Sunday, 20 August 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 7): Paranoid Visions "The robot is running amok" Ep, 1986

"The scene in Dublin was stagnant, violent and divided. (...) Every gig was a bloodbath and seemed like the last gig ever, and would end up with the bar robbed, glasses and blood everywhere, and police riot shields and truncheons and a "barred forever" tag for the band... (...) Punk was a dangerous four-letter word, and so the scene and bands and most of the people either emigrated or burned out through lack of interest." (Trapped in a Scene, 2009)

This is the context Paranoid Visions sprang from in the early 80's. It could not be further from the cheesy image of the "Celtic tiger" so popular last decade or the rose-tinted (green-tinted would be more correct I suppose) picture that horrendously horripilating bands such as bloody Dropkick Murphy's unequivocally paint about Ireland, the Paranoid Visions's Dublin was akin to "a bleak authoritarian Catholic slum, overrun by the rich elite and the violent inbred poor". Not so romantic indeed. 

As you have guessed - perspicacious you - the seventh part of The Tumult of a Decad will deal with Paranoid Visions, from Dublin, Ireland. Now, I know I claimed that the series would be about British anarchopunk bands and the Republic of Ireland is, of course, not part of the United Kingdom. However, I chose to include them for several reasons. First, because of the band's crucial role in opening up the Dublin DIY punk scene to and creating strong ties with Belfast and England's; second, because PV, although they clearly had their own specific sound, were, in terms of genre and aesthetics, rooted in the UK anarchopunk world; and third, because I really enjoy them and I could not think of a better anarcho record released in 1986 than The robot is running amok (apart from The ungovernable force but that would have been too obvious a choice, right?). I think these are alright enough arguments and Terminal Sound Nuisance is the domain I rule over with a kind, merciful but firm hand. 

Oddly enough, I discovered PV later than most of the 80's British anarchopunk bands, during the year 2006. I am not sure why or how I could have missed them, especially considering that they were proper big at some point in Ireland, but there it is. And when I did listen to them for the time (it was the Outside in cd), I tended to confuse their moniker with Nightmare Visions (you know, that raw and punky death-metal band with an Electro Hippies member in it), a silly but barely forgivable mistake that still showed that Paranoid Visions and I did not get off on the right foot. I guess that now that they have reformed and are making music with Steve Ignorant, they must be quite well-known again but they were hardly mentioned at all in my corner of the punk scene 10 years ago. And neither were Nightmare Visions now that I think about it. The validity of this statement still stands unfortunately.

The early years of the band were fairly chaotic apparently, because of the difficult background of the time and the lack of stable lineups, but PV still managed to record three demos between 1982 and 1984. The first one, recorded in 1982 but apparently released in the following year, was Destroy the myths of musical progression (a Riot/Clone reference? How great is that!), a very captivating demo which, for all the sloppiness and the shit sound quality, still indicated that PV had some good ideas in terms of songwriting. The demo has a genuine haunted feel, almost psychotic and industrial at times, with very harsh vocals (that really remind me of Napalm Death's Hatred surge's actually), some postpunk moments and a dissonant sound. To be honest, it is all over the place but if a blend of Riot Squad, The Deformed and Exit-Stance could be your thing, I strongly recommend it. I am unfortunately not familiar with the second demo, 1984's Blood in the snow, but both demos were originally released on PV's own label, the poetically named FOAD records, and re-issued on Bluurg on one single tape. The third demo, From the womb to the bucket, released in late '84, is far more relevant to today's topic as it included two songs, "Strange girl" and "Detention", that would be reworked for inclusion on PV's first Ep, The robot is running amok.

By the time From the womb was recorded, PV had enrolled a synth player (who didn't stay for long), a female vocalist and one lad called Skinny on bass, who would leave to squat in London later on where he formed the mighty Coitus. This demo is absolutely fantastic if you care to ignore the raw sound (three of its songs were recorded live in the practice space, so be warned). This is pissed but moody anarcho-postpunk at its very best, with obsessive tribal beats, a dark and tense atmosphere and an angrily nihilistic vibe, cracking guitar tunes, polyphonic anarcho-tinged vocals and delightfully goth synth parts. It brought to mind Polemic, The Deformed, Tears of Destruction, even early Amebix, as well as the All The Madmen bands. A truly great recording that, although it does not aptly represent what PV would become and be known for, would undeniably send chills to current days' "youtube dark punk lovers". Strangely, the demo contained an anti-abortion song, "Slash the cord", that did not seem to fit and make sense with the otherwise anarchopunk lyrics and symbolism. Apparently, the band changed the words afterwards and turned it into a more conventional anti-police song, but still... Very unsettling... Anyway, this demo was also distributed through Bluurg and it coincided with the Subhumans coming to play in Ireland, a great success that would be followed by many more British DIY punk bands crossing the Irish Sea like DIRT, Poison Girls or Disorder. Through their implication in the making of the scene and their musical progress as a band, PV were certainly gaining momentum at that time and the next logical step was a vinyl output which would materialize with the grandiose The robot is running amok.

