Various - Jon Savage presents Black Hole: Californian Punk 1977-80
Dominic Valvona 24/11/2010
Etymological punk chronicler Jon Savage picks through the nihilistic and vitriol dusty bones of the late 70s golden states punk scene; compiling and banding together a right raucous bunch of miscreant souls whose, mostly, primitive offerings still surprisingly resonant with our modern times.
Savage acts as a kind of curator, unearthing both forgotten and iconic tunes from a period that was mostly ignored by many outside the state. In a way, this is much like Greg Shaw's Nuggets collection, an appraisal you could say of a much-maligned period in the development of American punk and politically active music scenes.
Anyone worth their salt will have heard of Jello Biafra's Dead Kennedys - his aptly entitled California Ubber Alles is featured - but only the well initiated will be familiar with the likes of The Avengers, Germs and The Weirdos; though in recent years I've lost count of the Raymond Pettibon designed Black Flag T-shirt wearers at gigs, a band that is only one step away from this lot.
Our west coast anarchistic freethinking radicals' sound couldn't help but absorb elements of both the New York and British scenes, though it was a two-way street, as bands such as The Offs uncannily pre-empted ATV's Action, Time, Vision on their own 624803, whilst The Dils went all Big Audio Dynamite and The Church, before they even existed, on their anti-police disguised as a punk-pop Flamin' Groovies classic, 'The Sound Of The Rain'.
Yes there are also some obvious pilfering examples, the sound of CBGB's being recycled and re-enacted by The Zeros, as they punch a new a-hole into The Ramones on their nascent beat-up track 'Wimp', while The Randoms resurrect The New York Dolls' 'Looking For A Kiss' on 'A-B-C-D'. Even the female-fronted groups can't help but take on the role of Patti Smith, and at a stretch, the sleazier and rockier Joan Jett - who incidentally produced the Germs' only album.
Yet for all the epigone accusations, these Californian antagonists retained a real authenticity, out-dirging, menacing, scuzzing and dirtying their contemporises and peers. They were also a lot more dangerous and openly hostile, barracking the authorities, and lyrically kicking the “man” in the nuts, or spitting out resigned numbing prose on the fate of an increasingly right-wing nation.
Production values for the most part are low, with spindly erratic guitars, grating and splurging The Normal-esque synths and grumbling bass - surely all part of the charm. There are of course some pretty well produced tracks that sound like potential crossovers into a more commercial market. Standout gems include the majestically monikered The Aurora Pushups, who's prophetic 'Victims Of Terrorism' is part sci-fi, part Seeds and Silver Apples biting commentary, and The Urinals 'Black Hole', which reimagines The Everly Brothers as a cynical spluttering hardcore wet dream.
Usually each generation comes up with its own soundtrack to the times, but on this occasion we can forgive them, if they choose to use this well-worn one. This Black Hole compilation is ideal for the fire extinguisher throwing and Tory HQ rioting demonstrator or rebel in the street - not that I would encourage such actions, of course. A poignant reminder that nothings changed; a hand-me-down and baton change from one generation to the next.