When Flipper with David Yow played the Astoria a few months ago, every opening act made an impression. The Authorities brought a tight, playful California punk vibe with songs like “Radiation Masturbation” and Bishops Green drummer Orville Lancaster on the kit. Vancouver’s own lié brought a more sophisticated no-wave noisiness to the proceedings. But the standout act among the openers was, in many ways, Chain Whip, the most full-on “hardcore with no apologies” face-punch that I’ve seen in years.
Frontman Josh Nickel—probably still best known for his tenure in the Jolts—treated his face and head as a percussion instrument, smashing himself periodically with his microphone, in time with Patrick’s hard and fast beat (band members besides Nickel are credited on a first-name basis only). All the while, he gave a maniacally hostile vocal performance, delivering songs like “Let’s Bomb East Van” with a fanatic’s conviction.
Turns out that’s not just for show, as Nickel tells the Straight. “I always found when I was doing vocals in the studio, I'd pull on the back of my hair or twist my ear really hard. I'm not sure why. Helps put me in the moment or something. It's not so much self-loathing. I'm just trying to get off—trying to evoke the proper emotion that I’m going for. Not in a sexy way or anything. The audiences for punk and hardcore shows are often pretty bland and I want something to feed off of from the audience. You don’t always get that, so this kind of violence helps me to deliver it the way I want to deliver it. Whether it’s good or bad, I like violence. If I can't get it freely from the audience I have to create it for myself.”
Afraid yet? Don’t worry, there’s no GG Allin-style assaults on the audience, at least not at the two Chain Whip shows I’ve seen. “I’m not in it to hurt people,” Nickel says. “That’s for assholes. When I see a killer punk band or I play on-stage, I want to taste some sweat and see some blood. I want to feel like the band cares to be there. Hardcore is raw energy. I want it to envelop me when I’m at those shows or on that stage. I’m also painfully aware that I'm a 35-year-old dude playing music that was founded and perfected by 17-year-olds. Sometimes you need to punch that fact into your own face.”
Makes sense—but why bomb East Van, again?
“East Van is the most repulsive identity I can think of,” Nickel replies. “A part of Vancouver being rapidly gentrified, bought and sold, destroyed and whitewashed. With that track I just wanted to bum all those ‘East Van’ tattoo-sporting dorks. Like that facet has some semblance of identity. Do better! ‘East Van’ is yuppie yoga culture. ‘East Van’ doesn’t exist anymore. Bomb it into oblivion.”
The song clocks in at a minute and 15 seconds, making its point as efficiently and fiercely as any Articles of Faith tune. That kind of hardcore has become easy to abuse of late—as the speed-addicted orthodoxy that leveled a lot of the creativity and variety of first-generation punk rock—but Nickel and company remind audiences that in fact, hardcore is pretty awesome, when delivered with conviction and energy; so much so that you might end up thinking it odd how rare it is to see this kind of thing on our stages, lately.
“In Vancouver there aren't a lot of bands doing what we do,” Nickel acknowledges—specifically, “throwback '80s golden-age stuff. There's a lot of heavier stuff around that gets a little closer to metal for my personal tastes. Both Patrick and I were playing in power-pop bands”—Nickel was in Night People and Fashionism after the Jolts folded—“and felt we wanted to do something a bit faster. Wilder. We started as a band that just wanted to play '80s California hardcore covers for a Halloween set and then figured we had some unfinished business in the way of writing our own songs in that style. I listened to that Fix compilation and started writing stuff. I could lament the fact that I wish there were more kinda straight-up hardcore bands here, but I also think that maybe we play it a little bit too close to the sound of yesterday and don’t do anything to bring it into this century. Whatever, we just play the stuff we like most. If it’s old that’s fine. So am I.”
The name Chain Whip is neither a reference to something kinky nor to martial arts, it turns out. The band’s guitarist, Joel, came up with it, “but it's actually a bike tool,” Nickel says. “The ninja weapon is just the pose we strike. At least half of Chain Whip the band would rather settle scores in a bicycle race.”
Nickel is involved in other facets of the Vancouver scene. He’s “done some co-presenting with Modified Ghost but we are entirely separate,” he says. He also runs a music site called Neon Waste—where, so far, he does everything, from reviewing D.O.A.’s recent compilation of unreleased tracks to interviewing other local bands like his equally fierce peers, Bootlicker.
Nickel describes the site as “a response to Vancouver having zero subculture hub. Most things I find interesting or good are generally passed by in more traditional press.” Even independent mags like Discorder “have massive issues with regard to content. I remember not being able to get a review when an old band’s single was Number 1 on CITR's chart. When I asked what was up they told me to stop being entitled. It's like—I didn’t play us a bunch of times to get us to Number 1 on your fucking chart. I’m just trying to sell this shit and want a blurb so I don’t have 100 copies under my bed forever!”
Nickel’s ambition is at some point to “open up” Neon Waste to other contributors, he says. “I realize that I can’t do it all on my own, and really don’t want to. We can run our own press, our own scenes and not have to cater to anyone or anything else. I think that everyone is burnt out for the same reason I was and doesn’t want to get involved with something they view as being a passing phase… or maybe they’re too busy working 60-hour weeks because this city is such a punisher. The city is on fire and people are leaving all of the time because local politics are fucked, gentrification so rampant, and nothing is affordable. When was the last time you went to a punk-rock show and the median age wasn’t 30?”
Chain Whip’s new album, 14 Lashes, comes out this week, with a record release show on August 31 at the SBC, featuring three other bands that Nickel is enthusiastic about. “Creeping Chill, from Edmonton, are a rad new hardcore band that I like a lot. Cheat are a brand new band from the Valley that I’m excited to see; and Bootlicker is a band made up of people from Kamloops and Vancouver. We’re releasing the 7-inch here for them as well, and I was recently asked to play guitar for them which has been really fun. They’re a great band and I’m honoured to put out that record and play in the band.”
The shortest song on 14 Lashes, “Spectator”, clocks in at a mere 47 seconds long, packing in two full verses and choruses. The lyrics—other than the shouted chorus of “Spectator”—are pretty much impossible to decode without a lyric sheet, but Nickel informs the Straight that it’s about “people that contribute nothing besides half-baked critiques and commentary. People that are too chickenshit to try and create something. They’ll have great jobs in policing or human resources one day.” (Ouch!)
All the lyrics on 14 Lashes were written by Nickel, who will be including a lyric insert with the record, “so everyone can mock me for my prose, which is highly encouraged. As long as you start your own band too!”
The Chain Whip/Bootlicker album release show takes place on Saturday (August 31) at the SBC. See the Facebook event page for details.