Saturday, July 04, 2020

Black Dots: An Afropunk Primer & Chris Murdoch Interview & Shows # 836, 835, 834

On June 10th, Montreal based label Pentagon Black released the first of their Pentagon Black Pamphlet Information Series. Black Dots: An Afropunk Primer is an eight-page essay written by Halifax musician, DJ and writer Chris Murdoch. The eight-page essay is somewhere in between a zine and pamphlet that also includes exclusive illustrations done by graphic designer/musician Raymond Biesinger. Inside over the course of 2800 words, Chris Murdoch covers his own experiences being a musician and attending shows in Halifax along with information about when Black first met punk in the UK and US. The pamphlet costs two dollars and all of the proceeds for the month of June went towards the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund in Nova Scotia. During the first initial days of the release, orders came in and numbers quickly surpassed the 500 mark. At the time of writing this article, 1601 copies of Black Dots: An Afropunk Primer have sold with over $3000 donated to Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund Nova Scotia. You can still get a copy over at the Pentagon Black website.

Here is the Press release from Pentagon Black:

“In the first instalment of the Pentagon Black Information Pamphlet series, noted Halifax musician, writer, and DJ Chris Murdoch distilled his critical 2017 Black Dots presentation into pamphlet form. What's it about? When Black first met punk in the UK, the USA, and Chris' own life, and along the way its scant 2800 words catch large quantities of DIY spirit, noise, fury, skateboards and weirdness. Mentioned in the pamphlet: the Bad Brains, Death, Toni Young, Minor Threat, Don Letts, Red C, Nicky Thomas, Fire Party, Black Flag, Bubba Dupree, Void, Chuck Treece, Mike Cornelius, JFA, McRad, Thrasher mag, Ray Barbee, Underdog, Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, the Specials, Ranking Roger, Simone Thomas, etc. Released in June of 2020, this eight-page pamphlet includes five illustrations by Raymond Biesinger. Mandatory reading.”

Chris Murdoch has also been involved in numerous bands in and around the Halifax music scene. Some of his credits include being in Outtacontroller, Word On The Street and Botfly to name a few. Recently Murdoch has been playing drums and writing songs with Souvenir. This band just released an EP entitled Beating Into Dust in February 2020.

Continue reading for an exclusive interview with Chris Murdoch. He covers his band history growing up in Halifax, bands that he has been a part of, recording histories and more.

RR: You recently released an information Pamphlet through the Pentagon Black label called Black Dots: An Afropunk Primer. I read that prior to this in 2017 you did a series of presentations on the subject. When/how did you first begin doing those presentations and what was the response like?

CM: Funnily enough, this all started as kind of a little art project on Instagram. That's all it was ever initially meant to be. In February of 2016 I decided to post a picture of a Black punk musician on my account each day, with a little write-up highlighting their work, in honour of Black History Month. I really enjoyed it and could think of a good handful of folks I didn't get to showcase in that initial go 'round (February is the shortest month; a big part of the reason why it was chosen to be Black History Month in the first place, unfortunately) so I decided to do the same thing in February of 2017. Shortly after, I was invited by my friend Dave Ewenson to turn the Instagram project into a talking performance and present it at that year's Everyseeker Symposium (formerly Obey Convention) in Halifax. Dave definitely deserves a lot of credit for the evolution of this thing into a kind of information session - that is likely not something that would have happened without his suggestion and support.

To date, I've only given the presentation four times: once in Halifax NS, once in Dartmouth NS, once in Montreal, and once in St.John's, Newfoundland as part of the first Out Of Earshot festival. I try to slightly modify the presentation each time I deliver it, and all four times have been significant and special in their own ways. The talks in Halifax and St. John's were the best attended, and therefore had a very special energy.

RR: The Black Dots: An Afropunk Primer is something unique. What led to releasing this pamphlet through Pentagon Black and how have people been responding to it?

CM: I hadn't really done much or thought of doing much with Black Dots for a year or so, as I'm always busy with work, family life, and music. A co-worker of mine encouraged me to give the presentation at work this past February, again in recognition of Black History Month, and that was a lot of fun. He took care of all the promotion and logistics of it himself, and it was open to the public. A couple months afterward, I received a message from Raymond Biesinger of The Famines/Pentagon Black about putting out some kind of version of the talk on a pamphlet that he would produce. Everything went pretty quickly from there!

