A roiling sea of leather-jacketed anger and raised middle fingers
September 5, 2013 7:09 PM   Subscribe

The chant began less than two minutes into the first song. An undercurrent at first, just a few hecklers. But it got louder with repetition, each wave building on the last. Soon the chant threatened to drown out the band itself.
“Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!”
1986: Punk band Discharge goes hair metal
posted by Horace Rumpole (48 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
This kind of essay writing, factual report and relevant elaboration is what makes history rock 'n' roll.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:30 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Essay writing = rock 'n' roll!!!!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:31 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, this makes me glad I never knew about this stage in Discharge's career. But I definitely saw it happen to people like The Necros and Brian Baker (Minor Threat/Junkyard).
posted by Rykey at 7:34 PM on September 5, 2013


DRI! DRI!
posted by stbalbach at 7:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Didn't they also buy a half-pipe for their stage show, and then never use it?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:52 PM on September 5, 2013


That's metal? The crowd sure thinks so....I'm up to the "Fuck You" part now...
posted by thelonius at 7:59 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also: Bad Religion's prog rock album.
posted by Quonab at 8:00 PM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


We suggest this recording of the ill-fated 1986 San Francisco show as a soundtrack while you read.


Oh... oh dear.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Watching the Winnipeg interview mentioned in the article, it crossed my mind that it might have even been an influence on Spinal Tap. Then I realized that this all happened two years after the release of This Is Spinal Tap, and it just made me sad.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:01 PM on September 5, 2013


WELCOME TO SPINAL TAP DISCHARGE, MARK II.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe it wasn't so much that they went hair metal as they sounded like complete shit? A weird squeaky voice may be ok to shout out hardcore lyrics (e.g. Jello Biafra, Crucifucks) but hair metal demands a pretty good set of pipes.
posted by Flashman at 8:05 PM on September 5, 2013


The vocals remind me of when my friend Dan talked in a comically high voice all day at work in order to piss people off.

It was remarkably effective. I'm surprised he didn't get his ass kicked, let alone fired.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2013


Once a punk band gets good on their instruments, speed metal is one of the only real directions to go, it seems to me.
posted by thelonius at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


or slow all the way down and sound like Flipper. Or start smoking a ton of weed and sound like Dinosaur J. Or start out that good and just get better like the Minutemen. Or
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Dude, why would you need Discharge, when California had T.S.O.L.?
posted by alex_skazat at 8:07 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing that article got wrong: Metal sucked then and it sucks now. Up yours metalheads!(except Lemmy)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:08 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


T.S.O.L

The new wave band?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


> Once a punk band gets good on their instruments, speed metal is one of the only real directions to go, it seems to me.

Unless you're lead singer is Henry Rollins, then you just start sounding like Black Sabbath.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


They could also trade instruments with each other.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:10 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of The Metroplex in Atlanta trying to give Arms Akimbo an opening slot for The Meat Puppets. They declined.....
posted by thelonius at 8:11 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or start out that good and just get better like the Minutemen.

I was gonna say, it depends on what you mean by "punk." Punk has been so many things it's kind of surprising they all fit into the same genre.

Or, as a wise man once said "Punk is whatever we make it to be."
posted by louche mustachio at 8:11 PM on September 5, 2013


Rollins had some heavy downtown/avant guys like Melvin Gibbs in The Rollins Band.....I wonder how Black Flag fans liked that?
posted by thelonius at 8:12 PM on September 5, 2013


That SF recording is unreal. Compared to this. What WERE they thinking.

I think that TSOL reference was sarcasm.

Die Kruezen was washed in spit in Chicago after they tried to play songs from their sophomore effort. Which seemed not hardcore at all.

Not many people I knew liked Henry at all in the 80's (Dez had the VOICE) and Rollins band was perceived as a sellout at the time. But Greg Ginn broke up Black Flag right?

Please leave the greatest band ever, Flipper, out of this.
posted by Max Power at 8:20 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cal, still following his hard-rock muse, assembled a new lineup in 1990 and put out two more albums that are almost as reviled as Grave New World.

Great story - I knew Discharge mainly from people's jackets and the odd track on mixtapes, knew nothing about this disastrous tour (of course it took place about a year before I arrived, with considerable fanfare, on the scene). The multi-media stuff is used really subtly but really well: you might not want to listen to the whole interview in Winnipeg but it's cool to have a glimpse at the scene and hear what their accents were like.
posted by Flashman at 8:25 PM on September 5, 2013


Once a punk band gets good on their instruments, speed metal is one of the only real directions to go, it seems to me.

Hey, Bad Brains made it work.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:25 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Rollins had some heavy downtown/avant guys like Melvin Gibbs in The Rollins Band.....I wonder how Black Flag fans liked that?

