One of the bigger draws at this year’s Gonerfest, an annual, weekend-long celebration of punk and garage rock in Memphis, Tennessee, is the appearance of revered rock ‘n roll classicists Reigning Sound in their original Memphis incarnation. But according to Zac Ives—co-owner, along with Eric Friedl, of Goner Records and its eponymous brick-and-mortar shop—Reigning Sound’s anticipated reunion has humble roots: “Greg [Cartwright] actually put the group back together with the Memphis lineup to do a fundraiser for my kid’s school.”
This isn’t especially surprising; Goner has always been something of a homespun affair, even as its influence has expanded across the globe. Case in point: Ives had just returned from Australia, where he attended a sort of “mini-Gonerfest.” Impressively the festival, which started in 2004, has acquired international cachet without compromising its commitment to intimacy. The event, whose headliners this year also include Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds and Dead Moon’s Fred & Toody, occurs mostly at local clubs like the Hi Tone and Murphy’s.
“Music is best served by a small place, where you feel the band and they feel you.” Ives says. “Intimacy is key. And we always open and close the fest with a show at this gazebo a few steps from the shop. Thee Oh Sees played there. Last year Ex-Cult played there. This year it’s Nots.”
Goner Records is one of the highest-profile garage-punk labels in the country, responsible for championing flag-bearing Memphis artists like Jay Reatard, and domestically representing Australian groups like Eddy Current Suppression Ring. But Ives attributed the longevity of the label and festival to keeping the operations in-house—resisting the gospel of growth. “There’s still room to do this the way we do, with a DIY mindset,” Ives explains. “We’re not going to press 20,000 copies of something or run ads in magazines. Those are things that would actually tank the project.”
In honor of the festival’s 13th year, we assembled a list of acts in the lineup well worth investigating—whether or not you’re attending the festival.
A classicist rock ‘n roll outfit led by former Oblivians member Greg Cartwright, Reigning Sound are slated to appear at Gonerfest in their original Memphis incarnation. The group, which formed in 2001, deals in down-home balladry and rough-hewn garage, though Cartwright’s syrupy vocals inflect even the most jagged songs with a soulful, wounded spirit (one that brings to mind, for contemporary comparison, Australian act Royal Headache). Reigning Sound’s most recent album—the sauntering, string-laden Shattered—appeared on indie heavyweight Merge Records in 2014, and the bulk of the band’s early discography arrived via Los Angeles garage-punk label In The Red. But Memphis and Goner are integral to Reigning Sound, as evidenced by recordings of a particularly raucous 2005 in-store gig, Live at Goner Records.
Memphis synth-punk group Nots—whose members have also performed in Ex-Cult and Manatees—have released two full-lengths since 2014, each a tightly-wound spate of staccato percussion and foreboding keys. On both 2014’s We Are Nots and the recently-released Cosmetic, the foursome conveys the propulsion and fury particular to players steeled by live performance. And vocalist Natalie Hoffman’s riveting, barbed delivery charges phrases such as “Entertain Me” and “Alien Eyes” with a bit of terror.
Punchy and concise, Oakland’s Midnite Snaxxx pair budget-rock simplicity with familiar-but-still-engaging vocal hooks in the style of The Donnas or The Ramones. It’s a common formula, sure, but in Midnite Snaxxx’s romantic snubs and spirited paeans to the weekend it sounds newly potent. See the cover-art for the 2012 7” “A Guy Like That,” by illustrator and Panty Raid member Janelle Hessig, for a visual rendering of the revelry so well articulated in the music.
On Spray Paint’s 2015 full-length Dopers and recently released Bogans and Hoons EP, the Austin, Texas trio traffics in images of upchucked blood and fiberglass, communal bottles and truck-driver eyes. Fitting these themes of rural noir and shifty reprobates is a stark, deadpan sound composed of thumping toms and grinding, repetitive guitar riffs. If the people in Spray Paint songs seem destined for psychosis, they’ve already got the music to accompany it.
The songwriting vehicle of Memphis native Seth Sutton, who moved to the Bay Area in 2013, Useless Eaters boast a voluminous catalog of rigid and lean garage-punk. Dalliances with keyboard and sinister atmospherics distinguish this year’s Temporary Mutilation, but the kinetic energy of Sutton’s riffs, and their interplay with his bitter vocal delivery, are at Useless Eaters’ core. That’s especially evident live, where the bandleader’s dogged determination creates a palpable tension in the room.
The woozy, headlong guitar riffs and galloping grooves of Power—an Australian group that shares members with hardcore bands such as Gutter Gods and Kromosom—bring to mind the muscular proto-punk and throbbing psych of Hawkwind or Black Sabbath. But the cumulative character of Electric Glitter Boogie, Power’s 2015 full-length on Cool Death Records, is altogether less self-conscious and more feral than most of the many groups who have similar influences.
The Blind Shake
Led by brothers Mike and Jim Blaha, The Blind Shake are known for their athletic live performances and decade-long output of rollicking garage recordings. The Minneapolis, Minnesota group—which boasts collaborative records with the inventive guitarist Michael Yonkers and Rocket From the Crypt’s Swami John Reis—is well-represented by a mightily combustible concert recording released last year on Castle Face (a label run in part by the bandleader of frequent tourmates Thee Oh Sees).
One of the more anticipated groups at this year’s Gonerfest, Atlanta, Georgia outfit The Black Lips acquired a reputation in the mid- to late-2000s for churlish live antics and far-flung tour routings that sometimes overshadowed their delightfully rickety, claptrap garage rock records. Let It Bloom, a catalog highlight from 2005 is, at times, barely coherent, a mess of fuzz guitar and clattering percussion that lends credence to the band’s dysfunctional lore.
One of the newest groups playing Gonerfest, New Orleans foursome Casual Burn self-released their cassette debut, Talk Bad, earlier this year. Vocalist Monet Maloof—who recently told Maximum Rocknroll that their lyrics, “come from a place of frustrations with expectations of femininity … [and] seem to glamorize being a waste case”—proves especially versatile: husky and gravelly on “Vacation Brain,” yet tunefully understated on “Doorways.” Overall, the eight-song release captures a similarly flexible band, one suited to blitzkrieg tempos and smoldering dirges alike. Mind the swift, jarring pivot into sample-laden din on the bridge of the aptly-titled “Neoprene Daydream,” in particular.
A Canadian enamored with Hasil Adkins and other such early rock ‘n roll outliers, Bloodshot Bill sports a coif, a hollow-body guitar, and a songbook stuffed with twisted roots tunes. “Honey Time,” a single he released earlier this year with a kindred spirit, Shannon Shaw of Shannon & the Clams, sounds like a song The Cramps forgot to cover.
One of the breezier groups booked at Gonerfest, Australia’s Chook Race plies a nimble, spritely sort of indie-pop that wouldn’t sound out of place on Slumberland Records. Still, undercutting the exultant hooks are streaks of melancholy that are expressed through dejected guitar leads and pensive verses. Gonerfest has been distinctly attuned to Australian acts of note in recent years—bruising garage and supple pop alike.
Buck Biloxi & the Fucks
Knuckle dragging and negative, Buck Biloxi & the Fucks often play songs about “the street,” apparently a site of ceaseless squabbles, insufferable people, and easily provoked acts of violence for the New Orleans trio. (The streets seem similarly significant to Hank Wood & the Hammerheads.) And the street, of course, is practically unavoidable. Hence, Buck Biloxi & the Fucks released three albums in two years. Inspiration abounds.