Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: A Collective Recollection

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 5

Four installments in and this series, designed to emphasize meaningful moments- on a personal level- in music throughout the course of 2014, is going strong. In the fifth installment, Space Mountain’s Cole Kinsler writes about Pile’s Rick Maguire and Pile’s Rick Maguire writes about Yautja. Additionally, David Sackllah writes about both great film and great music (a trend that will be repeated throughout the coming year), Stephen Pierce tackles confronting devastation, and Miranda Fisher looks back on an interview before looking ahead to her next project. As always, it’s an absolute honor to be presenting such extraordinary pieces from equally extraordinary people. Everything they’ve got to say is always worthwhile and their words here are no exception. So, enough introductory grandstanding (or whatever this is), and on to part five of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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One Night, When Rick Went Solo

I moved to Boston for work, not really having any close friends in the area. I jumped into the music scene and found a bunch of my now-favorite bands. Ever since I’ve been heartened by how sincere and unpretentious everyone has been. I feel a pretty strong attachment to the city now. Sometime in June I saw Rick from Pile play a solo set at a house in Jamaica Plain. He played in a living room to maybe 30 or 40 people sitting on the floor. There was still some chatter in the room when he sat down and unassumingly began his set with “Purse and Fares”. I’ll never forget the sound of his huge voice in that little room. It was a really cool night. I was blown away, and may or may not have gotten teary-eyed a few times. How beautiful his songs were suddenly hit me. I went solo but the handful of people I met were all super nice and probably just as excited as I was. It’s always awesome to be a part of something like that because it feels so special. I’ll never forget it.

-Cole Kinsler (Space Mountain)

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Yautja

I wish I had something better prepared for this but the only thing about 2014 that is coming to mind and then consistently blows said mind is Yautja. Their album Songs of Descent is great. Also, we were lucky enough to tour with the likes of (New England) Patriots, Grass is Green, Fax Holiday, Big Ups, and Speedy Ortiz, and that was pretty great. Hanging out with old friends and making new ones.

-Rick Maguire (Pile)

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A Case of Whiplash and Fireworks

2014 was a whirlwind of a year, with ups and downs both personal and social. I made a lot of new friends, grew apart from some old ones, moved back to the city I grew up after four years away, and began a new job. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the year, or any year, without the great people and music that I found throughout the year. I wanted to touch on two pieces of art here that blew me away, one that left me trembling in a theater and a four-minute song that tore me apart emotionally every time I heard it.

Part 1 – An accurately named film

On paper, Whiplash doesn’t sound like the most tantalizing concept: A prodigious student at an elite jazz school studies with an esteemed yet abusive teacher. The film pulls the audience into a world of technicality, constantly name-dropping great musicians such as Buddy Rich, drawing the viewer into a highly specialized world that means everything to the people involved. Thankfully, a knowledge of jazz, its styles, or its legends isn’t required to enjoy the film. The movie winks at that, about halfway through, when Andrew (Miles Teller), the aforementioned student, attends a family dinner with his uncle and cousins. The whole family keeps on bragging about his cousin’s mediocre achievements in football, as Andrew throws a tantrum for not receiving recognition for being accepted into one of the most prestigious jazz bands in the country. It’s a familiar sentiment for many, where one has reached a level in their concentration that is highly laudable, but the people they have grown up around, of whose approval they seek, don’t understand or care about.

Director Damien Chazelle does an exemplary job of pulling the viewer into Andrew’s mind frame, that of an obsessively ambitious musician who has eclipsed many of his peers, and refuses to back down when faced with obstacles. Only in his case, the obstacle is immense, the cruel, sadistic teacher of the top class at the top school, the fearsome Terrence Fletcher, played excellently by J.K. Simmons. Simmons delivers a tightly controlled performance, stalking his classroom with an icy cool that is always on the verge of becoming unhinged fury. Fletcher snaps often throughout the movie, subjecting his students, and Andrew especially, to a tirade of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Simmons doesn’t play it one-note, offering bits of approval, luring in his students with seductive techniques that they have a chance at winning his approval, typically before striking that down.

Whiplash is a thrilling battle of wills; one that also shows the isolation that can go hand-in-hand with ambition. Andrew pushes away his family and girlfriend to achieve his goal of being the best drummer and winning Fletcher’s approval, pushing his body to extremes and making some supremely reckless decisions. The film properly vilifies both student and teacher in their quest to push each other to a breaking point, showing how the extremity of talent or drive doesn’t always make a person likable or sympathetic.

What Whiplash does excellently, is build up its story, getting the viewer to care about its two supremely flawed leads, and then amplifying the stakes before leading into possibly the most thrilling third acts in cinema in the past five years. As Whiplash plows ahead to its finish, the viewer, like the characters, get locked into a full-throttle ride that leaves the heart pounding, and had everyone in the theater in a tight sweat. I can’t recommend Whiplash enough, a visceral journey that felt like a master-class in getting the wind kicked out of you.

Part 2- A little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one

Three and a half years ago, I met the love of my life, a wonderful woman who is extremely strong, caring, and supportive. I count myself extremely lucky that she wants to be around me. Before that, I spent most of my life in middle school, high school, and college, very unlucky in romance. Like many teenagers, I went through a cycle of crushes. There were times I put myself out there, and got turned, and other times where I resigned to be a sad sack about it and keep it to myself.

There’s two parts to every crush. There’s the fun part, the part where you think the person might like you back. You’re filled with joy and excitement every time you see their name. Your phone vibrates and your heart jumps a little because it might be that person texting you. Then there’s the other part, the uncertainty, the longing, and the nagging feeling that it won’t end well. That’s the painful part, where you don’t know how the other person feels, but hope and pray that it’s the same way you do.

That second part is what grounds “Fireworks” by Radiator Hospital, and made it such a poignant song that when I first heard it, it made me relive every crush of my teenage years. Sam-Cook Parrott does the astounding job of including the song twice on his album. The first version you hear is sung by Maryn Jones of All Dogs, and presents the first character in the tale. She reminisces about a walk with a friend that “went further than we thought it would.” She wonders why he doesn’t call, imploring that her boyfriend isn’t at home. She knows it won’t work, and tries to forget him, even though she knows it’s futile. She asks if he felt the fireworks, and affirms, as if she’s trying to convince herself, that “a little spark doesn’t mean you’re the only one.”

On its own, the song would be a devastating tale of a longing feeling that isn’t returned, but the addition of the reprise towards the end of the album makes it so much more. This time around, you hear the exact same song sung by Parrott, from the male character’s point of view. The lyrics are almost identical, with subtle but important changes. “I think of them often, when he gets home” is changed to “I think of them often, when I’m alone”. “I looked at you like you meant something” is changed to “I looked at you, thought I’d never stop looking.” The meaning is similar, but the difference in words adds a layer of intimacy and authenticity to the song. The events and circumstances are the same, but both people remember them and feel them in slightly different ways.

