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In the recent past, Mill Avenue in Tempe has been reserved for the aging jangle-pop bands of '90s yore, but things have started to turn. The relatively young noise-rock outfit Hotfoughtcold has joined the storied avenue's ranks -- and they're hauling their friends with them.
The year before HFC started gigging at Long Wong's, they mostly played parties at the "Farmer house" -- a substitute scene cohabited in part by bassist and singer Chad Knapp located just north of University Drive on Farmer Street. Knapp hangs a large, framed collage of old show fliers just inside the door of the "Farmer house" to welcome all visitors, an homage to his influences and a pictogram symbolizing the house's punk rock ethos. On the television sits a log sculpture, which incorporates neon lights and a Jonny Quest-like action figure. The piece is titled "The Guy Who Won't Leave." All of this was removed for the all-night performances, though, and Knapp's deep collection of vinyl, like most aficionados', would safely be secured in his bedroom.
Guitarist and vocalist Jeff Meininger describes how an evening at the "Farmer house" would get started: "I had this friend who worked at Tops Liquor and he could get three kegs for like 50 bucks," Meininger says. "We would charge three dollars or something to drink and then play all night." The "Farmer house" would host three or four bands during a shindig, one of which would often be a touring act. "I've got a picture of Lottie Collins [a Japanese punk band] playing in my living room to a packed house, and if you look closely at the photo you can see that the clock on the wall reads something like 2 a.m.," Knapp describes. His elderly neighbors, he points out, are hard of hearing, and a few sometimes enjoy the late-night muddled rock, rarely calling the cops.
"Some dude stripped naked, climbed on the roof, cleared the gap between our house and the neighbor's and started humping the chimney," Knapp remembers fondly of one "Farmer" party.
"Yeah, and no one even knew who he was," adds Meininger.
Meininger, Knapp, drummer Jeremy Iverson and guitarist Jeremy Arp gave most of the cash they collected at those parties to the touring bands, an instance of recurring generosity that belies the ever-present disaffection the band portrays. It's almost impossible to talk to HFC without them rattling off a litany of other local hard-rock bands -- Vin-Fiz, Rum Tenor, Bella, the Winners, the Levines -- they'd like to help play better venues.
Hotfoughtcold, in its charming fervor, started playing Wong's a few months ago. Wong's, of course, is a noted dive usually reserved for alt-rock, jangle-pop and Americana bands, including the Pistoleros and Dead Hot Workshop. Robin Wilson of the Tempe standard-bearers the Gin Blossoms plays happy hours there on Fridays. This may be an accomplished bunch, but they do not represent a hard-core haven.
"I don't know what it was -- maybe I have a good personality -- but I worked on Wong's for like a year before we got a gig there," Knapp says sarcastically. "We brought in a lot of friends, and they sold a lot of liquor. We wanted to start playing Mill so we could expose people to a different type of music. If people see us play, and they like it, maybe they'll want to catch a Minibosses show or something."
HFC is keenly aware of punk-rock tradition, which distinguishes them from their jangly peers. It's as easy to track most bands' rock lineage as it is to pick out a Boston accent in an Alabama barbershop, but what separates bands that have a true affinity for punk rock such as HFC -- not just a passing fancy reflected by a band's choice to play fast and loud -- is an attitudinal devotion to playing "original" music, music arrived at through audacious experimentation.
"I think we all admire experimental bands like the Liars," says Knapp, "but we all definitely have different tastes. Iverson is way into Pavement. That's actually where the name Hotfoughtcold came from, a Pavement album cover."
HFC released its first EP, Porrasturvat, early this year. Taking the title from an esoteric video game with the deceptively benign subtitle "Stair Dismount" (check it out, the disc captures the outfit's live power and imaginative melodies), HFC's brand of noise-rock dominates a venue like television's white noise dominates our everyday, filling its every cleft with tormented screams and deafening, hard-core progressions.
Live, Knapp and Meininger badger each other onstage with an incomprehensible volley of screeches, their voices acting more like cacophonous instruments than a harbinger of metaphor and lyricism. Meininger, à la the Lizard King, occasionally will turn his back on the audience. Knapp resembles a lanky version of Bert the Turtle from the famous '50s propaganda film Duck and Cover as he slouches and slaps his bass. Iverson thrashes away at his kit with a menacing grace and skill comparable to the spastic Keith Moon and the improvisational beauty of Ginger Baker. Arp malingers somewhere in no man's land, preferring to not call much attention to his skillful guitar phrases.