2016 is the year everyone decided to step it up. Sound and Fury rolled out to the Regent, Beach Goth bounced to Oaks Canyon Park, Desert Daze doubled down to the Institute of Mental Physics, and the fest that I attended this past weekend, Berserktown 3 raided and shut down the Teragram Ballroom.
I see every festival like it’s a good friend trying to impose their music on you with a mixtape of a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of but Berserktown is the best one of those friends that knows all the right bands to show any punk with (dis)tasteful sensibility. The lineup is handpicked with acts that are hard to see anywhere in the world, all of completely different genres. Where else can I see Parisian Oi, Mexican darkwave, death rock from Nuke York, experimental noise out of England, punk rock legends from Belgium, and Sweden’s Brainbombs all in one weekend? With so much range, creativity and originality spewing out of Berserktown, I couldn’t help but wonder if some future genius was standing somewhere in the Teragram, getting inspired by this display of all the different ways humans make art through music. This weekend is a monster David Bowie created.
Berserktown is punk rock but if you roll up wearing a Misfits shirt you feel kind of lame compared to the true gutter butter, derelict punk pirates sporting anarcho font crudely tattooed on their chests and safety pins protruding out their cheeks. Yes, this is about punk before it was co-opted by the music industry. I sense that one of my favorite bands of all time, Crass, is partly responsible for Berserktown’s aesthetics.
Outside of the venue, on the fringes of the black hole of black lung smokers, you’ll find bodies sprawled out on the concrete ready for chalk outlines, gnar-dogs publicly drinking out of crumpled up PBR tall boys, and plenty of weed to bogart around. It’s nihilism, lawlessness, and anarchy all wrapped up onto one fat lineup announcement poster. When you go to Berserktown, you realize there are people from every walk of life that are into this crazy shit including beautiful women, ugly dudes, ugly women, and beautiful losers; all of them berserkers.
“My love for you is like a truck, Berserker! Would you like some making fuck, Berserker!”
“Rose-budding” is when someone gets pumped up the bum so hard that their butt falls out of their ass… or maybe it’s the other way around, anyway, after 3 days of the festival, I felt like Berserktown 3 had “rose-budded” my ears.
Berserktown hosted multiple events around L.A. prior to the festival, two of which I attended. Psychic TV live-scoring an experimental film called In the Shadow of the Sun and a Death Traitors art show for Alexander Heir at punk/death rock gallery Lethal Amounts next to the Teragram. Both were amazing and I recommend following Death Traitors on Instagram.
On day 1, I arrived to a smelly gathering of sado-anarchists that can’t possibly exist during the day time. The aesthetics of these punks are some hybrid of English anarcho, German cinema, Russian futurism, and American street life. They had a certain European grisliness to their facial features, probably because plenty were Europeans. People traveled to this festival from every corner of the world. I walked into Moog city where Mueran Hermanos (Die Humans!) were playing. They’re two Argentineans from Berlin that play electronic punk that oozes dark and brooding with head busting synth and bass. I sensed myself feeling more psychopathic with each beat. Next Xeno + Oaklander, a synthpop, glitter darkwave trio, made us dance the night away into the dystopian future. The audience was getting into the groove, ready to bust out their most dangerous dance moves for English glitch DJ and producer Powell. Using glitch, fuzz, distortion, and noise Powell crafts a new kind of dance music that your body cannot deny. If the stone that the builder refused became the head cornerstone then these were the sounds that the producer dragged into the recycling bin.
While the headliner Psychic TV was setting up, comedian Neil Hamburger strolled out from behind the curtain to tranquilize the anxious crowd, telling hilariously terrible and tasteless jokes in between spilling his drinks on himself and swallowing his own loogies.
“Which one of you sold the bad drugs that killed the lead singer of Blind Melon?”
And so forth….
Psychic TV is the band Genesis P-Orridge’s started after Throbbing Gristle (the first industrial band). Psychic TV is not industrial though, it is beautiful, sweeping, gentle, experimental folk, I guess. Using synths, violins, and every worldly instrument at their disposal they played their debut album Force the Hand of Chance and brought a tenderness and passion to the night that was lacking in the previous bands. At one point they were joined on stage by comedian Margaret Cho to sing Stolen Kisses.
The message of Force the Hand of Chance is a powerful one: You must psychically align your inner self to find the peace that will empower you to capture every opportunity for happiness when it comes your way. The band shamanically invoked this mantra and for a moment I felt like I was seeing The Doors. My night ended seeing Russell Haswell’s set. It was just Russell on the big stage without even the luxury of a table, kneeling over his equipment and working with a jungle of wires to experiment with noise. Having seen so much of the same ol’ rock this year, it was so refreshing to experience something so vastly different.
Day 2’s lineup had a greater emphasis on punk rock with Belgium’s The Kids headlining. The first band I saw was Rixe, a skinhead Oi! band all the way from Paris. Their heavy hitting punk rock summoned up a decent slam dancing session and let the crowd pick up a sweat for Gorilla Angreb. Gorilla Angreb is a hardcore band from Copenhagen with one of the best vocalists I’ve ever seen, Mai Sydendal. The band broke up in 2007 but reunited for Berserktown, a draw that led many Danish people to fly all the way to L.A. to see them. Mai kicked, punched, danced and hopscotched her way through a hardcore set with plenty of pop to dance to and heaviness to bounce to.
