In March 2023, the iconic punk band Black Flag took the stage at Hammersonic Jakarta. The crowd eagerly awaited the performance, with shouts of “I Love Keith Morris” echoing through the venue. The roadies scurried about, preparing the stage for the band’s electrifying show. Among the chaos, one fan hoped his voice would reach Greg Ginn, who was busy backstage getting ready to perform. Although Ginn may have heard the two cries, what could he do? Perhaps he would whisper softly, like Vallely, the band’s vocalist for the past decade, “Another idiot busy jerking off.” And so, Black Flag began their set, opening with an instrumental number that transported the audience back to their roots.
Black Flag’s music was often characterized by its aggressive, hardcore punk sound. However, when American hardcore punk started becoming predictable in 1984, Greg Ginn deviated from the path and ventured into spoken word and experimental music. This departure mirrored the artistic progression of bands like Crass in the UK. Critics were quick to dismiss Ginn’s experiments, labeling Henry Rollins a drunken buffoon and the band’s performances as sell-outs. But the truth was simpler: Ginn was a metal fan at heart, inspired by Sabbath’s biblical riffs, Iommi’s guitar wizardry, and the black noise motor of Hendrix. Ginn’s guitar style resembled Zappa’s, afflicted with feedback-induced cancer. Each of his solos was a commitment to playing raw and disruptive, regardless of the discomfort it caused.
Greg Ginn relished challenging the puritanical norms of hardcore punk by embracing avant-garde influences. It was a pretentious yet genius move. He was a fan of King Crimson and an ardent Dio enthusiast, and he wove these elements into ten-minute atonal journeys. His partner in crime in Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski, shared his psychedelic inclinations. Together, they reveled in broken furniture, chaotic designs, and abstract confrontations. Dukowski hailed from the sludge scene, and his band Würm was one of the first to explore this murky genre in L.A. Ginn needed him to add heaviness to Black Flag’s sound because, in their view, the slower the music, the heavier it became. Their intention was clear: Black Flag would not conform to the typical expectations of a hardcore punk band. They would defy convention and introduce a tough-guy poster boy, Mike Vallely, as their iconic, growling frontman.
Black Flag’s music left a profound impact on both fans and fellow musicians. Thurston Moore, guitarist of Sonic Youth, praised Ginn’s unconventional approach and his ability to break free from the confines of punk and hardcore. Moore remarked, “He did something totally unexpected.” Ginn challenged the scene with his brilliant and unpredictable compositions. Black Flag’s influence extended beyond punk, appealing to those with an appetite for musical adventures that pushed boundaries. Listening to tracks like “Your Last Affront” showcased Ginn’s musical prowess and innovation.
After Keith Morris left Black Flag due to Ginn and Dukowski’s ambitious plans, Greg Ginn transformed his electronics store, Solid State Tuners, into SST Records. This move came after Bomp! Records hesitated to release Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown.” Ginn took control of all aspects of the band’s career, from distribution to touring, from publicity to artwork and merchandise. He fully financed Black Flag through SST with Dukowski.