Recorded in early '86 and released six months later on FOAD as the band had staunch DIY ethics (it was licensed to All the Madmen records in England), this Ep saw PV leave the goth/postpunk sonorities behind (an unusual move at the time, you might say) and embrace whole-heartedly what they would be renown for from that point on: catchy, anthemic punk-rock displaying both a love for shock value and an emotional depth. The robot Ep has four songs, going from the fast and snarly, snotty punk scorcher, to the more introspective, melancholy mid-paced number and the epic, desperate singalong anthem. That's multilevel catchiness for you. The four songs are truly memorable but my favourite would be "Strange girl", a gloomy, poignant, heart-breaking song about Ann Lovett, a 15-year old schoolgirl who died giving birth in a field (childbirth outside marriage was still socially unacceptable then and this tragic event apparently opened up important debates about women's rights at the time). The horrid topic notwithstanding, "Strange girl" is intensely catchy, emotional even with both anger and sadness being barely contained and surfacing potently in the music. A tour de force indeed. The three other songs are of the same caliber, with "Something more", an upbeat vintage anarcho hit tackling the inhumane treatment of animals and the risk of a nuclear holocaust (two birds, one stone), "Detention", another moody, introspective and anthemic mid-tempo number about the prison system and isolation and "Paranoid", a heavy and quite pummeling but also subtle dementia-inducing song about state and physical abuse. The production is a bit thin in places but the urgency and intensity of the songs are never lost and that's what makes a record great. The presence of three singers certainly gave PV an interesting and unique edge, with Deko's threatening raucous gnarls being perfectly complemented with Aisling's high-pitched voice and Brayo's clear pissed off shouts. The polyphonic arrangements between the three undeniably enhance the music's intensity and angry nihilism but also its multilayered tunefulness. The comparison challenge feels a bit cheap when dealing with such an amazing work, but imagine a battle royal between DIRT, Polemic, The System, Chaos UK and Stiff Little Fingers taking place in a rough and dirty street of Dublin.

PV went on to release more excellent records afterwards, the great Schizophrenia Lp from 1987 (to be heard if only for the crucial hit "Newtownism" that makes singing in the shower such a pleasant experience) and the Autonomy Ep from 1988. Of course, a write-up about PV would feel incomplete without mentioning their war on U2 (who were recently elected "Ireland's most dreadful band") that saw them openly taking the piss out of Bono and his boys on I will wallow (though to be fair, it is as much a criticism of the mainstream americanized music industry than it is an attack on U2) which led to people cheekily painting "FOAD2U2" across many an Irish wall. 

Is there a more fitting conclusion to Paranoid Visions' tumultuous 80's career? I think not.

There are a few skips, sorry for that.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 6): Disrupters "Alive in the electric chair" 12'', 1985

Sometimes, a name can sound so evocative that, even if you are unsure of its actual meaning, you just fall in love with it. Take the word "thoroughly" for instance. The first time I heard it (probably during that excruciatingly boring class about Wordsworth and Byron that I had to take), I did not know what it meant exactly. I was aware that it implied some kind of serious business since the teacher would frown with an air of utmost gravity and make an emphatic hand gesture whenever he uttered it. But more importantly, I loved the sound of the word and how the syllables fitted with each other. It brought images of intellectual sophistication to my mind and, despite the relative obscurity of its actual meaning, it made me feel pretty smart - which is what studying is all about when you think about it - now that I had a word like "thoroughly" in my bag of tricks. I henceforth used "thoroughly" carefully and parsimoniously, almost religiously, as if a bad use of the word on my part would somehow decrease its power. 

I fell for the Disrupters a bit like I did for "thoroughly". The first time I heard the name "Disrupters", it immediately clicked with me. Even before I got to hear them, I knew instinctively that I was going to love them and although the Disrupters never really conjured up images of glamour and refinement like "thoroughly" did, this superficial - and completely artificial - knowledge of the band made me feel good. Here was a band that I didn't know but was absolutely sure to love because they had such a great name. They had a dis prefix and the name sounded both punky and political. How could I not like them? 

I don't remember exactly how or when I first came across the Disrupters but I understood that they were that one anarcho band on the Punk and disorderly Lp with the song "Young offender". It was the early 00's in Paris so finding Disrupters records was near impossible and access to the internet was extremely limited for me. So I did what I always did whenever I became obsessed with a band that I just needed to hear, as if it were a crucial matter, one of life-changing proportions: I bothered older punks about it. I remember a particularly startled look upon a mate's face when I claimed that the world (meaning "me, myself and I") needed a Disrupters discography. But it was sadly to no avail, as no one really seemed to either know about the band or care enough to tape me something from them. And then, one day, in 2002, I received the distro list of Punk as Fuck, a massive distro based in France with tons of streetpunk but also some old-school anarchopunk. I almost fainted when I realized that he had a Disrupters tape, Gas the Punx (A collection 1980-1988), which was a whole discography tape, no less. So I wrote a letter to the distro with a list of what I wanted and included a check with it. I remember not hearing from the guy for months and at some point I thought the letter had got lost or that I had been ripped off. And then, out of the blue, I had a phone call one day with the distro guy asking me if I still wanted the records (there were the cd discographies of The Mob and Zounds as well, two bands that had been on my list for some time, and the order would prove to be a life-changing move). Finally, the parcel came and, at last, I was able to listen to the Disrupters wholly. And of course, I loved them and the tape, released on Pablo's Resistance Productions, came with a massive booklet full of lyrics and cool drawings (which my mum accidentally threw away, but that's another story entirely).

Welcome to 1985: three mullets and one moustache.

