By John Villegas
From an outsider’s perspective, this mid-sized city may not look like much. It’s a former steel town going through an identity crisis. It’s an old city, difficult to navigate, full of haphazardly-laid streets, many of them one-way, weaving through and over steep hills. Pittsburgh lacks the enduring stylishness of New York, or the relative mass-production of bands Philadelphia offers. It’s seemingly another artless shit hole with some okay bands, and more whose set you’d rather blow off to drink in an alley. But don’t bother waiting for Pittsburgh to start producing good bands – it has already happened. If you haven’t realized this yet, it’s time that you open your eyes.
EEL – Photo: Christine To
You have probably already heard of EEL (or at least seen pictures). Boasting ex-members of ANNIHILATION TIME, RATFACE, ICON GALLERY, SICKOIDS and a slew of others, this band is the hype they’ve been made out to be. These maniac-noise-laden pogo bozos play rough, and if their recent LP hasn’t won you over, their new record will let you know they aren’t another one trick pony.
EEL – Photo: Christine To
Guitar player Bryan and drummer Kevin (Happy Birthday) also make up half of Tilley-fronted peace punk band ZEIGEIST, also with Ian of CRUCIAL UNIT. They’ve released a couple of tapes, a 7″ and an LP, but they always seem to take the winter off.
Bryan and second EEL guitar player Eric also play in BLOOD PRESSURE, together with HEARTLESS alumni Tom and Adam. They play fast, 80’s-style hardcore with no solos, no slowed-down mosh parts, and no time to catch your breath. Their demo-turned-7” is killer, and a receives heavy rotation on my turntable.
Blood Pressure – Photo: Em Demarco
Adam and Tom also play together with ex-Heartless guitarist Rick in NO TIME. A hybrid of oi and melodic hardcore, NO TIME is catchy without being cheesy. They recently just got back from a European tour with Braddock (just outside Pittsburgh) Straight Edge band HOUNDS OF HATE. HOUNDS are a spattering of imports, including Jay of NATURAL LAW and CREEM and Dave of R.A.M.B.O. and PISSED JEANS. Their new LP, Hate Springs Eternal is easily their best material since their demo. With poignant riffs and crucial breakdowns, they have set themselves aside from what has come to be expected from sXe hardcore, and excelled.
No Time – Photos: Em Demarco
The bassist of EEL, Luke, also sings in the hardcore punk outfit DRUG LUST. DRUG LUST shares Dave, Chris and John (drums, bass, and guitar, respectively) with weirdcore/noise rock group RADIUM GIRLS, who are fronted by ex-MASOCHRIST singer Emily.
Aside from DRUG LUST, Luke and John both play in Krystyna-fronted LIEBESTOD (not to be confused with the Jesse of Hoax group), who actually sound as foreign as the name implies. A definite crasher crust-meets-noisecore element makes for a sonic discordance that is pushed to the limits, especially live.
The rhythm section of LIEBESTOD are brothers Craig and Sean, who also play in MOWER. Speed-fueled and with no shyness about their love of MOTÖRHEAD, MOWER play the kind of d-beat-soaked rock ‘n’ roll that you don’t hear often enough.
Mower – Photo: Christine To
MOWER recently added bass player Greg from long standing neo-crust band WRATH COBRA (who Sean now plays drums for as well). WRATH COBRA have gone through about as many lineup changes as years they have been together, but I believe their most current incarnation may be their strongest to date. Greg also runs COBRA CABANA RECORDS, which has put out records for a slew of Pittsburgh bands and also books a good number shows, including the occasional one in his basement – a type of thing which is unfortunately an increasingly rare occurrence in our city. Along with MOWER, a newer band called TWIIN TOWERS feature brothers in their band as well. They play stripped-down hardcore punk that has a definite metal influence, and perfectly stupid vocals about getting drunk.
Guitar player Rob also plays in KNIFE, whose first tape had a lot of TRAGEDY-core parts, but was not defined by it. Their new tape is really killer punk that is all over the place and shows that they are willing to branch out to new sounds without compromising their hardcore punk roots.
Newly three-piece BA’AD TRIP play a sort of ultra-speed garage punk that has to be seen to understand. The recordings are all solely the work of singer/guitarist Justin, but they truly come alive in person. Hooks upon surf-y hooks on top of pounding punk has me reeling and wanting more.
Justin also plays drums in the peace punk/death rock group SILENCE. OH SHIT THEY’RE GOING TO KILL US singer Dusty provides vocals which are a departure from his former thrash band, but blend well with their soundscape of effective bass lines and guitar leads.
Silence – Photo: Em Demarco
Members of RATFACE and DO CRIMES have gone on to start a snotty fast hardcore band called FUCKING HEADACHE. The FUCKING HEADACHE demo just came out, and is as direct and forceful as their live show is.
Stoner rock meets hardcore band LANSBURY contain two parts of now defunct RED FOX, and definitely take their riffs to their most aggro conclusion. Their self released LP Everything Went Static is not shy of it’s love of TV, skate rock and Sabbath, and will have you coming back for repeated listens.
Since the demise of powerhouse weirdo punk band KIM PHUC, the former singer and bassist, Rob and Corey, have started THE SICKS. THE SICKS mark the musical reunion of Eric and Corey, who played together in AUS ROTTEN and CAUSTIC CHRIST, but The Sicks play music more in the vein of garage rock (think FLAMIN’ GROOVIES, not that ’00s resurgence bullshit) and their new 7″ single has awesome guitar parts that are simple but not stupid, and complement each other and the music perfectly alongside distinctively catchy bass lines, and an, of course, pleasurably frightening vocal performance.
