(extra sections now written in)
See Reasons to be Emo #50 and #100. This is the 140th post on Hardcore for Nerds, and also marks one year to the day of blogging on here (I started a few days previous on Steady Diet of Books, but it’s been on hiatus for a while) When I started, I had a small list of records I wanted to post, starting of course with the Han Shan 7". But Swing Kids wasn’t on that list, because it has to be the starting point, the origin, to this sort of music. It’s been covered multiple times in other blogs (see below) and the discography was the very first thing of original emo music that I heard.
Specifically, hardcore emo music. This is where I get up and wave my little Fourfa flag. Researching – to use the term fairly loosely – this and a few other posts recently, I saw some message boards with the fairly predictable kind of comments “yeah, Fourfa is okay but it’s wrong on a lot of [unmentioned] things” or “Fourfa, sure, but real emo is…”. They’re not actual quotes, and it is sort of a straw man argument – on both sides – but I’m inclined to give a lot more tolerance to what is one man’s concisely, humorously and sympathetically expressed view of the emo movement.
The Fourfa site was set up some years ago by a guy named Andy Radin, who played bass for a while with Funeral Diner, and its age in fact explains why it says little about what has been the modern emo (screamo) movement throughout most of the 00s, after bands such like Saetia or Orchid split up and were replaced by (obviously) Hot Cross, Ampere, Funeral Diner, Sinaloa, La Quiete, Raein, Daitro and the monumental creative arc of Japan’s Envy. But before that, between say 1985-2000, Fourfa does a pretty good overview and in some cases detailed analysis of the original genre and (gasp!) sub-genres. One of the latter is ‘hardcore emo’, which is quite obviously different from Rites of Spring, Embrace-type early emo (‘emocore’) and reasonably distinct from the quiet-to-loud, linearly dynamic ‘emo’ sound of Moss Icon, Native Nod or Indian Summer (the last somewhat less so). More chaotic, faster, often jazzier, mainly (though not exclusively) from the San Diego area, and dating from the early- to mid-90s, is ‘hardcore emo’, best exemplified by Swing Kids or Heroin.
Of course, that’s just my own attempt to put across a reasonably nuanced, not too rigid account of the genres as propagated across the web by Radin; there aren’t strict demarcations between them, and they are equally retrospective designations for influential bands as they were contemporary attempts to categorise an emerging sound. At bottom, they are just concepts. Concepts can be reassigned; they can be reimagined; they can be subverted; they can distort. Concepts are maya: the sooner one realises that, the sooner one can realise what a dog’s Buddha nature is.
Anyway, this is what Fourfa says about the Swing Kids, under the ‘Best Emo Records of all time…’ section which kept me occupied for several years:
“Hard to sum up in a few sentences. The first track on the 7" is still probably the best single example from this style, heavy and gut-wrenching yet brilliantly musical. In my opinion this was Justin Pearson (Struggle, Locust, etc) at his very finest”
That first track, ‘El Camino Car Crash’, is embedded above and, at 1:36 long, is probably the simplest and best introduction to the band and this style. It’s mostly impossible to hear the lyrics, though trust me that that’s the first line, “this intimate biography of shit, consisting of severed limbs, missing organs…” (you can check them all here). The only really audible part is the middle, “But. When. It. Settles. You. Will. Learn (that bullshit talks, that bullshit walks)”. It’s heavy, visceral stuff, but pulled off with such flair and musical honesty that it’s impossible not to like, assuming I suppose that you have a pre-existing tolerance for punk rock. ‘El Camino Car Crash’ drags and spins, turns in on itself and explodes in a fury that is still foot-tappingly (or body-slamming) rhythmic.
