We Are Punk: Disinterested Sound as Soul Discharge
hey’ve played, pounded, and romped through surf, psych, punk, and pop, all filtered through a mesh of willful naiveté that leaves even the most hardened of genres a malleable if not sloppy mess. Having proved an indifference to instrumentation is not a grievous error, they can, and have, come on foot; bearing nothing but their own selves, a set of rhythm sticks, a Jew’s harp, and some electronic toys. With microphones on and mouths agape, the group creates music out of selfless chant, songs from nonsense scats that trail about like paper strands caught in a pond, swirling and swimming in predictable and unpredictable trajectories. There are shrieks and screams and whispers, which follow from nothing and impossibly include next to everything. A gargling, choking, and spitting miasma that flies up from the tips of the toes and wails forth waist-deep, heavy and hard—the word or phrase, intelligible and unintelligible, a congealed and decaying mass of unchecked and unabashed emotion pulled from sources unspoken, locales lost to misplaced maps, sites as banal as barren grocery aisles, city bus stops of cancelled lines. Other voices announce themselves and drop into the din—smooth stones turned out of hands and sent down the black void of a forgotten well.
Arguably a band built on the bedrock of 80s punk—Black Flag, Adrenaline O.D., Bad Brains and BL’AST!—The Boredoms didn’t ape the sound, they aped the attitude, or what they thought that attitude was. In their hands, punk wasn’t a venomous fuck skewered over two and three minute blasts; it was more plastic, a structure that came together and was forced apart. The pieces were picked up and pulled into shape like blown glass and then ritualistically bashed into a pearly dust. Not only the m.o. for sound; it also was utilized for aesthetics.
Cover art as a contest in substantial inanity: Onanie Bomb Meets the Sex Pistols. Idea’s wattage as shit-headed alien, replete with songs scatological and boastful; Big Brother in “We Never Sleep”; blue movie gonad ache in “Lick’n Cock Boatpeople.” A year later and there’s Soul Discharge, in ways a reworking of Onanie Bomb’s scat-piled extraterrestrial: a face free of feature, a protuberant vegetal hardness with Elvis fright-wig and pearls.
Years later the Super Roots series would burgeon from black earth, no longer dependent on sonic shocks or figuratively distressed dress-ups. With the songs loosened from their stitching, cover art became more about prankish defacings than the face itself. Finally, Yamantaka Eye would give the band a pictorial analogue. Collaged and graffiti’d guffaws worked out via obsessive iconography: The Black Flag “bars” are scribbled over and over and over again—a child practicing his or her name, a can of Krylon spraying the letters in bright, loose shapes. The Dead Kennedys, Saccharine Trust, Devo, J.F.A., D.O.A., M.O.D., and S.O.D.: Logos are as talismans, like hex signs they are magically empowered to some, meaningless designs to others. The same goes for the sound of a kazoo, a groaning human voice, electric guitar feedback, a bike’s honky horn. This is not about musical proficiency; it’s about a selfless approach, a way to “let sound happen.” But, as soon as it begins to “happen,” it’s about hammering the happening home until it realizes itself.
Some have encouraged us to listen to our boredom, to wonder why distraction has no attraction, to settle in the well of our detachment and realize our need for nothing so much. Letting the sound happen is listening to our boredom, even if it came straight from the grooves of a Butthole Surfers or Buzzcocks LP. Resist the calls to have hobbies or read those dust gathering paperbacks; lie in your boredom like a bed, where awareness is an ephemeral sensibility as needless as duck sauce packets that accumulate in the kitchen drawer. Boredom was and continues to be a useful means for The Boredoms.
Punk, too, continues to be a useful means for The Boredoms. No different than a bike, a blender, a pot of water at a rolling boil, punk enables the band to break sound out of its current state and put it down in another place, change its texture or dissolve it down into its fundamental state. Eye may not have been a synthesizer, but he was always willing to synthesize sounds that fervently resisted happy harmony: hard trance and locomotive breath, lounge casualties doomed by blitzkrieg bop, teenage bondage worn out on incense, peppermints, live at Budokan, Bore Now Bore, Hey Bore, Bore Go. No Go. Never eradicate the hand that feeds exhaustion, pacing impatience, the weak and the weary. Restless disinterest might be better known as boredom, but for Eye and Co. it’s the alchemical way back to the beginning and end, a place of no place where the throat is choked with its own tale.