Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cyclic Existence of Heavy Music - Part II, Other Than Metal

The eighties were also the height of American punk, but punk's inability to break into the mainstream forced the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement. Independent record labels started by band members and scenesters came into existence to distribute music that the major media wasn't interested in. An example would be SST Records started by Greg Ginn; then frontman of Black Flag. Ginn recorded a record with his previous band Panic and had no luck securing a record deal and decided to release it himself by establishing his own label. SST Records then began distributing music from it's home of Southern California's thriving punk scene.

Hardcore remained an underground music while punk experienced a revival in the nineties as 'Pop-Punk' with bands like Green Day. Punk resisted assimilation into the heavy music category by shying away from association with hardcore and especially metal with pop friendly branches like Ska. Granted, there are punk bands that remained true to it's roots but like any music that was taboo in it's heyday, it too had to give way to new music. An example would be when jazz faded from music played in brothels in New Orleans as music you heard while you got some 'jass' into easy listening AM radio stations.

Indie label's distribution was limited and did not have the clout nor financial prowess of the major labels to take advantage of traditional marketing techniques such as securing an end cap display at a retail chain. Instead of competing directly with the majors, indies took a community based approach such as releasing split records. The idea of a split record is to feature two bands, one on each side. The record typically has a few tracks from each artist and one of the bands would be the draw intended to entice listeners to try another band based on association.

It was through compilations from reputable indie labels that many fans heard new bands. Without distribution into retail locations, labels relied on the dying mail order system where you requested a catalog, picked items and sent a check for the merchandise (plus shipping and handling) then awaited its arrival; all correspondence via USPS. Some mom 'n pop record shops would carry these records but they were typically scene specific and traditional distribution was a thing to come.

How did these kids hear about these new bands before the internet? The answer is the under ground magazine, or zine to the initiated. Zine's were put out either by individuals who had close ties to the scene or by indie labels. Zines evolved to take on subscribers and some of these DIY publications were nationally distributed through the postal service. Other than the zine it was word of mouth and live shows that spread the word. As time pass and indies grew in national recognition, they began taking out ads in publications that fans read like Hit Parader and Guitar World.

Necessity being the mother of all invention, DIYers of the era understood the geographical limitation of a scene as well as indie labels. Where major labels planned tour logistics and offered support, these bands got a van and crammed as much gear, clothing, and merch as they could afford and hit the road. It was a slow process with no guarantee of success but it was those that braved it that paved the way for many to come. A great book on this topic is Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag by Henry Rollins.

During the nineties when pop punk was making the top twenty charts, the punk bands of the past began to resurface with their back catalog picked up by a new and younger audience who wanted to hear where it began. Bands like Bad Brains suddenly became a household name where in the past it lived in relative obscurity to the mainstream media during the peak of it's career. The punk revival was in full swing with it being used in extreme sports events, game and movie sound tracks, even ivy league colleges were having commencement speeches by political punk alumni.

Hardcore remains the underground redheaded stepchild of heavy music. The bastard descendant of punk diverged on it's own when it became too heavy for punk's liking where traditional punk fans shunned it while the new hardcore fans accepted it's roots. Built on the DIY ethos of it's punk roots and strengthened by the tight knit scene, hardcore thrived underground where it fostered the creation of independent record labels that distributed with fierce brand loyalty. Once upon a time fans could rely on Victory Record's brand to deliver true and good hardcore.

The broader reaches of the World Wide Web in the beginning of nineties combined with the DIY attitude exposed hardcore to new, previously inaccessible fans. The music being heard for the first time by those without a local hardcore scene found themselves becoming immersed into hardcore culture via the internet; giving rise to new momentum by giving indie labels and unsigned bands the tools to strike against major media with the ability to release music worldwide without the need for traditional distribution channels.

With both punk and hardcore heard by a global audience, we wait for those with new gripes, frustrations, politics and scenes to form a new voice to express what that local culture has to say. In part III we will be hearing how those voices will influence music to come.

Check out the next article; The Cyclic Existence of Heavy Music - Part III, Full Circle

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Cyclic Existence of Heavy Music - Part I, From the 80's to the 90's

Just like yourself, I listen to a broad range of music. When asked what kind of music I listen to I tend to fall back on metal, hardcore, industrial, and the various sub-genres that may be difficult to differentiate without being a fan. However, as both a songwriter and a fan of the genre I am not disillusioned into thinking that it will last forever. This may irk some of you but let's face it, music is an industry because it makes money and heavy music represents a small segment of the market.

As far as the recording industry is concerned the popularity of any song is based on the purchasing power and attention span of the core demographic. Still nay-saying? Consider what radio formats exist today and if there are any formats dedicated to metal, hardcore, punk, etc. Sure there are radio stations that play heavier music outside of popular music, but it's relegated to late night slots at a college radio station.

As metal died towards the end of the eighties we had Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax that represented the 'Big 4' of metal bands. When these bands started out they each made a distinct mark on metal - with Metallica being the popular example of Bay Area thrash; Mustaine's departure from Metallica came Megadeth as the rival feud; Slayer as the extreme end of thrash; and Anthrax representing East Coast metal.

There were plenty of bands outside of the Big 4 that saw moderate to good success but the problem with a small business segment is that there is only so much room for competing products. When the metal scene became popular, bands seemed to suddenly appear playing similar material and eventually what started as a proliferation of metal became a saturation of metal and the bloated segment in music became unsustainable in the market. There simply were too many damn metal bands that didn't offered anything new, and to make it worse the scene was beginning to fragment and divide into different camps of metal.

