Tag Archives: punk

Sex, drugs, and Dwarves

Bay Area shock rockers The Dwarves talk about their 30-year habits

Album artwork from The Dwarves's 1997 LP 'The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking,' set to be reissued by Recess Records this September as 'The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking.' The Dwarves are performing material from the album, as well as others from its catalogue and yet-to-be-recorded material at stops along its current North American tour, which stops at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern tonight.

Album artwork from The Dwarves’s 1997 LP ‘The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking,’ set to be reissued by Recess Records this September as ‘The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking.’ The Dwarves are performing material from the album, as well as others from its catalogue and yet-to-be-recorded material at stops along its current North American tour, which stops at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern tonight.

With a back catalogue consisting of 14 albums, two DVDs, a number of both EPs and seven-inch records, San Francisco Bay Area punks The Dwarves exhibit a career that is anything but dwarfish. And over thirty years as a band, the group has racked up quite some habits. They’re currently in the middle of quenching one of their less illicit ones.

Touring across Canada and the United States’s Midwest and Northeastern states, The Dwarves make a stop at Toronto’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern tonight, but fans that only know the mythology around the Dwarves shouldn’t let those impressions inform their decisions to catch the band on its current tour, Dwarves vocalist Paul Cafaro (a.k.a. Blag Dahlia) says.

In their salad days, onstage antics involving self-mutilation and live sex acts often turned Dwarves sets into abbreviated 15-minute performances, earning the band enemies among their earlier audiences and concert promoters. But as his band’s van rolled into Lincoln en route to a Chicago, Ill. gig, Cafaro – who has been one of The Dwarves’s two solely consistent members since its formation – explained over the phone Aug. 23 that fans who come out to Dwarves concerts these days will get more show for their buck.

“It’s generally like 45 minutes – the usual kind of thing,” Cafaro said.

Without any new material recorded since their 2011 10-inch record Fake ID, Bitch, the band is using its more lengthy sets to showcase material spanning its entire career.

“There’s songs from everything – from the Blood, Guts, & Pussy stuff and Sugarfix, [The Dwarves] Come Clean… then stuff from the last couple of records – [The Dwarves] Must Die, [The Dwarves Are] Born Again, even some brand new stuff – so new it hasn’t even been named yet,” said Cafaro.

The singer didn’t divulge much about the new material, but framed it and its contribution to the band’s sizeable (and ever-growing) discography as something that displays the band’s virtue when held up in comparison to those of other bands.

“Most bands suck. They make one good record and then they just flog it to death after that,” said Cafaro. “The Dwarves is just an embarrassment of amazing records. 30 years now. Mayhem.”

Also in celebration of The Dwarves’s career, the band recently announced a Recess Records reissue of its 1997 Epitaph LP The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking, from which fans can also expect to hear songs at the band’s upcoming shows. Rebranded as The Dwarves Are Younger and Even Better Looking, Cafaro explained the Recess reissue will come complete with 40 minutes – or 22 tracks – of bonus material, all recorded during the “same time period” as the album proper:

Ten of them are from the solo EP that I did and the outtakes from that, which came right before Young and Good Looking, and then a bunch of it is a radio show that was never released. It’s The Dwarves live on the radio, Stanford. And then there’s like b-sides and stuff from the Young and Good Looking period.

Marking the band’s exit from Seattle, Wash. independent record label Sub Pop following a hoax the band propagated claiming the band’s guitarist (and only other consistent member) HeWhoCannotBeNamed (a.k.a. Pete Vietnamcheque) had been stabbed to death in a Philadelphia, Penn. bar fight, the original Young and Good Looking served as somewhat of a vehicle for a kiss-off to The Dwarves’s former label, containing a “modified” version of Sub Pop’s press release detailing the band’s departure in the liner notes. No word on whether that will also be collected in the reissue, but if Cafaro’s dismissal of even the mention of the group’s former label is any indication, don’t count on it:

I don’t get the fascination with those guys. No one’s cared about them since the ’90s. They’ve got nothing to do with me or anything. So I don’t know about them. Whatever they do is what they do. I have this band called The Dwarves. Not affiliated with whoever those guys are or whatever they’re doing.

