Mandy Drake is tired of on stage shock tactics from bands that don’t need them.

Mandy Drake is tired of on stage shock tactics from bands that don’t need them

Rock’n’Roll: whatever nonsensical sub-genre of stringed things might live in your CD racks and line your bedroom walls, it’s nothing if not a proud beast. Credibility is the currency and without it a band can find themselves signing on and eating last week’s poop quicker than you can say, “yeah, our band’s cool, Fearne Cotton’s into us!” This being one of three unwavering traits of the game (along with drugs and delusions of grandeur and self-importance), most savvy folk are keen to remind us that “it’s all about the music, man!” Ask a band about their anti-designer (designer) mops – or their nearly-but-not-quite-matching jackets, or their makeup, or their naughty new video that’s fucked squares right off – and that’s the response you’re most likely to get. It’s nonsense, of course, but while it’s obvious that bands have been ‘about the package’ since The Beatles suited up, the way in which they present themselves onstage has long been a chance to snatch indie kudos points too. Unfortunately, some will do anything to chalk ‘em up. Like hardcore punks Cerebral Ballzy.

We met up with and interviewed the band for this month’s issue, and very nice they were too – friendly and funny. We also saw the band’s debut London show at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, where singer Honor introduced their 7-inch single ‘Puke Song’ by sticking his fingers down his throat and…well…puking at our feet. The crowd’s response was a hefty groan of disapproval, as if one massive, deflating organism. And I too threw out an “urgh”-sounding sigh, but not just because voluntary vomiting adds nothing but grot to any gig. In this case it felt desperately forced – a talking point of how ‘real’ Cerebral Ballzy are. How credible. How un-Fearne Cotton. Only it wasn’t real. A lot of effort went into the puke; a lot of tonsil-jabbing. It could have easily been kept down until the end of the band’s set, which, indecently, was the hardest, fastest hardcore show I’ve ever seen, and an impressive talking point in itself.

It’s as if truly independent bands like Ballzy – bands who push the “all about the music” line the hardest – feel obliged to prove their punk status with these giddy vulgarities. Iggy-isms, you might call them. It was he who started the shock-rock ball rolling after all, dabbling in self-mutilation when he wasn’t jumping into mosh pits and flinging peanut butter around the place (a far sillier, less offensive extension of The Stooges’ music).

For folk like Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and later Marilyn Manson, the genuinely nasty stage stuff was replaced by a host of amusing theatrics like those found in a West End pantomime – Ozzy biting the heads off of rubber bats; Manson’s keyboardist playing his instrument as it hangs hilariously from a gallows – but plenty have attempted to prove just how punk they are with obscene stage tricks that involve real blood, real bodily fluids, real rank sights that many wish they could un-see. Because let’s face it, the story of L7 singer Donita Sparks throwing her used tampon into the crowd at Reading Festival (1992) is enough to turn your stomach without having been there trying to dodge the thing.

Thankfully, the idea of being viler than the man to your left was over as soon as it begun, when the man to the left was GG Allin. Considered by many to be ‘the most extreme punk ever’, Allin rejected anything that remotely whiffed of conventional, and what could be more conformist than a live show that doesn’t feature a naked bald man covered in his own blood and faeces? Allin was the king of vulgar stage acts (usually scatologically-based) and even vowed to kill himself on stage. And he played some tunes too, not that anyone really cared about that too much, just rather how fucked up he could get. He’s an extreme case, but it’s easy to be known as ‘those mad dudes who piss in their own mouths’, rather than a pretty great garage band. Just ask Black Lips. Because while the shock thing will do when your music won’t, it’ll tar the most promising of punk bands who don’t really need it anyway. So, L7, you’re forgiven. Cerebral Ballzy, you’re not. And that’s a compliment.

By Mandy Drake


Originally published in issue 20 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. August 2010

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