“Surf and Destroy”: Raging Santa Cruz hardcore punkers BL’AST pre-saged California Stoner Rock

By on August 6, 2018

“In 1984, Mike Neider joined Santa Cruz band M.A.D. and BL’AST was born,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction to the band’s “Surf and Destroy” video in Night Flight’s “Take Off to Hardcore,” which originally aired on July 29, 1988. Watch it tonight on Night Flight Plus.

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BL’AST — the apostrophe and an exclamation point were added by original guitarist Steve Stevenson, who designed their first stickers — actually came together in 1983.

Their first recording as M.A.D., by the way, called “Holocaust,” had appeared on the seminal 1982 Alternative Tentacles/Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll compilation Not So Quiet On the Western Front.

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Then as now, Santa Cruz is a relatively mellow Northern California college town where the hippie ethos is still alive in 2018, but BL’AST were never hippies.

Musically, as Brooklyn Vegan’s Ian Chaney wrote in 2014, BL’AST “took the wide-open experimental streak of Black Flag and expanded the sonic template to include all manner of skronks and squalls while still raging in the old hardcore way.”

Their insanely violent hardcore riffage also pre-saged what later became known as California Stoner Rock (Fu Manchu have titled a song, “Laserbl’ast,” and a couple of EPs/LPs in homage to a few of BL’AST’s songs).

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Neider and Stevenson (guitars), Dave Cooper (bass) and Bill Torgeson (drums) had all known each other growing up in Grass Valley, north of Sacramento and a three-and-a-half hour drive from Santa Cruz.

They were all skaters who’d been into punk rock since its early days, and singer Clifford Dinsmore (often misspelled Densmore) — the only one who surfed — liked how they pushed everything to the extreme edge in their music, fueled by Santa Cruz’s rebellious and aggressive skate and surf scene.

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Just like some of their favorite bands — Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Bad Brains and others — they also had a crazy drummer.

The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl — who once described BL’AST as “a bunch of Spicolis spilling out of a smoking van” — became a fan when his D.C. punk band Scream came to Santa Cruz in the ’80s.

“Everyone used to have a BL’AST! sticker on the bottom of their fucking skateboard,” he told SPIN Magazine years later.

The video for “Surf and Destroy” was filmed by Dinsmore’s friend, Tony “TR” Roberts, who followed them around with his Super-8 camera while they did, in Dinsmore’s own words, “a bunch of zany, stupid-ass shit.”

He then edited that footage — some of it shot on the “ghetto little shit-box apartment” where Dinsmore lived with guitarist William “Kip” DuVall, who’d moved to Santa Cruz from Atlanta, Georgia, where he’d been in a band called Neon Christ — together existing footage from his surf/skate movies.

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Their apartment, incidentally, was located about a block from the water at Pleasure Point, just east of Santa Cruz, where — on August 18, 1961, at three o’clock in the morning, — a huge frenzy of confused birds had slammed into homes (it also happened in nearby Capitola).

Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock — who lived on a 200-acre estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the time — read about this invasion of birds and — along with the Daphne Du Maurier short story, “The Birds” — transformed it into his movie of the same name, set in nearby Bodego Bay.

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Read more about BL’AST below.

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During BL’AST’s early days as a band they frequently played at an all-ages venue in Santa Cruz called Club Culture, which may have been where Black Flag’s Chuck Dukowski saw them playing.

They were in their van, outside the show in Santa Barbara where they were on the bill playing that night with Bad Brains, when Dinsmore blasted their vocal-less track “It’s In My Blood” — recorded at Mars Studios in Santa Cruz — on a ghettoblaster for Black Flag’s Greg Ginn.

Ginn decided immediately to sign them to his SST Records label.

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BL’AST had already released their first album, The Power of Expression, in 1986, on the Green World Records label. They’d recorded the album three times before releasing it, shelving the rest of the tapes.

Stevenson would end up leaving the band during this time, replaced briefly by Dinsmore’s friend DuVall, who would eventually move back to Atlanta, leaving Neider their sole guitarist.

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DuVall — credited there as “Dr. Twang” — contributed to the songs that ended up on their second album, 1987’s It’s In My Blood, but left before recording with them (from that point on, Neider would be their sole guitarist).

SST would also release BL’AST’s cover of Alice Cooper‘s “School’s Out” as a vinyl single.

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BL’AST also began contributing the soundtrack music to Santa Cruz Skateboard videos, who partnered up with SST on merchandise. Neider worked at Santa Cruz Skateboards at the time.

BL’AST’s third release for SST was Take The Manic Ride, released in 1989, after which original bassist Dave Copper departed.

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Blast! at the Anti-Club in Hollywood, circa 1987

Just a few years ago, in 2013, Dave Grohl helped remix a long-lost “It’s in My Blood” recording, which appeared on the Southern Lord label as “Blood!”

That led to Dinsmore, Neider and Grohl recruiting Dukowski and recording a new BL’AST EP, For Those Who’ve Graced The Fire, at Grohl’s Studio 606 (it also features DuVall, now the current lead singer/guitarist of Alice in Chains).

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Dave Grohl, Greg Anderson, Mike Neider and Clifford Dinsmore at Studio 606

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Hardcore” — which also features videos by Bad Brains (“I Against I”), Sonic Youth with Lydia Lunch (“Death Valley 69″, Alien Sex Fiend, Nitzer Ebb, and Peter Murphy (“All Night Long”) — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.