“People are always telling us to smile onstage,” said Peter Bevilacqua, bassist for the Proletariat. “But we’re serious. We believe so much in what we’re doing.”
Why smile when it’s more fun to sneer?
Dogmatic lyrics, belligerent vocals, shadowy, guitar-dominated soundscapes, a heavy de-emphasis on image—Fall River (MA)’s the Proletariat occupied that exhilarating, cramped space between punk and post-punk. Deranged with frustration and uncertainty, yet always pointed and intelligent, the Proletariat’s music—as well as its, according to a 1982 Boston Rock article, “no outfits or haircuts or slogans” aesthetic—struck a chord with fans of the Boston hardcore scene in the early Eighties.
Vocalist Richard Brown, guitarist Frank Michaels, and Bevilacqua were all friends from their days at Apponequet High School in Lakeville. Drummer Tom McKnight was brought into the fold through a cousin of Bevilacqua’s. The band began practicing in the fall of 1980 before landing its first gig the following summer at the Lafayette Club in Taunton. Their obscene cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” allegedly motivated the owner of the Lafayette to subsequently ban all live music. A concert at Roger Williams Park in Providence was equally notorious: the crowd began hurling expletives at the Proletariat after just three songs.
With plenty of buzz now surrounding them, the group issued a seven-song demo named Distortion. This was followed by inclusion on Modern Method’s 1982 landmark punk compilation This is Boston, Not L.A. One year later, the Proletariat delivered its first album, Soma Holiday, named for the drug-fueled escapes from modern life in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The album bristled with knife-sharp guitar riffs, frenzied tempos, and caustic lyrics (from “Purge”: “Your right to freedom of speech / Depends on what you have to say”).
Second album Indifference—the title was inspired by David Henry’s photography of Boston’s homeless—came in 1985. The sense of urgency was heightened, the threat of violence more pointed. On songs like “The Guns Are Winning” and “Homeland” the band tackled sociopolitical issues that are still relevant today. “We write about things that make us angry,” Michaels once explained.
However, by the time of Indifference’s release, the original lineup had disintegrated, as Michaels and McKnight left the band. Laurel Bowman and Steve Welch were brought on board to sing and play drums, but after only two shows with the new pair, the group disbanded.
According to the band’s web site, the Proletariat played 115 lives shows during its four-plus years of existence. Equally impressive is the acts they shared bills with: Black Flag, Bad Brains, Flipper, Minor Threat, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Stiff Little Fingers, and Husker Du, among others.
In 1995, Brown, Michaels, and Bevilacqua formed Churn. The group released a five-song EP named Heated Couplings in the Sun before breaking up in ’97.
(by Ryan Foley)