Both “Fireworks” and its reprise are a master class example in songwriting. Few songs do as good a job as capturing such an intense, familiar feeling. By telling the story from both perspectives, Parrott makes it feel real, complicated, and intense. Hearing it brought me back to being 17, wondering if the girl about to go to college might actually like me back. It made me remember these vivid, specific memories in my life. I’ve talked to friends, who had a similar reaction from the song, applying it to situations in their life. Fireworks isn’t great just because it’s relatable, but the fact that it touches on something so specific and familiar, while being universal enough to apply to people of completely different circumstances, makes it a shining example of stellar songwriting.

-David Sackllah (i am full of light)

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Reigniting the Spark

It’s hard, when you’re the obsessive type, to reconcile endings; to change.

The year began for me at a turning point. The outlet for my prior six years of singular drive and dedication– bicycle racing– had ended its season with a question mark hanging over it. Because of a knee injury, that trajectory was sidelined. Stir-crazy, restless, and of course wondering what I had been working toward and what I hoped to get out of it, that question mark only grew as time went on and the problem persisted– worsened, even. Panic set in, then desperation. Eventually, I settled on a sense of existential detachment: You know, that kind of place you can work yourself into where you’re kinda aware of just how stupid it is to be so passionate and depressed about something as ephemeral as whatever that object of your affection may be, but mostly you’re terrified, gripped by a fear of embracing the void and figuring out what’s next.

When you’re in that sort of dark place, you have to embrace what light exists- otherwise make your own. It’s an elemental thing. So I looked toward what had been there the whole time: The soundtrack, pushed from the background to the forefront.

Loveless has been a significant part of my life since 1998. I didn’t understand it then but I was fascinated and enraptured by the sounds that– as a kid that grew up on Crass, Born Against, and Reversal of Man– sounded impossibly otherworldly. That record, and then Isn’t Anything, the EPs, everything but the first 12” really, followed me everywhere, not stopping at bike racing. They were there during long summer rides, winters in the basement on the trainer or freezing in crosswinds, intervals and recovery timed to the pulsing spikes and valleys of whatever record was on. I wasn’t so far out of the loop that I didn’t hear about MBV in 2013 and my February that year was soundtracked by that, pretty exclusively. Immersed, I got to thinking about what my favorite new records were from the previous year and I couldn’t really think of any.

Of course, at that point, I was on the outside, looking in: Nothing new was making its way onto my radar, unless it was by a band that I cared about before putting on blinders. It used to be, though, that new music consumed me, as a part of– through my youth– several vibrant, active DIY punk communities. Cynthia Ann Schemmer, a friend of mine from when we were both living in Brooklyn, just published an absolutely jaw-dropping year-end piece on The Media wherein she writes of separating yourself from this conjoined twin that begins growing with you when you get into punk. Effectively, I had done this at age 26 when I decided to focus all of my effort away from that world, but I think that we’re all, for better or for worse, endlessly followed by that ghost. It haunts you everywhere; manifests itself in everything.

In my case, at the end of 2013, it showed up as that gut feeling that you get when you first hear something that instantly hits as relatable. It showed up, too, in dictating what, exactly, that means to me: Relatable is coming from house shows. Relatable is a sense of community and togetherness, which that world builds and nurtures. The friends that played in DIY punk bands a decade ago that are also carrying that ghost with them down divergent roads these days– they’re relatable. And there are so many of them. Listening to old friends forge new paths away from punk but still working within that ‘code of being’ that we all lived by in our more dogmatic days reminded me of how limitless we all can be. Seeing friends succeed while holding true to themselves is such a hugely inspiring and incredibly empowering thing to bear witness to, and it sparked a flame inside me.

I can’t nail down a single record or band that reignited that spark. There wasn’t a singular “a-ha” discovery but instead a heightened appreciation- in addition to my friends’ new bands finding success beyond basement shows, like Parquet Courts & Merchandise– for the music that had been there all along. MBV, Spacemen 3, Yo La Tengo: Loud, weird guitar music. Being without an outlet for whatever compulsion governed my actions when I was racing bikes, I dove in, down some wormhole or another trying to find music that embodied whatever it is about those bands that has resonated so heavily with me. One day it was the search for something repetitive and built around a drone, the next it was full-volume fuzz blasts, then the next day it was damaged pop. Eventually, all at once. Through Gimme Tinnitus, which became gospel after I saw it name-checked somewhere on some friend’s band’s page, the curtain was pulled back and I became aware of a whole world that had been passing me by.

I found out about Exploding In Sound Records and went through their entire catalog alarmingly fast. I was surprised to see that so many of the bands on Dan & Dave’s label that I was falling in love with were from within a two-hour radius of where I live. Continuing to turn over rocks, I found that an acquaintance of mine from a lifetime ago was making perfectly hyper jangle pop with some other folks as Bent Shapes, whose song “Hex Maneuvers” was one of my most-played songs after discovering it late last year, until their single “86’d in ‘03” dethroned it as my go-to song of theirs. I guess I really hadn’t been paying any attention at all: I had a ton of catching up to do.

The funny thing about feeling the level of excitement and newness that I found at that point is that everything becomes so incredibly urgent, immediate, and entirely possible. When I was young, I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine ever being at a point in life where I was not playing music. Though I remained a member of the mostly-hibernating DIY punk band Ampere, I barely touched my guitar in the time between my first and last time racing a bike. 2014, and the bands I heard in 2014, pushed me to change that. Obsessively, I went for it full-blast. Fast forward to the end of spring, and I had written about fifteen songs for a new band that began in late February.

Who knows fully what would or wouldn’t have been possible with or without the records that I heard and drew inspiration from this year; I think each one has been as important as the last, and will be as important as the next. It’s about filling space and finding that essence- that indescribable feeling of childish excitement and abandon. Some sort of connection. Each record that has factored into my life in 2014 has provided me with exactly what I needed through my darkest moments of reflection: A light.

It’s got to be the biggest cliché in the book to note that from even the most disappointing endings comes the promise of a new tomorrow. When one dream comes to an end, another is right around the corner, etc. etc. I guess the key is to not get too bogged down in grieving what’s departed, to continue to move forward. To apply everything you’ve learned from one path in life to another. There are universalities everywhere, ways that everything can seem to line up and connect. The ghost of the past can show up in anywhere. I can’t help but see this past year as a blur: Darkness faded into optimism, a sinking feeling of hopelessness transitioned to dedication & drive, and all along the way I was taken aback at how very fortunate I am– we all are– to be a part of whatever it is that we’re a part of, right at this very moment in time.
SOME OF MY MOST-LIKED THINGS IN 2014:

CheatahsCheatahs LP
Bent Shapes – 86’d in ’03b EP
WildhoneySeventeen Forever 7”
Sweet John Bloom – Picky 12”
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Power PyramidSilence
Working – More Weight EP

THE RECORDS FROM 2015 THAT ALREADY RULE:

Sweet John Bloom – Weird Prayer
Wildhoney – Sleep Through It
KrillA Distant Fist Unclenching
California XNights in the Dark
Dweller on the ThresholdVolume 2
Longings LP

-Stephen Pierce (Kindling, writer, Exploding in Sound)

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Interviewing Neil Hagerty

At this point in my life, I’ve done enough interviews and I know myself well enough that I’m well aware I’m always going to get nervous before interviews. It’s just a given. I’m prone to anxiety anyway, and when you add in the excitement of talking to someone whose work I respect and the pressure of trying to get some usable material out of it, my nerves multiply exponentially. In 2014 I was lucky enough to interview a lot of my favorite musicians, and from Cheetah Chrome to Life Stinks, my heart was always racing in the moments leading up to the interview. But nothing compared to the sheer panic I felt on my way to interview Neil Hagerty in Denver last May.

