Self-belief and gelatinous noise: the greatest work of late punk hero Glen ‘Spot’ Lockett
By Huw Baines,2023-03-15
When Glen “Spot” Lockett pointed his camera at something, he intended to capture what was there, not what he wanted you to see. “I paid attention to my subjects and what they were doing,” he told Vice in 2014 while discussing Sounds of Two Eyes Opening, a book collecting his work. Between 1979 and 1985 he brought the same instincts to bear on dozens of records as the in-house producer for punk label SST, recording classics by Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Descendents, Minutemen and many others.
Spot, who died aged 71 on March 4, was inducted into the febrile world of hardcore after a chance encounter. In the mid-1970s he was a jazz head who rollerskated and wrote record reviews for the local paper on the side while working in a vegetarian restaurant. Here he met Greg Ginn. “He was just an awkward nerd who was very opinionated,” Spot said in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life. “Couldn’t imagine him ever being in a band.”
But he was in a band. Ginn was the mastermind behind Black Flag and, eventually, SST alongside co-owner Joe Carducci. Spot soon began helping out as an assistant engineer at Media Arts, a nearby studio, and Ginn joined the dots by asking him to record his band. What came next changed the course of American music, with Spot’s pursuit of honest, trickery-free takes meshing with minuscule budgets and the visceral fury of hardcore. Here are 10 of his most vital production jobs.
Black Flag – Jealous Again (Jealous Again EP, 1980)
At Media Arts, Spot would often tune out the singer-songwriter dreck laid down by local artists. When jazz sessions were booked, though, he loved the live-in-the-room veracity of the performances. His first real run at recording Black Flag was an exercise in herding cats, but he held true to this ideal. They might have been going through vocalists at a clip (Keith Morris, Ron Reyes and Dez Cadena all fronted the band in this tiny, fractious window) but Black Flag were still lean, hungry and capable of ripping through a set in 10 minutes. That’s exactly what Spot and Ginn rendered on Jealous Again, with Reyes’s snotty drawl jutting in and out of power chords and spiralling solos, giving the impression of a kid under attack from all sides.
Black Flag – Rise Above (Damaged, 1981)
With Henry Rollins installed on vocals, offering a brutish, physical edge, Damaged pushed the envelope in terms of harrowing anger, serrated riffage and, in its closing title track (of sorts), grinding noise-rock. It’s the opener Rise Above, though, that stands out as one of the most important documents in all of hardcore. Robo’s punishingly tinny drums and Ginn’s descending riff are the needling precursor to a panic attack, yet Rollins’s roared hook counters with a moment of genuine release. Spot took a band who were well drilled (“I thought I was quite the hard-working taskmaster type. Ginn was 10 times this,” Rollins said in We Got The Neutron Bomb) and let the unvarnished angst and energy behind their songs crash and surge.
Saccharine Trust – I Am Right (Paganicons EP, 1981)
Spot was happy when things got a little weird – his tastes ran from jazz to prog to Captain Beefheart, for whom he auditioned while trying to make it as a career musician. Saccharine Trust were a great fit, trading in a grizzled amalgam of hardcore and theatrical art-rock once dubbed “poetry music” or “mini-theatre” by guitarist Joe Baiza. I Am Right draws these strands together beautifully, with Baiza’s relentless garage-rock downstrokes matched at each turn by Jack Brewer’s oddball performance. His vocals sit at the heart of the mix and when the chorus lands Brewer retreats into the sound, suddenly childlike.
Descendents – Myage (Milo Goes to College, 1982)
Descendents changed the game for ever with Milo Goes to College (released on New Alliance Records), peppering their breakneck hardcore songs with genuine hooks and a whining sense of entitlement that would set the table for decades of pop-punk. Myage is a killer-sounding song, with each of its many melodic elements – Milo Aukerman’s reedy bark, Tony Lombardo’s popping bass, Frank Navetta’s machine-gun riff – neatly balanced alongside a meaty performance from Bill Stevenson, who outlines his status as one of the finest punk drummers of all time.
