Feature photo by Dan Monick
The first time I heard OFF!—two years ago, now—I knew at the end of the first song, “Black Thoughts,” when I’d finally been allowed to catch my breath, that OFF! were the defibrillators skate-punk had so sorely needed. My dare to all: listen and stay away from a board.
Perhaps it took a supergroup like OFF! to dig up the groves and surf riffs and urgency that are so Californian it tans fans. Featuring Keith Morris (Black Flag), Dimitri Coats (Burning Bridges), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), and Mario (Rocket From the Crypt), OFF! blazes through songs with veteran skill, yet all the restlessness and uncertainty of those years around 1980. If someone says, “Punk is dead,” shove this in their ears.
It’s not just in the music, but also in OFF!’s ethos. They got headlines last year when they were arrested for stealing a restaurant’s vegetable oil for their biodiesel tour van. Freeing themselves from petroleum industry. It’s not nihilism, sure, but a developed awareness. And if that’s not punk, I’m not sure what is.
You wouldn’t know they’ve aged, just listening. And I think that’s the point. Though under the same “punk” banner, OFF! formed from disparate bands and forged something missing in the new millenium’s music. Reviewers took notice—from Pitchfork to NPR OFF! collected high marks for their specific brand of noise.
The ethos goes even further. Before their first album was available for download, it wasn’t actually an album, but a collection of four 7” records they put out over a short span in 2010. Its name? First Four EPs. I have the records—and, sure, there’s only two minutes of music on each side, but that makes me sit next to my record player and listen. That’s the way to take them in—via mainline, not putting it on in the background to make lunch, and meanwhile OFF! burns through eighteen songs in as many minutes.
OFF! makes me think about what I want from my punk. The politics of Propagandhi? The unique instrumentation of World Inferno/Friendship Society? The blistering speed of DRI? The weirdness of The Locust? The sing along choruses of the Ramones? The Britishness of Crass?
I decided it’s none of those particulars that make me fall for a band. I want something more basic. I want counterculture. I want music pushing back against all the other noise, trying to make space in the pit.