As we are now in midst of a lockdown during a very monumental pandemic, it has given me a lot of time to reflect on many things: humanity, the way things work and of course music and my history with it. During this time I’ve been doing a lot of writing, including this entry, which I’ve found very relaxing and taking my mind off things. I’ve been wanting to do some sort of post like this for a number of years now, getting into details about all of my favourite records that come to mind — so now the time seems more than ever to do it.
Over the years I’ve been tagged on social media to make posts about my favourite records, from friends to other artists. Occassionally I’ll talk about about some of my favourite records in interviews but this is definitely the most deep I’ve got into that by a long shot. I figured I’d do it more justice — and properly as well — by doing it on this site and writing as much as I can about each record.
All of the records in this list sort of go in an order of how I chronologically discovered them, along with some overview of how I came across the records. It starts all the way back with being a young ‘un in rural west coast Canada, then through my “punk/hardcore” years in the 1990s and then into the post-punk, synth and wave stuff I was starting to get into at the end of the last century. They’re also the first ones that sort of jumped to mind when planning this article — and ones that I had the most to say about.
These records cover a time period up until the the early 2000s. There’s a lot of great records I’ve discovered since then — newer and older bands — but that’s probably for another post at this point (the title of this post has “1” in the title, indicating there might be more). Records after this list I discovered through different reasons: exploring genres, going to club nights, talking with friends. A lot of newer bands I’m into tend to be people I have a relationship with or already know. That’s probably my roots in community punk spirit at work — everyone moving forward together.
And I’ve tried wherever possible to put up the music previews as BandCamp links, so if there’s any interest in the bands listed here the money will go to the bands or labels themselves.
So yeah, this is a really long one so if you’re up for it, settle in and give it a read!
This is probably the earliest piece of music that I can remember that I got attached to. Sometime, long ago, when I was a child my dad and I one night stayed up late and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey — I guess he felt it was an important film for me to watch, as well as being one of his favourite films. At some point he got tired and went to bed and left me watching it by myself. I watched the remainder of the film right to the end and got totally transfixed, especially nearer to the end when astronaut Dave Bowman is rushing through the technicolour star gate. Most of the film used pieces by Hungarian avant-garde composer György Ligeti. The music was dense, atonal and coming at my senses in one giant mass. I loved it and probably got me started at an early age to a weird journey through my life in music on an alternative path, as well as my ongoing interest in soundtracks and unconventional music.
Although I we don’t really keep in touch, my mom’s only brother Rick always — from what I know — had a cool taste in music. I discovered this track through a cassette tape he left with my mom that I got a curiousity about. Probably the first synth-pop track I ever sat down and listened to, sometime back in the second half of the 1980s. I remembered loving the bassline that happens right before the chorus with the notes moving around the scale. Over the years I still remember that track, despite not totally latching onto Depeche Mode like a lot of people. Having said that they are an important band whose influence has spread to all corners of the globe.
After my mom and my dad split up in the late 80s, my mom started a relationship with my stepdad that continues to this day. He was younger; a care-free rocker type from Ontario and his taste in music included a lot of classic Canadian rock bands, including Rush. Like a lot of people I never really latched onto their 70s stuff — too progressive for my tastes and Geddy’s voice was a bit out of control. I have a lot of memories of driving around in my stepdad’s 1980 Pontiac Firebird sportscar, with it’s silver paint job and baby blue interior listening to a lot of Rush records from the 80s. A totally under-rated era of the band’s output: Geddy’s voice sounded more human and the songs and musicianship were still somewhat complex but tasteful and textured with a lot of atmosphere, at least for me. Around this time they worked with a lot of the same rhythm and style shared by The Police more than anything, albeit more synthier and dense. There’s this one bass part in the track “Subdivisions” that I even lifted a bit for an old band I was in.
After drummer Neal Peart died earlier this year I went down a bit of a wormhole listening back to these records, including Signals, released in 1982. What struck me most about Rush is the close friendship of the three band members, spanning 40 years, and their simple love of playing and bettering their skills on their instruments. It got me into the mindset that practicing and bettering yourself is always a good thing. And when I get a bit homesick for Canada it always reminds me a bit of where I came from.
I always peg this record as the first “official” record that I ever bought. I had bought cassettes and records before this one but it’s the first record that I waited for the release date on and bought it right after it came out. It was at the start of my period being actively involved in the punk/hardcore scene of the 90s. I remember buying it at some small record store on Whitby Island in Washington State when my family was on holiday. Fugazi are a very important band for me. A lot of friends I know now, especially ones I’ve met since moving to Europe, don’t really know much about them, except for the odd time some DJ will blast “Waiting Room” in a pub DJ set — or focusing on what they perceive as the stern, preachy demeanour of the band, which is mostly misunderstood by a lot of people.
