photo from the Ruffian Records Website
It goes without saying that lot of good art comes out of politically turbulent times. But when are times not turbulent? When one considers impending environmental doom, endless war and ever increasing social chaos, one has to wonder where all the great art is, that should be blossoming from amongst it.
Protest art can often come across as trite, self-serving and crude. The artist has to strike the right balance between serving art and serving the cause. Punk pulled this off because it was outrageous, artistic, dangerous and politically relevant in the dark days of Thatcher’s Britain. But before long, four middle class white blokes, screaming over thrashing guitars became pretty hackneyed. Some bands took a more artistic approach, like Gang Of Four, others became more political like Crass and others got louder and thrashier, like Minor Threat, all of whom were cutting edge and relevant for their time but it was not long before most of what constituted punk became watered down pap.
Between 1999 (post WTO) and 2003 (US invasion of Iraq) Jello’s lyrics were extremely relevant again but we did not need more Dead Kennedys. I hate to limit a band’s legacy by saying they provided a soundtrack to a certain time but for me Black Eyes, were just the band I needed in 2003.
Hailing from Washington DC, home town to my all time favourite band, Fugazi, Black Eyes consisted of two drummers, two bassists, two vocalists, a guitar and an assortment of other instruments from time to time. The music was urgent yet transcendental, chaotic but hypnotic, frenzied but just about controlled. I believe they were only together for about three years but as Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye said about their demise, ‘The fire that burns the brightest only burns half as long.’ While that may be true, I think it might be more accurate to say, the Black Eyes would not have been able to burn so bright without exploding.
I had the chance to see them a couple of times in Portland. The first time was at a small café. It is quite rare, for me to be so involved in a performance that is becomes transcendental but it happened that night. The building vibrated and the windows steemed up as sweaty bodies grooved, swerved, bounced and jumped to the pounding polyrhytmic percussion, ballistic bass and caustic cries of the duelling vocals. I felt like I was involved in a tribal ritual, perhaps a cleansing of some form because when I left the building that night, moments before the cops were about to shut it down, I felt pure.
Anyway, Black Eyes put out two albums both worthy of your attention. I'm not even going to begin to describe their music beyond, urgent and necessary.
'This city's burning burning
While we're screaming
The cars are closing in
Our lips are just opening'
- Letter To Raoul Peck