The group’s website does promise the collection will come with “more classic photos of the naked skater chicks,” though: images consistent with the cover art for albums like Blood, Guts, & Pussy, The Dwarves Must Die, and The Dwarves Are Young And Good Looking itself, which all feature naked women covered in blood, wearing ski masks, or surrounding a dwarf pinned to a cross.

Such artwork has been known to bring The Dwarves condemnation from feminists and other critics in the past, but when asked about such controversy, Cafaro didn’t address how the band has been identified as exploitive and objectifying in its promotion of its material, but instead insisted, “these are classic shots,” and identified himself and his band as sex-positive, feminist crusaders, going on to discuss the reflections his artwork has received as “slut-shaming” type arguments that fail to see the album covers as glorifications of the female form.

“I consider myself to be a feminist, you know?” Cafaro said. “And I think one of the best things about femininity is nudity, so you know, we’re a great feminist band with all our naked album covers.”

“Lots of wonderful naked women. Lots of drug abuse and sex from The Dwarves. That’s what we’re about,” said Cafaro. “We’re very socially conscious and we’re on dope.”

Ah, yes. Dope.

That’s another thing The Dwarves have a thing for, and Cafaro says it’s something that excites him for the band’s Toronto visit.

“There’s nothing like Toronto drugs,” Cafaro meditated. “By the time cocaine gets to Toronto it’s been stepped on many, many times.”

Specifically Cafaro favours the idea of being in the same town as embattled Mayor Rob Ford, who admitted today that he has “smoked a lot of” marijuana and whom news media such as the Toronto Star alleged smoked crack earlier in the year.

“Don’t you guys have that mayor that smokes crack? That excites me. The idea of going to Toronto and smoking crack with a public official,” Cafaro said. “If he wants to come to the show, we’ll get him in free, and if he brings a prostitute, she can get in half price.”

The Dwarves play The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto tonight with The Queers.


TURF reviews: Flogging Molly at Fort York – July 6, 2013

Flogging Molly performed at TURF July 6, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Flogging Molly performed at TURF July 6, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Walking onto a stage with cans of Guinness perched atop every amp, Flogging Molly worked hard at entertaining what was easily TURF’s largest crowd of staggering drunks, which regularly, wouldn’t have offered much surprise, except when it’s taken into consideration that alcoholic beverages at the festival were priced at nine bucks a pop.

The punk affected band finding its place on the urban roots festival’s docket with its connection to traditional Celtic folk music, it was only fitting that Irish-American pub punk should come packaged with a sense of humour. Lead singer/guitarist Dave King followed suit by perforating a setlist packed with songs like “Whistles The Wind,” “The Present State of Grace,” and “Float” by cracking wise about the number of photographers filling the media pit during the first three songs and how somebody better get his good side (which he suggested was probably his behind). The frontman also supplied groan-rendering segues that linked things like a Hold Steady-dedicated “Saints & Sinners” to bassist Nathen Maxwell, the “wonderful sinner who can’t hold anything steady” and opens the bass-carried track, as well as the “lucky bastards” living in Toronto and – “speaking of bastards” – “Requiem For a Dying Song,” written for George W. Bush.

King also did well at reminding fans of the band’s family-oriented disposition, dedicating “Drunken Lullabies” to his father Richard and went on to introduce banjo player Bob Schmidt, but not without mentioning the recent birth of his daughter before diving into the banjo picked lead of “Drunken Lullibies.”

With VIP ticket holders allowed to fill the space left by photographers after the band’s first three songs, before “The Kilburn High Road,” King pointed out relatives standing before the stage, and then introduced his wife and bandmate, Bridget Regan, who supplies the prominent tin whistle featured on the track.

A set that evoked the only circle pits had at the Fort York-held portions of TURF, it’s safe to say that it was all a working formula, too.

Originally published by The Ontarion.