For me they were emotionally complex, very experimental and sowed the seeds for my lifetime involvement of DIY ethics and underground community. I admit I always had sort of a “crush” on Guy Picciotto; a singer, guitarist and performer that wore his emotions on his sleeve — and with a lot of good stage antics and dance moves as well. This record has a colder feeler than the album Red Medicine that came after it; which is also a favourite of mine. Both of these albums came out on Dischord Records, which was started back in the late 70s by the band’s other main foil, Ian MacKaye. For me they’re a band of great importance, as well as for many others.
As I was diving head-first into punk and hardcore in my early to mid teens I was getting to know a lot about the bands that were local to me, whether there were bands I could check out in the local legion halls or ones that were more well known. Nomeansno, based out of the city of Victoria on the south end of Vancouver Island, was the first “big” concert that I went to, down in some large sports centre an hour or so down the road in the seaside city of Nanaimo — you know, the types of concerts that you actually have to buy tickets to. The band had been releasing records since the late 70s and only packed it in recently. I remember it was the first time I’d seen a drummer, John Wright, with the drums up at the front of the stage. And yes, the concert was loud.
Over the band’s recordings, which started off with the weird and chilling jazz/punk fusion record from 1982 called Mama (another favourite) — their sound covered straight forward punk, some prog-ier elements and songs that had a sense of creeping dread about them. And growing up on music with standard rock instrumentation where everyone is all “GUITAR, GUITAR, GUITAR”, they were the first band that made me understand the importance of a strong bassline in music; something that would echo in my head for years after as I got more and more into electronic music.
The title track from their 1992 album 0+2=1 one is a great example of bassist Rob Wright’s unique style of playing. With the lyrical wordplay, imagery and tone of his voice, I always thought he’d be excellent as a narrator in some sort of classic horror film, or even better yet, the villian. This is all done while playing that complex looping bassline over the song’s almost 5 minute long duration, which has a very “industrial” feel about it. Definitely an influence for me, especially as far as lyrics go. There’s even an obscure cover I did as Soft Riot from their album Mama a few years or so ago:
During my time in high school a lot of time was spent driving around the countryside of the Comox Valley, the part of Vancouver Island I lived in. This was because a lot of friends we knew had family living around in the surrounding countryside that we had to go visit. One of our friends, Kevin, had an old white pick up truck that he used to drive us around in. One night, driving down some dark country road he popped a cassette into the truck’s old stereo — it was a new record on the label Sub Pop, which at the time was getting a lot of attention due to the success of bands happening in the exploding alternative rock scene at the time. This tape was The Pigeon Is The Most Popular Bird by Six Finger Satellite, an avant-garde rock (?) band from Rhode Island. What I heard was equally amazing yet absolutely terrifying at the same time. And from there I was hooked.
This record released on CD and as two EPs: Idiot version and Savant version. A casual description would be that it sounded like Devo crossed with The Birthday Party through a no wave/noise rock filter. But what struck me about it was it’s complete razor sharp atonality. Often the guitars weren’t playing in any particular key, leaving the bass guitar and vocals to anchor the songs in any sort of semblance of melody. The guitars were panned completely left and right, and if you were like me and went through a long series of poor quality Walkman phones as I did when I was a teenager, with one side cutting out, you’d only hear one guitar. Total frantic, psychotic disco rock — way before that term came around in the 2000s. And how the album’s tracklisting was laid out was bizarre: all of the actual tracks where interspersed with bizarre, lo-fi synth driven dirges between each track — sort of like travelling through some punked out BBC workshop soundscapes from track to track. Their following records would move more in a more synth/new wave direction, which on a surface level would seem to be the albums I’d gravitate to — but this one still freaks me out even today. Taking up synths in a post-punk context in the mid-90s was pretty unheard of. It’s like the record and the band were dropped out of nowhere from a weird, 50s sci-fi tinged outer space.
In the first half of the 1990s it was likely that if you were into punk that were likely into skateboarding as well, just as I was. Frankly, I was a shit skateboarder but it was a fun excuse to hang out in front of boring strip malls and get out of the house with friends. Often I’d come home at night and when the parents were going to bed I’d watch a bit of late night TV, namely the legendary Canadian comedy show Kids In The Hall and a weird little program on Canada’s MuchMusic called City Limits, where they’d play all the weird music videos that didn’t really fit into the regular daily programming. It was dark and mysterious and probably the first place I’d find out about experimental rock, punk and industrial bands lurking around in the shadows: bands like SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, Einsteurzende Neubauten and of course Skinny Puppy.
