Bastard Squad-Interview with Jason and "Hate City" album review by Mark Jenkins
I was proudly chuffed to interview Jason and also reviewed their current album. I honestly believe Bastard Squad are as pivotal to the Australian punk scene (as well as Vicious Circle, Tutti Parze and Warp Spasm) as Mindsnare is to Aussie Hardcore. Great to see Bastard Squad still kicking and not resting on their laurels, but rather challenging the sociopolitical impact of the modern-day landscape.
A truly fantastic interview.
1-Could give me a brief history of the band, it’s name and what releases you have?
(why did you form the band? what was topical around the time the band started-politically and socially)
The band started rehearsing in early 1987 and our first ever gig was at The Duke of Edinburgh Hotel in St Kilda in October of that same year. The line-up was Matt (guitar), Tony (Bass), Peter (guitar), Spike (drums) and myself (vocals).
I joined the band a few weeks after it formed when Matt wanted to just focus on guitar and not sing. The name “Bastard Squad” was already chosen by that stage (conceived in a driveway at a party when the cops “Bastard Squad” showed up).
I was a bit fanatical about ‘UK82’ bands back then and Matt’s favorite band was Discharge at the time, so I guess we were the main influence on how the band’s sound evolved for our debut album “Hardcore Revolution” and the next release “Show’s Over.”
Around that time in Melbourne, the punk scene was still thriving, but the numbers had started to diminish from late 85/early 86, so it was nothing compared to the peak of the second wave for Melbourne - 83/84. I guess to a large extent Bastard Squad revived the UK82 sound in 1987 as no one else was still playing that type of music. And yeah, I think the return of studs, leather, and mohawks was part of it as well.
Yet, I’d prefer not to focus too narrowly on the UK82 music/scene because all the band members contributed to the sound and there were many other influences, such as early US hardcore and thrash. The sub-categories that exist today (such as d-beat) didn’t exist back then and if they did, we certainly wouldn’t have wanted a part of it. Despite the obvious influences, Bastard Squad was always about variety and we had no interest in being a UK82 clone band.
As for the lyrical content of the band back then, it was more direct, obvious and in your face and less about subtlety, ambiguity or metaphorical references. Nothing wrong with that.
The topics we focused on were similar to today: abuse of power, corruption, power politics, religion, warfare, exploitation, angst, identity issues, conformity etc.
We were obviously anti-authoritarian – as in challenging the legitimacy of authority and power, and had a more aggressive stance compared to most other bands at the time. Even though we would mostly focus on the same topics as the more passive punks or ‘peace punks’ (the majority of the scene 85-87) our approach was a bit more aggressive and direct. And of course, everyone wanted to fight you back then just for looking different, so that influenced things as well.
Bastard Squad has had a few line-up changes over the years (too numerous to mention here), but the current members have been in the band for many years now and have been involved in the majority of tours and recordings: Alex (guitar), Ben (drums), Selena (bass), Stu (guitar) and myself (vocals).
1/ Hardcore Revolution (1989)
2/ Show’s Over (1991)
3/ Realpolitik (2005)
4/ Fight Goes On (2007)
5/ The Dog Bastard CD - English Dogs/Bastard Squad Split (2013)
6/ Wars of Recognition (2014)
7/ Hate City (2018)
2- What drew you to hardcore/punk/metal and what is it such a rewarding and sustaining genre of music to you?
(what does the community mean to you as such, what’s the difference between this and normal music scenes)
Just having no interest in what was mediocre, superficial or tame. And at the same time I believed that the punk movement was also about questioning everything, challenging illegitimate power structures and most importantly being self-critical/reflective and exposing blind adherence. The punk bands were brutally honest and were (mostly) just being themselves and writing songs about their real and everyday experiences rather than commodifying themselves by simply creating a band for a market. Of course there are many great bands who don’t fit this first description and have written great music/lyrics. I think the biggest thing for me with the hardcore/punk/metal movements was the anti-hero standpoint. No heroes. And anyone acting like a rock star would be called out and labelled a wanker. Keeping it real! The best example of a band member who “keeps it real” would have to be Charlie Harper from the Uk Subs.
3- Devil’s Horns zine firmly believes that music and art is the best crossover in the universe, how does that work for you as a band? Because you have consistently had some fucking amazing art for each album; as evidenced by the sheer amount of punters with painted jackets with various BS album art.
