Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RIP Schifosi

Possibly topping my list of regrets (at least as far as procrastination on fanzines goes) is the fact that this interview I did in 2004 with Melbourne's Schifosi was never published. I'm quite positive that Bart (bass) has never fully forgiven me. I did at least make a sad attempt at getting it out there by passing it on to Dan of Distort zine to try and curb the disappointment, but he never used it, probably due to its timely nature.

Four years later, however, I feel it serves as an interesting time capsule of that era. From Ashes Rise had become probably the first in a recent line of popular underground bands to attempt to straddle commercial success (signing to Jade Tree), while still having records available in milk crates at shows (licencing the vinyl to Havoc). Little did anyone realise at the time, but that From Ashes Rise record would go on to excite nobody, but Fucked Up would somehow manage all the commercial success FAR were probably trying for and more, and that Tragedy would carry on in the fashion in which we had all become accustomed to and continue to grow in popularity.

Captured also in this interview is a period of time in which the Australian DIY punk scene as a whole was undergoing a somewhat post-Crimethinc reality check. On the way out was the terrible poetry, hitch-hiking and interstate open relationships. On the way in was, at least from some people, sincere attempts to apply the less wishy-washy aspects of Crimethinc/anarchist/thereabouts theory to our lives. This is evidenced in the questions and responses about privilege. Also inadvertently captured is a much-less-world-weary me, before such rhetorical questions eternally revolving in my head sent me into the depths of depression; and before I would find myself uncomfortably positioned as mediator in any number of upsetting situations amongst our rag-tag scene of damaged people. Probably above all, this would be the factor that would drag the idealistic younger me out into the street and see to his brutal shooting.

My band Tear Gas played the last ever Schifosi show at Such Is Life in Melbourne a few weeks back, and while the cigarette smoke and Big Day Out crusty-juggler lighter waving """antics""" prevented me from being able to watch the bulk of their set, I listened from the next room and they absolutely killed. As an apology for only seeing part of the set, I felt only fitting requiem from me would be to finally air the that ancient interview. Here it is. I've included some photos (solely to break up the text a little) that I have absolutely no permission to use, but hey, they are from MySpace. So if it's cool to have Rupert Murdoch have control over them, it can't hurt to have some actual punks see them, right?

Who is in the band, what do they play, guiltiest musical pleasure?

: Schifosi is Tim (drums/vocals), Bart (bass/vocals), Kate (vocals), Tristan (guitar) and Jacquie (guitar). Bad records? I have to admit there is some Roxette and Madonna amongst my collection.

: My most wackest musical taste is probably The Cure or The Smiths.Tristan: Beach Boys or Elton John. I have no shame.

chifosi plays a really dark, melancholic style of hardcore. Lets face it, a lot of bands are doing the "dark" thing; its even filtered down into mainstream fashion. Do you think to a certain extent sad or angry music becomes a little contrived? Or do you really feel hopeless all the time,as comes across in the lyrics and music?

: Yes! Sad and angry music without passion(?) or maybe direction or purpose is both repetitious and contrived. However the type of hopelessness you are speaking of in the mainstream is deliberately dis-empowering, a sort of goth patheticness, to convince us all of the worthlessness of our pathetic little lives, and that out of that hopelessness the only release is conformity and a steady job. We don't deal in these falsehoods, as i'm sure you'd agree. We're not selling powerlessness. We are at times both musically and lyrically depressed but that is merely a response to the banality that is the life we are told to lead. And yes, we're angry just like you. But also like you we're trying to do something about it, you through the medium of this awesome zine and your band, and us through Schifosi. I feel hopeless alot and sometimes I just want the easy way out but dogged persistence is one of the foundations of anarcho-punk, and well i'm persisting muthafuckers.

