powerviolence, or how to play punk with a hammer

A few years ago I wrote an essay about the history of powerviolence, an obscure sub-subgenre of punk rock that originated on the West Coast but has since spread to all corners of the world. It’s part of “The Punk Reader: Research Transmissions from the Local and the Global,” an edited collection published in November by the University of Porto in Portugal, and it’s a truly international collection. Happy to see this essay in print, but I am a little embarrassed by my preamble, which I clearly wrote while I was still in grad school. Who the hell in their right mind uses words like “prolegomena” in a normal sentence?

As a subgenre of rock ’n’ roll, punk rock has itself spawned various sub-generic musical and subcultural followings – or cults, of a sort. While many of these sub-generic reinterpretations of punk rock – Oi!, crust punk, skate punk – can be connected to a single musical group or geographically collectivized group of musicians with an associated coterie of cult adherents, the way in which these sub-generic movements impact or affect the greater punk rock ‘scene’ is far more difficult to quantify. It is with this prolegomenon in mind that this essay will investigate the phenomenon of ‘powerviolence’ (Man is the Bastard, Infest, Mind Eraser, Iron Lung, etc.) by first tracing the musical and social provenance of the subgenre and then analysing it in its present form, which is both sub-subcultural (and localized as such) and internationalized (Yacøpsæ, Fuck on the Beach, Merda, etc.) in its sub-subculturalism. There is little documentation and no accessible scholarship on powerviolence, either as a musical and cultural genre or as an instantiation of punk rock. As such, this essay will compile and analyse the current documentation available regarding powerviolence, and perhaps not surprisingly, most of this documentation is available almost exclusively online. Varied in both form and articulation, that this material is primarily accessible through online avenues is also telling of the way powerviolence has not only survived as a genre but also how it has grown in its reception and realization.

Check out the full book here, and if you’re curious what powerviolence sounds like, here’s one of my all-time favorite cuts:

What I watched in 2015

The Year of Our Lord 2015 was a busy media year for me. On top of writing a graduate thesis project on 1980s counterculture and cult film, I spent roughly six months freelancing from my living room couch. Which meant a lot of hours sitting in my underwear, inoculating myself against emotional vacillations with hours of A-, B-, and C-grade entertainment. While my brain cells suffered, Netflix and Amazon profited.

In my youth I was opposed to most forms of mainstream entertainment. I’ve always seen entertainment as a form of consumption, and getting excited about mainstream products (like those produced by Marvel or Pixar) I saw as the entertainment equivalent of getting excited about dinner at McDonalds. But as I grew out of my 20s, I realized the value of sharing in a larger cultural conversation. So most of what I watched this year was to get up to date on what people have been talking about the past few years while I had my head buried in work, school, and whatever else.

There are 204 film and TV titles included in this list. For the sake of simplicity, I count a season of a TV series as one entry (e.g. two seasons of House of Cards count as two entries). Because I don’t like how it feels to hate myself I haven’t done the math to approximate how many hours I spent prone in front of this god. But surely for this servitude my reward will be great in heaven.

Highlights:

  • Favorite 2015 Movie: A Most Violent Year
  • Favorite Movie: Nightcrawler
  • Favorite 2015 TV Show: True Detective (S02) or Fargo (S02) or Better Call Saul (S01)
  • Favorite TV Show: Northern Exposure (Seasons 1-6)
  • Least Favorite 2015 Movie: Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • Least Favorite Movie: Tank Girl
  • Least Favorite TV Show: Californication

My favorite titles are in bold and every 20 entries I’ll post a video because who the hell is going to read this stupid list anyway?

