(Originally from July 7, 2009)
"Michael King of Pop Dead". The headline reads from the leftover USA Today that sits in the back of the car from two days ago. In Los Angeles, California the streets are filled with hopeless fans, the TV news doesn't show anything but this. Meanwhile in Tehran, Iran the streets are filled with protestors disputing a rigged election, who are getting quieter and quieter by way of violence. Their TV news CAN'T show them, and back in America they simply won't. Is our country really so celebrity obsessed that we deem the death of a man who hasn't made decent music in almost two decades more important than something that's actually, well, important?
Outside of Michael Jackson's world of being forced into music as a child through labor rather than love, having professional songwriters help churn out his hits, taking jets from Arena to Arena, having a team of yes men that would make the staff at Graceland blush, and being so obsessed over his own self-image that not only does his face adorn all his album covers but he continues to mutilate it through plastic surgery all the way till the end, exists Insubordination Fest. Here the bands found a love for music on their own, the songwriters are the same people who perform the music, the bands travel in beat up vans from club to club, playing in front of 100 people for most of them would be a great night, and album covers are adorned by drawings done by them or their friends.
The journey to this year’s Fest started with waking up at an ungodly hour in the morning. By 6 AM I had showered, grabbed my backpack and sleeping back, and jumped into the car and left. About 13 hours, 6 caffeinated drinks, and a lot of rest stops later we arrived in Baltimore.
I walked into the venue as The Unlovables were playing; having no interest in them I checked out the merch tables and discovered there were three different stages all on the same level of the club. This was a nice change from the last time I went, two years ago, when you could only see one band at a time and if you didn't like them your options were to wander around the merch for twenty minutes, go watch people do drugs in the bathroom, or find something else that would occupy your time. I went off to the bigger of the two secondary stages and caught the Secretions set. At a place where a band t-shirt, jeans, and Converse All-Stars could be seen on practically everyone the Secretions looked kind of out of place at Insubordination Fest with the singers stylized spiked hair, their lock necklaces, and boots. The bands music was decent enough, a mix of fast paced angry songs and then some lesser goofball ones with titles like "Queen Of The Scene".
After their set I went over to the next room and discovered the even smaller third stage. With about thirty other people standing around I watched a 300 plus pound guy sans shirt sit behind a drum kit cracking jokes. I wasn't sure if he was part of a band, a one-man band, or just some guy providing some entertainment between sets until another 300 plus pound shirtless guitarist joined him and then an average sized bass player wearing a shirt. This was my introduction to The Sheckies, a name I recognized but until that point had no image to match it with. The band proceeded to give an entertaining set of songs with subjects ranging from Xanax to Star Wars. The
guitarist went into a rant about why we should by their merch because they were "starving artists" and proceeded to jiggle around his fat rolls for the whole audience, before finishing up their set with a cover of The Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me
After wandering around a bit I found myself back at the third stage which was now occupied by a band of seven or so people dressed in matching white shirts with red sweater vests and ties. In front of them were three guys acting like bouncers dressed in campy Village People-esque police uniforms. I would later find out this group was Lost Locker Combo, their songs consisted of singing about school but the music, which while limiting wasn't that bad, wasn't the main source of entertainment. Throughout their set the band engaged the audience by shooting silly string, and throwing out things from rulers and plastic swords to balls of paper. The set turned into a back and forth throwing match between audience and band, and was one of the coolest and most entertaining sets of the fest.
I went back to the main stage in the middle of Underground Railroad to Candyland's set. Various band members were dressed in bandanas covering half their face, red wigs of hair, and heads masked as birds. They did a cover of Pink Floyd's "When
The Tigers Broke Through" which I dug despite it being out of place at a punk festival and not many people seemed to recognize it.