Tristan: It is contrived depending on the motivations of those behind it. Some mainstream acts have identified a market in the average insecure/disaffected middle-class youth and been able to tap into and profit from them. Its therefore easy to conclude that what they do is nothing but contrived. You have to remember that many people who become involved in more underground punk/hc are similarly alienated as these more mainstream type fans, be it from a shit job, life on the dole, despair at the current state of the worlds affairs etc., yet unlike them create their own voices, through bands, zines etc., as opposed to just fuelling the profit motive of mainstream artists and labels. So in that sense no I dont see what we, our us as a movement, do as being contrived. That’s not to say though that it doesnt often become repetitious and lacking in impact. In our case I can only reassure you that it is not part of some ploy to flog you more of our crap.

Lyrically, a few recurring themes pop up, particularly those of fear and apathy as the world becomes swallowed up by greed and destroyed by power. One of the biggest criticisms I hear about punk bands is that they don’t offer any solutions along with "everything’s fucked". Do you have any solutions, or is the music just a vehicle to constructively vent your emotions? Also, are any of the members active in the community?

Bart: Maybe you can't find any positivity in out music Neil! How many times a day do we all find ourselves throwing up our hands and saying everything is fucked! And maybe it is, fuck it really feels like it at the moment: war across the globe, neo-liberal fascism rising like the Nazis. The list goes on. I don't have any solutions by myself, no-one does, and anyone that says they do is probably a fucking socialist. All i can do is talk to my community, family and all the beings I love and try to create spaces and ways of life free from the horror of our current situation. It sounds so fucking cheesy but that's all I got. We've all been involved, and are involved, in grassroots shit for quite a while, some of us with co-ops and autonomous spaces and anarchist bookshops and Food Not Bombs and I dunno I sound like a fuckin namedropper.

Again on the topic of lyrics, things such as patriarchy and privilege seem to get a fair workout, as well. From where I sit, "What’s Different" appears to be about privilege, and how easy it is to choose dissent when you are privileged. Am I correct in figuring this? As a white male, I think I am allowed more leeway in what’s considered acceptable when it comes to rejection of social norms, but I’m sure it would be different if my "kind" didn’t make the rules. So, how do you think that affects supposedly radical things, such as activism and the punk scene?

Bart: This is tuff shit man. What do you think? I dunno. Well I am a honky boy too and there's nothing I can do about it unfortunately. All I can do is look at the way I behave in every context, in my relationships with wimmin, people of colour, and learn from these interactions, learn to step away from the bullshit construct that is white maleism. Let's face it the only people that really get hyped about white men are fuckin white men, and the rest of the world has to put up with them jumping up and down bashing their chest all the time. White men have to get with the fact that history will judge them, sorry us, to be a right bunch of tossers. So there. As far as 'What's Different' goes Kate wrote that I think in response to a particular incident but my take is privilege or maybe living in a 1st world order is the obligation to ensure that the elite in our countries and their complete domination of the majority of the worlds people. Again how we choose to live and how we choose to spend our money has a great effect on the power the system has over us and the rest of the world, but i don't want to be preachin' to the converted. As far as patriarchy is concerned I feel pretty lost and I don't want to comment in isolation. I need to learn more about how i've been taught to act and think of myself like most men, sorry all men.

Kate: that’s kinda a hard question...yes, some of my lyrics are about patriarchy and privilege. its hard to say what would happen if roles were reversed; the world would be a different place. I guess it still doesn’t matter, regardless of who ´made the rules´ it would still suck having that sort of hierarchical crap. I can only relate it to my life and how I try to deal with it and counter act it. Specifically, my lyrics for ´what’s different´ were written in response to several interactions I had had with male friends within the punk scene. a group of people supposedly aware and trying to challenge these social norms but still cant recognise their own shortcomings, i guess its important for us all to try and see things from others perspectives. it goes both ways though, it is important for people to address these issues when they arise, let people know. ´what’s different´ is about my feelings of sometimes not being treated as equal as my male mates in the punk scene, by other males.

