinner program, a succession of mayors took the stage to make a succession of presentations. By this point, many of us were excited for the musical program to begin, so it started to feel as if it was dragging. Granted, it was entertaining to see public officials let loose and make speeches at varying levels of intoxication. Once the dinner program ended and the staff cleared the tables up front, Cornett got back onstage to introduce the band. The Oklahoma City Philharmonic filed into their seats. My coworkers and I migrated towards the stage, hearing a commotion coming from the bleachers a couple stories above our heads. We looked up to our left to see the 300 level filling up with hundreds of people who had just been unleashed from the concourse.
It had somehow eluded me that so many of the volunteers we had met in the course of the three activity-filled days, the local welcoming committee and the cogs who made it possible for Cornett’s machine to operate through the conference, were paid with free passes to this show. “Huh,” I thought, “That’s actually kind of brilliant.” I felt guilty being on the floor while the volunteers were sequestered up in the nosebleeds, but at least they all had a clear sight line down to the stage for what would be a 20-minute set. Also, the band (Coyne and Drozd, at least) came down to hang out and take photos with conference attendees for a long while after their set, so it would have been chaos if they’d allowed all of the volunteers onto the floor, too. There were already enough indie dorks telling Wayne Coyne about how long they had been fans, how cool it was that the band did this gig, and other niceties. The best part was that Coyne and a couple of his band mates were so nice to everyone, no matter how monopolizing particular fans attempted to be.
My boss and I got to chat with Steve Drozd, and we both took photos with him and his baton. He had just conducted an orchestra for the first time, and the excitement that he radiated was hilarious. My favorite moment of that whole week came when he looked at my name tag and asked me how to pronounce my last name. “Sonic-sun,” I replied, “How do you pronounce your last name?” “Draw-zid” he replied, answering a question I’d had wandering in my head ever since I first read his name in the pages of SPIN a decade earlier. Drozd’s prior decade, given his recovery from a somewhat well-documented heroin addiction, represents one of indie rock’s great redemption stories.
I witnessed an even greater fan-moment nearby a minute later. My friend/coworker Rebecca got Coyne to pose for a picture where they were both running a hand through their big, curly manes. There was nothing of deeper significance to this, but it was satisfying how Rebecca saved the rock star from a trio of bro’s who were monopolizing his time, prattling on about their cultural capital as Lips fans.
Whenever I’ve recounted this weekend to friends, I often pinpoint a few specific moments of epiphany, and Mick Cornett featured in all of them. After the concert ended, they arranged for a private after-party on the roof of a highly-regarded Italian restaurant in Bricktown whose roof patio overlooked Flaming Lips Alley. Later in the night, I wound up chatting with Cornett’s son (around my age), and Mick came over to join us. Within a few minutes, Cornett was proudly telling me how he pushed to help both name that alley after the Flaming Lips as well as help name “Do You Realize!?” Oklahoma’s State Rock song, both in the face of adversity from some real squares.
This made perfect sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if his kids left for college in the late 90’s and reported back to him about this band from OKC that everyone loved. Additionally, The Flaming Lips are nothing if not prolific collaborators. Wayne Coyne has been vocal about his dedication to Oklahoma City, too, fighting to make the it less of a flyover and more of a destination. Conference attendees walked away with a free copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on CD, left in our hotel rooms by the local welcoming committee. The committee also left us limited edition copies of No Fences. I never imagined that I would own a Garth Brooks CD, but here we are. It’s good; I understand why it sold over 10 million copies.
Anyway, here is the video I discovered in the course of my archival search that sent me down this detour of memory lane. Wayne Coyne thanks Mayor Cornett, has the crowd congratulate Steven Drozd on his orchestra conducting debut, and introduces the Yo La Tengo cover. Enjoy everything coming together in a strange way.
Happy 2018! I’m excited to announce I’ve just published a new article in the UK journal Punk and Post-Punk. Read the abstract, order it, or find citation info here. It overviews the geographic history of Paris hardcore, focusing on the three or four years of the mid-1980s when the underground style first attempted circulation in the Ile-de-France region. I based this off of a range of accounts I gathered during my fieldwork in France in 2015 and through follow-up correspondence since then.
As far as I know, this story has never been told formally before, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to give progenitors like Heimat-Los and Kromozom 4 their rightful place in the greater global post-punk timeline. Hopefully somebody who was there at the time can take the baton and publish a more authoritative and comprehensive history of that era someday. In the meantime, there is plenty of great material archived and linked via Euthanasie Records.
Thank you to Russ Bestley and all of his colleagues at this fantastic journal. You can look into the index of Punk & Post-Punk back issues and learn how to submit on the Intellect Ltd. page here.