I’m sure part of my anxiety was due to the fact that I am an embarrassingly huge fan of Hagerty and his work with Pussy Galore and Royal Trux — I think he’s the greatest guitarist of the last 25 years, at least. But the intensity of this particular freak-out was largely due to the fact that I was going it alone. Since my friend Jon asked me to create the writing section for his then photography-only zine, Rubberneck, in 2012, he has been at nearly every interview I’ve done. He takes pictures, he cracks jokes that get cut from transcription immediately, but most importantly to me, he’s a calming force. Just having one of my best friends in the room with me gives me the confidence to get through situations that otherwise would have undoubtedly sent me spiraling into a panic attack were he not there. Which is exactly what happened in the car that night in Denver. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking, my heart from racing. I practiced breathing exercises to try to calm down. I was dipping out of a ladies’ weekend to go see Hagerty’s current project, the Howling Hex, and interview him. And although my girlfriends are wonderful and supportive (shoutout HFC!), they had no clue who this guy was or why I was so worried about fucking everything up.

But I somehow managed to not fuck up! We talked and he was nice and didn’t say anything about my nervous stuttering or the tremors in my hands. Instead, he gave thoughtful, revealing answers to all of my questions (which you can read in Rubberneck #10.) Seven months later, I’m sure he wouldn’t recognize my name, much less pick me out of a lineup. But that night I couldn’t have asked for more from someone I was interviewing, down to his offer, in the brief, terrifying moment I thought I’d lost the recording, to meet me for lunch and redo the whole thing the next day. Then the Howling Hex played and I finally got to see Hagerty on guitar. Every riff, every solo was perfect, seemingly effortlessly so. The man is a guitar wizard. The way his hands move is inhuman. Ten seconds into their set, I felt a catharsis. By the ten minute mark, a reverie. Of all the great sets I was lucky to see last year, nothing came close to the electricity I felt while watching the Howling Hex.

There were six people watching.

I don’t know why I get moved to panic over a musician whom the population of the bar couldn’t be bothered to swivel on their stools to watch. Are they wrong? Am I? (Both?) All I know is that the Howling Hex’s set that night meant more to me than to anyone else in that room, and more than anything else last year.

A month later, when Jon told me he wanted to end Rubberneck, I was heartbroken. I cried basically nonstop for two months. And when he suggested I start a new zine, it made me angry. How could I do it myself? But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the possibilities, the opportunities to do things I couldn’t with Rubberneck. And so going forward with my new zine, Casting Couch, while I know that Jon’s going to be there with me — whether he wants to admit it or not — I also know that I can do it alone if I need to.

2014 was a shit year in so many ways, both global and personal. But it was also the year that I interviewed Neil Michael Hagerty. And I did it by my god damn self.

Casting Couch: coming April 2015.

-Miranda Fisher (Rubberneck, Casting Couch, The Zoltars)

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 4

Welcome to round four of a series that it’s been an absolute honor and privilege to present. Over the past few months, I’ve been gathering up some of my favorite people in music- emphasizing musicians, writers, label heads, and music video cinematographers/directors- asking each to share some of their favorite moments of 2014’s rich world of music. The responses they generated have been stunning and have, largely, made me indescribably proud of people I’ve admired for some time. 20 people have contributed to this series so far and today, five more get added to that total: Christopher Good (whose work on Saintseneca‘s “Happy Alone” and Perfume Genius’ “Queen“, among others, was inspired), Edgar Durden (whose unrelenting commitment to being a positive force in music and undying support of emerging bands has made him a genuine presence), Ray McAndrew (who’s been making extraordinary music for more years than most realize), Christine Varriale (whose work on Allston Pudding has been invaluable), and Ali Donohue (whose contributions to music continue to be endless). From a Girls Rock camp to the reunion of The Unicorns, there’s quite a bit of ground to cover. So, onward and upward, here’s part four of 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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Panda Bear’s Return and A Few More Notable Moments

I think in the end my favorite music moment of 2014 was the return of Panda Bear- according to my iTunes I’ve racked up exactly 200 plays to date of “Mr. Noah“- so the proof is in the pudding I suppose. Also I really like that song “Just Call It” by SUSAN, it reminds me of Lush when they went all Britpop. I guess it’s weird to say you like a song because it reminds you of the trend-chasing version of a previous band but there you go. Part of me wants to say my favorite moment was Future Islands’ performance on Letterman just because the emergence of a unique persona like that on such a large stage feels so rare- but I’m still kind of bummed that they named their album Singles and then “Seasons” was like the only really, really good track on there. Also big thanks to Speedy Ortiz for introducing me to Sibylle Baier, I don’t know where she’d been all my life!

-Christopher Good (Music Video Cinematographer/Director)

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A List for 2014

2014 seemed like a musical dream to me. Chris Brown fell even deeper into irrelevance, Beyonce dropped a surprise album, fake revolutionaries Death Grips “broke up”, and Lorde toured with Majical Cloudz. Really great things happened. But sadly, really shitty things did too (mostly Ariel Pink, but whatever). 2014 was a tough year, personally and socially, but it is in those times that music is present to bring us closer to like-minded people- at least ideally. The chances of a couple of Virgos ending up together in a church courtyard in a little town in the southernmost tip of Texas must be one in a million. But that is exactly what music did back in March during the annual Galax Z Fair. Somehow two weirdos with the same birthday sat on a bench and thought about how beautiful certain things were, including chance, including luck, including music. 2014 was a great year. I don’t know if this is a statement or an argument I’m making to myself.

Here are my favorite records of the year:

1. Torch Song by Radiator Hospital.

Sam Cook-Parrot is my favorite poet. Sam describes my own feelings better than I ever could. The simplicity of the music, the complexity of the feelings being described, and the combination of the two make a perfect record. Thank you, Sam. There must be something beautiful in heartbreak.

2. Say Yes to Love by Perfect Pussy

Perfect Pussy created the most sonically challenging and brutally honest works of art of the year. Jenny Holzer meets Sonic Youth meets The Russian Ballet. Perfect Pussy can’t simply be heard, Perfect Pussy must be experienced. The sheer energy that shines through each band member can change a bad day to a great day. There is so much going on, whether Shaun is making light become noise, Meredith is speaking in dead languages, or Ray is beating the devil out of his guitar. There is never a dull moment with Perfect Pussy. They’re the brave band we needed. Perfect Pussy is the band that is ready to take on the world, I worry the world isn’t ready to take on Perfect Pussy.

3. Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen

Disclaimer: Angel Olsen smiled at me the night I saw her perform in McAllen.

The first time I listened to this record I felt an ache deep in my chest that I wasn’t very familiar with. It was a hopeful type of heartbreak. Angel’s voice is that of an actual angel with evil intentions, like she is trying to take you to the darkest room in heaven, like she is whispering your own secrets to you. I hope to be as beautiful as this record someday.