Yeah, that’s a good point. The legacy of the Bastard Squad jester and Clifford’s artwork in general has been massive in my opinion. For me its hard to ignore or let go. That’s why I wanted to find someone who could capture the theme of the Wars of Recognition album in their artwork. I think Tyson did a great job with this as his work is very detailed and includes a modern version of the jester.
I should mention that the amount of influence regarding band members and the artwork has varied with each album. Wars of Recognition was very specific and there was regular correspondence with Tyson with each stage of the cover design. Whereas, with Show’s Over the band had no idea what Clifford would come up with. We just gave him a list of the song titles and said “Go for it. Whatever you think.” Clifford even came up with the name of the album “Show’s Over”. And not to forget, both Hardcore Revolution and Show’s Over vinyl albums had full artwork on the front and back of the cover, so the effort was huge.
4- Live how does your music translate?, do you have a message or what rewards you about the band/music?
As much as I’m keen to record and contribute to making studio albums, for me Bastard Squad has always been more about the live performances. It’s the intimacy of the gigs, especially in small venues. The crowd participation is a massive thing and I’ve always been really keen to share vocal duties with the crowd. We’ve toured interstate and overseas a few times now and I’ve loved every minute of it – especially our experience touring with English Dogs. But nothing beats playing in your own city to people who are friends and part of your own scene.
5- Tell us about the killer new album you dropped this year?
Yep, the album is called Hate City and it has six studio tracks and six live tracks. It was recorded over a few months in 2018 at Singing Bird Studio in Frankston. The live tracks were recorded at The Bendigo Hotel a couple of years ago. Its currently available digitally (Spotify, iTunes, Google Play etc.)
I was actually quite surprised about how well it’s been received, but that’s just me and I’ve always been a bit over critical about my own music. Not such a bad thing I guess.
But, I love the songs and I think they are a great reflection of how the band has progressed over the years – especially from Realpolitik onwards. I was mostly concerned about the recording itself, but after hearing it so many times, I couldn’t trust my own ears in the end. But more recently I started comparing the album to other releases of bands that I like, for example, Discharge – New World Order. And not so much the music, but the sound of the recording itself is very similar. So yeah, now I’m happy.
6- What are the highlights for you as a band so far? (I am being totally nostalgic, but tell me your thoughts on the Sydney tour with Warp Spasm, me and my mates drove up and I put it down as one of the greatest tours I have been to, that gig with Tutti Parze etc was incredible, best mixed crowds ever and the vibe…fuck!!!)
Jesus, that was one hell of a tour – May 16-19, 1991 NSW tour with Warp spasm. Hired a bus and left on Wednesday morning and arrived home Monday morning. Doesn’t happen like that anymore. I must admit, my memory of this tour is a bit hazy, so I had to cheat and read the review from a punk zine, which is basically a diary of the tour anyway. I also found some old photos from the tour, so that was a bonus. So yeah, we played Thurs, Sat, Sun. My best memories from this tour is the final gig we played on the Sun afternoon at The Lewisham Hotel. It’s like everyone saved it for this day. It was absolutely packed and about 10 bands played all up.
All the shows at The Duke of Edinburgh and The Arthouse (and there were many) in the early days are definitely highlights. We played Adelaide with Sick Things in 1988. That was a great tour – well before we released Hardcore Revolution. Can’t forget the brawl at The Albion Charles Hotel. Haha. Everyone stuck together, it was brilliant.
As for the past 10 -15 years, our tour with the English Dogs both here and in the UK was incredible. I became good friends with Wakey (the vocalist) and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. Interstate gigs with UK Subs, Test Tubes, GBH, Defects and Uproar were great experiences. And of course, all the local gigs with ANWL and the main highlight would have to be playing with The Exploited in Melbourne on the day of my 40th birthday. Pure coincidence.
7- On the flipside, the struggles and challenges?
A few, but I don’t dwell on negative experiences. The main thing though would have to be trying to organise the overseas tours. It’s always difficult to find a time of the year that suits all band members. And as for organising shows, the UK was never a problem, but mainland Europe proved to be difficult.
8- Any favourite current artists or particular albums you have on rotation?
I should listen to a lot more. Not much in the way of new bands. I keep going back to Neurosis, especially The Word as Law and Souls at Zero. Cursed – One, Killing Joke, Disorder, Chaos UK, Doom, English Dogs, Uproar, Discharge (new), Warwound, New Model Army, Raw Power.
9- What are the future plans for your band and you personally?
