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Music

Sound and Fury Still Cometh: Brazen Vic Bondi

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Vic Bondi is a singular voice in American hardcore punk counterculture, who symbolizes how getting older gracefully doesn't mean squashing youthful fury and fervor.

In the early '80s, wind-whipped Chicago brimmed with punk aplenty, including buzzing behemoths the Effigies, anthemic singalong Naked Raygun, and the nimble, hyper-kinetic three-guitar maelstrom of Articles of Faith, led by the blistering voice of Vic Bondi. Dizzying and dynamic, fast and spurious, literate and fiery political, Articles of Faith evoked a hardcore Do-It-Yourself ethos and produced albums brimming with layers of poetic symbolism -- much more than just stripped down, left-wing diatribes.

Though Bondi’s career path, including working as a college history instructor and Microsoft industries employee, still raises eyebrows, his musical trajectory, from Alloy and Jones Very to Report Suspicious Activity and his newest outing, Dead Ending, who just released an andrenalin packed self-titled EP on Alternative Tentacles, have always percolated with intelligence and integrity.

Such a resilient path in the underground music community is no easy feat, given punk’s emphasis on “youth youth youth” (to quote Generation X), the ever-changing challenges of a morphing media environment, and fans' tendency to cherry pick their slanted sense of history. Key icons often become forgotten bores overnight. Luckily, Vic is excluded from that camp.

Dead Ending also features a cadre of new school talent, including members of The Bomb (Jeff Dean), Alkaline Trio (Derek Grant), and Gold and Platinum earning Rise Against (Joe Principle). Together they unleash a ductile hardcore style that eschews play-by-numbers rote regurgitation of past genre forms.

Admittedly, Bondi comes from an earlier economy of scale -- the former ghetto of '80s American punk -- in which fervent ideals and limitations kept hardcore mostly off the map, at least for a public subsumed in FM radio ear candy, Republican political machinations, and a handful of self-satisfied television channels ready to launch the next A-Team. Now, Bondi is the veteran voice working alongside young bloods every bit as gifted as past comrades.

Being at the helm of a band featuring a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary punk does highlight the difference between the era of dial telephones, hand-passed gig information, and endless scorn for the music industry and the digital era that promises instant feedback metrics and a supposed sense of simulated community.

“We were laughing at a Las Vegas gig,” Bondi told me recently, “because we had more support there than Jeff and I were used to. There were some really kind people taking care of the gear and making sure everything ran on time. Plus, we had hotel rooms. Jeff and I expected to sleep on someone’s floor and haul the gear ourselves, but Joe and Derek were laughing because it was much less support than they normally have (no drum or bass tech, for example).”

Vic Bondi (L) in Dead Ending (photo by Katie-Hovland)

Dead Ending thrives in their sense of a common ground. Their tunes like "All Your Sattelites Are Falling" jump from speakers, wound in tight-coiled musicality embodying punch and thrust, a sense of immediacy, and continuous vitriol. Updating punk for the present tense, Bondi and crew effortlessly muster the promises of forbearers – to keep the songs barbed, succinct, and memorable -- and fuse those parameters with today’s concerns, especially in regards to consumer culture, which remain eerily similar to years past.

“I’ve always loved hardcore,” Bondi admits, “I think I love it more now because so much of what we were trying … didn’t quite come to pass. We wanted to kill bad music and crap culture.” The band, hence, is that tireless means to an end. “Maybe with bands like us and OFF! (fronted by Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks), we can continue to administer a musical colonic to a lot of the cultural shit out there,” Bondi adamantly reveals.

Throughout the last decades, Bondi compatriots weren’t hitting stages across the tattered (and now almost bygone) Xerox fanzine country, simply mimicking the bombast of first wave pioneers like the Ramones. To burn frenetic and hard and upend the music culture alone was not their call to duty.

