The travelling Deconstruction Punk party has been an annual event in the nation's capital for half a decade, and while the size and location of the venues has altered over the years (moving from the cavernous Docklands Arena to Finsbury park, and now the Astoria on Charing Cross Road), the punks, skaters and various other misfuts and colourful characters have remained.
Due to the size of the venue, there isn’t the room for some of the usual Deconstruction activities, like a skate ramp or the masses of market stalls that encourage the gathered music lovers to part with their pocket money. This year, the music is the only entertainment, but the organisers have put together an impressive bill, mainly consisting of American bands with the odd local hero thrown in, like pop-punkers Captain Everything, the ska-based Capdown and the harder edged, more challenging Tribute To Nothing.
With the first band on at 3pm, the crowd started to gather an hour before, when the doors opened. It wasn’t long before we began to notice some impressive artwork on the arms of the punters, and photographer Lisa Stone and I had some fun pulling the punks aside for pictures and a chat. Unbelievably, considering the short amount of time that they’d been in the venue and the early hour of the day, many of them were already fairly sloshed. Still, they were all happy to wax lyrical for a while about their tattoos.
22 year old Chris Webber was first to catch our attention, a young fellow who had some neat work in progress on his arm. He told us that he had his first tattoo when he was 18, a nice, simple tribal design. Since then, he’d caught the bug and was going for a sleeve. An unfinished, but still pretty impressive, snake is his current favourite, though like most of us, that will probably change when he gets his next tattoo. His work was done at New Tribe Tattoos is Brixham, Devon by Adam Harris.
Next up was Pass, the quiff-haired merchandise man who was here today selling t-shirts for Tribute To Nothing but is in a band of his own, The Rock-It Dogs. “The shitty skull thing on my leg was my first tattoo,” Pass told us, “but this double bass on my upper arm is my fave.” He has every right to think so too, as the flaming bass is a very neat piece of work. Pass tells us that he thinks the connection between punk rock and tattoos stems from the rebellious image of the 1950’s, when motorbikes, rock ‘n’ roll and tattoos all went hand in hand. Much of Pass’s work was done at The Tattoo Shop, by Scott Baldwin. However, he did all of the work on his left arm and stomach himself.
A spaced out but very friendly Australian couple couldn’t fail to grab our attention, especially because 23 years old Jutty had an original octopus design on his arm that we liked a lot. His own favourite was the equally impressive pirate ship, though the arm flexing poses he was pulling while having his photo taken were really unnecessary, and the gurns were even worse. Still, he and his young lady Julie were both planning on getting more ink done when they went back home to Oz for a holiday, as they only go to the one guy, Josh at Eternal Graphics.
Patrick from Switzerland loves the Krishna that majestically adorns his chest, though he admits that the nipple on her shoulder is unfortunate. Rob Koss from XXX Tattoos in Luzern, Switzerland did the work on his left arm and his chest, while Fred Corbin from Sacred Heart Tattoos in Oakland, California did the right.
Wiebke from Germany was the last person we spoke to before we turned our attention to the bands playing, though she herself works for Fat Wreck Chords, a label synonymous with the modern punk scene, particularly in the States. Wiebke has some beautifully detailed, if slightly bizarre, fruit and veg on her arm, inked by a freelance artist called Tschiggy from Berlin. “I like fruit!” is her simple reply when we ask why she chose that particular design. Fair enough.
Smoke Or Fire are signed to Fat Wreck Chords, and are one of that label’s great new hopes. Originally from Boston, they’re now based out of Richmond, Virginia. Label owner Fat Mike of NOFX heard some of their rough work and brought them onboard the Fat Wreck roster. If you’re familiar with hardcore heroes like Avail and Hot Water Music, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Anti-government out-pouring and general annoyance with the political situation in their homeland pretty much covers the lyrics, with powerful riffs chugging over the top of it all. Their debut album, ‘Above The City’, is out now. Drummer Nick Maggiore’s first tattoo was the stickman Dixie guy on his leg, and since then he has set about covering himself. Jason Louis from Redemption Tattoos in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the man responsible for Nick’s work.
