With their brutality, greed, performance enhancing drugs and links to traumatic brain injury and crime, it’s not easy to defend boxing or other combat sports. So it might seem odd that fighting is on the agenda in this month’s issue. Cult keyboardist Garrett Saracho describes a life growing up around boxing rings in Los Angeles with Latin music booming out around them. Californian Oxbow and Buñuel vocalist Eugene S Robinson, a sometime mixed martial artist who had “been getting into fights in the streets forever”, found community as a teenage loner in the gyms where he worked and trained.
Maybe they just breed them tough over in California. But, for those intrigued by realtime improvisation outside of The Wire’s musical remit, it’s easy to get bitten by the bug of fight sports, particularly boxing.
Boxing, like jazz or improvised music, requires participants to have a laser-focused concentration on what is happening in the moment. Like a gig, it’s a three dimensional performance, where players work in a confined space with other bodies to find a telling angle. Maybe it’s no surprise that Charlie Morrow and Carles Santos’s archival recording The Heavyweight Sound Fight! takes the lighthearted form of a boxing match, in which they entered the ring in a sound showdown, with Sten Hanson as referee. Wadada Leo Smith’s recent Fire Illuminations namechecks Foreman and Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle.
Of course, the principles of humanism and solidarity at the heart of much music in The Wire are largely antithetical to any type of violence. But there are other unexpected echoes between the music scene and the culture of combat sports. Boxing has an ethos where amateurs and pros often train alongside each other; gyms are rare places in the hyper-commercialised world of modern sports that are open to the public and anyone who wants to learn. The Boston gym of Sal Bartolo Jr provides the setting for a new film by Naomi Yang (Galaxy 500/Damon & Naomi), Never Be A Punching Bag For Nobody, using that location to demonstrate how gentrification threatens communities and the threads that bind disparate generations together.
But conflict can manifest in different ways. Saracho’s competitive spirit later translated into musical contests: “We used to have a lot of battle of the bands with a lot of great musicians at that time,” he says. “We would hang around and we used to play and compete and all that stuff.” Robinson, who had to suffer confrontations and misapprehensions as a young Black kid at hardcore punk shows, now uses his skills as a writer to slap down bigotry and call out hypocrisy in regular newsletter dispatches.
When a musician friend recently swung by Leytonstone in East London, we took the time to check out some music landmarks. In the basement of the family home of grime artist Jammer, the most skilful MCs of the early 2000s battled each other to drop the hottest rhymes. Despite a shiny plaque outside, it still seems remarkable that this quiet house in a leafy road was the red-hot crucible that forged a whole music genre. Here, aggression was channelled within the structure of a fair contest, and as many in the boxing world would argue, that’s better for everyone than it running riot outside. Derek Walmsley
Issue 473 July 2023 £5.95 ISSN 0952-0686
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Words Yewande Adeniran, Vanessa Ague, Jennifer Lucy Allan, Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Robert Barry, Tristan Bath, Clive Bell, Claire Biddles, Abi Bliss, Gabriel Bristow, Britt Brown, Madeleine Byrne, Helena Celle, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Lara C Cory, Julian Cowley, Raymond Cummings, Laina Dawes, Josh Feola, Phil Freeman, Noel Gardner, Michael A Gonzales, Francis Gooding, Kurt Gottschalk, Louise Gray, George Grella, James Hadfield, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Ken Hollings, Miloš Hroch, Jo Hutton, Leah Kardos, Kek-W, Joshua Minsoo Kim, Biba Kopf, Matt Krefting, Steph Kretowicz, Neil Kulkarni, Chloe Lula, Dave Mandl, Howard Mandel, Peter Margasak, Marc Masters, Ryan Meehan, Noel Meek, Bill Meyer, Frances Morgan, John Morrison, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Deborah Nash, Daniel Neofetou, Louis Pattison, Hannah Pezzack, Stephanie Phillips, Antonio Poscic, Emily Pothast, Edwin Pouncey, Chal Ravens, Mosi Reeves, Tony Rettman, Simon Reynolds, Mariam Rezaei, Ilia Rogatchevski, Bruce Russell, Sukhdev Sandhu, Claire Sawers, Dave Segal, Stewart Smith, Rosie Esther Solomon, Daniel Spicer, Richard Stacey, Richard Thomas, Dave Tompkins, Spenser Tomson, David Toop, Rob Turner, Zakia Uddin, Gabriel Jermaine VanlandinghamDunn, Val Wilmer
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