Depends, I bet - Black Flag went through, what? 5 lead singers, who knows how many drummers and at least 2 bassists, with the Ginn on guitar and most of all the songwriting - it was his band, no doubt. But still there was def. v1 of Black Flag's sound and v2 - v2 being the slower, sludgier stuff. I bet Rollins got a ton of fans see him because they were fans of Black Flag, but I doubt he ever played a Black Flag song on tour (except for the Rise Above benefit)

Rollins first albums as the Rollins Band are (I think, anyways) *really f'n good*: Life Time, Hard Volume. The intensity is scary - I'd would have not want to go to their shows back then. Def. wouldn't call any of this stuff punk or hardcore, or (*shutter*) metal, but def jazz influence rock 'n roll.

Gibbs comes a little later in that band, though - kind of in their more popular Lollapalooza era, where the songs again get way slower, and it's Rollins's and his navy gazing, "Paaaaaaaain. Paaaaaaain" spoken word stuff going on. It doesn't, I think, fair well to the test of time. After that, when he let Gibbs, and everyone else go, and got entirely new backing band: stuff is barely listenable. (IMHO)

Bout to go see, FLAG! play at Riot Feast. That should be... weird. I think I'm with Rollins on that one: it's sort of weird to trot these old songs out, for absolutely no real reason, no real growth. I'm going for the sheer weirdness of it (and, well, we're playing too, so.)
posted by alex_skazat at 8:26 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


People have contempt for the nostalgia tour (bands like The Gin Blossoms were out there this summer), but I usually have no problem with it. Must all these guys spend the rest of their days cleaning pools in LA? But, if you had a band that had a more demanding ethos for what the band was supposed to be than something nice to hear on the radio, it's a bit harder to justify, I guess.

But still - they want to go out and play old songs? That's not a bad thing to me.
posted by thelonius at 8:45 PM on September 5, 2013


...and I think that's the moral of this story. Discharge seemed to have been so in their Zeitgeist, but no one who's actually producing say, the music, wants to stay as some weird historical relic. Like it's been stated, "Where do you go?"

I sort of admire them for at least trying something new - that's hard to do, but what they tried was so about face, so against what they were, it comes as no surprise you'd first alienate your previous fans. I think if you're going to do that, you call yourself something different. Could you imagine, like CRASS, all of a sudden writing pop songs? Chumbawumba somehow did that, but it was like, this whole huge inside joke (uh, Right? Right?!?!).


Unless, I guess you're David Bowie - then do whatever you'd like.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Discharge were never the same after the guitar player Bones left in 82 to form the hardcore punk band 'Broken Bones', who were great BTW and still punk in 86. Back in the day, when bands thanked them on a record for inspiration they would often add the disclaimer (1980-82).
posted by goat at 8:54 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should have gone on tour with Chris Gaines.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:05 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another indignity followed: the singer of another legendary hardcore band, the Bad Brains, allegedly climbed into the balcony lugging a garbage can full of water then dumped it onto Discharge’s heads.

Oh, the humanity!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I loved the Farm. Absolutely my favorite place to see shows, it was huge and there was an actual garden full of vegetables outside that you could wander around in. Happily I was not at this Discharge show, though I did walk out of a Samhain show at Club Cuture because Glenn Danzig had gone all metal too. It was a weird time for punk.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:31 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Appendix is pretty good, isn't it? That Yma Sumac posting is just the tip of the iceberg.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 PM on September 5, 2013


The intensity is scary - I'd would have not want to go to their shows back then.

Oh, dude.. Saw 'em a couple times circa '87-88 in Madison, and they were yeah intense - almost kind of a Gallagher element to it in a way, like do not get less than 6 feet from the stage if you don't want a bunch of Rollins-sweat on ya- but fucking excellent.

It was I figured at the time, yeah, jazzy in the same way the Stooges or Greg Ginn are, and not-quite metal or punk or anything else. (I remember seeing HR's band at the same venue a couple of times, and they were not-quite reggae in a similar way but that's like a double-derail here...)
posted by hap_hazard at 10:14 PM on September 5, 2013


Ha! I was at their show when they came to New York and played The Ritz that year. I was excited to see Discharge but the reason I was there that night was to interview Corrosion of Conformity for my fanzine. Before the show I was told by the band to come talk to them at the end of the night. After Discharge had their horrible set, the security for The Ritz wouldn't let anyone backstage because the audience was so hostile so I never got my interview. I was pretty sad about it but not as sad as all the crushed peace punks that night. I heard they also played City Gardens in Jersey and there was a near riot.
posted by cazoo at 10:39 PM on September 5, 2013


Sounds like a high school band taking their first crack at Zeppelin. I submit that Discharge was uber punk for attempting this at hardcore gigs.
posted by telstar at 10:49 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ouch. Bad metal, bad hair and an inexcusable attempt at an American accent. They deserved the abuse even if they hadn't been an occasionally okay but essentially third-rate punk band first.
posted by Decani at 3:57 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ouch. Bad metal, bad hair and an inexcusable attempt at an American accent.

