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Book Review: Sex Pistols: Poison in the Machine by John Scanlan

Whenever a punk comes to grips with the classics well enough to start being cynical about them, the wet-behind-the-mohawk youngsters inevitably come to the same conclusion, over and over, ad nauseum:

The Sex Pistols were nothing but a boy band!

Yes, it is a sentiment about as new or unique as the equally age appropriate: we’re dying everyday, man or parents don’t know everything. Triteness in motion. We’ve all heard it, and more painfully, it’s probably come out of our own mouths. That’s just how it goes, I guess. Eventually, I got over it, and got back to relishing the Sex Pistols youthful, hateful, frustrated energy along with their perfect, and only, record. Like it or not, Never Mind the Bollocks is a milestone, and I’ll take it over the Ramones or the Clash any day.

John Scanlan’s book Sex Pistols: Poison in the Machine is, whether intended or not, a response to the famous boy band critique. It tells the story of the Sex Pistols with an emphasis on manager and provocateur Malcolm McLaren, from his early days to the dissolution of the Pistols. It’s an interesting story alone, but with this new perspective, dimensions are added.

In punk rock, we are so used to the idea that authenticity is a hallmark of the artists, and the notion that a manager assembled a group to perform music is a mark against its authenticity. As Scanlan details it, the truth is a bit more complicated. What Poison in the Machine successfully argues is not only for the artistry of the Pistols, but also of McLaren himself. It was his obsession with provocation, transgression, and youth culture that eventually led him to form the Sex Pistols. Scanlan follows McLaren trying on different ideas, all surrounding different permutations of what would be the famous clothing store SEX. Eventually, of course, history is made, but never quite how you expect it.

And while McLaren is critical to a lot of threads punk would continue to follow, by telling McLaren’s story, Poison in the Machine also manages to give due credit to the boys in the band as well. It paints the band as more than just its members or its manager– but as a combination of influences, and more importantly, human beings, who are at odds with each others. Scanlan shows us with a collection of well-selected quotes how McLaren’s art project and the Sex Pistols became two different beasts, and then dismantled itself. It’s an almost Frankensteinian turn. When McLaren assembled Jones, Cook, Matlock, and Lydon, he didn’t plan on them having ideas or even vision, and when his monster learned to speak, the creator was out in the weeds.

It’s a fast read, with clean writing and little editorializing. Scanlan has clearly put a lot of work into the fact checking, with a good chunk of the book dedicated to references. He uses quotes and rare photos to give the reader a sense of the time and place, which is as important to the Sex Pistols as the people involved in their rise.

Great book for fans of the band who need a little more ammo in the face of trite dismissals, or punk history buffs alike– Poison in the Machine is a fascinating read.

Sex Pistols: Poison in the Machine by John Scanlan, published by University of Chicago Press.

5/5



June’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp

The Von Tramps Fast and Loose

The Von Tramps

While some of you jerks were out having fun at fests, I was chained to a laptop that was chained to a desk that was chained to a bunch of other chains (we really need to clean this place up) in the DyingScene basement with nothing but Bandcamp for company and a bucket of fish heads for sustenance. But despite this hardship, I have scoured the corners of Bandcamp and found six bands from all over the place (all right, maybe more than half are from the midwest, shut up, you can make these decisions when you’ve been chained up with fish heads) which were absolutely the best bands I heard while definitely not on an ether binge or in a fish head-induced fever dream! Please don’t ask how I sneaked in the ether. Uh, anyway, music below!



May’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp

Bad Daddies

We’re sure everyone is still preparing for PRB or one of the many upcoming festivals, so we’re keeping it short this month. For May’s installment of Hidden Gems of Bandcamp, we’ll be focusing on bands out of the San Francisco/Bay Area. The East Bay (and the Bay in general) has been known for pumping out some of the best punk bands for decades now. 924 Gilman St. is the venue where many of these local bands such as Rancid, Operation Ivy, and Green Day have gotten their start and we’re sure many more will follow in their path. So, here’s five Bay Area bands that we think will be showing up on everyone’s radars soon! Check em’ out below.



April’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp

Trivial Dispute

Springtime is here and Festival Season is in full swing! Over the next few weeks, punks of all flavors will be gathering at weekend long events across North America. Vans Warped Tour, Fest, Pouzza, PRB in multiple cities, Riot Fest, and a ton of incredible smaller local festivalss like Fuck You We Rule OK in Oklahoma and It’s Not Dead down in SoCal all kick off in the near future (or have already happened, La Escalera Fest was insane from what we heard!). One of our favorite things about the festivals is seeing some of the lesser known local bands get to play next to some of the heavyweights of our scene. We’re betting some of the acts featured in April’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp will show up on a few of the many lineups this Spring and Summer. So check out all five, fantastic selections, below! Then, if you see them at your local fest, you can tell all of your loser friends that you’ve heard ’em before!



