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(Originally written for my Agony Shorthand blog, November 2004)

VARIOUS ARTISTS : “CHARRED REMAINS” cassette……

I used to buy Maximum Rock and Roll during hardcore punk’s golden years (1981-83) and marveled at the huge array of “scenes” all over the USA and globe. It was almost downright hippie in the way loving attention was slathered on how “the kids” would organically come together in places like Milwaukee and Fresno to create awful punk music and fight the fuckin’ pigs. All it took to file a scene report was to file one – that is, write up what bands formed in your town, who was putting out 45s this month, which crazy punks got stinking drunk at which parties, detail any police harassment at the VA Hall and add a few parting words on how Reagan was about to murder us all, and your scene report was ready to go.

Chequering all this exciting banter were cool advertisements for micro-releases from around the world. MRR kept their ad rates low enough that a 15-year-old kid with a pressing-of-200 45 could get out his glue sick and a thick pen and have a quick ad in there for maybe $10. It was just such an ad that I remember seeing for this 1981 cassette-only release called “CHARRED REMAINS”, which (retrospectively) is sort of a who’s-who of hardcore, both good and horrible. I’d never heard the tape until last week but had long wanted to, but noooo, I ordered the Wisconsin scene overview “America’s Dairyland” tape instead back then. Someone threw a clean copy of this tape up on Soulseek and I pulled it down, making sure to earmark some royalties directly to SIN 34 and THE MISGUIDED, of course. 

Based on what I could track down on the World Wide Web, this tape was put out by a guy named Bob Moore who ran a ‘zine called NOISE and later a record label called Version Sound. DIE KREUZEN fans, of which I am a big one, will remember this label as the one behind the “Cows and Beer” 7"EP and subsequent “Master Tape” LP comp, which featured super lo-fi versions of the tracks that eventually made up the single greatest US hardcore punk album of all time, the self-titled debut Die Kreuzen record on Touch & Go. Their tracks are pretty much the best on “Charred Remains”, but there are a few other corkers I’d never heard before.

Best is “Crime Watch-Block Parents” by DOGS OF WAR, a real spinner from back in the days when crime was out of control in the US and each suburb had “block parents” that kids could run to if some vile creep offered them a ride. It’s got great vocals and reminds me of a faster AUTHORITIES (“Radiation Masterbation” and “I Hate Cops” – you know you love ’em). I’ll still stand by LA’s SIN 34 even though they’ve a longtime butt of wasn’t-hardcore-awful jokes; they’ve got two relatively strong tracks on here, and another surprise was VIOLENT APATHY from the Midwest. You might know these strapping young fellas from “I Can’t Take It” on the “Process of Elimination” EP (famous for also including Negative Approach, The Necros and The Fix), but they’ve got 3 red-blooded meathooks on this, served up fast-n-loud.

There are also two from VOID, who just plain ruled (though their non-Dischord stuff like this is incredibly tame compared to their godhead side of the split LP). On the down side? Well, how about ARTICLES OF FAITH? What a crap band – each track is way too long, too involved, too English to merit even a first listen. Ditto for the TOXIC REASONS, who were a living parody of a bunch of American kids trying to be Discharge or GBH, complete with horrendous British accent. Rounding out the pile are HUSKER DU (a track lifted from “Land Speed Record”), UXB, PERSONALITY CRISIS (Canadians! Guy had monstrous vocals here and elsewhere, but the band was pretty weak), Sacramento’s REBEL TRUTH (horrid) and a handful of nonentities. A total nostalgia trip even if you weren’t there (and I wasn’t), yet one you might not ever want to listen to more than once a decade.

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Let’s continue with our new series of interviews with the digital age’s most interesting and eye-opening curators, shall we? A few weeks ago we talked to Matt Thornton/UrbanKill, which you can read here. Now we’re going to have a digital chat with Layla Gibbon, a one-woman, scene-expanding underground/DIY teller of truths, and someone who, in the brief time I’ve been following her in all her forums, has turned me onto all manner of “sick” tuneage. When Layla says something’s “sick”, you’d goddamn better sit up and pay attention in a hurry. 

She wrote this best-of-2013 column on her blog, WHAT WE WANT IS FREE, that had me scouring dark corners of the internet for these sounds, and immediately turned me onto Sauna Youth, the Irreperables, Pang and Division Four. I was floored. Who was this clued-in woman, totally wiping all my scene cred under the table? I found out. She’s Modraucous on Tumblr and Twitter; she’s not even a blogger per se – What We Want Is Free is a collection of her columns in MaximumRocknRoll, where she’s instantly the best reason to read that mag since the Reagan/Thatcher era; and she’s – as I found out – the former vocalist of several of Dynamite Hemorrhage’s favorite wild-ass UK/DIY/grrl bands of the 1990s. And so on.

We sent Layla some questions from Norway to San Francisco, where she resides. Those questions arrived back in my inbox  with answers, and here’s what she told us about what it’s like being a clued-in digital and vinyl curator for the sick, sick kids of 2014.

DH: What are your primary means of music discovery now – vinyl you buy or listen to; mp3s or streams you play online; recommendations from other curatorial types; all of the above…? 

