Social anxiety’s antisocial cure

Stressed Out plan to nuke everything

With the high-profile suicides of NHL enforcers such as Wade Belak and Rick Rypien and the runaway success of Halifax scribe Michael Kimber’s blog-turned-book-deal My Success at Failure a tell-all about his struggle with personal demons men’s mental health issues swallowed kilometres of editorial space whole in 2011. And for good reason: According to StatsCan in 2008 nearly 3000 Canadian men committed suicide double the rate for females. Depression blog What About Teh Menz? blames it on the pressure for a man to succeed: As women’s bodies are objectified so too is a man’s capacity for success. And if a man’s bread-winning capabilities are diminished — by say recession-era layoffs — it’s more likely to induce social anxiety. Depression. Plummeting self-worth.

The real issue? Unlike women say some pundits men are conditioned towards silent machismo — meaning that sharing those ugly “feelings” can be taboo. But if there’s anywhere such issues are addressed flagrantly it’s within the punk and hardcore scenes. And perhaps that’s why bands like Lethbridge’s taut ’80s-hardcore indebted Stressed Out is worth taking seriously: All snot-nosed anti-social stompers (“Stressed Out”) and neurotic anxiety (“Intruder”) it’s a band that beyond raging like early Black Flag provides a snapshot into the tormented young man’s psyche.

Question is though does that social anxiety come from a genuine place? Or is Stressed Out simply paying tribute to one of punk’s most lasting tropes — the bored socially retarded cretin?

“The discontent comes first. The punk comes second” says singer Connor MacKinnon. “And you nailed it with the idea of hardcore as a male clinic for exorcising demons.

“I mean I’m not a negative person” he continues. “But I think that positive music is boring. For me punk and negativity melded beautifully from an early age. With Stressed Out it’s me talking about things that bother me in a cartoonish way.”

What this means: MacKinnon needn’t be institutionalized for writing a song called “School Shooter.” Instead he argues that the longevity of punk’s anti-social lineage — from the schizoid self-loathing of Dead Kennedys to the modernist urbane rage of Career Suicide — isn’t just an outlet for teenage angst it’s a signifier of the unrest that has for three decades drawn young men to hardcore.

And if the Descendents properly reflected nerd-burglin’ suburbanite fury Stressed Out can be seen as a direct reaction to the boredom malaise and claustrophobia of life in Southern Alberta.

“I love Lethbridge and I wouldn’t live anywhere else” says MacKinnon. “But I also relate to Midwestern shit where the only [hardcore] band in this dipshit town were some dudes who opened for Black Flag once. The Necros they were like that — they had the IQ 32 7-inch that was recorded by Ian Mackaye. All the songs were called like ‘Peer Pressure’ and ‘Public High School’ and they were all spazzy with plenty of snot.

“We play with as much snot as humanly possible. It’s 36 per cent more snot.”

At that Stressed Out delivers — after all the band isn’t only valuable as a psych-ward case study. Having played at last year’s Sled Island — at Grown-Ups’ fabled house party alongside Van-city maniacs B-Lines — and slated to perform again in 2012 its brand of no-bullshit American hardcore is supported with members of Lethbridge’s finest bands including streetpunk firestarters The Dregs and garage faves Myelin Sheaths. (Though Joel Butler the former Sheaths guitarist has since left Stressed Out and moved to Vancouver.)

That and the band has also captured a common sentiment with its most explosive track “Nuke Shambhala.” So has MacKinnon ever been confronted by a pink-dreadlocked devil-stick-and-pitchfork-toting mob?

“Oh totally” he says. “It was at SAIT. They were wearing animal towels and Skrillex shirts and wanted to touch my beard as tripped out children tend to want to do. We were talking about Shambhala and I told them about the song. I’m not a spit-in-your-eye type so I kept on letting them walk with me.”

He laughs. “Then this dude kept on asking me ‘Have you ever been there? Have you ever been there? Do you even know?’ I told him no — I don’t like getting whipped by chains repeatedly.”

Which if you think about it is a completely reasonable sentiment.