Lyrics: Go to
LIMITED EDITION OF 1000
Includes 96-page book of writing and art, plus new 12-track CD, plus access to view Barry Mills' Mekonception video.
A book, a cd and a movie all rolled into one glorious, multi-media mekon-tastic package!!
Published by Verse Chorus Press in San Francisco, we got our mitts on a few hundred to sell to you directly.
In July 2015, with the help of 75 mekoristers, MEKONCEPTION took place at Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an event dedicated to creating a new record in real time around a single microphone. "Why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to!" was the concept.
Twelve chapters of writing and art from mekons and mekon friends, inspired by each song on the CD.
MEKONCEPTION footage has been turned into a video art document by Barry Mills. A viewing link and access code is provided in the book.
Check out the premiere video for "Fear and Beer."
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Recorded last summer in Brooklyn, this kinetic live album collects new politically-charged songs from the British art-punk O.G.s—a call to arms for all those pushing against the tides of modern life.
Back in 1987, the ROIR label released a tape called New York—one of many rather roughshod titles from the then-cassette-only New York outpost. The quasi-legit collection almost sounded like a bootleg, the kind of thing that would be traded in dubs from fan to fan. New York was the only live Mekons album ever in-print (though it was reissued in 2001 as New York: On the Road 86-87). That changes now with Existentialism.
Similarly, Existentialism also often sounds like a boot, but that’s a deliberate artistic decision. It was reportedly recorded around a single microphone at the Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, Brooklyn. At times, the rhythms overwhelm, yet this isn’t precisely a record that rocks. The Mekons long ago began weaving in elements of American country and British folk, threading it through the nervy art-punk at their core, a maneuver that only gains resonance as the band slides into middle age; it’s defiance that has turned into a credo. Older they may be, but they’re restless, and when Existentialism was recorded in the summer of 2015, the songs were as new to the band as they were to the audience. The Mekons chose to cut the songs not long after composition, a move that only underscores the urgency behind the project.
Despite the haste, there are no stumbles on Existentialism, though there is rawness. The group is too good to let things careen out of control, but they’re smart enough to play upon the suggestion that things could. Certainly, this adds passion to the performance; it’s the sound of a great band creating great noise. The album pushes levels into the red, but sometimes it suggests more sonic detail than could be achieved from one mic. There’s little separation in the harmonies, and plenty of midrange smear, but instruments pop to the forefront.
Beneath the racket, there are ideas—some expanded upon in an accompanying 96-page book and the Mekonception video that documents the whole shebang—but they’re impossible to ignore in the songs themselves. Images of terror, upheaval, and loss float through the words. Turmoil bubbles to the surface on “Fear and Beer,” a pub singalong for the age of Brexit, but “1848 Now!” makes allusions to revolution past, one of several sly nods to history. The best musical tip of the hat is how “The Cell” plays with the melody of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” without ever following its contours.
Politics and tradition are nothing new to the Mekons, but what makes Existentialism resonate is that it’s an album of the moment, for the moment. As an aural document, it’s kinetic and crackling, a live recording that captures the excitement of a concert. As a complete piece, it says something powerful; it’s a call to arms for old punks, unrepentant artists, and assorted freaks, all pushing against the tides of modern life. It’s the Mekons and friends and family gathering together in a small room, shouting songs of protest and singing sad melodies, realizing there’s strength in being together, even if their numbers are dwindling.
Mekons give 'live album' cliche a twist with 'Existentialism'
By Greg Kot
The title of "Existentialism" (Bloodshot), the Mekons' latest album (released in tandem with a limited-edition book and video), sounds like a ponderous textbook left over from their art school days. But this Mekons' philosophy treatise sounds like it was recorded in a graffiti-scarred basement with a bunch of broken instruments while a crowd of inebriated hoodlums heckles them.
Inspired by '70s punk in Leeds, England, the Mekons have been making it up as they go along ever since. They are collage artists who try to make sense of the future by interpreting a past — musical, cultural, political — that has been written out of most popular history books. They are a punk band but they don't play punk rock, exactly. They mess around with country, reggae, cabaret, folk, Eastern music and whatever else they can shake loose in their cultural scavenger trips. The experiments keep coming because they'd be bored silly otherwise, which brings the band to its latest album in a recording career that stretches back to 1978. As usual, it finds the Mekons upending formulas — in this case, the rock cliche known as "the live album."
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In the spirit of their infamous 1987 life-on-the road cassette, "Mekons New York," the new album is a document that turns the audience and the recording space into accomplices for the band's high-wire act. A single microphone is one of the few concessions to technology. Though this premise may seem random, tongue-in-cheek or just plain lazy ("Why should a record take more time to record than it does to listen to"), the opening "Flowers of Evil pt. 2" instantly pulls the listener into the experiment.