Formed by members of the bands Good Riddance, Hagfish and Bane, Only Crime only came together in 2003 but were soon snapped up by Fat Wreck Chords. Consisting of brothers Zach and Doni Blair on guitar and bass respectively, Russ Rankin on vocals, Bill Stevenson on drums and Aeron Dalbec on guitar, Only Crime came together through a shared love of coffee, movies and ice hockey. They spent the majority of 2003 in the studio putting demos together, and then went out on tour with American-Irish oiks The Dropkick Murphys last year. They plan to release their ‘To The Nines’ debut album in the middle of this year.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Zach Blair’s first tattoo was the logo of his former band, Hagfish, on his upper arm. His brother Doni has the same tattoo, but his is yet to be coloured in. “I really like this shamrock on my lower arm,” Zach tells us, “but there’s a really funny story linked to it. I once cut myself and needed stitches right where the tattoo is. Now it has this line across it.” “Why’s that a funny story?” asks his brother Doni, understandably. “Well, now it looks like the leaf’s broken” is the reply. Riiight. All of Zach’s work was done by Oliver Peck out of Elm Street Tattoos in Austin. “All, that is, except for the swallow on my arm. Oliver doesn’t swallow.”
Bassist Aeron Dalbec is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and his first tattoo was a fairly average sun on his ankle. However, all is forgiven as he reveals an awesome Boba Fett from Star Wars on his upper right arm. It’s a great piece, especially if, like me, you’re a sci-fi and comics nut (I have a Batman piece myself, anything Star Wars related is always a winner). Dalbec visibly grins when I gasp at Boba, and he has every right to be proud. If there were prizes on offer today, Dalbec would have gotten my vote right there. To my immense surprise though, it’s not his personal favourite. That honour goes to a ‘Give Blood’ tattoo on his calf. Corey Krueger from What It Is Tattoos did most of his work, apart from the ‘Give Blood’, which was done by Steve Gaterose.
Both Smoke Or Fire and Only Crime played blinding sets in front of the early evening crowd, but as the day got later and the beer got drunk, the reaction to the bands got louder and louder. One of those benefiting was Strike Anywhere, a politically centred hardcore punk band from Richmond, Virginia consisting of vocalist Thomas Barnett, guitarists Matt Smith and Matt Sherwood, drummer Eric Kane and bassist Garth Petrie. Very similar in style to Avail and hardcore veterans 7 Seconds, Strike Anywhere have three albums out on Jade Tree Records – ‘Change Is A Sound’, ‘Exit English’ and ‘To Live In Discontent’. Garth Petrie tells us that the Straight Edge motif on his leg was his first tattoo, and that he doesn’t have any favourites among the many that cover his arms. Still, he does have some impressive work on offer, inked by Josh Brown from Absolute Art in Richmond, Timothy Hoyer from Alive Tattoos and the freelancer Jim Minor.
The final band that we have the pleasure of talking to is From Autumn To Ashes (FATA for short), and specifically their drummer and vocalist Francis Mark. FATA came bursting out of Long Island, New York, in 2000, creating a buzz locally and recording the ‘Too Bad You’re Beautiful’ debut album for the small Ferret Music label. The album sold 50,000 units which, when considering the level of distribution that the label was able to give it, was incredibly impressive. The band moved on to the Tribunal label for the ‘Sin, Sorrow And Sadness’ EP, then again to Vagrant Records for their second full length album, ‘The Fiction We Live’, in 2003. Due to their use of pop melodies, FATA have been accused in the past of not being a true hardcore band, though the band themselves have never claimed to be that, much preferring to have the freedom to experiment and grow within certain styles. They’re certainly based in the hardcore / metalcore sound, though frankly, who cares about labels anyway?
Like many of the emo bands that seem to be everywhere at the moment, FATA use a twin vocal, gruff / gentle approach, with Benjamin Perri providing the growls, and Francis Mark singing in an altogether more melodic manner.
Mark isn’t short on the tattoo front either, with two arms covered in some interesting work. His favourite is the greased up boxcar mermaid on his right arm, but ours is the picture of an anonymous girl on his left. Mark explains: “You know how people get their girlfriend’s name or face tattooed on their arms, and then when they break up, they have a permanent reminder of their heartbreak? Well, I drew a portrait of a girl’s face, somebody that I’ve never met, and I had it tattooed on my arm. This is the girl that will never break my heart.”
As reasons to get a tattoo go, that’s an absolute corker. He wants to be reminded that there are some girls somewhere that won’t be able to upset him. He must have been asked who the girl is countless times, yet he seemed delighted to tell us the story, and you can’t say fairer than that.
As the evening drew to a close with US ska-punks the Mad Caddies skanking themselves silly on stage, Skin Deep said goodbye to Deconstruction for another year, safe in the knowledge that some of the younger attendees will have been inked for the first time by the time next year’s event comes around again. But kids, think twice before going for the fruit and veg or the anonymous woman option. Please.