Lo-Fi Punk: Is Columbus, Ohio, the New Brooklyn?


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When you see MTV News producer CJ Smith’s report on the burgeoning lo-fi punk movement (clip above), you’ll notice that the phenom is spreading out around the country. From LA’s No Age and The Smell, to Portland’s Eat Skull and Little Claw, to Memphis’s Jay Reatard, the artists are from all over the place. But key to the movement — in fact, it wouldn’t be the same without it — is a zone in the USA known as the Rust Belt. That’s right, the same Rust Belt that Barack and Hillary have been courting in recent weeks, whose economy is largely in the dumps, is home to some of our most exciting music.

From Philadelphia’s Clockcleaner and the venerable Siltbreeze label, all the way west to Lafayette, Indiana’s TV Ghost, I-70 seems to be ground zero for lo-fi punk. The unexpected ground zero seems to be Ohio’s capital, Columbus. That city’s home to the most prominent of these bands, Times New Viking, whose two-minute-long offerings of fuzzed-out pop punk, on full display on this year’s “Rip It Off,” earn them frequent comparisons to those other Ohio icons, Dayton’s Guided By Voices. “We definitely came of age with that kind of stuff,” said Beth Murphy.

Less fuzzy but no less rowdy and raucous, is fellow Columbus band Psychedelic Horses***. They’re also a trio that doesn’t shy away from button-pushing — take for example what they had to say about a much-lauded Brooklyn band that inspired their song “New Wave Hippies.” “It’s about Yeasayer,” said Matt Whitehurst. “These bands aren’t pushing boundaries, they’re not passionate, not original, and aren’t saying anything to their audience. They’re wasting their talent.”

Head north from Columbus and you hit Toledo, and beyond that Detroit — both hometowns to members of urgent band, Detroit-based Tyvek, who told us that it could be the perpetually struggling economies of the Rust Belt states that contribute to a sound that is so raw and relentless. As Kevin Boyer told us, “People have given up on trying to get a real job in Michigan. Everyone’s like, ‘Let’s just start a band.’”

So as Clinton and Obama wrestle for votes in their next battleground, Indiana, spare a thought for how hard times make for good music. That seems to be the case right now in the lo-fi punk hotbed of the Rust Belt.

Now let’s figure out a way to let Michigan’s voice be counted, please?