I never gravitated towards the California punk rock scene; that isn’t to say I don’t respect it, I just don’t get a lot from the bands involved. There has always just been something off in a lot of it; an element that just didn’t fully click with me. Maybe it’s the overly political nature. I’ve never liked super political punk rock, as weird as that sounds. It’s always left a bad taste in my mouth, and makes a lot of the lyrics sounds somewhat dated. If I wanted a history/80’s politics lesson I’d read a book not listen to the Dead Kennedys. It could be the later emphasis on skate punk; a genre that isn’t worth talking about let alone listening too. The other factor is a lot of the bands just lacked the creativity of say New York, Washington, or Cleveland (the forgotten punk rock scene in the USA and possibly my favourite overall).
That isn’t to say there weren’t creative bands in Cali, just that they’re bands that never get much credit. Flipper is a band I often forget are related to the Cali punk scene, as they formed in San Francisco and not the North West
(which took their style and ran with it). They have such a different sound for that world and one completely out-of-place with California. Their music is nihilistic and bleak in an honest way, not in the Darby Crash/Germs created sort of Nihilism. Crash always felt like he was living a character of his own design, like when an actor gets too deeply into a role and starts to lose their own personality. Flipper, on the other hand, were just bottled rage and misery; a group hellbent on self-destruction. Their shows from that period nicely illustrate this. They are a fucked up mess of range and intoxication falling apart more often than rising above. Flipper’s seminal album “Generic” still has one of my favourite lyrics of all time on it about depression and anger: “Ever look at a flower and Hate it”. It’s a line that has made me laugh and smile since I first heard them it 1993. Hell, the entire track “Ever” is hilarious in its dead pan delivery of over the top lines about depression. It’s just grim; and I fucking love it.
EVER by FLIPPER
The other band I gravitated towards used to be fucking associated with the San Fran punk rock scene, but somehow over time has been retcon’d out of it. That band is CHROME. I fucking love Chrome. I have since the first time I heard them in a dingy apartment littered with overflowing ashtrays and half empty bottles of whatever was on sale at the beer store. My friend Dave somehow had a copy of “Half Machine Lip Moves” on LP, (he had another collection on
CD that had been stolen from a party before I met him, along with his Suicide CDs) which he found while living in Toronto. This was way before file exchange and all that shit so if you found something like that you just fucking bought it. Until the reissue series, finding Chrome records in Canada was nearly impossible. He gave me that copy in 2006 and I still treasure it as much as a great album as I do an important slice of my musical evolution. Chrome honestly sounded like nothing else on earth in 1977, owing as much to Hawkwind as they did say krautrock or the Stooges. They are as much first wave industrial as they are punk rock. Weird primitive synths and drum machines are scattered all over their records. Helios Creed’s endless abuse of whatever effects he could get his hands on slither across soundtrack for post-apocalyptic landscapes. One of the factors in Chrome that never get enough fucking credit is Damon Edge. Edge’s vocals, his use of processing and cadence is the fucking template for the industrial to come. He basically created the vocal sound and style that people associate with Skinny Puppy and became the standard in the industrial world. Chrome now sit in a weird space, kinda disowned by the genres they helped create, and that is a fucking travesty.
3RD FROM THE SUN by CHROME
Or this track: remember this is fucking 1976. This is the template for so many bands that followed; synth use, vocal placement and the level they are mixed at. This could be an early Ministry or Skinny Puppy track (till it gets into the Hawkwind “Warrior on the Edge of Time” speaking part).
THE VISITATION by CHROME
The California punk scene could have been so much more. It could have been as weird and diverse as the NYC or Cleveland scenes, but went down a really different path early on. Aspects started off as really out there and creative,
and just got boiled down to a songwriting formula. That isn’t to say that some of those bands didn’t write great songs or weren’t great bands, (The Descendants fucking rule, and Black Flag is awesome and certainly pushed the limits of hardcore later on by adding elements of free jazz and sabbath worship to their sound) it’s just the out-there, more experimental side never got much attention and still is kinda ignore by the general punk rock community. It’s a shame that this side wasn’t embraced, but it’s also understandable. The bands I mention sound nothing like anything else in that scene, and a world of forever summer isn’t exactly the type of place music by nihilistic, introverted weirdo’s flourishes. Bring on the Skatepunk and the musical ennui that comes with it. – SHANE
Bonus: This band didn’t fit in the article anywhere (beyond being from Cali in the 70’s) and I just wanted an excuse to post this song. Killer pop writing.