Saturday, June 10, 2006

Punk's Not Dead: Interview with Director Susan Dynner

May 2006

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Susan Dynner and Charlie Harper (UK Subs)

Susan Dynner co-produced the film, Brick, winner of the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and studied film at the University of Wisconsin, but movies are not her first creative love. She revisits her first passion, punk rock, in her new documentary Punk’s Not Dead. Independently financed and filmed in bits and pieces over a four year period, Punk’s Not Dead features performances and interviews with dozens of bands, many of them from Dynner’s hometown of Washington, D.C. The film explores not only the history of punk, but also focuses on today’s punk and pop-punk bands. Punk’s Not Dead was recently screened at Cannes, with a special after-party appearance by the UK Subs, and its world premiere is slated for Silverdocs Film Festival in D.C. this June. I spoke with Ms. Dynner in L.A. recently about what inspired her to make Punk’s Not Dead.


Director Susan Dynner’s career began at an age when most teens are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. At 15, she started photographing punk shows in her hometown of Washington D.C. Did her parents give her a hard time about it? ”. “As long as I got good grades, they didn’t care. I got grounded a lot.” Dynner photographed and became friends with such bands such as Minor Threat, Fugazi and Bad Brains. The atmosphere was much more laid back in those days (early-mid ‘80s). “One day I went into the local record store where we’d buy all our punk albums. One of the bands had my photos on their album. I said to the store owner, who I knew, “I took that picture.” I was thrilled when a band wanted to use my photos.”

Dynner’s initial inspiration for Punk’s Not Dead occurred when she saw an ad for the Inland Invasion 25 Years of Punk Concert in 2003. The all-day show featured the Sex Pistols, the Distillers, the Damned, X, Pennywise and many other punk bands. Dynner was amazed at the magnitude of the event. “When I got there, I thought ‘How did it get so big and out of control ?’ The Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, the Offspring, who I love, and Bad Religion played, but also bands like Blink 182, which I thought was really weird. That’s when I got the idea (for the film.)”

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Deryk Whibley, (Sum 41) Photo Credit:Kevin Estrada

The mixture of old and new didn’t bode too well for some of the “pop-punk” bands on the bill that day, like Blink 182 and New Found Glory, who were soundly booed by many members of the capacity crowd. Why do so many of the so-called “pop-punk” bands get a bad rap?
“I don’t know why that is,” says Dynner, “I think it was just the wrong place for them.”
“They’re passionate about it. Who’s to say they’re not punk? Who am I to call what they’re doing is right or wrong?”

Of all the genres of music I listened to as a kid, as an adult I always keep coming back to punk, not heavy-metal, not new wave, or (God forbid) REO Speedwagon. When I mention this to Dynner, she says “I feel the same way. When it gets in you, it’s part of you, it was more than just the music part back then.”

Per new bands, “There are a lot of good ones out there. God Awfuls, Narcoleptic Youth, the Diffs. I started with them about a year ago. I’ve been following them for quite awhile. Their father was in TSOL (Greg Kuehn, dad to guitarist Elvis and drummer Max) “They were brought up with that music. They carry on (in) that mold.”

The credit list for Punk’s Not Dead runs the gamut from “Most of the people I wanted to interview I got to interview,” Among the bands and musicians featured are Henry Rollins, Black Flag, Peter and the Test Tube Babies, UK Subs, the Adicts, GBH, the Sex Pistols, the Vandals and the Vibrators, juxtaposed with radio-friendly bands like My Chemical Romance, Sum41 and Greenday. Dynner’s connections paid off as she got to interview all the bands she’d photographed over the years. One of the only disappointments was Joe Strummer, who passed away before his scheduled interview.

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Colin Abrahall (GBH) Photo Credit: Susan Dynner

While Punk’s Not Dead examines “underground” bands and haunts, it also focuses on certain aspects of “corporate punk” culture, such as that ubiquitous mall staple, Hot Topic. A member of one of the bands, (Dynner won’t reveal his identity), booed when the Hot Topic segment came on.
“Why’d you do that?” Dynner asked him.
“Cause my daughter spends all my money there!” the musician replied.

