Ok, so here we are in Boston. A city with a million college kids (in actuality !only! a quarter of that (OK, I looked it up, varying reports state in true actuality there’s 300,000+ oh my god.)), that’s in some way the epicenter of New England. Or at least its biggest city, right? And how about the indigenous music scene? The one most fueled by, and majority-wise most often made up of that friggin’ gigantor pile of college students, no matter the year or season??? How has that pile of students traditionally interacted with the indigenous music community and its visiting friends (who constitute good reason for celebration on a regular basis)? Going further back beyond the mid-90s you’ll have to get someone else to tell the story, but from then on I can tell you about my experiences. BUGS AND RATS.
When I started going to shows as a teenager (1994) the suburbs (some more than others) regularly hosted all ages punk etc. shows. Such shows also occurred in the city on the regular at clubs, houses, and other alternative spaces (many of which I’ve only learned of after the fact and am sad that I missed out on, especially because I was in the vicinity at the time; say, the Fat Day House in Somerville for instance! or the Sunburned… or Eloe Omoe lofts.). The Rat and the Middle East (especially for my experience) were underground music hubs, as were the Causeway, that church in Copley (not THE church in Copley), the basement of the Harvest Co-op that was in Allston… Since then the punk and general underground music scenes & communities in Boston have oscillated between non-existent and various degrees of vibrancy. A particularly focused basement (or group of), or otherwise alternative space has with regularity evolved out of the mixing and melding of the educationally captive hordes and those Boston area and New England persons who so chose to dive into the city for LIVING! Such spaces (The Berwick Institute, The Library, The HOSS, The Cuntry Club, Garment District, The Elks Lodge, Bloodstains Across Somerville, The Stable, Zeitgeist Gallery, Esprit de Corps, X-Haus, Amory Street, the Endless Knot, Nom D’artiste, Oxfam Cafe, Castle Greyskull, The Cottage, 3 Wave Jump, Outside The Lines, the Whitehaus, and many more) would deliver the shots of adrenaline that would spike activity in the area’s DIY and underground communities for some time. BUGS AND RATS.
And then, as you probably know, over the last five years or so there has been a seeming explosion of activity. The Allston basement scene apex of a few year’s back (Butcher Shoppe, Gay Gardens, the still awesomely extant SBC, Problem House, onto Twin Towers, WWTAWWTAU, Dreamhaus, Wacky Kastle, etc.) is infamous because of police inter-blundering, but the community of spaces, bands , and people that took and take part in, and were forged by that scene, were and are and forever will be quite special. Beyond that there was also The Temple, The Democracy Center, BATV, The Elks Lodge, the Whitehaus, Lilypad, Yes.Oui.Si, the Cambridge YMCA, that video store, the Muthership and other underground or underground friendly spaces operating @ approximately the time. Since the police crackdown and fallout in Allston, these underground music communities have resurfaced, mostly in Jamaica Plain for now, but also back in that cradle of filth, Allston. I can tell you personally that the steadfastness, ingenuity, and resolve of Boston’s underground music communities has never been stronger, more overt, or more unified than it is right now (during my window of consciousness on the matter at least). As I mentioned earlier I speak about a roughly 20 year snapshot, and a very subjective and personal snapshot it is. BUGS AND RATS.
What in the hell does all this have to do with BUGS AND RATS?
The band is from Quincy, MA. They have been a band for 11 years, stretching all the way back to 2003 when I was personally living in Brighton in a closet that overflowed partially into a reconstituted/ semi-constructed hallway to form “my room.” I grew up in Weymouth, the town over from BUGS AND RATS, but we didn’t really cross paths and I did not book my first BUGS AND RATS show until around 5 years ago (despite having been sold CDs and tapes by the band’s singer Shawnie via Quincy Records and Tapes from about 1995 until whenever that place died). Why? Maybe it has something to do with what Rory M. touches on in this little excerpt from his write up of BUGS AND RATS and their amazing 2010 record ADIDAS over on the Hassle’s FMA BLOG,
“You know that one great band that always ends up playing with a ton of shitty bar bands? You know when you go out to some dive bar with your friends and there are some crappy metal bands playing the stage, and then all of the sudden one act comes up and is legitimately gnarly, but no one really pays attention because it goes over there heads? For years, this was Bugs and Rats, from Quincy, MA.“
BUGS AND RATS are one of the few bands that I know of that (without any kind of success, and barely any recognition, though they deserved it) survived the entirety of the severely fluctuating last 2 decades of Boston underground music culture. They have been a band through thick and insanely thin from 2003 all the way on through to the present. It seems to me that key to their survival must have been their close to complete isolation from what was actually happening in the Boston underground music world. Surely Quincy harbors infections of its own, but BUGS AND RATS seems to have safely portaged the diseased and sometimes stagnant flow of the Boston underground during the span in question. And there they are now! On the opposite bank!
