Monthly Archives: September 2010

Food Coops & Sludge Rock

After a number of quiet days on the Macon scene, I was itching to get downtown last Thursday night. Despite the fact that I didn’t know what to expect from either of the events I was attending — at 7, a preliminary meeting for the proposed College Hill Food Coop, and at 9:30 two Athens-based bands at The Golden Bough — I was just excited that things were happening. The fact that both events were a success certainly sweetened the deal.

I first heard of the meeting for the perspective coop on Facebook, and was immediately interested. I was a member of the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, NY for two years, and loved getting fresh, organic, and affordable food on a regular basis. I also loved the sense of community I felt there, and the absence of advertising, coupons, genetically modified food products, and all the other wonderful things industrial agriculture and corporate food producers have bequeathed us in the last 50 years. It was also an equitable place, where people from every demographic in the city could come to find healthy, affordable food for their families.

I have to say, I was a little skeptical when I first heard about the College Hill coop plan. I just wasn’t sure that a food cooperative was the kind of thing that a large enough number of Maconites would be willing to put their money and labor behind. I expected the meeting to be maybe a dozen people of similar economic and social backgrounds, and I was afraid it wouldn’t generate the momentum needed to make the plan a reality.

I am happy to say that I was wrong.

I knew it when I walked into the assembly room at the Centenary Methodist Church on Ash Street and found a diverse crowd of nearly 100 people seated and lined along the perimeter wall, awaiting an introduction by the church pastor, Tim Bagwell. Bagwell was visibly stunned at the turnout, mentioning throughout his introduction that any doubt he may have had before coming had been obliterated by the number of interested citizens at the meeting.

“This needs to happen, for the sake of the community,” the soft-spoken, but eloquent preacher intoned in his opening remarks. Bagwell’s was the shortest, but arguably the most stirring speech of the night. “I want to say really clearly: This conversation is so much bigger than our own agendas,” he remarked, nailing the issue that most needed addressing. He had me totally convinced at this point. Not only was the interest there, but also the emphasis was already on cooperation and consensus.

Patrick Madison, executive director of the College Hill Alliance, spoke next, delivering a Power Point that outlined the coop structure – based largely on Sevananda, a successful coop in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta – and delivering statistics to support his theory that the College Hill corridor could successfully maintain a member-owned food coop. Taking a page from Reverend Bagwell’s engaging, socially-conscious pulpit style, Madison ended by appealing to the audiences’ sense of civic equity, when he brought up the fact that Mercer’s lacrosse field is on the very spot where city planners had once envisioned a community grocery store. Madison stressed that he wasn’t passing judgment, but ended by calling the College Hill coop an opportunity “to keep the promises we’ve made.”

Naomi Davis, a farmer and food activist, closed out the meeting, emphasizing the importance of supporting locally produced food, and the finer points of being a member of a coop. Davis’ farm is integrally involved in The S.O.L.E Food Coop, a buying club that provides quality food to Middle Georgia members, and uses the Centenary’s facilities as a pick up center. After taking a few questions, Davis adjourned the meeting and everyone got a chance to sample the tasty food members of the S.O.L.E Food Coop provided.

After sampling some hibiscus tea, quinoa salad, and saurkraut, and meeting some really interesting people, I headed to the Golden Bough to see Eurekas California and Rat Babies, two bands from Athens, GA. I ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a while at GB, and ended up missing Eurekas California, but made it into the back room in time for Rat Babies.

The flyer for the show described Rat Babies as “metal/sludge,” and while I didn’t know exactly what they would sound like, I had a feeling it would be loud and oppressively declamatory. I was right on those counts, but what I didn’t expect was the level of groove and hurtling momentum that the duo of bassist and screamer Mux Blank, and drummer Chodd (this was the only name I could find online. Anyone have more info on him?) would maintain throughout the set.

The compositions were largely forgettable, and that seemed to suit Blank and Chodd. Lyrics and forms were lost in a swirl of distorted bass tones, and spittle-inflected screams, and songs became vectors for emotions and energy that simply couldn’t be contained in a conventional metal rock format. It helped that the crowd was there every step of the way. Minutes into the performance, a group of friends – two guys and two women – started to bumping into each other and it quickly escalated into shoves that sent one of them flying into a PA perched precariously above the drums.  If it hadn’t been for couple people standing guard around the equipment, it’s unlikely the show could have continued. More than once, Shawn Williamson caught the PA speaker, or the ride cymbal before it crashed to the ground, and Brandon Polkoske set a pick in front of the screaming Blank, resetting the mic whenever it was jostled loose by the moshers.

Ironically, the very actions that threatened to end the concert, brought it to another level. Once the energy was relatively focused in the audience area – keep in mind that this was the tiny backroom of a bookstore, and you’ll imagine how precarious the situation was – the band was able to focus on the music, and its torrential energy reached full hilt. Chodd’s drumming was an infectious combination of what I can only describe as drum-and-bass techniques with a jazz sensibility. Where a drum-and-bass drummer would focus his beat and accents on a tight snare drum, Chodd established a more buoyant – and I would say jazz inspired – beat by creating forward momentum on the ride cymbal, and concentrating accents on the snare.

The climax of the performance came when Chodd was in the thick of a contrapuntal beat, and Blank lurched out into the moshing crowd. Without dropping a beat, he was shoved around the room and somehow found his way back to his perch between his two massive bass amplifiers to end the piece.

One of the many things I’ve learned in Macon is to come to terms with the sheer physicality of hardcore music. When I first spotted moshers at few shows around town, I immediately dismissed them as drunken troublemakers. I’m not sure I can say I was wrong in that opinion, but I can say that I now see the place of that behavior, especially as it relates to the Macon scene. There are some amazing things happening here, but there is also contention, frustration, and even desperation, and there has to be a place for some sort of physical catharsis. After the show, I heard from Clark Bush that Blank had told him that he never sees that kind of energy at shows. People just don’t do that anymore, he said.

You couldn’t help but notice that people were taking serious pride in that after the show. Sipping beers and talking on the sidewalk, people who had just shoved and elbowed each other stood around laughing and recreating their roles in the ruckus. It certainly felt that, for a moment, we were all able to shake some serious demons.