There is no "real", of course. No scripture a punk band must abide. No sound or style of such undeniable purity that all other punk stuff must kneel before it. But there are bands, tendencies, aesthetic choices that tickle the teenage part of me that once believed there was a Platonic punk ideal, a perfect mohawk and a perfect patched jacket and a perfect band name and a perfect I-give-not-one-fuck sneer.
Striving for such scummy perfection was basically my teenage self's raison d'etre. I dropped out of high school. Punk fucking rock. I got a mohawk. Punk fucking rock. I pretended I liked Conflict. Punk fucking rock. I wrote songs with titles like "Predator and Prey" and "Gods of War." Punk fucking rock.
I'm not gonna say I grew out of all that, because look at me: I'm the proud owner of this little corner of the internet devoted to Portland punk rock, and I sincerely love this column and the bands it covers. But I did disown all of those obvious punk signifiers at one point. I thought they were dumb. I thought they were dumb because I thought punk had to be a lifestyle. I thought punk had to be a lifestyle because I was not old enough to know that life is big and complicated and that I could appreciate what punk had to offer without changing my name to Chris Piss and getting a Crucifucks face tattoo.
But after a few years of reactionary anti-punk "seriousness" I learned how to enjoy the absurd and overwrought aesthetics of what I used to consider real/legit/true, and once in a while I like to dive into the dumpster and get dirty with the acne-scarred, tri-hawked, scabies-infested sorts of sounds that made me believe in a punk heaven in the first place.
I have a feeling the bands below share similarly complicated and slightly ironic connections to the scene, its sounds, its fashions, because you don't play punk rock for as long as these folks have without learning how to love it for the furious and fun and kinda silly blast from the past it actually is.
These bands are all playing Portland this week. Let's get punk as fuck, shall we?
Members of: Atrocious Madness.
How Lebenden Toten keeps it real: By extracting every harsh, sharp, ear-splitting sound from punk rock and leaving the corpse of comely melody to rot in the sun while assaulting listeners with a terrible (awesome) racket. One does not listen to Lebenden Toten so much as survive it. You know how sometimes in the middle of the night you'll hear two cats making unholy sounds and it's not clear whether they are fucking each other or killing each other? That's Lebenden Toten in a nutshell. A really crusty, gnarly, kind of disgusting nutshell.
Members of: Econochrist, El Dopa, Ojorojo.
How Vulvalard keeps it real: That name, for starters. It's awful. Just majestically dumb. A name so stupid that an Assrash patch would unsew itself from a punk vest out of sheer terror and humiliation. It hurts to look at, really. Google thought I meant "Vulvaland" when I tried to search for "Vulvalard", which, yes, I would like to go to there, please, but I'm happy to settle for Vulvalard's reconstruction of the sinister, junksick East Bay vibe that Filth, Neurosis, Dead and Gone et al. smote me with way back in the day.
Members of: Tragedy.
How Trauma keeps it real: With song titles like "End of the World" and "Policy of War" and "Fall in Line" and "Era of Excess". By having virtually no online presence (Myspace almost doesn't count at this point) to speak of. By releasing a demo in 2009 and then falling silent, recording-wise, as far as I can tell. By trimming the fat from crust and hardcore and paring tunes down to minute-long displays of pure pissed-off aggression. By making me want to shave my head and work construction and drink beer behind a dumpster after I get off work. By being called Trauma.
Members of: Aus Rotten, Annihilation Time, Submachine, Caustic Christ.
How Ratface keeps it real: Again with an awesomely stupid band name. It's a name that tells me these guys would probably steal my toilet paper and eat the banana peels out of my compost bin if I let them crash at my place. It is also a name that evokes images of some action movie villain circa 1987, a henchman named "Ratface" with a safety pin through his nose and a bright red mohawk bisecting his thick skull. But enough about names. I've only heard Ratface's six-song demo from 2010, which seems to have been recorded live to a boombox by a pack of stray punk dogs whose owners took them to so many shows at ABC No Rio that they (the dogs) managed to learn how to play raw, blown-out punk that sounds like Discharge throwing up into a trash can. It's really fucking good.
Lebenden Toten plays at the Know on Friday, March 23 with Nu-kle-ar Blast Suntan, Frenzy and DJ Skell. 8pm. Cover. 21+.
Vulvalard plays at a location you can find out about using the internet on Friday, March 23 with Raw Nerves and Bellicose Minds. 8pm. $5. All ages.
Ratface plays at the Know on Saturday, March 24 with Trauma, Terokal and DJ Smooth Hopperator. 8pm. Cover. 21+.
Ratface plays again at Slabtown on Monday, March 26 with Ripper, Bi-Marks and Peroxide. 9pm. $5. 21+.