Today still I have a soft spot for the Disrupters, probably as much for the memory of my youthful obsession with them as for the actual music and stance. And I still think they picked a top name. Now that I am older and that my spectrum of obsessions has considerably broadened, I think it is a fair statement to say that Disrupters are one of the many 80's anarchopunk bands that are cruelly underrated. Contrary to a lot of other bands from that scene, they played for eight years (with a one-year hiatus though) and were rather prolific (perhaps too much so in hindsight), with two full albums, three Ep's and one 12''. They had their own record label, Radical Change, which released some classic anarcho records from Self-Abuse, Icon AD or Revulsion (the latter, being also from Norwich, were regular touring partners of the Disrupters), were politically active and greatly helped in the making of the Norwich DIY punk scene, for instance including a song from a then young local band called Deviated Instinct on Radical Change's compilation Words Worth Shouting, whose cover was also drawn by young Mid (the backcover was actually done by a Parisian, a good friend of mine, who used to follow Haine Brigade on tour in the 80's... small punk world, innit?). Nowadays, although the band reformed a few years ago, the Disrupters' legacy is seldom discussed or examined. So it was only a matter of time before I dealt with this Norwich bunch.

Forming in 1980, the Disrupters were part of the second wave of British anarchopunk, the one that emerged in the very early 80's. Their first Ep, from 1981, Young Offender, was a gloriously sloppy, snotty, teenage angst-fueled, punky offering, a genuine two-chords wonder that, for all its simplicity, managed to sound catchy and spontaneous, somewhere between The Epileptics and The Synix. The second Ep, 1982's Shelters for the Rich, was perhaps moodier and better produced (or just produced, really) and it is my favourite early Disrupters record. It retained that lovable punk urgency and amateurism but catchier riffs and a more brooding atmosphere made it a stronger effort. The first album, Unrehearsed Wrongs, from 1983, also comes recommended as it displayed some heavier moments while keeping the tuneful hooks. But to me, the band's real crowning glory was their last record, Alive in the Electric Chair. 

Released in 1985 and recorded during two sessions (you can hear the difference if you focus), it is, by far, the band's most mature and best written work, one that epitomizes what the Disrupters did best: raucous, simple but catchy punk-rock anthems with a dark undertone. The vocals always played an important role in making the band remarkable, as they sound warm and raucous but also threatening, able to convey a very real sense of frustration. The Disrupters were possibly punkier than a lot of their anarcho colleagues, and this unashamedly rock'n'roll aspect does shine through on this 12'', especially in the record's singalong quality. I am reminded of mid-80's Kronstadt Uprising on that level, but also of bands like Blitz, The Underdogs, One Way System or The Defects who, if you care to feel the music instead of just hearing it, all had a dark and desperate tone permeating their anthemic boisterous songwriting and that is exactly where the Disrupters succeeded on their last record, in the balance between the two. Darkness and frustration are always lurking. On the surface of the very rocky riff of "Give me a rush", behind the hauntingly spiteful screams of "Rot in Hell" (arguably the band's best song) and the desperate chorus of "I'm still here", in the melancholy reggae-tinged "Tearing apart"... Alive in the Electric Chair is a magnificent punk-rock record, simultaneously inhabited with a dark, heavy simplicity and a catchy, uplifting raucousness. The very upfront bass-lines work well here with the rather clear sound of the guitar and its smart leads, the drums are reminiscent of the cold tribal beats of Crass and I cannot imagine a better singer for these six songs as he adds a proper intensity and sincerity to the music. 

The lyrics are pretty direct and tackle different subjects, from the nihilistic use of drugs, to the weak liberal politics of the CND, vengeance, depression and the prison system. And as a bonus, you even have a short comic entitled PC Porker goes undercover which always makes me giggle and the traditional runout groove etching with "Tell us about the money Johnny" on side one and "Come back Ian, I'm pregnant" on the other. I do hope Johnny was able to pay his debt and that Ian was a good dad. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Interlude: ale to Our Future, a Grave New Zine

I know it might hard to believe for some but the internet is not solely useful to push the like button when your crush displays her or his new ironic tats on Instagram. Call me old-fashioned all you like, it is also a great tool to get in touch with interesting, like-minded people. 

A few months ago, D-Beat extravagant and Discharge philosopher Rodney Shades, also renowned for his falsetto prowess in the mighty Thisclose, sent me his fanzine in response to the write-up I did about Thisclose in The Chronicles of Dis series. Yes, you read that well a FANZINE. With actual paper, ink and typos, like in the old days. I was of course thrilled and humbled by this friendly gesture motivated by a common love for the affairs of the Dis and, upon receiving the second installment of said zine, I figured that I might as well throw a few words about Our Future.

I romantically stuck that one to my bed

Also the name of Rodney's label, and although I suppose it is meant to evoke No Future records, the phrase Our Future never fails to remind me of Disclose's song "Future extinction" (in fact, I am hearing it in my head right now) which I see as a positive sign of prophetic proportions. 

Here is the fanzine's editorial line:

The first issue of Our Future revolved around the early 90's collaboration between Extreme Noise Terror and The KLF that culminated at the 1992 Brit Awards when ENT played to a surrealistic audience of toffs in bow ties and cocktail dresses (check the video if you haven't, it epitomizes the expression "wtf"). Following this focus on music blending hardcore-punk and techno music, there is also a short but excellent piece about Exithippies which reconciled me with this Japanese bunch. 

The second issue of the zine deals with Discharge's cursed and polemical Grave new world Lp (often said to have caused many breakups since 1986) from several angles and not just through their new haircuts. There are long, detailed, fascinating interviews with then guitar player Fish (formerly from The Skeptix) and with the Discharge tour manager during the band's catastrophic trip to the U$ of A. You will also find an analysis of the Lp from a diachronic perspective and a text about Grave New World, an early 90's band from Tokyo with Crow's singer, that I found extremely interesting. 

Both issues are packed with reproductions of old photographs, flyers and posters. The real strength of Our Future lies in its high contextualization of bands and their musical outputs. The writing is always thoughtful and accurate and exemplifies how we - as punks or whatever - are capable of documenting and reflecting upon our own history and culture. This is nerdy in the best sense of the term. 

