The World Inferno Friendship Society are a punk band, whatever that means. One may label them as enigmatic, but they are not so much mysterious as they are logistically impossible. The ensemble features an astonishingly tight saxophone section, including former members of Drexy's Midnight Runners(!). Their lead singer is Jack Terricloth, a mix of cabaret, charisma and Codeine. Their guitarist is named Lucky. The only thing anyone knows about him is that he has a cat, who is also named Lucky. At first glance, they look more like an impromptu circus act then a band. However, World Inferno write extremely likable and clever music. They can move through four or five different key areas in a single song. They are influenced by the Weimar Republic, klezmer, and Paul Robeson. Clearly, the members of this collective are extremely talented and well educated. But they also bring a certain jovial energy to everything they do that makes one wonder if they are ever discontented by anything.
In 2010, both Kanye West and World Inferno experienced the popular musician's worst nightmare: Both were planning on releasing a new album, and unfinished versions of songs from both albums were leaked to the public. However, the two artists had completely different, but equally impressive, reactions to the divulgence of demo tapes. Kanye West immediately flew back to his personal studio in Hawaii and, leaving his twelfth rib in Chicago, re-recorded the entire album. Many people believe that this album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is his magnum opus thus far. Few of these people realize that he did it twice (Kanye West has been a favorite artist of mine for a very, very long time. I plan on discussing him in a future blog post about the diaphanous-yet-diaphragmatic relationship between the artist and his or her art, and how it makes all of the difference in how the art itself is perceived). On the other hand, Jack Terricloth casually dismissed the leaks with his usual cryptic charisma ("Songs want to be free. Songs want you to whistle them!"). It was the naturally punk thing to do. In fact, the most punk thing about them is that they seem to want nothing more than to bring their genuinely eclectic music to the stage in euphoric bedlam. And they are embraced by the Brooklyn punk community, even though they do some very un-punk things.
At this point, the reader has probably inferred that I know absolutely nothing about punk culture. I listen to a lot of punk bands, in particular Bad Brains, Misfits, Cobraskulls, etc., and of course ska, like Streetlight Manifesto, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Rancid. But I have no idea what punk is post 2004. In the vein of the post-modernist movement, it seemed to start out as a rebellion against the structured intellectualizations and soulless virtuosity of prog music. But prog music is, for the most part, dead. The main themes of punk music that were retained and emphasized post-Fugazi are the crazed energy and the anybody-can-make-music sentiments. These are definitely points I can agree with. But the Brooklyn punk scene comes with it's own pretentions: To be a part of punk culture is to be immersed in it's philosophy. It goes beyond sewing the names of various punk bands into one's favorite studded leather jacket: One's rejection of more conventional forms of music and society is manifested in the sporadic desire to screw society and break stuff, a philosophy I could definitely get behind if it didn't feel so mandatory in context. The problem with the Brooklyn punk scene is this: Brooklyn punks, and by Brooklyn Punks I mean people who are really passionate about punk music and culture, are a dying breed. In their dying throes they have become more conservative in their definition of what punk music is in a world where punk music has evolved into so many different sub genres. Make no mistake: here is the esteemed tradition of rats in alleys, encapsulated in caveats and codexes. Here is the congressional body- As plebeian as the oligarchies of ancient Greece, but with as many furrowed eyebrows and suspicious eyes as the Duma- that adores the World Inferno Friendship Society. And this makes no sense to me or anybody I know.
Make no mistake reader: A World Inferno Friendship Society concert attracts punks like no other event. I have seen it with my own eyes: An ocean of pierced lips and liberty spikes, with five skinheads (real, punk skinheads! No neo-nazis here!) standing in front of the stage, an oasis of flesh amongst leather blacks, neon reds and toxic greens. I too, climbed on stage and threw myself into this ocean (So this is the sign of a true punk concert: Nothing lubricious, no libations, just violent kinetics). But there is nothing punk about the musicians on stage. The members of this band are masters of songwriting in the pop format. They are formally trained in their instruments, and they even know a lot of music theory, which they apply to their songs in extremely clever ways. Here is a very un-punk thing that World Inferno does: At the end of their song Canonize Philip K. Dick, OK, The World Inferno Friendship Society actually canonizes a Philip K. Dick quote. It's clever, intelligent, and borderline pretentious- anything but punk. If anything, they represent the antithesis of the informed nihilism of punk icons like Boyd Rice. But the Brooklyn Punk community loves World Inferno, because world inferno shares their wanton and euphoric energy, and the dynamic between the band and it's fans in action is electric. Make no mistake, reader: The World Inferno Friendship Society are a punk band. Whatever that means.