The response has really been phenomenal. I've had friends order anywhere from 1 to 100 of the things, I've made new friends as a result of the project, had friends kickstart their own fundraising campaigns in conjunction with it, have had it translated into a different language or two, showcased in zines, etc. I've been so lucky.

RR: Over 1500 copies of Black Dots have sold so far with proceeds going towards the BLM Solidarity Fund in Nova Scotia. Do you plan on doing anymore writing, whether on this subject or anything else in the future?

CM: It was really cool how that came together. Initially, Pentagon Black was going to sell them through their webstore like normal, and Raymond asked if I'd like a few copies to distribute locally. I asked him to send me 25 with the intent of giving them out for free to a few folks I could think of who might want a copy. In light of all that's going on in the world right now, I thought it might be a good idea to sell them locally rather than give them away, just so I could collect money for the BLM NS Solidarity Fund and do something concrete to support my community at this time. I mentioned this to Ray, and was surprised when he said that Pentagon Black would do the same thing during the month of June. After that, it morphed into much more of a deliberate fundraising campaign, and I'm extremely happy to say that due to Pentagon Black's sales, they were able to donate $3154 to Black Lives Matter NS. Due to my local sales and some donation-matching efforts from friends, we were able to raise an additional $1100 outside of Pentagon Black's sales to donate as well.

I would love to do more writing on this subject in the future, time permitting. I've been approached by a friend with a publishing company about doing a book, so at this point I guess it's a matter of making some plans around the format and scope of the book, and then actually getting off my ass to write it! The former involves a bit of work, but the latter is definitely the bigger challenge.

RR: You’ve been involved in the Halifax music scene for quite some time. How did you first get involved and what was the first band that you played with?

CM: My introduction to the local scene here in Halifax came about through a friend named Megan, who took me to my first few shows. We were in school together (she was a couple years ahead) and she knew I'd been pretty obsessed with rock music since I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was going through a (fairly awful) nu-metal phase, and her boyfriend at the time played drums in a local nu-metal band, so a lot of my first shows were going to see them play. The VERY first local show I ever went to though, was a really rad mixed bill show that completely blew my mind. It was the spring of 2000, and a lot of people I saw perform at that show I am still friends with now: for example, my friend Dave Prime who would go on to drum in Risky Business and now owns and operates Prime Strength Club here in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia - just a few streets down from my house. Also, Nancy Urich, who would go on to play in Dog Day and now also plays in the band Not You with my wife, Stephanie.

Megan sang in the very first band I ever played in, but we never made it out of the basement. The first proper band that I played with was an extremely Misfits-esque band called The Villains, with one of my nearest and dearest friends named Mike. We were both still in high school at the time. We recorded an 11 or 12-song CD and played one show, and then the band kind of morphed into this other band called Hot Death, which was essentially a Samhain cover band that mostly played house parties. Good times.

RR: What was the first recording you remember being on with Outtacontroller and what was it like playing/recording with the band?

CM: The very first thing I recorded with Outtacontroller was a 4-song "sneak preview" thing of the LP we were working on at the time, made specifically for bandcamp. One or two of those songs ended up on the LP I recorded with them, Television Zombie, as well as my first proper recording with the band, Remote Control. That LP is the only one I've ever played on and I'm quite proud of it (, but there is something special about Remote Control. My friend Matty and I were still quite new to the band when that thing was recorded (she is the one who invited me in to the group in the first place), and I think a lot of that fresh-faced excitement was kind of captured within that recording.

Playing with Outtacontroller was a dream. The best shows ("best" as in packed venue, fun atmosphere, cathartic playing experience, etc.) I have played so far as a drummer were with that band. Hooks and big choruses are a major factor within the songwriting, so the music is just naturally fun to play live. We played in Moncton, New Brunswick a lot and had the best response there. I started to get teased a little bit for how much I would smile while we played, but I couldn't help it!

