It’s the dawning of a new earache! Jakki Brambles is playing Daisy Chainsaw! Your parents have heard of Nirvana! Geffen are chasing Mudhoney! Madonna’s into Hole! Yep, the early warning alarms are going off all around us — GRUNGE ROCK is coming to save us all from SHOE-GAZING Hell in ’92! STEVEN WELLS, never one to shy away from a spot of ear-punishing noise, goes to, erm, Hertfordshire in search of a revolution. Meanwhile, KEITH CAMERON catalogues the Grungers worth burning your Moose T-shirt for.
“Good taste is the enemy of art.”
— Pablo Picasso
“Vulgarity and bad taste are central to good music.”
— John Peel
“Fudge-packin’, crack-smokin’, Satan-worshipping motherf—ers.”
— Slogan on Nirvana T-shirt
“If you put Moose or Blur on, The Man will smile and pat you on the head. If you put Helmet on or Hole, The Man will frown…”
— Chris Global
SOMETHING HAS gone horribly wrong. British pop groups — for so long the elite, the swashbuckling jolly pirates of global subculture — are currently represented to a sniggering world by inspid sub-Mozzer suburban saps, mumbling mealy-mouthed mummy’s boys, unassuming, uninteresting, unintelligent and unsexy, stunted, stilted and stagnant pop/eunuchs who make Herman’s Hermits sound like Hellbastard.
The current crop of foppy mop-top shoeys are apathetic, afraid-to-rock, parochial and, worst of all, parent-friendly.
“If my mum came in my room and I was playing Unsane she’d go, ‘What is this horrible noise? Get it off!’ If I was playing Lush she’d go, ‘Oh, this is nice!’ — She’d actually like it!”
A look of genuine horror crosses the face of Chris Global, a Hertfordshire farm labourer with a degree in philosophy who has, for some months, been bombarding the NME with furious letters attacking what he sees as a cancer of say-nothing niceness gnawing sloppily at the very heart of our allegedly ‘alternative’ music. The only cure, he says, is Grunge — a staggering, swaggering bourbon-drenched, raw-throated genre that owes something to Hardcore, to Scum Rock and to Metal sans the poodles and the hairdressers. A jerking rock-dog that lustily celebrates the seedy, the spastic, and the degenerate.
THE ETYMOLOGY OF GRUNGE
gronk: dirt which collects between the toes, any junk or dirt (Dictionary Of Slang And Euphemism)
grunt: (utter) low guttural sound characteristic of pigs. (Concise Oxford Dictionary)
gruff: (a) surly, laconic, rough mannered, rough voiced. (COD)
gunk: (sl) viscous or liquid material. (COD)
gunk: 1. any nasty, messy stuff. 2. glue sniffed as recreational drug (S&E)
gunge = GUNK (imit) (COD)
gungy: (also grungy) messy, ugly, smelly, old, or ragged. (S&M)
grunge: 1. any nasty substance. Cf. CRAP, GRONK, GUNGY. 2. an ugly or nasty person. (S&M)
DON’T LET THE HOME COUNTIES RUIN OUR MUSIC
GRUNGE IS primarily an American phenomenon, its best proponents — Hole, L7, Babes In Toyland, Calamity Jane (the more women in the band, the better the band — what an amazing coincidence) — are noisy, articulate, cathartic and utterly pissed off — the total antithesis of Shoey.
“I mean, that Lush interview, that really pissed me off! They don’t even know why they’re in a band! It’s like a hobby thing, innit? Crap! At least the Manic Street Preachers want to conquer the world, at least they’ve got a plan. If I was in a band I’d at least want to change the face of pop music as we know it. You might as well, nobody else is going to do it for you…”
Bands like Unsane make music which is designed not to soothe pop’s slightly fevered brow but to crush its skull. In Unsane’s cathedral of ethereal sound, the font is full of foaming acid and the gargoyles drip venom from twisted mouths.
“If you’re not angry, if you’re not pissed off, then you’re not going to make good music. Chapterhouse defend their right to have nothing to say and it comes through in their music — it’s boring! The Pain Teens sing about torture, pain and death, Surgery sing about how shit work is. Grunge is about being frustrated, inarticulate rage and blind frustration…
“It doesn’t really bother me that the shoe-gazers are poshoes — alright, it bothers me that Slowdive’s parents bought them cars. And guitars. But it doesn’t bother me that they’re middle-class, what bothers me is the fact that they make really dull music.”