TURF reviews: Frank Turner & the Silent Souls at Fort York – June 6, 2013

Frank Turner & The Silent Souls performed at Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 6. Photo: Tom Beedham

Frank Turner & The Silent Souls performed at Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 6. Photo: Tom Beedham

“Because punk is for the kids who never fit in with the rest,” Frank Turner sings in “Four Simple Words.” But his stuff’s not really for those same kids.

Some have credited Frank Turner with a folk-punk sound (maybe for the Black Flag tattoo on his wrist or the “FTHC” utilized in his logo), but his music is likely more of a result of the latter compounded genre or a kind of meta-punk than an actual courier of its MO.

Turner’s songs have the virtues of blunt, transparent lyrics, but their fraternal pub-fit themes and subject matter are generally anthemic before they are subversive, and his instrumentation is the stuff of good pop.

You can give him points for his ethics, though. Prior to his set, even though swarmed by fans just seconds afterwards, Turner ventured out into the crowd to get a feel of the environment the rest of the festival was enjoying. The singer’s been vocal about everyone at his shows being equal and not getting high on anything like his personal celebrity, so kudos to him for making good on that.

You can call Frank Turner (and the Sleeping Souls) alternative, but the music is a little too watered down (albeit with a pint or two) for punk classification. (And if you’re not satisfied with the above justification for that, the comment section’s down there; do your thing and educate me. I want to believe.)

While Turner’s punk sensibilities are up for debate, his folk status is undeniable, beholden nearly entirely to his singing/songwriting. Either sung over the electric guitar, drums, bass, and keys of the Silent Souls or simply the acoustic guitar of his solo work, Turner’s songs are by and large relatable stories told through a steady stream of consciousness.

The one exception that definitely gains him some punk credit, though, is his “Glory Hallelujah,” which, containing the lyrics “There never was a God / There is no God” prominently is comparatively confrontational. At TURF, it registered as an entertaining social experiment, visibly placing the broad festival audience that had sung along to set opener “Four Simple Words” and its “I want to dance” chorus in an uncomfortable position.

Otherwise, Turner put forth a great cover of The Weakerthans’ “A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue,” supplied as part of Turner’s tradition of performing regional covers based on where he’s playing. (The Weakerthans are from Winnipeg, but hey, close enough.)

“Four Simple Words”
“If I Ever Stray”
“Try This At Home”
“Losing Days”
“Glory Hallelujah”
“Long Live The Queen”
“The Way I Tend To Be”
“Wessex Boy”
“A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue” (Weakerthans)
“Reasons Not To Be An Idiot”
“Plain Sailing Weather”
“I Am Disappeared”
“The Road”
“I Still Believe”

Originally published by The Ontarion.

Unleashing a dragon at eBar

Polaris shortlisters Yamantaka // Sonic Titan bring theatrical concert act to Guelph

Jan. 24, 2013

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan played eBar (Guelph) on Jan. 17, 2013.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan played eBar (Guelph) on Jan. 17, 2013.

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (YT//ST) fans who turned out to eBar on Jan. 17 might have been confused when the headliner began its set with just three members occupying the stage, but any confusion was soon resolved after a dragon parted the sea of concertgoers, slowly worming its way up to the stage.

You read that correctly: YT//ST unleashed a dragon on its audience.

Held aloft by YT//ST director and vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood and Ange Loft (vocals, percussion), the black-and-white paper dragon made an appearance in the vein of Chinese Dragon Dance ceremonies dating back to the Han Dynasty, and it was just one of the many cultural signifiers concert-goers were presented that night.

This is standard fare for the YT//ST camp, and mention of the routine only brushes the surface of what the group has in store.

Originally formed in Montreal by Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B – both of mixed Asian-European heritage – YT//ST identifies itself to its audiences as an “Asian, Indigenous and Diasporic Art Collective,” and as such, cultural aesthetics gleaned from the Eastern and Western cultures (Nôh, J-Pop, C-pop, manga, Chinese Opera, First Nations Mythology, Iroquois core, prog, black metal, punk and noise rock, to name a few discernable influences) are staples in their diverse output – musically, visually, theatrically, and philosophically. The group also invented the term “Noh-Wave” (a pun on Nôh theatre and the stripped down, experimental No Wave scene of mid-’70s New York City) as a genre category that affords them to avoid the exhausting practice of placing art within predetermined boundaries when being asked to describe their style to outsiders.

