Local record label backs two promising punk outfits, Icon Gallery and Oh S---
February 24, 2011 5:00 AM
On Saturday night at Gooski's in Polish Hill, Icon Gallery, seen here, and Oh S - - - They're Going To Kill Us will celebrate their latest with a release party. From left are Stacy Dean, Kevin Parent, Aaron Grey (no longer with the group) and Chani Ferens.
By Manny Theiner
Punk, hardcore, post-punk, thrash metal -- that's kids' stuff, right?
Ponder this: If you bought the first Siouxsie & the Banshees album in college, you are now in your 50s. If you caught Discharge or Black Flag on their early tours, you probably drive a minivan, own a house in the suburbs and have two kids about to graduate high school. And yet these bands don't have affluent constituencies to garner them PBS specials or public radio airplay.
Icon Gallery/Oh S---- Record Release
With: Lady Beast
Where: Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill.
When: 10 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $5; 412-681-1658.
Luckily, Pittsburgh bands Icon Gallery and Oh S--- They're Going to Kill Us aren't waiting around for your approval. Saturday at Gooski's, both bands release new material on vinyl (the format of choice among cool types, so deal with it) on thriving local imprint Dear Skull Records.
Pass them up and you'll miss one of the strongest voices in the music scene -- Icon Gallery's Chani Ferens, whose moods from quasi-operatic croon to fierce bear growl comparisons, to post-punk divas Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex (or jump ahead a decade to Bikini Kill and Hole). Drummer Kevin Parent notes a more direct, if obscure, influence.
"Chani and I talked about starting a band like Regiment -- a Polish punk band from the '90s that had melodic leads and a powerful sound with female vocals that sang and didn't scream."
Half of the classic Icon Gallery lineup (Ms. Ferens and bassist Aaron Grey) originated in hardcore punkers Aphasia, which changed its name to Die Screaming and dissolved in 2006. But the other two members (Mr. Parent and guitarist Stacy Dean) go back to Mt. Lebanon High School.
"When I was playing at [defunct Wilkinsburg DIY space] Mr. Roboto Project with Counter Action and The Strain, he was in The Ezekiel and Mary Celeste."
Icon Gallery practiced for nearly a year before playing their first show because the pace of songwriting was breakneck. After two introductory 7-inch singles, the band's debut LP is impressively presented: gatefold jacket, cover painting by fabled artist Ben Kehoe (featured in publications like Juxtapoz), and intelligible lyrics by Ms. Ferens, which span both emotional anguish and subtle political venting.
"We scrapped the more straightforward punk songs and [moved into] a sound influenced more by '70s rock and postpunk like Joy Division," adds Mr. Parent. "There's a dark overtone in the music, so we're definitely not a poppy band."
Neither is Oh S-- They're Going to Kill Us, formed nearly two hours away in Franklin, the seat of Venango County. According to singer Dusty Hanna, the band originated as teenager anarcho-punks Opposition, aping Discharge and Varukers. Coming from a small town of 7,000, discovering the wide world of punk rock meant traveling to Eide's in Pittsburgh or Eerie Records in Erie, or mail-ordering records in the days before Paypal.
"We were lucky enough to have a fairly good scene," recalls drummer Adam Ramage. "We started coming to shows in the city, and there were record distros at those shows. In the '90s, you could see [well-known Pittsburgh anarcho-punks] Aus Rotten. When I was 14 years old, I set up a show for them in our hometown, probably the biggest we ever had there."
Oh S--- moved away from raw crustiness into a hybrid of hardcore, thrash and speed metal, fully in evidence on its second LP.
"It's similar to the first LP in the musical blend," says Hanna, "but the material has become more complex, especially because it's a theme album."
The record's topic is cryptozoology, which means "the search for animals whose existence has not been proven" -- Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, and so on. In Oh S---'s lyrics, these creatures aren't waiting to be spotted through binoculars -- they're on the offensive, so the record is titled "Cryptozoological Attack."
Peppered among songs such as "Touched By a Wendigo" and "Werewolf Apocalypse" are sound clips from footage of supposed eyewitnesses or experts. As with any pseudoscientific endeavor, there was a bit of controversy, according to Mr. Ramage.
"Two pressing plants wouldn't press it. One company had it for a while until a guy at the plant recognized a clip from a TV show ['we're the target of the beast's rage'] and they stopped production on it. That held us back for months from putting the record out, and Mikey [Seamans of Dear Skull] ended up buying the plates from them."
The members of Oh S-- leave the question open as to whether these creatures exist. "The concept is, if they do exist, they're plotting an attack on the human race to wipe the planet free of us and take over," says Mr. Ramage. "The songs are about angry creatures rather than the politically charged style of our other releases, but Dusty has clever ways of putting social relevance in it."
"It's supposed to lean toward the humorous side -- the lyrics should make people laugh," adds Mr. Hanna. "One of the best things about thrash was the funny stuff mixed in with social commentary, and that's what we try to do."
Humor derived from a deadly serious situation birthed the very moniker of the band. "Shortly after Sept. 11 , I was sitting on the floor when the terrorist warning system popped up on the TV screen, and it was on high alert," Mr. Hanna said. "I remember saying, 'Oh s---, they're going to kill us!' and that became our band's name."
Although Icon Gallery has taken a more serious approach, the band also has endured changes, such as replacing Mr. Grey (who moved to San Francisco) with bassist Matt Schor, an accomplished sound engineer with whom Mr. Parent had played in garage-punk bands The Test Patterns and The Main Events.
"He also plays in Passengers with Matt McDermott of Harangue," adds Mr. Parent. "He recorded all our stuff, one of Oh S---'s singles, and also Brain Handle, Slices, and The Fitt, So he wanted to join and was our first choice."
The thread that binds the bands together is mutual friendship with Mr. Seamans, co-owner of Polish Hill record store Mind Cure, whose label has been responsible for releases ranging from experimental artist Tentatively, A Convenience to shambolic indie-rockers Dark Lingo.
"I've known Mikey since [defunct North Oakland] Duke's Bar was around. It had the feel of an abandoned house in the summertime when all the doors were open. All the punks hung out there. Mikey was a fan of the band, and when he got the idea to start the label, we were the first he asked."
For Icon Gallery and Oh S---, the mutual sense of community cemented the idea of the double record release. "Our old bands used to play shows together," says Mr. Parent, "and our current bands shared various shows over the past couple years. That's why it made sense to do this. I'm sure we'll be playing many times on the same bill again."
Manny Theiner is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.