Long standing band THE MUD CITY MANGLERS evoke many images of drunken nights at GOOSKI’S, clothes that smell like smoke, and pure rock ‘n’ roll… Rock ‘n’ roll so greasy and beer-soaked it’s actually more punk than most kids could even comprehend. You can tell they grew up on Detroit protopunk and tons of RAMONES.
Mud City Manglers – Photo: Christine To
Another band who have stood the test of time are SUBMACHINE, who have been playing together since 1990. They represent the quintessential Pittsburgh punk sound that was honed in the late ’80s and through the ’90s. Though they aren’t the youngest crew playing currently, they don’t lack any energy in the live setting or on their records. They recently released a new LP and split 7″ with Oakland’s KICKER. They blow through songs with speed and intensity, with blazing solos and minimal stoppage in between songs, a practice all punk bands should have. SUBMACHINE continues to be one of the better live bands playing in the city.
SUBMACHINE drummer Greg also plays in KILLER OF SHEEP. Greg and guitar player Oyo have been playing in bands together since the ’80s when they were in BATTERED CITIZENS together. KILLER OF SHEEP play fast hardcore punk that touches on metal at times, setting a perfect base over which singer Ollie screams of the inequality that continues to plague our troubled society. You may think this is a tired formula, but they do it with a fury that is resoundingly challenging and can’t be faked.
Killer of Sheep – Photos: Em Demarco
Other bands like PURGE, PRAY FOR TEETH, SHADOWS, SWINGERS CLUB, DEAD ON THE STREETS, SIX SPEED KILL, LADY BEAST, THE GOTOBEDS, NIGHT VAPOR, EDHOUCULI, RABID PIGS, MERE PHANTOMS, and SECRET TOMBS (et cetera) play in Pittsburgh with many of the aforementioned bands and deserve their own kind words, but for the sake of keeping this a slightly more tolerable length, we are going to shift focus.
Currently in a sort of slump is the much-missed presence of house show venues in the city. COBRA CABANA nearly stands alone, however recently there have been a handful of shows in the basement of an apartment building called the DOLL HOUSE and a house just outside of the city called THE SICKHOUSE. In years past, houses like 3030 and HELTER SHELTER served as venues multiple days a week, as well as practice spaces for more than a handful of bands, however they have all either been evicted or simply stopped hosting shows. While THE SHOP and MR ROBOTO PROJECT are both all-ages venues, they both have as many or more cons than they do pros. With a shortage of easy to promote all-ages spaces, most of the shows have been happening at bars, GOOSKI’S and THE ROCK ROOM serving as the main go-to spots. Both are located in Polish Hill, in the east side of the city, have back rooms that accommodate bands and have strong, cheap drinks. During the warmer months of the year, it is not uncommon to have generator shows at multiple outside locations, a practice which has been accepted as a temporary answer to a more long-term problem. But if not in d.i.y. houses and show spaces, where will the next line of punks incubate? The MR ROBOTO PROJECT seems the most likely of places, and its previous locations surely were. However, ROBOTO’s newest incarnation appears to be less a service to punk and hardcore and more to indie and that more poppy sub-genres. Though a certain stigma surrounds the venue, I hope it can and will be accepting of a scummier scene, and the scene more accepting of it as well.
MIND CURE RECORDS, located in Polish Hill, serves as the city’s de facto punk record store. Run by neighborhood resident Mikey Seamans, this is the place where you will find all the newest releases of modern punk and metal bands, as well as tons of awesome used records and crucial reissues. Aside from being the go-to store for local and traveling punks, MIND CURE also doubles as a record label. Focusing mostly on local acts, there are the occasional splits featuring non-Pittsburgh bands. Realizing the importance of past Pittsburgh punk bands, MIND CURE recently reissued LPs for BATTERED CITIZENS, SAVAGE AMUSED and REAL ENEMY, three bands from the ’80s who helped solidify punk and hardcore in the city of Pittsburgh. Seamans seems intent on preserving the history of punk in Pittsburgh while helping the scene expand in any way he can, whether it be through releasing records, carrying local bands’ records, flooding the internet with video profiles, and so on. Housed inside of MIND CURE is new punk store THRASH, which is run by Kystyna of LIEBESTOD and has clothing, patches, pins, bullet belts and pretty much any other accessory you could imagine, including a lot of custom pieces.
Of course, MIND CURE is not the only record store in the city. The biggest and perhaps most diverse is JERRY’S. JERRY’S RECORDS is what happens when a record store owner is consumed by his love of music (as seen on the tv show “Hoarders”) and is a place that could swallow up any shopper and spit you back out completely broke eight hours later.
EIDE’S ENTERTAINMENT is a two level store that has a large record selection with plenty of punk, rock, metal, indie, etc. and a serious collection of rare BEATLES records.
While Pittsburgh is a constantly changing city, and appears to be welcoming an era of renewal, I can’t help but wonder what the future will hold for its inhabitants. Rent is only getting more expensive, houses hosting shows usually get shut down quickly after they start, and whole neighborhoods are falling victim to gentrification. Is this anything new, though? Are we not able to evolve alongside it? Surely this working class city’s tough dwellers will not be deterred, and more than likely you will be meeting them soon enough when one of their bands rolls through your town.