The band dynamic was a great one too - out of four members, Matty was the only one who wasn't a drummer (although she is such a naturally talented musician, she's probably a better drummer than me now) - so when the other two guys (the songwriters and core of the group, Terry and James) would have ideas for what they wanted on the drums, or would listen to me bounce ideas off them for how a drum part could go, it was especially easy to communicate. We did a bit of touring, just a few short rips to Ontario/Quebec and back, and always had tons of fun. Sometimes we'd roll up to a venue listening to some James Brown to pump ourselves up! I've always been a lover of many kinds of music, but Outtacontroller was the first band in years that I'd played in that wasn't a hardcore band. I learned a lot about drumming, recording, and just music in general from my bandmates in Outtacontroller.

RR: How would you compare and contrast being a drummer in a band as opposed to taking on vocals, as you did in Word On The Street?

CM: I'm not a shy person, but there has always been an element of safety and comfort with playing the drums - you're kind of hidden back there, and it feels like no one is really looking at you or really paying much attention to what you're doing, which can actually be quite nice sometimes. Fronting a band is the exact opposite of course, you're standing there front and centre with no instrument to hide behind or distract yourself with. It's just you and the audience. I see no issue with front people who prefer to stand still while performing - if the music is good then who cares? As a hardcore frontperson though, I kind of felt it incumbent upon me in WOTS to move around and be engaging, to make our live shows an exciting experience. I'm a big, clumsy dude though, and look a little bit ridiculous bouncing around while we play - WOTS footage is a bit embarrassing for me to watch for that reason, but I hope it made for an entertaining live show when folks came to check us out.

Also, as a drummer, I'm very used to "supporting" the music with a few ideas here and there, rather than having any major input within a band's artistic direction - if that makes any sense. I'm not saying that this has to be the case for a drummer in a band, but it was a role I felt comfortable playing. Again, that approach is completely antithetical to being the frontperson of a band, where a lot of times the lyrics and overall vibe of the band are largely informed by you. I wrote all of the lyrics to every WOTS song, and they're an important element within the band, even though they are mostly indecipherable hahaha. A lot of them revolve around the same personal politics that most people could identify with, but there are a number of songs specifically about instances of racism I've experienced. They've provided a good vehicle for getting out years of pent up anger and frustration - I suppose that would be one of the biggest differences between drumming and doing vocals (I certainly can't refer to it as "singing" within this context): hitting the drums hard can provide a bit of a release for me I suppose, but not really as I still need to be mindful of the song dynamics and rhythm. Also, I don't hit hard because I'm angry about anything, I do it because I think it sounds good and it just sort of comes naturally. When doing vocals for WOTS however, I just completely lose myself. Other than the timing required for a song's rhythm, ALL I'm focusing on is my anger in relation to whatever a specific song is about.

RR: You’ve played with a lot of different bands. What are some of the bands that you’ve been a part of that people might not know about as much?

CM: I'm totally flattered that you would ask this. I'll probably rattle off more than I should.

Tone Deaf - A sort of "recording project" I did with some friends in high school. Really bizarre songs and skits about obtuse things, where we would often fuck with the sound a bit: for example, we did a song called "(S)lowrider" where I played a skeletal version of War's "Lowrider" on a cheap-ass Casio keyboard, and my friend Jivesh sang it. Then we took the recording and slowed it down to the point where it was unlistenable. It would be a couple years before any of us first heard Butthole Surfers, but that was EXACTLY the vibe we were going for.

BrainAmp - There's a town about an hour north of Halifax, NS called Truro - some of the most original and wonderful people I know come from there. About 15 or so years ago, Truro had this booming all ages scene with these really unique bands and kids in it - for whatever reason, a lot of them gravitated toward powerviolence. BrainAmp was essentially a tribute to that place and time period, specifically. I was the only one in the band who wasn't from Truro, and had NO business trying to play blastbeats without the chops, but we went ahead and did what we did ( Played a couple of shows, and put out one demo recorded by Chad Peck (whose band Kestrels just put out a fantastic new record. J Mascis makes a guest appearance on, actually:

Resistance To Theory - This was a two-piece band/project I did with my friend Alex Fountain. One of my oldest and best friends Erick Muise (now of Botnek; he also makes music under the moniker Tom Classic) was taking a Sound Engineering program at the time and needed a band to come in and record a couple of tracks. It was a perfect opportunity for Alex and I to play music together. We were both in an undergraduate sociology program at the time, so the name is a nod to that. We recorded two songs with Erick, and played only one show, in my friend Ian's bedroom! Alex's friend Seamus played bass for us. Sadly, Alex would take his own life a short while after we did the project. He was a beautiful and incredible person.

