Common People: Life, how it’s lived, how it came to be, how it’s controlled and what, if anything, happens when it ends, are some of the themes found on records by Fucked Up. The tunes are enough for a lot of people, but for others, there’s a whole world of things to explore in the lyrical metaphors, artwork, and messages, website links, interviews and maybe in the music itself.
I first read about them in 2008, in a review for “Chemistry of Common Life”. Vinyl was a thing of the past at this point in my life and I’d accumulated 100’s of CDs , mainly based on reading music reviews. Most of the CDs were good enough for a few listens, before going on the shelf, never to be played again. Some struck more of a chord and I go back to them, but “Chemistry” was a game changer.
|'Nude Guy' |
Most surfers blend back in to the crowd, but others are more difficult to assimilate. The crowd presented this fine young specimen as a gift to the band.
Material Girl: When it arrived (courtesy of indie distro Amazon), I was intrigued by the grainy band photos and the hippy artwork and once I’d got over the shock of being shouted at, I loved the music too… the rush of the opening track; the flute notes rising like a strange thing coming to life, the organic sound blending with electric feedback that arrives out of nowhere, the two combining and increasing to a point that’s just getting uncomfortable when the guitar kicks in, its rhythm weaves around the feedback and after a few bars or whatever, another layer of guitar, then another, then several more, ascending and expanding and then swirling dizzily around one another, working to a frenzy and then that mad animal roar, which isn’t Damian, but comes from the same source and then the percussion kicks in and the song begins:
Father, father, come see what I've built, Made civilization out of the Nile silt, Built your monuments out of my brother's bones, Exalted your words in flesh-bound tomes...
The band used Pro Tools to ‘build’ the music out of recorded sounds, maybe like how dance music is produced, so it’s complex but rhythmic, but this feels human rather than machine made; the rhythm is natural and you hear fingertips sliding on guitar strings and pressing on frets.
Good Vibrations: The process by which sound is perceived, is a whole lot stranger than the basic mechanics indicated by inner-ear diagrams vaguely remembered from biology lessons at school; the following quote:
…detecting vibrations, changes in the pressure of the surrounding medium through time.
Is from Wikipedia, but it might have come from Buddha. We detect some of the vibrations as they enter our body and sometimes, if they’re the right kind, they change the way we feel.
Chemistry is just a word we use to describe what occurs, when subtle changes in your mind make energy from common lives…
Depending on what it is and how you relate to it, music can have effects that might be stimulant, hypnotic, relaxant or psychedelic. OK ,maybe not psychedelic as in eating your own face, or seeing music coming out of speakers and reshaping the surface of the surrounding space, but psychedelic as in the etymology:
derived from the Ancient Greek words psuchē (breath, soul, life, mind) and dēloun ("to make manifest, to reveal"), translating to "mind-revealing".
It sometimes happens when driving, your mind goes into a state that’s maybe semi-meditative, like when you’re going along and realise you’ve been on auto-pilot and can’t remember the last half hour of the journey; you’re awake and conscious (ideally) and you’ve been driving safely, but part of your mind is focused on the music; on a good day they seem to blend in a strange union that’s sublime.
The funny thing with the Fucked Up version of this experience is just when you’re about to head off with the fairies, Damian’s voice sometimes snaps you back to the present moment and other times it becomes just another layer of sound from which emerge snippets of information that shape malleable minds.
|Damian shouting at me (and some other people).|
How the Site Came Together: “Chemistry of Common Life” was a random CD purchase in 2008 and I began following the band with some interest... By 2012 I was obsessed and ended up doing what any middle-aged twit undergoing a personality/existential crisis would do nowadays; I went to gigs, collected lots of records and wrote a blog.
I’d developed the habit of obsessively checking the bands site “Looking For Gold”. This was something guitarist Mike Haliechuk used to update regularly and for a long while it was the band’s only web presence, it’s still there and has nearly nine years’ worth of information, (and misinformation) covering the period from when they had just moved on from releasing mostly 7”s and were starting doing longer songs, with more occult themes.
I was minded of a dire warning about the occult given in Religious Education class at school, it was something to do with interest turning to obsession as part of the four stages of demon possession. Just one of those things learnt as a kid that hangs unchallenged in the back of the mind. Later in life, that supernatural stuff seemed like nonsense, but I was left with a mistrust of Ouija boards and pentagons and a warning sensation popped up when I began reading up on some of this. On balance though, demon possession seemed worth the risk to find out how hermeticism fitted in with the more traditional punk content and how they’d gone from referencing the Spanish Civil war and other ‘Struggles Against the State’ to seemingly pointless esoterica.