From there on in, Swing Kids – Discography is a beyond exhilarating, frenetic ride through punk rock at both its rawest and its most creatively proficient. Between the vicious, chaotic attack of guitars is a deep underlying rhythm and melody, momentary interludes of jazzy percussion and spin-on-the-head-of-a-coin balance. And between that, is a dark and wounded lyrical world, where the musical expression of sorrow and fury collide into generational narcissism and nihilism; “we’ve all been fucked up… sooner or later, we all die” (‘Line #1’). At the same time, it’s progressive; grim, but not without glimpses of clarity - “maybe it’s because we’re so incomplete” (‘Blue Note’).
Midway through the discography is one of the most interesting, musically and artistically, tracks on the record: a cover version of Joy Division’s ‘Warsaw’. Essentially a sped-up, aggressive but emotionally poignant version of the post-punk classic, it’s chorus “3-1-G” gave the name to the Swing Kids’ San Diego-based label, Three One G, which along with Gravity Records hosted the majority of the San Diego-core hardcore emo and post-punk bands. ‘Warsaw’ also leads into the only section of actual jazz on the disc, in the one-minute long intro to ‘Disease’. The original Swing Kids name came from the Swingjuden or ‘Swing Youth’, a counter-cultural movement of Nazi Germany, where most jazz was repressed as degenerate music. As a social and cultural expression of political opposition,
"The members of the Swing youth oppose today's Germany and its police, the Party and its policy, the Hitlerjugend, work and military service, and are opposed, or at least indifferent, to the ongoing war. They see the mechanisms of National Socialism as a "mass obligation". The greatest adventure of all times leaves them indifferent; much to the contrary, they long for everything that is not German, but English."
Swing Kids on eMusic
Swing Kids - Discography on Interpunk (links also in blog posts below)
A rather good Justin Pearson interview.
"An important time of progression for hardcore music were the 1990s, when several bands created new sounds and hardcore music changed fast and finally split up (once again…) in diverse scenes, from tough-guy-metal-bullshit to a innovative, political scene all around the world, which transformed the music into new spheres and kept the original punk spirit alive. One of the epicentre of this movement was San Diego, with the Swing Kids as one of their important bands. But not only outstanding for San Diego, Swing Kids created a whole new sound and brought the progressions of the last years to the point, Screamo (built up from the words scream and emotion) was born. Chaotic song structures, screamed vocals, melodic guitars - no one did it in this intensity before.
Swing Kids only released a debut 7inch and a split 10inch with Spanakorzo, 8 tracks (one a Joy Division cover version!) that took the world by storm (plus one previously unreleased song on the discography) and made an impressive mark in the little time that they existed. They broke up 1997, but the impact they left and the sound they pioneered & inspired can be heard in many bands until today.
Eric Allen, who committed suicide in 1998, played also with hardcore band Unbroken, other members later went on to acts such as The Locust, Some Girls, Sweep the Leg Johnny, Bread and Circuits and Yaphet Koto. If you are into hardcore you know how good all this bands were/are."
"The sound of San Diego Hardcore in the nineties was all over the place. Chaos reigned supreme, spastic drummers and schizophrenic guitars, usually mixed with impassioned vocals leading the charge. Typically before you knew it, the moment was gone and you were left standing trying to figure out exactly what happened.
This was a golden time in Hardcore, Swing Kids were a golden band. Sitting at the edge of the American Dream, they were fed up, they had something to say and by god they were going to say it.
As previously mentioned, during this period bands would be lucky to last more than a few years before they had burned out their initial rage and fell to the wayside. Swing Kids were no exception, only recording a 7" and a split 10" with Spanakorzo and donating one song to compilation before their fire burned out, but it's these nine songs, much like with bands such as Heroin and Indian Summer, that would help ignite a sound that would permeate all that would come after.
Sadly, Swing Kids split up and shortly thereafter, their guitarist Eric committed suicide, putting the official nail in the coffin of the Swing Kids legacy. Singer Justin Pearson went on to form Struggle and the widely well more known The Locust who still continue on to this day."