They were interested in the long haul, in perennial protest: “Central to the old hardcore ethos was the idea of permanent revolution, permanent innovation. The old scene was very experimental, with a lot of bands exploring a host of aesthetic ideas—especially speed and noise—as part of a broader re-imagination of what our politics and society could be,” Bondi posits. “You destroy the conventions of music as part of a broader destruction of retrograde social and political conventions.”

The current environment of punk could use such convention busting. Fans have endured endless schisms and encampments, from screamo and power violence to D-beat and beyond, while the decades-old mallification of punk and the continuous excorporation of punk music, style, and content by major industries have left many walking wounded, at least spiritually.

Also, many fans seemed content to clamor to big events, like Riot Fest in Chicago, that may fossilize a sense of the past or not entirely acknowledge the deeper issues that punk has attempted to promulgate, promote, and protest.

As Bondi points out, “ ... Everyone in that original scene had to keep muddling through that corrupt system; everyone had to make a living, raise a family, etc. When they did that, hardcore moved from an ethos of resistance to an ethos of identity. The music became more formulaic as people incorporated it into a lifestyle that kept some modicum of separateness and resistance to the broader, retrograde society… You could probably make all of these festivals a lot more interesting by simply opening up the musical definition of hardcore, and incorporating younger bands with the political and social attitude, but maybe not the same sound.”

For the last ten years, as the issues of the 21st century have become clear and distinct, looming over the public like a sword of Damocles, Bondi has never receded or put aside his antennae. Ten years ago, he chastised leaders for “playing hardball” with our collective future, while Dead Ending’s recent tunes catalog even more specifics of the new world order, from the horror of cancer clusters to fall-out shelters still being bunked in backyards, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union years ago.

In some aspects, his tone and narratives feel like the folklore of fatalism, with a hint of optimism tucked inside. “When I was a kid, my friends and I used to play in the woods of Maryland and pretend we had survived a nuclear war. We lived with that fear everyday, so the fact that it is much less omnipresent for my daughter is definitely progress.”

Yet, Bondi does not chastise bent politicians, climate change deniers, and corporate crooks alone for the malaise. “The scariest thing to me today isn’t the possibility of environmental collapse (although this is my daughter’s proxy for nuclear war), it’s the fact that American culture in my lifetime has become almost nihilistic. You have broad swaths of Americans today who would welcome environmental collapse, terrorist attacks, pandemic—anything but the junk food trash lifestyle they are trapped in. They’re not imagining a future; they’re imagining a void.”

That void becomes ever more perilous as the means (hmm, a perilous computer virus?) became more available, more de-centralized, and tougher to monitor than a blinking nuclear silo or Iron Curtain ship formerly raking through the sea. Meanwhile, catastrophic events became a kind of welcomed Armageddon to the disenchanted and delusional. In addition, people subjugated to paranoia are often stirred by dark blogger fantasies that deepen their own rabbit holes of alienation. That nihilism however, is upended or suspended by Bondi’s forceful lyrical calls (often via inference) for rationality and reason, common sense and flexible conscience.

“I’m still a hardcore humanist. Maybe more so now that I’m a father. My politics are more or less the same. But maybe I’ve lost some of the arrogance and conceit of youth. When I was young, every discovery was a revelation. I’d find Nietzsche or Marx or Freud and spend the entire summer reading everything I could. And then promote those discoveries relentlessly, oblivious to the countervailing argument, and angry that the world wouldn’t conform to the theory.”

This modesty may be a sign of well-fought maturity, a widened lens resulting from parenthood, or the realization of self-limitations and false dictates. “Now, I’d be appalled if the world conformed to a theory. I love the fact that it doesn’t, that there are more mysteries to the world than I can understand. It’s pretty clear to me now that the older I get, the stupider I become. The smaller I am. I was larger and smarter before.”

Yet, that combination of largesse, ideology, and ego -- the stubborn flames of youth -- have indelibly shaped Bondi's inner core, concomitantly offering a lifetime reserve of readiness and stamina as well. For cultural agitators like Bondi, anger is a hybrid form of energy pumping the engine of his personal ingenuity and reflection, his aims and aesthetics.

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