Until 1981, the soundtrack of Oxnard was one of endless and voiceless desperation.
Ill Repute changed all that.
Flying loudly in the face of a conformist mentality that ran the gamut from “polite society” to “locals only,” Nardcore was, ironically, open to outcasts and minorities. Punk is not necessarily known for welcoming people of color — with extortionately few exceptions — and tradition is such a vigorously petty animal. And yet as a testament to a geographic solidarity that crosses lines both ethnic and chronological, this year’s Second Annual Nardfest celebrates both Ill Repute in particular and more than three decades of Ventura County punk rock in general. In an evening typical of the intensity of any given Ill Repute live action, the band will be doing everything from officiating the onstage wedding of Agression bassist Big Bob Clark and his fiancée Cee Cee Karr to playing its landmark 1984 What Happens Next album in its entirety.
Nardfest also serves as the release party for the book/DVD package Clean-Cut American Kids: The Story of Ill Repute. The biography takes its title from Ill Repute’s breakout song, Clean-Cut American Kid, on the 1982 Posh Boy Rodney on the ROQ Vol. III compilation. It’s the inaugural entry for the True Underground Network (in association with Canadian Bacon Films and Firehook Entertainment) series of Punk Rock Chronicles, founded to highlight the histories of various punk icons.
Huntington Beach producer and filmmaker Stan Mueller spoke recently about the project and the various differences between the spoken word and the written word, explaining, “The DVD is about the music. The book takes it back to [the band’s] childhoods and goes into their lives in general. It’s more detailed about things like that. The book has nuances that the documentary doesn’t cover.”
“When we were younger, there were definitely some weird dysfunctions going on,” admits Ill Repute vocalist John Phaneuf on the DVD. That dysfunction couldn’t be talked about openly in the confines of that aforementioned polite society, but in punk rock, anything goes.
Mueller, who runs True Underground Network, arranged and organized the filming of the documentary. His wife, Jennifer, wrote the book while he conducted all the interviews as well as guiding the fundraising and marketing campaign that supported the project’s production. As he started getting into Nardcore and Ill Repute in the ’80s, he says, “I fell in love with it — even when they weren’t playing their old music. So I reached out to them. I wanted to put together what was supposed to have been a book about all the bands but it was kind of an overwhelming process,” he admits with a faintly exhausted chuckle.
For the time being, Mueller decided to focus on just one Nardcore band: Ill Repute. “I wanted to make it a little bit more unique than just a biography, so I met with the people who actually filmed the documentary and I pitched them the idea of the book and a documentary together, and they loved the idea. Three weeks later, we were in Ventura filming.”
Reaching out to guitarist Tony Cortez, he was pleasantly surprised to find that Ill Repute didn’t live up to its name. “Out of all the bands I reached out to, he was the most interactive. Reliability, availability . . . he’s always responsive, always passionate about the Nardcore scene.”
The practical genesis of Clean Cut American Kids took place with filming and interviews done around last year’s Nardfest. With a final edit of both the documentary and the book, the project was nearly three-quarters laid out when the fundraising campaign was launched. “The campaign was really just to raise money to print the book,” Mueller explains. Over a 60-day campaign on the Good Clean Fund crowdfunding platform, they handily beat their goal of $4,000. “As a group effort, with all the players involved — the band, the film crew and us — we were able to make the effort to put this thing out,” Mueller says, proud of the kids who finally united.
“A lot of these old-school punkers have been through the grinder with serious drug problems,” he says, “But these are really clean-cut American kids. They’re just normal people. They’ve got family, they’ve got jobs, but they’re still passionate about the scene — and when they play, they still kill it.” Did he see an appreciable change in who the people in Ill Repute were then and who they are now? Mueller thinks for a moment.
“They were good kids, and that kind of just progressed. They’ve always stayed true to who they are.”
Ill Repute will perform at the Second Annual Nardfest on Saturday, Aug. 16, at the Ventura Theater with Stalag 13, In Control, Agression, Burning Dog, False Confession, Circle One, the Last Priority and Boxheads. The Ill Repute book and DVD will be available for sale. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Nardfest.