Bad Ass Weekend is a crash course in time-machining; a hot fling with bands that weren’t made by and for the Internet — dealers of rough, jaw-grinding music, more fitted to action-packed rooms than lonely laptop speakers. There’s a lot of Killed By Death punk, a lot of crust, sludge, thrash and other hybrid-metal forms, and some total noise sibilance. Bring whatever cash you can muster, and leave it at the merch tables.
There is no real way to be an insider in things that are outsider by definition, nor to share privileged experiences of a festival that is diametrically opposed to privilege itself. Nonetheless, I will be at Bad Ass Weekend both as an audience member and with my fabulous group Indian Jewelry, and as such, I’m going to take a minute here to wave a special stick that I picked up at the band commissary at a few heads on the lineup, and trust that you can make up your own mind.
First of all, in addition to everyone I mention below, you’d be wise not to miss: Black Leather Jesus (one of Houston's original, genre-defining, unwaveringly committed noise groups); Rusted Shut (30 years of unchecked hate spew and de-tuned guitars), Warwound, Alimanas (in the words of Domokos from Rusted Shut, "my favorite vermin rebels from planet Puro Vicio"); Excel (OG surf-skate-metal from Venice Beach, California); Acrylics (modern classic punk from Toronto); Peasant (somewhere between black metal and punk), Cattlepress (also via Domokos, "Eddie Ortiz of Cattlepress is my old bandmate and partner in crime from my early metal/grind/hardcore days in Staten Island...expect pure focus and disgust"); Talk Sick Brats (hooliganery and high spirits); Snooty Garbagemen (one comes for the maniac Josh Wolf, one stays for the overdriven classic-rock wizardry from Tom Triple T, or vice versa), and it goes on.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm a dilettante in such a dedicated world, nearly content to take cheer from the sheer linguistic triumph and kinship of the band names on the schedule, which reads like a mix-n-match of a hex book, WW2 exploitation films and the table of contents torn out of a Trevor Paglin book on secret DoD agencies. As seen here:
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MDFL, Naamahk, Zimmerman's Gun, Volt/R.R., Steel Bearing Hand, Church of Disgust, Nerve Damage, Thundertank, Warwound, Aspects of War, Napalm Raid, Deadly Reign, God Fearing Fuck, Saint Crusher, Existencia, Combat Knife, Exit Dust, Disgusti, Capitalist Casualties, Disevered, Ullatec,
Hellmaistroz, Ataque De Rabia, Snake Charmer, Cryptic Void, Harm, Battle Rifle, Mellow Harsher, Greedy Mouth, Turbokrieg, Calafia Puta, Concussive, Asshole Parade, Massgrave, Shitstorm, Holy Money, Ignis Gratis, KRVSHR, El Desmadre, Krigblast, Tolar, Ass, Stress33, UYUS, Wastoids, Beta Boys, UVTV.
Cop Warmth would be the band I should choose, were I to elect one emblem for the entirety of Bad Ass Weekend, in part because I love them deeply, but mostly because their own disorganized ethos and sound draws as much from metal and noise as punk. They’re the furthest thing from purists — from their early days as a deconstructed punk and soccer-anthems two-piece to their more recent form, in which they almost bear a semblance to a stable band, they’ve always stayed true to only two things: Craig Mickle’s shrill, cat-dying-on-a-hot-tin-roof guitar throttling, which sounds like Gregg Ginn in the throes of total dementia; and a long-lingering philosophical commitment to git-r-done on the brink of total chaos. There's always something on the fritz.
Skullflower's music is like a huge geographic escarpment in which you can hear, feel and almost see the countless aspirations and broken lives that lie in the fossil record of the Romantic hunt for the sublime, the primal and the unknowable in music — from the old Germans to their near predecessors and contemporaries in Chrome, Swans, Whitehouse, the Butthole Surfers, the Dead C, Einsturzende Neubauten, Masonna, Merzbow and the like. This is modernist music full of overtures and prolonged crescendos that aspire to various states of awe, arrived at via physical presence, amplification and harsh electronic frequency-filtering rather than academic theories or the applications of scale-based technique. Matthew Bower formed Skullflower in 1985, at a time when almost everything that was good in rock owed something to noise and the abnegation of ornament. Metal Machine Music is in there; so are Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, minute temporal events, deep psych and all the big feelings from ascendant joy to repulsion.
With 1986's Ripper Crust, which stripped New Wave of British Heavy Metal riffage of fantasy lore and the escapism disease, Hellbastard ushered in the kind of crossover between anarcho-punk and whiplash thrash that helped make metal great again. And again, after a break of a decade and a half, the band re-formed à la the Blues Brothers, on their own nasty mission. This isn’t the music that underscores imperialist apologias and gladiator movies, it isn't tailored to appease the beard-oil and creature-comforts crowd; this chariot is pulled by teams of rats.
Rosemary Malign is a harsh noise/power-electronics artist from New Orleans and a member emeritus of the Eugenics Council, one of the more dangerous groups in noise. Years ago the group I am in had occasion to play a coastal venue on the circuit not long after the Eugenics Council. A calming breeze blowing in through a hole in the wall that had once housed a large window provided a conversational reminder that the Eugenics Council had detonated a number of explosives in the room not long before, burning the paint off the walls, and completely blowing out the window. Rosemary Malign is like that for the brain, an author of experiences that bear more than a whiff of trauma, rage and irreversible events, however dealt, minus the balmy Atlantic sea wind.
In closing, let me end at the beginning, as it is the exception among the rest of the shows in tone, if not in energy or ethos. Tonight at Walters, Bad Ass Weekend presents its softer side with a Protomartyr, Spray Paint, Muhammadali, the Snooty Garbagemen, Clear Acid and LACE (formerly the Midwives).
Muhammadali is possibly the most emotionally engaging and sweetest-sounding group on the whole shebang. They combine songcraft on a par with the Wipers with all the sound colors of modern guitar FX and a vibe that says, my world is ending now, let's get to the back of the medicine cabinet.
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Spray Paint ooze with some of that juice what spills out the cup of the Fall, Wire and Devo. If Austin had a poet, it’d be these three guys. They’ve got a prodigious outlay of chanted quotidian spells and circular advertisements to the casual life, all set to ingeniously lean arrangements of twin twanging guitars and Klaus Dinger beats. Once the patron saints of Beerland, they have developed a penchant for becoming suddenly everywhere at once, touring far and near, but they don’t make it to Houston often, which is a shame for us. I simply can’t get enough of them. While hurrying through the interminable gelatinous mass of humanity and inescapable songishness that is Austin during music expo week a few years ago, I found that almost every time I heard a band that stopped me in my tracks long enough to wonder "Who was that band?" that band was Spray Paint.
Over the past few years, Protomartyr have elicited such a passionate response from a number of people that I want to trust that I find myself returning to odds and ends of their discography in a state of agitated curiosity. While I haven’t yet found the mystic key that accounts for the rapture of others, nor have I had the chance yet to see them live, I am digging them in the place of an alternate-universe Pere Ubu that stuck to rhythm end and dropped the out-music, art damage and birdcalls, or a much more agreeable, more reasonable Fall mixed in with some of that troubadour-with-a-huge-bar-tab indie rock that seemed to snuff out sometime in the early 2000s. Furthermore, they’re from Detroit, which, in my professional opinion, usually speaks to a good education in the things that matter.