The Ramones, a bunch of mostly Jewish New Yorkers, invented punk rock in 1974. Ironically, then, the only way to see a great, explicitly Jewish punk band today is to hop on a flight to Australia. There, some mohawk-sporting former yeshiva high-school students have been playing in a band called Yidcore for more than half a decade.
To date, most of the Melbourne-based band’s songs have been fast and furious covers of Jewish standards (everything from “Gesher Tsar Meod” and “Dayenu” to a grinding version of “Just One Shabbos”). Recently, however, Yidcore has begun releasing more original material.
The title track from the band’s new album, “They Tried to Kill Us. They Failed. Let’s Eat!”, offers a streamlined survey of Jewish history: A long string of attempted genocides punctuated by — what else? — feasting. The music video features anthropomorphic pigs and chickens, a la “Maus,” with the swine standing in for Nazis and the poultry representing Jews. The fascist, marching pigs slaughter and coop up the chickens, stealing their eggs, until the messiah, in the form of a muscle-bound rooster, hatches and coldcocks Pig Hitler. The narrative of persecution, survival and eventual triumph is one that will be familiar to any Hebrew-school graduate.
While the band’s lyrics are clever and executed with wit, Yidcore leans heavily on the well-worn tropes of Jewish culture. Matzoh balls and “Fiddler on the Roof” figure prominently in their music. On their debut album, they covered “If I Were a Rich Man”, and during live performances they throw hummus at each other.
It is the rare band that tries to meld Judaism and punk rock, and this fact can make Yidcore seem more radical than it actually is. Indeed, despite the on-stage shenanigans and the dyed hair and facial piercings of frontman Bram Presser, Yidcore is not all that transgressive.
Ever since the days of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, anarchy and revolution have been touchstones of punk; the noise of the music reinforced the rage at the heart of the lyrics. But Yidcore shows that there’s nothing inherently rebellious about quick-tempo songs and loud instruments. For Yidcore, punk is more of a style than a set of beliefs. Whereas other punks want revolution, Yidcore just wants to have fun.
Mordechai Shinefield has written about music for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and the New York Press.