“People wanna gatekeep and we’re just kind of more interested in kind of… You know, you point in a billion directions at once and they’re too busy looking, and by the time they look back you’ve already stolen everything,” Alaska B – who performs vocals, drums, and keys, in addition to carrying out other duties for YT//ST – told The Ontarion in a back office of the eBar while opening acts primed the audience for the group’s Guelph performance.

To wit, the process of presenting appropriated (“mal-appropriated,” B emphasizes) cultural aesthetics in a hybrid pastiche is a controversial avenue for any artistic undertaking to pursue. But it’s one B and the rest of the group will argue for.

“I think that’s literally a bullshit catch-22,” said B. “You police expression and then you selectively grant – based on your political opinion – what is appropriate, authentic, or real. And I think that’s a trap that you fall into automatically, based on your ethnic background, cultural appearance, et cetera. And that’s something you can’t escape from.”

“What I find funny is how whenever we played without saying who we were, people [said] it anyways. And so, it was like, ah, we’ll just say what it is and that means that we can have the conversation on our terms.”

The group provides representations of cultures that are selective and at times potentially cartoonish, but B maintains the collective refrains from participating in exotification of its source cultures because of its authentic approach to the subject matter; B is of Chinese-Irish heritage, Attwood is of Japanese-Scottish descent, and Loft is from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, for starters.

“To exotify means that you have to distance yourself from what you’re doing. We’re not distancing ourselves at all.”

“I don’t think what we do is any more offensive, culturally, than punk rock is offensive in a class sense. How wearing the signifiers of a lower class is considered somehow revolutionary no matter who you are, while to knowingly don cartoon kind of costumes of your ethnic identity is somehow offensive,” B philosophized. “It kind of puts us in a position of like, you better dress traditional like it’s 1850, or you better dress like a white boy. Otherwise you get no space in between or you’re somehow gonna be racist.”

Something B finds more concerning is the tendency for bands that cannot claim the cultures they appropriate as having provided their ethnic identities to avoid acknowledging the positions of privilege they access those sources from.

“I find it funny that we have to have this conversation while bands like Indian Jewellery, Indian Handcrafts […] there’s so many bands that just kind of get away with whatever,” said B. “And they just say it, they do it, they appropriate, and ’cause they never ’fess up to it, people can dodge the conversation.”

The performer argues that YT//ST necessarily engages its audiences in a critical reading of the music scene the collective operates within.

“By critiquing us, you’re inadvertently critiquing the entire indie scene.”

Whatever your stance on the political motivations of the collective, for a group that began as a large scale theatrical performance art project – perhaps lubricated by a 2012 shortlisting for the Polaris Music Prize that brought them international attention – YT//ST has come to offer a concert experience of undeniable allure. While the group’s sound is often fragile, sweet, and atmospheric, also present is a brooding energy that builds up to an incendiary fever pitch. At the group’s Guelph performance, this was realized when, late in the set, the audience erupted into a bouncy mosh pit that even saw audience members crowd surfing throughout the eBar.

Loft indulged the enthusiastic audience by joining them in the pit when the group dove into an encore performance of “A Star Over Pureland,” returning only at the end of the track to deliver a booming chant.

If you feel YT//ST’s already impressive dossier doesn’t leave much room to grow, the group is also currently absorbed in the process of putting together a side-scrolling video game (a play on YT//ST’s initials, it’ll be called Your Task // Shoot Things) scored with an original soundtrack from the collective.

“It’s like a full-on little rock opera with a narrative that you play through,” said B.

The group is hoping to reach out to the public for input at a series of work-in-progress presentations and eventually involve a studio, but B is determined the game will be YT//ST’s own.

“There are bands that’ve had video games based on their franchise, where they order them like an advergame – like the Skrillex Quest. The difference is, is that as far as I know, none of them actually took the time to sit around and fart out code. So we’ll be probably the first band to ever make our own video game from start to finish.”

