Necktie Party
w/Playing Enemy, DJ Franki Chan
Mon July 1
Graceland, $4.

There's a deep, hotheaded anxiety to Necktie Party's music--a nerve-snapping, tension-driving, fight-or-flight aggression, which artfully wrecks stability in favor of unleashing hypnotic terror that claws its way out of the core of every song. This Olympia act has only been around since 2000, but they're already jolting fans with a spastic new wave of hardcore that comes on like a communal panic attack. In addition to opening for Unwound's final show at the Northwest Asian American Theatre, Necktie Party has gotten rave reviews from Bay Area Yahoo! Group sf_indie, and on their second tour through California (which included playing a boxing gym in Bakersfield), they were already attracting a small cult following. Not bad for a basement-playing band with only one demo and a seven-inch to offer (a split with San Diego band the Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower).

It doesn't take a full merch table to command attention, however. For artistically assertive bands, what it does take is the ability to skillfully drill into a set of intense emotions and keep a tight grip on the tools of the trade--high-strung vocal theatrics, rapidly changing tempos, complex instrumental structures, and a wild taste for punk experimentation. Necktie Party possesses these attributes in spades. "We're punk kids and we love to play driven, panicked music," explains frontman Mikey McKennedy. "We like the aesthetic of manic music that's all over the place and frenzied."

The band's appreciation for musical calamity originates in the canon of art punk--groundbreaking San Diego labels like GSL (home to fabulous grindcore act the Locust) and Gravity Records (home to Antioch Arrow and Clikatat Ikatowi), although band members are very conscious about not being seen as a "Gravity rip-off act," and are by no means carbon copies of their wide-ranging influences (everything from newer black metal bands to Le Tigre). McKennedy does admit, though, that these two labels helped break out new facets of harsh, noisy punk, influencing a new generation of experimental sound.

"[GSL and Gravity Records] changed the perception of what hardcore bands could be, and gave musicians a lot of freedom to do things differently than the set genres that had been done in the past," he says. "They opened a lot of doors for kids in the indie scene. All of a sudden, hardcore wasn't some jock thing that's like really simple, three-chord/four-four-time stuff. You could be technically proficient and lyrically smart and inventive, and play raucous music. There were other bands at the time [mid-'90s] that were paving the way too--a band like Unwound really changed the perceptions of musical boundaries. When [Unwound] first started, what did you call them? Were they an indie band? Were they a hardcore band? It was just this moment when we were all coming into music in '95, and there were all these bands that you couldn't define. And that was awesome, because we didn't really want to be crusty kids playing Minor Threat," McKennedy laughs. The misfit genre has continued to break open with musical peers such as Arab on Radar and Pink & Brown.

Necktie Party are not only helping an evolving genre, they're evolving within their own sound as well. Since recording a demo with help from Unwound's Justin Trosper and Vern Rumsey, McKennedy says the band has become "even more arty."

"I hate to say it that way," he laughs, "because it sounds so pretentious. But we like the stop-and-go aesthetic on the demo--I use my voice as an instrument to accent the craziness, and then stop screaming and make it quiet. On the new stuff we do, we're even getting into doing more singing, and there's more of a jazzy sound. We're still maintaining the chaos and the spazziness of it, but now we have weird Gang of Four drum breakdowns and old-style rhythm-and-blues singing in parts, just because that's what we're feeling right now."

As part of the DIY scene since its inception, the band's members--guitarists Joe Hess and Mark Rentfrow, bassist Tim Weisch, and drummer Allen Blayle--are also very politically conscious, and attempt to spark both the bodies and the minds of the crowds they entertain. "We're aware of the fact that we are five white dudes onstage, and that's been done for decades now. We don't get preachy or dogmatic, but we try to play with queer bands and bands speaking openly about feminist and class-consciousness issues," explains McKennedy. "Especially as aggressive music gets more and more commercialized, and it's slowly becoming more palatable to mainstream audiences, you have these total white-boy dudes up there thinking that to be a badass or to be indie is to jump around [violently] and have the veins pop out on your neck. And that's just ridiculous to us."

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