4. Under Color of Official Right by Protomartyr

How do you describe a record that has to be felt? You don’t. Go listen to this record. Start a war against your local assholes, and use this as the soundtrack. Scum, Rise!

5. Bury Me At The Makeout Creek by Mitski

Mitski possesses one of those voices that haunt you; one of those voices that inhabits the deepest, darkest corners of your heart and mind. The effortlessness of this make it that much more devastating. The beauty isn’t the focal point- but neither is the rawness of the music. But, my god is this record raw and beautiful.

6. Bodies and Control and Money and Power by Priests

A punk band from DC puts out a semi-political record. This is probably the easiest way to write about Priests, but Priests require much more than a simple tagline. Priests are a weird, weird band. They touch on very political themes without ever being political. If anything, Katie Alice Greer seems to be letting us into her mind and her psyche rather than telling us about her beliefs. Katie is a force of nature, and when this record is spinning I am caught in her storm.

7. Gypsy Pervert by Mannequin Pussy

Disclaimer: I first heard this record in 2013.
Thoughts on record: It still fucking rules.

8. II by Makthaverskan

Makthaverskan means “the woman with the power/in power.” This record came to me when I needed it the most. It explained a troubled relationship to me through the other side of the coin.  After three years of being a really shitty boyfriend, my significant other decided it was time for her to venture out and find something a little bit more tangible and more, well, stable. I wasn’t the one yelling “FUCK YOU”, I was the one being yelled at… and it was kind of beautiful.

9. Too Bright by Perfume Genius

I sat in my bedroom wearing some grey sweatpants when I saw David Letterman introduce Perfume Genius on The Late Show. What happened next was incredible and so goddamn powerful. There stood a beautiful man in beautiful red lipstick wearing his heart on his sleeve. This wasn’t the usual performance. This was broadcasted to Middle America, to all the bigots, to all the racists, to all the homophobes, and to all the assholes too. And Perfume Genius stood victorious. And we knew our queen.

10. After The End by Merchandise

Nothing will ever devastate me as much as Carson’s vocals do. This record takes me away, like a vivid dream, as if I could float above a field of broken hearts. Wow. And it all feels so real.

Favorite Song of the year:

Club Going Up On A Tuesday” by ILOVEMAKONNEN ft. Drake

A song about the anxieties that come with modern life; a song about living in the modern age without the privilege that your peers have; a song about doing what it takes to live an actual life; a song about living in a police state; a song about Tuesdays.  This song is as silly as it is profound, as it is poetic, as it is perfect.

-Edgar Durden (Edgar’s Friends)

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Rediscovering The Unicorns

The Unicorns have played a key part in my life this past year in subtle and not so subtle ways. The first time I remember them being mentioned this year was in March, when I had the opportunity to meet Nardwuar. He had a theory that without The Unicorns, the Arcade Fire would be nothing- entirely due to the fact that The Unicorns (at the peak of their popularity 10 years ago) brought their friends in The Arcade Fire on their first national tour. This made sense to me at the time but- since The Unicorns weren’t very relevant at the time of the conversation- I gave it no other thought. I was 13 when they broke up and listened to their album many times throughout the years thanks to two older brothers’ music libraries. Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone had always been an album I associated with my brothers and one that brought back memories, but I hadn’t listened to them in a while. Nardwuar never came out and said it but I think he may have been hinting at the idea of a Unicorns 2014 reunion tour.

The second time I thought about The Unicorns this year was when Alden Penner released a solo album that, in all honesty, I listened to half of and decided Clues was better.

The third time, The Unicorns created a Twitter account and announced a string of reunion shows with who else but The Arcade Fire? The Unicorns 2014. The prophecy had come true! Except I am 22, not 13. I thought about going but when I saw ticket prices I X’ed out of the internet tab, laughing.

The fourth time I thought about the Unicorns was unexpectedly, in Nuremberg, Germany. I was playing a show with Perfect Pussy that was part of a festival, I went outside for a cigarette (at that time I hadn’t quit smoking) and heard someone call my name. I turned around and it was Jamie Thompson. I knew Jamie only through being a member of The Secret Unicorns Forum (and later we would become Facebook friends), although we didn’t talk that much. It turned out the festival had booked a puppet show that Jamie was a part of a few years ago. He seemed as confused by the whole thing as I did. Jamie saw we were playing the same night he landed in Nuremberg and came to the show to meet me for the first time. We ended up hanging out for the rest of the night until I had had too much to drink and needed to go back to our hotel. This was the highlight of tour for me, having an accidental run in with the drummer of one of my favorite bands during my pubescent years. Some forgotten dream of mine had finally been realized. After that night I rediscovered The Unicorns’ music and began my retrospective that all would lead up to one night at Pop Montreal.

I didn’t know I was going to see the Unicorns until a day before their reunion show in Montreal. I was visiting my partner in Cleveland with the intention of seeing, coincidentally, Islands for the first time when she posed the idea of driving to Montreal the next day to see The Unicorns. Tickets weren’t sold out and we had no responsibilities that weren’t cancel-worthy to prevent us from seeing their final reunion performance in their hometown of Montreal- so why not?

The show played out in a way that I can only imagine a show curated by The Unicorns could have played out. It was hinted at throughout the show that The Unicorns had selected all the bands that played. Of the bands playing I had only heard Each Other– who played second of four. The first band was an embarrassing joke of a bar rock band not even worth mentioning beyond this point.

Each Other were great. I had heard a tape of theirs that a friend reissued through his label, Prison Art, but they didn’t play any songs from it. The shock for most at the show, or at least the bearded bro standing next to me, was Light Fires. A MTF transsexual who stole the stage the moment she stepped onto it. Armed with only an iPod, Light Fires high kicked, sexy danced, and punched her way through her set. Between songs she bragged about the multiple celebrity musicians she knew and about how amazing she is- and I believed her. I believed every word. The bearded bro let out a brief chuckle at everything Regina said. After the 10th or so time it became obvious how uncomfortable he and some of his friends were. These bros would later turn out to be the same bros that repeatedly elbowed me and my partner with half-mosh-half-dance moves during the Unicorns set. They were a mild annoyance on an overall great night.

The Unicorns performance was more subtle in its flamboyancy, but it still held true to a lot of the theatrics that I had seen in their videos. Alden Penner had his eyes darkened and wore a tight pink tanktop and black pants. Nick Thorburn wore a completely yellow outfit, slightly resembling a banana. Jamie Thompson, the only one who wouldn’t have gotten a side eye walking down a busy sidewalk, wore a Brooklyn jersey and had his hair in a bun. The three of their clashing styles were brought together by old Microsoft Windows screensavers that were being projected in the background. The moment the Unicorns began to play the crowd jumped into a frenzy. I don’t remember all the songs that were played but I know they were all from their LP as well as a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocketship”.