Reading up on this stuff was quite a lot to take on and I found putting the information in order, and making it into a post helped make sense of things. I’d also been in contact with other record collectors and found there were other people obsessively collecting Fucked Up records and it was a chance to see their stuff, or at least look at images of it.
What it Contains: The blog started off as an illustrated discography, it’s a combination of ‘scum stats’ and notes about the artwork and information about the associated themes and concepts. Recently I’ve been using it as a kind of scrap book, to put together images and quotes related to things I find, which seem to fit in directly, or indirectly. There’s a related site which collects various interviews with the band and I’m also in the process of adding discographies for some of the other bands that FU members are, or were involved in.
The Aims of the Site: Partly the aim was simply to make sense of the different variants and partly it was to begin expanding on the themes indicated by the different releases.
Alchemy is one such theme that appears fairly early on, maybe first in “Baiting The Public”, and obviously in “Looking For Gold”, but there are regular references later. Reading up on the esoteric side of alchemy confirms some of the references but leaves you wondering why they’re being used in the first place… In the original article I try and explain this and end up missing the point. I just tried again and failed, so will leave it for now and get on with…
Meeting the Band: At some point, I realised that DIY wasn’t just about putting up shelves and decided what the world really needed was some kind of blog, with lots of pictures of Fucked Up records. Before doing it, I thought I’d best check with the band.
I’d met some of them at shows. Actually I mostly walked past without speaking, having found this to be an improvement on the first few shows, where I’d gushed out something incoherent to whoever was on the merch table; it was mostly embarrassing and I resolved not to do it thereafter and managed pretty well for a couple of years.
So, I wasn’t sure how to go about approaching them on this, but then an opportunity arose. It involved a message on the “Looking For Gold” site. Damian suffers from anxiety and was looking for help to get a herbal remedy he’d recently found to be effective. The message didn’t say this though and it took a chat at a London show to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t help so just gushed out something incoherent about how much I like Fucked Up. I didn’t get as far as talking discographies.
|Me, when I had longer hair and an even greater sense of confusion than now, wondering what to say to Damian|
Damian seemed a little distressed on stage and so, afterwards, I decided I wanted to help and thought I probably could. I considered it for a minute or two: Should I get involved in this? Was it the right thing to do? Could the time be afforded to go to two shows in 3 days? But it was one of those things (having fun) that need to be done and so arrangements were made.
It almost wasn’t fun, I hadn’t allowed for the time delays that happen when you arrange to meet someone, somewhere to buy something. I’d planned to get to Tunbridge for mid-afternoon, but by 5pm, after waiting around for four hours I was still empty handed; it didn’t look like it was going to happen and I sent a message to Tunbridge saying I’d been let down. I was too disappointed to go to the show and was heading home, when at the last possible moment, everything fell into place and I was on my way. After a pleasant journey, I was in the tour van with Damian and Jonah. In that relaxed setting I managed not to gush out incoherent compliments and was able to enjoy the slightly surreal experience of them talking enthusiastically and nonstop, mostly about obscure punk bands. I was out of my depth, my knowledge went as far as some of the bands that had toured or played with Fucked Up. Jonah linked some of the bands I’d been into as a kid with punk trivia and also asked me about punk bands that where local to Ipswich, I vaguely remembered The Stupids and Extreme Noise Terror, being things I’d not paid much attention to as a kid, but realised I didn’t actually know if there were any current bands.
It felt good to help, but even better to just be there. The whole evening was fantastic, the show was great and the locals were friendly, I ended up on someone’s shoulders bashing into someone on someone else’s shoulders. I’m too old for that shit and it felt like I might fall to my death at any moment, but knowing this meant I was alive.
Unfortunately the discography, printed on three sheets of A1 paper, stayed in the car, so in the end I emailed Mike Haliechuk to ask if it was ok to put it online. He said yes. Maybe I should have done that to begin with.
Fucked Up continues to be a learning experience; along with all the listening and reading, I’ve also learned there are indeed some great local bands. On that academic note, I’ll finish with the final words of all school English Essays that run out of steam: Then I woke up.