1. Surf II (1984)
2. House of Cards: Season 1 (2013)
3. House of Cards: Season 2 (2014)
4. Modern Problems (1981)
5. Electric Dreams (1984)
6. The Eric Andre Show: Season 1 (2012)
7. The Eric Andre Show: Season 2 (2013)
8. Inherent Vice (2014)
9. Casablanca (1942)
10. Archer: Season 5 (2013)

 

11. Boyhood (2014)
12. Californication: Season 1 (2007)
13. Anchorman II (2014)
14. Class of 1984 (1984)
15. Repo Man (1984)
16. Nightmares (1983)
17. Times Square (1980)
18. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1987)
19. Better Off Dead (1985)
20. Venture Brothers: Season 1 (2003)

 

 

21. The Fall: Season 2 (2014)
22. Walker (1988)
23. Only the Lonely (1991)
24. Californication: Season 2 (2008)
25. Citizen Kane (1941)
26. Mission Impossible II (2000)
27. Venture Brothers: Season 2 (2005)
28. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
29. The One I Love (2014)
30. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

 

31. Parks & Rec: Season 7 (2015)
32. House of Cards: Season 3 (2015)
32. Robocop (2014)
33. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 (2015)
34. Teen Witch (1989)
35. Ghostbusters (1984)
37. All This Mayhem (2014)
38. Peep Show: Series 3 (2005)
39. Peep Show: Series 4 (2006)
40. Peep Show: Series 5 (2007)

 

 

41. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2015)
42. Peep Show: Series 6 (2008)
43. Peep Show: Series 7 (2010)
44. Peep Show: Series 8 (2012)
45. Gambit (2012)
46. Californication: Season 3 (2010)
47. Fury (2014)
48. Californication: Season 4 (2011)
49. Community: Season 1 (2009)
50. Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

 

51. Community: Season 2 (2010)
52. Californication: Season 5 (2012)
53. Californication: Season 6 (2013)
54. Bloodline: Season 1 (2015)
55. Uncle Buck (1989)
56. The November Man (2014)
57. Californication: Season 7 (2014)
58. Trailer Park Boys: Season 8 (2014)
59. Life Itself (2014)
60. Community: Season 3 (2011)

 

 

61. Better Call Saul: Season 1 (2015)
62. Trailer Park Boys: Season 9 (2015)
63. Wild Style (1983)
64. The Lego Movie (2014)
65. Longmire: Season 1 (2012)
66. Daredevil: Season 1 (2015)
67. Suicide Kings (1997)
68. Longmire: Season 2 (2013)
69. Tank Girl (1995)
70. My Name is Earl: Season 1 (2005)

 

71. X-Men: First Class (2011)
72. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
74. Community: Season 4 (2012)
75. Thor (2011)
76. The Amazing Spiderman (2012)
77. The Last Man on Earth: Season 1 (2015)
78. Green Lantern (2011)
79. Iron Man (2008)
80. The Avengers (2012)

 

 

81. Avatar (2009)
82. Three Days of Condor (1977)
83. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
84. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
85. James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge (2014)
86. Marathon Man (1977)
87. Community: Season 5 (2014)
86. Iron Man 3 (2013)
87. The Wolverine (2013)
88. My Name is Earl: Season 2 (2006)
89. Sherlock: Season 3 (2014)
90. Longmire: Season 3 (2014)

 

91. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
92. Ghost Rider (2007)
93. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
94. Man of Steel (2013)
95. Fantastic Four (1994)
96. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
97. Veep: Season 1 (2012)
98. Star Wars (1977)
99. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
100. Return of the Jedi (1983)

 

 

101. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
102. Veep: Season 2 (2013)
103. My Name is Earl: Season 3 (2007)
104. Veep: Season 3 (2014)
105. Burke & Hare (2010)
106. Northern Exposure: Season 1 (1990)
107. Northern Exposure: Season 2 (1991)
108. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013)
109. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
110. My Name is Earl: Season 4 (2008)

 

111. Burn Notice: Season 1 (2007)
112. Nightcrawler (2014)
113. Antarctica: A Year on the Ice (2013)
114. Game of Thrones: Season 5 (2015)
115. Veep: Season 4 (2015)
116. Agents of SHIELD: Season 2 (2015)
117. Bob’s Burgers: Season 5 (2015)
118. Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)
119. Silicon Valley: Season 2 (2015)
120. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