And if you are not convinced already, just look how great Our Future looks when placed close to a Discharge record. 

A Discharge nature morte

This is a top read and a great effort at keeping the fanzine culture alive and - more importantly - relevant, educational and fun. So do yourself a favour and check what Our Future has to offer here. And while you are at it, check the great 24-song compilation The new wave of the grave new beat which features glorious acts of Discharge orthodoxy such as Bombardement, Lifelock Thisclose and Monadh by 5,000 (Scatha fans take notes on this one).   

Hear nothing, see nothing but read something.     


Friday, 4 August 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 5): Famous Imposters / The Dead "Open your eyes / Your future is held in one hand. Your death is held on the other" split Ep, 1984

I may be stating the obvious here (it would not be the first time really, in fact some would argue that it is one of my special moves), but have you ever noticed how few punk-rock split records were released during the first half of the 80's? There were a lot of compilations, to be sure, but very few splits between two bands, which nowadays is a bit of a punk tradition. In the realms of British anarchopunk, the instances I could think of were mostly released after 1984 (the Crass / Poison Girls split Ep being a notable exception), collaborative records like the Blood Robots / Reality Control flexi, the Oi Polloi / AOA Lp or the Shrapnel / Symbol of Freedom Ep. I wonder why that is. I wish I had something smart and insightful to offer about this tendency but I really don't. Perhaps bands didn't really consider the split record medium as being worthwhile and would rather strive to occupy both sides of the vinyl or be part of a compilation with many more bands. As for the date, it could be suggested that the post-'84 period corresponded to a steady decline of popularity for punk music which meant that record sales decreased and bands and labels got perhaps more cautious with expenses, so having two bands instead of one on a record could have looked like a good - and safe - idea for everyone involved. From the 90's on, the practice certainly spread and now it is so common that people only really thinks about the format when it is time to find a correct spot for the record and decide which initial letter to base the classification on (usually the better band of the split but there have been rumours of other techniques as well... Crazy, right?).

So today, as my linguistic acrobatics might have inferred, we are going to have a split Ep of vintage English anarchopunk, released in 1984, which was kind of a rare thing, as you know if you bothered to read the first paragraph without snoozing (this especially, but not exclusively, happens when one reads Terminal Sound Nuisance just after lunch): the Famous Imposters / The Dead split Ep.

Let's start with Famous Imposters, although they are technically on side B. They were from Sunderland, a city close and rival to Newcastle (in terms of football at least), in the sunny English Northeast, a region which produced phenomenal punk bands throughout the years as we already saw with the Reality Control post. Last time, I complained (well, whined really) that Reality Control should rightfully be more famous or, at the very least, that someone should make a RC shirt so that I could wear it with pride and a smug expression on my face. Well, it is even worse for FI since they have not even had the privilege of a discography compilation (yet, I hope it's "yet") even though they were also exceptionally good. In this day and age when I see quality moody anarcho bands like Passion Killers, Hex, Hysteria Ward or Vex being reissued, the absence of any FI retrospective breaks my heart.

The band formed in 1982 and quickly became heavily involved with the Sunderland Music Collective and its independent venue called The Bunker, where all the best British punk bands of the era played (there are more than a few good live recordings floating around if you care to look). FI were originally a four-piece, with Raf on the bass (he was responsible for the Acts of Defiance fanzine), Anth and Teaser (who left in 1984) on the guitar and Andy (formerly in Barnley's Societies Vultures) on the drums. The name "Famous Imposters" was taken from a Bram Stoker's novel entitled Famous Impostors (go figure why they changed a letter...), so with a reference to a classic Gothic author, you can already guess that FI's music is not going to be particularly cheerful or of the ciderpunk variety. And rightly so since the band played what we call nowadays "postpunk". Now, I have already written about how the term "postpunk", since the so-called "postpunk revival" of late, has come to refer to a very specific kind of postpunk among the DIY punk scene, namely its dark, melancholy, goth-tinged aspect, which would be perfectly fine if it did not also result in dozens of clones all sounding exactly the same. But that's another debate entirely. My point is that FI's music, if it were released tomorrow, would be undoubtedly a smashing hit for the hordes of post-2012 "dark punks" and "goth-punks". In terms of dark and melancholy anarchopunk, the first 1983 demo From the cradle to the grave is an absolute gem, full of emotions, passion and intensity hardly affected by the thin, punky production. There were ace anarcho bands going for that sound at the time, each of them trying to build their own identity by bridging the gap between the Crass ethics and politics and goth or postpunk music. In essence, From the cradle to the grave is an emotional, vulnerable even, punk recording that borrows heavily from The Cure and Southern Death Cult in order to create sorrowful but tense and tuneful, catchy songs that are just... well, beautiful really. This is "shower-level" catchy, let me tell you.

The two songs on the split with The Dead, "Open your eyes" and "Fighting again" (in a superior version to the one on the demo tape), are in the same vein but benefit from a much better production which allows more space for musicianship (there are some pretty neat and intricate guitar parts on "Open your eyes" and genuinely cracking drum beats) and for the elaboration of the darkly enticing melancholy mood that the band aims for. As I mentioned, The Cure and Southern Death Cult are relevant points of comparison and I am also reminded of Zounds for the Beat element, of The Mob and No Choice for the sensitivity and the moodiness (although the songwritings clearly diverge), and of Kulturkampf, contemporaries of FI and almost neighbours from Barnsley, who, I feel, shared a similar creative intent, a similar sensitivity and expressive drive. This is just great anarcho music with heart and sincerity and the way the trio works so well together reinforces the emotional power of the music. This is almost perfect music in the sense that, given the templates, the songs couldn't really have been better. Following the split Ep, FI recorded the Would anything change 12'' that would be released on Children of the Revolution records in 1985, not long before the band split. The sound on this one is even poppier and more introspective, with a distinct folk influence, but the overall mood, atmosphere and motivation are quite similar. You could say it is another way of expressing the same thing, like a different hour of a same day. Makes sense?