Chris is best mates with Adrian Ashworth. Adrian works in an Our Price in Epsom, Surrey and, despite his shoey-style name, has persuaded the management to let him open a Grunge section — an oasis of UUUUURGH! in a desert of simper.
“It’s total shoe-gazing, it’s Slowdive, it’s Chapterhouse, Revolver, that’s the shit that sells round here.”
Are you advocating some kind of Pol Pot solution where all the shoeys are rounded up and re-educated to like good pop music?
“Ha! Yes, it would be for their benefit after all. It gets very frustrating when someone comes in and asks for a Blur record…”
And he makes “Blur” sound like the violent vomiting of a very sick old man.
Why has this insipid indie shite come back?
“I’ve got all the good baggy records, all five of them,” admits Chris. “After baggy you were looking round for what to buy and you bought Bleach and you bought the Boo Radleys, I think things are so shite because people’s expectations are so low and the music press aren’t saying — ‘look, this stuff is average‘…”
So a purge is needed.
“Yeah, really,” agrees Adrian. “You’ve got to be brutal. You don’t just say, ‘well, it’s not my cup of tea’. You tell the truth, you say — ‘it’s shit! It’s insipid, it’s just so complacent and dull‘.”
“There’s no pop stars in shoe-gazing,” moans Chris. “The Manic Street Preachers, whether you like them or not, they’re pop stars. I expect a great deal of my pop stars, I expect them to be loud mouthed and arrogant — ‘Oh look at those women’s breasts, aren’t they amazing?’ — That’s both Chapterhouse and Slowdive trying to be ‘interesting’. F—ing crap. So radical…”
“It should be giving you something,” says Adrian. “Grunge at least challenges things, it’s the sound of the rotting underbelly… If you’re in Moose, right, you must know that you’re average. They must just stand there and think — ‘Are we really getting away this this?’
“It goes in tandem with the politics. Shoe-gazing is Very Home Counties and safe and Tory. The depoliticisation of our culture.”
So you’re saying that the brash, steely commercialism of SAW reflected Thatcherism, whilst the insipid, meandering reactionary babble of the shoeys articulate Majorism?
Isn’t there room for some sweetness and light?
“No!” says Chris, a former Throwing Muses fan. “I’m getting laid off next week. I’m living at home — which I hate, the Tories are still in power, everything’s SHIT, we’ve still got the Poll Tax — you don’t want to come home from a shit day at work and put on something called ‘Shimmer’. You want to put on something that’s AAAAAAAH! I come rushing home sometimes, I’ve got to put a Surgery record on. Ethereal twee jangly indie shoe-gazing jingly jangly shite says nothing to me, it’s just complacent escapism…”
THE DIFFERENCE between Grunge and Shoey has nothing to do with machismo vs female sensuality. Hole and the in-your-face Babes In Toyland say far more about the female condition than Lush (who say nothing about anything). And yes, Grunge has its share of boorish sexist dick-heads, but surely Slowdive and Chapterhouse have blotted the Shoey copybook enough for that mythical dichotomy to have been firmly nailed.
Rock began with the grinning, bouffanted, camp-as-sin, mascara- plastered piano-wrecking loony Little Richard screaming sexy as five-partners-in-a-jacuzzi-shagging gibberish over a lighter-fuel doused burning keyboard after backstage sex sessions with protogroupies shared with his extremely well-hung mate, Buddy Holly. Enraged white racist parents stared in slack-jawed disbelief at this mutant, this insane creature from another planet — This is the beast my daughter wants to screw?! A mad, crotch-grabbing fag-loony nigger!? This depraved, barbaric, voodoo jungle-monkey noise!’
You call this music!
The alternative on offer was Pat Boone — ugly, white, safe and prematurely middle-aged. A mewling marionette who filtered all that was noisy, loud, dangerous and bad out of rock for a scared white audience.