It is not just the band’s survival that warrants recognition though. It is not just the band’s biding of time and eventual emergence, fully formed into Boston’s now powerfully flowing underground music ecosystem that is worth talking about. BUGS AND RATS are also a nasty band. So nasty. Period. And they appear very near the epicenter of one of the most fruitful of Boston’s underground sub-scenes of recent years: the “noise rock” thing. Call it whatever you want, when considered together groups like: BUGS AND RATS, DESIGNER, GUERILLA TOSS, BRAINKILLER, AYKROYD, (NEW ENGLAND) PATRIOTS, SKIMASK, EXUSAMWA, COWBOY BAND, HUNNIE BUNNIES, GONDOLIERS, LAIR, CHARLIE, THE CHANNELS, and others (sorry!) make for a most freaky, loud, and pummeling land of possibility. And that’s just one rough grouping of (strictly Boston) bands, the very rough grouping of bands that pretty much one by one fell immediately in love with BUGS AND RATS whenever it might have been that they finally heard the band. BUGS AND RATS can, by my eyes, be seen as a one band microcosm of the entire Boston underground of the last many years. Hanging in their and then exploding, never looking back, just blindly hurtling forward feeling for something.
And now, flaking off from them while on that cosmic trajectory of theirs is a future artifact: a self-titled 9 song unleashing of negative vibes, and pummeling rhythms, all of it layered with that strange, taunting and uneasy whine of Shawnie’s possession. Recorded by drummer Kellzo in his current home of Philly, and at ODDFELLOWS in Weymouth, MA, BUGS AND RATS here break off a thick and virulent slab of noise rock meets punk meets metal. It is unholy, and that was surely part of the goal. These three men (only Radek, manning the bass, has not yet been mentioned) have synthesized all manner of heavy, loud, sludgy, and blasting fringe rock sound, toiling until the singularity known as BUGS AND RATS emerged. To further push these recordings past the edge Kassie of GUERILLA TOSS was recruited for two of the nine new tracks, adding her own sing-song squelch to the noise of the bad boys. A perfect fit.
“Infidelity” stands the noise rock concept on its head. Verses as if machine guns, choruses emptying of the shells and reloading. It’s loud-quiet-loud given something new to feel. The very next song, ” I’d Really Like To See You In The Cold”, is a fairly demented offering, even for these guys. Noisy as hell guitar blasts forth across a rhythm section spread out across state lines. Vocals are shifted higher slightly, and in that voice the title line is delivered; and it is perhaps the catchiest bit of the entire record. That’s another thing about the BUGS AND RATS deal. Pop notions do arise and show through from time to time, and there is no shame in it, and it all works. That in and of itself is a rare thing. The last song I’ll mention is “Boys Are Dumb”, one of the track’s featuring Kassie. Main riff, a behemoth, slashes its way through noise to get the song started. The vocals, again sing-songy, are delivered with impeccable flow, elastic as they bend against the powerful menace of the behemoth. Gnarly & Sassy, and peppered with back up yelps (Kassie?). The whole song, the whole album, the entirety of this band functioning as a dread spreading cold stare, followed by a demented laugh. End of interaction. BLAST THIS RECORD NOW. I don’t know what the plans are for its “actual” release (this may even be the “actual” release…), but this wheezing crusty and blackened punk wonder deserves more than just a “bandcamp only existence.” TURN IT UP TO 12. IF YOUR STEREO DOESN’T DO THAT PLEASE GO TO YOUR FRIEND’S HOUSE TO LISTEN. THE ONE WHO HAS THE STEREO THAT GOES TO 12.