Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lets Go Trippin: Intro to surf rock

 so jealous...

Yes, this post is about surf rock, by that I mean Surf Rock and not that Beach Boys crap. Fuck that shit. That is "rock about surf" and not surf rock proper.
Surf rock is a mostly instrumental guitar driven music (except in the early days it was fairly common for surf bands to shit out a pop single with a vocalist). It places great importance on melodic guitar lines played with heavy reverb. Reverb is key to surf rock. Surf bands use reverb the way death metal bands use distortion. It is hard to make the case that something is surf if it doesn't have tons of reverb. Also tremelo picking, whammy dips and palm muting are vary common techniques. Since it is instrumental for the most part there is less standard song structure than the other music of its day, though certain lines or themes are often repeated.

Surf originated in the late 50's by artists like Link Wray and the Ventures. But it was Dick Dale that made it is what it is today. He used a clean guitar tone with maximum reverb, tremelo riffs and heavy use of the whammy bar. His style included melodious guitar lines and incorporated elements from Middle Eastern and Mexican music. Sometimes a saxophone would carry the melody; an electric bass and drums made up the rhythm section.

The first true surf hit was his "Lets go Trippin'" from 1961 which became a regional hit in SoCal. Soon the trend became a national fad with both The Chantays and The Surfaris making the top 10 in 1963 with "Pipeline" and Wipe Out" respectively. Soon surf bands started popping up around the country in such as the quiet beachside communities of Boulder, Colorado (The Astronauts) Minneapolis, Minnestota (The Trashmen) Baltimore, Maryland (The Fender IV, featuring future Blue Cheer guitarist Randy Holden) and Sydney, Australia (The Atlantics). There was also a surf scene in Japan.

Surf rock began to decline in poularity in the mid-60's with the rise of the Beatles and other British invasion crap. But it never really died in the hearts of the true fans, and guys like Dick Dale managed to hold on in the Dark Ages.
More recently with the release of Pulp Fiction and the internets surf rock is experiencing something of a revival, much like psychobilly and kiddie thrash. Much like psychobilly and kiddie thrash there is some element of dressing up, but fortunately surf rock fashion isn't nearly as bad as those genres, mostly just Hawaiian shirts. The clean cut look has died along with shitting out a pop song with a singer.

Heres a list of some of my favorite current surf bands:

The Aqua Velvets
One of the first surf revival bands, the Aqua Velvets have stuck with the genre since the 80's and are still kicking.

Man or Astro-Man?
One of the higher profile revival bands, they started off as fairly trad surf, but gradually became more abstract.

Gary Hoey

Not exactly a true surf rocker, he started out as a heavy metal shredder. He tried out for Ozzy in 88 but lost to Zakk Wylde. He did some solo type shred stuff in the 90's. In 2005 he released Monster Surf, a collection of hard rock covers of classic surf songs, pretty fuckin rad if you ask me, even if he is an Affliction tool now.

The Madeira
Very progressive surf with heavy middle eastern influences. They display more dynamics than the average surf band, with acoustic passages and brooding intros.

Secret Samurai
In my opinion the best of the modern surf rockers. They play a progressive style of surf with influences from exotica and spaghetti western soundtracks. No fucking around with samples and intros, just rippin surf.

There are plenty of other good surf bands out there, just search myspace, youtube and bandcamp.

Unfortunately, the surf rock community has not figured out MediaFire and stuff like that, and there is almost nothing out there to download, and no surf mp3 blogs. Anyhoo, here's The Secret Samurai's first album, Gun Sho Gun:


Metal and surf rarely come into contact, but it does happen. Examples: the aforementioned Gary Hoey, Satch's Surfing With the Alien (not metal, but close enough), the intro to "Craving Illness" by Deceased and Agalloch's "Our Fortress is Burning... I" sounds pretty surftastic to me.


Prof. Grewbeard said...

it's awesome you brought up this subject. there were plenty of surf sites at one time but a lot of them have gone inactive from too much legal interference. Some say Dick Dale is a forefather of metal and i agree. he had Fender design the most powerful amp they'd bulit up to that point as well as the heaviest strings (58s). i saw him three times after the release of Pulp Fiction (I was already a fan) and he was constantly tossing picks at the audience as they melted(the picks, not the fans). plus, he had a pet tiger.

Judge Shredd said...

Indeed, Dale invented shred in my opinion. I like the Dale, Davie Allan, Hendrix, Iommi lineage of "Extremity Evolution" pre-1970.

If this post goes over well, I'll do a Madeira post for sure. Maybe some more modern surf in the future.

Cory said...

i duno django was a shredder imo

gignac said...

I played a show with this surf band in a 200 year old farmhouse this winter, they wore capes, ski masks, and had a theramin player! it blew my fucking mid but they played real tight. It is a really huge underground genre, and they all do the same pulp fiction covers!

Helm said...

I really like some surf, good post.

Here's a question though. If Pulp Fiction is responsible for the surf revival, then what (piece of high profile media) is responsible for the kiddie thrash revival?

Judge Shredd said...

Pulp Fiction definitely introduced new people to the genre, but thrash has always been in kids heads. For kiddie thrash I think its metal magazines like Terrorizer and Decibel.

Steven said...

MoAM? ? How 1993.
The last word in modern surf: Daikaiju.

Perpetual Strife said...

Surf Rock's badass and the natural tremelo progressions go hand in hand with black metal if you ask me.

Seriously though, cool post/blog. Surf rock's where it's at.

Charlie Don't Surf said...

Don't forget The Mermen--awesome band and criminally overlooked.