Jacquie: This is about 5 questions disguised as one Neil!! I guess I feel like not everyone is in a position to actually ‘choose’ dissent in their lives. By saying this I (think) I’m in agreement with you—that it is a very white/male notion in itself that we could all simply discard ‘alternative’ lifestyles at any point and just slot back into ‘mainstream’ culture. The reality is that ‘normal life’ is something constructed in a way to really only include a small portion of the population. So I guess I find it unsurprising (but still disappointing) that people who strive for other goals in life, and perhaps even seek to mend the damage caused by the crushing ideology of the modern west, still behave in ways that very much resemble the culture that we try to escape from. I suppose it is because I live in a time and place where most of us are conditioned to think in a certain way for at least 15 or so years, and the mentality can be hard (or even impossible) to overcome. When you think about it that way, it really is no shock that sexism, racism, homophobia and all sorts of crap infiltrates punk rock. In the long run though, I feel that punk(s) have opened my eyes to a bunch of cool stuff in the world, to new ways of thinking and living… perhaps even to the alternatives that punk culture is criticised for not offering? Who knows… apologies for all the brackets and quotation marks mate!

The LP looks and sounds awesome. It must have cost a shitload! I have noticed a current trend of bands getting really swish recordings and having extravagant packaging these days, which is awesome, but I feel that its sort of spelling an end to what I consider to be the DIY ethic of the idea is more important than the execution. Any thoughts on this? Any wacky stories of raising money to pay for the record?

Bart: Thanks, it did! Do you think the packaging is extravagent? We chose to use recycled packaging cause anything else is not punk rock as far as we're concerned. I don't think this compromises the DIY ethic in the least, infact it's important to try to do the best we can just to show what we're capable of. Idea and execution are one and the same aren't they? As far as cashola for the rekkid, millions of kisses forever to Aaron, Ruben, Sarah, Tom and Nikki who financed the rekkid. You guys are awesome! We couldn't have done it at all without yous! We're all too skint.

Tristan: Personally I think our sound calls for a more swish recording as you put it, for if we were to record using more primitive production techniques I think it would not be wholly representative of our sound. I do know that what we spent on recording was a fraction of what some of the more well known bands of the genre have paid in the past, and you do begin to question that. To me it is a matter of wanting to ensure that what you have created is worthy of having those considerable sums of money and resources spent on them.

I guess you guys would fit into the New Wave Of Melodic Crust sweeping the world, which I think has breathed a lot of life into what was pretty much a stale genre. Can you describe why this style has blown up all over the world, and why more people are looking outside the US for musical influence? Also, with From Ashes Rise being on Jade Tree these days, do you live in fear that the money makers are going to scour the "cutting edge" and clone a watered down version to move units?

Kate: I think this sort of music has gotten so big because it is from the US. although a lot of these bands get their influence from outside the US, it is the states that make these bands big. that is why people are looking outside the US for influence, and why say bands like gauze, disclose, totalitar, who have been round for years, are experiencing a resurgence of popularity. Bart: Crust has always been stale! Smell my pants for fucks sake! And it's never died it's just an eternally evolving amoeba that turns kids into garbage eating tree huggers who don't wash much. You mean finally alot of U.S bands are finally looking outside the U.S for influence? I'm not scared of the majors trying to cash in because really that'sall it will be. Crust in its purest form simply cannot be tamed by the mainstream because its very nature and the 'lifestyle' that comes with it is directly in opposition to the system. If the mainstream all of a sudden starts binscabbing and squatting and reject the idiotic values that make it the mainstream isn't that what we're trying to do? A nation of drunk squatters? Sounds fucking awesome to me! Oh and by the way I think the new From Ashes is lame anyway. Fuck all majors. Tristan: I think the term blown up all over the world maybe a little sensational. To take the first Tragedy album, to my knowledge it has not even sold half as many copies as the Aus Rotten Fuck Nazi Sympathy 7, and its not like you saw the money makers beating down their door, so I just don’t see that as being realistic at all. They already have pseudo-hardcore bands signed to their subsidiaries serving a similar purpose anyway. As for From Ashes Rise signing to a large indie, it is a far cry from seeing major label A&R people hanging out in dodgy squats in Europe looking for the hot new act.

