In the late '80s, a handful of politically motivated and thoroughly talented punk rockers got together in, of all places, South Carolina and formed a band called Antischism. Antischism made a small impact locally, but their extension of Crass-inspired hardcore got them plenty of attention within the "crust-punk" scene in the U.S. and in Europe. The band eventually mutated into the more strident (and potent) Initial State, but only existed in this form for a little more than a year.
Around this same time, a kid from Stumphole, S.C., named Chris Bickel -- who was influenced equally by hardcore, avant-garde classical composers, bad '80s metal and snuff films -- founded a band called In/Humanity. With songs like "Teenage Suicide -- Do It!" and "Fuck the Death Penalty, Let's Compromise," In/Humanity exposed the hypocrisy and silliness of punk conventions while simultaneously raising the bar for the genre.
Upon In/Humanity's dissolution, Bickel joined forces with ex-Antischism/Initial State guitarist Kevin Byrd to form Guyana Punch Line. Combining the fiercely intense musicianship of Byrd's previous bands with Bickel's manic stage presence and "unique" lyrical approach (read the band's name again ... get it?), GPL introduced the philosophy of "Smashism" which was predicated on the simple-to-grasp tenet that revolution is always at hand, as long as said hand is wielding a heavy object. Tying up years of hardcore tautology in one concise, absurdist approach, GPL's three albums (including their latest, Direkt Aktion) are severe, invigorating blasts of compressed revolution. They are the kind of albums that remind you why hardcore was interesting in the first place.
OW: From Antischism and Initial State through In/Humanity and GPL, the sounds that have emerged from a relatively small group of people in a relatively retarded state are pretty progressive. How is it that South Carolina has been capable of producing such a virulent stream of hardcore?
Chris Bickel: Perhaps it's the fact that South Carolina is so culturally retarded. GPL's music might be a reaction to repressive ideas of what constitutes "good" art or "good" music or "good" politics in a Bible Belt state. This is not to say that we hate the place where we're coming from, we're just reacting in a certain way and trying to make the situation more livable. Bands that we'd want to see never come near South Carolina, so we've tried to create a band that we'd pay money to see.
Would it be fair to say that what you're doing with GPL is equally informed by Kevin's work with Antischism/Initial State and what you did with In/Humanity?
It's absolutely coming from the history of our former bands as well as from everything we've assimilated since the implosion of those bands. Musically and lyrically, GPL is an extension, but it's an extension that's been shaped by the fucked-upedness of the world as it is today.
Antischism's influence was pretty massive in the peace-punk scene. How do the crust-punks react to Smashism?
Smashism is a philosophy that can be embraced by virtually any subgrouping of individuals. Either they get it or they don't. I've not gauged a discernable reaction from the dreads-and-patches camp because I'm not sure that there are a lot of things that those folks "get." Like showers for instance.
Is it hard to get ideologues to accept absurdity as a political principle? Is it as hard as it was to get In/Humanity audiences to accept teen-age suicide as a statement of personal empowerment?
Suicide is Smashism in action, and suicide can definitely be a political act, as absurd as that sounds. Just ask the Buddhist monks. Smashism is no more or no less absurd as a political principle than any other political principle anyone cares to name. Politics and principles in and of themselves are absurd.
You've always been in favor of short, intense live sets. You've strapped firecrackers to your chest and lit them, you've thrown up on stage (accidentally), and you've poured live crickets into audience members' mouths. And although your sets are near-violent, they're certainly possessed of more humor than most hardcore bands' shows. How important is it to you to "deliver the goods" on stage?
We're usually playing places with terrible sound systems. The music is loud and fast and chaotic, so sometimes it's difficult to distinguish what's going on. Sometimes you have to present the music in a larger-than-life way to justify the racket you're creating. Otherwise, you're just presenting a loud blur, which is inevitably boring. Punk, of all genres, should never be boring.
Why do you think no punk-rock band should play more than 20 minutes?
There are always exceptions, but most shouldn't. Shorter, faster, louder, right? This isn't the Grateful Dead. It's punk rock. Get it on and get it over with, get sweaty, maybe get laid, maybe change the world. It shouldn't take more than 20 minutes.
Is there any sort of grassroots punk scene in South Carolina that supports the kind of music you guys make?
There's about five or so Food Not Bombs kids who seem to like what we do. Maybe it's just because we play benefits for them.
Are you surprised when you hear from kids in South Carolina -- or Florida, or Indiana or wherever -- that are into what you're doing and, more importantly, seem to "get it"?
When you're playing music that speaks to 1 percent of the population, it follows that at least 1 percent of that 1 percent will make an effort to let you know that they understand where you're coming from. I'm totally comfortable with playing to that 1 percent of 1 percent.