Black Flag

March 12, 2009

Just because I find it interesting and there’s nothing else exciting to write about at the moment I’ve decided to do some short profiles on bands that have been influential on alternative music. I’ll probably do one periodically whenever I have the time/can be bothered/have the time and can be bothered.

Speaking of influential, it’s hard to think of any band which has been as influential on alternative music as Black Flag.  Black Flag completely paved the way for the scores of American Underground bands that followed them, making massive contributions to underground culture as well as alternative music and their status as musical legends and innovators has only grown in the two decades plus since they broke up.

Black Flag were formed in a time when there wasn’t much of a national indie touring circuit to speak of, so instead of just sticking around California and whining about it they got in the van and toured the hell out of the USA.  In 1984, for example, they were on the road for over 200 days, usually playing 2 shows a day, compared to the bands of today who tend to do one 2-3 week tour a year and a handful of other shows.  Now whether you like the music or not that’s the kind of dedication you’ve got to admire.

While the most recognizable figure to emerge from Black Flag is easily Henry Rollins any fan will tell you that the most important member by far was the guitar genius Greg Ginn (who owns SST, the label which released Black Flag’s records and the records of bands such as the Descendents, Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth).  Ginn was the only member to appear in every incarnation of the band; overall around 17 different musicians made appearances over the years, and was the creative powerhouse behind their music.

The reason (in my opinion) that Black Flag were so influential is that for a straight up hardcore punk band they didn’t play much straight up hardcore punk; they veered from hardcore to spoken word to sludge to free jazz and back again.  I could sit here all day listing that musicians who have cited Black Flag as an influence on their music but instead I’ll just say that their music influences even some of the most popular bands around (Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance has said that Black Flag are his favourite band.  Not that I particularly like MCR but it’s a good example).

I haven’t really talked much about the music here (I did say it was a short profile after all) because I think that if you listen to it it really speaks for itself and I don’t think there’s much I can say to describe in any sense what makes it so great.  The sound quality isn’t the best and yes, a minority of it is just average hardcore punk, but when it’s good it’s incredible.

If you’re looking for a place to start I’d recommend Family Man, The Process Of Weeding Out and the title track from My War.

Thanks for reading =)