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Black Flags and Idol Suicide

Black Flag, long revered as a trailblazing pioneer of hardcore punk and DIY ethos, has descended into farce.

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The reunion tour has become a staple of the music scene over the last ten years. With the proliferation of music and the ease with which it can now be heard and consumed, the great (and not so great) bands of yesteryear, who in their glory days played in front of dozens of fans for spare change, now found themselves with more fans than they could have ever imagined. Eager to cash in on this unexpected influx of new admirers, underground bands from the 70s, 80s and 90s have patched up their differences and returned to the stage. The trend has become so widespread that any music festival worth its salt contains at least one nostalgia act.

Some of these reunion tours have been runaway success stories that have enhanced legacies and legends. The Stooges are such example that immediately springs to mind. Dinosaur Jr another.

Some reunions start off with a bang and quickly fizzle out, leaving most fans disheartened. Rage Against The Machine’s sudden return in 2006-07 sparked hopes of revolution in jaded fans but petered out once the festival circuit closed for the summer, while At The Drive In’s frank admission that their 2012 reunion run was purely for the cash and that they all still didn’t really like each other made their shows seems like exercises in self flagellation.

Some reunions are diabolical disasters from the get go. Ex-members of the Dead Kennedys deciding to reform without the iconic Jello Biafra reduced them to a travelling karaoke band while watching the Bad Brains sleepwalk through “Banned In DC” was a depressing experience that betrayed the incendiary potency of their 80s heyday.

Then there’s the Black Flag reunion tours. That’s right, “tours”. Plural. In January, Greg Ginn, Black Flag’s founder and sole continuous member, emerged from hibernation and announced that he was getting the band back together for a string of dates and a new album to be released later this year. At the same time, Keith Morris, the band’s first vocalist, declared that he and other Black Flag alumni were reforming under the moniker “Flag.”

Black Flag, long revered as a trailblazing pioneer of hardcore punk and DIY ethos, has descended into farce. Both reunion acts are crimes against punk rock and are an embarrassing taint on Black Flag’s legacy.

To start with, Keith Morris has no business and no right starting any kind of Black Flag reunion band. Yes, Morris was Flag’s first singer and yes his vocals on their debut Nervous Breakdown EP were stellar but he was impact and influence on Black Flag was negligible. He quickly fell out with Ginn due to a slack work ethic and soon after Nervous Breakdown quit the band to form the Circle Jerks, a weaker and lamer imitation of Black Flag. Put simply if Greg Ginn isn’t involved then it isn’t Black Flag and anyone that says otherwise is just kidding themselves. To put it in perspective, it’d be like Bill Cartwright organising a 1991 Chicago Bulls reunion game without getting Michael Jordan on board.

Meanwhile as videos of Greg Ginn’s Black Flag reunion tour surface on YouTube, the only logical question that can be asked is “Why?” Why subject your fans to this tired display? Why ruin something that was perfect? Why bring middleaged dissatisfaction to youth rebellion?

Watching this clip is painful. Ginn looks vaguely interested and seems to be thinking about what he’s going to eat after the show as he absent mindedly sways in front of the amp. Vocalist Ron Reyes is trying to give it everything but there’s no fire, no energy and no spark. Instead he has faded muscle memory as he tries to gingerly move around the stage without hurting his aging body.

And therein lies the problem. Punk rock is all about youthful energy. When kids run around the stage, smash their guitars and scream into mic about their problems it’s exhilarating. When fifty year old men try to relive their faded youth by hobbling on stage and screaming about police harassment, it’s just sad.

The reason why Iggy Pop can still captivate an audience as he sings about wanting be your dog is that despite his aged and leathery skin, he still looks and acts the part. You believe him when he jumps off an amp and you see his fire when he dances on stage. Watching that Black Flag video, all you can see is middle aged paunches and creaking limbs.

To give credit where it’s due, Keith Morris maybe committing a crime against hardcore punk by masquerading as Black Flag but at least they’re still delivering energy and spirit.

In the end, once this new album emerges and is rightfully lampooned and the right bank accounts have been nourished, these two Black Flag reunion bands will disappear as quickly as they appeared. No one will particularly miss them, the fans that saw them will leave with a bad taste in their mouths and the rest will shake their heads and pretend the whole thing never happened. For the aging punk rockers who have carried out this charade, one lesson will be imprinted on them- you can’t repeat the past.

Reviews

Hatchie – Keepsake

Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars

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Hatchie Keepsake

Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.

There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.

However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.

The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.

(Heavenly Recordings)

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