Reviews

Fucked Up: 4 July 2009 - Paris

Photo: David Waldman

Is this the shape of punk to come?

Fucked Up

Fucked Up

City: Paris
Venue: Nouveau Casino
Date: 2009-07-04

I have a confession to make. While I often listened to hardcore in high school in the presence of friends, I didn't own more than a few Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies tapes (though plenty of Dead Kennedys, but their entire output is not hardcore, despite the usual categorization). So when a friend told me I had to see the Fucked Up show in Paris, I was a bit suspicious. But I trust his instincts, and I went. Thus, the following review is from someone who heard them for the first time at this concert. I liked them so much that I bought a CD of their singles collection and a T-shirt emblazoned with a quote by Tom Jones.

On the way to the show I wondered who the hell was going to be there. I rarely see any semblance of punk in Paris, and in the few bars where you can find those signs, there's no guarantee that such people will all be at a show that costs 15 Euros. I was a bit surprised then, maybe even refreshed, to find a mostly very non-punk-looking audience of about fifty people. This was the first of many expectations that were pleasantly shattered at this concert.

If you are sick of the commoditized aesthetic uniformity of how certain music genres are visualized in public -- the long hair or the short dyed hair, the baggy pants and baseball caps or the tight trousers and fedoras, the tattoos and piercings -- you will find Fucked Up refreshingly provocative in their confident, well, plainness. Of the three guitar players, two were so clean-cut they could move from the punk club to the country club without anyone detecting anything. The drummer was wearing a black sleeveless "We Gotta Know" T-shirt, and the bespectacled nerdy female bassist was decked out in a blue sleeveless vintage dress -- no tattoos or piercings were at all visible. That is, of course, until your eyes turn to lead singer Damian (or Pink Eyes -- they all use pseudonyms), who showed up in tracksuit pants and a T-shirt that was quickly thrown aside.

While the rest of band may fail to make an impression, front man Damian is unforgettable. He is a big man. Not overly tall, perhaps 5'11'', but boasting remarkable girth, and sporting a couple of tattoos, one being the band's logo. A couple of songs into the set, his antics -- mad pacing, jumping about, screaming until his veins pop right out of his neck -- produced an abundance of body coolant, covering the crowd in his sweat. Later, after un-shirting himself, he took empty plastic beer cups and smashed them on his forehead and his belly so that they stuck like suction cups. They would last a couple of songs before he bounded off the stage in search of more, usually on the floor but also on the three or four side tables of the room. But it was still too hot for Damian, so he stripped down into his Fruit of the Looms, a good faded black, in which he remained for the rest of the show.

Musically, Fucked Up are loud. And yes, they do have a hardcore streak. But it’s the vocals that are the most hardcore aspect. Charismatic lead singer Damian seemingly has a lot to scream about, but I can't say I understood most of what he was howling about. I gathered it was about the virus of complacency and the courage to take a stand. I'm down with that. When you step back from Damian's Henry Rollins’ yowl and start thinking about the instruments and sound, the band’s music does have some steady punk drumming to it, but the layers of (three) guitars, bass, and drums conspire in ways that often sounded more like complicated ‘90s indie rock. The song’s time signatures and lengths have little in common with hardcore's strict one to two minute blasts.

Reading about them before writing this review, I learned that this is a band that has always provoked critics and audiences, from album sleeve art, to lyrics, and sound. Perhaps their ultimate musical statement was on 2008's Year of the Pig, where they featured an 18-minute long song. Several of their songs take time to build, have lengthy interludes, and rounds of choruses. Towards the end of the show I found myself bopping to "Crusades", with its catchy chorus (like several other of their songs) that lends itself to audience collaboration -- the microphone is repeatedly pointed at us -- and its melodic driving guitar arrangement that left me thinking of the fabulous climax of Superchunk's "The First Part". It is aggressive, yet the sharp vocal edge is sometimes blunted. The whole thing is very loud -- the club's sound guys asked them to turn down their amps three times and forbade them an encore.

Their hardcore cred reared its head during their last number, a cover of Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown". Not only did they cover it, they let a fan come on stage to sing/growl it, apparently because he had shown the band his breastplate tattoo of the same title. He lasted about thirty seconds before losing his way and Damian saved him. This is just one instance of what could be stressed as Fucked Up's radical democratic ethos, talking with the audience between songs and inviting them to participate in the vocals. I wondered if they often invite audience members to play the instruments too. They stopped just short of that at this show.

Is this the shape of punk to come? On the one hand, shows I saw in the week prior to this Fucked Up performance made me wonder if something is culturally afoot in alterna/independent music culture. In the mid-‘70s, punk rebelled against the elite virtuosity of the artist on stage who was significantly distanced from the adoring audience. The idea was, as the punk 'zines said, anyone can do this. Go start a band. Singers would engage in spitting contests with the audience, and would bound into the crowd and dance with them, sometimes getting the shit beat out of them in the process. Shoegaze and other forms of indie rock, to say nothing of post-rock, rebuilt that barrier between performer and audience member.

But during all three shows I saw within seven days -- The Fleshtones, King Khan and the Shrines, and Fucked Up -- a different, more interactive relationship with the audience was manifest, albeit in different ways. The Fleshtones were ironic about their feigned arrogance. They leapt into the audience and challenged their dance moves. King Khan flipped off the audience (and they him in kind), squirted beer on them, and ran out and danced with them, but it was playfully sincere. Fucked Up's Damian also broke down the audience/performer barrier, handing them the microphone, giving them hugs, even French kissing one guy. There is something punkishly revivalist about it all.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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