Fucked Up formed in Toronto in 2002, high-school friends influenced by first- and second-wave hardcore bands like Minor Threat and NOFX. It was instantly apparent that they were not carbon-copy punks. Their first 7" was entitled No Pasarán after an anti-fascist slogan from the Spanish Civil War. It was also ferociously melodic and inventive, setting the scene for a string of 25 singles over the next four years that combined political commentary with incredible musicianship and a sense of theater.
Known by bizarre aliases, Fucked Up employ creative methods of spreading information & misinformation, spurning MySpace and a band website in favor of Wikipedia and an oblique blog. Basic facts are constantly in flux. A guru-like manager named David Eliade shares the same last name as a controversial Romanian philosopher, and allegedly taught 10,000 Marbles how to garden. It is unclear how many of their 7"s have actually been released. Rumors about Fucked Up circulate like wildfire among their obsessive fans.
Some things nonetheless became clear during the course of the band's early existence. Their musical influences are varied and deep: singer Pink Eyes' record collection is one of the more noteworthy assemblages of independent vinyl in Canada. The band has a deep affection for twee English pop, while the live shows are theatrical events where it's not uncommon to find a half-naked, bleeding Pink Eyes prowling the audience. Fans caused thousands of dollars of damage at MTV Canada's studios during a performance of the appropriately titled "Baiting The Public." Attention follows Fucked Up like a sick puppy, whether from a midnight bridge concert at SXSW that turned into a police riot, or a split single with an allegedly fascist band that required clarification at a Toronto press conference.
In 2006 Fucked Up released their first album, Hidden World (Jade Tree), and they had clearly moved on from their frenetic early singles (collected on Epics In Minutes). The songs were stretched out, slower. Guest musicians played string intros and outros. Songs explored organized religion, rebirth, mysticism. Tibetan motifs in the artwork enhanced this newly mysterious direction. Still, despite new textures and layers, much of the music remained very much punk and hardcore in its massive riffage, its guitar-only breaks and, of course, Pink Eyes' gruff vocals. This was about to change.
In 2007 the band released an 18-minute single entitled "Year Of The Pig," an impassioned commentary on the plight of sex workers in Canada. Opening with female vocalist Jennifer Castle singing creepily about pigs being led to slaughter, guitars enter one by one, followed by Pink Eyes trading vocals with Castle as the song crescendos. Abruptly it slips into a fast, intricate breakdown more reminiscent of Neu! or Faust than anything punk. The effect is thrilling and disorienting — this band could only come out of hardcore, but they are now making music like no hardcore band in history.
Fucked Up's new album, The Chemistry Of Common Life, synthesizes all these diverse impulses into an expansive epic about the mysteries of birth, death, and the origins of life (and re-living). Merging elements of hardcore songwriting with up to 70 tracks of guitars, organs, winds and vocals, (including 18 guitars on the first single, the fatalistic "No Epiphany"), the music remains iconoclastic and startling, with Pink Eyes' vocals front and center. Guest musicians, of course, abound, notably gorgeous female voices such as Brooklyn's Vivian Girls and Toronto's Katie Stelmanis.
The band remains contemptuous of churches and religion (opening track "Son The Father," with its refrain "It's hard enough being born in the first place: who would want to be born again?") while promoting an almost Buddhist mysticism ("Royal Swan"). But in the end the view is idiosyncratically scientific: amid soaring guitar chords, the title track pays homage to the random chemical processes that created life on this planet. Though Fucked Up remain punks at heart - if quixotically diverse ones - they have created a great, weird, heavy record that stubbornly sticks in your brain and your heart.