by Brian Cook
on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Based on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, it appears that the biggest news regarding Coachella’s line-up announcement is the return of the seminal ‘90s hardcore bands Refused and At The Drive In. It’s interesting that Coachella is attempting to tap into ‘90s hardcore nostalgia, but given that decision, they couldn’t have picked two more suitable bands. Both ATDI and Refused took the sounds germinating in basement shows, pressed into 7”s packaged in silk-screened office envelopes, and celebrated in Kinkos-copied fanzines, and ushered them into the mainstream. Both bands cemented their cult status by dying with the end of the decade. Given that both bands came from similar scenes and broke up around the same time, it’s strange that there’s a lot more cynicism towards Refused’s one-off return than At The Drive In’s reunion.
Granted, if you start an album by claiming “I’ve got a bone to pick with capitalism, and a few to break,” you’re probably going to face some criticism if any of your band decisions come across as financially motivated. But on the heels of Refused’s sell-out accusations have also been cries of plagiarism. This is nothing new for the band. To be fair, Refused did steal a lot of their ideas. The most commonly referenced infraction comes from the co-opting of Nation of Ulysses’ political party aesthetic and formal attire stage clothes. Then there is the obvious parallel between The Shape of Punk To Come’s artwork and the Rye Coalition’s Teenage Dance SessionEP. Oh, and there’s the whole lifting of a Born Against song title and a couple of Fugazi lyrics. But Refused never tried to hide their plagiarism. I doubt they even viewed it as such, undoubtedly reverting to Picasso’s famous “bad artists copy; good artists steal” ideology. Even though you can easily point out the ideas Refused borrowed, The Shape of Punk To Come was a pretty unorthodox hardcore record for its time. It was well-produced, it incorporated bits of electronica, jazz, and folk music, and its plagiarism added a post-modern element most hardcore bands were never bold or brainy enough to attempt. They may have worn their influences on their sleeves, but they also stretched the boundaries of what was sonically permissible for that scene. Like most hardcore bands, they called it quits before their artistic integrity was really ever challenged. So obviously they’re getting the bulk of the accusations because they broke up at a basement show and reformed for one of the world’s largest rock festivals.
At The Drive In have an advantage in the public relations department because they embraced the big time while they were still an active band. They signed with Beastie Boys’ label, recorded with nu-metal producer Ross Robinson, and played on David Letterman. Like Refused, they tried to show that they had more to their record collection than a few Fugazi records. But while Refused maintained their status as a hardcore band and tried to bring new sounds and ideas into the fray, ATDI seemed committed to distancing themselves from their roots, arguing that they didn’t want to be viewed as a punk band. Let’s be honest here, while Refused’s nods to Ian Svenonius and Ian Mackaye were pretty blatant, ATDI’s sound certainly owed more to the Dischord Records catalog. Where are the plagiarism accusations against At The Drive In? Refused singer Dennis Lyxzen may have dressed and talked like he was in Nation of Ulysses, but At The Drive In’s Relationship of Command actually sounds more like NOU’s Plays Pretty For Baby. Refused seemed determined to remind everyone where they came from; At The Drive In tried to disown the past and convince everyone they were part of the classic rock lineage, citing bands like Captain Beefheart, MC5, and Pink Floyd as major influences. It’s not surprising that ATDI’s members went on to form an alternative rock band, a dub outfit, and a prog rock band. It’s like they couldn’t get far enough away from their adolescent record collections.
The popularity of both bands was a sign of the times. Refused came first, showing that hardcore kids wanted something besides low-budget recordings of one-dimensional riff-driven songs. Then At The Drive In showed up and announced that they didn’t even want to be associated with hardcore anymore. It was a sign that the next generation of underground noisemakers had crossed into the mainstream. While it makes sense for Coachella to snag these two particular acts, it is certainly strange for these two bands to choose to come back in this fashion. It’s odd that Refused would pick such a large event, but it’s even more of a surprise that At The Drive In would get back together at all. Remind me again why Refused are the bad guys here?