We haven’t really got any plans at this point, apart from releasing our new album on vinyl. After that, I’d say we’ll just focus on a few local and interstate gigs. I never anticipated recording the new album – Hate City. I was virtually prepared to call it a day (for recording at least) after Wars of Recognition. But…some new ideas came through and they proved to be worthwhile. And the idea of another recording? I doubt it. But never say never.
10-Your lyrics have always been about free thinking and questioning the system, why is this essential, talk to me about this?
I don’t think songs about “free thinking and questioning the system” should be essential for punk bands, as there are many great apolitical punk bands, but it’s important for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t want all songs to have a serious message – but I think the majority do.
Even Half Baked has a serious message – don’t put your head in a microwave when its turned on (assuming you’ve rigged the oven so it works with the door open).
But anyway, these days I try to avoid rhetoric, sloganeering and cliché punk topics when writing lyrics. Anyone can use slogans. I’d much prefer lyrics that attempt to challenge lazy assumptions and provoke deeper thinking. Especially being self-critical and questioning accepted standpoints or a common narrative adopted by people in a particular scene. This latter point was what the album title “Wars of Recognition” was all about. There can be too much emphasis on image in my opinion – a type of ‘packaged deal’ where we have clearly identifiable crowds that belong to a certain sub-genre of a sub-genre. No need for such a rigid adherence to what is expected by others close by. “Keep trading the resistance / For glory we are bound / The shifting of an axis / Distorting what is found / Another war of recognition.”
The album Realpolitik has a few songs about the issues surrounding the invasion of Iraq (2003) and US foreign policy in general. I guess I felt it was a duty to write such an album at that time. The album Fight Goes On is deliberately a bit more varied and has lyrics about apathy and the expansion of state power (Crisis Law); young Earth theory (6000 years); military defection (Defender); existential angst (Nothing and Nowhere); and…yeah…more positive inspirational songs (No Victim & Fight Goes On).
The new album Hate City is very dystopian and attacks neoliberalism and the global corporate system. The title track ‘Hate City’ is about the escalation of police shootings – especially in the US. The song Fall Again is about Empires and States crumbling, only to just rise again in some different form. It’s also about maintaining power by shifting alliances despite hypocrisy and double standards. Section 24B is a favourite of mine. It’s about the sedition laws that the Howard government wanted to re-introduce as part of the war on terror narrative. And it’s also about the apathy of the public surrounding such issues: “The hostage beside you, throws old skills away”.
For me, writing lyrics is of equal importance as performing the songs. If I didn’t write the lyrics I wouldn’t bother. It has something to do with the energy, expression and passion. I couldn’t imagine punk music without rebellion of some form. If the lyrics were mediocre or simply meaningless, I wouldn’t consider it a punk band. Even the apolitical punk bands are still challenging in some particular way.
11- Any final words or messages?
I would never have believed that one day Bastard Squad would support and tour with bands such as The Exploited, GBH, English Dogs, UK Subs, ANWL, Test Tubes etc, let alone play festivals in England such as Rebellion. Back in our heyday (87-92) none of this was happening at all. So it finally happens when we're all middle-aged. Can’t complain. Punks still not Dead. Cheers, Mark.
Bastard Squad-Hate City review
I must disclose, I am a huge long term fan of the band and I think the first six tracks of this album are the best songs this band has released. The production is very solid and is crisp, but not clean. It literally punches you in the face with every track. And that's where on some early albums, the translation of live to the studio was pretty flat and muddled. Not on this release at all. And whilst Bastard Squad has always improved from each album, this vocally and guitar-wise is much heavier in an almost a crust/d-beat manner. There is not a massive style or genre change, but this added heaviness is next level punk/hardcore bliss. At it's essence, the band is still very UK82 fueled, but with much more bite and caustic effect.
Complimenting the amazing first side of the album is six classic live tracks recorded at the Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne. If you have ever seen or got into this band, you will know every single classic track here; all delivered with the pure punk venom we know and love. All quality, all catchy as fuck.
Fave tracks: Section 24B (gripping and unrelenting punk with a crust influence), Fall Again (catchy and structured to mosh hard), Treachery and Hate City (both mix the best stylings of the UK Subs with prime GBH and you're 3/4 there!!).
FFO: old school punk, crust and quality hardcore. It's absolutely essential.
It's out now here:
and hopefully this will be released on vinyl.
It's on Spotify but here's a taste of the marvelous album:
and also check this old track because the clip shows photos from their whole career it's classic!!!:
AND PLEASE GO SEE THIS BAND LIVE AND SUPPORT LOCAL PUNK ROCK!!