Though it is just a (hopefully educated enough) guess, I am pretty sure the two texts that appear on the foldout were written by FI (I mean, one is framed with flowers and ends with "Together we CAN learn, together we SHALL overcome"). The first and longer one is about commitment, sincerity and dedication to the politics we display and the importance of sharing "our dreams and hopes, (...) our joy... to share our love". The sheer honesty and openness of the tone that does not try to conceal the fears and insecurities is completely coherent with the mood of FI's lyrics and music. The second one is much shorter and is a call to action questioning our apathy and sincerity. And I really like the two blindfolded punks on each side of it. As for the lyrics themselves, "Open your eyes" basically summarizes the second text's content into music while "Fighting again" is - you will never believe it - an antiwar song.                      

Other side, other region with The Dead from Whitehaven, a rather small coastal town in Cumbria, in the English Northwest. Unfortunately, little information about The Dead (which I will call TD from now on cuz I'm lazy) can be found and the KFTH page about them is down and so is the whole site for some reason... Bummer. Incredibly enough, there were no other UK punk band using that moniker at the time. You had Screaming Dead, The Living Dead, The Undead, Dead On Arrival, Dead Man's Shadow or The Dead Wretched but just one called The Dead, which I really like for its dark simplicity. The band's first demo was self-released in 1982 under the name To our glorious dead and it was not as morbid an affair as the title suggests. It is a pretty rough and ready recording with possibly too many songs (and solos) for its own good. There are, however, a couple of genuinely solid tracks on this one, especially those with a synth, which adds a welcome postpunk touch to the otherwise pretty typical anarchopunk sound of the day, somewhere between The Mentals and The System, for the band did have some catchiness in them. On this first demo, the vocals were almost exclusively handled by a male singer, something which would change by 1984, a prolific year for TD since they recorded two demos and the two songs for the split (I am sadly clueless about the actual order of release). Not only did the band drastically improve in terms of songwriting with a spectacular turn toward tasteful goth-punk (and more synth!), but Claire also mostly took over on vocals, and even though the male-fronted songs were clearly much better by then, she just had the perfect voice for the genre.

The '84 self-titled demo included different versions of "Duty calls" and "Burke & hare" that were re-recorded for the split with FI during a session that may have been the same one than that of the Rest in peace demo (again, an educated guess). Thanks to a much more focused sound and a tighter production, TD easily penned some of the best female-fronted goth-punk songs of the era and - I know this is becoming a running gag by now but what can one do when it is just the plain naked truth - would their '84 materials be reissued today, all the modern "dark-gothy punx" would fall from their chair and smudge their make-up with tears of frustration before the greatness of the music. TD had everything, an upfront singer with a spontaneous but ethereal, ominous voice, a great dark atmosphere, a punk but still fragile energy, real songwriting skills and a top sense for macabre melodies (but then, perhaps too many solos...but that's always the risk when you have an actual guitarist in your band). They were just brilliant. Imagine the catchiest melancholy cross between A-Heads, Awake Mankind, Skeletal Family and Paranoia with a spoonful of the All The Madmen sound. Yeah, that good. That they weren't offered some kind of record deal is quite baffling and disappointing since it also means that I will probably never be able to find a TD shirt as well... My life is miserable indeed. If it hadn't been for all those solos...

Anyway, the two songs from the split are everything even the most demanding goth-punk with an anarcho bias could wish for. They have a dream-like quality and an almost uplifting sadness with the synth adding a thick distinct layer without being overbearing. The vocals are tuneful and adequately melancholy and passionate while the bass offers some really lovely hooks. The drums are quite loud in the mix which probably confers even more of a danceable punk sound to the songs. Well, I can definitely imagine myself dancing awkwardly to The Dead, never too far away from the bar but close enough to the centre of the dancefloor so that I can display some of my spectacular dance moves that have become the stuff of legends throughout the years.

The Dead (and to a lesser extent Famous Imposters) were one of the many ace bands that History has forgotten about and I hope that my nonsensical blabbering did them some justice. This wonderful split Ep was released on Scrobe records (it was also a zine apparently) from Cumbria, a label that may have been short-lived but still had an awesome logo.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 4): Reality Control "The reproduction of Hate" Ep, 1983

The reproduction of hate, the black loneliness of fear, the blind helplessness of the young, whose only eyes are above them. The installation of bitter contempt at the moment of birth, the reproduction and the willing acceptance of hate, shaped and moulded like clay, to become a machine, strapped and muted by self-oppression. This is life, yet it is no life. The reproduction of hate, the conveyor belt of death in the factory of war. The reproduction of war - the complete destruction of man, woman, and all of their kind.

Not bad for a bunch of 16 year-olds. Not bad at all indeed. Of course, such a statement must be read and understood in the broader context of the British anarchopunk scene of the early 80's and, even more so, in the light of the harsh political climate that permeated the kingdom at that time, namely Thatcher's pointless war in the Falklands. But as much as a particular work reveals its essence when seen through the appropriate lens of time and place, I feel the words of Reality Control embodied perfectly the teenage angst, the outrage and this kind of empathetic anger that defined political punk worldwide in the 80's, like the Geordie version of a universally shared feeling. 

