:: Article

Are You Ready For U.S. Ghost Punk Psych Jams?

By Kate Picard.

Clipd Beaks/Shooting Spires/These Are Powers/Miracles
Saturday November 24, 2007 @ Death by Audio, Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY

Such is my obsession with music, a trip to NYC simply would not have been even half complete or as much fun without seeking out some live underground sounds, and this I found at local promoter Todd P’s Death by Audio night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Todd’s focus on what could be termed ‘DIY punk ethics’ – using lofts and vacant spaces around Brooklyn to host exciting small bands for the joy and community spirit of accessibility to ‘non-populist’ music / an audience – is something that has been all but destroyed in regular music venues; that is, those that have not already been closed down over the past few years. Sucked up by sponsorship deals that have completely ‘rebranded’ venues from their name to limitations on the range of beverages available and over-zealous health and safety regulations, the passion with which one sets out to see a band is on the verge of being destroyed. These days you’re likely to be manhandled by folks in fluorescent jackets and loud hailers directing fans into venues more akin to soulless, air-conditioned yet stinky cattle pens that now reek like dilapidated hospital wards, all disinfectant and dirty mops rather than cigarettes and alcohol of old. This is so not the way for dedicated music obsessives to experience their passion. Hence, the ever-present and growing popularity of small independent scenes. Like current hipster LA venue The Smell, with its bout of tropical punk/ rock/grungy bands like Abe Vigoda, XBXRX, No Age, Mika Miko, and Health, Todd P’s line-ups focus on interesting bands that may not garner a space elsewhere.


On seeing the entrance to Death by Audio, I am immediately excited and sure a good night lies ahead; the deep-set, heavily-graffitied doorway towards the end of a lonely Brooklyn street hides a snug little venue comprising two spaces – the stage room plus a backroom with ‘bar’ (i.e. a table behind which a friendly dude hands out Stella or Busch from a couple of coolers), and one toilet. Fairy lights make for a cosy atmosphere as ‘underground’-styled, unpretentious, friendly attendees and band members chat casually about music /art / tours/ their latest projects, while films appear on the whitewashed wall courtesy of a projector precariously positioned on the roof of the toilet cubicle. In contrast to the kind-of-in-a-similar-vein Hoxton scene in London, there are less skinny jeans but more checked shirts and beards, the outfit that is almost tradition for the learned and serious underground music fan. This is totally DIY and a far cry from the usual mainstream venues.

First to warm up the chilly air is Brooklyn trio Miracles, an experimental ensemble of drums, keyboards, vocals and bass who recently supported Pre when they played Death by Audio at the end of October. Miracles provide an uplifting, energetic opening to proceedings with their rhythm-focused, structured buzz noise and harsh, slightly Ian Curtis-style vocals. Bassist Baxter certainly puts in plenty of passion on ‘Pioneers’, which features on the band’s recent self-released 12″-er.

Miracles receive a warm reception and are clearly happy with their show as they make way for Shooting Spires, a.k.a. BJ from Parts & Labor. A slight man, BJ shuffles on stage in a super-geeky outfit of too-short slacks, pullover, square-framed glasses and the kind of unkempt beard last sported by my Dad back in the ‘70s. Citing Brian Eno and Silver Apples as influences, BJ’s solo retro electronica and whiney vocals unfortunately become rather trying and repetitive after a couple of songs. Compared to the tracks available online, his live solo sound is rather restricted. The crowd begin to get restless as BJ’s set drags on a little too long, the queue for the toilet becoming a more interesting prospect for many.

Prior to the Angus Andrew-orchestrated split of the original Liars line up, Niles-from-Frasier doppelgänger Pat Noecker played bass with said band. These days he is a member of These Are Powers, who describe themselves as “ghost punk”, a concept which, in the band’s view, “gave voice to environmental death, cultural death, religious death, death of personal freedom, death of dreams, and fear of death. Post-ghost punk continues to explore dreams and other messages of spiritual origin, while it aspires to abolish music (ghost-punk) without realizing it and realizes music (Post-ghost punk) without abolishing it” (quick, somebody wake Roland Barthes!). Thus post-ghost punk (retrospectively, to TAP’s ghost punk genre) fails in its aspiration, and yet succeeds in that TAP’s experimental noise-dirge tribal wailing is pretty damn good. The dark intensity and immediate addictiveness of their sound grips the now bulging crowd, the once-cold venue becoming stuffy. There are strong reminders of Liars, as well as Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey. The brooding, heated vocals and organ on ‘Cracks in the Lifeline’ are reminiscent of Peej’s ‘Down by the Water’ (god I’d love PJ to come back with a ‘ghost punk’ album in 2008!). Creating your very own genre is an excellent ploy to attract attention to your band; luckily TAP have the originality and excitement to merit such invention. They thrill.


Cali-based lo-fi jamming, psych-thrash ambient peddlers Clipd Beaks are here to round things off in style. Heavy bass, melodic guitarlines and pounding drums are accompanied by singer Nic Barbelin’s howling, spaced-out acid vocals. Writhing around in command of two microphones, his boney frame drenched in sweat, Nic is a captivating frontman; again tonight an Angus Liars-related sound can be witnessed here and there in the vocals to great effect. The atmosphere is intense as the band draws us into their dark, stoned electro-rock-noise vision. Playing tracks from their drugs- and war-themed mini-album, Preyers, and recent Lovepump United release Hoarse Lords, ‘Nuclear Arab’ and ‘Smoke Me When I’m Gone’ are particularly massimo to my loving ears. They end on a climactic ‘Black Glass’, bass throbbing Joy Divison-stylee then spiralling into melody while Nic loses it over the top, screaming into those microphones like a banshee. Pummelling passion into their music whilst maintaining day jobs including project management and landscape gardening, this is a band on top form.

Needless to say, I leave Death by Audio thoroughly satisfied. Thanks Todd, long may you thrive and inspire!

Kate Picard is a co-editor for 3:AM and lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 10th, 2008.