 

 

121. High Fidelity (2000)
122. Grace and Frankie: Season 1 (2015)
123. Jurassic World (2015)
124. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
125. Insurgent (2015)
126. Gone Girl (2014)
127. Lone Survivor (2013)
128. The Imitation Game (2014)
129. The Expendables 3 (2014)
130. Ant-Man (2015)

 

131. Jerry McGuire (1996)
132. Northern Exposure: Season 3 (1992)
133. Now You See Me (2013)
134. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
135. Zoom (2006)
136. Get Hard (2015)
137. Boss: Season 1 (2011)
138. Entourage: Season 1 (2004)
139. True Detective: Season 2 (2015)
140. Northern Exposure: Season 4 (1992)

 

 

141. Chappie (2015)
142. Fantastic Four (2015)
144. Entourage: Season 2 (2005)
145. Entourage: Season 3 (2006)
146. American Ultra (2015)
147. 40 Year-Old Virgin (2006)
148. Twilight (2008)
149. Twilight: New Moon (2009)
150. Entourage: Season 4 (2007)

 

151. American Movie (1999)
152. Risky Business (1983)
153. Twilight: Eclipse (2010)
154. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 (2011)
155. Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (2013)
156. Chinatown (1974)
157. Northern Exposure: Season 5 (1993)
158. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
159. Catwoman (2004)
160. The Brothers Grimm (2005)

 

 

161. Entourage: Season 5 (2008)
162. Entourage: Season 6 (2009)
163. Entourage: Season 7 (2010)
164. Entourage: Season 8 (2011)
165. Virtuosity (1995)
166. Theodore Rex (1995)
167. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
168. Entourage (2015)
169. 40 Days and Nights (2012)
170. The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2010)

 

171. The Walking Dead: Season 2 (2011)
172. The Martian (2015)
173. Northern Exposure: Season 6 (1994)
174. Portlandia: Season 5 (2015)
175. The Walking Dead: Season 3 (2012)
176. Spy (2015)
177. Blades of Glory (2007)
178. Maiden Trip (2014)
179. A Most Violent Year (2015)
180. Crimson Peak (2015)

 

 

181. The Walking Dead: Season 4 (2013)
182. Citizenfour (2014)
183. Trainwreck (2015)
184. The End of the Tour (2015)
185. Burn Notice: Season 2 (2008)
186. Specter (2015)
187. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
188. Trumbo (2015)
189. Jessica Jones: Season 1 (2015)
190. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (2015)

 

191. The Walking Dead: Season 5 (2014)
192. Fargo: Season 2 (2015)
193. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (2001)
194. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
195. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
196. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
197. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
198. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
199. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
200. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

 

 

201. Bridge of Spies (2015)
202. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
203. Soaked in Bleach (2015)
204. The Hateful Eight (70mm) (2015)

Everything Loose Will Land

“Tip the world on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.”

Once said Frank Lloyd Wright, famously smug. In his mind was the teenage City of Angels, then and now a sprawling metropolis of traffic jams, cultural piracy, and media cacophony. Angelenos had no innate culture but for those rootless scraps landing from elsewhere, and so emerged the LA style of denuded cool. It was a raucous period extending from the end of the 1960s into the early 1980s where there emerged a new context formed by accord between art and architecture and contest between commerce and creativity. The dynamics of this period are what curator Sylvia Lavin explores in ‘Everything Loose Will Land’ at the Graham Foundation’s Madlener House in Chicago, Illinois.

The exhibit arrived in spring 2014 in Chicago after an inaugural 2013 appearance in LA (obviously), at the Mak Center’s Schindler House, and an interim show at Yale’s Paul Rudolph Hall Exhibition Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. And for a exhibit documenting the emergence of an aesthetic common language from a place without one, that Lavin’s curation appears in Chicago—a city connected to LA by federal governance and not much else—adds a hint of irony to the show’s coy celebration of creative cross-pollination between art and architecture.

