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diskant rewind: Honey Is Funny #2

Posted: July 22nd, 2008, by Chris Summerlin

(Originally posted April 2002)

Honey Is Funny by Chris Summerlin

First ups, thank you for all the kind things people said about the first column and for the people kind enough to request I force my own shitty music tastes on them in the way of copying the comp tape.

I help put on gigs in my current hometown of Nottingham. We do a wide range of stuff. I won’t bore you with details. Last night we put on a show in Nottingham for the band Mates Of State. It ruled. I had a lot of fun and I grinned for about 3 hours throughout. It was one of my favourite shows we’ve done. I danced. I called in sick the day after. It raised a few questions in my mind though and got me a subject matter for a few of these columns too…

It was weird to see so many of the punk rock/emo/hardcore crowd at this show. I don’t think it’s surprising because MOS are on Polyvinyl and that label deals mainly with emo stuff for want of a slightly more adequate piece of terminology. To me MOS fit in with a lot of the stuff on Matador more than they do their label contemporaries.

So why do certain folk come to this show but if we were to put on Quasi for example (a band not entirely dissimilar in sound) they would stay at home?

This got me thinking.

The simple reason to the above question is that MOS are punk rock whereas Quasi are not. This was a punk rock show, or in some way connected to punk and hardcore and Quasi would be an indie rock show. Same reason the backpack brigade will go and see some shower of shit emo band playing verse chorus verse college rock with bad lyrics about their girlfriends but are at home watching Hollyoaks on video when Superchunk are playing at Rock City.

(Understand the column name now? I once went to a gig with a friend called Paul Warren and we decided to get to the bottom of what hardcore kids keep in their backpacks. We sneakily undid the bag of the guy in front of us and peered in. It contained nothing but a skate spanner and a bag of Quavers. I’m not sure what this means but I bet it means something).*

So!

I reckon there must be a process of analysis or an equation by which we can determine the punk rock or “backpack” factor of any given band. Imagine if such a mathematical/scientific equation could be developed! I could churn out band after band and with each one add the secret X+Y+Z formula and clean up! Deep Elm Records wouldn’t know what had hit them. I could make a fortune and employ publicists, stylists, graphic designers but never lose my punk rock cred!

Man. I could MAKE A LIVING off this.

Cogs turn…

I bet Isaac Newton thought the same thing you know. He didn’t do too bad.

So I have spent the last month deep in research to develop the Rule Of The Backpack. And, with little fanfare but much excitement I present my findings:

Glossary Of Terms
“Scene” – a catch all term referring to any activity happening under the banner of punk rock or hardcore, each event seemingly linked in some way to the next
“Backpack Factor” – how easily a band is accepted by people within the “scene” and their level of popularity as a result

Q: Is Backpack Factor determined by the music created by band/artist?

I think I can safely say it has little or nothing to do with sound or in fact music. I find this conclusion disappointing but I have long held a suspicion that people don’t have ears (or if they do they don’t use them) so I can hardly be surprised.

New End Original sound like Simple Minds and they sold their Nottingham show out. It was backpack city. The capacity of the venue was instantly halved by the rear protusions contained within. Drink spillage was occurring by the second every time someone turned to talk to their neighbour.

I might be being presumptious having never seen Simple Minds but I don’t think the same crowd would turn out for Jim Kerr and the boys.

No one with an ounce of “scene” credibility would go and see Blink 182 but yet bands who sound nearly identical (i.e. every pop punk band active at the moment) pull in crowds of scenesters every show.

True musical innovators that break ground and take risks are also ignored by the punk crowd. David Grubbs plays to Wire readers and folkies. Joan Of Arc play to backpacks.

Q: Surely ethics must have something to do with a band’s acceptance within the “scene”? After all, that’s what punk and hardcore is about? Right? RIGHT?

How refreshing that’d be eh?  That would certainly explain why Blink 182 are not punk rock but yet the band sounding the same but playing locally in a DIY fashion are punk rock and are
supported.

But.

The scenesters go and see The Hives, or International Noise Conspiracy or Weezer even and those bands play the PR game as much if not more in some cases than Blink 182 or The Offspring.

OK, so that’s that one scratched. Balls.

Q: Is Band Y seen as a credible punk band by the “scene” because the people within Band Y are already assured of their “scene” credibility due to past ventures in Band X?

You know, this could be it! Perhaps it’s to do with context: New End Original might sound like the worst band you ever heard BUT the guy was in Far and the other guy was in Texas Is The Reason so this is within the CONTEXT of hardcore.

This figures.

It’s the Ex Members Of thing again. This is why Rival Schools are cool. They have ex members of Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits. Those bands are hardcore (or whatever) so Rival Schools have their lifetime credibility membership cards no matter what they do.

If they did a Bennie And The Jets style record it’d still be seen as a Bennie And The Jets style record that’s by a hardcore band so it must be hardcore.

So yeah, a band’s backpack factor is definitely helped by the context the band is seen in which is usually determined by which bands the current members used to be in.

(Multiply this ten fold if the previous “cool” band concerned were around so long ago no one ever saw them anyway apart from select scenesters old enough and respected enough to have been there “back in the day”. Fact is, they probably saw the cool band by accident when they were actually there to see Citizen Fish. People in Nottingham will know what I mean by that).

