In Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, writer Simon Reynolds asks a difficult but timely question: What happens to pop music when it runs out of ideas to recycle? For the optimists, the unlikely solution might come from Vancouver’s hot-shit — and remarkably innovative — punk scene, where White Lung released the unclassifiably furious Sorry, B-Lines are crassly rebooting pop-punk and Nü Sensae, a crusted noise trio, are preparing to drop their Suicide Squeeze-released LP, Sundowning. All operate within punk-rock parameters, but each has game-changing potential — proof that punk’s permutations can still thrill and terrify.
The most ferocious of Vancouver’s new guard might be Nü Sensae, a band that has released handfuls of records on just about every Canadian label you should care about. (Nominal, Deranged — yeah, we could go on.) Balancing the hyper-aggressive roar of bassist-singer Andrea Lukic — who sounds like she’s constantly on the verge of a rage blackout — and wispy vocals of hard-hitting drummer Daniel Pitout, who subbed as Hunx’s timekeeper on Hairdresser Blues, Nü Sensae added a new dimension in guitarist Brody McKnight. The result? Furious, grungy noise-rock that’s equal parts nuanced and bowel-stirring.
“It’s funny, because Brody and Daniel, they love that grunge sound,” says Lukic. “They always say that grunge is punk slowed down, so you can hear the melodies.”
And those melodies, which might have gotten lost in dissonance on Nü Sensae’s earlier recordings, surface on Sundowning. “When we were just bass and drums, I was using guitar effects pedals with my bass,” she adds. “So everything was crunchy, high-pitched and noisy. It was really only to compensate for the lack of guitar. But Brody’s still really noisy — and when we added a guitar player, we didn’t have auditions. We wanted Brody specifically.”
It’s easy to see why. McKnight’s former band Mutators were also among Vancouver punk’s most menacing acts — and besides the fact that the trio were well acquainted, he slotted in seamlessly with Nü Sensae’s amped-up fury. And Vancouver punk’s signature rage, adds Lukic, isn’t staged: It’s the product of living in Rain City, a place raw with class tensions, old-guard ageism and geographical isolationism. Those conditions breed excellent punk rock, and Vancouver might possess Canada’s most thrilling newcomers since Fucked Up, Career Suicide and Brutal Knights emerged from Toronto in the mid-’00s.
That fact ain’t lost on Lukic. “If you think Vancouver’s interesting, it probably is,” she says. “And I don’t want to brag, but it’s probably more interesting than most cities in Canada. But Vancouver’s a really expensive place to live — it’s nice, sunny and beautiful, but it’s also pretty grim. Especially for young people. There’s lots of interesting people here, but you have to work harder than Toronto or Montreal to get noticed. And that grind affects people; it’s why attitudes here are gritty and aggressive. The people here who are sad are really actually sad.”
Of course, plenty would argue that the best art comes from suffering — and it goes a long way in explaining the urgency in Nü Sensae’s music. But it’s erroneous to call Lukic and co.’s music all sound and fury; it, like the earliest iterations of Vancouver’s punk scene, tempers its fury with true-blue art-school creativity, a fact evident in the sonic growth that occurred between Sundowning and their simmering, stripped-down debut LP, TV, Death and the Devil.
“I went to the UJ3RK5 reunion a while ago — they were a band on Vancouver Complication [a seminal 1979 Vancouver punk compilation]. Joey Shithead totally looked up to them,” says Lukic. “And it made me jealous, because back then, art and punk rock so closely intertwined. But it became such a sad transition; if you look at it now, artists don’t care about punk, and punks don’t care about art. The way that evolved [after hardcore emerged in 1981] didn’t make sense. The two should go hand in hand: Punk should be intelligent and creative.”
She might’ve been talking about punk rock in broad brush strokes, but Lukic inadvertently revealed why Nü Sensae leave a capital-I impact: Sure, they might make the musical equivalent of night terrors, but they’re also undeniably dynamic, intelligent and creative. In other words, punk, meet art.