To say Skinny Puppy were just from Vancouver is a bit of an understatement — they had a big influence across all facets of Canada’s underground: punks, goths and even ravers at the time. And as I was pretty involved in the punk/hardcore scene playing in bands, I also would spent time messing around on the family’s clunky Tandy computer with a very primitive music composition program that came with an internal soundcard I bought for the computer a few years earlier with some money I saved up. My first adventures into electronic music were done on computer, long before DAWs really became a thing, attempting to create these punk/electronic “industrial” compositions. The sound quality of the soundcard was paper thin, and having no knowledge of recording techniques I’d record these songs by playing these tracks I made out of the computer through tiny bud headphones and then taping those over the internal microphone of a portable cassette player lying around the house. All treble, all the time.
But with this record, along with a few others, I’d start getting more and more into this type of music after I moved to Vancouver and my musical tastes started to shift a bit. But yeah, definitely an early record for me on my journey into more electronic, darker forms of music.
And as I was discovering bands local to where I was living on Vancouver Island, I was also finding out about the punk/hardcore scene in the “big city” of Vancouver. It was exciting seeing this amazing, DIY underground appearing before my eyes. Vancouver’s Sparkmarker had been around for a few years at this point, releasing a series of 7″ singles on various labels in Canada and the US which were then compiled onto a CD compilation entitled Products & Accessories. Again, with most people I know in the current synth scene, there’s not really a point of context for what this meant for me at the time, and a first-time listener would probably find their music sounding like alternative-rock/metal with all them heavy, chugging guitars.
But they were more than that — active in Vancouver’s all-ages scene, the were involved in the community, queer-positive, ties to the “straight edge” movement and most importantly had a deep, emotional intensity and lyrical artistry that engaged everyone who was there to see them in their day. Over my years in Vancouver I got to know some of them personally and they were also really genuine people. I seem to have a memory of going over to guitarist Kim Kinakin’s apartment one afternoon after he made some incredible gazpacho soup. Kim also did the packaging design for this release, based on artwork by local Vancouver artist Ken Gerberick.
In my teenage years started checking out labels bands I liked were on, checking out label catalogues that were stuffed into 7″s and LPs, as well as reading underground punk/hardcore magazines at the time like HeartattaCk. These were the main methods I was finding out about the underground I was into at the time before the internet was really used for anything, um, “useful” as it is now. Hoover were a band on Dischord Records (Fugazi, Minor Threat, Rites Of Spring, etc.) and their name was part of this little micro-trend of bands in this scene naming themselves after American presidents, like Lincoln, Franklin, and so on.
Hoover carried a lot of the Dischord sound at the time, but it came through what felt to me like this dark, American gothic sort of filter: crumbling shacks along dark countryside highways. They utilized a lot more reverb and atmosphere than their peers, with long meandering songs that fine-tuned that loud/quiet formula of the “emotional hardcore” bands of the time. For me, like many other bands I latched onto, they had bassist Fred Erskine as their secret weapon. Easily one of my favourite bassists up there with the more well-known greats like Mick Karn and David J, he had this fluid, rubbery style very much informed by dub — a super rounded sound with just a bit of overdrive to give it a bit of menace. Probably one of the main reasons that I switched to playing bass guitar with my fingers rather than with a plectrum in my time doing bass duties in various bands I was in.
Their track “Electrolux”, a 7-minute long noise-y dub-influenced number rumbled a 9/4 time-signature, was my favourite track off the record. I even did a cover of it in the early Soft Riot days, when this project was basically fucking around in my room in Whitechapel flat almost ten years ago, with no real mission or coherency as to what I was doing yet. As time has past this version I did wasn’t all that great but I felt like it was the right cover to do at time, to give some acknowledgment to a record I listened to a lot in my youth.
When I was in my novice, teenage hardcore band, “touring” meant playing little towns up and down Vancouver Island. One town we’d hit up a number of times was Duncan, about 45 minutes north of Victoria — separated by a mildly treacherous bit of highway called “The Malahat”, it was there I met some locals at time — some who went on to do pretty big things with music, such as Wolf Parade. It was through these connections I discovered Unwound, a post-hardcore trio from Olympia, Washington. Of all the bands I was listening to in those years, this one was the one that defined my soundtrack of the time: moody, noisy, melancholy and spiteful all at once with a wide variety of sounds across their albums. Their 1993 record New Plastic Ideas was my first introduction but when their 1996 record Repetition came out, it was the one the stuck with the most and I still listen to today.
Unwound are an example of a band being the best at the sum of their parts: Justin Trosper’s strange and noisy guitar figures, Vern Rumsey’s meandering, heavy basslines and the totally identifiable drum stylings of Sara Lund, who is probably one of my favourite drummers from that era as she was complex, inventive but could be minimal at the same time. I could never figure out her drum beat from the track “Corpse Pose” for many, many years — despite it being pretty dead simple.
If you’re looking at this list of random hardcore bands I’m writing about now, this is the one to check out first. When the second Soft Riot album Fiction Prediction came out, its title is a bit of a reference to the last track from New Plastic Ideas entitled “Fiction Friction”. Cemented in my mind for all time.