Tom Greenhalgh howls into a void over foregrounded bass and drums. A sinewy guitar snakes through the mix, which is dominated by a ghostly backing "choir" — otherwise known as "the audience" — and rapid-fire handclaps. The Mekons indulge their enduring fascination with dub reggae and give it a few more twists of strangeness. "Nude Hamlet" oozes out of a similarly disconcerting fog of wordless vocals, drums and bass.
Gnarly drinking songs — or at least melodies that were meant to be sung with a bullhorn in one hand and a lager in the other — dominate, with fiddle, unison voices, rude drumming. This is less a celebration than last call inside a bomb shelter: the shouty "Skintrade," the melodica-driven "O Money," the Brexit eulogy "Fear and Beer," the Edgar Allan Poe-worthy "The Cell," Sally Timms' "Bucket" — perhaps the first Weimar Republic-style cabaret number to quote a Hank Williams track. If a song can be sad, terrifying and strangely humorous, the Mekons will find a way.
There's also defiance (particularly in "1848 Now!" a storm-the-barricades anthem that invokes the peoples' revolutions that spread across Europe nearly two centuries ago) and a ghostly warning ("Remember"). In the latter, a robot voice intones, "Erase history." But the Mekons, as usual, aren't having it.
The Mekons have been around for nearly 40 years, and for most of that time, they've been evolving into an alt-country band. As a group, and in their solo and side projects, they've seemed to grow twangier every year, so it's easy to forget that they started out as a noisy agit-punk collective.
Existentialism is a sharp reminder of their roots away from roots music. This is no honky-tonk; this is fierce political cabaret — with, you know, fiddle and accordion and Hank Williams quotes. That's how they roll.
The Mekons explicitly reference historical events, recent and otherwise, on a number of tracks here. In "1848 Now!" They use the French rebellions of that year as a shout-out to once-and-future doomed uprisings, while "Beer and Fear" is a heart-cracking lament for a post-Brexit England. When the stories get more personal, as in "Travelling Alone" and "Simone on the Beach," they're individual narratives for troubling times.
Existentialism is theatrical, a fractured narrative of travelling through an ever-changing, often horrifying world. Taken as a whole, it's a rallying cry to be loud, radically vulnerable and "Naked as a new born babe," as they sing in "Skin Trade." After all, the album's not called "Nihilism."
Mekons in the woods
A Ship in the Woods brings the British cow-punk band to town
By Dryw Keltz, Sept. 21, 2016
San Diego is in for a treat when cow-punk band the Mekons plays in Escondido on September 25 at the new home of arts collective A Ship in the Woods. Mekons singer/guitarist Jon Langford figures the band hasn’t played a show here since the Casbah sometime in the ’90s.
“I remember just standing outside and watching the planes come in,” he recalled.
Langford has rolled through town with one of his other projects, the Waco Brothers, in the interim. One time, he even elected to visit Mojo Nixon and take part in his politically charged radio program Lyin’ Cocksuckers.
“We did a radio show in his living room, and we both shouted as loud as we could,” was how Langford summed it up.
Mekons tours in the U.S. are few and far between because the band is scattered around the globe. Arranging tours is costly and time-consuming — a labor of love. “For the money we make, you have to really wanna do it, which we do, but it can be kind of crippling,” said Langford. He also said that this may be the last U.S. tour that the band is able to do because “we can’t really afford it.”
If that is the case, the Mekons seem set on making the most of their stay over here. Besides bookending their tour with two festivals, the band is going to attempt to at least begin recording two albums.
The most recent Mekons release is a book-and-CD combo titled Existentialism. The album was recorded live in the summer of 2015 at the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn.
“The project started in a very positive way financially in that we invited 75 people to come and be involved in the recording of the album,” Langford explained. “So, 75 people paid money and funded the album...an instant crowd-sourcing type of thing.”
One particular song that turned out to be an ominous warning was the dark “Fear and Beer.” It was written about the changing political climate in England and the “Brexit” movement before the vote for it had passed.
Langford, who is originally from Wales but now lives in Chicago, spent a couple weeks in England after the Brexit vote. “Normally when I go over there, people are, like, ‘What the hell is going on in America?’” said Langford. “This time I could actually say, ‘What the hell is going on in Britain?’”
