By: ALex Mendoza
Punk’s origins were no accident. In the mid ‘70s what was classified as “Rock ‘n Roll” music was stamped on tame, mainstream-friendly acts such as Billy Joel and Simon & Garfunkel – the entire definition of a once loud and rebellious form of music eschewed by the softer musings of musically competent groups that severely lacked the edge that once represented the genre of Rock ‘n Roll.
A particular sub-culture of listeners was alienated as a result, as there were no desires for a fine-tempered product amongst a particular set of younger, estranged crowd; just the desire for something unapologetic, brash, raw, powerful and above all else: honest.
Such music had yet to manifest – the charts dominated by the likes of Disco and hippies promoting their anti-establishment, free peace values. The balance was shifting to say the least, until groups such as The Stooges and The Kinks were experimenting with the sound that would eventually become what is known as Punk.
But whereas the issues in the ‘70s dealt with the lack of something that catered to a musically exiled audience, what was once deemed as pure and honest has undergone a series of dramatic shifts; most of which have been wholly rejected at large by Punk purists. The Pop punk antics of the industry have become commonplace, relegating those bands who are still loyal the traditions of the genre as the underground sub sect far beneath the radar.
Blink-182 and Sum 41 are the supposed messengers of the genre, which once belonged to musical ambassadors such as The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols; the iconic legends that delivered the pyrokinetic velocity of Punk to a wider audience. Its power could not be refuted, even by those who were still attuned to the likes of ABBA, The Bee Gees or whatever other artist/group came to mind. The completely gritty, unpolished nature of Punk was its primary allure; the idea of dabbling with something completely volatile and destructive was invigorating.
Thankfully, history has a way of repeating itself. This time it arrives in the form of the New York City Punk band, Cerebral Ballzy.
Now we’re all fully aware that New York is infamous for housing a plethora of “new” bands looking to break through the saturation of acts hoping to reinvent the wheel. But opposed to acts such as The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs , Interpol and Vampire Weekend – fans of which tend to be a haughtier, uppity social circle, Cerebral Ballzy’s musical exploits are a return to Punk form; the bombastic fusion of ear-piercing volumes, propulsive drum set rhythms and furious guitar riffs utilized to full effect.
Untamed and unpredictable – the perfect bedfellows of the genre.
“We’re not looking to do something new,” lead singer Honor Mason explains. “We’re just trying to do something cool. We all have our particular interests. We all have the bands we’ve grown up listening to. The ones we like. All of those experiences make up who we are. But at the same time we’re just trying to make music we can all enjoy. That’s what it’s about.”
Cerebral Ballzy’s music is wonderfully nostalgic of the turbo-charged Punk sound of the ‘80s – transfixed on a rush of adrenaline and mercilessly assaulting the listener’s senses. The title of their songs border on a slightly immature kitsch, but such is the spirit is about adhering to whatever comes to mind. Not a single inhibition – regardless of how “silly”, and with song titles like “Skate All Day” and “Underage Drink Forever”, you’ll immediately identify that these guys have fun with the music they create.
The creative process is far from a chore and this unrestrained sense of energy is resonating with an ever-growing audience of fans emerging from the woodwork – along with a few big names. Among them – Rick Rubin – who has been spotted at a few shows from time to time checking out the group and their enjoyable live shows. Picture the cramped rooms of small bars, or the musty basements filled to the brim with people eager to experience something wholly genuine. Nothing is judged on the merit of showmanship, or musical proficiency, but rather a form of self-expression.
“Punk is about doing what you want. You look at our name and there’s meaning behind it. There are a lot of inner thoughts in all of us and our music about acknowledging that part of ourselves. We’re trying to relate to the inner-city kids, and of course it’s also a play on words. We’re trying to relate to what they’re thinking, because all of our music is charged by personal experience.“
The shows are comparable to a bomb exploding in the midst of a crowd, unleashing a frenzy that threatens to shake the very foundations of any facility brave enough to house the Punk brigade. Each of them absorbed in the moment and the crowd reacts with the unabashed energy and response that heralds the arrival of something of sound importance. To the fans this is just more than just music. It’s an escape – one that Cerebral Ballzy is all too willing to provide.
“America doesn’t get it, you know?” Honor reflects upon the state of music in America, as well as in the Punk industry. “There’s so much boring, monotonous shit out there. Whatever happened to something being different? That’s what I’m wondering. People don’t seem to be concerned with that, and it’s not the main thing we focus on.
“But that’s definitely why we strive to be different. And going on tour in the UK and seeing a lot of new people – not just the same age groups – but old people and young people is nice. It shows us that this music is an art form. It’s a big part of who we are, and growing up in New York helped shape our sound and what we’ve come to like and dislike. But touring has been a great tool in showing all types of people what this genre is capable of. It’s more than just noise.”
Even with the manner upon which they conduct themselves, or playfully respond with some senseless banter tossed in between to lighten the mood, the group is attuned to the idea of constantly having fun with whatever comes their way. This spirit clearly runs through the music – a misleading collection of riffs and vocals that sound as if the band were on their improvisational “A” game, hit record and simply went to town in the booth.
So even amidst the cacophony of sound, there is rarely a sense of disconnection. The group manages to maintain the listener’s position in the eye of the storm. In most instances one would be more than eager to depart. Yet therein lays the group’s primary strength: the twisted charm that comes into the play the moment discomfort rears its head – an ever-expanding musical miasma that will envelop anyone that stands in its captivating, destructive path.
So rest easy. Punk is safe after all.