In a sensible world, Reality Control would be hailed as "a classic anarcho band". If our minds were fueled with critical thinking, open-mindedness and a healthy spirit of enquiry, instead of a cheap thirst for validation and a lazy obedience to fads, you would probably be able to see RC shirts and patches at any given DIY punk festivals (and if there weren't any, you would know that you were at the wrong kind of punk festivals with the wrong kind of punx, which is always a useful information, although one that usually comes too late). Simply put, 1983's The reproduction of hate stands as one of the best anarchopunk Ep's of the early 80's and judging from the quality of the band's demo from the following year (the greatly-named While we live in cages), RC definitely had a strong, no, a classic album in them and I dare anyone to listen to "The highest bidder" or "Sugar and spice" and deny it (I'll censor your comments anyway, I can't lose). Perhaps the rather moderate popularity of the band has something to do with their location, geographically known as Newcastle-upon-Tyne but proverbially referred to as "up North" by Londoners. I will be honest. Before I got into punk, the only thing I knew about Newcastle was Alan Shearer. But since my life-changing conversion to Crass, Discharge and lectures about the evilness of meat-eating, it has become apparent that the area was - and still is - ripe with top punk bands. Although the decentralizing idea of "think globally, act locally" inherent to anarchopunk certainly spawned many young bands and people to become involved in their own towns (and RC undeniably were through the infamous Gateshead Music Collective and The Station which played a crucial role in shaping the scene there), England being such a centralized country, thus impacting not only the music production but also how it is perceived culturally, must have affected the whole punk dynamics of the time and the subsequent canonization of some at the expense of others (and coming from Paris, I can easily imagine how it works).

But then, fate also stroke. Blame the naivety of youthfulness or maybe just ignorance but the standard reaction to the cover of The reproduction of hate is always - with variations that have to do with levels of linguistic fluency - the following: "OMG but why did they pick the same cover as Amebix' No Sanctuary? I mean, lol, right?". Of course, No Sanctuary was actually released just a few months after The reproduction of hate, in November, 1983, but the image has become so closely associated with Amebix that, even knowing so, it is difficult to dissociate it from this legendary band, without mentioning the fact that No Sanctuary was a Spiderleg record which meant that it was more widely available. Even I cannot help but think about Amebix when looking at RC's Ep. Talk about ingrained images. 

Like most of my generation (I presume), I first came across RC through the 2006 compilation cd Anti-Society which opened with "Forgive us", a song lifted from the band's first demo The happy face, recorded in early '83. Of course, I loved it and the introductory shouts to the song, "Money! Pay! Sin! Preach! Lies! War! Suck! Leech!", were all instant winners. This number is a catchy and tuneful one, a bit like a sloppy-but-passionate blend of Omega Tribe, Zounds and Chron Gen, but the rest of the demo also demonstrated that the band could pen moodier, darker songs as well as more dissonant and layered postpunk ones (like the ominous "But has it won?"). Although The happy face was thinly produced and not deprived of artistic flaws (to put it nicely), it certainly showed that the boys were quite ambitious in terms of songwriting. The reproduction of hate Ep would confirm this in the best way possible. 

Thanks to a more focused sound and a raw but adequate production, it managed to capture the different moods and emotions of the music perfectly. Recorded in July, 1983, and released soon after on Volume Records (a local label that belonged to a record store of the same name that also put out Toy Dolls and Total Chaos records), it included three glorious songs, "Sunny outlook", "Another sunrise" and "Man (reproduce)". The first two, both on side A, should probably be seen as the two faces of a same story since they deal with the same topic - the Falklands war - but from different angles and they adopt darker, more melancholy sounds and textures. "Sunny outlook" is told from the perspective of the war propaganda during the conflict and how people are made to be proud of the national heroes and of the derelict British Empire, while "Another sunrise" is the band's reaction toward and criticism of the war, its hypocritical atrocities and the warlike mentalities. Pretty smart move lyrically and the songs echo with each other very well too, both mournful and angry mid-paced dark punk numbers that remind Omega Tribe's moodier moments, Demob, The Mob and Zounds. On the flipside, the song "Man (reproduce)" is a different kind of animal though, much punchier and punkier in an Anthrax-meets-Alternative way and it might be my favourite of the Ep. After an eerie intro, the song bursts into an energetic punk-rock anthem with the catchiest riff and fantastic vocals that sound urgent and slightly insane, especially with the breathless voice of the singer, as if he were overwhelmed by the subject - it being the endless reproduction of injustice and oppression - and could barely contain his outrage. Brilliant example of the relation between form and content here. After this upbeat part, the song then evolves into fast and snotty punk-rock graced with gratuitous shouts (and I bloody love those) before ending with the initial eeriness of the intro. A genuine anarchopunk hit that even the tunelessness of the bass cannot damage. The band's aspiration to write articulate punk songs able to convey several emotions can be seen in the way the two guitars complete each other, again not unlike in Omega Tribe's work, so that the songs always remain rhythmical and tuneful at the same time, and to achieve that RC certainly compensated a relative lack of musical proficiency with seriously though-out songwriting. And how punk is that? 

Following this piece of magic, RC recorded the aforementioned While we live in cages demo in early '84, which saw them in an even darker and progressive mood, not unlike All the Madmen's bands like Flowers in the Dustbin or Null And Void for instance or even Alternative or The Lost Cherrees. The band then released a split flexi with their local partners in crime Blood Robots (a band that shared a lot of similarities with RC and that I rate at least as high) which included the song "Tears of blood", which for all its melancholy, its intensity and its beautiful tunes might be their crowning glory.

