Arts Desk

What’s in a Grindcore Controversy, Anyway?

Jay Randall, frontman for grindcore act Agoraphobic Nosebleed, has opinions, and a blog to share them on. In mid-November, that blog got a new message affixed squarely at the top of the page. It reads:

Disclaimer notice: The ideas expressed on this site are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED, it's representives [sic] or sponsers [sic].

Apologies in advance.

Why the new legal talk on Randall's personal site? The blurb went up shortly after Randall wrote a post ripping into local grindcore trio Magrudergrind for putting out their newest EP, Crusher, on Scion A/V. Shortly after publishing his thoughts, Axl Rosenberg, the co-editor-in-chief of the popular metal blog MetalSucks, posted a news item about Randall's rant.

"After we published our own piece, J. suddenly started tweeting about getting angry phone calls or whatever," Rosenberg says.

As my feature this week on Magrudergrind details, grindcore is a bit more hamstrung when it comes to breaches of the scene's so-called ethical code. Napalm Death set the political and musical tone for grindcore when it unleashed Scum in 1987. Just take in that album's first track, "Multinational Corporations," a short, thundering tune complete with simple, succinct lyrics: "Multinational corporations/Genocide of the starving nation."

Of course, Magrudergrind never followed that code. Sure, the music is loud and aggressive, but the aesthetic is off the grindcore map. "We take collages and pictures from here and there," says Magrudergrind singer Avi Kulawy. "I think a lot of people misconstrue our art and our aesthetic, and they see it as us being a socio-political band making a statement."

While Magrudergrind has taken its music in new directions, most of grindcore has stuck to Napalm Death's tried-and-true message and voice. By sonic nature, grindcore is so far outside the mainstream that an ethical code isn't unlike a badge of honor, a re-enforced status of being "outcast and proud of it," complete with a whole boatload of sanctimonious beliefs and baggage.

"There is really no change of grind ever being anything other than a niche market," Rosenberg says. "Since there's no real money to be made, everything becomes that much more DIY, and as a result, the people involved tend to really, really feel passionate about it, because there's no reward beyond the music itself. So that ethical code gets a big shot of steroids."

Which might explain Randall's response to Crusher, and the response of some within the grindcore community. Yet, that discussion is absent on Randall's blog post—it's just Randall's own words—sans one comment:

"I don't mean to whore out my video but I'd rather not re-type shit over and over. Here you go."

The comment comes from Keith Carlson, an Orlando-based graphic designer and illustrator and a co-founder of an online music community called The Apparatus. The link he posted on Randall's blog is for a confessional-style YouTube video Carlson made about his thoughts on Crusher. It tops seven minutes.

Carlson has been quite active in discussing the Scion controversy on The Apparatus, and was upset enough to post the YouTube video. "I was nervous and cussed a lot," Carlson says. "I made the video in hopes people would see a little more sincerity as apposed [sic] to just reading text."

Carlson's love for grindcore is certainly sincere: He capitalizes the "g" in grindcore during our AIM interview. He loves the genre's dark themes, aggressive tones, and raw instrumentation. Which he feels Magrudergrind does well. "They play all the standards of Grindcore," Carlson says. "I think they do it in a way that is so fluid and natural. They definitely have a 'rally up and mosh' groove that a lot of active Grindcore bands don't do as well."

But Crusher's Scion connection made Carlson feel uncomfortable. "I praise them in their hard work and strong DIY ethic but at the end of the day I don't think it entitles them to a dirty freebie," Carlson says.

While the grindcore scene is known to be rigid–as seen with the Crusher controversy–Carlson is a fairly open-minded fan. He also thinks he's on the losing side of the coin. "From what I've seen, I'm in the minority on this issue," Carlson says. "It's interesting that people are getting upset about fans like me questioning the situation as apposed [sic] to forming a thorough opinion about it from any perspective."

Sure, Magrudergrind got a ribbing from Randall and others in the grindcore community. But it wasn't before long that Randall got a healthy helping of complaints from impassioned grindcore bands, and fans like Carlson felt they were losing a battle. The back-and-forth in grindcore only seems natural. Soon enough, the arguing may as well stop completely.

"The good news, all the sound and the fury never amounts to much," Rosenberg says. "In other words, I have a difficult time believing this will have any negative affect on Magrudergrind in the long-term."

Still, the fury concerning Crusher—no matter what side fans took—is as much a part of grindcore as the music. Agree, disagree, whatever: For fans like Carlson, open conversation is part of what makes grindcore so great.

"It’s lyrics like 'it’s not a revolution but a life of strive [sic]' [from Magrudergrind's "The Price of Living by Delinquent Ideals"] that encourage me to speak up and try to get other people talking," Carlson says.

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