Not once but twice, on two separate radio shows within the last couple weeks a show host made reference to almighty Void. If that ain't serendipity nudging your esteemed Papa Punk off the sofa and back to posting with a sharp kick, I don't know what is.
It all started innocently enough with an excellent Lost Weekend show block that included Bullets In Mind by Ignition. That alone was enough to grab my attention. The show host went on to sprinkle in some personal stories about the songs he had just regaled us with, adding this gem of a note when he got to Ignition:
"I have to say I'm honored to know Chris Bald who played bass in that band [Ignition] and Faith before that ... "
The wonk in me can't help but squeeze in this tiny correction ...
... but excusable slip notwithstanding, that Faith name-dropping was just dandy by me as The Faith are well-known among members of the punk cognoscenti as one of the best if lesser-known of the early DC hardcore bands on the Dischord label.
That I never got a chance to see Faith live was always a grave disappointment to me, but when Ignition formed it felt like a second chance. Granted Ignition featured only 2 of the members of Faith, but even still I liked to think if I scrunched my eyes just so I could imagine that it really was the Faith, with a more mature but tad less potent sound.
That's not at all meant as a knock on Ignition - I totally dug them. While naturally getting lumped together with the Revolution Summer / DC emo bands, Ignition didn't neatly fit that mold as they struck me as a little more brooding, with a sound and presence not quite as cuddly and approachable as their peers. As a proud card-carrying introvert, that suited me just fine.
The Faith similarly flew under the radar, overshadowed by fellow early DC hardcore bands like Minor Threat (though it's worth noting that it was Alec Mackaye who supplied the iconic bald head on the cover of the eponymous Minor Threat record). But holy fuck did Faith deliver one of the great Dischord releases of all time in Subject to Change. To my ears, the wax on the Ivor side might contain the best four consecutive tracks in the Dischord catalog.
Some would posit that the sound driving Rites of Spring was a natural progression of the sonic direction taken by Faith circa Subject to Change. Listening to those grooves today, the melodic bass lines and upper registers ringing from the 2nd guitar (Eddie Janney not content to simply double down on the same power chords the whole time) - I hear nothing to challenge that theory.
Here's what my good buddy Thurston Moore had to say about Faith.
[Then] the Faith came out; they were firing on all cylinders. They were amazing. Thing that was remarkable for me what that they were much more physical than I expected. A lot of hardcore bands were physical, but usually the singer would run around and the rest of the band would act sort of militaristic. But Chris Bald, the bass player, he blew my mind. He was constantly jumping in the air, standing up on top of his bass amp, jumping off of it. Alec was doing the same thing. They were just completely losing it the entire time. It was theatrical, in a way, but it wasn't like they were doing a shtick. They were just detonating on stage. I was so impressed by it.
I remember being on the sidewalk hanging out, thinking about how great it was. And I mentioned this to Alec, but he doesn't seem to remember it anymore, but there was a heap of garbage bags next to this light post and he just sort of came out and stumbled over to these garbage bags and just puked his guts out, just vomiting on this garbage. It wasn't, like, from playing or anything. I think he had the flu. But I just felt like, 'Wow. This guy just played the most intense set as a singer, and now he was just, like, super-grossed-out vomiting on this garbage in New York.' That was kind of my first impression of them.
– Thurston Moore from the Dischord web site
All this is a long way to establish the fact that I was and still am an unabashed fan of The Faith. To borrow words from the current loudest-mouthed DC resident - "There's no bigger fan of The Faith than me, believe me". And to further validate that claim, I not-so-humbly submit my Subject to Change blue vinyl as exhibit A. Consider it my trump card.
Ivor so sexy in blue
But let's go back to that Lost Weekend radio show, and pick up where the show host left off as he finished by throwing down a bold statement indeed:
I have to say I'm honored to know Chris Bald who played bass in that band [Ignition] and Faith before that - which to tell a personal story yet again - was always my favorite side of the legendary Faith/Void split 12".
[Sound of record scratching]. "Pure heresy!" is my retort.
The Faith side of that split LP definitely brings the goods, it even offers a nice peek into what Faith would eventually become, even while mining fairly meat and potatoes Dischord sounds.
In particular, that closing track In the Black, with its initial back-masking (maybe a Void influence? or perhaps subliminal messaging a la the Beatles, suggesting "Straight edge is dead" when played backwards?) serves as a harbinger of that promising new sonic direction cited earlier while also bridging to the band's roots with chords that vaguely bring to mind S.O.A.'s Public Defender.