The Kids are a straight forward, balls out, fun time, true punk rock band all the way from bloody, bloody Belgium. They’re a rarity to see live and everyone’s hopes and anxieties for their set were rewarded with one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. They even covered The Beatles’ Polythene Pam. The Kids are cut from the same cloth as the Ramones were. Just pure punk about being poor, wanting girls, fuck the cops, and having the time of your life with your friends. All of these feelings blasted through the speakers over simple songs that are never over thought. This is what punk was meant to be at its conception. So many bands have tried to push the boundaries of this style that they’ve almost forgotten how punk’s supposed to make you feel. The Kids didn’t make me want to go out and start tomorrow pursuing new goals like a hardcore band or take on the government like a anarcho band, The Kids made me happy living the life I have. It’s punk rock for the moment. You dance, you sweat, you love everyone around you and you realize you’ll make it if you can just have rock and roll.
Day 3 of Berserktown lived up to the festival’s name. Shit hit the fan right off the bat. Those that witnessed Anasazi’s set will not forget it anytime soon. Many people can now tell their friends “Anasazi is the craziest live band I’ve ever seen”. What happened turned some people off and others on to Berserktown and made this small band that you’ve probably never heard of leave an impression on everyone present. Anasazi made me have to ask myself if lawless violence was true punk or just true stupidity… or both.
So here’s what happened, different people have different accounts but all of them were crazy, this is mine. Chi, the lead singer of this awesome death rock band out of Nuke York called Anasazi lost his mic in the audience, so the band’s set got cut off by the sound guy. Frustrated and using the punk side of his brain, Chi, who’s like a mutant crossbreed of Rozz Williams and Jaguar Paw from Apacalypto, threw chairs and speakers into the audience, destroying them. He then whipped out his biker chain and started twirling it around then destroyed the house drum kit. It was pure chaos and I wondered if somewhere in Africa a swarm of butterflies spontaneously dropped dead.
It didn’t end there though, an employee of the Teragram came on stage to confront Chi and was met with Chi’s fist then the entire staff of the Teragram refused to work and called off the show. It was a festival mutiny of the highest order. Everyone in attendance was kicked out and the festival’s organizers announced that Union Nightclub would host the rest of the bands. The lineup was now all jumbled up and Destruction Unit was projected to close the night at 1am… YEAH RIGHT!
This was the beginning of the best shit show all year. I cruised over to Union Nightclub, which I think is an incredibly underrated venue, and chilled until La Misma, an all female punk band took the stage. They put on a powerful, passionate, and real set. Next were post punkers, Shopping. They had a cool stomping vibe over punchy guitars and felt in-tune with an indie rock palette. Then after being plagued by a disastrous setup that pushed all the bands back an hour, avant-garde noise outfit Consumer Electronics took the stage and assaulted us with debasing, nihilistic volume. The people that didn’t wear ear plugs for this clearly did not give a fuck about their hearing. Consumer Electronics are a man and woman ranting confrontational verses to the audience over splashes of noise. From sex offenders, to trannies, to revolution, the band sobered everyone up with their lyrics.
New York hardcore punk band Warthog was next and became one of the highlights of my evening. They belted out straight forward hardcore that reminded me of greats like Minor Threat and Negative Approach but could also jam on their instruments with a rock and metal edge. I can see this band climbing the ladder to the top rung of the modern hardcore scene.
Next was the night’s spiritual headliner, Swedish noise rockers Brainbombs in their first North American show ever. Their lovely sound consists of crusty walls of guitar, bass and drums that bounce and swagger to perfectly suit biker boots cruising down concrete, minimalist vocals singing all sorts of vulgarities, and an irreverent trumpet to top it all off like broken glass on a cupcake. This is the kind of band I imagine Mike Patton would love. Although there was some criticism over the venue’s poor mixing of the show, I was completely spellbound by their sound. This music could toughen you up and prepare you to hold your own in the gnarliest sector of the gnarliest city on the gnarliest night.
It was now Monday, about 1am and there were three more bands to go. Belgrado, a post punk, darkwave band from Spain who are the spiritual children to the following act, Ana Curra from Peralisis Permanente, the creators of Spanish darkwave from Mexico, and then finally Arizona’s Destruction Unit. I wanted to see all these bands but I let my exhaustion and the square side of my brain take the wheel. Later I heard that both Belgrado and Ana Curra’s sets were cut short and Destruction Unit didn’t even end up playing. Sucks.
Ears ringing and innocence lost, I tried to regain some shred of humanity in my slumber that night. Now a few days later, I’m left with many thoughts and philosophical questions regarding Berserktown and punk in general. I will definitely be attending the festival next year, in fact I think I could live on a steady diet of Berserktown alone. That said, I think nihilism is intrinsic in Berserktown’s DNA. The sense that whatever way life and the world wanders doesn’t matter even if the whole shit house burns to the ground was in the air and followed me out the door once I left. I was asking myself whether or not it’s punk to be obnoxious, violent, and a fucking crazy asshole, and what does being punk mean to me, and whether or not asking what punk is should even fucking matter… but of course it fucking matters.
What being punk means to me is total freedom of the individual. I should be so free of every ideology and culture that as a Jew, I could feel comfortable winding up at a nazi skinhead concert and slam dancing without a moment of fear or regret. Instead I’d let them know my position by happily wiping my ass on one of their flags, leaving a Hitler moustache-like streak of poo. Being punk means being unafraid to be yourself among any kind of person, in any place. Berserktown is punk, Berserktown is raw, Berserktown is what music needs. See you next year!