Minutemen - Double Nickels On The Dime - Review
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critics' view

When hardcore punk emerged in the early ’80s, it was partially a reaction to the tired old rules of bloated commercial rock’n’roll. But it didn’t take long for hardcore to start devising its own rules, which is why the Minutemenwere such a welcome jolt to the scene. They weren’t outsiders; formed in 1980 in the southern Los Angeles community of San Pedro, they often opened for neighboring hardcore trailblazers Black Flag, whose guitarist Greg Ginn signed the Minutemen to his SST label after the first time he saw them play. They had punk bona fides, too: bassist Mike Watt, guitarist D. Boon, and drummer George Hurley were working-class kids, sons of a sailor, a mechanic, and a machinist. They all held onto day jobs and stayed loyal to San Pedro throughout the band’s existence.

In outline, the Minutemen’s sound fit with punk’s  minimal, straight-to-the-point ethos. One of their most quoted lyrics—“We jam econo,” later used as the title for a 2005 Minutemen documentary—referred literally to the cheap Econoline van that they drove and slept in to save money. But it perfectly characterized their taut, efficient music, doled out in quick jolts —most tunes lasted less than two minutes—in order to move onto new ideas as fast as possible. Even the short, sharp sound of the five-syllable “we jam econo,” which the band would sometimes shorten further to simply “econo,” demonstrates its own point.

Yet as compact as they were, Minutemen songs sounded nothing like hardcore punk. Boon’s guitar was scratchy and wiry; Watt’s bass was busy and melodic; Hurley’s drumming was polyrhythmic and syncopated. Some tracks were like fractured jazz, some like moody folk, some like off-speed funk. They weren’t interested in pure volume or aggression; what drew the trio to punk was the chance to play anything they wanted. “Punk rock doesn’t have to mean hardcore or one style of music,” Watt told *Flipside *in 1985. “It can mean freedom and going crazy and being personal with your art….it really blows people’s minds because here we are the most hardcore-looking bunch out there and our music is the furthest from it.” In a scene that was already drawing lines in the sand about what was and wasn’t hardcore, declaring that kind of liberation was pretty rebellious.

Marc Masters
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