Not only was the venerated Memphis-based trash-rock label Goner Records lighting 20 candles on the rum cake this year, but they were throwing their 10th annual Gonerfest last weekend—an always uber-crazed affair over four days and dazed nights of the most manic garage rock combos, in ‘n’ out of various venues, after-parties full of vice, and the ever-useful Sunday morning hangover brunches. Sadly, the fest’s main venue, The Hi-Tone (once home to Elvis Presley’s karate gym) closed last year, but it reemerged in a new location in time for this year’s party.
Brooklyn photographer and party-finder Jackie Roman headed down to see if she could go the whole weekend without having some guy in a bunny mask or Nervous Eaters t-shirt or what have you knock her fancy camera out of her hands. Here are her day-by-day recollections, near as the fog of Gonerfest will allow.
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
I arrived in Memphis for my first Gonerfest, hell-bent on having a time great enough to make up for missing the previous nine. After checking in at the Goner store and getting my pass around 2pm, I walked around the Cooper-Young intersection, anticipating some sort of milieu of fans, but there was hardly anyone in sight, except for Seiji (singer/guitarist, Guitar Wolf) loading some amps onto the gazebo where they were scheduled to play at 5:30. It was a clear bright day and the temperature burned at what felt like 90 degrees in the sun. I did some record shopping, had lunch at the Young Avenue Deli, downed a few daytime beers, then loitered around on the street until finally and suddenly, a crowd amassed. Goner Records founder Eric Friedl (of the Oblivians) introduced Guitar Wolf, endearingly, as the first officially signed artist on the label (Guitar Wolf’s debut LP, Wolf Rock!, was released in 1993) and thusly an appropriate way to kick off Gonerfest 10. Three Japanese greasers in leather stepped up and delivered a performance disproportionately wild and thrilling to what one would usually expect to see at a gazebo in a pretty section of Memphis at that lovely hour of the day. This would be the first of many times that my brain would explode over the weekend.
Later that night, at the Hi-Tone’s new location, festival goers filed in to catch Catholic Spray who came out on stage in nun habits and laid down some snarling reverbed punk jams getting the crowd sweaty and ready for local favorites Ex-Cult. Quintron’s heavy 1am set was the perfect way to end the day, sending everyone home with a good swamp buzz in their ear.
Friday, September 27th, 2013
I didn’t want to miss out on Central BBQ, so I started my day with a pulled pork sandwich and side of BBQ beans before heading over to The Buccaneer. Again, a great start to the day with Martin Savage Gang, a power-pop outfit from Stockholm. Hemingers and Gino and the Goons kept everyone singing and dancing at what what felt like a backyard party with all-you-can-drink draft beer for $5. Once we were all appropriately bleary-eyed, we made our way over to the Hi-Tone for the likes of True Sons Of Thunder, Cheap Time, Human Eye and Mudhoney. What was most evident here was the cross-generational appeal of all the music. Early 20-somethings rocking out full force with 50-somethings who never grew up. Teen spirit or dad rock—who’s to say? There were several after-hours shows over the weekend, but the only one I could muster up enough sobriety to get to was the Mac Blackout Band around 3am.
Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Another marathon day, set to start with the enchanting melodies of Cybelle Blood. Sans the ubiquitous amenities of shmancy music fests—green rooms, photo pits, VIP tents or air conditioning—it was clear that this particular subsect of the garage rock scene was content to keep things humble. It was Buck Biloxi (Buck Biloxi And The Fucks) who said it best with a drawl: “Y’all real fancy, you think you’re so smart. Well shit’s about to get real regular, real fast!” His band then proceeded to tune for another five minutes before beginning their discordant set of scuzz punk songs. The audience joyously applauded, because this was a crowd who came not for sophistication, but for skull-numbing no-frills rock ‘n’ roll.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but I got to spend some good hang time with Australia’s Cuntz whose music rings true to everything I like to identify with in punk music. It’s intelligent yet raw and mean, biting then spitting putrid songs about ice cream and meth in your face. These guys meant to find trouble, and I was happy to help! I was also quite taken by Manatees (a band of nerdy record store employees), Digital Leather, Austin’s Spray Paint and Harlan T. Bobo, who is clearly from another planet.
Sunday, September 29th, 2013, midnight
At this point, I’d been cruising along for 10 hours at an elevated blood alcohol level, maintaining my buzz through Wizzard Sleeve‘s incredibly heavy set, then the Onyas, and later the Cosmic Psychos, both fast, fun, monster-fuzz goons from Australia. I was geared up for a final blast of amplified chaos and boozily got up the courage to ask Ryan Rousseau if I might take a group photo of his band, to which they obliged, and that was pretty radical. After the first song I was still peering through the viewfinder of my camera when out of nowhere, from the raging abyss of limbs and sloshing drinks, came hurtling towards the left frontal lobe section of my skull, one (full) tall boy of beer. At first I thought it was a wayward crowd-surfing foot, but after the blunt crack and momentary lapse of vision, I refocused my eyes to find my friend Meredith mouthing, “Are you okay?!” over the soundtrack of pure sonic assault. Confused and checking my head for blood, she held up the culprit and it dawned on me that my concussion was caused by 16 ounces of a room temperature, unopened beer. I wanted to get on the PA and make an irritated public service announcement about playing too rough in the pit, but instead I cracked open that beer and slipped into a lucid trance-like wakefulness for the rest of Destruction Unit‘s set. Haven’t been the same since.
The lineup for Gonerfest 10 was studded with acts I already knew and loved as well as bands that happily subsist in the way-underground. Regardless of age, origin or sub-genre, all of these bands shared a common ethos this past weekend: bringing a no-holds-barred punk rock party to a most discriminating gang of fans who came from all over the globe to celebrate 20 years of the greatest record label there is. Thank you, Goner Records, for staying independent and championing the obscure.
Photos by Jackie Roman/The Hell Gate.