The end of the eighties was when metal and hard rock cemented their symbiotic relationship. Guns N' Roses' Appetite foe Destruction was released in 1987 to obscurity until David Geffen asked favors to include the record's first single, Welcome to Jungle which had an accompanying video to be included in MTV's late night rotation. This was the defining moment when video became as important as the single it's self in a band's survivability in music merchandising and advertising. So important was it that MTV began the Best Rock Video category at their annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1989 with Guns 'N Roses' Sweet Child 'o Mine as the winner up against Aerosmith, Def Leppard, and Metallica. The inclusion of the category helped break in heavier music to the masses.

The beginning of the nineties mourned the death of metal, but really it was an inevitable end that had to occur in order to force it underground where it could be rediscovered among new blood with new ears and new ideas. During this transition, rock birthed the weird off spring that is Alternative, which had an impact on future musicians that was to become the next generation of metal and hardcore songwriters. Until the nineties it was faux pas to listen to metal and popular music which stunted the growth of metal for years, but with metal submerging underground again, it fostered a new scene with new rules. Alternative bands such as Alice in Chains and Sound Garden, who had heavy sounding guitars blended with pop sensible-yet-metal-ish vocals, helped the paradigm shift in the attitude towards what became acceptable in heavy music.

As the nineties progressed we saw new acts added to rosters of metal labels like Road Runner and Metal Blade, with bands such as Machine Head, Candiria, and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Major labels were signing heavier bands occasionally to tout them as 'alternative metal' and 'nu-metal' along the way. It was these bands in the nineties that were the front runners that changed the way heavy music was perceived. Without the Big 4 poisoning it's progeny that desperately tried to fit an already overflowing mold of what the major label audience wanted them to sound like, music again took precedence and gave way to creativity over profit.

Now we have to let metal percolate in the melting pot of music and watch it change into something new, bringing in the next generation of musicians to write and play songs that become the anthem of the moment. We will have to wait another decade for that to happen. In the meantime, we will be taking a look at what else is happening in heavy music outside of metal in Part II.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


One of the things I miss about New Orleans is the food. I recently decided to try my hand at gumbo and I settled on a recipe that I liked so I thought to share it with you here. It starts with a 6.5 quart crock pot.

What you will need:

1 1/2 lbs. Bacon (preferably thick cut)
12 oz. Andouille Sausage
2 lbs. Crawfish or Shrimp tails peeled and deveined
1 & 1/4 white onion
1 small bunch of scallions (About 8 to a bundle)
3 Medium Potatoes
2 Large Jalapenos (fresh)
2 Habanero Peppers
1 lb. can of diced Tomatoes
1 lb. Chicken Broth (cartons come in 2 lbs packages, half of one of those)
1/4 cup White Vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 lbs. ~ 3/4 lbs Okra
16 cloves of garlic (I buy them pre-peeled in a tub)
2 oz. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 oz. Tabasco Sauce
1/8 cup Andy Roo's Creole Gumbo Seasoning
1 Tablespoon Slap Ya Mama Hot Blend
1/8 cup Cayenne Pepper
~1 cup Flour
1/8 cup Basil (dry)
1/8 cup Oregano (dry)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Cilantro (dry)
Water (Will get the amount later)

For the rice:

2 cups Rice
4 cups water
6 Cloves of Garlic
1 Vegetable Bullion or broth/soup base

Start by pouring half of the carton (1 lb.) of chicken broth in to the crock pot and add the rest of the wet ingredients except for the water (vinegar, Worcestershire, hot sauce, and Tabasco sauce). The can of tomatoes will need to be drained than add the entire can to the mix. Add all of the dry ingredients except for the flour (cayenne pepper, basil, oregano, Slap ya Mama, Gumbo seasoning, and cilantro) and stir till mixed than set the crock pot on high while preparing the fresh ingredients. Keep the lid off as you will be adding the ingredients as you prepare them.

Potatoes should be cut to bite size, onion to be quartered than sliced ~2mm wide than rough chopped. Cut the ends off of the okra and dispose, than chop the okra 5~7mm wide rings. Scallion should be sliced to about 3mm wide wings, garlic should be crushed with the flat of chef's knife than roughly minced. Halve the sausage than cut 5~7mm wide. Crawfish or shrimp tail (whichever is available to you) will ideally already be peeled and deveined but if not, this is the time to do it. Jalapenos and Habaneros should be roughly minced and keep the seeds in. Place the lid on the crock pot and time to cook some bacon.

Cook the bacon only till it produces grease (cook but keep soft). Go through the entire 1 1/2 lbs. and you will be saving the bacon grease in to a pyrex measuring cup between each batch to minimize contaminants in the grease as well to take care not to burn it. Once you cook through it all, slice the bacon to 2~3mm wide pieces and add to the gumbo mix. Add hot water to the gumbo mix to fill up the crock pot until it is nearly full at this point and than replace the lid. The bacon should have produced a little bit over a cup's worth which you will need to strain in to a clean pan set to low heat. Once the bacon grease is warmed, slowly add the nearly cup's worth of flour by slowly stirring it in to create the roux which will be added to the gumbo later. The flour to oil ratio is nearly one to one, you will need to continue to stir in flour until you get a putty like texture. Add the roux to the gumbo once it is hot by stirring it in slowly.

With all the ingredients added, let it cook for three hours or until done. While this is going, prepare some rice. Melt the vegetable bullion in to 4 cups of water and combine with rice in a rice cooker and let cook. Once the rice finish, add butter and stir to your liking. When the gumbo finishes, heap some rice into a bowl and add gumbo and enjoy.