-based punk band. The members usually refer to themselves using often shifting pseudonyms
and purposefully encourage a sense of mystery regarding the band. Fucked Up has been denounced as "fascist
" by some, who feel that the concepts and ideas in their music are presented with too much ambiguity (too much "Belsen
Was A Gas", not enough "Nazi Punks Fuck Off
"). Their output consists almost entirely of 7" vinyl singles (with a couple of notable exceptions), with one song to each side in the classic tradition.
Father Damian - Vocals
Guinea Beat/Mr. Jo - Drums
The band also frequently refers to David Eliade, a sort of Malcolm McLaren
figure who orchestrates the band's manueverings and manipulations. They are often unimaginatively compared to Poison Idea
and Negative Approach
, but the band themselves cite everyone from Roky Erikson
to the Undertones
Fucked Up debuted with No Pasaran
in 2002. The title (roughly, "they shall not pass") refers to a phrase made famous by Dolores Ibárruri
(a.k.a. "La Pasionaria"), a leading figure in the Communist
Party of Spain
during the Spanish Civil War
. The lyrics allude to the oft-romanticized struggle of the CNT (National Confederation of Labor), the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) and the collectives during the Spanish Civil War. The song opens with a sample of a rousing speech made by an anarchist in Ken Loach
's film Land and Freedom
. The B-side, "Circling the Drain
", offers a bleak portrait of alienated labor
in the early 21st century. The 7" led some to suggest that Fucked Up could be easily classified as an anarcho-punk band; they resisted this label, arguing that they merely wrote about topics that interested them. The band's controversial interview in Maximumrocknroll
(which was later admitted to be written entirely by the band) offered a great quote: "Anarchism is really an idea for the cities, and I'm not sure I believe in cities."
The second release, Police
, came in early 2003. A riotous anticop song in the venerable punk tradition ("Dicks Hate the Police", "The Badge Means You Suck", etc.), "Police" even worked in a dig at eponymous band. The B-side, "Municipal Pricks", skewered a slew of Toronto politicians by name (and included a collage of their faces in the insert). The single was well-received but again the band came to suggest feelings of disappointment at being identified with a song ("Police") they didn't feel was particularly representative.
The third single, Baiting the Public
, is still probably their best release. One song split onto two sides, "Baiting the Public" is a stone-cold punk classic, a car bomb
of hook-laden guitars and iconoclastic lyrics worthy of the Germs
: "I don't like the world today/Gonna rebuild it my own way." In Australian zine On Fire
, guitarist "John Dee
" (pseudonym taken from the British occult
ist) suggested the song was inspired by everyone from the Vienna Actionists
to the RAF
to King Mob
and Gilles de Rais
. Backup vocals are credited to "Nitsch", presumably a reference to Actionist Hermann Nitsch
Dance of Death
followed in late 2003. With spooky lyrics and one of the band's most hummable choruses yet, the song almost suggests the mid-'80s DC sound of Rites of Spring
, which D.O.D. could be a reference to (but I doubt it). In the MRR
interview the band offered an oblique explanation of the song:
It's about like the imperialist lifestyle and how its been perfected and reproduced to such a dazzling extent, that people within it are convinced that it is the best way, and that they love it...We love smoking and eating non-food, so we love cancer. We love making money and cheating, so we love crime. We love TV and novels, so we love being stupid. We love war and punishment so we love pain. We love life, so we love death.
Early 2004 saw the release of Litany
, which recalled the frustrated lyrics of "Circling the Drain", and the Epics in Minutes
CD, a partial discography which contained some material that at the time hadn't yet been released on vinyl. The band also released the Let Likes Be Cured By Likes
live 12" (the title being a reference to one of homeopathy
's dicta, the "Law of Similars"). They also released a split with fellow Canadian hardcore band Haymaker
, which in a mischevious riposte to their critics featured a picture of a Hitler Youth
rally. Around this time the infamous MRR
interview appeared, with the band attempting to articulate their Darby Crash
-esque thoughts on mass politics in what are probably intentionally "sketchy" terms:
You look at like the Nazis, who created a Fear and Furor division in their society – on one hand people were made to fear and hate some arbitary elements of society, and to love and admire others, and it was really effective in whipping people into the frenzy. I think most social movements use this same sort of tactic with varying degrees of intensity – vilify and scapegoat your enemy, and make your goal righteous.
