Refused The Shape of Punk to Come, particularly when taking in a show at THE GARAGE, seems visionary. The creep of metal, electronics, and radically divergent vocal styles—within single songs even—into the thrash of hardcore punk over the past 15 years, shaped the now beloved post-hardcore. It’s the necessary change in the punk ethos Refused rallied for in the liner notes of The Shape of Punk to Come. How could punk be counter-cultural if the sound entered the mainstream as it had in the 90s?
The ramblings in a Swedish band’s CD booklet may have seemed then like a manifesto scribbled on a bathroom wall, but a look at THE GARAGE’s upcoming calendar, suggests otherwise.
From The Shape of Punk to Come liner notes:
[Refused’s] past is given continued meaning through their progression…Also, there are few things worse than mocking music that you love and the musicians who created it by playing “down” to that music. A large part of what makes some bands so great is not just rooted in the actual music, ideas, or the fact that they “were the first to do it.” Rather it is that they were giving their best effort and playing at the edge of their abilities at all times. If a band ever finds that it is not doing both of those things then they are not playing the kind of music that they should be playing.
So like Refused’s support of political revolution, they were advocating a continual renewal in the music world—for bands to continually push their sound, for genres to be continually shed like too-small skin. It’s an indictment for some of their contemporaries, their godfathers, and many bands I spin daily on my turntable.
What bands that you listen to play “at the edge of their abilities at all times?” Does it make a difference? Can you hear the desperation, the rattling of a locomotive barely holding on to the rails? Isn’t it exciting?
In the many Thursday interviews we do here at GARAGE MUSIC NEWS, a common response from bands is that they want to make music that “means something” or “that matters.” As I listen to The Shape of Punk to Come this morning, I wonder if the Refused’s revolutionary banner rings true for any of those musicians? Do they feel similar demands when huddling up at practice or slashing through a new chord progression in their living room? What are their ambitions?
There is no better tribute to creative influence than being creative.
But perhaps I’m thinking too globally. The Refused were elevated to their current hallowed status as great influencer because they made a visionary album while signed to Burning Heart. And it took time for the widespread infiltration of our stereos.
So, I ask: What bands do you see shaping our scene? Who will precipitate the next changes, the shedding of skin? How are we moving forward and where are we going?
It’s one of the great parts of my job—talking to bands, seeing new bands take stage and play at the edge of their abilities, like it might be their only chance to change things.
It’s what Refused did.
If there’s any confusion about what I’m trying to get across, set aside an hour, put in The Shape of Punk to Come, and hold on.
“What are they doing?” might be a question that is asked after the first spin of this record. I suspect that the band would be the worst source to go to for an answer to that question. I don’t believe they could really tell you what they are doing or where they are going with this. All they know is where they came from, what they have done, what has been done by others, and what needs to be done. This is their response to the vague, yet compelling impulses which coaxes them onward. Is this really the sound and shape of punk to come? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless of what it amounts to, the band is trying out new possibilities, not just for themselves but for all whom expect them to create.