- Jacki Vitetta
- Jason Schmidt, right, leads Dangers (pictured) and Graf Orlock at 71Grind.
Grindcore, as a music genre, was born on July 1, 1987, with the release of Birmingham, England, band Napalm Death's debut album, Scum. It was the work of a small crew of Englishmen who took the technical aggression of metal in the style of Slayer and Venom and funneled it through the realistic focus and DIY ethic of hardcore punk in the style of Black Flag and Discharge. Songs on Scum were played at breakneck speed, with many clocking in at a minute or less.
It's appropriate, then, that a scant month before grindcore's 30th birthday, Colorado Springs will host the third annual 71Grind music festival, set for Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3. Bands from around the world will descend upon the Springs like locusts of guitar distortion to wreak havoc on locals' eardrums. Expect 50 bands playing not just grindcore, but a rainbow of abrasive music, mostly metal and punk-inflected. Daytime sets will take place at the Triple Nickel Tavern, owned by JJ Grueter, of both Drag the River and 71Grind alums The Nobodys. After 7 p.m., the brutal riffs move to The Black Sheep.
Recently, we spoke with Richmond, Washington, five-piece The Drip, set to play at the Sheep on Saturday night. Formed in 2007, the band signed to lauded underground music label Relapse Records in 2014, releasing an EP titled A Presentation of Gruesome Poetics that same year. At the start of 2017, they released their first full-length album, The Haunting Fear of Inevitability.
"It took us a while to find our sound," says guitarist Bobby Mansfield. After adding second guitarist Blake Wolf, formerly of 71Grind vets Theories, the band took some time to mature as songwriters, emphasizing structure and dynamics over full-on aggression. Mansfield and Wolf join singer Brandon Caldwell, bassist Talon Yager and drummer Shane Brown, all of whom also play in death metal band Mortal Remains.
71Grind won't mark The Drip's first trip to the Springs. They played a show at the original Flux Capacitor in 2016 — the now-dormant DIY venue run in part by 71Grind co-organizers Bryan and Sean Ostrow. Mansfield laments the loss of the Flux, but he says DIY venues and gig-friendly houses get shut down and reformed with some frequency.
"I believe it will bounce right back," he says. "Where there's a will, there is a way."
As for the band's name, Mansfield says they came up with it while very young and have considered changing it over the years. While he won't go into specifics, he says, "Let's just say it came from a time when we had a lot more fun than we currently do." So, uh, remember to clap.
There are many ways to achieve heaviness in music, and more than a few 71Grind bands eschew speed for a plodding, glacial pace that hits with the inevitability of gravity. In the case of Liverpudlian trio Conan, it's perhaps more appropriate to evoke Hannibal of Carthage leading a company of war elephants into battle. Their name is a nod to Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novels.
"The Conan character was similar to the music I was writing at the time — slow, lumbering, powerful but capable of bursts of speed," says guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, via email. The trio, which also includes bassist/vocalist Chris Fielding and drummer Rich Lewis, don't actually have any songs about Conan himself. They draw from a wide variety of sword-and-sorcery fantasy, as well as old movies and science fiction, to craft what Davis has come to call "caveman battle doom."
"That was actually on our first-ever show [in 2007]," Davis explains. "The guys who arranged [the show] labeled us as Caveman Doom and we expanded it to include the word 'Battle.'" They've carried the term with them ever since, over a decade of demos, splits, live albums and three full-length releases, including 2016's Revengeance, their second with Austrian label Napalm Records.
"It's a great album that we are very proud of, and we have toured a lot to support it," says Davis. "This U.S. tour is our third U.S. tour in three years, and it feels great to know that we are in demand in a country that has so many bands that we admire." Unfortunately, Lewis was unable to join the tour, so Davis has recruited Dan Mullins of Blasphemer and, formerly, My Dying Bride to man the drums while they're stateside.
Davis also says the band is in the early stages of writing a new record. "We enjoy the writing and recording process almost as much as we enjoy the playing, so we are keen to get going with it," he says.
Every band at 71Grind has a story, but Graf Orlock has a mythology. As the story goes, singer/guitarist Jason Schmidt and drummer Alan Hunter were kicked out of UCLA's film school in 2004, for failing to cite sources in their dissertation. Enraged, they started a band, mixing unauthorized clips from big-name films into furious grindcore tracks, drawing prominently from hardcore punk.
"We all have fake names in the band," explains Schmidt. "Initially, it's because we used samples, and we thought it was funny... There are people that I've known for a decade that are sometimes unsure of what my real name is, which I think is hilarious."
The group, which also includes vocalist Karl Bournze and bassist Sven Calhoun, released a new album in 2016. Crimetraveler, is the musical incarnation of Schmidt and Hunter's mythical student film of the same name. It follows fictional Canadian assassin Julian Marmot as he travels through time, offing major American figures — both real and fictional — in an attempt to make Canada a world superpower.
"There's something inherently funny about the band, but it's in no way a joke," says Schmidt. "I'm like 1,000 percent serious about what we're doing."
On earlier albums, the band chopped and restructured dialog from the films they were sampling for lyrics. Red Dawn-sampling "Tactical Destruction" from 2006's Destination Time Yesterday becomes a critique of Reagan-era capitalism.
"There's another layer that people don't get at first glance," he says. Schmidt draws a lot of inspiration from the whip-smart lyrics of punk/hardcore legends Propagandhi, as well as New York hardcore snarkers Born Against.
"You know those dudes are smart, they're just assholes," Schmidt says of the latter. "To me, that's hilarious. You can interject something that's really insightful in a strange way, but at the same time, you're just punching someone."
Schmidt also runs Vitriol Records, releasing albums by Graf Orlock and others, including Schmidt's side project and fellow 71Grind performers Dangers. It gives him space for ambitious DIY projects with album packaging as well as content. For example, the vinyl edition of Crimetraveler comes wrapped in a 12-page newspaper written by Schmidt, which tells the story of the album.
The band's 2012 EP, Los Angeles, came with three variant screen-printed covers, designed by Hunter, each of which was taken to a firing range and shot by band members before being sent out. In 2011, they released a compilation CD and 10-inch vinyl titled Doombox. The packaging unfolds into a highly detailed 3D cardboard boombox.
"We're always pushing to do something different with the art, and the labels I dealt with before starting my own were always worried about that," Schmidt says, adding "we're still selling them for less than people sell a glued-jacket LP that looks shitty. There's a way to go about doing things yourself in a way that you would want other things to be, and to make them affordable for people."