Hardcore Band, Refused, Reuniting for Coachella, but Who Actually Cares?
Though I somewhat regret this, I feel that the only possible way to begin this article is with a series of disclaimers that, with a bit of luck, will result in an engaging lead. The first is this: I desperately want you to read this article. The narcissistic part of my writer's soul feels that this could be the most important thing I've ever written, and that probably includes papers for class, applications to schools, and drunken texts. I, like, want you to listen to this band. Badly. The second item is also a bit annoying of me to include: I don't have a Coachella ticket. It's hard for me to place my faith in a music festival a full year in advance and ever more difficult to obtain a three-day pass after the lineup is announced. And boy, do I regret that now.
The third item that I want to say is this, and oh God what a pretentious jerk I am for saying it: the best band at Coachella this year is one you have never heard of, and, given my three-point-five years of experience with musical taste at the Claremont Colleges, it's one that you're not going to like.
In fact, you're going to hate them. But, nonetheless, this article continues.
And the band, the one I am trying to talk about, they probably wouldn't care if you kept reading, in spite of any disclaimers. The band is called REFUSED. They are from Scandinavia. They play hardcore punk music. They last played a live show together in 1998, when you were still learning how to write cursive. They only had three records, all coming in the early-to-mid-90s. Their last album was recorded mere months before the band, like, broke up. What, exactly, one could reasonably ask, is hardcore punk? Let me explain this way: the band's last days were documented in a film named after a song on the final record, lovingly titled "Refused are F**kin' Dead," and that song, boisterous as it may be titled, was followed-up on. The band, at the time of their disintegration, sent out press releases ordering newspapers to burn (like, actual fire, this was before the 21st century, remember) all existing albums, photos, and articles about them, and to pretend as though they never existed. This was, it is absolutely vital to note, less than three months after recording their final album, entitled, "The Shape of Punk to Come."
Okay, one second here for good measure. Let's talk about punk music for just a moment. Sometime in the late 1990s, this "fantastic" thing happened wherein major record labels (the very same ones who are supporting SOPA, by the way) realized that punk music could make them money. And so they signed "pop-punk" bands. Here we go, you've heard of this, right? Like Blink-182, like Green Day, like, um, I can't think of another. But this was going on in the mid-90s. And believe it or not, this whole "making money" part of "pop-punk" was, well, not at all what punk music was about.
Sure, there were punk bands that had successful followings, maybe some you've even listened to, like Dropkick Murphys or NOFX or Flogging Molly. But, well, punk music by its very nature is AGAINST that whole making-money thing. Depending on who you ask, The Ramones may or may not be the first-ever punk band. Regardless of "first-ness," Johnny Ramone did something pretty ridiculous with his simple power-chords: he destroyed the era of guitar-solo-worshipping classic rock like AC/DC, Led Zepplin, Hendrix, and Van Halen. Maybe he didn't want to play that kind of music. The more likely story is that he simply wasn't good enough at guitar.
And that, essentially, is what Punk is about. Destroying things, subverting conventional music, being, well, pissed-off about the status-quo. And in 1998, when "The Shape of Punk to Come," one of the greatest albums ever made, was released, that very status-quo was poppy, three-chord, sing-along punk. And REFUSED demolished it.
Another moment, and a deep breath for good measure, along with a quick plea to bear with me. And in addition to that plea, being the kind of pseudo-intellectual-quasi-fanboy I am with this band, I want to ask you a question: back before the TV series, did you ever watch the movie "Friday Night Lights?" Well guess what: you've already heard REFUSED, then. This scene, for just a moment, plays this song, entitled "New Noise." It is the centerpiece of the album. If you are still with me on this whole thing, follow this link on these words right here, and watch this entire thing, listen to the song. It will be okay, it's not that long, but just, like, please do it.
I'll wait, don't worry. I'll be right here.
Let's talk about that song for a second. What on earth is going on? In five minutes, we get a sports-anthem caliber introduction, an electronic dance interlude, screaming vocals, dramatic-ish spoken word, synthesized/sampled crowd cheering, and finally and outro of the phrase, "the new beat" screamed well after the rest of the band is done playing. Is this even punk? The answer, if the album's title is any indication, is "probably not." Though in the realm of hardcore music, such a statement may as well be damning. Few kinds of music devote themselves to consuming and all-important taxonomies as those with screamed vocals.
The outcome of Refused's album, at least for the band, was catastrophic. The quartet engaged in a brief tour that ripped them apart, disbanding via aforementioned militaristic press release, moving onto other projects, some abandoning music, yet all, in interviews given years after the dissolution, giving a pretty definitive statement: the record was bad. Or at least not good. But something strange happened: just about everyone else in punk music completely disagreed. A few years after its release, a host of "hardcore" bands, many of them spawning the "emo hardcore" branch of things, invaded Myspace and cited Refused as a huge influence. They were covered by everyone from Paramore to Anthrax to Crazytown to Between the Buried and Me.
Now, due to some perfect storm of events, Refused are playing Friday evening at this year's Coachella, getting billing just under The Black Keys and before The Shins. Is this real life? And furthermore, why would a band that began their magnum opus with a hearty "I've got a bone to pick with capitalism, and a few to break" reunite for one of the highest-grossing music festivals in the world? The answer came in a press release on the group's now-reactivated website: "We never did 'the shape of punk to come' justice back when it came out," the band says. "We wanna do it over, do it right, for the people who've kept the music alive through the years."
If I can find a ticket, I'll be front-center. And just maybe, "The New Beat" will return for good.