The Unicorns had three encores. They are a band that’s known for their wry humor on stage, in recordings, and in interviews and that came through in their encores. Their first encore consisted of a stick click count in and a single quarter note played by each band member. The second encore was quite similar to the first encore. Finally the third encore, which only came after a hand from behind a curtain told the crowd to beg for it, was the infamous “I Was Born (A Unicorn)”. Their set was short, sweet, and felt like it went for the perfect amount of time. The songs were slightly more deconstructed than how I imagined they’d be live but I wasn’t disappointed. It was just nice to see a band I adored as a kid and never had the chance to see when they were initially active.

-Ray McAndrew (Perfect Pussy, SSWAMPZZ, Toxic Parents)

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A Strong Year in Boston

I knew 2014 would be my best year yet the moment midnight on New Year’s Eve passed and Krill broke into the most passionate performance of “Theme from Krill” I’ve heard them play to date. The crowd at Pizzeria Regina in Allston, MA (yes an actual pizza place Allston Pudding threw our New Year’s Eve show at) yelled “KRILL KRILL KRILL FOREVER” like we wouldn’t hear this song over and over again throughout 2014.

Allston Pudding has been a part of my life for three and a half years now but 2014 was when it became my family. All of the people I work with at Allston Pudding mean the world to me and becoming a managing editor is the only promotion I’ve ever received- but it will always be the best one. When I started in 2011, I was this unconfident writer and photographer with no idea what good music was, to be honest. Then I discovered Pile and my life was forever changed. Through Pile I discovered all of the other bands that make the Boston/Massachusetts music scene the powerful force it is: Speedy Ortiz, Kal Marks, Sneeze, Girlfriends (now Bent Shapes), Fat History Month (now Bad History Month), and countless others. I grew to love these bands; they grew to be my friends. It’s hard to go to a show in Boston and not feel as comfortable as I would never leaving my apartment (an oft-chosen alternative in my life), because I know people at every show.

Through these bands, I got to learn the other people in the scene not only in Boston but beyond. Writers and other music people like Liz Pelly and The Media, The Le Sigh, Perry Eaton, my fellow Allston Pudding writers, Ethan Long, Steven Spoerl, Dan Goldin, Amy Leigh, Ellen Kempner, Michael Falcone, Aurore Ounjian, Maura Johnston, and Sadie Dupuis, who inspire me and help me strive to be more present and aware of all of the great music and movements happening right now in 2014.

There were some amazing moments in 2014. As I stated earlier, starting with “Theme from Krill” was the best kick-off. Some of my favorite shows were the Speedy Ortiz Real Hair EP release show at Tasty Burger (I guess Boston likes food places for venues?); Disco Doom, Pile, Ovlov, LVL UP and Krill at Great Scott in March; everything at NXNE in Toronto; Boston Calling in May; every Frankie Cosmos show I went to; Ava Luna, Celestial Shore, Palehound, and Rosie and the Rosies; Boston Hassle Fest; seeing Radiator Hospital for the first time (and two other times after that); Waxahatchee, All Dogs, Potty Mouth, Cayetana; finally seeing Swearin’ live; Pile’s Special Snowflakes release show; every time I saw Lady Bones; seeing Mitski in a living room in Oak Square with 11 other people: the list continues!

Some moments can’t be tied to a specific show or event. Some friendships churn over time and these people I’ve blossomed with in 2014 have become some of my favorite people I’ve ever met. To call them my friends is weird and amazing. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in 2014- and if I could relive this year over and over again, that would be my a-ok fine with me.

-Christine Varriale (Allston Pudding)

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//GIRLS ROCK CAMP BOSTON//
//AKA the coolest thing I did this year//

It is hard to look back on this past year and pick out a single moment to share. I went on my first full US tour, had more than a few bandmates/friends move, started new projects, watched friends play sets in different pockets of the country and felt like I never stopped moving around, constantly chasing whatever was waiting ahead. If I had to pick a single music-related moment from 2014 to share with the internet volunteering at Girls Rock Boston is the thing that stands out. Girls Rock Campaign Boston is a volunteer-run summer program for girls that fosters collaboration and confidence using music. I initially heard about Girls Rock Boston from Hanna, my bandmate in Tomboy, who volunteered at GRCB the summer before. This past summer Fleabite played one of the lunchtime performances to an auditorium of young girls and badass volunteers, and I taught guitar and coached a band of tweens.

It was awesome and uplifting working with the campers and working alongside so many inspirational women, especially because at the time I was volunteering my life felt like a soggy mess. The week of camp happened to overlap with many other endings. Summer was ending, the pizza place I had been working at for two years closed for good, a bunch of friends and bandmates moved across the county, and I was about to leave for a three week tour. I remember crying a lot but I also remember laughing a lot, smiling, and feeling inspired by the people around me. By the end of the camp I felt a little more together, especially when I watched the group of girls I helped coach take the stage, chant their band name (R.U. IN?), rock out, and have fun.

I can’t relate to the anxiety and sadness I was feeling that week even though I remember that it was there. Summer ended, I found a new job, my friends are still my friends even if they live far away, tour happened and I returned. Looking back I’m glad that my time at GRCB overlapped with those polar experiences because it served as the perfect reminder of the things that are truly important: supporting one another, creating community, and putting your shit aside for a moment to be a part of something larger than yourself. I highly recommend finding a way to support your local Girls Rock chapter and consider starting such a thing if it doesn’t already exist in your community. If you want to find out more about Girls Rock Boston please check out their website and consider donating:

http://girlsrockboston.org/

See you in the pit at Girls Rock Boston 2k15!

// HONORABLE MENTIONS //

Some other 2k14 highlights include // playing Liz Pelly’s b-day bash on the 4th of July at the Silent Barn, Smash it Dead fest raising $5,800+ for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, playing a very weird show on Martha’s Vineyard, Tomboy playing a college show in central mass that devolved into a karaoke party, Up Yours Fest @ SUNY Purchase, and a Ramones cover band.

-Ali Donohue (Fleabite, Tomboy)

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 2

Yesterday, it was my distinct privilege to start running pieces that were contributed to Heartbreaking Bravery for a long-gestating project. A long list of some of my favorite writers, label heads, music video directors, and musicians (many of whom have had their work covered here in the past) were kind enough to contribute pieces focusing on some of their favorite moments in music over the course of 2014. These pieces will continue to run throughout the week and I’m unbelievably grateful for everyone involved. Below, David Anthony fondly recalls taking in The National with someone of great importance, Quinn Moreland muses over her peers’ achievements, Gabriela June Tully Claymore tackles Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and its many personal connotations, Jesse Amesmith covers a particularly memorable show, Katie Capri rails against false assumptions, and Jeff Bolt revisits a show with The Marked Men. So, once again, it’s an absolute honor to present 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.

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A Night Out with The National

While I consider myself lucky to have several moments rush to mind– seeing American Football’s “secret” reunion being the closest runner-up– the experience that will stick with me the longest was seeing The National with my mom. Sure, that might not be the coolest answer in the world but there was one small exchange that made it, unquestionably, the most memorable musical moment of 2014.

