I’ve known James “Gutter Star” Lamont since the days of the Manc Punk Scene forum (R.I.P) in the early/mid-2000s – I was probably mercilessly ripping people for having bad taste in music (a legit pursuit) at the time. I recall that James had a more even handed online persona/character, but used to find me amusing… I have no idea exactly when or how we met in person, but it probably involves something like Jilly’s Rockworld of a Thursday evening, and beer. Or a gig. Fuck knows.
Suffice to say, he’s a good lad. These days, he haunts the swamps of Florida. Or at least the streets of St Petersburg, FL. He’s a proper writer and that, these days, with qualifications and everything. Anyways, here’s his answers to the famous “intro questions”…
1. What was the very first way that you became aware of punk? i.e. what was your first encounter with punk
I’m sure that like a lot of people growing up in England I saw glimpses of the continual ’77 repackaging by the likes of the BBC. Though my earliest real memory of punk was at about 15, finding out that my friend Dave was listening to this unknown and oddly straightforward music, and adopting fashions and lifestyle choices to go along with it.
2. How did you get into punk / alternative music?
My friends and I would make copied cassettes, and Dave would have things like Bad Religion, Pennywise, Alkaline Trio, The Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, etc. He has an older sister so I’m sure she was the source of most of this. The tapes would always be decorated in these cool DIY ways. I found them intriguing but the music didn’t fully grab me right away. I was a few years into the Steve Lamacq, Melody Maker school of alternative at this point.
3. What was your first gig?
Less Than Jake supported by MxPx, October 25th, 2000, at Manchester Academy 2 (or “Main Debating Hall,” as it was more interestingly known back then).
4. What was the very first album you got? Also what was the first punk album you got?
The first non-copied albums that I think I actively sought were Be Here Now by Oasis, and Version 2.0 by Garbage. The first punk album that I bought, or at least that was significant enough for me to remember, was Straight Ahead by Pennywise. I had a bunch of those tapes, but that was the album that exploded the light bulb over my adolescent head and made me realise this was for me.
5. Were you in a band while at high school or college? If yes what was the name, and how bad did you suck?
A few of us tried doing something in a scout hut a couple of times, but it never went anywhere. I was the only one who wasn’t playing anything, and supposedly looked like a typical lanky indie singer, so that’s where I was put, but I was mostly too nervous to even try.
6. What is the biggest influence that punk rock has had on you as you’ve developed as a person?
Even though I spend a bit less time listening to punk than I used to, I still find myself asking if I’m following some of the ideas that I gleaned from it. Am I doing what I actually want to do, or just living in fear? Generally, the answer is fear. I’m sure the struggle is lifelong but I still like to think that I’ll figure out how to live more without giving all my dead time to bullshit.
7. What has punk rock caused you to question most about the world we live in?
It’s hard to think of a way to answer this that won’t seem really obvious or pretentious to anyone that had much of their perspective shaped by the punk community at a young age. I suppose one interesting thought is shown by a project like this website. Everyone on this site is a bit older than the normal demographic now, and here we are still trying to find answers, trying to figure out what matters in life and what can be done and just everything, whether its through punk channels or any way at all. One thing I take from punk is that we are all just people asking these questions and (for the most part) trying our best, however that manifests for each individual. You’re a fool if you can look around and not see all the problems that we face, but the human undercurrents of positivity and good efforts – however flawed – to make things better in each interaction or moment are also there. A lot of punk music shows that and without it we’d truly be lost.
8. What was the most recent gig you went to? (any genre)
Because I’m generally busy running on the American treadmill of survival, the most recent gig I went to was the Warped Tour all-dayer in July. Hoping that writing for A&E will inspire me to get back out there a bit more!
9. What was the last record you listened to? (any genre)
Eels – Electro-Shock Blues.
10. Do you geek? If so, how?
In the past year I’ve gotten more into the youtube community, actively following certain creators and taking an interest in what’s happening on the platform as a whole. The bar on these DIY productions has been raised massively since we were speculating on their ability to kill centrally controlled entertainment back in the day. It’s music and politics, but there’s also a lot of computer game channels that I like to watch. I’ve gotten back into gaming somewhat in the past few years, but I probably spend more time watching commentary than actually playing. The constant changes in the medium and all the friction it throws up are interesting I guess. I’ve been working on building a channel/podcast for some time, but I want it to be solid before I put it out there.
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11. Give me your top ten records EVER, and a BRIEF rundown of why you’ve chosen each one…
Here are the chosen ten, that obviously don’t fully reflect my diverse, underground and super-punk taste. Like a cop-out shitbag, I threw in a bunch of honourable mentions as well.
Pennywise – s/t (Epitaph, 1991)
This album was in that original wave of copied tapes that I inherited. Once I got fully into the band I played that tape to death walking around Manchester, loving it despite the fact that the first minute was never on there. If I was forced to pick a favourite album, this might be it, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (once I heard the whole thing!) is perhaps my favourite song. I love its optimism and determination. Every belting, tight track on here has spoken to me at some point. This album for me signifies when melodic hardcore was becoming its own thing in the form of skate punk, with the best of both worlds. And by the way, if you love Pennywise’s old material, listen to their throwback album Yesterdays if you haven’t yet. Honourable mention: Bad Religion – No Control.