But in 2017, the best thing about Reality Control is that you can get their discography on vinyl and cd easily and for cheap thanks to Antisociety and Flat Earth Records. This is top-shelf, intelligent, and catchy anarchopunk. You know what you should do.             

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 3): Riot/Clone "Destroy the myth of musical destruction" Ep, 1982

I first became aware of Riot/Clone in the very early noughties. For me, it was this exciting time when I was hungrily exploring the anarcho and crusty worlds which seemed to hold so much promise, enticed as I was by their black-and-white universe. I was a young idealist, and although I never was a spotty kid, I certainly had the typical arrogance of my age for I endeavoured to know everything there was to know about the British punk scene and nothing could have stopped me in my self-righteous quest. This thirst for knowledge was the one strict rule I lived by, my holy principle, my one-line Hagakure and if it took dilapidating my meager savings on - retrospectively - average UK punk, bothering old-timers tirelessly about taping me Anthrax and Disrupters songs (two bands I had not listened to but - for some unfathomable reason - I was absolutely certain I would love) until the early morning hours or spending whole afternoons in that one good record store listening to dozens of old 80's records without ever buying any (truth be told, the owner was more than used to this kind of behaviours and did not really care), then so be it. I used to make long lists of bands I had to hear and would progressively cross their names whenever I eventually did. And I still do actually. 

But back to Riot/Clone. One of my best mates was just back from London where he had bought randomly a few records from a local distro. He rang me up and asked me if I was up for listening to these novelties with him. Two hours later, I was at his place and we were looking at a mysterious pile of vinyls that just demanded to be played. One of them was Bare faced hypocrisy sells records, that anti-Chumbawamba Ep that was released on Ruptured Ambitions in 1998. Neither of us had really heard Chumba then. What we did know however was that the band had "sold out" terribly and that they had penned the anthem of the French world cup a few years before. I owned the video game so I was well aware of the fact. Despite our relative ignorance of the different issues that surrounded Chumba and completely unaware of the legacy of this formidable band, we completely agreed with the feelings behind the Ep that my friend must have bought originally because it had The Bus Station Loonies on it and he was crazy for them as he had seen them live during his stay in London. I noticed that it also included an Oi Polloi song (which was synonymous with sound politics) and had one band whose name I had written down on one of my lists: Riot/Clone with the song "Chumbawanka". I can still distinctly remember how awed I was upon first hearing that song. The music was alright, good even, energetic punk-rock, but what completely floored me was how angry the vocals sounded. The singer sounded SO pissed. I thought that he must have been mate with Chumbawamba and that the treason felt like a stab in the back to him, something like this. With hindsight, I now realize that it was the commodification of the anarchopunk politics and the resigned acceptance implied in Chumba's selling-out that angered R/C so much. The whole rock'n'roll swindle from one of our own basically. Of course, I have become a massive Chumba fan with the years but I can still remember the thrill of excitement that produced Dave Floyd's vocals when I first heard "Chumbawanka". And to this day, whenever I play it (I eventually bought the Ep), I still sing along to the chorus with an invisible microphone in my bedroom, though I have now learnt to draw the curtains before doing so. Just irresistible.     

Throughout the years, I haven't been the only one to be impressed with Dave's vocal work. I do not remember when or where I first read it (possibly in a zine or on an old message board), but none other than Quorthon (of Bathory) was influenced by R/C (here is the proof). Funnily enough, he thought of the band as "oi/punk" probably because of the song "Bottled oi" that was on the first R/C Ep There's no government like NO government which he owned (but apparently did not read the lyrics to, or could it be that the term used in Sweden to classify second-wave UK punk-rock was "oi/punk"? Both I would assume.). I have always thought of early Bathory as being primarily influenced by GBH (The Exploited and Disorder are also on Quorthon's list, but surprisingly not Discharge if you need to know) but I can understand how the first R/C Ep helped shape the early Bathory sound. It is a primitive, straight-forward, dynamic Ep with simple but catchy punk-rock songs and really upfront vocals with the highly recognizable - and accented - voice of Dave making it impossible to mistake for any other punk bands. Somewhere between an angry snarl and a snotty sneer, it sounds viscerally angry and threatening but also slightly somber and woeful, demented even, as if he were directly talking to you about what pisses him off, how pissed off he is, how angry he is to be that pissed off and how depressing it is to be that angry all the time. It makes sense that Quorthon loved it.      

Destroy the myth of musical destruction was R/C's second record, released in late 1982 on their own label. The band took (and still does) the DIY ethos inherent in anarchopunk very seriously and, not unlike Six Minute War (with whom they actually also shared similarities in terms of sound), they released their first three Ep's (as well as Lost Cherrees' No fighting No war No trouble No more) on their own Riot/Clone Records. This late '82 offering is my favourite one from the band's 80's catalogue. The production is still very much on the raw side of punk-rock but more polished than on its predecessor and the playing as well as the songwriting are also more focused. It contains two mid-paced anthems that would easily get any self-respecting punk's foot tapping and two fast UK82 punk numbers that would have the very same punk reach for a cold can of cider. The dark-toned "Lucrative lies" reminds me of early Rubella Ballet while "H-block" - possibly the Ep's strongest number - has  a delightful The-Epileptics-meets-Six-Minute-War-in-South-London's-Crass-cache vibe. As mentioned, "Sick games" and "Stereotypes" are faster and hard-hitting, a bit like a bland of early Conflict, Subhumans and Disorder. I particularly enjoy how the guitar work corresponds to the different humours present on the record. It thrashes when it must and then switches to moody when required. The bass lines do the job perfectly, they are not particularly articulate but then, and to borrow a phrase from Ian Glasper when he described R/C's sound, the strong point of the band was to write "simple-yet-memorable tunes". And isn't that the key to write a good punk-rock song?