Monday, June 05, 2006

OC Punk: A Primer (The Record Labels, Circa 2006)

In keeping with a suggestion by a friend of mine, that I actually write about Southern California based bands instead of obscure, one-off acts from faraway lands, I have turned the music portion of the blog temporarily to that mainstay of SoCal music culture-punk rock. While other U.S. cities/regions have their scenes, there is something immutable and permanent about the music and the counterculture surrounding punk in Southern California, notably Orange County. While the rest of America takes to a homogenized Hot Topic mall version of punk, Orange County is the only bastion of pure raucous punkdom, where even a certain subset of parents in their 40s follow current and established bands, get drunk on Jagermeisters and get bruised in mosh pits along with their kids. I haven’t noticed this happening much in say, suburban Chicago. Before delving too much into academic psychoanalyzing of the genre and its participants, let’s concentrate on some of the music first.

Many small and DYI record labels infiltrate the scene, and I’ll profile a few of them in weeks to come. BYO, Hellcat, Nitro, TKO records other indigenous to SoCal labels release a slew of CDs, DVDs, and yes, even vinyl by young bands and compile reissues by older groups like Slaughter and the Dogs.

For now, reviews of present and past albums by TKO bands Broken Bottles, Smogtown and the Stitches. For an interview with another TKO band, the Smut Peddlers, go to (I conducted the interview under my real name, MM.) The series will continue with interviews with Susan Dynner, the director of the documentary “Punks Not Dead”, as well as interviews with other bands, DJs and fans on the scene.


All Wiped Out

Release Date: 2003

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Smogtown, known affectionately as the Beach City Butchers, make the kind of relentless, no frills surf punk that gave Socal coastal towns their musical reputation.

This guitar sounds like Motorhead on Ace of Spades on opener You’ll Be Observed, and remains blissfully fast for the rest of the EP. Singer Chavez rifles through the songs with a fury reminiscent of Keith Morris. Also featured is a cover of Sex Offender Gender Bender by Vaders Crank. There’s nothing blaringly original here but they are entertaining, better than I thought.

Smogtown broke up in 2003 after eight years of hardcore releases, including Fuhrers Of The New Wave and Domesticviolenceland, However, the band has since reformed, and a new 7 inch will be released on TKO July 25.

Broken Bottles

In The Bottles

Release Date: 2003

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If you morphed the most mainstream elements of Social Distortion, and/or pumped up the most rebellious elements of Blink 182/Offspring, you’d get Broken Bottles, a quartet featuring former members of The Dogs.

Lyrics are in the Blink vein, addressing such issues as singer Jes The Mess’ encounter with Kelly Osborne, Gothic Chics with a tongue in cheek aplomb that brings a smirk or quick grin to your face even if you’re against such easy jokes. The Bottles do a cover of the Box Tops The Letter ,such an unusual offering you wonder if that wasn’t choosen for comic purposes as well. Of course, offering a song called Pink Swastika concerning, gay Nazis, you can only suspend disbelief so much even in punk. Blink 182 with balls and an early ‘80s vibe.

8 by 12 Reissue

The Stitches

Released: 2006

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This Orange County band has been around since ’93. Initially, they released vinyl only and had songs included on several compilations til the initial release of this EP of ‘77 style punk in 1999 on Vinyl Dog.

Ya know, when even the 1,2,3,4, count-off that begins a CD curdles yer blood, you’re in business.

Jackhammer guitar with charisma and tone and a simple but solid rhythm section give the band more of a power-pop feel. Mike Lohrman’s snotty, high-pitched vocals are different from most of his peers, but they grow on you. Would Johnny Rotten have made it as a finalist on American (Pop) Idol?

Songs like My Baby Hates Me and Amphetamine Girl provide a pure musical adrenalin rush, the sonic equivalent of the aforementioned drug. Not to neglect alcohol, the EP ends with a cover of the Pogues That Woman’s Got Me Drinkin’. (Which, incidentially, is the longest track at 2:49.)

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The band’s first full length album 12 Imaginary Inches (TKO, 2002) doesn’t have the raucous edge of 8 by 12, it still ‘77 all the way. Produced by Earle Mankey (former Sparks guitarist, who has produced everyone from Morrissey to the Skulls), and Stitches guitarist Johnny Witmer.

The songs are more structured here than on the EP without sacrificing any of the aggression.

Even the humor here is quirky, not juvenile, political, or overbearingly angst-ridden. I can’t choose a favorite cut. Pick me up, Automatic, Cars Of Today, Brains On need to skip over any songs here. It’s all good.