While the fairly inane controversy over the band's status in punk's political consciousness continued, Fucked Up quietly released one of their most fascinating records, the Looking For Gold
12". The record featured gorgeous, ornate artwork and overflowed with symbolic references to mysticism
and the occult. A long post on the band's blog later explained many of the concepts referenced by the lyrics, including but not limited to the thought of Italian Traditionalist and Fascist fellow traveller (though never a Party member) Julius Evola
of assorted varieties, Kabbalah
, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
. The song was a triumph in itself, expansive and melodic, anchored by pretty, ringing guitar and broken in half by an extended drum section. It even closed with a whistled
outro. A few months later they released Dangerous Fumes
; the B-side, "Teenage Problems", was a delightful and unrepentantly Undertones
-styled punk-pop gem with ominous lyrics that tackle a subject long neglected in punk, the pederasty
of André Gide
In the fall of 2005 the band released Generation
, later described by 10,000 Marbles in an interview with HeartAttaCk
We tried to write the most anthemic sounding song we could, and inject it with the most insipid lyrical content imaginable, just utterly devoid of any meaning. That way, we knew that people would be able to find the most meaning within the song. Me and Camp always give each other knowing looks when we play that tune live, and a billion kids are singing their faces off to these ridiculous and trite lyrics, giving it their all. It makes total sense to me.
Fucked Up also put out their Mix Tape, Vol. 1
in 2005, which featured alternate takes and other unreleased material, as well as songs by the band's friends and contemporaries. For their European tour, the band released Black Cross
and Black Army
in response to complaints about the scarcity of their records in Europe (invariably prompting desperate yearning on the part of American collectors). In early 2006 they announced their signing to Jade Tree Records
(former home of the Promise Ring
), who would be releasing their forthcoming album Hidden World
. The first single from the album, "Triumph of Life", stretched to the seven minute mark and offered poetic but vague lyrics that seem to suggest Hegelian
motifs (of course, they also leave open the potential for fascist readings).
In spite or perhaps because of the controversy and mystique that surrounds them, Fucked Up seems to be on everybody's lips these days. Anticipation mounts for the revelation of the Hidden World
Why do people like our band so much?
- Mustard Gas
On October 10th, 2006, Fucked Up released their debut full-length, Hidden World
. Clocking in at 70 minutes (give or take) and 13 songs, the album is a genuine punk rock epic. Many of the songs are more expansive than ever, with several stretching past the five-minute mark. The cover features a kaleidoscopic, Technicolor
piece by artist Jason Gardner
which slightly belies the music within: although it seems to suggest psychedelia, Hidden World
remains firmly rooted in the hard-hitting tradition of hardcore.
That said, the album is a far cry from most of what's considered hardcore today. Opening track "Crusades" kicks things off with a quote from Corinthians
, of all sources: "Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: the trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised, incorruptible, and we shall be changed." "Crusades" is a piece of thunderous, midtempo punk not so far removed from "Looking For Gold", driven by Pink Eyes' vocals, which are more commanding and arresting than ever. The lyrics have taken a fairly big leap in complexity as well:
Ruderal roots telluric shoots in cahoots
Life out of death cthonic breath meristem
Jubilee I am free so I rise from debris
Other seeds who are weak need a spur so I speak
Every word like a burr so hoist my voice and rejoice
Just a spark from the dark ignites a thousand to march
So we embark on a drive to split from the stem
Divide out of the clade a parade to invade
Crusades . . .
The organic metaphor is a potent one, and Hidden World
as a whole carries a very consistent theme: the process where Manichean
oppositions get broken down and overcome by what grows between them (represented by the album's insignia, a Venn diagram
). The lyrics appear in the liner notes like a series of Tarot
cards, bordered by intricate black-and-white illustrations of leaves and stems. An epigraph appears before "Two Snakes", a quote from the somewhat controversial religious scholar Mircea Eliade
(who band manager/guru David Eliade is perhaps related to): "To be no longer conditioned by a pair of opposites results in absolute freedom".
"David Comes to Life" is one of the band's most accessible songs yet, a tightly wound, almost-power pop tune very much in the vein of the Undertones and even the Ramones
. The song's lyrics (penned by Pink Eyes) present an interesting kind of religious dilemma: a boy (the eponymous David) recognizes that every moment he continues to live will only result in commission of further sins, taking him further and further from heaven. David decides to cut out the middleman and commit suicide
in order to get to heaven and, in Pink Eyes' words, "plead his case." The song's chorus explains: "Death comes swiftly / To those who wait / But he's like the rest of us / An impatient ingrate."
