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Still Punk and political: A Conversation with Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers

Festivals, Punk No Comments »

stifflittlefingers
By Bart Lazar

Stiff Little Fingers is a punk band originally from Belfast, Ireland that has been around since the second  UK punk wave—they formed just six months after the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned.  Some of SLF’s best known work—”Tin Soldiers,” “Nobody’s Hero” and “Alternative Ulster”—-contains lyrics that hate hate:  advocating against war, violence, oppression, racial prejudice and class hatred.  Stiff Little Fingers’ influence lives on in more commercially successful descendants such as Green Day, The Offspring and Bad Religion.

Today, the band still exists with two of its four original members and recently released “No Going Back,” its first album in eleven years. The album just hit the charts in the UK at number fourteen, the band’s best performing material since the early eighties.

Jake Burns, the original snarling/shouting lead singer is now a Chicagoan–making the band twenty-five-percent local.  He discussed  the band’s history, relevance today and playing at Riot Fest in a recent interview.

How would you describe SLF to someone who is going to Riot Fest, and has never heard of you or your music?
We are a punk band that’s been doing it for thirty-seven years. We have always tried to play music that entertains, but means something in terms of social commentary.  Sometimes we are called a “Political” band, but I would say “political” with a small “p.” Certainly, we don’t play a lot of love songs.

Have the driving themes of your music changed over the years?
The themes we focus on—class distinctions, caring for one another, racism—are consistent. Those are the things that concern me most and those are the things that we can change. We can’t cure cancer. We live in America, where there are people sleeping in cardboard boxes. They are all things that offend my sense of justice. This is fixable!

Are you more optimistic about the world than you were back in 1978?
I don’t think so to be honest. People really are polarized. People that have things want to hold on to them.The “Greed is Good” mentality has come back again. That kind of selfishness is pretty dismaying.

You have seen touring bands that you influenced—Green Day, Offspring, Pennywise and Bad Religion. How does that feel?
It is very flattering. Green Day had us open their tour in Australia, and it was amazing to see them standing on the side of the stage watching our whole show. One of the guys from Pennywise told us he got his first fake ID so he could get into one of our shows. That’s some kind of influence.

What can old punks teach new generations?
When we started, the music was seen as outside of the mainstream, sort of “rebel” music, and we were not all about pleasing the public or selling anything.  Now punk rock, for better than not, has become part of the entertainment industry. And most “punk rockers” today are more about making party songs. At the end of the day, we are there to entertain people, we are not university lecturers—ultimately. But we can show people that the words are more important and older punks are not shy about saying things.

What can you say about the longevity of punk rock?
As the Clash said in “Complete Control” about what was said about punk and them—”They Ain’t Gonna Last.” One truism we’ve discovered is that it [punk] never goes away. Punk rock really does seem to be a life choice. It’s not just another t-shirt. You are buying a whole set of principles, and after you get past the outward appearances, I have found “punks” to be some of the most honest, gentle, solid, nice and polite people you will ever meet.

With a new record out, at Riotfest should we expect to hear the new album or your punk standards?
Riot Fest is one of the best festivals, and I am glad to play again before a hometown crowd. Because it is a festival it is more of a celebration, sets are shorter and although some may have come to see us, people are not necessarily coming only to hear us play and some may not even be aware of us at all—so it is not the platform to play the new record. We may play one new song, but we will focus on the Riot Fest theme and play more of our older material.

Stiff Little Fingers performs at Riot Fest in Humboldt Park and an aftershow with Cock Sparrer at Concord Hall at 9:30pm on Friday September 12.

Preview: Rise Against/Aragon

Chicago Artists, Punk No Comments »

Rise-Against

RECOMMENDED

Chicago punk stalwarts Rise Against are in celebratory mode, commemorating both the tenth anniversary of Riot Fest (they’re multi-year veterans) and their fifteenth year as a band. They’ve returned from a fairly lengthy break only to achieve an unlikely coup for a contemporary rock band. More than three years after the release of their last album, “Endgame,” the band’s most recent album “The Black Market” debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. It’s little wonder after hearing the album’s first single “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore” a catchy and melodic hard-driver that definitely leans more heavily in the direction of the band’s poppier releases. “The Black Market” certainly doesn’t lack in the political screeds that Rise Against are well-known for, but it’s clear that the band’s more personal and introspective focus is in the forefront here. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Mannequin Men, Radar Eyes, Le Tour/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock No Comments »

Mannequin-MenRECOMMENDED

I don’t know if you’re into garage, punk, psych or chasing whiskey with Schlitz (or not chasing it at all), but if you are into any of these, go to this show. Mannequin Men, Radar Eyes and Le Tour are some of the most compelling bands in Chicago right now and a show combining all of these forces should not be missed.