The Split Seconds’ Drew Champion talks about getting into punk and how it shaped his life

Washington DC’s The Split Seconds front man Drew Champion tells us how he got into punk and how it has influenced his life.

I’ve been listening to punk rock my whole life. My Dad was into The Ramones and a lot of alternative rock. I remember hearing Sheena is a Punk rocker in the car when I was a little kid and having it stuck in my head for days. Later on I got into Green Day and Nirvana because all of my friends older siblings were into that stuff. I had no idea they were singing about doing meth and heroin and stuff, I just thought it sounded cool. After I heard Blink 182’s Dammit I started playing guitar. That catchy riff and the chunky palm mutes just hooked me. I got bored of listening to the super radio-friendly pop punk after a few months and started digging down below the mainstream of punk rock. I wasn’t really into the whiny screamo stuff coming out at that time so I ended up getting into DC Dischord bands like Minor Threat and U and not U, and 70’s bands like The Dead Boys and The Buzzcocks.

Punk rock has been really important in shaping my life. The individualism in punk rock taught me to think critically and to distrust groups of people under the influence of bad ideas. The irony is that it’s often the punks whose group think I find myself rejecting. The DIY ethos of punk rock taught me self reliance. I know that nobody is going to just hand something to me and I need to make things happen myself. That’s the Ian MacKaye influence. The democratic streak in punk rock taught me to treat people without regard to race, sex, sexuality, etc. That’s pretty basic but some people seem to have a hard time with that. Finally the minimalism of punk rock taught me to reject fancy and complicated solutions when something simple and solid will get the job done. The way that Johnny Ramone approached guitar is a good way to approach life I think. Just keep it simple and go for it.

The Split Seconds’ upcoming album Center Of Attention, is set to be released on March 10th via Altercation Records.



January’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp

The first installment of Hidden Gems for 2017 is hot off the press and the Orginal Content Team has continued their annual tradition of mediocrity. In celebration of another year of employment, they again mailed it in, offering up the least amount of featured artists since last January…way to go team… Luckily, we believe in quality over quantity and all five acts on the list this month are incredible! Even better though, we’re betting they’re not on your radar yet. So, let’s get ’em on there! Check ’em all out below!



DS Staff Picks: Mike Scott’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

2016 was a really solid year for albums for me. In the past, I’ve shied away from end of year lists sometimes, just because I didn’t always think I’d find 10 albums I really loved to write about. But no such problems for this past year. (And that’s without Slayer or Maiden releasing anything.)

The top couple of albums in my list truly have hit me hard. On repeat in my car, on my phone and with me on a lot of my early morning commutes out in the South London cold, I can definitely see a lot of these records staying with me for a long time. So, I’m going to not mention 2016’s questionable votes, referendums and the deaths, but just say my lovely daughter was born this year and I’ll remember it as a great music year…

You can read the full list below.

 

 

 

 

 

 



DS Staff Picks: Midwest Punk’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

There’s been a lot of talk about how shitty 2016 has been, but I don’t get it at all. It was a pretty damn good year for me for the most part, and I think 2016 was an excellent year in music. I was lazy and late in 2015, so I didn’t get a list up, so I figured I better get it done this year. Three or four of my top five bands (depending on where my top five sits on any given day) released new albums this year, and one of them didn’t even make the list, because the year in punk music was just that good.

Whatever you thought of 2016, you can see my full top 10 list below, for whatever it’s worth.



DS Staff Picks: Paul Carr’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

I admit, I’ve  been out of the game a while. I grew up, had kids and musically treaded water for a couple of years. Then in 2016, I found pockets of time to listen to the odd track, then the odd ep and finally I found the time to throw myself fully back into the punk pool. What became clear was that after a couple of years with my finger off the pulse, I had an insatiable desire for the music I love. I was hungrier than ever and 2016 saw plenty of great new music to satisfy my appetite. So below are my picks. They mean more to me than just a list of records, they signify a year of rediscovery.



DS Staff Picks: AnarchoPunk’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

Your favorite molotov cocktail waiter, AnarchoPunk here with my Album of the Year List for 2016! For those unfamiliar with my work, I write the monthly Hidden Gems of Bandcamp piece and manage the Exclusive Premieres and sometimes, you may even hear me on DS Radio doing band interviews. On last year’s AoTY list, I cheated a little bit and included EPs. I’ve held myself to a higher standard (yuck!) in 2016 and limited my selections to LPs only. With that being said, I did include a brief list of my favorite EPs because there were so many rad short albums too. Astute readers will notice a few big names like NOFX, Blink 182 and Descendents missing from my annual list. Good observational skills! With a ton of superb younger acts filling up the ranks, it wasn’t difficult finding bands to replace some of the bigger names who released slightly disappointing albums this year and it took me awhile to whittle it down to just ten records.