Descendents – Everything Sucks (Epitaph, 1996)
This album was also brought to my attention at that early age (although I never actually replaced the worn-out tape). What an introduction. Milo Goes to College is a special album, but Everything Sucks is the best example of the Descendents’ ability to help define an era’s sound whilst still sounding like themselves. Their wonderful, wonderful selves. It’s goofiness with longevity because the songwriting is just incredible. And it contains “Thank You,” the best closing track ever, genius in its humility. Honourable mention: Propagandhi – Less Talk, More Rock (because it came out the same year and essentially has the same root message).
Capdown – Civil Disobedients (Household Name, 2000)
I feel like there’s no-one else who managed to put ska and hardcore (and elements of about five other genres) together in such amazing, intelligent harmony as Capdown did with this one. Even right towards the end of Bomb Ibiza (10 years after this album), we could play near anything off Civil Disobedients and everyone on the dancefloor would become a dangerous berserker like almost nothing else could manage. Although generally we just played Ska Wars and Cousin Cleotis, obviously. Honourable mention: The Filaments – …What’s Next.
Melt-Banana – Charlie (A-Zap, 1998)
I know this might upset some purists, but I just love how this band make noisy, experimental punk somewhat accessible, at least by this point in their career. They swerve back and forth between melody and madness so sporadically on Charlie that I never know what is coming next no matter how many times I listen to it. And either way, it’s a treat. Yasuko Onuki’s vocals, the electronic blips, the distortion bent into something enjoyable: it’s pure, unnecessary fun. I got to see them last year with Napalm Death. That was a fucking combination.
Smoke or Fire – Above the City (Fat Wreck, 2005)
When I reviewed this album upon release (the “newest” on my list), I remarked that it had something of an ill-defined, classic feel to it. Time seems to have justified that gut feeling pretty well. For an album tackling such well-trodden punk topics as war, consumerism, mental health and friendship (maybe they were avid readers of Adbusters, these lot), Above the City holds up incredibly well both lyrically and musically. Smoke or Fire’s first two albums seem to perfectly take elements from several different eras of punk up to that point: punchy, booming melodies taking up no more time than is needed or possible. Melodic aggression honourable mention: Dag Nasty – Can I Say.
Minor Threat – Complete Discography (Dischord, 1989)
What needs to be said about this really? I can’t imagine there will come a time when this music sounds any less urgent than it did in the early 80s. The angry majority of this collection (not so much the equally good proto-Embrace tracks) all still have the potential to make me stop what I’m doing, leap up, scream into my tiny vegan fist and generally act like I’m back in Tony’s second living room at Rock World. “You tell me that I make no difference – at least I’m fucking trying.” Classic however you spin it. Modern honourable mention: Paint It Black – Paradise.
DJ Shadow – The Private Press (Island, 2002)
“And here’s a story about being free.” I’m not sure if that’s what the album is really about, but I love it all the same. It might not have blown the doors open for turntablism like Endtroducing….., but The Private Press has just as many memorable moments for me, perhaps because I listened to it when it was fresh rather than an established classic. The beats on this are equal parts American Beauty blissful and blown-fucking-mind badass. Also it has the hip hop equivalent to Bad Habit by The Offspring. West coast honourable mention: Dilated Peoples – Expansion Team.
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL66kCj0gum0t5-YGFvpJL_9NuajRcxhZz (this link is the vast majority of the album, the best I could find)
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988)
The first thing to note here is that Chuck D’s voice is an amazing and compelling instrument. He and Flavor Flav don’t ever undermine one another’s roles, the Black Panther and party hype man: it’s like an action film with complementary moments of comedy (none more so than in the case of “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”). Both the production and even Mistachuck’s flows sound a little aged when compared to some of the conscious rappers that would come later, but that it still sounds this amazing while being firmly of its time is what makes it a deserved classic. This is a better denunciation of the violent hurricane settler colonies of Turtle Island than any group of furious white boys with guitars could ever hope to achieve. East coast honourable mention: Yasiin Bey – Black on Both Sides.
The Chemical Brothers – Surrender (Virgin, 1999)
I’m seeing that a lot of my favourite music melds two or more styles together seamlessly. In the case of Surrender, it was The Chemicals’ ability to transition between silky smooth epics and pounding, unrelenting bangers. Numerous tracks of both kinds from their early career still give me goosebumps. It’ll turn your p-kids into e-kids. If you like aggressive music but are just electronic-curious, I’d highly recommend listening to this album, particularly “Under the Influence,” “The Sunshine Underground,” and of course the shagging-skeletons masterpiece that is “Hey Boy Hey Girl.”
Oasis – Definitely Maybe (Creation, 1994)
Even in their earliest days, before they became a caricature of themselves, Oasis were always destined to be in the same school of NME-sanctioned rebellion as the Sex Pistols. But here’s what it comes down to: “Columbia” is a fucking tune, “Supersonic” is a fucking tune, “Bring It On Down” is a fucking tune, and if “Cigarettes and Alcohol” doesn’t remind you of some sweaty, overcrowded monument to youthful excess named after an alien New York landmark, then maybe you aren’t so much a True Child of the (Manc) North as others are. The longer I’ve lived away from home, the more I’ve found myself trying to hang on to my Mancunian roots (which have always been more significant to me than any national identity), and, for better or worse, albums like this one help me to do so.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQbT1CqlLvo (I can’t find a decent upload of the whole album, but this was probably their most punk offering anyway)