The fundamentals of Fucked Up

Pub date June 26, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

You needn’t be too wary of the dialogue surrounding Fucked Up, Toronto’s jewel of esoteric hardcore punk. The members’ beliefs and their names are hidden, but they’re not out to brainwash anybody. And they’re certainly not hiding anything in the songwriting department: the melodies are blistering and as uninhibited as the band, which has a knack for subverting punk conventions.

"For hardcore bands especially, politics are often made out to be black-and-white," rhythm guitarist 10,000 Marbles says on the phone from Toronto. Critics and listeners have puzzled aplenty over this pseudonyms-only band in their attempts to pin down Fucked Up’s political allegiances. Before releasing its debut, Hidden World, on Jade Tree last year, the band had spent the prior five years releasing 17 vinyl singles with artwork and lyrics that cited magick, anarchism, the Spanish Civil War, and André Gide. These may look to be the makings of a bizarre cult agenda, but Fucked Up’s "culture of confusion" and conflicting political ideas — the most bizarre instance coming in the form of a photo of a Hitler Youth rally on the cover of its 2004 split single with Haymaker on Deep Six Records — are more about kick-starting independent thought than advancing any specific, concrete ideas.

"We originally wore the anarchist tag pretty proudly," rhythm guitarist Gulag says, also calling from Toronto. "But now we’re more interested in leapfrogging cultures and ideas. It’s a more fulfilling way to live, if a little unprincipled." As amorphous as the members’ personal beliefs may be, Fucked Up doesn’t express any disdain for punk as a sound: Mustard Gas’s bass lines and vocalist Pink Eyes’s deep growl-howl are quite reverent toward the ghosts of hardcore past, and surprisingly enough, the band’s new 12-inch, Year of the Pig, marks its first waltz with rhetorical clarity and straight-ahead activism. The A-side title track examines the ongoing problem of violence toward women through the lens of prostitution, which is legal in Canada. It’s the culture of repression and guilt surrounding these subjects that has inspired the unusually pointed song, 10,000 Marbles says: "It’s taboo issues like sex work that people like us have a responsibility to talk about."

"Year of the Pig" is pretty daring stylistically and structurally, but to Fucked Up’s great credit, it’s also fantastic. Eighteen minutes long and starting as something of a twee shuffle before shifting into organ-backed operatic bellows from Pink Eyes, the song deftly delves into pummeling, psychedelic kraut rock riffage the likes of which might make Earthless or Major Stars jealous. Fucked Up’s sheer disregard of genre pigeonholes is especially evident in its recent doings. "We’re trying to bring in the electronic crowd now," Gulag says. "We just recorded a cover of [French dance duo] Justice’s ‘Stress.’ "

Venturing into Daft Punk–related territory: there’s a first for hardcore! It’s this staunch avoidance of cliché and political boundaries that very nearly makes Fucked Up punk for the Reading Is Fundamental set. More than anything else, the imperative is to ignore convention and get informed, which isn’t a fucked-up MO at all.


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