Rudimentary Peni: “Death Church” (1983)
The irony of appreciating crust punk academically is not lost on me. Here, after all, are a bunch of bands striving to smash the state and put the power back in the hands of the people, minus an overarching system…. and the cycle of criticism which we use to comment on and critique their work is that system they’re railing against. But honestly, the example set by Crass, the most significant of those bands, resonates through punk, whether or not you agree with their politics or even like their music. There’s a direct line to be traced from Crass’s ideology—do-it-yourselfers to the extent that they lived in a commune and grew their own food, f’r chrissake—and Fugazi’s, meaning that any number of acolyte post-punks, with their low door prices, benefit shows, and anti-big business record / CD prices, have made the stances and attitudes their own. It’s funny to think that some of those bands did so only because it was hip or trendy or whatever—the blind belief in any system, even one with such good intentions, was and is anathema to the original notion.
Not that, you know, I spend a lot of time listening to Crass. Again, my appreciation for them was, and largely is, academic: those records are hard to listen to. Which I suppose is part of the point: their album Yes Sir, I Will., for example, is a deeply rewarding listen—a concept record expressing their outrage at the way Margaret Thatcher handled the Falkland Islands in the ‘80s. There would be little point in putting out an anti-war record which was easy to listen to. Like Kenneth Patchen’s Journal of Albion Moonlight, the record is both a commentary on the atrocities of a war and a dare: you’re not anti-war? Get through this simulation of one. It extends beyond the war-related specifics to the work at large: Wanna be part of an alternate system? It’s going to be way harder to deal with than what you’re used to, as evidenced by our _________.
So with all this said about the genre and its form-as-function applications, it’s nice to have recently stumbled across Rudimentary Peni, a band whose feet are solidly in the same political ring as Crass and the rest, but whose music manages to transcend some of the arena’s staid musical conventions.
Sure, a lot of Death Church is ugly—again with form following function—but in addition to the standard sheets of metal-on-metal guitar and cymbals dissolving into a trebly morass, Death Church is driven by the bass playing of Grant Matthews. His lines cuts through the noise and give RP’s music a structure which is often absent in the music of other crust / anarcho- bands. By 1983, San Pedro’s Minutemen were close to their apex—part of their sound, in the words of singer / guitarist D. Boon, was a “political” decision to separate his trebly guitar from bass player Mike Watt’s low end. I don’t know whether or not the Peni folks were aware of the Minutemen, but the modus operandi is similar: by allowing both bass and guitar to be heard on their own, a sort of pocket is formed, in which the vocals are audible, and perhaps more effective as a result.
Crass and their ilk are instantly recognizable visually: their stencils, whether on album covers or subway walls, were effective branding. Similarly, Nick Blinko’s intricate artwork give the band a visual brand, connected to but not exclusively crust / anarcho-by-numbers. The same goes for his lyrics and vocals: he rails against rock stardom and the meat industry—standard stuff, to be sure—but also discusses the schizoaffective disorder which drives his visual and lyrical work.
Vampire State Building
Take “Vampire State Building” as an example. Blinko sings, in his tortured yowl, “What’s that fumbling grotesque over there in a wheelchair / stifled in a straitjacket /self-inflicted safety pin wounds /is it punkoid? / devoid? / schizoid? / mumbling? Vampire state building is crumbling.” As he does so, another voice—more basso, seemingly saner—repeats the shouts. These self-professed “delusions” make the record a challenge: as listeners, aware of his condition, the question of validity comes to the fore: how much of Blinko’s anger is based in reality? How much, then, isn’t? His self-awareness and paranoia become a critique of the genre at large, an invitation implied throughout: we should be questioning rather than simply accepting them. Whether or not the forum is “appropriate,” Rudimentary Peni, like the best art, invites questions and critique, rife with contradictions, pushing you away as they hug you and pull you into their pocket.
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