"Swing Kidswere an early 90's hardcore band from San Diego, CA. Being a hardcore band from San Diego at that time meant everything played was fast, jazzy and on the verge of total chaos, but with just the perfect measure of restraint and control. Just take a listen to bands such as Heroin, Drive Like Jehu, The Locust and you recognize it in an instant. Swing Kids had all of these ingredients and put them together just right to create a blazing fury of dynamic jazzed out punk. Screaming lunatic mad right off the rails. They are fast and unrelenting and smart about their approach. Skittering hi-hats and shredding vocal delivery and its over before you know it. Nothing wasted and everything put to good use. Every last buzzsaw guitar and even a great cover of Joy Division's "Warsaw" make this record one for punk history. Members went on to play in The Locust, Bread and Circuits and Sweep The Leg Johnny."
Zen and The Art of Face Punching [Archive for October '06]
"One of the great things about “hardcore emo” is that it is possible for an outstanding band of the genre to have a complete discography a little over twenty minutes long. Another great thing is that these furious, short songs combine chaos, melody and emotion together into the most exhilarating punk rock I’ve ever heard."
Emo á la Fourfa eMusic user list by gabbagabbahey
When I have more than a minute-and-a-half to spare, '43 Seconds’ (which is anything but) is my favourite Swing Kids song. At 4:25 long, it’s practically epic by Swing Kids standards – but not, it may be noted, by the standards of modern screamo bands – and most of this length stems from the ultra-quiet breakdown in the middle-to-end of the song. I’ve never seen anyone else write this, but I’m assuming the meaning of the song is a statistic of youth deaths or something along those lines:
“It's already been said by every god damn one.
They say it's only a statistic or something like that.
Just another kid on the beat, yeah.
But this doesn't even make sense.
Well that's just the point.”
The secret to this song – well, it’s a fairly obvious one – is the rolling bass line which it opens on, before the simple but frantic guitar is overlaid on top of it: a stuttering, tension-filled rhythm as “just another kid on the beat, yeah” reaches it’s emotion-filled crescendo, to drop down into first bass and drums, then rise back up again, then drop abruptly into a bass guitar solo; the silence broken only by increasingly slow bass notes and barely audible, swinging guitar counterpoint. When the song erupts for its final moments, it becomes all the more potent for the preceding quietness.
So it's not as lengthy or as diverse as the Hoover family tree, but the four members of Swing Kids also played and recorded in some other rather good bands.
Justin Pearson, of course, went on to the perhaps better or at least more widely known noise terrorism outfit The Locust. I saw them live here in Ireland last October in a memorably loud show at Whelans, with the notable Dublin metal/math-rock band Bats playing support. Pearson also played in several other Three One G bands such as The Crimson Curse, Some Girls, Holy Molar and Head Wound City, and the earlier political hardcore band Struggle. Naturally Swing Kids could themselves be described as political to some extent, but Struggle was more overtly so and also more traditionally a 'hardcore' band.
Eric Allen, as it has been mentioned here already, sadly died only a year after the break up of Swing Kids, but also played in Struggle as well as in the sxe group Unbroken. Jose Palafox also played in Struggle, Manumission, Mike Kirsch's group Bread and Circuits, and briefly for Yaphet Kotto.
Finally, John Brady was a member of Swing Kids contemporaries and sound-alikes Spanakorzo (they shared a split split EP, the Swing Kids side of which makes up a good deal of this discography.) Apparently Spanakorzo were much nicer people than Swing Kids. Brady then later went on to replace Matt Alicea as bassist for Sweep the Leg Johnny, the Karate Kid-inspired Chicago jazz/math-rock band that will quite possibly blow your mind. He joined them for their later two albums, the more aggressive and discordant Sto Cazzo! and the final Going Down Swingin' which added Mitch Cheney of like-minded math rock band Rumah Skagit as second guitarist/vocalist and also reprised songs from earlier albums. In addition, the original guitarist of Sweep the Leg, Chris Daly, played with Frederick Erskine (of Hoover/Abilene, if I even need to say that) in Just A Fire, whose sole album, 2003's Light Up, sounds like the missing link between Crownhate Ruin and the Boom. With some added dub/reggae.