B imagines the process could take until early next year, but YT//ST fans won’t have to wait until then for new material.

“We’re also recording our second record,” said Attwood.

“We start recording in the next couple months,” said B. “We hope to have a record out by the end of the year.”

Beyond that, the group just has touring on its minds.

“We have some performances coming up, but we can’t announce them yet,” Attwood added. And with summer festival season not too far in the distance (and their lineup announcements approaching even sooner), that could mean augmented exposure for the industrious art collective.

(Originally published in The Ontarion on Jan. 24, 2013)

From teenage Sex Pistol to folk troubadour

Glen Matlock in the Royal City


Former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock (Courtesy image)


Approaching the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC) on Feb. 5, considerable mystery surrounded what the evening’s events would entail. Advertising for the show could have been described as minimal at best (consisting mostly of a few flyers in Downtown Guelph shop windows), and the GYMC – in all the glory of its theater-like seating – isn’t exactly the quintessential punk haunt.  Smokers aired their own concerns and gave their forecasts as they shuffled cold feet in the snow outside the entrance, chewing over whether there would be a bar.

“There’s gotta be.  It’s Glen Matlock.  He’s a Sex Pistol fer chrissake!”

Glen Matlock has a special place in Sex Pistols history.  As the bassist for London’s seminal punk band, Matlock wrote most of the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but punklore has it that he was excommunicated from the Pistols in 1977 for liking The Beatles too much.

The truth, as Matlock tells it in his autobiographical I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol, is that he left because he was “sick of all the bullshit.”  Whether or not that “bullshit” had anything to do with guitarist Steve Jones’s frustration over Matlock’s insistence that he learn Beatles chords for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols will be debated for as long as the Sex Pistols remain punk canon.

Making his way up to the same kitchenette counter open to everyone else in the GYMC lobby, no one recognized Matlock as the mere footnote in punk rock history that he has been reduced to by some storytellers.  All were aware that Matlock is the man who begat a new sound, and the bassist who could actually play it.

With psychedelic country rock band The Sadies opening, there was not an electric bass in the building.  Sadies bassist Sean Dean plays an upright acoustic, but that dids more than keep the beat; it served as a subtle but downright reminder that this is not 1976, and that this would not be the same act as could be expected at an early Sex Pistols gig.  No one was dressed in robes straight out of anywhere like Malcolm McLaren’s clothing boutique; there were no ragged fishnet shirts, no bondage belts jingling among the mass, and leather – if present – was brown and well kept, not tattered and black with haphazard stud jobs.  Perhaps this was a crowd that grew up and beyond the unforgiving nature of Johnny Rotten, much like the man they had come to see.

When Matlock was done his sound check, a lone bagpiper blasted into the room erupting into a rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”  Fusing folk method with a classic rock anthem, it was the perfect harbinger for what was about to come.

Matlock’s acoustic show proved that music doesn’t have to be vicious to be punk.    Making a point about punk aesthetic in an interview with Max Chambers, he pointed out that, “People talk about punk as a musical style, but also there’s a spirit involved in it.”

He cranked out Sex Pistols songs like “Pretty Vacant,” “God Save the Queen” and Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” – a cover that every Sex Pistol (even Matlock’s bass incompetent-yet crowd pleasing Sex Pistols successor Sid Vicious covered it during his brief solo career) can say they’ve spent some time with – to an accepting crowd that sang along, and he had no problem disciplining the audience for their lack of familiarity with the chorus to Small Faces’s “All or Nothing,” looping the chords ad nauseam and saying “I can do this all night,” sitting back on the Sadies’s bass drum to further his point until he got the response he wanted.

Despite the demanding nature he took on during “All or Nothing,” Matlock was anything but arrogant; he was cheeky, but humble.

Matlock’s proved he’s above his Sex Pistols celebrity even when he’s not playing the role of traveling troubadour.  In response to Haiti’s earthquake in January he teamed up with Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mick Jones (The Clash), and Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) to cover Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell On You,” which is set for release later this month.

(Originally published Feb. 11, 2010 in The Ontarion)