Q: Maybe it is also to do with something more ethereal and unquantifiable like “attitude”. Punk is about attitude. Even my Mum knows that!

This makes sense too.

Yeah! These bands stay true to some kind of mythical punk rock attitude.

This is a toughy to put into words. Like the lyrics of Oasis, people will tell you that you either just “get” them or you don’t. You either have attitude or you don’t.

Trying to explain this one is like me trying to explain Nation Of Ulysses vs Make Up and why one is better than the other. It takes ages and everyone just instinctively knows anyway.

So yeah, this seems to be a feature. If the band lets off a vibe of being punk rock then it in some way pushes them one more step along to actually being accepted as such.

Conclusions

Right then, I’m no scientist but I think I’ve now got this nailed. A band’s success and how much they are accepted in terms of “punkrockness” is down to two common factors:

1. The context the band is viewed in (directly related to and taking into account the ExMembersOf factor), and
2. the band in question possesses punk rock “attitude”.

I’m not having this.

Look at each of these factors:

Context.
You can explain the notion of context in this instance by thinking like this:

It’s like you’re looking at the same scenery but what if you shut one eye or stood on your head? It makes the view different.

What’s in the view is the same but it depends on the way you see it.

So the music may be retro rock but because this-guy-was-in-this-band-and-this-guy-was-in–another-band-and-they-used-to-make-music-we-determine-to-be-punk-rock-then-this-new-music-must-be–seen-from-that-perspective-too.

“Have you heard Band X? They’re playing next week”
“Who is in them?”
“Mr A from Band Y and Mrs B from Band Z”
“Wow, what’s it like?”
“I don’t know but fuck! It’s Mr A and Mrs B from Band Y and Band Z!!!”

Bullshit!

“It’s like the young guy smoking a cigar but it’s not the same as the OLD guy smoking a cigar. It’s different.
It’s not different.
It’s a fucking cigar”.

Amen to that.

It’s like having a drink and being so concerned with who poured it that you forget to drink the thing.

Attitude.
Don’t give me attitude. Attitude is something students think they have when they give me shit for having a full time job and working for the MAN.

MAAAN.

Yeah? Fuck you! I still play music, I tour, I put on bands AND I work 8-5 every day in a job I hate.

I’m going off track but I blame the press for this, they give readers the idea that rock stars live the life 24/7. I mean I’m sure some of them do/did. Johnny Thunders probably did but well, look at what happened there. Iggy might have done once but I bet he likes a milky drink before bed these days and he does have skin like a condom dropping off a spent cock. If you read what the NME says you’ll believe when Trail Of Dead finish a show they get in the tourbus and seek out bars to drain, property to destroy and wild dogs to sodomise. Bullshit. I can officially report they all wear long johns to bed!

FUCK YEAH! Attitude my arse.

I guess what I am getting at is that the notion of being punk rock is pretty much full of shit and if the defining features of what makes something punk or not are what I think they are I’d rather not have anything to do with it. Part of me thinks “so what?” but at the same time this notion of being punk rock is something that I come across all the time and not just in the music I listen to but people giving me flack for door prices or venue choices in shows I promote or the bands I choose to put on. It goes right down to people I know acting like the biggest assholes in the world and treating people with nothing but arrogant disdain but because their punk rock cred is in check (i.e. they own a Bikini Kill record). It’s like a door pass to act like a bastard….

(To be continued)

More about these last 2 things next column, unless I forget what I was on about or something else gets my goat.

On a lighter note here’s some good things:

Saw Trumans Water, thought they rocked. Not as much as I’m Being Good though who in turn didn’t rock as much as Bilge Pump.

After ripping into Careless Talk Costs Lives in the last column (perhaps a little unevenly) I got an email from Everett True that was really cool and made my shitty day at work a lot better for a couple of minutes.

No compilation tape this time because I didn’t have time to do one. Whoops!

So just for the fuck of it here’s a list of some of my favourite gigs I’ve been to in no particular order. Maybe the other columnists should do their lists too??!

Bob Tilton – Nottingham Dubble Bubble with Unwound
Dirty Three – Leicester International Arts Centre
Yo La Tengo – New York Irving Plaza
Jon Spencer sang on a cover of Slack Motherfucker by Superchunk at this show and there were strippers.
Pavement/Chavez/Cat Power – New York Irving Plaza
I liked this because Malkmus kept introducing the next song as new one and then the rest of the band would start playing an old favourite and he’d grudgingly join in.
Black Sabbath – Birmingham Academy
Bonnie Prince Billy – Shepherds Bush Empire
J Mascis & The Fog – Nottingham Boat Club
Melt Banana – Nottingham Social
Eska – Upstairs At The Garage
Aerial M – Birmingham Foundry
Papa M – Leeds Brudenell
Gallon Drunk – Cambridge Boat Race
Daniel Johnston – Covent Garden Rough Trade Store
Man Or Astroman? – Highbury Garage about 4 years ago
Queens Of The Stone Age – Nottingham Rock City

I bet I forgot some.

* Chris’s column was originally titled No Backpacks, but changed to Honey Is Funny after a few months. I stuck with the latter name to avoid confusion – Ed.



Chris Summerlin

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.

http://www.honeyisfunny.com

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