Negative Rage - This is essentially a solo project done by my friend Cody. It rules and think a lot of people are aware of it, but some may not know that I was lucky enough to play drums on the first NR release, Don't Wanna Talk ( The first live incarnation of the band played shows in Halifax, Truro, and Charlottetown, PEI.

Mean Streets - Two members from Word On The Street came together with two members from an incredible Halifax punk band called Mean Mug to form Mean Streets (get it?). We recorded a demo and played a handful of shows around Halifax - I don't think we ever played the same venue twice, which is cool ( The demo was recorded by Luke Mumford, who has just put out an outstanding record of his own:

Rubbish Heap - This was a recording project done by Cody, myself, and our friend Tri, who played bass and recorded/mixed the songs. Tri had a makeshift studio at his place and was offering bands/artists to come and record for an extremely low price. That, paired with the fact that I was a new dad who had foolishly quit playing music and was craving it really badly, led to us making the Rubbish Heap demo ( I would also dare to say that we are one of, if not the only Halifax punk band to have completely POC membership.

Botfly - Botfly are extremely well known throughout Canada and only have greater success ahead of them I’m sure. They are a trio, and the core lineup has been together for a while now - but I was fortunate to be the band’s original drummer. I play on the releases Parasitic Oscillation and Host:

RR: You’re currently playing with Souvenir, how is this band different from bands that you’ve played with in the past and how/when did you first start recording the Beating Into Dust EP?

CM: Souvenir is perhaps the only serious band I've ever played in that is not a punk band. The three of us in the band all come from punk and hardcore to varying degrees, so I do hope those elements find their way into our music. The band's main influence is definitely the band Silkworm, although I'm not sure how much we really sound like them. Certain songs sound a little like Jawbreaker, while others have more of a Dinosaur Jr. feel to them.

Souvenir is also my first time writing some of the actual music for a band since back in high school, playing with The Villains (hopefully I've gotten a bit better at it since then). Beating Into Dust contains 6 songs; each member of the band wrote the music and lyrics for two. "Artifacts" and "Promises" are mine, but I asked my friend Lachie to sing them. I might try to sing a song on our next release.

After four years (!) of trying to play with Lachie and Dave (my bandmates in Souvenir) in different projects that didn't work out, Souvenir finally came together in April 2019. We wrote the first EP fairly quickly, and recorded it that September with Charles Austin at Ocean Floor Studio here in Halifax. Working with Charles is always a pleasure, and I'm really happy with how the EP came out. We're hoping to get back in there this September to record a follow-up.

RR: What's next for you musically? Are there any other projects that you are working on?

CM: The only full-time band I see myself in for the foreseeable future is Souvenir. It's been such a rewarding process creating music with those two guys, and I'm very excited to see what lies down the road for us. I've still had some cool opportunities outside of the band: Weekend Dads will be digitally releasing their new record, Good Hangs, very soon - I play drums on it. I like everyone in that band a whole lot, so that was a really fun thing to get to do. I played a couple of shows with them as well. Also, my friend Trevor Murphy has a new project called Sluice, where he writes and performs music in French; a recognition of his heritage. He's invited me to play drums on some upcoming Sluice songs, so I'm really looking forward to that. Thanks for the interview!