As it should be clear, this isn't your standard issue punk rock fare. The heavy themes don't end there either: religion, guilt, and sin are topics that deeply suffuse the album's lyrics and broader ruminations on humanity's dualisms. "Invisible Leader" contemplates religious fanaticism's ability to justify any moral lapse or excess over disarmingly catchy music (including a wicked four-note break that'll make anyone sit up and take notice). The complex and abstract lyrics of "Two Snakes" seem to describe a possible escape from Manichean dualisms, and the eerie "Manqueller Man" meditates on morality and its discontents: "Quarantine the obscene and the slime from sublime / Be a stick or a stone give the violence a home / Be a goat or a lamb a coward or a man / There's but one path to take to end up in the same place". The chorus of the final song, "Vivian Girls" (inspired by famed outsider artist Henry Darger
), which features imagery of flower-throwing dictators and soldiers' bloody swords, overflows with moral frustration:
What's there to do?
When the good seems so wrong
What's there to do?
When the pain feels so good
What's there to do?
When everything worth believing is so mysterious
What's there to do?
When the only things worth holding onto in this world are diseased with sin and guilt
is such a cohesive, unified, and forceful work that it's a bit shocking and overwhelming at first. Albums like this are rare in any genre, and in some ways it recalls records like Daydream Nation
or In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
as much as it does Integrity
. The lyrics are incredibly poetic and heavy with meaning at the same time, creating an interwoven fabric of violence and celebration.
With all the references to dualisms and binary oppositions
, it's hard (at least for me; your results may vary) not to think of Jacques Derrida
when talking about Hidden World
. The band may bristle at such a comparison (one of the album's best tracks, "Carried Out to the Sea", lashes out at "postmodern sycophant
s"), but the two share much in common: both have an extensive and formidable knowledge of the traditions they work in, which they simultaneously pay tribute to and challenge; both have a potent and oft-neglected sense of humor; and both refuse to be complacent and settle for accepted modes of thought regarding their craft.
It's hard to tell exactly how Hidden World
is going to be received. It's generated a number of favorable reviews, and has been number 34 on Interpunk's sales charts for the last 3 weeks. 10,000 Marbles has noted what Jade Tree offered the album: "They threw a lot of money at the record, more than a smaller label could have afforded. They did it for the ages - if we had stuck with Deranged, Hidden World
would have been ten minutes long." The band's notoriety does seem to be on the rise, with a sort of mini-media blitz that resulted in the above quote from bassist Mustard Gas. In fact, Fucked Up is reportedly going to be making their MTV debut sooner than you might think.
Fucked Up blog:
Recently Fucked Up (i.e. 10,000 Marbles) talked with a German interviewer, where they gave the following illuminating description of their sound:
Fucked Up sounds like the guy who stood in front of that tank in Tiennamen square, or we sound like the last breath taken by a fallen soldier after she's been shot with a Jewish-bought Kalishnikov. We sound like an eagle flying through the air at 200mp to make a kill only to fly right into a skyscraper of death and thump on the sidewalk. Our sound is like when your criminal father gets rejected for a bank loan to invest in conflict diamonds in Sierra Leon. Fucked up sounds like the sound it makes when a Black man beats a Chinese prostitute. Our sound has been described as what it must have sounded like to hear Alexander the Great call his soldiers "pussies" or Napolean call the Russian army "a bunch of faggots". An old woman once told me that to her Fucked Up sounded like the sounds her stomach made after she accidentally ate rat poison because she was senile and didn't know any better and there was no one to take care of her anyway because the rest of her family abandoned her because she is really racist and homophobic and once threw a loaf at her grandsons boyfriend at a christmas dinner because she just doesn't understand that society is changing.
When asked what the future held for Fucked Up, they had this to say:
Flying cars, infinite life, cereal that not only does not get soggy with milk but inflates to the point when you have to get out of your seat because it is rapidly filling up the entire breakfast-eating area and making an exit for the largest door in the vicinity, but also laying waste to the entire concept of gravity in the first place; robots that when they talk to you do so in a manner resembling your most hated enemy, oceans filled with the most vilest reptiles so large that when you see them you instantly are reminded of what it must have felt like to first listen to the sheer length of some of our songs. Also Nike shoes so coveted and rare and expensive that only people in Kashmir who have had both their feet blown off in ethnic struggle will be allowed to purchase them. The irony being that the shoes will still be made of leather! (And not small diamond particle beams, like all other shoes made in the future).