I was excited to see Pansy Division who was coming up next on the main stage. They started their set by putting up rainbow gay pride flags that had "I Want A Divorce" written on them. During the first song of their set the bass drum broke and the band announced it would be replaced momentarily. The band left the stage but eventually the bassist came back out to dance around to "Anarchy In The U.K." which was playing on the P.A. Soon the rest of the band joined him. Jon Ginoli the bands singer went up to the mic and said "Sorry to interrupt Anarchy, but this song is called Dick Of Death", and with that their mix of sexual and political songs continued as planned. Halfway through the set the bassist left the stage and returned sporting a dress before jumping into their song "James Bondage" where he threw gay porn into the audience. The band finished their set in true punk fashion by ripping up a bible and throwing the pages at the audience.
I could have done without the next band Suicidie, who were a joke band made up of people on a message board (one of whom in Suicidie's case was Lookout! Records founder Larry Livermore). Their set, which was under ten minutes, was made up of mock- hardcore songs with a Lookouts cover thrown in. It seemed like most people just stood around with most of their songs being too short to get into. With these factors and their niche appeal the band would have better served the third stage.
The stage was now cleared for the final Steinways set, at least until their inevitable future reunion. I was never much of a big Steinways fan but they put on a good show and the audience really dug it. But the Steinways were blown away by Boris The Sprinkler who put on the best performance of the day with singer Rev. Norb entering in a pink leather suit covering his entire body up to his face. "Hold on" he said before
they started playing, and whipped out a matching mask. Putting it on he had now
effectively covered every ounce of his flesh with pink leather. One of the great characters in the history of punk, Norb ripped through the first few songs before
finally taking off his mask. He replaced it with his trademark "Geek" helmet complete with antlers. Even the audience dressed up for Boris's set, with one guy dressed in a full Superman costume complete with cape. Boris would even one up Lost Locker Combo, bringing out endless rolls of toilet paper and starting a TP fight with the audience. A strong-armed audience member landed a roll on one of Norb's antlers and it stayed there for the entire set.
With great music to match their stage show Boris The Sprinkler was a tough act to follow. And while that night’s headliner the Dead Milkmen couldn't upstage their show, their music was just as good. Armed with an arsenal of punk, ska, and new wave tinged songs they did a lengthy set of what seemed like 30 or so tunes. While they had no fancy costumes or paper to throw (sans what was thrown from Boris’s leftover toilet paper on the floor of the pit) the audience seemed into them just as much. Before finishing up their set Milkmen singer Rodney Anonymous went on a rant about Michael Jackson complete with a jazzy instrumental by the band to back him up (a la the Dead Kennedys "Night Of The Living Rednecks"). "I turn on MSNBC... what I saw was the worst case of Necrophilia, people lining up to suck Michael Jackson's dead dick." But the line I'll remember the most from it was "I was never a big Michael Jackson fan. The year that Thriller came out I spent my money on Mommy's Little Monster, and I stand by that decision."
This world is far removed from that of Michael Jackson, or just the mainstream in general. This is the world outside of all the celebrity, PR, and bullshit in music, and from Social Distortion in 1983 to The Sheckies in 2009, its been functioning for years, and will continue to function for years to come. Roll over Michael, you may be all over the TV news but to us you're irrelevant.
Epilogue: That's the gist of this year’s Insubordination Fest. There was a second day, but it wasn't as eventful, I missed a lot of it due to spending most of the day in Washington, DC. I caught five acts when I got back to Baltimore, but my legs could barely stand me due to 4 or 5 hours of walking around our nation's capital. Slam dancing was out the question, and towards the end of the show so was standing in place for a concentrated period of time. I ducked out after the Teen Idols played, missing what would be Dillinger Four’s infamous closing set in which Paddy performed nude. I would however like to mention the amazing set I saw Psyched To Die put on at the second stage that day. With their great hardcore songs and a cover of X's "We're Desperate" I'd put them above Boris The Sprinkler for best set at the fest. The other people in the audience seemed to like it too, with the barrier between band and crowd literally being broken by the audience, and some kid managing to dangle upside down from the ceiling before falling back into the crowd. There was also the event of hanging out back at the hotel with a drunken girl from the show who claimed to be a heroin dealer. Her loudness seemed to keep any of us who tried to go to bed from getting any quality sleep, and because my inability to sleep inspired me to start writing this in the early hours of Sunday morning I dedicate this article to her, in whatever alley selling dope she may be.