Included in the exhibition are 120 drawings, photographs, models, sculptures, and multimedia-miscellany from names like Judy Chicago, Frank Gehry, Cesar Pelli, Denise Scott Brown, Maria Nordman, Coy Howard, Craig Hodgetts, Ron Herron, and many others. The Madlener House, a 1902 mansion designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-contemporary Richard E. Schmidt, and present home to the Graham Foundation, hosts the exhibition on its main and second floors. A cardboard sculpture of Bloxes greets you in the main foyer. It has no explicit connection to Lavin’s exhibition but implicitly comments on the malleability of retrospection; a tongue-in-cheek welcome to how ‘Everything Loose’ celebrates the varied.

The works are arranged into four distinct categories—Environments, Users, Procedures, and Lumens—which the brochure copy declares as four triggers “that caused architecture to coincide with other art forms as it sought to engage in this new cultural logic [emergent in 1970s in LA].” It’s not immediately obvious that this is the intention for the exhibit’s organization, though whatever feelings of disarray one senses walking through the rooms is likely postmodern reverb from the aesthetic discord of 1970s LA, emanating from many pieces as a dull glow.

In Lumens, on the second floor of the gallery, a five-foot-tall blue plexiglass pane, designed by Cesar Pelli and Victor Gruen Associates, reflects Connections, a geometric glass and wood sculpture by Frank Gehry and Richard Serra. Behind that, Billy Al Bengston’s Tubsteak, iconoclastic and psychedelic, lacquer on formica. On the northern wall, four flatscreens with obscure footage by Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson, John Whitney, and Eric Saarinen (son of Eero, who introduced the 20th Century to extraterrestrial architecture). In the room on the opposite side of the wall plays a film by Environmental Communications, originally installed in 1977 at LACMA.

The first floor is dedicated to Users and Environments. Unlike the white walls of the upper floors, the main floors pop with the fluorescent pinks and golds of painter Judy Ledgerwood’s Chromatic Patterns installations. These are floor-to-ceiling paintings reimagining baroque window screens against two-dimensional drywall, and much like the Bloxes, separate but complementary of Lavin’s selections. Collages by Ron Herron (Archigram), one-off catalogs and publications by Judy Chicago and Leon Koren, event posters by Morphosis, and handwritten notes from artist and architecture studios, present a multi-sensate visual mediated not only by materials (large plastic bubbles guard ephemera in appropriately space-aged fashion) but also by time itself.

Lavin calls the “cultural epistemology” emergent in 1970s LA a product of looseness and a “precise model city of the future.” Her exhibition highlights the interchange between the visual and architectural arts that, at the pinnacle of the postmodern era, established contexts for new cosmopolitan languages, apparitions, and celebrations. ‘Everything Loose’ suggests that culture, like matter, does not disappear; it lands.

[This article was written for the 2014 Frieze Writer’s Prize, which I am proud to add to my growing list of contests lost. I hope you’ve enjoyed my failure.]

Letters to Ted Kaczynski: Part I

[I began writing letters to Ted K back in 2011. I needed a muse and so I designated Ted K as the would-be receiver of my epistolary confessionals. I have and will never sent these letters to Ted K. They’re for my own amusement. And now yours. I plan on posting them intermittently. Following is the first such letter I wrote. I hope the NSA or FBI or whatever has a line item for CNF.]

Dear Mr. Kaczynski,

I first want to thank you for your prompt reply. As you say, we just go through the motions. For that reason I want to try my best to explain. Our perception is not merely what we apprehend on a conscious level. There are nuances. Like the way our teachers illustrated stellar collapse with cartoons and talking insects.

I thought they said sprained at first, but what do they know? It was probably a result of these relentless jumping jacks. What do I care? Why do I care? Pour some fish down my throat and call me Jack Daniels Jr., Robber Baron of the Little American Ocean.

