Saturday, July 5, 2008

Max Ward Beyond Thunderdome: Hardcore Road Warrior Refuses to Be One More Capitalist Casualty

In the annals of hardcore over the last couple of decades, Max Ward has been there, done that and pressed it on a limited edition 7” split. And if you listen, dude will break down the free market forces that went into making that record.
Though Ward, a.k.a. Hirax Max, a.k.a. Battle Axe Max, has hung up his drum sticks after an accomplished career spent anchoring the likes of Plutocracy, Spazz and Capitalist Casualties, the guy is still giving his all to music as the man behind the consistently awesome 625 Thrash records. Almost 20 years later, the guy still gets off on a good blast beat when he’s not busting his ass in graduate school applying Marxist dialectics to interwar Japan.
With power violence (Ward prefers the term fastcore) enjoying a well-earned renaissance as grinders and hardcore kids who grew up on California’s unique punk twist in the 1990s putting a new spin on an old style, I thought I’d hit up Ward to rehash his salad days as a fixture on the scene and get an update on the latest with 625.What I got instead was an amazingly detailed conversation about the socio-economic state of the world as it trudges toward globalization and how punk has just become one more mall commodity from one of its more insightful practioners.
“Max is one guy I have nothing negative to say about. If you know me, that's very rare,” said Bloody Phoenix guitarist Jerry Flores. “He's a good guy.”
Flores first met Ward when the guitarist was fronting L.A. grinders Excruciating Terror, finding themselves on bills with Spazz and Plutocracy. And when Flores went hunting for a label to back his newest band, he turned to Ward.
“Max has been around,” Flores said. “I'm sure he's had plenty of both positive and negative experiences dealing with different people over the years. I'm sure he's got a pretty good sense of what is fair. Probably a partial reason as to why he started his label.”
But, ya see, Ward never set out to be the P. Diddy of hardcore and grind. He just needed a place to put out records that jazzed him and the guy comes off as downright conflicted about turning music into a consumer product.
“Yeah, music and industry do not belong together, whether that is the home-screen printing bootlegger selling shirts on eBay or the ‘DIY’ label like mine,” Ward said. “I think the minute you start worrying about recovering your expenses on a release than it’s all lost. Music needs to be an experience rather than a commodity, but you can’t really tour and create that experience if you don’t have commodities to sell for food and gas. But yeah, I got really down on the scene by running a label. It’s a fucking disgusting business, even at the small level that I am.”
With the benefit of a decade of hindsight we tend to think of the first wave of power violence and Bay Area hardcore bands now as institutions, demigods who unleashed a fitful racket that immediately changed the course of music as we know it. The truth, natch, is a bit more complicated. We tend to forget that those bands played their share of half empty basement shows and struggled to get a 7 inch pressed. DIY wasn’t necessarily just a political statement; it was a matter of necessity if the aspiring musicians were serious about what they were doing.
“I started putting records out cuz no one would touch Plutocracy, so I released, or help release, the first few EPs,” Ward said. “Later, I wanted to get ETO and No Less out so I started 625 to do that. It just kinda took off from there. I wanted to release bands form the local scene, so I would take 625 records out on tour with me and try to get people turned on to the smaller bands back home, bands that I thought were much bigger than most of the ‘big’ bands that I was in at the time.”
Listen to any band bitch long enough and they’ll whistle you a few bars of the “label done me wrong” blues, but you don’t here that from musicians who’ve partnered with Ward to put out albums.
“Max rules,” Insect Warfare guitarist Beau Beasley said. “He’s one of the only guys I truly trust to release our music. He is incredibly honest and he actually likes a lot of the same bands I do. Also, he picks up his phone and is very considerate of the bands he works with. Money and making it big or definitely not on his agenda. I’ve known Max for a while and I sent him the first IW demo and he wanted to release it. My response was ‘of course.’ I cant think of anyone else I’d want to release our stuff. Dude is legit. Not a piece of shit like all these other jackasses.”
But releasing records by some of the leading lights in modern American grind is just one notch in Ward’s belt.
From the rather prosaic confines of California’s power violence scene in the ‘90s, Ward has turned hardcore ambassador to the world; 625’s signature accomplishment seems to be culling the best hard core has to offer from across the globe. His specialty, in particular, seems to be snagging acts from scenes in burgeoning third world countries (look out for a comp dedicated to South East Asian hardcore later this year) that would never ordinarily get play here in America. That the bands come from countries and regions that have experienced genuine political and cultural repression may not be a coincidence either.
“I mean, I think its rad to be able to check out bands from Indonesia, Singapore, Serbia, Macedonia, even Africa now that all play fastcore, but the same imperialism exists within the scene that ‘globalization’ in general has reproduced.” Ward said. “… I think the geopolitics of the 1980s made things more pressing, so you had European bands singing about NATO, you had Eastern European bands sneaking tapes out of the country to get pressed. Now it’s just Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace and all-over print longsleeves on eBay. … I think the records that I’m proudest of are the EPs like Domestik Doktrin (Indonesia) and Secret 7 (Singapore), or LPs like I Shot Cyrus and Discarga (both Brazil) that would not have happened unless I did it. I think so many people are clamoring to do the next Career Suicide record they lose site that there is a whole world out there - one that would be richer and more diverse if we stopped pandering to bands that played ‘American ’82 HC’ style.”


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