Rozhovor s Aaronom Muchanicom, punkáčom z Filadelfie (Pensylvánia, USA), ktorý hrá na bicie v kapelách SOFT TORTURE a HALDOL a stojí aj za labelom World Gone Mad records na ktorom vydáva rozmanitú muziku z rôznych kútov sveta.
V pôvodnom znení bez tituliek.
Aaron with his record collection
1. Aaron, first of all, please introduce yourself, tell us a few words about your work, hobbies, musical activities, and introduce the city where you are living.
Hi there, since the start of the pandemic I’ve not been working but prior I did rather unremarkable jobs, just stuff to pay the bills and simultaneously give me the freedom to tour, travel and release music. I play drums, and have been teaching myself the saxophone since the start of the pandemic, a really nice project, since the sax is so different from drums. I also dabble in visual art from time to time, making drawings or collages. I end up having to do quite a bit of art work for my label W.G.M. Records too.
As far as musical activities, I play drums in 2 active bands right now, HALDOL and SOFT TORTURE, a not so active band right now BLANK SPELL, and a few more older/inactive bands. I also run the label that I mentioned before, which has an accompanying distro where I try to make an effort to carry stuff that isn’t really available in the US.
I live in Philadelphia, a major US city between New York and Washington DC in the state Pennsylvania. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the US and is one of the last hold outs of affordability in the North East/Mid Atlantic region of the country, while still having access to all the things you’d want as a young adult in a city, art scenes, music, etc. Philadelphia, in terms of punk, always had this historical identity crisis because we never had a ton of similar sounding bands to make up a Philadelphia “sound”, unlike DC or NYC. But I think this gives bands here more freedom to do their own thing and I think Philadelphia always has a very diverse scene “sonically”. I really admire the direction a lot of bands are going in and the city really seems to be getting a lot of attention and recognition at the moment!
Cassette cover of SOFT TORTURE
2. Can you give some background about how and when you first got interested with international underground music? What drew you to punk music and subculture?
What first drew me to punk music was hearing a friend talk about punk music that no one’s heard of, underground punk music. We were 12/13 years old at the time; the year was 2001/2002. I had already heard mainstream stuff and liked the energy. I’ve always been attracted to music with a fast tempo. So when I heard my friend talk about underground music, I wanted to find it myself.
I’ll note that I grew up in a rural area in Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half north of Philly, situated between the Lehigh Valley, NYC and Philadelphia. I was really on my own for the most part to find this stuff, which I think helped my overall musical development in the long run. I never had a role model to look up to or someone to spoon feed me music, or tell what was “cool” or what was “lame”. And without the internet, all of this really would have been impossible! (Side note, I grew up going to Double Decker Records in Allentown, one of the best places for HC/punk on the east coast at the time, so critical for my musical development!)
I started doing really funny rudimentary google searches, like “underground punk”. From there I found street punk, eventually leading into crust and hardcore, then 80s stuff. For whatever reason, I’ve always been attracted to the international aspect of punk. Maybe it was a way for me to escape my rural environment. I’ve always had a strong desire to see the world, meet people different from me, and experience different cultures. Although a side note, the more I’ve traveled and the more I’ve met people, the more I realize how people are kind of the same everywhere! There’s always a way to relate to each other and find common ground, no matter what the person.
Anyway, when I was 13/14 I discovered punk from Israel and Japan, which were really mind blowing experiences! I found the band Dir Yassin from Israel, which was so intense, musically and politically. I couldn’t believe a band with such a militant anti-zionist stance could exist within “the holy land”. They were the most extreme and radical band in my eyes at the time. I figured, if punk exists in Israel, then it must exist everywhere! So I went on a mission to find punk from everywhere. This lead me to check out releases by country on interpunk.com, which at the time in 2002/2003 actually carried some worthwhile stuff. I clicked on the Kazakhstan filter, expecting to find nothing, but there it was, the “Steppe-Punks” EP released by Tian an Men 89 Records! I bought that EP, plus Retsepti from Georgia and the Sweety-Punk EP from Madagascar, and maybe a “Last Call for the Lost Scenes” EP?? Getting those in the mail, I definitely wasn’t ready for any of the releases musically, to fully appreciate them. But I knew they were special and cherished them. Then the music clicked a few years later finally.
Aaron plays the drums (HALDOL)
3. You made a blog called PUNK IST PUNK. What was the aim of your blog and why did you choose that title? Which blogs gives you an inspiration?
PUNK IST PUNK is Punk is Punk in German, I don’t know where I got the name from but saying it in my head seemed like it worked, so I rolled with it. I speak English, Spanish and Portuguese and only had a few years of German, so not sure while I went with that. That blog was really the result of boredom and consistently coming to the party late. Blogspots were already on their way out. It’s the same with Facebook and Instagram, I joined late compared to my peers. I didn’t even have instagram until the start of the pandemic, hah!