Show 836 (Originally Aired On July 4th, 2020)(The Pyramids, The Bags, Pure Hell, Outtacontroller, Souvenir, The Dirtbombs):

1. Sugluk - I Didn't Know
2. Saddle Lake Drifting Cowboys - Modern Music
3. Leland Bell - Messenger
4. King Khan & The Shrines - Let Me Holler
5. Big Joanie - Tell A Lie
6. John Brim - Rattlesnake
7. The Pyramids - Here Comes Martha
8. The Pyramids - Pyramid Stomp
9. The King Sound Quartet - I Wouldn't Put It Past You
10. Wolfmanhatten Project - Silver Sun
11. Mari Elliot - Silly Billy
12. Pure Hell - Noise Addiction
13. The Bags - Babylonian Gorgon
14. Bow Wow Wow - Radio G String
15. Bad Brains - You're A Migraine
16. The OBGMs - Torpedo
17. The Holders - Peoria
18. Outtacontroller - Stuck In The 902
19. Outtacontroller - Creeps
20. Word On The Street - Cut To The Chase
21. Souvenir - Artifact
22. Souvenir - Promises
23. JONCRO - Violet Hair
24. Pleasure Venom - Deth
25. Stiffed - Burn Again
26. Best Praxis - We Fell
27. Rough Francis - Teen Zombies
28. TV On The Radio - Dancing Choose
29. Junior Walker & The All Stars - Cleo's Mood
30. John Coltrane - Locomotion
31. Lloyd Cheechoo - James Bay
32. The Screws - Valleys
33. The Dirtbombs - Don't Break My Heart

Download/stream this episode here.

Show 835 (Originally Aired On June 27th, 2020)(Preoccupations, Alice Bag, Kestrels, Protomartyr):

1. Preoccupations - Unconscious Melody
2. Cindy Lee - A Message From The Aching Sky
3. Mac DeMarco - Ode To Viceroy
4. Dirty Beaches - Sweet 17
5. Sinkin' Feelings - Sinkin' Feeling
6. Matt Ellis - I Don't Wanna To Know
7. Alice Bag - Noise
8. Scratch - Melt
9. Constantines - Call Me Out
10. Rolling Blackouts C.F. - Cameo
11. Kestrels (Ft. Jay Mascus) - Grey and Blue
12. Tunde Adebimpe - People
13. Sleater-Kinney - Bad Dance
14. Protomartyr - Scum, Rise!
15. Black Barron - Seek Your Pleasure
16. Conduct - Bacchanal
17. No Joy - Hollywood Teeth
18. James O-L - My Tunes
19. Ron Leary & Dean Drouillard - Frontline
20. Bob Dylan - Goodbye Jimmy Reed
21. Bloodshot Bill - One & Own
22. Built To Spill - Honey, I Sure Miss You
23. Ty Segall & Cory Hanson - She's A Beam
24. Orville Peck - Roses Are Falling
25. Timber Timbre - Sewer Blues
26. Fiona Apple - Heavy Balloon
27. Luays - Fifty Fifty
28. Jordaan Mason - Pharmacy
29. Protomartyr - Michigan Hammers

Download/stream this episode here.

Show 834 (Originally Aired On June 20th, 2020)(X, Cloud Factory, Guided By Voices, Bob Dylan):

1. Dion Lunadon & Kate Clover - When Will I Hold You Again
2. The Magic Plants - I Am A Nothing
3. The Mummies - The Fly (Peel Session)
4. Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet - Telepathetic (Peel Session)
5. Les Hou-Lops - Ebb Tide
6. The Vibrants - The Breeze And I
7. Jeff Tweedy - Ten Sentences
8. Neil Young - Vacancy
9. X - Someone's Watching
10. X - Cyrano DeBerger's Back
11. Cloud Factory - Amnesia
12. Travel Check - Death of Chill
13. TV Freaks - ABC
14. Sweet Dave - The Long Ride
15. Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Insufficient Funds
16. Outtacontroller - Television Zombie
17. Souvenir - Meter
18. Gum Country - Talking To My Plants
19. The Courtneys - K.C. Reeves
20. Japandroids - Heart Sweats
21. Territories - Defender
22. Guided By Voices - Game of Pricks
23. Guided By Voices - As We Go Up We Go Down
24. Guided By Voices - Little Whirl
25. Guided By Voices - My Valuable Hunting Knfie
26. Bob Dylan - My Own Version Of You
27. Bob Dylan - Black Rider
28. Bob Dylan - Scarlet Town

Download/stream this episode here.