First thing’s first, I have to tell you a bit about my mom. She’s always been into music of varying kinds. Some of my earliest memories are linked to her blaring Springsteen on Saturday morning, listening to Dookie as she drove me to school, or her cleaning the house to Sam Cooke. The second, and perhaps most important point, is that my mom is a saint. If she were to detail the number of ‘90s pop-punk bands she took me to see while she stood in the back of dingy punk clubs, I’m fairly certain you’d agree. It’s these circumstances that make this National show stand out to me. It’s a moment where our interests overlapped and instead of her having to stand in the back of a dive bar- or me uncomfortably sit in the nosebleeds of an arena- we could meet in the middle and enjoy music without any pretenses.

The show itself was as good as any other National show I’ve seen, but it was the band’s encore that sealed it. When vocalist Matt Berninger jumped into the audience and began walking across seats during “Mr. November” I saw my mom’s eyes light up. She grabbed my arm and looked at me with the biggest smile, and in that moment I felt like she understood what’s made music such an integral part of my life. She was raised on stadiums and rock stars, so seeing a front-person become one with the crowd gave her the same feeling those pop-punk and hardcore bands did for me over a decade ago. It may have only been a brief moment, but it reminded me why music is so vital. At its best, it brings people together and allows them to feel part of something bigger than themselves, even if it’s just for a second.

-David Anthony (Digital Manager, The AV Club)

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Peers in 2014

2014 was weird and crazy and cool in so many ways, it feels impossible to pick one or even two or three specific #FavoriteMusicMoments. However, I can summarize many moments with one simple Frankie Cosmos lyric: “My heroes are my friends / my friends are my heroes.” My favorite musical memory of 2014 was any time I was blown away by my peers, whether at a live concert, on a recording, or even a YouTube video (this is so cheesy, I’m sorry). Just a few people who turned me into a starry-eyed Q are the entire Epoch crew, team Double Double Whammy, the staff and writers at The Media, the Alex G gang, Jawbreaker Reunion, Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos… that’s more than a few but not nearly everyone. I was inspired by anyone (minus total jerks or sexist assholes because there were a lot of those too) who was involved with music in any fashion in 2014. So I guess my favorite musical “moments” were the times it was truly evident that my peers are my heroes.

-Quinn Moreland (Associate Editor, Impose)

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Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and Learning to Breathe Easy

I turned 21 in a bar on June 15th, sandwiched between the almost shockingly audacious advances of a former coworker and a girl that I had befriended at school but still didn’t know all too well. I had been in Buenos Aires the day before, saying goodbye to the uneven cobblestone streets, the violent rainstorms. I found myself back in New York unmoored and uncertain—an official Grown Up without an apartment, without a job, and without any sense of who my friends were. Here, I pause to examine my existence as a total “post study abroad experience” stereotype—alienated from my homeland, and in turn, myself. I was in free-fall, descending too quickly into the real world, and in those first few days I thought that the turbulence would kill me.

I do not mean to make this an essay about “poor me” but rather one about “poor us,” when we lose sight of who we once were and have no idea who we want to will ourselves to become.

My readjustment period of several weeks expanded into a month, then into a summer. The morning after my birthday, I awoke to the news that a friend had unexpectedly died. I was told that he drowned in a pool- and my ribs began to crack open to make room for an inexplicable emptiness.

What followed can only now be described as farce. I learned that the former friend subletting what was supposed to be my room was refusing to move out. After spending two weeks on another’s couch, I moved into my future roommate’s room while she was away in California, and I got my old restaurant job back. A week later, I awoke to find my body covered in small bumps—rows of three that trickled down my arms my legs, my brow-line and eyelids. I found one bed bug crawling across the sheets that morning. I found another when I stripped the bed, and dozens as I peeled away the plastic corners of the box spring that didn’t belong to me.

I spent the next two months in motion as little bits of my stunted world continued to fall apart.

In an effort to recover what was left of my sanity, to remember who I had been and what I had enjoyed before I left New York, I tried to burrow myself in a familiar musical landscape. I remembered that I liked going to shows, I liked the familiarity of dozens of strangers swaying alongside me. I had loose plans for the future and an obscenely long list of goals. I didn’t really believe in God but I believed in something undefined. I was motivated without subscribing to a concrete belief system. I did’t keep up with the local scene while I was away, but somehow I found myself listening to Famous Cigarettes, a split EP that the Boston-based band Bad History Month (formerly Fat History Month) released a month before. Rather, I found myself listening specifically to “Staring At My Hands”, the lead-off single, on repeat.

“Staring At My Hands” begins with an almost imperceptible, echoing thud. A heartbeat. It’s a slow build that Jeff Meff’s wayward lyrics eventually weave themselves into. Instrumentally, the song is so textural it’s practically tangible but the almost desperate proximity of his voice never feels jarring. If anything, the introductory moments of “Staring At My Hands” carry you beyond stripped-back skin, dipping into a single strand of streaming consciousness. Meff sings, “Inevitably all my molecules dissolved and then my problems/ Were all resolved/ I spent a lifetime deciding which way I should go and now that I’m gone/ I finally know.”

I first listened to “Staring At My Hands” in the apartment that was not yet mine, the subletter who was supposed to be gone skulking around in my room. I was probably waiting for an exterminator or examining the dishes that had amassed in the sink while I was away sleeping on couches and in beds that I shouldn’t have been in. I spent an excessive amount of time on the train that summer, attempting to seamlessly transition to and from the various apartments I was staying in, figuring out what clothing to dry for approximately 25 minutes on the hottest setting so as not to spread the infestation along with my miserable disposition. Never entirely sure where I would end up each night, I started carrying a backpack containing a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a book with me everywhere I went. In transit, I listened to “Staring At My Hands” or I didn’t listen to anything.

Making my way back to a friend’s apartment for the night, my throat began to constrict when Meff wailed, “Staring at my hands and picturing them decomposing/ Feeling my existence as a ripple on an endless ocean/ Not even a drop/ I will take no substance with me when I’m gone.” All summer I felt like a ghost—another person on the subway, face glued to the window, watching for passing graffiti. “Staring At My Hands” is about being lost in the space between, and my own feeling of absolute transience accompanied by the song’s oceanic thorough line forced me to imagine and then reimagine what drowning in an ocean, or in a pool, must feel like. I wondered if there was any difference and then, wishing for nothing but numbness, I wondered if that mattered.

Every night I dreamt of bed bugs. I would spastically jolt awake to find myself scratching long after the bites had disappeared. When I didn’t dream of bed bugs, I would lie with my face against a pillow envisioning lungs filling up with fluid, the unbelievable weight of a waterlogged body.

Up until this point I had always considered myself to be “just fine” most of the time. There had been bouts of crippling depression in high school subdued by the cliché remedy of poor decision-making and crappy movies on repeat. That was the kind of depression that could be mended, the kind of sadness that comes with being an adolescent. The kind where you can take your index finger and point at the small things in your life that are making you unhappy. But the feeling of that summer was entirely new. I could point at all of the things in my life that were depressing—and there were a lot—but realizing that I felt hollow, that I couldn’t bare the effort of caring about any of it beyond the surface level of daily upsets, frightened me.