Blogspots were so important for the early 00s and 10s to discover music and be in touch with what was happening in the punk scene. Forum boards too! Now everything is bandcamp, which is fine, but definitely has its room for critique as well.
HALDOL record cover
4. You also play drums in a HC/punk band SOFT TORTURE. Tell us about it –recordings, gigs, where have you played with the band? Do you also play in other groups? What's the scene like in your town of Philadelphia? Bands, venues, polit-activities, clubs, zines?
SOFT TORTURE is a new band created by Chuck Meehan, the original bassist for local and original HC Philly band YDI, during their critical “A Place in the Sun” EP that is now amongst the top-tier for early USHC. Chuck asked me to jam with him on bass and myself on drums. After working through some riffs he had, he asked our friends Sam and Jess to join on guitar and vocals. We had our first show a couple days before the pandemic. The final show before the end of the old world! We really screeched to a halt with the pandemic, but managed to record a tape and have 2 more shows once things started to open up again post-vaccine.
Like I said earlier, I’ve play in HALDOL for many years now. BLANK SPELL too, but we’re not so active these days unfortunately. I miss jamming with them a lot!
Philly is a super active scene with tons of great bands forming all the time! I’ll keep it brief because I could go on and on with all the bands. The other night SOFT TORTURE played with CULT OBJECTS, they are such a great band, really amazing dynamics for a three-piece. Their drummer especially is incredible. I’m releasing a tape for them soon! MESH is one of my favs right now, super jangly garage punk, and catchy! DRIDGE always have a special place in my heart, doom metal band with lots of other dynamics going on. I attended the mastering session for their new record the other day and it is DEVASTATINGLY HEAVY. CARNIVORUS BELLS is another local that’s super interesting and really pushing hc punk forward with originality.
5. How do you perceive the situation with the war in Ukraine from the USA? I know you're a fan of the USSR punk scene. Do you know punk bands from Ukraine? There exist prejudices about Americans that they don´t care too much about music from different parts of the world. But you are an exception for sure.
The Ukraine war is really heartbreaking. I’ve been following the situation closely because of my contacts and friends in Russia. I think the conflict is still too new to make any heavy-handed comments or opinions at the moment. I will say that I’m skeptical of sanctions and their effectiveness to create political pressure. We can look to Cuba or Iran as examples of why sanctions don’t work in the long term. Rich people always find a way around them and it’s average people that suffer. Obviously the Russian invasion is wrong at every level. I remember being so taken aback when Russia illegally occupied Crimea back in 2014. Back then would have been a more appropriate time for the world to react in the way it is now. Ignoring the problem for almost a decade created the situation now and allowed Putin to feel emboldened to invade Ukraine.
Besides PIĈISMO released by Darbouka Records, I really don’t know any bands or anyone from Ukraine, shame on me! I know there has to be great bands and scenes from there. I will say that the prejudice/stereotype that Americans only care about domestic bands and bands from “established” foreign scenes is absolutely deserved and true. I can think of so many times in my life that I try to show someone a cool band where they’re kneejerk reaction is to dismiss it just because of where it comes from. It’s wild how biased people can be!! Even in distributing CRISPY NEWSPAPER, people scratch their heads and don’t really understand nor try to understand the band, who they are, where they come from and how they fit into the punk scene as a global/borderless music genre.
WORLD GONE MAD Records logo
6. Your label World gone mad (very actual title, by the way!) releases various interesting recordings. What recordings do you make? What genres do you prefer? Say something more about the recording of Crispy newspaper, an HC / punk from Yakutsk. How did you contact them? What are the reasons for your fascination with training in the East-European/ex-USSR punk scene?
The label has naturally turned into a dual focused thing, with Philadelphia being one side and International stuff being the other, which makes sense for what I’m exposed to in my day to day life, and what I tend to seek out in my free time. I started out being very hardcore punk focused, but since the pandemic I’ve really opened myself up to more experimental and obscure sounds. I’m now one of the main US distributers for this label An’Archives in France, who specialize in Japanese improve, jazz, psych stuff. Incredible label! Eventually I’d love to evolve my label past just solely releasing hardcore/punk and expand out to whatever I like, find interest or I think people need to hear. I always have a mentality with all my releases, “if I don’t release this, who will?” so that motivates me to give bands a chance that maybe everyone is overlooking! I felt that way initially with the Philly scene, it felt overlooked a bit and I wanted to elevate the people around me and my own bands too. The international stuff happens naturally too with me meeting and knowing most of the bands I’ve released. I need a personal relationship with members before wanting to release something usually.