On the up-swing, I’ve lost 15lbs in the past seven weeks. The same can’t be said for everything. You know how it is. What did me in was the catering gig. It was a wedding celebrating the union of a spritely young divorcee and a fifty-something VP. They booked it at this sanatorium in Skokie called ‘Misericordia,’ which as a word sounds like an Aligherian invention. We worked in a kitchen the size of a Petsmart. Most of the time I ran empties from the bar but by the end of the night I had a limp like a Vietnam vet. You were never enlisted, were you? I’d support you either way, but these are our options: Drop a cinder block on few bicuspids and sip mint juleps on the weekends, or spend four years doing pushups and getting beaten by Duracell-packed tubesocks. Uncle Sam failed me as a role model.

With a bum knee, my flight to Boston failed to be a gas. I was cramped in coach and because it was a last minute thing I had a layover in Detroit. I was only there for two hours but that’s still two hours more than anyone should have to spend on Michigan soil. In its defense, DTW is a damn nice airport. I’ve spent a lot of time at Midway, so I know what I’m talking about. What would happen to Detroit if DTW went out the GM-way? Michigan is the USA’s finest testament to the strength and longevity of Bold American Industry. I just read that the city has a less-than 50% literacy rate. Internet nerds raised $60k to erect a Robocop statue at the heart of Eight Mile. Peter Weller has become the Aryan laughing stock of Masonic International. What’re your thoughts on the DC Pentagram? (This is a getting-to-know-you question. Be as direct or circumspect as you wish.)

I bid (bide? bided? bought?) my time by people watching, comparing gaits and breast sizes; trying to guess the weight of the Tennesseans being carted to Gate A1. What is this obsession youthful and sometimes non-youthful women have with yoga pants? Is this part of our Great Slovenization? We’re pretty well into the 21st century. Slop is the new Betamax. It sips on 666-calorie macchiatos and showers in Diet Coke. Then again, I shouldn’t point fingers. I swallowed a four-egg omelet whole while waiting at ORD that very morning. The woman sitting next to me on the plane fell asleep on my arm. The only thing worse than trusting a stranger is being entrusted by one. Wouldn’t you agree? This is a greeting card sentiment, but truth is truth. She woke up on her own and had apparently found a way to use her cell-phone at 30k feet. I’m surprised the plane didn’t start flying backwards.

When I finally got to Providence, my friend picked me up in his GMC (go fig). He gave me an update about the kinds of girls he’s into and how he’s gunning for this kick-ass third-shit job that pays like a billion dollars. He smoked four cigarettes in twenty minutes. We stopped on the way to Ashland because he needed some weed bad. He lives with his mom.

This reminds me, in my first letter to you. I forgot to ask about Seeley Lake. I’ve always wanted to visit Montana. 147,000m(2) of Pure Anglo Autobahn. I bet you could fall off the earth out that way. I once saw My Own Private Idaho. Is it like that?

Anyway, we ended up at my friend’s Friday-night stomping grounds; a low-ceiling’d strip mall joint called The Corner Pub. The Bruins were on and I was told my beard would help me fit in. The air quality is different in New England—like long-cut Skoal, Wintergreen flavor, and a side of 2-1 Jim Beam. Wings to go.

Conversations involved the complexities of lures, baits and Asian carp. What else is there to talk about really? My jeans were too clean to pass for Real Deal, but they liked my joke about the California wildfires. I drank a Grateful Dead (Long Island Iced Tea with Jim Jones’ Kool Aid) and chased that with a Coke heavy on the Jack, which was itself heavy on the water. The microwaved French fries were congealing in my stomach, so I walked across the street to the 7-11 where I snorted a line of Ibuprofen and browsed the bin of free shot-glasses. I snagged a pair that said “Old Geezer Pleaser.” There was a sun-bleached mosquito at the bottom of the “Daddy Drinks Because You Cry” glass.

Grieved as he was by the Bruin’s eventual unsurprising loss, I paid for my friend’s dinner while he paid for my drinks. I did the math and he came out ahead.

Remind me to tell you about Newport in my next letter. Meanwhile, please enjoy the bag of Carmellos I’ve included in this mailing. It’s the least I can do.

– bvl