Boone’s legacy lives on in Shoey. Insipidity is a foul virus that has always lived in the belly of the rock beast, it is a disease. And, at the moment. Grunge looks like the only possible cure…
— Steven Wells
HOW TO TELL GRUNGE AND SHOEY APART AT A GLANCE:
Phillip Schofield, Nana Mouskouri, On Golden Pond,John Major, Walter The Softie, The Good Life,Princess Beatrice, Orville, Des O’Connor, Butterflies,Milky Bars, Reader’s Digest,Mary Hopkin, Poodles, My Little Pony
Edd The Duck, Valerie Solanas, Taxi Driver,Dennis Skinner, Beryl The Peril, The Young Ones, Sweeney Toddler, Spit The Dog, Jerry Sadowitz, Tapeworms, Yorkie Bars, Viz, Courtney Love, Sofa-shagging Rottweiler, My Little Pony Abattoir and Glue Factory
Neat Stuff (both these are comics written and drawn by Peter Bagge, who also produces cover artwork for Tad, and published by Fantagraphics).
Big Daddy Roth comics
Tank Girl (Deadline comic)
Anything by Joe R Lansdale
Any comic drawn by Simon Bisley (eg new Batman/Judge Dredd graphic novel Judgement On Gotham)
Your Flesh — cool Minneapolis fanzine
Flipside — cool-ish LA fanzine.
Anything by Sven Hassel
A TO Z OF GRUNGE
Babes In Toyland
Premier female angst exponents from Minneapolis. Sample lyric — “One, two, three, four, five, glad you’re not alive.”
Extremely unpleasant people from Minneapolis. The sleeve of their last LP, Monticello, featured an ugly transvestite baring his genitals. This may have had something to do with the band being denied entry visas to the UK last year, thereby scuppering plans for a fab grungefest featuring Bastard, Hellbastard and Bastard Kestrel.
Fab power-brokers from Ohio. Recommended are the Steve Albini-produced Star Booty and Umber LPs.
Pussy Galore splinter band. Album sleeves invariably feature singer Christina in full-frontal nude poses.
Genius Australian bunch. Self-confessed “grandaddies of Grunge” as all are well in their 30s and ought to know better. Drummer Bill Walsh is a sociology graduate. Sample lyric — “How was I to know she was only 13?” Another sample lyric — “Can’t come in — f— off!/Can’t come in — get f—ed!”
Midwest nutcases. Gigs invariably end with band stark naked and rubbing dubious substances on each other. Authors of ‘Daddy Has A Tail!’, described as “about as jangly and sweet as a jet crash”.
Prominent in the thriving Austin, Texas scene. Release material on key scene label Tranee Syndicate, run by Butthole Surfers drummer King. All three members work in a state mental institution, perform in adult diapers with worms down them and give each other enemas onstage. Singer the Reverend Art Bankloppy proclaims a gospel best described as Evangelical Scatology.Due to tour Blighty later this year.
Beered up scrunge slobs from Champaign, Illinois. Recent single sleeve advised purchaser to “F— The Pigs”.
Drunks With Guns
Milwaukee-based losers. Name painfully apt.
LA punk scandal merchants. Sub Pop album Blood Guts And Pussy caused outrage, with its sleeve depiction of two naked blood-drenched women and a dwarf holding a dead rabbit.
Brits (from Nottingham) who sound grungier than most Americans. Turned down the chance to tour US as part of the grungiest bill ever conceived — opening for Nirvana, Helmet and Tar — because they didn’t want to give up the day jobs. Drummer is a quantity surveyor.
Minneapolis metal-noise fusionists, fronted by psychotic Mike Hard (another apt name). On last year’s six-hour grunge orgy that was the Ugly American Overkill tour, Hard played the London New Cross Venue with his chest heavily bandaged, the result of having set fire to a Bible and placing it next to his skin.
Halo Of Flies
Long-running vehicle for Amphetamine Reptile (key Minneapolis grunge label) boss Tom Hazelmyer. An angry man, an angrier band.
Ex-Chrome nutcase, regularly turns out spacey Metal albums on Amphetamine Reptile.
Ultra-heavy New York outfit. Album Strap It On a must for thrash aerobic classes. Vehicle for ex-Band Of Susans guitarist Page Hamilton.
From LA, the outlet for the pain, neurosis and righteous anger of Courtney Love. Sample lyric — “Don’t blush when I rip you open.” Madonna wants to sign them to her new label.
From Chicago, comprising ex-Scratch Acid and Rapeman personnel. Singer David Yow always up for a scrap with the front row.
Mirthsome, ultra-heavy grungers from Madison, Wisconsin. Obsessed with loonies, psychos, misfits in general. “Singer” Michael Gerald is a maths teacher. Sample lyric — “I was born feet first, it shows in the way I think/I work at the sausage plant, it makes my clothing stink.” Famed for covers of such classics as Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ and Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’, they’re currently preparing a version of EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’.
King Snake Roost
Australian mob, produced by grunge guru Butch Vig, whose other credits include Killdozer and Nirvana.
LA Metal head all-female crew, a bit like the Runaways but with more pierced body parts. Sample lyric — “Got so much clit she doesn’t need no balls.” Not to be messed with.
Unfeasibly seminal band from Aberdeen, redneck logging town 100 miles from Seattle. Grungy to the point of being unlistenable. The inspiration for all subsequent Seattle scene bands. Drummer Dale Crover was briefly in Nirvana (see below).
The first Brit-Grunge band.Currently dormant, but liable to re-emerge when least expected. Albini-produced Kiss Ass Godhead album banned from major chains because of gratuitous phallic sleeve artwork.
The band that put Seattle and Sub Pop on the map. Middle class geeks by day, axe-wielding serial killing middle class geeks by night. Singer Mark Arm has an English degree. Bassist Matt Lukin used to be in the Melvins (see above) and is a trained carpenter. Drummer Dan Peters is a trained dishwasher. Sample lyric — “Well I’ve been bad, but I’ve been worse/I’m a creep, I’m a jerk.” Another sample lyric — “If I think, I think of you.”
Grunge band with platinum album and Top Ten single. Your mum knows who they are.
Disturbed outfit from Houston,Texas, murder capital of America. Trance Syndicate LP Born In Blood features singer Bliss Blood declaiming over sprawl of tape loops and sundry noise. Prone to indulge in acts of domination onstage.
Hot New York outfit. LP soon on Matador label.
Pigmy Love Circus
Hailing from Wanker’s Corner, Oregon, these failed boy scouts confine themselves to tours of local abattoirs and animal experiment labs, where they feel the audience is more appreciative of PLC’s vile muse. Destined for big (uh — ed) things some time next century.
Statuesque punk-metal veterans from Portland, Oregon, who variously rejoice under such names as Pig Champion (a man so statuesque he makes Tad look like Vini Reilly), The Slayer Hippy and Bob (joke, that one). Last London show took in gratuitous nudity, fire-breathing and ugliness.
Seattle types most notable for the presence of Jack Endino, the producer credited for creating the “Sub Pop sound”. Important to get the name right — “Skin Yard is two f—in’ words,” sez Jack.
Obtuse grunge from Wales.”Sleuw Jamn” is Welsh for “Dog With Whisky”.
Steel Pole Bath Tub
Brilliant San Franciscan samplecore trip. Version of ‘Paranoid’ is far better than Black Sabbath’s. Recently split up.
Grunge pop brats from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Like a pubescent Sonic Youth with better songs.
Vile slob rock from New York. The result of too much masturbation and bad beer.
Sub Pop icon, famed for mock redneck escapades involving chainsaws and magic mushrooms in the woods near Seattle. Fond of stage-diving on hapless fans. Sample song title — ‘Nipple Belt’ about the serial killer (and Silence Of The Lambs inspiration) Ed Gein.
Intense bunch from Chicago who shone on the Ugly American Overkill tour. Operate a strict no-guitar solos policy — “all our trousers are on”.
Excellent power trio from Belfast, with a thing for Big Black and serial killers.
Off-and-on side project of Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney. Bad, deliberately so.
Pre-Sub Pop Seattleites with Birthday Party hang-ups.
Much respected New York noisemongers — “the guvnors”. Forthcoming album sleeve features a man decapitated by a speeding train.
Elegantly attired loungecore outfit from Chicago, marrying slurred takes on bad mid-’70s rock with a wardrobe that features crushed velvet jackets, cummerbunds and UO gold medallions. Famed for their startlingly emotonal cover of Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’.
— Keith Cameron
Dope, Guns ‘N’ F—ing In The Streets Volume 1-3 (Amphetamine Reptile)
Ugly American Overkill (Amphetamine Reptile)
F— Me, I’m Rich (Sub Pop)
The Grunge Years (Sub Pop)
Sub Pop 200 (Sub Pop, but virtually unobtainable in its original boxed form. Try for the American CD version)
Love And Napalm Volume 1 & 2 (seven-inch Tranee Syndicate samplers)
© Keith Cameron, Steven Wells, New Musical Express, 4 January 1992