Layla Gibbon: A combination of online scavenging (Bandcamps/links from various social medias/message boards etc) and the fact that I am on one of the people that assigns all the records for review at Maximum Rocknroll, which entails a once a month 4-5 hour listening session. It’s one of the things that keeps me excited about the endless possibility of DIY and music; every month there are many bands and records that blow me away. There are also endless examples of why “just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD” is something that should be subliminally messaged out to the more rote/boring minds.

DH: What sorts of online resources do need to scour to find the quality music and weirdo punk rock you like to listen to and recommend?

Layla Gibbon: I browse various message boards for new releases, partially to make sure MRR is getting as much as possible mailed into us for the collection/review/radio play, but also for my own aural nourishment. Most of my friends and “friends” are also musical maniax so I utilize the various social media formats as well (twitter/facebook/tumblr); there are a few blogs I check out including a few DH correspondents!

DH: The things you write about in your MRR column and online tend to be obscure and unwaveringly self-supported. Is there an element of wanting to lift some of these bands out of anonymity and/or some grander purpose in championing them?

Layla Gibbon: I am a fervent fan of certain sounds, and when I hear something that hits me in the correct incendiary manner my first instinct is to broadcast that feeling to the universe. (eg PANG, knowing that an incredible all female band who sound like a post-Eno almost Magazine meets Wire transcendence existed in my own damn town and I only caught their final show PAINS ME CONSIDERABLY! As soon as I heard them, via Sam Lefevbre, I lost my mind and poured its drooping contents into all possible broadcast modes). I am not interested in hoarding new and exciting ideas/sounds/bands; I grew up in a desolate estate in a creepy suburb of London where most people don’t leave/girls get pregnant when they are 15 etc etc, and I firmly believe that music is a transportative force that got me out of that existence, and I want to transmit the possibility to other similar types. Also listening to lots of music every month it’s clear that many people are stuck in genre tropes, and every time I hear something that is transcendent / disgusting in a genius way, it gives me hope whilst trudging thru the tired stadium crust trenches, and maybe someone else will hear a sound that will prevent them from aping a boring idea and nudge them towards a sick band formation. I like all sorta of music though, and while I tend to err on the side of underground/self made sounds, I like some bands that are clearly not of that ilk, that are aiming for a crummy piece of the music biz pie. I think fame is a tired ideal, but that opinion doesn’t negate my love for sounds created by bands who want to be the Beatles etc. I think because MRR is very strict in terms of what it covers; people think that I am that way inclined as a human that listens to music, which isn’t true. But I prefer sounds made for underground minds as a general rule?  

DH: Are you, or were you, a physical “record collector” at any point? What insight can you offer into the state of music accumulation and curation in the digital age, how it’s evolved in the last 15 years of wide mp3 availability, and what it’s done to any taste for vinyl or other formats you may have had or still have?

Layla Gibbon: I still collect records like a maniac… I like that the digital age affords anyone the opportunity to listen to anything, so you don’t have to go to a creepy old man’s house to tape his records any more (an experience me and many girls I know endured in the 80s/90s). I definitely stopped collecting for a bit when I first moved here as all my physical records were in the UK, and I just downloaded things, which I regret now as I am missing physical copies of a few things that are now out of my price range that I loved/that define a certain era for me, eg the Broadcast LPs. But I am still in the vinyl trenches so to speak, I try and buy records from bands I love from now and the past, financing this somewhat expensive habit by flipping bargains found in the Amoeba dollar bin/unloading things that I loved but now no longer relate to. I think it’s sort of sad that kids will no longer buy the terrible Gang Green record and think all Boston HC sucks as a result, and it does feel like people have this insane knowledge of the most obscure music/genre, but then will be missing huge chunks of info / only know about one specific thing. We have experienced this a lot at MRR where a potential reviewer will seem like a vast encylopedia of punk, but will actually only know about Japan in the 1980s and absolutely NOTHING about something as obvious as like, SST records. The internet creates strange focused humans. I have friends who didn’t have to work for a few years in the 90s because of record sales, which is not something that punk bands will get to experience at this point in time because of the internet…but the internet also means that you don’t have to be a crazy bonzer hoarder to know about cool music, which I think is a good thing for the most part. Sorry for the rambling answer!

DH: What parallels do you see to the days of flipping through stacks of records in crates, if any – and what sort of mindset does a modern digital curator need to bring to the search for the best obscurities?

I think the internet means anyone with good taste can potentially make a cool podcast/blog etc, you don’t have to be a Graham Booth or Ryan Richardson to uncover strange sounds from various eras, which is a good thing especially since you can find out about music on your own terms now, without having to deal with as much in-person patronizing/sexist bro mentality, which I think any female record collector has endured…and I think in terms of what is needed for any music hunt is a curious mindset, and a curious take on music in general. Usually people in good bands are involved in a bunch of projects; i.e. good scenes generally are a few people doing everything and a bunch of people just watching it happen.

I guess the short answer would be: being a nerd/sleuth and having a mania for new sounds that excite is a good combination of qualities for such a task. 

DH: Does your love of obscure underground music and your need to share it say anything about Layla, the person – and if so, what might it be saying?

Layla Gibbon: That I am doomed to an underground obscure existence?!