Who invited Gene Loves Jezebel?

Ah, I know Discharge largely by reputation, they're not my kind of punk, but this is exactly how I pictured them after reading about them in a book on later wave UK punk.

I am scared to see how close what I imagined matched reality.
posted by Mezentian at 4:13 AM on September 6, 2013


Potomac Avenue: One thing that article got wrong: Metal sucked then and it sucks now. Up yours metalheads!(except Lemmy)

I won't bother offering up some big defense of metal here, since arguments about the merits of entire musical genres don't tend to be a good use of time and energy, but seriously, this is pretty much like saying "rap sucked then and it sucks now, except for Run-DMC. Up yours hip-hoppers!" I'll leave it to the reader to consider the merits of that statement, and just say that statements of that sort are every bit as accurate, thoughtful, and helpful to a discussion when they're made about metal, or any sufficiently large and diverse genre of music, really.

Anyway, that was a fascinating article. There were a few cases of hardcore punk or extreme metal bands suddenly going hair metal in the 80s, and it always led to some amazing musical trainwrecks. The Boston hardcore band SSD also made a radical shift towards a more radio-friendly sound, though in their case it was more generic AC/DC-style hard rock than glam specifically- in any case, the result might actually have been worse than Discharge's attempt. And not a hardcore band, but a similar example, and my personal favorite when it comes to the sheer WTF quality of it, was Celtic Frost going hair metal for one album, the notorious "Cold Lake", which occupies about the same place in metal's musical history that Discharge's "Grave New World" does in hardcore's musical history. Musically, I think it actually wouldn't be that bad of an album if not for the vocals- one Amazon review described them as sounding like "a Ninja Turtle in emotional pain", which I think is pretty much the single most accurate description of how they sound that anyone could devise. Actually, one thing all of these attempts at a more commercial sound seem to have in common is absolutely ridiculous vocals- SSD's vocalist sounded like a constipated version of Lemmy, while Discharge's sounded more like he was trying to parody hair metal vocals than anything. In retrospect it's pretty difficult to see how anyone involved with any of these bands thought that going hair metal would be a good idea- it certainly never brought about the commercial success one assumes they were going for, though one thing I find fascinating in the case of Discharge is that, at least going by the article, it seems it really was more the outcome of a genuine desire to play glam metal than an attempt at selling out.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:31 AM on September 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


You can't stay punk forever.

Punk is a musical way station that captures a transient ethos composed of angry youth and dystopian social conditions.

However, times change and people change, so musicians have to change to to remain vital.

Unfortunately, Discharge made a poor decision and latched on to a really shitty scene that is really the antithesis of what they and their fans stood for and paid the price. It happens.

I'm off to clean my ears out with some Hear nothing, See nothing, Say nothing
posted by Renoroc at 4:35 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't stay punk forever.
Says you.

The defense rests... because it is tired and old.
posted by Mezentian at 5:26 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where is BitterOldPunk when you need him?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:08 AM on September 6, 2013


I wish this article explained why they did it. Or at least got Discharge to say why they did it.

Tom G. Warrior's explained why Celtic Frost did it. (Sounds like in so many words, it was to impress his girlfriend.)
posted by ignignokt at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2013


Also, thank you, Discharge for that lyrical approach in which you just repeat one phrase over and over. Sometimes, coming up with other lyrics is a contrivance that you do just to fit in with tradition, and it was crazy refreshing to hear them just say what they wanted.
posted by ignignokt at 9:11 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can confirm that in 1986, in Vancouver, before a punk audience there to see hometown favourites Slow, Green Day were not only booed but finally, set-endingly, unplugged. They were roundly hated, except for the Seattle fans who had followed them across the border and who created their own little hairy and bandanna'ed mosh pit while the rest of us watched sneering and stone-faced.

Just little a vignette from the Punk/Metal wars.
posted by jokeefe at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2013


Fuck! I meant Green River (as in proto-Pearl Jam). And I missed the edit window, too.
posted by jokeefe at 1:04 PM on September 6, 2013


What ever happened to Celtic Frost? Is it true that they got lost?
posted by xorry at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


File under the narcissism of small differences. The solos are slightly longer and more accomplished, the hair slightly longer and better kept, but in essence it's the same inchoate roaring to three dismal chords.
posted by johnny novak at 2:47 PM on September 6, 2013


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