Between 1979 and 1985, Glen Lockett, the producer and engineer credited as Spot, captured the first generation of American hardcore punk bands — Black Flag, Minutemen, Descendents, Saccharine Trust and more — as they came screaming and flailing from South Bay beach cities outside Los Angeles. The house producer for the standard-bearing independent punk label SST Records, Lockett sculpted hardcore’s hyper-fast and caustic sound with a documentarian’s ear. He died on March 4 at age 72.
A Spot recording was brittle, intimate and — crucially — affordable. Lockett preferred that a band play in the studio all at once instead of overdubbing, giving SST Records a feeling of immediacy. It was a visceral alternative in an era when major labels were investing in ostentatious filigrees like gated reverb and prohibitively expensive synthesizers. Spot’s no-frills production not only gave shape to these bands’ spittle and blurs, but served as an abrasive metaphor for an entire movement that was rethinking, and self-managing, everything from album art to record distribution to touring.
By the mid-80s, the SST founder Greg Ginn and his roster of uncompromising artists had grown creatively restless, putting Lockett at the bleeding edge of emerging subgenres and microscenes like sludge metal, stoner metal and cowpunk, as well as at the controls for Hüsker Dü’s double-LP masterpiece “Zen Arcade.” He decamped for Austin in 1986, leaving a legacy of recordings that would serve as a crucial inspiration to the alternative and DIY rock booms of the 1990s and beyond.
Here are 10 essential tracks from Lockett’s scene-defining tenure at both SST and New Alliance, the label helmed by the Minutemen.
Minutemen, ‘Fanatics’ (1981)
The bassist Mike Watt called recording the first Minutemen album, “The Punch Line” from 1981, “a gig in front of microphones,” most likely a nod to Lockett’s light touch on the controls. Lockett told Red Bull Music Academy that when recording the Minutemen, he “just set them up the way I thought that they should be set up, turned on the tape and let them go.” On the raucous, 31-second “Fanatics,” you can hear the drummer George Hurley’s sticks accidentally collide. “The songs were so short, that finding them on the tape was really hard,” Lockett told the makers of the Minutemen documentary “We Jam Econo,” adding an expletive. “I had to make so many cuts to put 18 songs on this damn thing.”
Saccharine Trust, ‘A Human Certainty’ (1981)
Emboldened by the energy of Los Angeles hardcore but artistically powered by Captain Beefheart, the Fall and Charlie Parker, Saccharine Trust made poetic, jagged art-punk that never garnered the attention of its peers. The band’s debut album, recorded in one session and titled “Paganicons,” was a favorite of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. On the album closer, “A Human Certainty,” Spot captures an expressive mix of pleas and groans from the vocalist Jack Brewer, somewhere between punk venting and goth agony.
Black Flag, ‘Damaged I' (1981)
After four EPs with three different singers, Black Flag settled into its classic lineup on its 1981 full-length tantrum, “Damaged,” on which the 20-year-old former ice-cream-scooper Henry Rollins launched a series of emotional Molotovs. His most feral moment was the closer, “Damaged I”: Rollins improvised the lyrics and Spot had him do only two takes — the first one was the keeper, Spot said. The band’s drummer “Robo always wore these bracelets on his left wrist and the drum mics would pick them up,” Rollins wrote about the sessions. “It became part of the sound. You can hear it on the record.”
Descendents, ‘Suburban Home’ (1982)
Remembered by Spot as the first time he got to properly record vocals, the debut Descendents album, “Milo Goes to College,” showcases the singer Milo Aukerman’s adenoidal whine and sugary harmonies, essentially writing the blueprint for decades of American pop-punk bands like Green Day and Blink-182.
The Dicks, ‘Rich Daddy’ (1983)
Spot told the site Punktastic that, of his productions, the debut LP from the riotous Austin, Texas, band the Dicks, “Kill From the Heart,” was his absolute favorite: “Absolutely nothing phony or [expletive] about either the band or the recording.” The group’s openly gay frontman, Gary Floyd, snarled and crooned lyrics about anti-capitalism, the police state and homophobia, making righteous protest music feel like a party. Spot flew to Austin and recorded the band’s debut in 48 hours. On songs like the Creedence Clearwater Revival-tinged “Rich Daddy,” the band made the move from hard-edge barkers to uniquely grooving blues-punk dynamo. “Everything got recorded way, way, way too hot and it was distorted as hell,” Spot told Jim Ruland, the author of “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records.” “Somehow I figured out a way to make it sound good.”
Minutemen, ‘I Felt Like a Gringo’ (1983)
The Minutemen were expanding their vision to include longer songs and heavier grooves, soon to reach apotheosis on the 1984 college radio juggernaut “Double Nickels on the Dime.” But for six songs on the “Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat” EP, Spot had one more “econo” trick up his sleeve. “I said, Hey, let’s forget about this multitrack stuff,” he recalled in the Minutemen documentary. “Let’s just set it up and do it live to two-track. One take. Bam, it’s done. You mix it while you’re playing it and be done with it. And that’s what we did.”
Saint Vitus, ‘Saint Vitus' (1984)
Spot produced the 1984 debut from the doom-metal pioneers Saint Vitus, who recorded every song on it in one take. “Nobody wanted to do something on a record that you couldn’t reproduce live,” Saint Vitus’ guitarist, Dave Chandler, told Red Bull Music Academy. “All of us had seen too many bands, like Led Zeppelin for instance, where there are all these fancy nine guitars on one song, and then you go to the live show, and the song sucks because they can’t play it like that.” The resulting album — Black Sabbath metallurgy rendered as something much darker and heavier — helped popularize “doom metal,” a substrain eventually taken up by bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard.
Black Flag, ‘My War’ (1984)
On the title track from the second Black Flag album, Henry Rollins vomits out arguably the greatest vocal performance in the history of hardcore — nearly four minutes of accusations, screams, diatribes, squeals and assorted throat shreds. On the album, produced by Spot with Ginn and the drummer Bill Stevenson, you can hear Rollins moving through the space like he’s scratching to escape a prison of his own making. The second side of the “My War” album would feature the band moving into long, molasses-slow dirges that would absolutely enrage audiences in 1984 but ultimately prove a formative precursor to the sludge metal of bands like Melvins, Boris and Mastodon.
Meat Puppets, ‘Oh, Me’ (1984)
From their 1982 debut to their 1984 follow-up, Meat Puppets evolved from an acid-fried hardcore mush into shambolic, vulnerable and Grateful Dead-tweaked country-punkers. Spot recorded both. “He made it really easy to get exactly what I wanted,” Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood told The Austin Chronicle. “He had no opinion. He really liked the live stuff and he was so into the punk rock thing from recording all those other bands. He had such a great ear.”
Hüsker Dü, 'Something I Learned Today’ (1984)
Hüsker Dü’s second LP, “Zen Arcade,” stretched the very concept of hardcore in sound, ambition and duration. A 70-minute concept album on four sides of vinyl, “Zen Arcade” teamed one of the fastest bands in the land with paisley-printed hooks, acoustic strumming and the shimmering sounds of psychedelia. Though its heady concept and catchy songs might sound like AOR excess, it was still undoubtedly a hardcore album: Twenty-three of its 25 tracks were first takes, recorded in the span of about 45 hours. “With Spot, he was a real purist,” the guitarist and vocalist Bob Mould told Tape Op. “His background was jazz, so his theory was, get the right mic on the finely tuned instrument and go with it.”
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