So, without further fanfare, check out my Top Ten Albums of 2016 below!



DS Staff Picks – Bizarro Dustin’s Top Albums of 2016

In a lot of ways, 2016 kinda sucked. You can probably figure out what I’m talking about when I say that, and I hope that you would agree. Yet, somehow it was also a really good year. On a personal level, I moved into a new apartment with my girlfriend, left an emotionally abusive and draining job of three years, and started not one, but two jobs, one of which could very well become a career (the only downside to working two jobs is that it gives me less time to devote to Dying Scene). And then there was the music.

Oh yes, the music. Maybe 2016 wasn’t a great year for most things, but the music was terrific. I started narrowing down my list at the beginning of December, and after a day and a half I decided that, much like last year, I wasn’t going to limit myself to ten records. I know that’s against the rules, but breaking all the rules is punk rock.

You can find my list below.

I guess I’ll also throw this out there: I enjoyed Tacocat’s Lost Time, Chris Farren’s Can’t Die, Jeff Rosenstock’s WORRY., Doe’s Some Things Last Longer Than You, and Petrol Girls’ Talk of Violence this year, but not to the point where I felt like they were essential listening in the same way that the following albums were.

 



DS Staff Picks – Hopeless Romantic’s (Meredith) Top 10 Albums of 2016

It seems like just yesterday I was putting together my 2015 list, but alas, here we are again at the end of another year. 2016 was a great year for new albums and it was harder than usual to put together this list, but I guess I shouldn’t complain about too much good music. Check out the soundtrack to my last rollercoaster of a year below.



DS Staff Picks: Jerry Baughn’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but 2016 has been a weird year.  But through it all, at least there’s always new bands to discover, new releases from old favorites, and of course plenty of shows to attend (FEST was amazing as usual.)  Here’s some of the music that helped get me through this year.



DS Staff Picks: Jay Stone picks his top sixteen albums of 2016 with Spotify playlist!

I’m not entirely sure how, but we’ve reached the middle of December 2016 without the Earth’s core opening up and swallowing us all down into the burning fiery furnace below. That can only mean one thing; it’s time for people who spend all year pretending to be entertainment journalists to narrow down the most entertaining things of the last 365 days into bite size pieces. And in list form! This is the sixth one of these I’ve done for Dying Scene, so the intro stuff might start to get a bit repetitive. As such, I’ll spare you my normal rambling 1500 word babble and jump in to the music itself. You’re welcome.

As is usually the case, I didn’t trim my list to ten, in spite of our esteemed leader, Johnny X, instructing us to do so. What can I say; I’m not a fan of restrictions, or base ten number systems. I thought there was something apropos about reclaiming the number 16 from the giant shitstorm that was this year. I also genuinely love all of the albums in my final list, and if I were to submit this list a week from now, the last half-dozen or so might be in a very different order. I did adhere to the instructions about keeping the list Dying Scene-relevant. If you’re into expanding horizons, you should check out Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, Amanda Shires’ My Piece Of Land, Sadler Vaden’s self-titled album, David Bowie’s Blackstar, Wilco’s Schmilco, and probably a bunch of other mid-tempo stuff I’m forgetting.

As always, I didn’t include EPs, split-releases or live albums in my final list, because…because I didn’t. However, you should by no means skip toyGuitar‘s Move Like A Ghost, Useless ID‘s We Don’t Want The Airwaves and Dead To Me‘s I Wanna Die In Los Angeles on the EP front. You should also check out The Darlings‘ live album, and the Bundles/Dan Webb And The Spiders split 12-inch that came out a couple months ago. Oh, and Oklahoa’s Don’t Make Ghosts put out an EP, Death Ride, that’s easily one of the best debuts this year.

I did include tracks from all of the above, and obviously all of the below, on the Spotify playlist I curated for this story…scroll all the way down for that and hit “play.”

Check out my list below.



December’s Hidden Gems of Bandcamp

The Good Good Grief

Well, if it’s one thing we learned in 2016, it’s that we can survive a thorough beating. For putting your head down and toughing it out like good little soldiers, we’ve decided to reward you with what we think is the best list of the year! So, onwards and upwards to better days because we’re a proud, fiercely independent lot and not a bunch of whiny saps! Check out our final installment of Hidden Gems of Bandcamp for this the year of our lord 2016 below!

*As always, thank you all for reading and contributing, we hope to see you back in next month for the kick off to another outstanding year of treasure hunting! Have a happy Festivus and a safe New Year!