I spent the other day watching cool documentaries about music while drinking PG Tips. I have a friend I’ve known since I was about 5 years old who lives a couple blocks from me here in Oakland. He’s basically more obsessed with music than I am. Maybe not more obsessed, but more focused. He’s been able to collect a shit ton of amazing records over the years, and has played in bands with some very cool indie musicians.
Basically, since I’ve been back in Oakland, him and a few of my old-school punk friends have filled me in on years of post-punk and punk I had missed out growing up, plus a bunch of crossover bands such as Neurosis and Amebix, thus spawning my interest in learning more about their roots. Since I’ve been listening to other music, the music I grew up on starts to sound more and more like mainstream watered-down dookie, even though I still appreciate and enjoy the sentiment and emotion behind it.
Anyhow, I started with a documentary about Norwegian death metal that talks about this death metal band, Mayhem, where the lead singer killed himself and the guitarist was murdered. It also talks about how they got caught up in the image of what they were trying to portray so much the didn’t separate reality from fantasy, which led to the burning of churches by fans and some really dark cult shit. But from the outward appearances, below the myth, their families knew them all as these nice boys and the band members all seemed like pretty intuitive sensitive souls.
The second documentary I watched was about the anarcho-punk project from the early 80s called Crass, which existed right before Amebix, a more metal-influenced band with punk ethics, began. Crass had an open-door commune (I think it still exists) in England. It was cool to watch the documentary and fantasize about running away to England and having my own little commune, barring the reality of doing something like that these days.
I don’t know. Watching it I was filled with this idealism, really wanting to just get out of a society where everyone is too busy for each other, too focused on working and themselves and being raging egomaniacs to build something as necessary as community. Watching the members of Crass trim plants in a beautiful outdoor setting while making room for all sorts of DIY projects, all the money from Crass going to fund these projects, made me a bit teary eyed, the punk-hippy in me coming out I guess.
The documentary also talks about other anarcho-punk bands of the time, but the next documentary I watched kind of picked up where Crass left off, talking about the squats in Bristol and how Amebix got started after the idealism of the anarcho-punk bands was being stifled out by, as Rob Miller, vocalist of Amebix put it, another type of conformity, all these rules within a punk society that was supposed to be independent and liberal and different from all the other conformist movements out there.
The band members wanted to create music as poignant musically as Black Sabbath, without the shit instrumentation of punk and without the shit lyrics of most metal, and they wanted to carry on those core ideals of the movement but they also had a darker backbone. They ended up creating a cult following band that many independent bands, including Neurosis, trace their roots back to this day, before they ended the project.
Lest I pigeonhole Amebix, here’s a snippet from an essay on the band that explains them a bit better:
“Amebix were never just playing the music that would become crust punk and death metal. Unlike their successors, who have worked within the parameters of a very specific stylistic niche, Amebix truly belong to a long history of British electric guitar music, alongside everyone from The Fairport Convention to The Smiths to fucking Oasis. Listen for it – while their songs are the exact opposite of “rock n roll,” they also do everything a good rock n roll song does. Lyrically, Amebix were unlike anything in punk and metal before or since, and their mystical worldview has defiantly resisted reduction to any stock ideology. If anything, they fall into a tradition of British visionary literature that runs from the ancient epic poems through singular figures like John Milton, William Blake, Aleister Crowley, and David Tibet. My chief aim in this interview, aside from the simple satisfaction of my own curiosity, was to bring out the neglected aspects of Amebix’s work.” Interview here at Lurker’s Path.
One thing that struck me about the Amebix documentary was the honesty of the band members, namely Rob and Stig Miller who are interviewed throughout the film. The band lived for near four years with a bunch of other punks in serious squats in Bristol. The focus was on freedom and art, but in reality, it was also very dangerous.
It’s easy for me to idealize my old short-lived squatting days, until someone like Rob says something like this in the documentary:
“It wasn’t good. What I’ve said to people before…the whole thing about Bristol, it’s something that, it would’ve been much better if we had…a season instead of four years. The longer it went on, the more deeply mired we became in this mud. It’s unpleasant talking about it, because it was just like, increasing despair really. We had something going for us in the fact that the band (Amebix) was going somewhere, but looking back on it, we were just getting deeper and deeper and deeper in this sludge.
The image that I sometimes use is a dead city. Walking around and in between different squats, everybody’s asleep, everybody’s fucking gouged out. Drugs pulling out the souls of the whole place, the whole creative impetus of the Bristol scene just getting drained away by the perpetual fucking erosion of drugs, by smack culture, of the selfish nihilism of the whole thing. I don’t have much sentimentality towards Bristol at all, it was a very, very hard time…constant insecurity. Constant trouble.“
Rob and Stig both talk about the focus on the music above all else, Stig specifically speaking to how he has no idea how others perceive him, but it’s really about making the music the best it can be. I also totally related to the story of how Rob, when the band ended, had to go work in a factory to support his child and this relationship he had gotten into. After spending most of his life up to that point being unfettered, it was soul crushing for him and when he had a window, he got out of the grind after crashing his motorcycle, losing everything, and going home for six weeks to live with his parents. I believe he decided to work on Amebix again at that point.
For some of us, the grind kills us. We’re just not set up for it. And people judge and judge, but without the fighters among us who are willing to experiment with surviving in non-traditional modes of living environments in order to get our craft out, there wouldn’t be the music and writing we clutch on to. At least for me, music is what keeps me afloat a lot of the time.
Good shit. I would definitely check out the Amebix documentary. I will be watching it again for sure!