Full disclosure, I love The Mekons. I always have. Existentialism opens with a track that would be fully at home and welcomed on a PiL album with its driving bass line and echo infused vocals. Even the vocals on Flowers of Evil, Pt. 2 are reminiscent of John Lydon. As the track builds and builds adding in handclaps, violin, what sounds like a trumpet and keyboard, it has you banging your head and tapping your feet.
Skintrade returns to the Mekons tried and true method of mashing folk, country and rock with a group wide vocal effort. It’s swashbuckling in it’s approach and feels like it could disintegrate at any moment before clinging onto chaotic perfection.
The album shows a band full of ideas and songwriting brilliance. The third song O Money brings in some woodwind instruments (I think, you never actually know with Mekons as they are multi instrumental) and some choral backing vocals – again, there is a hint of a sea shanty, a folk song all held together by the drums and bass. I had the great experience of seeing The Mekons earlier this year in a sold out New York gig where they delivered a set full of confidence and humor. One of the highlights of that gig was the interplay between the male and female lead vocals with the assortment of instruments and Bucket is the first song on the new album to bring the female vocals to the fore in a Eastern European Gypsy folk song – I defy you not sway along to this one.
Fear and Beer intros with some classical piano before the drums and bass kick in followed by some strange sounds from what I’m guessing is one of Lu Edmond’s instruments from his travels. The group then brings a full on vocal (with at least 5 voices) treatment to the ballad – an almost old English folk song approach that the band are so good at. Not content with the strange song titles so far Onion is next up and is more in your face musically with some strong chords underpinning the beautiful vocals and lyrics.
The Mekons have never been content to be pigeonholed and the must watch documentary on the band details a very creative bunch willing to explore all types of music but always challenging the listener to expand their horizons as well. Traveling Alone takes you to the Caribbean with a reggae backing and then Nude Hamlet comes at you with a Led Zeppelin bluesy rhythm. The band continue to show their adaptability with 1848 Now! a track that takes the reggae and blues of the previous two efforts and mashes them into something totally new with the lead guitar lick prominent.
Simone on the Beach is pop perfection as Sally Timms comes to the fore with her velvet vocals backed by an upbeat style – it’s three minutes of pure joy. Second to last on the 12 track album is The Cell. It’s one of my favorites as it’s classic Mekons – a drunken singalong with rhyming couplets and violin backed folk. I am already totally awed and satisfied before the last song Remember hits you with a spoken intro distorted to sound like a Dalek and then the bass and drums launch you into a dance track with some complex vocal interplay. It’s almost 5 minutes giving the band ample time to experiment with different vocalists and sounds. Like the rest of the album, the bass and drums hold it together providing a foundation for the band to build their sounds upon.
If punk rock is about attitude, experimentation, art, continually evolving and challenging the status quo then The Mekons are as punk as it gets. Seek out this album, seek out the documentary and seek them out live – you will not be disappointed
by Tyler Rose Mann · July 28, 2015
The Mekons wrapped up their fifteen-day tour this weekend, starting in Chicago at The Hideout and finishing in Cambridge at Middle East. They stopped for a few days in New York City, playing a concert at the Bowery Ballroom on the 21st and recording a new album before a live audience on the 23rd. A live screening of the Revenge of the Mekons documentary was shown on the 22nd.
Who are the Mekons? I’m glad you asked; you certainly won’t be the only one.
The Mekons emerged from Leeds in 1977 as one of the very first British post-punk bands. They never took themselves all that seriously and sought from day one to close the gap between audience and stage. They are artists as well as musicians, and to this day just as likely to get down to the nitty-gritty of social politics as they are to goof off. In the beginning, everyone was drunk; the crowd came on and off the stage; instruments swapped hands; unpaid, band members left and came back periodically. It wasn’t until 1984 that the Mekons reemerged as a stable band to play benefit concerts to support the cause of the Great Britain miners’ strike that had divided the country that year.
“One of the first punk bands out of England….and the last too!” Jon Langford, Mekons guitarist and artist of the “Nashville Cats” exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame, declared proud and half-joking at Tuesday’s concert. When Langford claimed to have been kidding about the second part, vocalist Sally Timms turned to Langford to remind him softly that “it’s not a joke,” because it isn’t really.
Langford and Timms are right, of course: the Mekons are both one of the first and one of the last “authentic” British post-punk bands that truly embodies the ideal of “punk,” rather than just the typically American fashion or iconography. After 38 years they’re still going strong, recording new songs, reinventing old ones, cultivating younger admirers alongside fans that have adored them for decades, and getting better all the while.
What kind of a band are they?
“A band of friends,” accordionist Rico Bell declared with cheerful certainty. “I don’t like genres.”
