Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The User's Guide to Skinny Puppy, Part II - Music

We all get a visceral thrill of mentioning a band to another music enthusiast that is so damn cool the other person has never heard of them before. Back in the day when I truly believe that how cool you were was determined by your LP collection, if someone told me they liked the Dead Kennedy's, Depeche Mode and The Cure, I'd hit 'em right back with how much I was into Black Market Baby, Television and Pigface

Such are the singular battles that comprise that time in our young teens and twenties known as, "The Cool Wars," where we just absolutely need to be more hip than the other person. 

Or maybe you have no idea what I'm talking about, but I'm sure we can also both relate to how cool it feels to get a person into a really badass band. If someone is into Ice Cube, but they've never heard of Westside Connection, well now it's absolutely time to bring that homeboy up to speed on life.

When I was growing up one of my best friends got me into Skinny Puppy by giving me a copy of Remission. I mean, he gave me a cassette tape. This was a million years ago, before CD's got popular, so I am old skool industrial.

At the time I was pretty much into punk, ska, and whatever rap sounded the most violent, starting with Easy E and certainly not ending with N.W.A. and Cypress Hill. It's a freakin' miracle I even sat down to listen to something that was as purely industrial as this album.

We just started playing around with Rabies, and I don't want to move on just yet, but "Smothered Hope" is the first song on the LP, and every time I listen to it, I remember the first time I listened to one of my favorite bands.

This was back when there wasn't much beyond gothic, industrial and early electronica (I'm talking about groups like The Pet Shop Boys) so listening to something I guess I could describe as primitive darkwave was dark and evil fun. 

Late at night, near 2:30 am, when the party was winding down, everyone was passed out and it was just a bunch of guys and girls with spikey hair and leather jackets crashing by a stereo, I'd slap in Remission and check for the reactions of the crowd. I have to admit, to them it probably sounded like satanic disco.

The lead singer of Skinny Puppy, Nivek Ogre, puts his vocals on just about every track, and in concert he really does look like he's very disturbed as he lays down the lyrics. I heard a guy interviewing Nivek Ogre on the radio once that it sounded like Ogre's vocals are put through a "satanizer" during recordings, and you have to agree. Twisted, distorted vocals gives the music the final scary element their music benefits from.

That's not to say Ogre's vocals are always synthesized for terror. On "Candle," the third song from The Process, he sings without electronics twisting the sound to an acoustic guitar. Even for Skinny Puppy that was kind of odd.

Before I go describing the more obscure albums that Skinny Puppy has made, particularly Remission, Too Dark Park and Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate, I want to show you another song you might like. While "Rodent" was kind of a slow burn kind of song, this one is the type of track that populates a dance floor.

The first version is cool, but the remix that can be found on Skinny Puppy's Bites and Remission album (a two-in-one combo featuring a few extra remixes, and certainly worth owning a hundred times over if you like industrial) and it everything you want industrial music to be. It's also the kind of song you play for people you like to get them into a band you appreciate, so here it is.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Public Enemy - Music

A few years ago Skinnie Entertainment Magazine asked if I could interview Public Enemy for a story that would end up on the front cover. Of course I said yes.

Writing about a band that had been part of the very reason I had listened to so much hip-hop when I was young was a tremendous honor, but the opportunity to interview them never happened. They were on the road for a reunion tour, never got the chance to talk.

The magazine asked me to write about the band anyways, so here it is. For people who are new to hip-hop, here is something truly old school for your edification.
Since 1987 Public Enemy has been more than just wicked beats, controversial lyrics and a supercharged fusion of sound that, in the words of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, “Blow your wig back.” Since the beginning the band has also been about information, education, evolution and revolution.

If you flipped on your radio and tuned in to a rap station in 1986, you’d quickly detect that beyond the whimsy of the Beastie Boys, Salt ‘n Pepa and The Fat Boys rap was starting to get dangerous with the intrusion of a gritty, street-quality sound from bands like N.W.A. and Run D.M.C.  But there was still space for something furious.

Public Enemy brought that fury with Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987.  To listen to the album even now is to get a taste of a face full of barely controlled chaos.  Live guitars grinding over heavy drums with blaring horns, smashing beats and sheer goddamned noise pound out of your speakers while Flava Flav and Chuck D hit you with lyrics that make you think:

"You spend a buck in the 80's, what you get is a preacher
Forgivin' this torture of the system that brought 'cha
I'm on a mission and you got that right
Addin' fuel to the fire, punch to the fight
Many have forgotten what we came here for
Never knew or had a clue, so you're on the floor
Just growin not knowin about your past
now you're lookin' pretty stupid while you're shakin' your ass."

-Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)

It was lyrics like that which made the band so incendiary.  Certainly, Terminator X had the talent beyond talent to put all the beats together (with all due props to Public Enemy’s production team, “The Bomb Squad”) but it was the band’s message, a righteously indignant challenge to inner-city youth (and, really, all youth) to defeat a system that wanted to defeat them that placed the group high above the silly antics and blasé cool the rest of the industry was spraying.

Chuck D got his start in Long Island, New York in 1982, developing his abilities while he delivered furniture for his father’s business.  While involved in a radio training program known as “Spectrum" Chuck D met Flava Flav, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric "Vietnam" Sadler and Professor Griff, the team’s Minister of Information.

Flava Flav and Chuck D had released a song called “Public Enemy #1” in response to a challenge made against Chuck D by a local rapper to describe the tension the two felt from the local scene.  Hank Shockleee suggested that the name would be a good title for a band, and the legend was born.

While Yo! Bum Rush the Show was Public Enemy cracking its knuckles, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is the band crushing skulls.  “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is a black revolutionary indictment of the prison industry as another form of slavery.  “Caught, Can I Get a Witness” is Chuck D telling his contemporaries in the rap industry to get off their asses and start composing material that meant something.

Wherever Chuck D went, just when it got too serious Flava Flav was there, the fuzzy logic apparatus of the entire thermonuclear supercomputer to counter Chuck D’s harsh, heavy code.  It made you pay attention.

When a band can screw around once second and turn around and get serious the next with equal aplomb, you know they have talent and depth. Yes, Flav's goofy, and he's made a lot of money just playing himself, but his contribution to the overall sound of Public Enemy should never be overlooked, just because the artist funs around.

At one point in music there existed this silly notion that rap and rock were two antithetical elements that couldn’t be simultaneously enjoyed.  In our more enlightened era, we have bands like Limp Bizkit, Quarashi, and Rage Against the Machine to give us all the rapcore we can eat.  But guess what genius gave us that?

In 1991 Public Enemy and the New York thrash metal band Anthrax teamed up to produce the song “Bring Tha Noize” which broke new ground all the way from the bedrock to the magma core.  Doubters and haters had to sit down and listen when the two bands toured together to entertain audiences that wanted both sounds.  To this day you can’t listen to that song at high volume without driving far over the speed limit.

Public Enemy didn’t stop there, and have been going strong to this day.  Fear of a Black Planet hit the airwaves in 1990.  More albums followed, with Revolverlution in 2002 and New Whirl Odor in 2005.

In their long and influential lifetime Public Enemy has gone on 56 tours and performed 1300 concerts in 45 countries.  What else can be said?  They’ve done it all and they are still doing it.

Check out their website at

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Loose Logic - Music

Loose Logic is an MC performing cutting edge hip-hop in Los Angeles, the hip-hop capitol of America's west coast. Let's face it, if you are trying to make it out here in the big, bad city you'd better be able to cut it because there are a lot of artists to choose from (I get hyperlinks to twenty-five new rappers every time I check my email) and nobody serious who is in the industry has time to listen to awkward amateurs or clumsy charlatans.

It's just that there's a lot of treasure to get to in the airwaves out here. Hip-hop has no shortage of raw, capable talent for discerning ears to mine on the west coast, where the surf meets the concrete. There's gold in the Hollywood Hills...and out in the Southland, or over near South Central, next to Compton and straight out of East L.A. All you have to do is look and listen.

Loose Logic has worked with a lot of gold. Whether it's DJ Rampage, DJ Ill Will, RBX or Ms. Toi, he keeps talented company. A native of the City of Angels, the young hip-hop musician grew up under the sun and on the streets, perfecting the angles his style of music operates from. With so many rapping about what has been rhymed about before, it's a relief to find someone who has an attitude that's exclusive and the talent to tell it in a new way.

"Toke," featuring Dee Murdock and produced by Prophecy, is a dedication to smoking that funk. Whether the media mainstream approves or not (depending on which corporate sponsor bought their honest opinion that week) any hip-hop artist who steps up to rap about such a controversial substance deserves respect. Winner of the Best Hip-Hop Song at the 2008 Marijuana Music Awards, it's a song that's as unconventional as it is honest, with the beats rocking steady while the back up vocals keep it cool.

