NoMeansNo were an acquired taste. Starting out in the early 1980s, they wrote jazzy, complicated songs at a time when the shorter, louder, faster aesthetic was ascendant. The scene from which they emerged in Victoria B.C. was certainly less well-known than others in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland all could boast bands with international cachet (D.O.A., The Accüsed, and Poison Idea respectively.)
By contrast, when NMN released their Sex Mad LP in 1986, it was unlikely that most people had heard much out of Victoria, with the possible exception of the Dayglo Abortions Feed Us a Fetus or the even more obscure Neos record Hassibah Gets the Martian Brain Squeeze.
NoMeansNo have always had a peculiar relationship with the punk listening public. They tend to inspire awe or loathing, and not much in between. Perhaps this is as it should be. There is plenty of music out there for those legions of people satisfied with square times and 1-4-5 chord progressions. Nothing illustrates this quite so well as the fact that NoMeansNo started the Hanson Brothers, a hockey-themed Ramones knock-off band, in order to show that they could play it straight, just like any other punk band, but chose not to.
If anything of value remains of the spirit of punk, it is the willingness to challenge people’s sensibilities at the risk of irritating them. NMN refuse to accede to the desire for passive, foot-tapping entertainment. They’re not the people’s choice. Just the right people’s choice.
Flyer for a September 2012 gig at Berlin’s SO36. Commentary by Magadh. Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit.