Josh Watts celebrates 35 years of this oft-forgotten key album from a time when Gilman Street was the West Coast punk hub.
There’s an Operation Ivy bootleg called ‘Lint Rides Again’; it’s their last show at the legendary 924 Gilman Street,otherwise known as the Gilman Street Project, a venue instrumental in nurturing a Berkeley punk scene that gave us Green Day, Rancid and Operation Ivy, amongst others.
Unlike the video of the set published by Brooklyn Vegan last July, the audio recording opens with a voice saying “Hi, we’re Isocracy and we’re from Richmond.” The name “Operation Ivy” was also Isocracy’s original band name. So, back in my teens and as an Op Ivy obsessive who inhaled information about Gilman, Isocracy seemed to be a band that I needed to tune into.
But it was years later that I finally got my hands on a Lookout! Records CD compilation (‘Lookout! Records Punk Seven Inch CD, Volume One 1988–1989′) which included the band’s standalone EP, ‘Bedtime for Isocracy’.
Released in 1988, parodying the Dead Kennedy’s Bedtime for Democracy, and not featuring a cover of ‘Free Bird’ – contrary to the sleeve – it contains 10 tracks, only seven of which are full songs. And it turned 35 this year.
The record opens with ‘Zimbabwean Hell Rock (Slight Return)’: the band counting upwards from one-million-one-hundred-and-four before crashing into a cacophony of noise.
‘Rodeo’ is where things really kick off – and it’s a brilliant song. Jason Beebout’s vocals take the form of a slightly strained shout characteristic of 80s hardcore, though Isocracy’s music isn’t as in-your-face as that. It’s relatively rough – more Operation Ivy than Crimpshrine, but catchy. And Lenny Johnson’s riffs have an undeniable melody to them.
Criticism is aimed at the titular subject in ‘Hippie Man’ (which opens with Martin Brohm’s bass), whilst drunks are the target of such focus in ‘Two Blocks Away’: “Get a brain, this ain’t no pub / You jerks who drink close to our club”. The song is a slower affair and a voice is put on that is almost parodically reminiscent of Ian MacKaye’s spoken word couplet in Minor Threat’s ‘Straight Edge’ (“I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do”) – and I doubt it’s a coincidence.
Over half of ‘Eight’, meanwhile, involves the band playing and counting, before hitting double-time and dispensing lyrics of frustration:
“Why, I can’t remember how many times/ That I’ve had the urge, the urge to let fly/ All the feelings that are building, building up inside/ And now I feel that way again”
‘Amilyplympt Three’ is a straight-up punk tune whose first two lines are contrary to the emotions of the previous track: “I don’t mind when you walk on me / I understand it don’t mean a thing”, but ends with the refrain “Nobody loves you no more”.
This is followed by ‘Funky Brakewire’ which crashes in and thumps along with a bumping rhythm – funky, of course – over which are some of the smartest lyrics of the EP; funny and questioning, thoughtful and political:
“If all we spoke were games and jokes/ And funny little fantasies/ We’d make you swim in burnt coleslaw/ And wear tight designer jeans.
“In a time where peace and love is cool/ And Liberals are so trendy/ You think that might spark some change/ Instead we go out and buy troop tennies”.
In fact, writing up this release has made me pay closer attention to the songs and ‘Funky Brakewire’ might’ve just found its way into my all-time favourite punk picks!
The EP then unwinds (if that’s the appropriate word) with two random bursts – ‘Ten Seconds of Anarchy’: 12 seconds of din; ‘Swisher Sweets’: what I presume to be a send up of a Swisher Sweets (cigar) commercial.
The final – and fastest – song on the record, ‘Scalf Etaredefnoc’, switches between lone bass and smashing verses until, after 29 short seconds, it’s all over.
‘Bedtime for Isocracy’ is a great slice of Gilman and a terrific timepiece for a critical point in punk rock. It’s full of humour and politics, and such playfulness was at the very heart of the scene.
And like Operation Ivy, they were only around for a couple of years. Did I mention that Isocracy’s drummer was Al Sobrante – who kept the Green Day beat before Tré Cool – whilst some of the remaining members went on to form Samiam? A noteworthy band, then.
‘Bedtime for Isocracy’ was released in January 1988 on Lookout! Records.
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