Mannequin Men have been playing together for about eleven years and consequently present an air of experience as well as general bliss on stage. Their sound is rough and upbeat; they kind of sound like the Black Lips’ tougher dads. Radar Eyes are lower key than Mannequin Men, mixing the beach vibes with grungy basement sounds. Le Tour is a furious force of pedals, screeches and ballsy guitar solos that, if you listen closely, are neatly constructed by somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Brody Dalle/Bottom Lounge

Alt-Rock, Punk, Rock No Comments »

Brody DalleRECOMMENDED

Brody Dalle’s triumphant return to rock has been a long time coming. The former Distillers frontwoman has been in and out of the public eye for years with musical projects since the band’s 2006 break up, including Spinnerette, a one-shot collaboration with former bandmate Tony Bevilacqua and Alain Johannes (Queens of The Stone Age/Eleven). While the songs on “Spinnerette” boasted some catchy hooks, there wasn’t much that stood out about it either. But with her impressive solo release “Diploid Love,” we hear a musical range that hadn’t been fully explored in Dalle’s previous bands. Read the rest of this entry »

Fierce and Fed Up: Hardcore Punks Find A Home

Festivals, Hardcore, Punk No Comments »
Aye Nako photo by Robert Pluma

Aye Nako/Photo: Robert Pluma

Fed Up Fest, taking place July 25-27, is a new addition this year to the packed Chicago summer music festival scene. In the tradition of fests like Olympia, Washington’s Homo-a-go-go, Fed Up Fest seeks to highlight the contributions of LGBTQ musicians to DIY music, though where Homo-a-go-go covered a wide range of styles under the DIY umbrella, Fed Up Fest focuses on hardcore and punk. Conscious of the problem in LGBTQ spaces of the ‘silent T,’ where transgender community members get name-checked but can often be marginalized, the organizers of Fed Up Fest particularly wish to highlight bands from across the country featuring trans folks—especially trans women. Bands on this year’s lineup include: Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Perfect Pussy/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Live Reviews, Punk 2 Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Perfect Pussy’s songs were barely discernible amid the nonstop noise and crashing as the band quickly blasted through its set on the Blue Stage, but that hardly seemed to matter. This punk band is all about bashing your head in, sonically speaking, and it accomplished that. Lead singer Meredith Graves, wearing a striped dress, rarely stopped moving as she screeched and twirled, occasionally lifting her skirt for peeks at her undergarments, while her bandmates attacked their instruments as if they wanted to break them. Not surprisingly, a few people in the audience were inspired to crowd-surf. (Robert Loerzel)

The End of Journalism: New Ideas with Steve Albini

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Minimalism, Post-punk, Punk No Comments »
Steve Albini 1

Still from the documentary “Parallax Sounds”

By Kenneth Preski

Every critical outlet must justify its insights. The reasoning should extend beyond a simple citing of sources, should move past the seduction of poetic prose, and burrow down into the very tenets of knowledge that the writing seeks to embody. For a variety of equally abstract and profound reasons, this enterprise is in a badly confused state with respect to music journalism. What’s now required is a nuanced dialogue with musicians to re-appropriate the method, to re-envision the approach in favor of the artist and the audience. To that end, Steve Albini’s thoughts are invaluable. Beyond his work as a prolific sound engineer, Albini is a university-trained journalist and a seasoned musician. His band Shellac is on the eve of releasing “Dude Incredible” at a time when traditional operations for the music and publishing industries have been malformed by the internet. Now is the moment to re-strategize.

In an interview, it’s clear that the sea change has been on Albini’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wax Trax! Records Pop-Up Store/Metro

Chicago Artists, Industrial, Punk No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDWax Trax Pop-Up Metro

Wax Trax! Records was the center of the universe for a generation of punk and industrial kids in Chicago and beyond, so this is pretty thrilling news: on June 15, Chicago will have an opportunity to relive the glory days of the early 1980s to mid-nineties at the Wax Trax! Records pop-up retail shop at the Metro. For one day only, Wax Trax! will open up its archive of original releases, posters, t-shirts and other rare treats, with a roster of DJs and a full-service bar. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Rabble Rabble/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Punk, Rock No Comments »

Rabble RabbleRECOMMENDED

Maybe you saw Rabble Rabble open for Death at Reggies on New Year’s Eve, or maybe you’ve seen them at a DIY space, but they are a big enough band in sound and in presence to tear any venue apart. This local act is formally releasing their new album, “Brain Hole,” on Logan Hardware Records, at the venue they’ve come to know the best, with some acts that are sure to make this quite the celebration. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Tweak Bird/Beat Kitchen

Psychedelic, Punk, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDTweakBird

If you’re looking to blow off some steam on a Friday night, catch Tweak Bird, Fake Limbs, and Nones at the Beat Kitchen. This mixed bag of psych, hardcore and art rock should do the trick.

Tweak Bird is an LA-based pair of brothers who just released their first full-length LP on Bloomington, Indiana’s Let’s Pretend Records. Their psych vocals can get so high they’re almost delicate, but are balanced out with waves of thick, rolling guitar riffs and heavy drums. The go-to psych influences are obvious, but there are also whispers of the Melvins and The Jesus and Mary Chain to keep things unpredictable. Read the rest of this entry »