Thursday, September 01, 2011

I had this discussion today w/ a friend at work: we made a brief, verbal list of former hardcore bands and musicians who went "hard rock" in an attempt to make a buck and elevate themselves from the small clubs/no-pay grind of the HC circuit, specifically in the late '80s/early '90s. The discussion began when the name "Mindfunk" was brought up. I don't usually discuss such things in polite company, but I was being egged on. We decided that this particular outfit, who released a couple of major-label failures in the early '90s, takes the cake. The line-up is most curious: Pat Dubar from straight-edge warriors, Uniform Choice, and Mark St. Reed from proto-black metal power trio, Celtic Frost. There's also some guy from M.O.D. in there, just to strike a balance. Their music was cod-ordinary funk-metal, the kind of music I thought blew then, and continues to blow now. Somebody saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns 'n' Roses and Faith No More go platinum and said, Get me a band like that on my desk by monday morning! Hell, maybe they just stumbled over each other at a bar one night and said, Let's start a band! You think so?

Junkyard are another curious example. I remember when they were around - 1989-1990 was their, ahem, "peak period" - and local low-rent rock & roll publication Hot Metal ran a feature on them. I just about spat out my lunch when I eyeballed a shot of guitarist Brian Baker decked out like Slash. The glasses kinda ruined the look. And there was ex-Big Boys bass-man, Chris Gates, looking like he was playing in a biker-blues band. What in the hell are they doing? In the wake of Guns 'n' Roses' massive success, methinks a couple of veteran punkers smelt a buck or two in the bad-boy leathered R & R market and went for gold. They nearly got there, too. Brian Baker was recently asked by Axl Rose to play guitar in the umpteenth line-up of his band. Baker allegedly balked at the suggestion, possibly realising his longterm gig w/ Bad Religion is a steady piece of income, but also possibly forgetting what he did all those years ago.

This was an example shown to me by my buddy today. Slapshot were a Boston HC band from the '80s/'90s fronted by scene vet "Choke", a model and template for hockey-club-swinging tough-guy frontmen ever since. Dude, he was from fuckin' Bostoooon, man! I used to hear some of their music on the 3PBS punk radio show back in high school, and I'd see them featured in mags like Flipside at the time, but I never took any notice. I thought HC in general was beating a dead horse by then, and a band like Slapshot personified its most unappealing qualities. But still, some baldies of various stripes and IQs obviously thought they were the shit. By 1991, the writing was on the wall. Many a Boston HC band had gone hard rock in years prior, but for me this one truly captures the spirit of the time. They saw the possibilities inherent in semi-mersh muscle-rock and unfortunately made a stab at it. Love that tree-kicking in the video, though.

This one won't make a lot of sense to anyone outside of Australia. Hell, it probably won't even make any sense to most folks in Australia. The band known as Killing Time started up at some moment in the late '80s. You're going to have to forgive me here, but I can't recall what other bands the members had previously played in. Civil Dissident? Vicious Circle? I know that Russell Hopkinson - who cut his teeth on the HC circuit in the '80s and has since drummed for Radio Birdman and You Am I - spent some time in the band. Whatever the case, they played all the usual indie/underground/rock & roll dives around 1990. I even caught them one night; I think it was them and local Bad Brains/Husker Du worshippers Suffer at the Richmond Club. They seemed like schlock heaped upon layers of schlock to me, and I didn't pay them any notice. Then Molly Meldrum(!) gave them a very public endorsement one day on TV - just stay w/ me here, this is getting somewhere - and suddenly there was a bidding war. Polydor made a gross error and won that bidding war. I heard persistent rumours of the band pocketing $250,000 for their troubles. The band's first single, "Ruby's Mind", was a decent hit and the label put a fortune into the recording of their debut full-length effort. In the meantime, the band had to change their name - w/ the threat of an impending lawsuit from the NYC HC band of the same name - and that they did: to Mantissa. Catchy, huh? The album tanked. I guess in the wake of Nevermind's success, everyone simply forgot they existed. Or maybe they just sucked. And just to tie everything in: the band toured the US in 1993 with... guess who... Mindfunk!

