Throwing the First Brick: Skramz Splits

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  • The following is a reprint from Unwinnable Weekly Issue Thirty-Eight. If you enjoy what you read, please consider purchasing the issue or subscribing

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    Hey folks! By some miracle of modern science, we’re back for a second month, and some cool stuff has come out recently that I want to talk about.

    First up: a Swedish skramz band called Rainmaker released a split EP with an Italian group called Øjne. Both of these bands have released awesome stuff before and it’s great to see them collaborating on a release together. Each band has contributed a single track for this split and both the tracks are some of the finest stuff they’ve released to date.

    We should take a moment here to talk a bit about the idea of split EPs and how common they are in DIY. If you’re not a person who listens to a lot of music that has roots in the punk genre, the idea of two bands making a record together might sound weird to you; as far as I know, there’s not any other genres in which this happens frequently, but it’s commonplace in punk. There’s a few reasons that come to mind for why that might be.

    For one, vinyl pressing is expensive! When you’re a DIY punk band playing a niche genre of music, it’s hard to move the kind of units that are required to make a vinyl pressing pay for itself. Splitting the cost between two bands helps out a bunch with that, as both bands’ followings will probably pick the record up. Obviously, this is also great for the bands involved, as it introduces them to all of the fans of the other band on the split.

    For two, punk has a history of being about collectivism and community, and the idea of collaborating to releasing a record with another band in your scene is very much an extension of that. There have even been splits where both bands play on each other’s tracks, turning the whole thing into a truly collaborative effort (a great recent example of this is this Touche Amore/Self Defense Family split.)

    The split EP format is at its best when the bands on it are meaningfully different from each other while still being more-or-less within the same genre. I love splits between European bands and North American screamo bands because it’s awesome to see how those respective scenes have taken the sound of original East Coast American screamo and run with it. My favorite example of this phenomenon is the split between California’s Loma Prieta and Italy’s Raein, both legendary bands who have been making great records for several years now.

    European skramz has developed its own style over the years, thanks to the French and Italian bands that started playing around the turn of the century. The aforementioned Raein was one of those bands, along with other pioneers like Daïtro, La Quiete, and Germany’s Louise Cyphre. You can hear the further development of that style on the Rainmaker/Øjne split, who both innovate on it in really cool ways.

    While we’re talking about great splits, it’s also worth mentioning that Øjne did another killer split last year with a Russian hardcore band called Smile to the Wind [Editor’s Note: the band’s name is actually written in Cyrillic, but we couldn’t get that to display correctly on the site]. It has exactly the sort of diversity I mentioned earlier, with Smile to the Wind playing a much more chaotic, mathy sort of hardcore compared to Øjne’s more introspective sound. (Listen to Smile to the Wind’s half here, and Øjne’s half here.)

    Sometimes, the stars align and we get to see even more extreme incarnations of this collaborative spirit. In February, a remarkable example of this was released, in the form of the Ephemera EP. Reading through the liner notes of this thing is like looking at the Swedish screamo version of an all-star game roster; it’s a who’s-who of incredible Swedish bands, with contributions from members of Heart On My Sleeve, Suffocate For Fuck Sake, Totem Skin, Vi som älskade varandra så mycket, Sore Eyelids, Via Fondo, Coma Regalia, Rainmaker, Trembling Hands and Disembarked.

    Unless you’re a big nerd like me, those names probably don’t mean a lot to you, but they’re all great Swedish hardcore bands, and their individual releases are all worth checking out. Vi som älskade varandra så mycket’s latest full-length just came out a few months ago and it is particularly excellent.

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    Moving on, there’s one other thing I want to talk about this month: Epitaph Records announced the other day that they’ve signed a band I quite like, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die (referred to as TWIABP from here on). Their 2013 full-length Whenever, If Ever is one of my favorite records of that year and well worth checking out.

    Now, as you might expect, the announcement of their signing has caused a bit of a ruckus. They’re a band with a pretty extensive discography, all of which has either been self-released or released by small indie labels like Top Shelf. To see them sign up with a big label (and one with a somewhat checkered history) is surprising and, to some people, abhorrent.

    The stage of my life wherein my reaction to this announcement would be “fucking sellouts” ended long ago, but I do still have some mixed feelings about this. Epitaph is a label that’s spent the last decade-plus pumping out corny, teen-oriented metalcore that they can send out on big circuits like Warped Tour; if you’ve ever heard shit like Escape the Fate or Falling in Reverse…yeah, that’s Epitaph’s fault.

    This might not be the best home for an emo band with a history of putting out challenging releases. On the other hand, one suspects that TWIABP has too much experience and too established a fanbase for Epitaph to be able to make them change much, so how much harm can really be done?

    For better or worse, something about the way mid-size labels like Epitaph operate has started changing over the last couple years. The standard formula of taking a young, largely unknown band, turning them into something corny and marketable, and then pushing the hell out of them might be starting to be less effective. In its place, we’re seeing a new, potentially less gross strategy: sign an older band with an existing discography and fanbase, let them do more or less what they want and make your money off the fact that they’re actually capable of making good records.

    TWIABP is not the first example of this. Make Do and Mend, a band with multiple full lengths on indie labels like Panic Records, got signed to Rise Records in 2012 (another home of corny metalcore for teenagers). Sumerian (yet another) struck a deal with The Dillinger Escape Plan for their last full-length. More of this sort of thing is inevitably coming.

    If we’re lucky, this might be a turning point for mid-size heavy music labels, wherein they become slightly less reprehensible. The ongoing output of bands like TWIABP, now that they’re signed, will be an interesting case study in whether or not this model can work without ruining bands. Fingers crossed!

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    That about does it for this month. Hopefully you’re not bored yet. As promised in last month’s column, I’ve included as many links as humanly possible to places where you can hear the bands I’m talking about. We covered some serious ground, so there’s probably hours of Bandcamp streams linked above. I highly encourage people to go listen to this, perhaps even while reading the column. If I had to choose between you reading my dumb opinions and you listening to the albums linked herein, I’d definitely choose the latter.

    One final note of shameless self-promotion: my band released an EP a few days ago. We play twinkly, Midwest-style emo, in the vein of stuff like American Football, Dads, Snowing, etc. If that’s your jam, you can hear our stuff here. Thanks for reading/ listening/whatever! Go to a local show this weekend! Support your local DIY scene!

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