Circa 1997, a Chapel Hill group called Milemarker started making music, noticeably evolving before audiences’ eyes. Gig to gig, month to month thereafter, the band pulled different tricks out of their hats. Composed at various times of Dave Laney, Al Burian, Ben Davis and Roby Newton, Milemarker pushed themselves to try new things like dominoes tumbling into each other. Jumping from guitar-based rock to electronic forays with tape loops, dressing in thematic uniforms, and eventually performing behind a curtain alongside a television set flickering the word “Entertainment,” they both captivated and alienated people here and on tour.
In 2000, Milemarker relocated to Chicago, where they have remained busy, releasing several more records. Then-drummer Ben Davis stayed in Chapel Hill, pursuing his own musical endeavors, like the current Ben Davis and the Calculators project and Bats and Mice. Laney and Burian’s new band, Challenger, recently released Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses, a reactionary record of activist rants and snarling punk-inspired anthems.
The band is on a national tour in association with Punkvoter.com, a voter registration group organizing bands to “Rock Against Bush.” But last weekend at Go! Room 4, the band took the stage–along with locals Des Ark and The Ghost of Rock–at a benefit for Fin Fang Foom member and friend Mike Triplett, who is recovering from complications from spinal meningitis.
Though punkvoter.com was not along for this trip to the Triangle, Challenger had a large selection of books on hand from independent distributor, AK Press, known for its combinations of punk and politics, from the music fanzine Maximum Rock n’ Roll to the work of progressive thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Between bands at the show, folks milled through those tables of music and reading materials, thumbing through books and pamphlets. But when it was time for the music, many in the crowd assembled at Go! proved there were ready for what else the band had to offer, getting close to the stage, contorting to the punchy rhythms and occasionally pumping a fist in the air.
Challenger has a chip on their shoulder, a big one. Consider their new record, with songs like “Death Museum,” warning us that there may be a future when this country looks back at its actions toward foreign countries and finds that there are a lot of bodies accumulated.
Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses was written when things really started to go south with the current administration, though there are moments the songs touch on personal relationships and just getting by. The small photo of a dead Iraqi child under the CD in the jewel case speaks volumes by itself, though.
In a recent interview Burian gave his take on punk versus polemics: “[On the Punkvoter part of the tour] registering people to vote seems to us to be a good way to match action with the political rhetoric.” There are plenty of bands talking about change, or just complaining about the state of current affairs, especially in the indie/DIY circles in which bands like Challenger thrive, without applying it to their own lives.
Laney and Burian also have written-word outlets. Burian’s personal zine, Burn Collector recently was compiled into book form, while Laney publishes a news magazine, Media Reader, containing interviews with political figures like Ralph Nader and Jello Biafra.
Laney and Burian still have friends and family here in the Triangle area, so a trip back to town was a welcome stop during a long haul.
“I don’t know what it is that Dave and I have, this Calvinist work ethic, Burian says. “We thought we would do this little tour and that would be it, maybe two or three weeks. Now it’s turned into two months or more, and we’re going to Japan in the middle of it.”
For the punk voter in everyone