At the end of this lengthy intro you’ll find an enthusiastic review of the first release from Wellington, New Zealand punks Stress Ghetto. The band’s debut is definitely on the raw side of the equation, and it’s definitely a lot of fun, and Stress Ghetto got me thinking about my own relationship/obsession with harsh music.
I’m no fresh-faced whippersnapper. But I see plenty of other people my age still madly in love with ultra-noisy music. I often wonder if it’s simply the 24/7 multi-platform accessibility of music nowadays that means it’s far easier for my generation to hang on in there. But, whatever the case, I’ve yet to wake up and desire bland or watered-down tunes.
In fact, I’m constantly searching for wonderfully horrible music, and maybe that’s because the first music I ever truly loved sounded like shit.
I mean, it wasn’t shit shit, as such. But the first music I fell in love with certainly resided on the acid-in-ya-earhole end of the sonic spectrum.
Of course, this was all a very long time ago. Back when underground recordings were generally caustic and crude by default. The punk and metal bands I liked recorded crappy demo tapes on boomboxes, and someone told me if I placed a tape-trading ad in the back of Maximum Rocknroll I could hear a lot more.
I did that, and for a short time I swapped a pile of great/shitty sounding music. Mind you, placing that ad also meant I ended up receiving a mountain of very candid polaroids and communiqués from lonely prison inmates, which was certainly an eye-opening experience for a terminally shy suburban kid.
I traded cassettes that were often made by bands who hired shonky 4-track recorders to capture their first frantic recordings. Sometimes those bands booked a day or two in a studio to record an entire album’s worth of material. But it wasn’t uncommon for the people overseeing those recordings to have literally no fucking idea how to record a punk or metal band.
Looking back, it’s clear that I grew to love those rough-as-guts recordings because that’s all there was to love — at least in the spheres of music I was exploring. Soon enough, though, recording techniques grew increasingly sophisticated and the punk and extreme metal bands I enjoyed started making bigger and beefier albums.
A lot of the time, that worked out just fine for all involved. Bands finally had the opportunity to record albums that sounded as huge as they’d always hoped/imagined. And fans got to enjoy a heap of genuinely classic releases too.
That said, increased sophistication also brought increased clarity, and that certainly highlighted a fair amount of lackluster songwriting and instrumental ineptitude.
Over the years, my appreciation for high-fidelity hijinks hasn’t increased much. But I’m definitely not a lo-fi snob. I enjoy polished music, and some music is obviously suited to a far slicker sheen. But my earliest encounters with the harshest music around has left me with an abiding love of cruder recordings.
I fully admit that love includes a hefty helping of very forgiving nostalgia, and I’m definitely not one of those who’ll tell you that things were better back in the day. I don’t think that every garbage-sounding recording is an automatic slam dunk either. And my affection for rougher recordings isn’t solely based on how strident a band’s sound is.
The energy that rawer recordings capture is what holds the most fascination for me. Those recordings don’t feel safe or anodyne, and that feels more direct. Obviously, bands can now record virtually anywhere, at any time, which means there are more urgent recordings being released than ever before. I like that. A lot. But there are also times when shit clearly has more shine.
Some bands clearly indulge in faux lo-fi pursuits because raw recordings are affected by trends and popular whims like any other form of music. Some days it’s hip to profess a love of rough-edged releases. But I don’t waste my time worrying about the artistic currency of raw music. And, at my age, the only ‘hip’ I’m really concerned about is the one I might accidentally break if I take a too-strenuous dump.
I don’t care what’s in vogue. I just like raw music because I think it captures something honest. Even if the music in question is made by dastardly villains (and I hope it is).
At this point in my life, most things are slowly disappearing: see my hair, my waistline, and any employment prospects I once had. But my love of acidic music is ever-present. I’m as drawn to red-raw recordings as much as I ever was. And I’ll always grant a band or label a measure of respect for grabbing the rough-as-fuck reigns and just putting it out there.
In that vein, I was thrilled to see a fresh New Zealand cassette label, Razored Raw, spring into action recently. The Wellington-based DIY label (founded by Matt from ultra-raw and ultra-nihilistic punxs Life is Hate) aims to make tapes, organise shows, and record roughneck punk bands in their, well… rawest state.
All of that sounds like great news to me. I’ve got plenty of love in my heart for DIY diehards. And Wellington labels like Zero Style, Limbless Music, and Always Never Fun have done similar things with great success.
Below is that promised review of Razored Raw’s first release: the debut from trio Stress Ghetto. To be honest, it pretty much sums up everything I’ve talked about above — aka it ticks all the boxes on the raw, raucous, and riotous fun scale.
Long may our ears bleed.
What I like most about bleeding-raw recordings is their energy, and the self-titled debut from Wellington trio Stress Ghetto has got truckloads of that. The band’s first recording isn’t about composure or coherence, and it doesn’t take a considered approach. Stress Ghetto is all about the unfiltered and unhinged oomph, and the release’s seven breakneck songs duly fly by in as many minutes.
Stress Ghetto smashes deranged/frenzied hardcore into powerviolence. It’s all a whirlwind head-smash mish-mash. You know, like Japanese berserker punk getting kicked in the teeth by NYHC. Or Siege giving Anti Cimex and Discharge a hiding. That sort of thing.
I’m interested in impact and intent more than influences. And Stress Ghetto certainly isn’t made for in-depth critical analysis. There’s no fancy baubles to examine here, and there’s no need to unpack how X band inspired Y band who went on to inform the racket that Stress Ghetto make on debut. Every song starts with some witty TV dialogue that’s quickly trampled by Mitch’s whirlwind bass and vocals, Pete’s razorwire guitar and vocals, and Bosun’s foot-to-floor drumming.
Recorded entirely live at Wellington’s Toi Pōneke Arts Centre, Stress Ghetto rips along at turbo-speed pace, and if you’re looking for polished or poppy punk, this isn’t the recording for you. For everyone else though, Stress Ghetto is a total fucking blast –– both metaphorically and sonically. I can’t wait to hear what label Razored Raw has in store next.
Stress Ghetto is available digitally, and cassettes will be up for sale very soon.