CRISPY NEWSPAPER was an exception though. I read about them in the LA Times, Bandcamp Daily, jammed their records, I thought they were so great. They really took me back to hearing all the TAM89 releases for the first time. They felt so fresh and energized. Really such a perfect band!! I thought that surely someone would hit them up to release their records. Fast forward a year or so, and I wasn’t hearing any news. So I hit them up and surprisingly, no one asked them yet. Once I read the translation for the lyrics, I knew they 100% deserved to be on vinyl and need to be immortalized within punk in that format.
A note on CRISPY NEWSPAPER.... Shame I couldn’t get CN their LPs before the war with Ukraine.... We don’t know when I’ll actually be able to attempt it even, such a terrible situation all around. But honestly, it might be better for them to not have the physical copies right now, what with how intense censorship and repression is in Russia. They messaged me the other day asking for their lyrics to be removed from Bandcamp because of how bad the situation is. any today, they messaged me again saying FB and IG are gonna be shut down in Russia very soon and they aren't sure when they'll be able to contact me again... I’ve been contextualizing it for people with this hypothetical.... ‘let’s say a Navajo punk band just released an LP in their own language that heavily criticizes the government, then the US starts an expansionist war with Mexico, and bc of that, they start to repress indigenous people and minorities domestically’, that’s basically a simplified version of the situation CN is living right now. In my eyes, it’s made these CN LPs some of the most relevant punk of this decade, whether people acknowledge that will be another thing though. I’m glad they never credited themselves in the release! they gotta stay a little bit anonymous, i think.
Back to the question though… Punk from places like Eastern Europe or Latin America always carried more weight for me. In these places, being a punk means something and comes with more inherent risk to yourself because of the lack of freedoms within the political system or societies at large. It made me think and feel that the music was more earnest and genuinely punk. There’s much more at risk when you’re being watched by the secret police in Poland or Czechoslovakia, or being hunted by death squads in Colombia or Peru. Obviously there are still risks to it in the US and there are ways punk can still threaten the system within “Western” countries. But I don’t want to diminish or cast aside any struggles people go through to make their music and art in any geographic location on Earth. Basically I went through a long journey to see the universality and valor of all music, regardless of geographic location. I don’t like to think of things in terms of “well this is more valid because of X, or this isn’t quite up to snuff because of Y”. We’re all in this together!
CRISPY NEWSPAPER record cover
7. You also made a few cassettes dedicated to punk/new wave/HC from Colombia, Greece, Poland, South America, Japan or USSR.These were pure bootlegs or you tried to contact some bands (but I doubt it was possible)? Tell me a little about it.
I wouldn’t say bootlegs per se, more just professionally pressed mixes. Jake from BLANK SPELL encouraged me to make them after saying they really loved my Finnish Punk Mix that I made for personal use and close friends, all pure punk pre-hardcore stuff. So I started with my USSR punk, Finnish punk and Polish Dark Wave mix tapes. I quickly sold out of the initial 100 copies made, so I made 100 more of the USSR and Polish ones if I remember correctly. Maybe the Finnish one too, but I honestly can’t remember now. Then I decided to do the Colombia, South American and Greek ones. Followed by the Japanese post-punk double cassette, I really love that one! I finished off my mix tape series with Yugoslavian post-punk. None are available right now but a lot of people ask me to make more sometime.
I’m so torn because I love sharing this old music, but at the same time, I’m releasing contemporary stuff too! Maybe people should listen to the great new bands! I think this is a big problem with punk, people are always looking backwards for what the past did. Maybe it’s time to look forward or even to our left and right as well??
Polish dark wave compilation
8. I know your inspiration comes also from Tian an Men 89 records, how did you find info about that label? Do you have complete vinyl recordings from TAM89 in your collection?
TAM89 has always been so inspirational. I explained how I found them earlier, from there it was a mad rush to collect their whole discography, which I achieved years ago in the pre-discogs days, waiting for my saved searches to go off on ebay and hopefully not get in a bidding war with anyone. I love reading Luk’s interviews about TAM89, there are always such inspirational nuggets that I find resonate with me so much. Like his anthropological approach to punk. If someone says what they’re doing is punk, then who are we to dictate and say what is or isn’t “punk”? Punk is an anti-authoritarian attitude and DIY spirit, it’s not a specific “sound” or “look”. There are EDM (Electronic Danse Music) musicians out there that are more punk than some “punks”, I think.
9. Aaron thanks for your time, say in the end what you want, give some message.
Thank you for asking me to do this interview! I hope everyone has the courage to listen to new music with open ears and no pre-conceived notions. Don’t dismiss the punks from Greenland, Paraguay, Angola, Moldova, Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, etc.
Aaron with Mexican band RINA
Ok, that´s all folks, check also: