March 26, 2012 Wiping off the dust: Uncovering the legend of The Wipers
Yoe Don’t Know Jack: Once a week Adam Yoe weighs in on the best (or maybe worst), the new and the old from punk and hardcore.
In 2012, it’s hard to imagine Portland, Oregon as anything but the creative hotbed it’s become. But in 1977, it was a veritable ghost town, untouched and vacuous. The Wipers were then, as now, virtual unknowns. Perhaps that was the point.
The mastermind behind the Wipers, Greg Sage, started the group solely as a recording project. No press, no interviews and little to no live shows. Fittingly, the shows they did around the Pacific Northwest are legendary. The punk rock scene had exploded around their formation and essentially imploded by the time their first LP (1980′s Is this Real) was released. In my opinion, their best collection of songs: Tightly wound, 3 and 1/2 minutes or so of controlled fury. The cold, oppressive vibe of living and exisiting as a bad off the map was captured with such focused fury, sadly the deceptively intricate album never caught on. There were, as there always seem to be, critics and “cults” that saw it for what it was…genius.
What makes their debut LP so special to me is the jazz-like tightness, an ability to improvise and incorporate noisy guitar solos, bordering on the atonal. The desire to push beyond the simple verse/chorus/verse of elementary punk rock groups of the time led them to some strange places. 1981′s Over the Edge sent them deeper into unexplored territory with their 10 plus minute title track and nary a fast track to be found. At only six songs, it was in essence a goodbye kiss to the brutish hardcore that had taken over California and our nation’s capital. The album owes more to groups that, like themselves, never had a true home scene: Television, The Fall, Mission of Burma, etc.
True mastery never goes unnoticed. A certain Nirvana frontman often cited the Wipers as heroes and recorded covers of both “Return of the Rat” and “D7″ from the now seminal debut album.
Their legendary show at the Reading Festival features a rather scathing version of the latter. A fitting tribute to a band that remained as buried as Cobain had hoped. There are tracks from Nirvana’s “Bleach” that are dangerously close in both melody and tone to The Wipers. The full scope of The Wipers influence can certainly be heard in the next decade’s grunge fore-bearers’ recklessly tight jams. Sonic Youth, The Melvins, Dinosaur Jr., etc have all cited them as influences. Yet they remain in dusty record bins, cutout from the punk rock history books.
This isn’t recommended for punk fans, it’s mandatory listening.
RIYL: Mission of Burma, early 80′s punk/hardcore, depression and/or ceaseless rain
Currently Spinning: Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds I’d rather die than live forever and LOTS of Death in June
- Adam Yoe