This is possibly the granddaddy of all funk-metal atrocities written, performed and recorded by ex-thrashers who should've known better. Actually, one listen to any Ludichrist track, the NYC crossover-thrash band they morphed from, and you might just consider the possibility that they could never have known any better in this lifetime. Ludichrist's perennial "Most People Are Dicks" used to get a flogging on various public-radio shows down here in the late '80s: I was well aware of their presence. In 1990, Scatterbrain's "Don't Call Me Dude" was released, and it became one of those surprise hits at the time. It was released by In-Effect Records in the US - nominally an "indie" which I'm pretty sure was actually tied to Sony - and didn't make much of a splash. Down here, in this hillbilly burgh, the story was quite different. Like an evil deity, this track was omnipresent. For about 3 months, you couldn't escape it. Its musicianly blend of rote metal-funk and dopey Cheech & Chong/Frank Zappa-style humour was a smash hit w/ morons everywhere. As was and is the case w/ other thoroughly useless nudniks such as Ben Harper, Michael Franti, Live and The Tea Party, they tried to make Australia their second home. Thankfully the nation came to its senses and the band remains a semi-forgotten one-hit wonder.


I've only just scratched the surface. Hell, I never even mentioned TSOL's bizarre transformation into Poison back in the '80s, or SSD mutating from Minor Threat rip-offs to Def Leppard wannabes in a mere two years, but you get the point. For myself, the pre-Nevermind phenomenon of ex-HC types losing their cool in the wake of Guns 'n' Roses' and Faith No More's multi-platinum success remains a disturbing chapter from history's path, and one well worth investigating further.


Pig State Recon said...

Scatterbrain! Never heard em before. But they are, indeed, Shit Rock of particularly disgusting order. Great post my friend.

Bob baker fish said...

From memory mantissa's album went prog and quite reasonably experimental. A world away from the straight up hard rock of ruby's mind. I think it bombed because it was a little too much for the rockers. Perhaps it's a lost classic

Dave said...

It may well be a lost classic... but I wouldn't bet any money on that claim. In fact, entertaining that thought for more than a second I would consider to be wishful thinking of a very delusional variety.

Anonymous said...

very enjoyable post.

i think hardcore's relative musical accessibility attracted a lot of young and inexperienced musicians. some delivered in the genre's crucial categories: energy, anger, speed, immediacy.

but, the timeless problem of moving on musically and not totally blowing is much more difficult to solve, and not limited to hc either.

i love that guy kicking the tree, then the dirt. so angry.

Javi said...

Ha! Funny, I remember back in 1991 when I was about 13 and read some of the local metal mags here in Spain religiously, how the Mindfunk album was given RAVE reviews as some sort of Alternative, almost revolutionary and pretty fresh take on standard Metal.
I know it's not hip to admit but, yes, I bought the LP due to said reviews and at the time it sounded like some sort of, yes, alternative kinda fresh take on LITE-Metal (The aforementioned Gn'R/ RHCP/ - and I'd throw some Skid Row in the mix- fare). Haven't heard it in 15 years, though.

Anonymous said...

Probably the biggest enabeler of the hardcore to hard rock crossover wasn't primarily a musician. Mike Gitter was a former fanzine editor of a hardcore magazine that got picked up by, I believe, Kerrang! (sp) to write record reviews, and he could always be relied on to overpraise every release from a band with former HC ties to the hilt. He praised the aforementioned Mindfunk album in a manner so superlative I suspect sexual favors were involved, and he gave a full bore rave to that Junkyard album too.

Like a lot of the former hardcorers he tried to re-establish his cred when the Seatle grunge bands pushed the LA glamrockers to the street, but I don't think he lasted very long after that.

Anonymous said...

mindfunk had jason everman as well, ex-touring guitarist for nirvana.

Clinton said...

Tubby from Massappeal was the first drummer for Killing Time, although he may've been turfed in favour of Russell pretty early on.