By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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Leftist politics, despite its role in the gestation and development of punk rock, holds virtually no demographic within the record-buying public today (discounting the homeless crusties who sport Refuse & Resist tee shirts and listen to decades-old Crass records). The kids wanna hear artists emote; they want them to bleed out the horror of their latest love lost or rage against the machinery that broke their heart.
The (Young) Pioneers, a threesome from Richmond, Virginia, with a new LP, Free the (Young) Pioneers Now!, out on Lookout Records, either weren't aware of this diametric apathy or just don't care. Either way, the band is finding out the hard way that the kids are more inclined to listen to songs about crushed hearts than songs about unions and labor pools.
Communist imagery abounds in the (Young) Pioneers' records and artwork, which leads to the obvious assumption that the boys are pushing pinko propaganda through their sonic polemics; this is not the case. Front man Adam Payson explains, from a gas station somewhere between Baltimore and Philadelphia, that he finds the imagery compelling, "but I don't consider myself a communist. I think there's some major flaws with most communist philosophy. First of all, I think it deals too much in economics; it has nothing personal; and most of it's too authoritarian, and has no regard for the environment or animal rights."
So why present yourself as a Stalinist when your politics actually oppose such dogma? Simply put, it's reactive advertising. Payson explains, "I think because we've gone so far in the other direction--the whole world has, but especially because the United States pushed it that way, and all the companies that are based out of the United States have pushed it that way--it's so far in the other direction of extreme reactionary capitalism that the only way to make an understandable statement against capitalism, like American society in 1998, is to say something completely contrary.
"It doesn't mean that I adhere to the dogma or that I wish I could live in the Soviet Union in the '30s. It just means that it's not a good thing if, like, the state telephone company of Puerto Rico is bought out by U.S. companies, and stuff like that. Because it's immediately gonna affect your quality of life in a negative way."
While the band took its name from the 1950s commie youth groups of the Eastern bloc, it also shares its moniker with a 1976 Western movie, which the Pioneers find appropriate. "I didn't know there was a Western called that, but I appreciate the fact that the name gives off a feel of Americana even though the original place that we got the name from is Stalinist Russia," says Payson.
Ultimately, though, all the aforementioned political discourse is off the point. The (Young) Pioneers are a band, and one that possesses more than nominal talent. Payson spent part of his formative years in the seminal politi-hard-core outfit Born Against; but the Pioneers' music bears little resemblance to the frantic terrorism that Born Against exuded. "I think for myself, it would be unbecoming of a guy who's gonna be 30 in like four weeks, it would be silly to do the same thing as Born Against, y'know. I think straightforward punk and hard-core is pretty irrelevant now; it's an anachronism."
Instead, the (Young) Pioneers turn out revved-up, guitar-fueled '60s-style songs augmented with a distinctly American tinge provided by harmonicas and hand claps, overplayed with Payson's effusive and abrasive vocals. The contrast between the homegrown sounds and political sentiments is compelling--an effective vehicle for conveying the idea that rebelling against derogatory elements of your culture does not divorce you from it; and that being political doesn't negate being musical.
"If you wanna talk about a bomb attack by some stupid government, you don't have to sound like Discharge, y'know. I think it would be cool if you had some really sweet, syrupy groups out there that were singing about something that mattered. Like wouldn't it be cool if Whitney Houston or Brandy or anybody who can carry a tune would add some content to their music?" Very cool indeed . . . but I still don't think I'd listen to Whitney Houston.
Unfortunately, in spite of the (Young) Pioneers' stores of talent and well-conceived politics, the band must face the fact that the youth of today revel in self-absorption.
"[The band] is really just about futility, man," Payson says. "We play the same town 10 times, and less people come out every time. I don't know what this band is about anymore; it's fucking ridiculous how futile the whole affair is. We're certainly not getting our message out to a lot of people. I like playing loud music with my friends; and there is an element, a huge element, of satisfying your own ego. Who knows what the hell the reason we're doing this band is? It's a waste of the Earth's resources, gas and vinyl and paper and everything."
But such frustration aside, the (Young) Pioneers continue on, and, whether the kids listen or not, the reality is that the band has answered its call to action and succeeded idealistically and aesthetically, if not demographically. Either that or, as Payson adds, "maybe it's because my ego is desperate enough to continue it."