The early Eighties saw the original punk confrontational edge taken to its (il)logical extreme. Stories abound of Michael Gira (Swans) punching a man in the audience for “having too much fun”, James Chance (The Cortortions) regularly ending up in fights — it echoed but barely expanded on Iggy Pop’s actions of a decade before. Simultaneously, however, confrontation within the music (both the aforementioned bands being fair examples) had exploded with punk-influenced bands wedging an ever increasing openness to avant-garde noise, no wave noise, industrial noise into the gears of their guitar playing. The one element that hadn’t been recalibrated for this new age was the theatre of horrors element represented, at his peak, by Alice Cooper and, to a certain degree, by KISS — it had perhaps become too much a part of the hair metal androgyny and make-up vibe to be immediately swallowed whole.
But then it happened. The combination of punk rock, openness to new music, stage performance as truly a performance and not just a lo-fi rehash of songs that would end up polished definitively in studio, the aggressive, transgressive, often violent stage presence all came together with The Dwarves, alongside the notorious GG Allin, being a crucial purveyor. These acts deserve credit for creating something that, through its recombination of elements, was indeed something new, fresh and original.
That’s what has often been underappreciated when speaking of the bands that emphasised the performance element — every band that has found success in the live arena has required a degree of gimmick even if the gimmick has been a po-faced, minimal movement or a supposed ‘natural’ style. The examples are well-known; burning guitars, smashing guitars, windmill chords, matching outfits, extended solos, extended/intro/outro jams, set destruction, self-harm, stage diving, stage invasion — whatever, it’s all a form of performance. To make it crucial to the identity of a band then wrap that identity in grotesqueness was no more nor less a quality approach than the musical switches of a band like Nirvana.
The Dwarves, with their rabid on-stage quality tore a new and refreshing hole somewhere between the po-faced early Eighties hardcore scene and the drunken but surprisingly straight-edged North-West scene.
The Dwarves are an ongoing concern, still pushing forward, moving on — its nice seeing another long-term survivor alongside the Sonic Youth (R.I.P.), Mudhoney, Pearl Jam contingent; not just another reheated nostalgia trip, but then, The Dwarves never seem to have been about adhering to the norm or paying too much notice to peoples’ comfort levels. I mean this as an absolute compliment! Now enjoy the music…