By the time SWA broke into "Sine Cosine X" during a recent show at BeBop Records, the headbangers down front had been jerking for nearly an hour, singer Merrill Ward's pants had slowed their steady drift south, and the band was awash in sweat from playing in non-stop, full-throttle, psycho-thrash overdrive.
The visual beast that is SWA live contrasts sharply with the minds behind the music. Consider bassist/co-founder Chuck Dukowski's convoluted explanation of the lyrics of "Sine Cosine X":
"It's based on the idea that as hard as you look, there's no reason for anything," said Dukowski, 32. "There's no ultimate logic that can tell you if you should continue on and strive or if you should give up and be slovenly. Yet I am emotionally driven to strive and contribute to some hope of man somehow mastering himself and his universe enough so that he can beat the nature of this planet--which is limited--and become a part of eternity. . . . An affirmative stance is taken."
That stance isn't obvious at first glance. The music is often fast, loud and at times grating, and while Ward wanders the stage in a possessed state, the musicians attack their instruments in a dissonant rhythmic frenzy. The effect can be jazzy, anthemic and dark, sounding like the Bad Brains colliding with the Doors in a narrow hall.
While SWA's music and impressive lyrics are a joint effort, the concept of the 2-year-old group--a genetically engineered splicing of emotional rush and mental complexity--is pure Dukowski.
Formerly a member of Wurm and Black Flag, he spends his days heading up the adventuresome independent label SST Records. And while musicians are notoriously leery of the business side of the industry, Dukowski doesn't think playing music and selling it are mutually exclusive.
"(SST) is not so much a business as an expression," he said. "I feel (the band and the label) are quite complementary in their action. Greg (Ginn, guitarist for Black Flag) and I formed SST to provide an outlet for our music. I don't see it as inconsistent to continue with that."
For a time Dukowski did stop playing live, mainly due to his frustrations in Wurm. A chance meeting with SWA drummer Greg Cameron led to regular rehearsals once more and soon Ward and guitarist Richard Ford completed the band.
"I had no aspirations to being in a band," Dukowski said. "You've got to find the right people and be able to work with them. But since I had the good fortune to meet Greg, I felt it was appropriate to involve myself in the music further. And instead of taking a very relaxed attitude towards it I decided to be as productive as I could and utilize all my energies that I had beyond my business."
SWA (which plays Thursday at the Anticlub) has two records out on SST--"Your Future If You Have One" and the new "Sex Doctor." A third LP is now in the can with Ford's replacement Sylvia Juncosa (from To Damascus) on guitar.
Besides the band, Dukowski has a "SWA Manifesto" ("SWA is your future if you have one. . . . There are those who will shun SWA. We will watch them destroy themselves"). The SWA theme has been the subject of readings by Dukowski as well as a satirical "SWA Orientation Rally" he conducted at Culver City Auditorium several years ago.
While the SWA mentality concept is partially a joke, Dukowski uses it as a vehicle for some serious ideas.
"I want to play music and communicate the things I feel very strongly," he said. "I want to have a positive influence on our reality and any future generations' reality. (My goals are) nothing but the highest ideals--save the world."
Because of the over-the-edge style of the band, SWA often draws a hard-core audience that sometimes seems more intent upon the past than the future--if it has one.
"I love craziness," said Dukowski. "But my attitudes toward certain things have changed. I won't tolerate being spit on. I'll either leave or respond ruthlessly. I consider it an insult just inches short of punching me in the face.
"That (behavior) still goes on. People keep anything going. . . . Once something is rolling there are always people who want to keep it perpetuated forever and would just as soon have their children born into the same reality. In England they have skinhead families--little kid skinheads and mom and dad and grandpa skinheads. They raise their kid with boots and rolled-up cuffs. Dude, it's rad. Think about it. It's established. Give it 20 generations. It'll really turn into something."