Repulsion (All photos by Trent Maxwell)
If you live in Texas and are a fan of heavy music, please don't tell us you wasted your money on Manowar last weekend over the second annual Bad Ass Weekend in Houston. Eighty-eight dollars versus $66 for two days of grind madness? I have one thing to say about that, and that is c’mon, son.
Headliners this year included Bay Area powerviolence legends Capitalist Casualties and Flint, Michigan grindcore pioneers Repulsion. Repulsion proved to be a major coup in the eyes of those too broke or too mad at Phil Anselmo to attend Housecore Horror Fest in Austin back in October. Seeing them past midnight with a bunch of frenzied punks with blatant disrespect for Scott Carlson's pedals was much more enjoyable than seeing them in the middle of the afternoon with people who went to a film festival to watch Carrie at 9 AM. He wasn't too happy about the pedal situation, saying, “If you wanna get on stage, form your own band,” but what does he expect from punks? Besides, Repulsion admitted to being more in league with hardcore back in the day. Even if he had to plug in more than once, Carlson's filthy bass tone came through loud and clear—“Maggots In Your Coffin” and “Slaughter of the Innocent,” among others, sounded as fresh as they did back in the mid-80s. If they keep doing shows like this, it won’t even matter if they make any new records.
Capitalist Casualties promised 30 songs in 30 minutes, and they gave us more than that. As with Repulsion, this was their first time in Houston, and the crowd was grateful. By grateful, I mean that they went totally fucking apeshit. While there weren't any huge pile-ons like at Despise You last year, there were no sense of “shouldn't we save our energy for tomorrow?” What's cool is that there's plenty of East Bay riffs in their sound, they're just played at hyperspeed. Also, not unlike Repulsion, everything still feels as urgent and charged as it did nearly two decades ago. The headlining sets encapsulated one part of what makes Bad Ass Weekend so fun: Houston punks are really into it. They know they ain't as cool as Austin, so they don't give a fuck. They'll scuff their boots, they'll tug on jackets a little too hard, they'll kick you in the teeth, they'll give you a funk that'll take a week to wash out. And, as mentioned before, they don't care about your pedals.
Repulsion and Capitalist Casualties were obviously the main draws, but another part of Bad Ass Weeekend's core mission was to showcase the best names in Texas hardcore, metal, and punk. Houston's own War Master takes their name from a Bolt Thrower album, and there's plenty of their sound too. Live, they've gotten stronger thanks to the additions of Hod/ex-Ancient VVisdom bassist Robert “Trans Am” Coleman and guitarist J.T. Smith of The Blood Royale and Dixie Witch. Vocalist Rahi, formerly of Insect Warfare, took his militaristic appearance to goofier levels, rocking a hat reminiscent of M. Bison from the Street Fighter movie. Still, his vocal presence and confrontational attitude still make him the right frontman for War Master. The Impalers, featuring Chris Ulsh (a.k.a. The Ulshtimate Warrior) of Power Trip, Mammoth Grinder, and Hatred Surge on vocals, brought their fusion of d-beat and metal to Houston, where it was eaten up by rabid punks. Ulsh also carries a commanding presence, essential for whipping up people to potentially hurt themselves. P.L.F. stands for Pretty Little Flower, which is the only joke about this Houston grind trio. Devious Persecution and Wholesale Slaughter, their full-length released last year, features a lone Viking warrior taking on hordes of undead, and that's pretty much what P.L.F. sounds like. Even so, someone was yelling for an Earth Wind and Fire cover. Can you imagine what they'd do to “September”? Drummer Bryan Farjardo was pulling double duty during Bad Ass Weekend playing in Phobia, who despite a solid performance, felt a little tame after The Impalers' wild set. They can't all be zingers, like Primus once said.