The morning after sleeping on a friend’s couch for the umpteenth time, she asked me to describe how I felt. I told her that every morning I woke up to A Great Emptiness, or what most people would jokingly refer to as an existential crisis. I read Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” in my senior year of high school, right before graduation. I thought it was really pretentious. In that purgatorial academic space, I found the central ideas of Camus’ essay to be objectively interesting, but never personally applicable. Although it’s a fairly complex text, the argument at the center of the Camus’ treatise on existentialism is essentially whether or not one should kill themselves is they believe the world to be devoid of Godliness. Camus describes life as an incessant struggle—Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it tumble to the ground—until we die, our spirit interned along with the corpse. The essay is extensive: written in five parts, it totals nearly 140 pages. I recently revisited “The Myth Of Sisyphus” and couldn’t help but think that Bad History Month explained Camus’ argument better- and in less than five minutes. “Staring At My Hands” is a song about coming to terms with your inconsequential existence and being okay with feeling small. It is about choosing to live.

“Staring At My Hands” references A Great Emptiness as an ocean, the intermediary space that one encounters before arriving at capital N Nowhere (Meff capitalizes the word “Nowhere” on the lyrics sheet that comes along with the Famous Cigarettes cassette). There is a line that I remember hearing very clearly one night in the Bergen Street station. I think it was a Tuesday. I had been reading Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”, but decided that I was depressed enough on my own thank you, and put it away. In the moment that I closed the book, Meff’s whispered declaration felt cavernous, “Dying while you’re still alive/ Suddenly you’ve opened your eyes/ It’s only when you realize that you’re going Nowhere that you finally arrive.” I admire the decisive nature of Meff’s lyricism, the absolute self-assurance, the complete sense of control. Every time I listened to “Staring At My Hands,” I exhaled my anxieties and I felt absolved.

I do not know what Jeff Meff looks like, and I do not know how old he is. I know that his real name is Sean but I’ve chosen to hold onto his elusive persona. As I begin to bundle the loosened bits of my life back together, it has become very important that I leave Jeff Meff and his band in the transient space that I found Famous Cigarettes in. For now, I want his lyrics to exist in what he names the “Imagined Separation Between Things.”

Looking for solace in the absurd is an exercise in total futility. Now, I search for it in cadences and honest voices. “Staring At My Hands” is immediate validation that the world cannot produce an overarching, predictable narrative, but the song gives me a momentary sense of purpose. It manifests in small ways. Instead of planning where I will be next year, I plan what I will eat for dinner, or what show I will go to on Friday. I stay late for the extra drink and prolonged conversations- I ignore my intolerably long to-do list to walk the Eastern Parkway. I stopped thinking that I still have time to do the things that I had been “meaning to do.” I am trying to believe less in what might be and more in the immediacy of what I hear. My perception of time elongates and fills out spaces of uncertainty now that I have stopped trying to get anywhere.

Someday, I will be ready for Bad History Month and I to exist in the same world, for “Staring At My Hands” to exit the imagined space and become just another song. Someday, I might see Jeff Meff perform “Staring At My Hands” and maybe my eyes will well up with tears or maybe I won’t feel a thing. For now, the song exists as part of my own consciousness—I tell people to listen to it when they find themselves in crisis, when they need the reminder that everything is not “going wrong,” it is simply “going.”

There is a moment in “Staring At My Hands” when the heartbeat-like thud falls away, long enough for Meff to sing, “Nervous outside of a bar, focus on a single star until it/ Disappears/ Reaching for the comfort of just how small things are.” This is the definitive centerpiece of the song, muted and astral. It sparkles. Months after discovering “Staring At My Hands,” this line is so peaceful, so lovely, that it’s almost burdensome. As if Meff and I alone have found a sort of antidote, a kind of answer. I left the realm of A Great Emptiness that summer to travel Nowhere- and I accept it.

-Gabriela June Tully Claymore (Writer, Stereogum)

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A Show in Rochester

This past July my friends Perfect Pussy and Feral Future were on tour and decided to meet up in Rochester, NY to play a show with my band Green Dreams (and Utah Jazz, an excellent band from Buffalo). There was a miscommunication when the show got booked, and an extra band got added to the lineup. When the band was contacted and told “sorry, misunderstanding, you can’t play” they didn’t take it well, and after begging to play and being told “no”, members of that band and their friends decided to boycott the show.

Rochester has that problem that I’m sure a lot of scenes have: the same guys play in different formations of the same bands playing the same type of music and like to think they have a monopoly on the scene. I’m not saying they aren’t making good music, or that there isn’t space for what anyone has to offer, but I am saying that the cool-kid apathetic circle jerk vibe is toxic and it really numbs my buns. It was important to my friends- and very important to me- that all the bands that played this show have non-male persons in them, and besides… it was OUR show. What they really didn’t like hearing was that it was someone else’s party, that nobody on our end cared if they came to the show or not, and it didn’t go over well. There’s a right way for women in our scene to participate and behave, and then there’s the wrong way. I’ll let you guess which category I fall into.

Haters have always buzzed around my head like flies (cuz I’m the shit! HOHOHO) so I swatted them away and went about my business, getting more and more excited for one of the best shows I have had the pleasure of playing here in Rochester. I bunkered down and made a flyer that was a mash-up based on two of my favorite pieces of art: Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi and Sedmikrásky, a Czechoslovakian art film made by Věra Chytilová. It’s pink and bloody and there are Miyazaki sprites and flowers and fruit all over it. I poured a lot of love and respect for the bands we shared the bill with into making it, and was excited to make prints and have a great time.

As expected the trolls had a field day with my flyer, and jumped on an opportunity to belittle and shame the show and the work I had put into it. GASP! “IT DEPICTS VIOLENCE TOWARDS MEN!” “WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?!” My detractors think that being socially conscious requires some sort of score keeping, that because my politics include intersectional feminism and smashing the patriarchal police state that every action I take should be righteous by all accounts, like I owe it to them to continuously prove myself. It’s exhausting, and I take a lot of hits so that hopefully the next generation of punx in our small city can grow up in a more inclusive, safer space than it is now.

Long story short, I got (and continue to get) a lot of shit for just being myself and wanting to do my own thing leading up to the show. I was nervous. I had put a lot into it, what if nobody came? What if my antagonists show up and start something? What if someone dumps pig blood all over me? The thing about letting the haters get under your skin is that 99% of the time the worst of it is in your head. Nobody can say anything half as mean about you as you can say about yourself when you think the world is against you. The day of the show arrived along with my friends from out of town, and I began to understand that it doesn’t actually matter if some people don’t like what you do or how you do it. My music isn’t for everyone, but the people that it IS for love it and me dearly.

I was surrounded by mutual admiration and support the entire evening. We ran around and took pictures, laughed and told jokes and secrets, caught each other up on our travels and adventures. As the venue filled, I noticed how many young people I didn’t know were in attendance… and I started to suspect that what I had been feeling was exactly right; if your scene doesn’t welcome you with open arms then it’s time to make your own scene. I was so concerned with the people who were trying to keep me down that I didn’t realize how many people were there holding me up, singing along, and cheering me on.