And, when asked what the most fucked up (natch) thing to happen to them on tour was, they noted:
Oh man! Once on tour we feel asleep in the van and our idiot driving managed to drive the van directly into the front doors of that fake mall they build as a sociological experiment in the Czech Republic. We were able to find so many great consumer items at low prices but when we got to the checkout queu they told us that we had failed as Marxists and Situationists and all this other shit we could hardly even understand and that we wouldn't be able to buy anything. Then when we got back to our van we found that Banksy had put graffitti all over it describing us not only as part of consumer culture, but there was also a black and white stencil of a little girl holding of a flower that had a McDonalds "M" instead of the usual set of stamens, pistils and the like. Luckily we were able to sell the van to a very rich techno-activist through an online indymedia cultural reification center, for a very high profit. We used the money to buy a van that had an even lower gas to milage ratio and drove straight to the new walmart in Paris to take part in more activism, just as we got a call simultaneously on all of the cellphones we had been given for free as part of our sponsorship deal, from none other than Banksy himself who told us that it had been him who had bought the van after all and had put his trademark graffiti over the OLD graffiti, making it a meta-symbol of cultural angst and also to sell it for an even higher mark up. As they say, The Greatest Commodity The Devil Ever Sold Us Is Culture Itself (with a corpse in his mouth).
Year of the Dog 12" now available at a respectable cultural re-education center near you.
A couple nights ago I was fortunate enough to finally catch Fucked Up in the flesh, playing live at the Phix in downtown Phoenix, AZ.
Fucked Up live did not disappoint: their trad. two guitar/bass/drum/vocal setup blurred into a single, roaring wall of sound
even more so than on record, a room-filling physical presence that the wayward Phil Spector
would regard with envy, had he been here rather than trapped in court, unsettling LA Times
readers with his hungry, androgynous gaze
. (In my bed, the police
Damian entertained the crowd with banter while Marbles engineered his pedals; "the sound of the future", Damian quips, "really shitty." It's proper material for a stand-up comic addressing a roomful of hardcore kids: ironic but affectionate gangsterisms, cracks about how crying's not allowed in hardcore, the odd band reference (Feederz, Integrity), etc. Damian helps put a friendly/fuzzy human face on the band, who through their music alone can come across less as regular folks than as wide-eyed anarcho-fascist mystics (although not humorless ones).
They opened with “Baiting the Public” and closed with “Police”, with a mid-set highlight in the three-song bite of “Crusades”, “David Comes to Life”, and “Generation.” They encored with a cover of “Nervous Breakdown” featuring Frank from MK-ULTRA on vocals (but more accurately, the entire sweaty, grabby, piling on crowd). Marbles said later that the song got a bigger response than it did when Keith Morris sang it with them; this was a more receptive audience. It’s scenes like this that drive home the contention of punk as folk music: songs passed down from generation to generation (literally, Damian described the song as “given to” them by Keith Morris), the familiar material re-contextualized and recharged with meaning by younger adherents; a musical mode that can operate occasionally as big business but remains a living, underground tradition.
Or maybe it’s just a testament to the continued and largely unrecognized vitality of Black Flag (pre-longhaired psychosis). In any case, Fucked Up remain the torchbearers for punk possibility in this long, dark age.
With them on tour, the band has their new 12”, Year of the Pig. The band hopes to continue their Chinese zodiac series as long as they play together: in 2008, Year of the Rat; in 2009, Year of the Ox—the sign yours truly was born under.
"Year of the Pig" isn't quite as much of a quantum leap for Fucked Up as Looking For Gold was, but it's close: floating by on moody, swaggering stabs of organ and wistful female vocals (credited to one Jennifer Castle) punctuated by Damian's ragged yowl, gradually building into a swirling maelstrom. It's a dreamy, evocative sound different from any of the band's previous material, signalling a progression from Hidden World that wasn't immediately apparent on Year of the Dog. The song is flooded with baleful images of slaughter and death, with Hidden World's themes of guilt and shame re-emerging against scenes of pigs impaled on spears and bleeding to death on the killing floor.
The liner notes to Year of the Pig read "experienced in the tradition of Wilsim Publogy", a new philosophy Marbles claims the band is experimenting with. I'm in the dark here, unless it has something to do with the Web-based Interactive Landform SIMulator, an educational tool designed to visually represent landform evolution; this actually seems conceivable, given the band's penchant for ecological metaphor. The record also features cover art by 19th century Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler.
Side B of this year's installment is a song entitled "The Black Hats", which may or may not be a reference to the species of computer hacker that compromises security systems without official sanction. I doubt it's that simple, given the song's decidedly corporeal lyrics (breathing, running, killing), which seem to be closer to the classic origins of the term in western movies: as a synecdochic representation of villainy.