Pretty Little Flower
Most of the action took place at Walter's on Naylor, but this year, Bad Ass Weekend was a three-venue affair. Houston's not Baltimore by any stretch, but it only took mere blocks to go from shiny new University of Houston buildings near Walter's to abandoned buildings and run down houses. The Doctor's Office is a punk space that was formerly a…well, look at the name. Reusing shit is punk as fuck. The only band we caught over there was Turbokrieg, a grindcore group featuring former War Master guitarist Ben Gott. Seattle McMattenberry had a bass tone almost as blown out at Carlson's, and vocalist Eric “Sleazy T.” Neal's banter showed a grindcore uncle’s sense of humor, intentionally mixing up the names of bands coming after them. Eastdown Warehouse, also on the other side of I-10 from Walter's, was an even odder venue than The Doctor's Office. There was a giant mural of the Houston Texans on the outside, the plastic curtains that led into the venue seemed taken from Numbers, a dance club that's seen better days, and the bartenders were aloof and strong pourers at once. Eastdown's lineup, though, was nothing to scoff at. Glue, one of the most exciting new Austin punk bands, got kids extremely turnt up. Bodies and beer cans were flying, someone damn near had to call a mortician to sort that mess out. The PA system was hanging on by a thread. 80s punk made for kids born in the 90s, because the punks in the 80s are too fucking old now. Nuke Cult before them weren't quite as violent, but there was still plenty of moshing to be had. Vaaksa, another Chris Ulsh band, proved that a body in motion will stay in motion until the riffs stop. It's the most straight punk of his bands, Fellow Noisey contributor Logan Worrell also held it down on bass. Eventually, Bad Ass Weekend will be just Ulsh's bands.
Outside of Eastdown, Petrine TX were selling merch that screamed the essence of the festival: punks showing respect to Houston. One shirt featured Buc-ee the Beaver, the mascot of the popular Texas road-trip convenience store chain and Duck Dynasty merch stronghold Buc-ee's, rocking a Suicidal Tendencies hat, brim raised to rock the “Suicidal.” Even the least showered and most anti-establishment of punks can't hate on Buc-ee's impeccably clean bathrooms and delicious grape soda. Another featured Converge's seminal Jane Doe album cover re-imagined with the real mayor of Houston herself, Beyoncé. If you're looking for something for that that Bikini Kill fan who doesn't turn “Single Ladies” off on the radio, it's the perfect gift. One shirt got my money, though: bottles of cough syrup arranged like the Black Flag bars, and instead of Black Flag, “Bang Screw.” While parodies of the bars are played out 99% of the time, that 1% is spent imagining what would happen if the ghosts of Fat Pat and Big Moe joined Black Flag. That'd cure all their lineup woes (and maybe they can play next year!). Any shrinking in the gap between rap, metal, and punk culture is always welcome.
Going to festivals, you always find the one big surprise that knocks you off your ass. That Valentine's Day present was DFW's Sin Motivo. Crossover with a mysterious edge, they didn't offer much in the way of banter, but plenty of pummeling. Dudes looked slightly nerdy, but you know what? Being a nerd rules, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. They clearly care about what they do and put a lot of effort into it. D.C.'s Coke Bust were another unexpected highlight of the weekend. Like a lot of D.C. hardcore, it does not compromise, but there's subtle twists and turns to keep things interesting. At one point, they presented themselves as “Disciples of Christ,” another D.C. band, but we're not that stupid. Coke Bust also made an appeal to the crowd by lamenting the loss of the Oilers (super young readers: they're now the Tennessee Titans). Why did no one bring Bud Adams' skeleton to toss around, then? He hasn't been dead for that long.
Houston needs a fest like this as much as Austin does, maybe even more. It's one step closer to uniting a scene that, even with all its quality bands, can feel as stretched out and disparate as the city itself. You should come by, it’s fun. Houston's cheap as hell, too. Sure, the air's not great, but punk isn't supposed to be clean.
Andy O'Connor is a staunchly proud Houstonian and recommends you pay a visit to Poison Girl, a bar with a Kool-Aid Man statue in the backyard. He's on Twitter - @andy_oconnor