The show was incredible. People were happy, friendly, and excited to be there. TWO YOUNG PEOPLE MADE CAKES WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM AND BROUGHT THEM TO THE SHOW FOR US! CAKES!! WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM! SERIOUSLY!! You can’t make this shit up. There was an all-girl mosh pit. We laughed until we cried and then hugged until we cried more. We made speeches.  People made .gifs of us. It was everything I’ve ever wanted or needed in punk: community, passion, forward thinking young people, and cakes. When it was all said and done it stood as the most incredible moment of my past year… because I finally felt at home in my hometown. All it took was stepping back to realize that the scene I needed didn’t exist without me there to fight for it.

-Jesse Amesmith (Green Dreams)

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Brooklyn DIY’s Not Dead Yet

2014 is the year I broke a long dry spell with music by somewhat unconsciously flooding every aspect of my life with it.

This year marked a rapid paradigm shift in the Brooklyn DIY community. The closure of 285 Kent, then Death By Audio and soon Glasslands killed Willamsburg as it was/had been. As I got my sea legs as a music writer and musician myself, the moaning about the death of New York DIY was reaching a fever pitch. That volume never seemed representative to me because, honestly, I hadn’t gone to shows at those venues since 2013 anyway. The shows moved further away from Manhattan a while ago… at least the ones I was going to.

The Borough of Brooklyn alone is bigger than the entire city of Philadelphia. Over 96 square miles. Within them there will always be untapped resources.  Sure, there are extra logistical obstacles in this city. But giving up the ship because a giant yacht docked on your old turf? That’s just boring.

Stuff had been bustling further from Williamsburg for years but 2014 took a giant leap away from Manhattan’s glaring sheen. To the south and west were Palisades, Silent Barn, Trans Pecos, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse, 94 Evergreen, Emet. These are spaces with poles in the middle of the room, with stages at the bottom of a flight of stairs, in backyards enclosed in a sheet metal triangle or in front of warped glass overlooking the Freedom Tower.

Of the six spaces mentioned above, the last two shuttered in 2014 too. Their organizers, though, found new spaces. Slackgaze (behind 94 Evergreen) opened Nola, Darling in Chelsea, moving against the current Manhattan exodus. The people behind Emet just opened Aviv in Greenpoint, which is estimated to be the largest DIY space operating in Brooklyn right now.

These venues are held together with spit and elbow grease, sweat and most definitely some tears. They’re not fancy, and that’s what makes them so exhilarating. They’re just people and music without much polish. That’s my favorite kind of place to be anywhere, but they’re especially meaningful in New York, a city caked in layers of veneer.

This year was flooded with moments surrounding music, every weekend a new favorite replacing the last. My most recent favorite was in the middle of December. The day after 50,000 people marched through Manhattan declaring black lives matter, I sat under a cellar door on Malcolm X Boulevard watching 90 people host a hypnotic neo-jazz band from Georgia called Red Sea.

The show flier deemed the venue “X”, maybe just for the night or for more shows to come. I’ve learned you shouldn’t count on a “next time” in these situations. The bouncer who ushered us into the unmarked barroom above the dusty basement’s soundproofed ceiling suggested this meeting place had a long underground history. Probably not one rife with experimental rock.

Upstate acts Palm, Annie Blech, Dog, and they city’s own Big Neck Police joined Red Sea that night. Each set’s dissonance seared its way up my spine with every elegantly placed wrong note- another theme of 2014. That basement, though, is what left the biggest impression on me.

Between its crumbling concrete walls, I saw people who play twee pop music. I saw people who play nu metal. I saw people whose music defies categorization. We were all enthralled. We were there watching a community of musicians share their art and host members of a sister community in their own. We were there showing support. Through late-listed addresses, unmarked doors and a few thickets of cobwebs, we sought out that shitty basement in the middle of a borough that the uninspired roll their eyes at. By being there, we know inspiration is still there, still churning out amazing music from amazing people. By being there, we keep it going.

That night I saw what you can’t with your eyes rolled back inside your skull. ‘DIY’ shows aren’t going to die in New York anytime soon. They just don’t have time to cater to people unmotivated by what’s found off the beaten path.

-Katie Capri (Fern Mayo, Impose)

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A Marked Men Party

2014 was a great year for me, maybe the best I’ve had yet.  I turned 30 this year, traveled a lot, saw a bunch of great shows, and also (most importantly) said “fuck this” to having a boss and started only working for myself. I was trying to think of my favorite memory this year and a lot of things came to mind: Playing a midnight show with Tony Molina and Big Eyes under the Grey’s Ferry Bridge, playing a generator show with Acid Fast and Constant Insult at Graffiti Pier in N. Philly, hanging out with far away friends and eating huge burritos in California, and Tommy Borst’s birthday party in Michigan City Indiana (Tommy walked through fire that night, fell through my drums, tried to destroy his own P.A. and probably made fun of everyone there. Jon [Rybicki] & I took mushrooms way too late in the night and I fell asleep in the basement without telling anyone. Jon thought I walked out to the woods and drowned in the pond behind Tommy’s house).

I’d have to say that my favorite memory of 2014 was playing with the Marked Men on my 30th birthday in New York.  The day before my birthday I was helping my friend Tim with some work at his shop.  It was a long Friday and I was excited to get home and go see some friends from Ohio who were playing in Philly that night.  I stopped by their sound check on the way home to pick up my friend Evan who was on tour with them for dinner. When we got to my house I was very surprised to find it empty- with the exception of my friend Ken from Richmond and one of my oldest best friends, Marco, from Detroit.  When I asked “what the hell are you doing here?!” I was answered with “making cookies”.  Marco flew in from Detroit and Ken took the bus up from RVA to surprise me for my birthday the next day.  Over the course of the evening some more folks showed up and we ate cookies and drank copious amounts of beer.  Realistically that was more than enough of a birthday for me but to add the next day’s show on top of it was too perfect. Now I’ll be honest, I fucking hate New York.

I have a lot of great friends there and have had some really great times there- but overall it’s not for me.  The show and the people involved and other friends that came made it feel good and right, though. All the bands that played were friends, and a lot of friends from NY and Philly came to the show to hang out (which is all I care about from a birthday, having friends around hanging out). The bill for the show was Worriers, Radiator Hospital, Iron Chic, and Marked Men. I hadn’t seen Marked Men in probably 7 years or so, so I was very excited to see them again. Jeff Burke writes- and has written- some of my favorite pop based punk music of all time. He’s shy and humble, but not stand offish.  He has no problem having a great conversation with you but might not be the one to start it if you’re not that close. I really like that about him. A lot of people hold him in a high regard but the ego that sometimes shows up with that stature has never been a part of him.

It was really cool to see Joe again too, he’d booked a show for Swearin’ a couple years before with his band Low Culture (who are amazing) and we had a fun night at his house in Los Cruces.  After we played, which was an okay set, not our best but definitely not our worst, I started in on party mode. I tried to keep it together as best I could among all the shots and beers people offer you on a birthday night. I did a great job of it too! After the show we all went to the now defunct Lulu’s down the street for drinks and to continue with the party.  After many more drinks and illicit things the night was finally called and we went to a nice un-comfy floor for sleep. It was a nice easy ending to a fun, wild night.

2015 has a lot to contend with, let see what happens.

-Jeff Bolt (Swearin’, Radiator Hospital, founder, Stupid Bag Records)