Wags say that never the twain shall meet, and that phrase hardly seems more pop culturally meaningful than when it’s applied to the two polar ends of the new music scene: punk rock and psychedelia. Until lately, that is. In the last few years, bands like No Age, Abe Vigoda, and A Place to Bury Strangers have unexpectedly married shimmering cascades of screaming and beautiful feedback to the kind of face-shredding fury of three-chord mosh slams. For No Age-the L.A.-based duo who will play out their Dionysian passions at Velvet Jones on Saturday-it wasn’t so much a musical calculation as it was the simple union of two musicians who play well together, but hail from completely different worlds.
“We met through a mutual friend who wanted to play music with both of us,” said guitarist Randy Randall about bandmate and drummer Dean Spunt, whose influences are firmly rooted in the punk scene. “I used to see Dean at shows around L.A. selling ‘zines, but I didn’t meet him ’til he came over to play. That band was called the Wives.”
Spunt, who leans toward Fugazzi and Black Flag for inspiration, had to travel out from Santa Clarita, an odd bedroom community north of the city, to play music or see shows, though in his early punk discovery days he frequently traveled to S.B. to see bands at now-defunct spots like the Living Room. (He’s a good friend of UCSB grad and pop mogul Steve Aoki, too.) “I think Santa Clarita was the model for Edward Scissorhands‘ town,” he laughed.
But visiting Randall in the San Fernando Valley brought him into the club that would famously spawn No Age. “The first time we went into Smell, I knew it was fuckin’ great,” said Spunt. “It wasn’t just like some kind of party place. It was a place where you could just hang out and do things as long as you wanted to help out.” Smell, originally located in the San Fernando Valley, is an arts, music, and lifestyle nexus now tucked into an alleyway in downtown Los Angeles, completely dedicated to the Do It Yourself ethos first fostered in the 1980s clubs that birthed bands like Black Flag and Fear and Minutemen-all of which rank high in Spunt’s personal pantheon. “When we first went there it was kind of an older, arty scene. We were the young kids,” said Spunt, who confessed to feeling a bit awkward there.
Before long, No Age, a band begun in the ashes of the Wives, debuted at a friend’s art opening, and almost accidentally took on a campaign to introduce younger bands and a truly no age-limit kind of democracy to Smell’s downtown crowd. “We helped start the all-ages shows there,” said Spunt, who brought in or promoted younger edgy bands like Miko Mika and Abe Vigoda. “Smell was always awesome, but now it’s even better,” he said. Since they became big, however, they admit playing a gig at the tiny club is “tricky.” A draw of 400 means fire marshals might disapprove.
No Age got big on the road, but other sources helped. I first saw the band late last spring in Los Angeles when they opened for Liars, partially because of a piece I read in the New Yorker. A thousand young people filled the El Rey Theater for their band’s homecoming, moshing in the center of the lavish venue, while the rest of us-those who had read about the band in the glossy weekly-hung off to the side. The concert, which featured music from their first full-length CD, Weirdo Rippers, was intoxicatingly ecstatic. When Randall leaped awkwardly from the top of his amp and launched his fury at the crowd, young and old came forward as one. If the level of passion (a keyword amongst musicians) is the currency real rock ‘n’ roll is based upon, this felt like the cusp of a movement.
Spunt and Randall chuckle at such grandiosities. Randall, whose influences stem from bands like Pavement and My Bloody Valentine, explained; “I always wanted to be in a band, but it was long process of high school bands that never left the garage.” Spunt echoed the sentiment a few weeks earlier via phone, en route to the City of Commerce to work on a shoe design. “We’re workaholics,” he said. The duo is constantly writing and playing shows, though they dislike thinking about music in technical terms-it’s not about virtuosity, it’s about generosity.
And as far as the sound, a musical marriage that makes them so beautiful and rapturously moving to their hordes of all-age edge fans? “The psychedelic part makes the punk more interesting,” laughed Spunt. “And the punk helps to keep our experimental side good and short.”
No Age will play an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Saturday, February 28 at 7 p.m. For tickets and info, visit clubmercy.com.