So far theres been a 7", a split 7" and an LP, so I assume there are at least a few record geeks in the band. Top 5s? Also, vinyl purism outdated and ridiculously out of hand, or the most fun you can have without illicit substances?

Bart: Ok yes we are pretty much all record junkies. My top 5 at the moment? Misery - Who's the Fool? / Neurosis - Sun That Never Sets - Souls at Zero (can't decide) / Anti-Cimex - Raped Ass / Victims of a Bombraid / His Hero Is Gone - Monuments to Thieves / Motorhead - Iron Fist / Amebix (number 1) - No Sanctuary, Arise and Monolith. That's a bastard of a question.

Kate: there is no possible way i could narrow my favourites down to a top five¨: at this point in time i´m obsessed about: kylesa, paintbox, genocide ss, inepsy, assualt, at the gates (still), johnny cash, consume, neurosis, aesop rock, victims...the list goes on...

Jacquie: I’d have to say that discordance axis, abc weapons, tragedy, team dresch, kylesa, curse ov dialect, agents of abhorrence, sleater-kinney, and straightjacket have been in my stez most often lately. There’s been a few tapes come out in Melbourne lately— hopefully will see more?

Tristan: Top 5 all time is too hard so heres some new(ish) stuff i've been enjoying lately:Skitkids - Onna for Pleasure 12", Fucked Up - Baiting the Public 7", Harum Scarum - The Last Light 12", No Hope For The Kids - all Forward - Burn Down the Corrupted Justice cd Vinyl still rules but in an age where releasing a cd is less than a quarter of the price and materials you do start to question the viability of it.

With a lot of the artwork and packaging, theres a lot of unbleached cardboard and pictures of trees and nature and so on. Whats all that about, a reminder about the environment? I think this is all too important, and its about time we started hunting down people who waste resources putting out mediocre CDs and zines with conservative ideas in them. What do you reckon?

Bart: With us in particular or do you mean with everyone? Trees are the foundation of life - check it! So trees rule. I also get annoyed by the complete waste of resources so many records are. It's not cool to create something as pollutant and long lasting as vinyl if you're not going to use it to its extreme. This shit exists for hundreds, if not thousands, of years so doing one-sided spoken word 12" is very, very wak. Oh and pro-life vegan hardcore zines with all that Earth Crisis bullshit will be punishable by death.Fill us in about some worthy stuff going on in Melbourne. Also, if Melbourne was Degrassi Junior High, which character would Schifosi play and why?

Kate: there´s heaps of worthy shit happening in melbourne, come and check it out! if i´d been anyone from degrassi, i´d be liz...she is tuff.
Bart: Come to Melbourne and find out for yourself. If I could be anyone on Degrassi I would be Spike cos then i'd be good looking, or Joey cos i'd be cool. I always wanted to be cool.
Jacquie: Y’know the sad thing is I’ve actually already had a similar discussion with a bunch of people (on a road trip) about re-casting degrassi high with people we knew in Melbourne… I probably shouldn’t be publicly admitting that should I? Oh well- I think everyone in that conversation agreed that I’d be Melanie because she’s a happy fella, yet awkward/geeky type. And once she tipped a milkshake on Kathleen’s head. That ruled. There’s always something happening in Melbourne. The trouble is it’s usually all on the same night… Worthy mentions for me include the last Far Left Limit shows (especially at the Pink Palace) and the recent collapse gig (esp. Straightjacket and ABC Weapons!).

Fast moneys over, thanks for playing. What will tonights contestants be going home with? Words from your sponsors?

Jacquie: Thanks for being so patient with this interview Neil. I’m sorry it took so long!

Bart: Thanks for a lovely interview, Neil you're a smart cookie. Once again thank you to Tom and Nick (Apppliances and Cars), Sarah (Broken Rain) and Aaron and Ruben (Endless Blockades) for being awesome and promoting Australian punk and hardcore so tirelessly. Stay tuned for a new Schifosi 7" coming out real soon!

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