Sunday, June 24, 2012

Middle Class-Out of Vogue 7" (1978)

Until the advent of online file-sharing, Santa Ana, California's Middle Class were one of those legendary early punk/HC bands that most punks had heard of without hearing (myself included). Regardless of whether this was the first "hardcore" record or not (and really, why does it matter?), this is a classic that I'm happy to be sharing with you lumpen masses.

Opening with an impossibly taut, frantically repeated guitar riff and wobbly bass line, "Out of Vogue" careens through a Ramonesclone song structure, dragging you along as singer Jeff Ata intones against the brave new world of mass media: "we don't need your magazines/we don't need your fashion show/we don't need your TV/we don't wanna know!" The music is so fast, the shouted words are like a ritual incantation at breakneck speed. The song ends with a clipped "OUT OF!..."

"You Belong" starts off slower, building up momentum until the crushing transition to more sonic oblivion; Ata's singing is even more rushed as the Middle Class careen through a tale of...I dunno, the words are incoherent. The beginning drumfill of "Situation" is killer, holding you in suspense until the divebomber bass line and savagely strummed guitar hover into focus. The song is slower than the first two, effectively slowing down and intensifying the groove so that you can almost make out Ata's words: "no use in trying..." The slow down only sets the scene for "Insurgence," which flies by at one minute, one second. The whole band gallops along at top speed, trying to beat its own pace; there's no center to the song, it's pure rush: Johnny Rotten's "I just speed/that's all I need!" dictum taken literally.

This EP blew me away when I first heard it, and I still spin it at least twice a week. It's the essence of punk as a musical genre, condensed and compressed to the point where form becomes content: a formalist's wetdream. Yet this isn't retarded, inept, slipshod thrash in the tradition of the early harDCore bands like Teen Idles, SOA et. al. Middle Class were great songwriters, and would go on to prove their deft handling of tempo, rhythm and harmonies on their next outing, 1980's Scavenged Luxury EP. "Out of Vogue" was a perfect statement and on Scavenged Luxury they were already headed in the direction of 1982's LP, "Homeland": tense, despondent goth in the vein of early Fall or Joy Division.

Basically, if you don't like this EP, you don't like punk or hardcore. YOU BELONG  You can buy a repressing of the 7", or an LP-length collection of the first two EPs plus outtakes and demos, at Frontier Records. You should also read an interesting 2011 interview with all the original members, here.

*Edit, 9.10.12: Reup'd the file, get it HERE. *

*Edit, 1.6.13: Re'up'd it again, AGAINAGAIN.*

4 comments:

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  2. Oh, Spam, you magnificent bastard!

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  3. I went to Saddleback High School with Jeff Atta in Santa Ana. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined quiet, respectful Jeff Atta to be the screaming front man of the first hard core punk band in Southern California! The guy isn't even a degenerate! but, then again, I didn't even know there were punk bands in SoCal until 1980, that's how out of it I was.

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  4. @IamNotTheMoon: Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, I always liked how Middle Class looked like a bunch of Young Republicans but cranked out some of the most vicious and intense hardcore around, even thirty-plus years after the fact.

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