Minutemen – One Chapter in the Book (What Makes a Man Start Fires?, 1983)
Driven on by their philosophy of “jamming econo” – being as creative as possible with what you had – Minutemen were the ideal fit for Spot’s no frills approach. They made their first LP together, 1981’s The Punch Line, in sequence and essentially live. By comparison, What Makes a Man Start Fires? was recorded to a 24-track machine, prompting bassist Mike Watt to grouse that things were getting flabby (Spot made the following Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat EP live using two-track tape). Years later though, Fires stands up as perhaps the perfect staging of Watt’s incandescent chemistry with guitarist D Boon. On One Chapter in the Book the two are pugilists, their instruments ducking and weaving against one another before clattering into a euphoric chorus.
Dicks – Rich Daddy (Kill from the Heart, 1983)
Kill from the Heart remained a favourite of Spot’s in the decades after he hung up his SST spurs: “Absolutely nothing phoney or bullshit about either the band or the recording,” he told Punktastic. Initially out of Austin, Texas – later Spot’s adopted home town – before reforming in San Francisco, Dicks played a blown out strain of garage-punk that smashed together the Sonics and vocalist Gary Floyd’s pulse-quickening screeds, which bashed police brutality and homophobia while promoting Marxist activism. Rich Daddy is a perfect storm of sweaty, unencumbered noise that makes a simple point about money and self-worth with total belief.
Black Flag – Nothing Left Inside (My War, 1984)
“Everything started slowing down and getting more exaggeratedly heavy,” Spot said of Damaged in Steven Blush’s patchwork scene history American Hardcore. That was only the start. Side two of Black Flag’s second album My War is a primal howl that alienated punk purists and set up SST’s charge into more esoteric realms. The first of three proto-doom dirges, Nothing Left Inside is a blood-curdling six-minute odyssey dotted with Rollins’s screams and Ginn’s wailing guitars. Its trump card, though, is the punchy live feel of the drums (played by Stevenson, who joined Black Flag after Milo went to college and also co-produced alongside Spot and Ginn). You can draw a straight line between the opening bars and Dave Grohl’s Steve Albini-assisted intro to Nirvana’s Scentless Apprentice.
Hüsker Dü – Chartered Trips (Zen Arcade, 1984)
Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade remains one of the most ambitious punk records ever assembled: a double concept album recorded and mixed in a few days, comprising almost as many first takes as there are songs. Later, Hüsker Dü and Spot would split apart as the band’s sense of sonic scope widened further, but here they are ideal bedfellows. As the record takes its many narrative diversions, he holds tight to the slashing distortion and all-or-nothing melodies the band had nailed to the floor while on tour. Chartered Trips is a miracle of a song, charging out of the gate with indelible hook after indelible hook, Bob Mould’s guitars straining to outrun drummer-vocalist Grant Hart and bassist Greg Norton, who are eating up the ground in pursuit.
Meat Puppets – Plateau (Meat Puppets II, 1984)
“He made it really easy to get exactly what I wanted. He had no opinion,” Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood told the Austin Chronicle of working with Spot. “He had such a great ear. He wanted it to be ‘gelatinous’ no matter what the case.” On Plateau (one of three Meat Puppets II songs immortalised by their inclusion on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York) Spot gets out of the way and makes room for an expressive guitar player to work. Kirkwood’s circular acoustic picking has a metallic quality – complete with slides and scrapes as his hands move over his instrument – that ricochets off brittle vocal melodies before floating free in the dreamy electric outro.
Saint Vitus – The Psychopath (Saint Vitus, 1984)
Another personal favourite of Spot’s, the first Saint Vitus record has plenty in common with My War in terms of drawn out running times and funereal pacing, but it attacks things from a less nihilistic place. The Psychopath is a near 10-minute doom-metal rumble that fuses molasses-thick guitars with a grandstanding vocal performance from Scott Reagers that must have given the prog fan in Spot a buzz. There is a sense of pomp here unlike anything else he put his name to, even if it remained a single take job to preserve the group’s live sound.