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80s Hardcore

War Hero

I’d heard word that they put on punk shows at a few different places around town. This news blindsided me because I didn’t think anything worth mentioning ever went down in my boring little slice of suburbia. Punk was something I thought would never hit my world at large, outside of the internet and occasional schoolyard whisper, or in hand scrawled logos on skate decks at the local park and on the ratty shirts of the older kids who rode them. These ghostly encounters were just the occasional here and there, and mostly I had to go to my room and slip my headphones on to get to this world.

I definitely didn’t think there were enough of these secret elite to warrant an actual show in these parts, let alone the existence of one – if not more – bands. My magazines told me punk existed only in California, Boston, New York, anywhere but here. And even in those places it didn’t. Punk was dead. Punk blew up and burned out decades before my belated arrival on this planet, and all the original punks were dead, shit-kickers and folksingers now.

All photos: Adam Murray

But then word sliced through the still of interminably dull schoolyard conversation about the show that went down the previous weekend at the local ex church. Nobody had actually been there, but everybody knew somebody who had. That band played, you know. No, the other one. The bands tore it up, everybody trashed the joint and the cops had to shut it down. So and so got in a fight with the pigs and everybody had a great time, you should have been there.

I’d done time in the day care centre that used to run out of that church, so I could picture the empty hall and arched roof in my mind’s eye, rid of the drool-soaked dominos and plush toys I remembered and replaced with a seething breathing mass of sweaty punks moshing to some snarling tattooed skinhead crew. In my mind the whole thing was black and white and grainy like every photo I’d ever seen of Black Flag and Minor Threat.

That church got struck by lightning a few weeks later and was all but destroyed, probably as some Old Testament style retribution for the sins of youthful dissidence and too much overdrive. A decade later the place still hasn’t been repaired, four still standing walls encasing a caved in roof and pile of rubble and burned timber, surrounded by a chain link fence that’s done nothing to stop each generation of high school ghouls from breaking in and worshipping at the forgotten altar with their own holy sacrilegious sacraments, graffitied walls and hardwood floors stained with every bodily fluid imaginable. I guess the cult of mindless intoxication just isn’t as popular as the religion of intoxicating substances now is.

But that’s all later, the point is that back then a bolt of divine intervention came down and seemingly dashed any hopes I had of discovering this world I pined over in real life. I’d missed the greatest show of all time, barely a week had passed so naturally all the bands were long broken up, the venue was a still steaming wreck and I was forced to suffer through the Chinese whisperings and urban legends of everything cool that, once again, I was just out of time for.


Back to the bedroom, the headphones, and the wishing myself out of this town, this body, this era of terminal boredom, stay at home mums and twin car garages. Forced to bear witness to the tattered flyers of missed opportunities that were still plastered on brick walls and telegraph poles all around town, as they faded and were worn down by rain, sleet and sun just like the memory of the last interesting thing to happen in this town since television.

But all was not lost, and things have a way of turning up again in the strangest of places. Chinese whispers, as always the foremost mode of teenage communication, trickled down about another show coming up, to be held in a community hall I didn’t even know existed at my local shopping mall.

For something to exist without my knowledge in that palace of my adolescent development was tantamount to treason. I’d spent more of my childhood than not in that fluorescent temple and there wasn’t the opening of a non-food court cookie stand, stage construction, or child getting mangled in an escalator that slipped by my radar unregistered. And yet this place existed, as if it had somehow sprouted overnight to fill the punk venue void. The Lord taketh away, the Lord giveth.

The coming Thursday this hall would be playing host to a Battle Of The Bands, a concept that in my mind evoked scenes of mythic grandeur and unholy noise, tattooed punks and medieval metal heads charging one another with guitars used as swords and lances. I was so there.

Thursday was late night shopping night, a summer sweating evening of air thick with anticipation and electric excitement, when the shops delayed their closing times for a few more hours of desperate nocturnal consumerism. I convinced my father to give me a lift to the mall but I would have to think of something else next time because he ended up staying, reasoning that he wasn’t gonna drive all the way out again to pick me up. Naturally this had no actual play on my situation but in my teenage addled mind it was unacceptable, his presence within a mile radius amounted to having a personal parental chaperone to my first punk rock show, and so I went there with the shameful burdens of youth and innocence resting heavy on my shoulders.


Late night shopping was a revelation to me, seeing this second home of mine utterly transformed in the downing of the sun, artificial lights blazing even brighter and the median age of the clientele dropping sharply by at least three decades from its daytime double. Gone were the retirement village day trippers, the frazzled mothers pushing prams, the screaming children and zombie fathers. Out of the woodwork of some secret suburbia that definitely wasn’t mine spewed forth a horde of teenage sexual energy and walking fawning fashion statements.

It was like my hours of electric meditation before my television set had finally worked and I’d just stepped into one of my treasured Valley Girl or John Hughes videotapes, minus the skipping and static snow they’d accrued through years of over devotion. I was in California in the eighties or anywhere in an age before suburbia was dead. Everywhere I looked there was electric energy and enough piercings, tattoos and rebellious haircuts to send the rest of older suburbia to a not-so-early grave through righteous indignation.

