The Anti-Matter Anthology: A 1990s Post-Punk & Hardcore Reader
by Norman Brannon
Interviewing a band/musician/artist what-have-you is a tricky fucking thing. I was just talking to another contributor to this site about their first upcoming interview, trying to give a few pointers in my own fumbling nonlinear way, and I realized that it never gets any easier. Unless you’re some dick from Rolling Stone who asks all these weirdly inappropriate sex questions or boasts loudly about “raging” with Christina Aguilera on a mini-golf course. What an ass. You need to try and keep it as natural, or as close to an approximation of conversational rhythms as possible, you need to not rearrange statements from press releases into questions, and you need to try to get as close to the heart of the creative process as possible. Don’t be afraid to pry. And I THINK, keep yourself out of it as much as possible – all ears, little mouth – don’t feel the need to put yourself over as the world’s biggest fan. I bring all of this up because I think that Norman Brannon has come very close to perfecting his interview techniques for his chosen genre – hardcore – and it looks like he did it by having very little technique at all. But see, even that’s fucking deceptive because you know Brannon knows hardcore minutiae by the ton – who’s in what band, what label that 7″ came out on – inside and out, but he masks that formidable knowledge through easy, unhurried conversation. Damn he’s good.
I’m also thinking that another thing he has going for him is that he is a musician himself (played in a few pretty successful bands like Shelter and 108), and though he keeps that fact waaaaaaaay in the background, you can tell it definitely puts some of the bands he speaks to at ease and cuts through some prelim bullshit that might otherwise pollute a perfectly serviceable interview. And he’s grown up in hardcore, he was there, he’s still here, he’s talking to a bunch of kids on the cusp of, or over the precipice of, adulthood, still in “the scene,” so it’s definitely a friendly interrogation – though definitely still probing. Brannon’s not afraid to ask about family trauma, drug issues/problems (especially with a few straight edge musicians – ZING!), intraband conflict, depression, and his Bernard Pivot-esque, “When was the last time you cried and why?” The tone and the line of questioning, except for that last standby, is different from band to band and it never feels like punching the clock or the promotional treadmill. I LOVED how he started out an interview with Rob from Endpoint with “You seemed pretty bummed out on your birthday.” Ace.
Obviously, the focus of the book (and the Anti-Matter zine) is hardcore – in all its varieties – though there are some curious offramps like Shudder to Think. Anti-Matter, for the unaware, was Brannon’s zine from the mid-90s where he chronicled his travels in Hardcore even as the movement itself was in a state of flux, the founders were growing older and growing out, and a new group of kids were coming in. Anti-Matter lasted for four issues and at its peak shifted 5,000 issues. Bands given the anthology treatment in here include Fugazi, Endpoint, Resurrection, Outspoken (on the verge of breaking up), Mike Judge (moving beyond hardcore to a more bluesy, gritty sound), Quicksand, Shelter, Shudder to Think, and Mouthpiece. You’re bound to be enlightened and probably inspired by the many gems Brannon coaxes out of the musicians. I love how he just lets his subjects talk and theorize and reminisce for long unbroken chunks of text. Sometimes they even seem surprised, but never regretful, by what they reveal.
Some older fans of the genre might take issue with this book possibly being the first shot across the bow in an inexorable reissue campaign that might ultimately render much of this music’s visceral impact dulled, in the same way that it has for first-wave punk. Anthologies might seem too painfully close to coffins for those who still find so much vibrancy and life in the music. And they have a point. On the other hand, I might go as far as to recommend this as a learning tool for aspiring zine writers or music journalists as a primer on getting to the heart of the matter and cutting through all the promo razzmatazz bullshit. Class is in session?
Revelation Records: www.revelationrecords.com