But that Void side takes it to a different level. When you drop the needle on that Void side and get gobsmacked with the first bent notes, the heavy guitar riff, then the frantic pace and manic vocals, all while absorbing the accompanying artwork with all manner of demonic looking images - it blows up your world. I mean it took me until about the third song to catch up to the mayhem and make out some song structure.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHY AM I HERE??!!
that is how you open a mind-altering record
Don't get me wrong. Faith is what you listened to for that old-time Dischord aggro, but I found myself coming back to the Void side, it was so explosive and disjointed and blew away all preconceived notions of what punk was supposed to sound like and present itself as.
disturbing imagery? check
That's what I loved about the Faith/Void record; it had this dialogue on it. [On one side] there's this real staunch perfection of this uniform idea of D.C. hardcore and then you flip it over and there's this whole other bewildering, outside of the margins band. It was such a great relationship between those two ideas. – Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth
Bewildering is a great way to describe early impressions of that Void side.
I'm so fucking filled with hate
I just need to decapitate
Just for kicks I need to kill
Everybody's got to get their thrills
– Void, Time to Die
The chorus? "Time to die you're next!"
The hell? Not exactly covering the typical angst-riddled, teenage rebel punk tropes.
Here's the song Think which captures the urgency and looseness in all its chaotic glory. It feels like they're a half-beat away from veering out of control heading into that break in the middle.
You'll get what, what you deserve ...
It came to pass during my youth that rumors of a Void show made the rounds - I want to say at the Wilson Center but I'm not entirely sure of that. Naturally I can't recall what other bands were set to join them. I remember they were the big draw, because by that point Void shows were super rare. Maybe they always were fairly rare, given these guys were hailing from way the fuck out in Columbia, MD. [Trust me, dear reader, yours truly is certainly not throwing stones in this regard].
Is it possible GI played, too? Or some other local bands, like similarly metal-tinged (and criminally underrated) Malefice?
I will add that it's not outside the realm of possibility that Iron Cross could have been on the bill, too - which would have made it doubly eventful, as Iron Cross likewise played infrequently those days.
Be that as it may, I just remember when Void came on it wasn't a terribly big crowd, as their set might've been super delayed and I vaguely recall that there may have been some drama around whether they would play at all. I think there might have been some heavy static that evening, which was sort of de rigueur for that time of DC punk shows.
(Which also explains my faint suspicion that maybe Iron Cross was scheduled to play as well, because if there indeed had been some agitating then let's just say Iron Cross fanboys - mostly skinhead types - were kind of notorious for that kind of thing.)
In any event, when Void finally got ready to start, they made quite an impression on me.
I remember John the singer with regular hair, a t-shirt and jeans and white high-top basketball shoes - I'm thinking laces untied - like some jock from my high school. This was the kid who decried "Organized Sports" in the song with the same name? He of the "Condensed flesh, bubbling with heat" poetic imagery?
Then there was Bubba - a tall and skinny kid with some kind of sleeveless metal band t-shirt, like maybe Motley Crue, and was that eye liner?
The rest of the guys in the band were nondescript - pretty regular looking dudes in a hall full of anything but regular.
Allow me this small digression to exercise a little explanation of my naive, admittedly shallow state of mind when it came to punk categorizations at this stage of my punkdom. This was when I was first getting into the DC scene, and my first experience with it was that you had to dress or act a certain way to get accepted, there were certain tribal mores that should be adhered to. And us being fresh suburban kids from Northern Virginia, we had to be careful not to look too much the part or there might be some bad shit visited upon us.
I recall seasoned older punk rockers - you know, maybe 20 years old - in the scene sizing up my group of friends as we headed towards a show entrance and sort of giving us a collective nod of approval as we passed muster. I could hear someone calling out the various stripes of my group like birders barking out the sightings - "one liberty mohawk, one spikey, one skin, this one's got a COC silk-screen safety-pinned to his leather jacket, ...". Our presentation having satisfied this panel of judges, we were free to roll on unbothered.
And here, in this prized punk event, the featured band milled about, getting set up for their set, and shockingly looked so not punk rock it made me almost do a double take. (Yes, I had a lot to learn about definitions of what was punk).
But once Void was ready, did they ever unleash that raw and unholy sound and it was madness - it had a disorienting effect on everyone, band included. Not so unlike the split LP, you couldn't make out some of the songs for the first 15 seconds, it was all boiling and seething.
Then suddenly in between songs as the band was just getting started, someone somewhere drew a knife. Now I readily allow that I should remember something like that better than I do - I don't remember if it happened in the pit, in the back, and moreover can't even recall what triggered it, whether it was a punk or someone off the streets. I just know a knife was pulled and the show was done. Just like that.
I mean it was kind of Void all over: a short burst of the most frenetic, discombobulated music, interrupted by this knife - and then nothing. Unpredictable. Bewildering.
I think Void broke up shortly thereafter and I never got a chance to witness their brand of chaos live again. Perhaps it was for the best.
The second reference to Void by XRAY.fm was on the Big City Radio show hosted by an old ex-DC punk Shawn Swagerty who definitely has the requisite punk rock bona fides befitting my kind of indie radio show. Take a gander at this recent playlist - smack dab in the middle of it, Void Who Are You? Not exactly radio-friendly fare, that song.
Swags riffed a little about a listener texting him on the topic of Void and it went a little something like this:
Hey, who's he calling old?!