“It’s uh…kind of a….project,” mused Langford, “that came out of art school and the punk rock explosion in England in the ’70s…and then it became kind of a group of friends just doing what they felt like.”
Drummer Steve Goulding pondered the question for a moment before chuckling and offering this tidbit: “we’re a much better band than everyone thinks.”
And indeed, what else can you make of a band that plays punk and rock ‘n’ roll, but also country and bluegrass and English folk, and sometimes all at once? Some might say that they’re no longer a punk band, while others argue that they get even punker as they grow older, less popular, and more experimental.
Joe Angio, director of the documentary “Revenge of the Mekons,” sits decidedly in the latter camp. “Even though their music for the longest time has been completely removed from what punk music sounds like they’ve stayed really true to the values and ideals that were very indicative of punk in the UK,” said Angio, “in the UK there was a very social and political aspect to [punk], and I think the most prominent thing that appeals to me at least about the Mekons is that they’ve stayed true to these values and ideals”
One thing the Mekons have always been is absolutely unapologetic, daring to be unpopular, continuing to perform despite dismal commercial success, and generally refusing to die, artistically and culturally speaking (Do they have an artistic goal? Ideological, political, social? “Survival, really,” grinned Langford). They have things to say, and they are going to say them in a way that is genuine, if country or folky, whether you or the record company (they’ve had bad luck with the several labels they’ve released singles or signed with) likes it, or them, or not.
If that’s not the punkest thing you’ve ever heard I’ll eat my leather jacket, spikes and all.
The Mekons opened their Tuesday performance with their classic “Memphis, Egypt,” demanding that we “destroy our safe and happy lives before it is too late,” which is a wonderful opener for a bunch of punkrockers that now have children and day jobs.
Jokes about geriatrics proliferated, accusations of wigs and balding were made. Sally sported a knee brace which, when asked about it during a lull by an audience member, was mysteriously explained with a grin and a shrug: “I’m just old.” One man in the crowd, after debating with his wife (“you ask her.” “No you ask her!”), finally confessed his suspicion that I looked too young to be anything other than the daughter of somebody there (I was indeed with my mother, a fan and friend of the Mekons for decades).
But amidst all of the pseudo-self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek, look-at-us-we’re-all-old! feelings, I heard one distinct sentiment repeated all around me, during and after the show. The askers were, tellingly, as bewildered about these feelings as anything else, but the admiration was unmistakable:
“They sound really good, don’t they?”
A few dozen lucky souls took part in the recording of a new album at Jalopy in Brooklyn. We scrambled for seats in ten or twelve pew-like benches, and I was reminded of Sally’s Tuesday quip about the Bowery: “the Mekons finally found a way to sell out!” They played three four-song sets, and a “choir conductor” gave us instructions about silence and held up flash cards when our chorus lines approached.
The band repeatedly reminded us that they’d “never done this before,” and it soon became clear that they had never played many of the songs through before. As they fumbled through the first chords of one song, Sally asked, “how does it start? Are those the chords? It sounds different…” After flubbing one section of a bluesy number, Jon Langford cheerfully asked for our patience: “we’ve never heard that song before either!”
But most of the songs were recorded in just two takes, with more enthusiasm, cheer and sheer talent than frustration. Jon had to be told to stop stomping his feet while he played (“I wasn’t!” he insisted, innocently unaware of the subconscious emergence of his inner punkrocker). Nobody had any idea when the album would be released.
We heard punk and blues and sailor songs, and weird existential intellectual lyrics. It was all tense and new, but fun and undeniably good, the band insisting on “getting it right” while still pushing boundaries with flexibility and novelty and grace.
The Mekons are amazing because they have been so culturally impactful and artistically successful, despite—Goulding, Langford, and Bell would all say because of—their failure to achieve any kind of commercial success.
“We tried to be commercially successful and it didn’t work. It would never have worked,” Goulding insisted. “It’s not really what we’re supposed to be.” They work best as a jolly gang of musicians (of various sobriety levels, some might say), seeing each other when they can, and enjoying the journey for what it is.
“We haven’t made a huge amount of money out of being the Mekons, so we haven’t really got anything to bitch about,” noted Bell, observing that the lack of monetary pressure allowed them all to really enjoy creative time spent together.
Paycheck or no paycheck, they are one of the most important punk bands of all time, and have a lot of relevant objections and solutions to many of society’s contemporary ills, like capitalism. At worst, they have been loveably too-drunk-to-play, and at best they’re absolutely brilliant, in the same transcendent way as any of the great musicians we revere.
And nobody’s ever heard of them, which somehow makes them more brilliant and endearing, because they just keep on chugging forwards, getting better, and to hell with what you think about it anyway.