The election of Donald Trump came with many promises. One of these promises, in the eyes of punk rock fans, is that Trump’s victory would, at very least, be good for punk.
Whether that happened is debatable. While new punk rock bands are born, literally, every day, there hasn’t been the same type of proliferation of great, angry music as there was in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan was elected. Sure, in those days, punk was still relatively new and had not been “pasteurized” for mainstream consumption, but people were not nearly as angry about our president, in those days, as they are now.
A couple of bands that were angry back then are still very angry, and very active now. Canada’s Dayglo Abortions and Detroit’s Negative Approach are two of the standout acts from the early ’80s that still bring a passion, energy, and attitude to the stage today. For old and new punks alike, their combined presence in Scottsdale for a show at Pub Rock Live on July 11 is a chance to see if the promise of great punk rock in the Trump years will be achieved, even if the songs are not necessarily new.
In some ways, the two bands could not be more different. Dayglo Abortions, who started playing in 1979, come from a town in British Columbia, Victoria, that has about 10 percent of the population as Detroit, and about 1 percent of the problems the Motor City is known for, outside of a strong reputation as a mecca for panhandlers. In the almost 40 years Dayglo Abortions have existed, they have cranked out 11 albums and toured extensively when they’ve been allowed in the United States. For some years, there was no Dayglo Abortions shows south of the Canadian border due to difficulty getting a visa, but those days have changed.
Feed Us A Fetus (1985) is the best-known Dayglo Abortions record and, ironically, the cover features a picture of President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, a plate full of jelly beans, and some clever word play on the presidential seal. With songs like “Argh, Fuck, Kill” and “Bedtime Story” leading the way, Feed Us A Fetus is an absolute punk rock powerhouse of an album, blending elements of hardcore, punk, and metal in a way that has often been copied, but never matched. The record, as well as its controversial follow-up, Here Today, Guano Tomorrow (1987), is still as vibrant today as it was 33 years ago. At the time of Feed Us A Fetus, the band was a three-piece (although a second guitar player was added for the live show), and was led, as it still is, by Murray “The Cretin” Acton.
Acton, 58, is the only constant the Dayglos, as they are known by the fans, have enjoyed in their long career. Never shy about poking fun at the establishment, Acton has written multiple punk rock anthems bent on destroying, or at very least, laughing, at the powers that be. In “Wake Up America,” Acton sings: “Wake up America and feels good American and buy American and pledge your next car to be American / Oh what a bunch of shit / Nazi propaganda / Thanks to crap like that I’ve got a cruise missile in my backyard.”
These types of statements are sadly missing from contemporary punk rock, but Acton thinks he knows why.
“There have been divisions (created). You see the media is putting spins on things and everything like this. The typical groups that were very solid, they’re getting divided and pitched against each other now. You see the craziest stuff going on. I mean, it’s almost like the world has been turned upside-down in a way,” Acton says.
For Acton, taking on world leaders or just the subject of partying hard is all in good fun, typically, but when he assumes the role of a citizen of the world, he takes a sober tone.
“I’m watching the election and I’m going, ‘Okay, we are the leaders of the free world, and the best thing we come up with is an organ-harvesting monster and a narcissistic sociopath real estate agent. But surely, you know, I was thinking people would maybe notice that it might be something deeper than this,” Acton says.
Negative Approach, on the other hand, is a product of a grittier slice of North America. Hailing from Detroit, Negative Approach is led by original members John Brannon (also of Laughing Hyenas and Easy Action) on vocals and Chris “Opie” Moore on drums. They are joined by Harold Richardson (Easy Action) and Ron Sakowski (Easy Action/Necros/Laughing Hyenas) on guitar and bass, respectively, since the band reunited in 2006 after a 22-year hiatus. While not as outwardly political or humorous as Dayglo Abortions, there is an anger and energy to Negative Approach that matches their Canadian counterparts on every level.
As one of the earliest “hardcore” punk acts, Negative Approach quickly built a solid following in the Midwestern portion of the U.S. due to their aggressive live act and punishing first EPs, Negative Approach (1982) and Friends Of No One (1984) and their first LP, Tied Down (1983). These early releases were sonic punches to the gut, and while not overtly political in any way, they were still representative of the anger swirling around the punk scene, and able to stand shoulder to shoulder with their contemporaries in bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat.
“That was never our scene, even in the Reagan years, you know, ‘Oh, I hate the president.’ It kind of burns itself out. We all know it’s fucked. Do you really want to waste your time writing a song about that (stuff)? Everybody knows (Trump) is an idiot. That’s about all I have to say about it,” says Brannon.
Punk rock, according to Brannon, should be angry, scary, and ready to change the world, though. The band sees being able to be part of the scene again as a blessing.
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“Just to be able to play around the world, coming back, and people are excited about it is cool. There is a whole new generation who discovered the records and who never got to see us. We’re having fun. It’s kind of hard to think that something we started out as kids would be going today,” Brannon says as he gets ready to take off for a month-long tour. Brannon goes on to say that Negative Approach has been working on new material and he and Moore are discussing plans to record in the fall, but he won’t commit to anything unless he is sure that the music true to the original nature of the band.
“I think the most punk thing to do is look normal. Everybody wears the uniform. It’s not that shocking anymore. We are tyring to show people what we feel is threatening, real punk rock. It’s kind of turned into pop music, which were always fighting the war against. We are trying to show the real stuff, how we started out,” Brannon concludes.
Dayglo Abortions, according to Acton, have about three albums worth of material ready to go but have to record any of it because their permanent drummer, Blind Marc, is undergoing a stem cell procedure that is successfully restoring the sight he lost due to a degenerative condition in his retinas. “And I'm thinking once we get to the end of the trip, we're going to record 15 songs or something like that, and I want to call it, if the guys at the label (Unrest Records) are okay with it, Hate Speech,” says Acton. Sounds like there is hope for punk rock after all.
Negative Approach/Dayglo Abortion perform at Pub Rock, 8005 East Roosevelt Street in Scottsdale, on Wednesday, July 11. Tickets are $17 at ticketfly.com.