I enjoyed listening to Loose Logic's latest album, Loosid Dreams Vol. 2: Awoken Orbits, because the whole album is unconventional in the best possible way. A sequel to 2010's Loosid Dreams Vol. 1, this LP opens up with the aptly named Machine Gun Funk, an ear-hooking intro that brings to mind the badass, wailing horn sections in the soundtracks of the film noir flicks that made criminals in the 40's look so cool.

"I was making huge changes in my life when I recorded this mixtape," says Ian Westbrook, aka Loose Logic. Not a light piece of pap with frosting on top, this new album is hard-edged with a lot of and philosophy psychology. "There's a lot of life examination on this one," Logic says, and there's plenty to prove it, from "Destroy," a bombastic song about hooking up heavy, to "Every Dark Night," a slick track about dreaming big when no one thinks it can happen but you.

Certainly not new to the scene, Loose Logic has a discography worth exploring. While he confesses to his fair share of musical parallels (what serious artist doesn't) there's more to his art than Tech N9ne or Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, two influences that have had a very positive effect on his music. Eminem and Tupac comparisons aside, this west coast-oriented, Los Angeles MC won the "Best Hip-Hop Artist of the Year" from All Access Magazine because his music can both rhyme and rock, and here's some gold for you to enjoy right here:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The User's Guide to Skinny Puppy, Part I - Music

When industrial music rose up in the 90's, nearly every kid on the block had a copy of Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails. The videos were always on MTV, right next to the ones by Nirvana, and there was this feeling that, somewhere in the airwaves, the cool music, our music (punk, new wave, industrial, ska) was fighting a war against the lame music (hair metal, really bad pop rock, just about everything on VH1) and our side was winning.

Sure, you could be cool by owning a copy of anything by NIN, but the real badasses had a copy of The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste by Ministry. 

If NIN was Poison, Ministry was The Blue Oyster Cult. Sure, Ministry started off sounding a little like pop with their first few albums, including Twitch, but their music matured, became infused with some serious guitar licks, and turned into something so terrifying that if you played either The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste or their other album, The Land of Rape and Honey for your parents, they'd scream and burn you and your entire record collection at the stake.

It didn't help that the lead singer and producer, Alien Jourgensen, looked like he'd kick Satan's ass in a fist fight, and then ride his Harley into the sun, firing his M-16 up in the air with a cry of dark victory.

"Do all of you have your Bibles out? Alright, 
let's turn to Matthew 1:18. Now, how is 
the Holy Spirit similar to a V-twin?"

Like the two grumpy old men who sardonically mocked everything lame on The Muppet Show, my friends and I enjoyed watching all of the kids who had kicked our asses a few years ago for wearing a Cure shirt suddenly go around blasting "Head Like a Hole" as if they had a right to. The nerve of those mainstream plebeians, why weren't we consulted?

"They didn't know Psychic TV did a cover of 
'Good Vibrations' by The Beach Boys. 
Ha ha ha! That's funny!"

Beyond Kraftwork and Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle was Skinny Puppy, and band so out there to even look upon their logos was to be met with confusion. A teacher once asked me if I was advertising for a veterinary clinic, or maybe even a fast food chain for canines who were watching their weight.

One student took a look at a Skinny Puppy t-shirt I had with the same design and logo from the band's Remission album and told me they were offended because a friend of theirs died of cancer. I told them that my grandmother passed away with a sweet smile on her beautiful face wearing a Remission t-shirt listening to Spahn Dirge at full volume, so they could fuck themselves off. 

To be fair, the lead singer of Skinny Puppy 
really does stand out in a crowd.

Skinny Puppy is a band for people who want to listen to the beating, bleeding heart of industrial music with the carapace wide open and the mechanical guts exposed. There are many albums to talk about when you are dealing with this band, so I'm going to start you out with a track from Rabies.

Rabies, 1989.

This is the fifth studio album by Skinny Puppy, and it was produced by Alien Jourgensen, himself. You can tell, because the guitars are blasting all over the place with this album, in contrast to previous LP's like Spasmolytic or Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate, which tended to weave the guitar hooks into the music instead of pounding the instrument onto the tracks like a merciless jackhammer.

Here's "Rodent." It's vintage 'Puppy, somewhat scary, very mechanical, and certainly worth dancing to. If you like guitars, they are here for you, but don't expect "Burning Inside." Instead you are going to enjoy a song that combines beats, samples, synth and aggression to make music you haven't heard before.