And that was all before I even got to the show. It was a condensation of everything I’d seen throughout the mall packed into one tiny room with a line stretching around and down the street outside. Black shoes, black hair, black shirts, black jeans: skinny. I wear black on the outside…

I’d spent enough time poring over torn teen music bibles in my bedroom to get the black shirt right but my Chuck Taylors still had white laces and my jeans felt conspicuously baggy and blue as I sidled into that humming shadow mass. My skinny little arms felt obscenely naked brushing against the undulating throb of tattooed flesh that surrounded me, and the medium tan that was otherwise a point of pride considering my cat-like aversion to water and preference of bedroom over football field now seemed to ironically mark me out as too cool for the pasty punk pride parade. Not only did I possess probably the only non-straight black dye job in the joint, but my curly mass of brown afro was pretty much a shark’s fin in that sea of hair, parting the black curtains like Moses in the Red Sea as the line fed into the hall and I quickly cut a path to the quietest corner of the room.


The lights were still up as the first band set up their gear and tuned their instruments, intermittent drum breaks and bursts of feedback breaking up the rumbling hum of chatter that filled the room. ‘Check, check,’ the singer tried to busy himself as the drummer tightened screws and the guitarist, kneeling, fiddled with a stage full of effects pedals. The bassist, as ever the first to finish setting up, jerked off a slew of jazzy walking lines to an unappreciative crowd just to prove that he could, because he knew for the rest of the night he was doomed to be a shadow player.

Semi-conscious cheers and scattered applause would break out from the crowd every time the drummer pulled off an especially impressive fill, but mostly the room seemed ignorant of the fact that there was a band there at all. Lines and battlements were drawn in much the same way as in the schoolyard, only now every clique was the weird outsider clique, and me (insider?), sipping furtively from a can of Coke that was empty five minutes ago and pretending to busy myself with text messages that were days old. It was a bit dispiriting to finally find this throng of like-minded souls I’d longed for listening to Gorilla Biscuits and Dag Nasty CDs and studying Alternative Press issues only to realise I fit in here just as badly as anywhere else, but not as dispiriting as the achingly beautiful be-tatted be-pierced faux redhead who approached me to tell me she thought I was cute.

“I see you all the time outside my work!”


“Yeah, upstairs in the mall, you’re there like every weekend waiting for your mum, it’s so cute!”


With that stab of humiliation the lights fell and the collective conversation changed gears mid-word into a startling roar of anticipation. An ungodly hiss issued from the stacks of amplifiers that shook the room as four angels, clad in black, bathed in white, took to the stage. These weren’t the same stagehands as before, fumbling through equipment set up and last ditch practice runs to an oblivious crowd. They were, but they weren’t. These figures demanded the attention of every person in that hall, and they got it. All recollection of set up and soundcheck was erased from the collective memory and it felt like this band had risen ready from the wood of the stage itself, perfectly tuned and prepared because that’s how they were, always.


There was no introduction save for a piercing blast of otherworldly feedback that was the scrape of the match on concrete and the quick four-count of drumsticks in the air that was the match being thrown into an Olympic pool full of kerosene. The room ignited as the stage exploded into pure noise, crashing cymbals slicing through swathes of power chord distortion, floor shaking under bass blast artillery fire, absolute sonic violence spurred by the ringleader of the tormentors as he thrashed and spasmed around the stage in a wrestling match with the microphone and untold personal demons.

Bodies flew and it was impossible not to get caught in the movement as the room began to act as a single solid mass. Shoulders connected and merged with knees and ankles. Feet, meet face. Bodies crumpled against the hardwood floor and were immediately brought back to their feet by their beaming neighbours, to be thrown once again into the maelstrom of benevolent violence. The crowd surged upwards as one, here and there bodies would break free and continue up and over, carried on a bed of willing outstretched arms across the room to be consumed into another area entirely. This is transportation at its finest, if not most accurate.

The vocals issuing from the stage were just another instrument blending into the wall of noise, lyrics and even distinct words completely indecipherable and yet the whole room chanted them as one. It sounded like the most enraged noise you’d ever heard, and yet everywhere I looked people were smiling and emitting pure joy as they slammed and crashed violently into one another. A sudden forward surge sent me flying into the brick wall of a back in front of me and sent my front teeth through my bottom lip in a spray of spit and blood. The older punk next to me gave me a slap on the back and a winking thumbs up and I laughed it off with a toothy blood stained grin.


At one point, the singer, slumming it in the pit and all but engulfed in a tentacular mass of desperate reaching arms and searching hands, was struck in the back of the head by the misplaced boot of a roving crowd-surfer, and responded by pulling that same surfer in for a warm, cackling embrace.

Song changes were undetectable by all but the most perceptive ears, the dim in volume from the stage immediately filled in by a corresponding burst of celebratory noise from the floor, and each new song was almost indistinguishable from the last. Feedback, four count, NOISE. Every song was perfect, and a perfect reduction of all music to its primal components, two minute surges of noise and emotion that spurred the crowd to collective catharsis.

Like a drug that noise injection brought out swells of energy I didn’t know I had, every limb and inch of my body tingling with electricity, and like a drug it dilated time so that ten songs in twice as many minutes felt like an eternity that I never wanted to see the end of. By the time the show was over I’d already accepted the constant barrage of noise and movement as my normal state of being, one that felt natural and familiar, and it was a shock when the band finally stopped and the room grew still.

Like the best drugs I felt dizzy and lightheaded, shaking with potential energy, and stumbled off to find my father and go home a changed person. I can only imagine the sight I presented him with, curly hair matted to glistening forehead by a mix of my own and a hundred strangers’ sweat, shirt a torn and stinking, soaking rag, face caked in blood both dried and still wet, lip beginning to swell and blue in an unshakable ear to ear grin.

“What the fuck happened to you?”

I just kept smiling. Life. Death. Rebirth. Everything in between.




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