The running topic of Destroy the myth of musical destruction is... punk. Or rather how punk grew to corrupt its own ideals by creating its own rock stars, rigid dress codes and silly attitudes. The short text provided in the foldout is interesting. It argues that punk-rock, just like any youth cult before it, failed by replicating the same systemic mistakes, by reducing its essence to just music and fashion. It does not state that punk is completely useless but that it appears to be a pointless diversion for wannabe revolutionaries: "Punk is a good medium for expressing ideas and provoking thought but unfortunately it will never achieve anything else. Nothing will ever be changed by dressing up. (...) The punk movement is just a diversion. Something to take people's mind off the realities of everyday life by giving them records, gigs and a trend to follow." Harsh but nevertheless true I suppose. Two songs from the Ep deal with this topic, "Lucrative lies" is about the money-grabbing self-appointed leaders of the first wave of punk-rock and "Stereotypes" tackle the social conformity to the system's expectations and although it is not openly directed at the punk scene, the fact that the whole Ep revolves around the issue of punk's relevance indicates that it is not far-fetched to read it as a comment on punk stereotypicality. "Sick games" is a more classic song about power games and social conditioning with top-notch lines such as "If this system's the answer, it must have been a stupid question", while "H-block" is about IRA prisoners who went on hunger strikes during Thatcher's rule. The band thought wise (and it was) to explain the song's polemical motive a bit more and point out that it is about the British government's hypocrisy toward its political prisoners and the story of colonialism in Ireland. Definitely a smart band. 

Following this Ep, R/C released the Blood on your hands? Ep about animal rights in 1984. They reformed in the 90's, stronger and angrier than ever and recorded the massive 1995 double Lp Still no government like NO government (which contained re-recordings of all R/C's early sings), then the To find a little bluebird Lp in 1997, a cracking album with a horrible cover, Do you want fries with that? in 1997 and Success in 2007, which, despite a song about the Chelsea FC (about the gentrification of football really), was actually a solid effort. And R/C are back since you can expect a new Ep very soon. And the best thing is that, after all those years, Dave still sounds as pissed off as he did in 1982, 1995 or 2007. Only now I know it is not all Chumbawamba's fault. 

Fun facts about this record. "Dave Floyd is god" has been etched on the A side, while B has "She's got it well suss'd cos all we want is peace". I am not sure what it is supposed to mean (a go at Thatcher? Dave Floyd being a descendent of Jesus Christ? Drunken private jokes?) but there you go. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 2): Soldiers of Fortune "Waiting for World War III" Lp, 1981

Pretty sure no one could have seen that one coming, right? 

The year 1981 was definitely ripe with top-shelf punk records in Britain and the second generation of anarchopunk bands was steadily growing. The No doves fly here, Demystification, Demolition War and Neu Smell Ep's were all released in 1981 and many crucial bands were forming and learning how to play (or how not to play) their instruments and how to paint a banner with peace and anok symbols. I suppose I could have picked any one of these classic records and go for it. But I thought (kinda) long and (a little) hard and decided to select a little-known record from an obscure band that is almost never discussed and that I know virtually nothing about. Again, that is my idea of fun. 

And let's introduce the subject with a very bold statement that only a pretentious twat like myself can genuinely believe in: had it been released on a London label, Waiting for World War III would be deemed an absolute classic record nowadays and you would see vintage anarcho fanatics wear Soldiers of Fortune shirts and have massive buttons on their vegan leather jacket. There, I said it and this is the gospel truth. Here is the thing though, SOF were not technically a British band in 1981. The band was indeed made up of three English punks but was based in Berlin where the lads squatted between 1980 and 1982, a fact that inevitably reminds one of B-Movie. I must admit that I pondered over the relevance of including a Berlin band in a series about British anarchopunk but the particular history of Soldiers of Fortune, especially the post-1982 period, is totally coherent with the context of the UK anarchopunk narrative without mentioning the fact that the members were punk squatters in one of the most politically and musically exciting cities in the eighties. Besides, after writing about a non-anarchist anarchopunk band with 6 Minute War, why not rave about an English anarchopunk bands from Berlin?

SOF was a trio that originated from Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, a declining and reactionary resort town notorious for being the first one to have suffered an aerial bombardment in the UK during WWI (it was also severely bombed during the Blitz) and for the collapse of a bridge in 1845 that caused the death of 79 kids. Although its name sounds a bit funny (c'mon, let's face it, it does), Yarmouth looks like a pretty grim place to grow up in and the song "Small town sunday" is there to remind you of the reason why the band fucked off to Berlin when they had the chance. SOF lived in Squatting Heaven for two years, where they recorded this album in 1981 and the Stars/Autonomia Ep the following year, just before they moved back to England, London to be specific, where they went on squatting and got heavily involved in the anarchopunk scene. They notably played at the Zig Zag squat in late 1982 along with The Mob, The Apostles, Flux of Pink Indians and Omega Tribe. 

To give you an idea of where the band stood in the grand story of British punk and of how active they were, here is a comment that was published on the excellent blog Nuzz Prowling Wolf, in a post about SOF's Ep (you can read it here):

"Actually the Soldiers were originally from Great Yarmouth, and consisted of two brothers, Ingmar on guitar and vo, and Roger on bass plus Trevor on drums. They moved to Berlin in 1980, and to London in '82 and helped set up the Kafe Kollaps squat bar in West Hampstead along with the Burn It Down collective, who then opened the Burn It Down Ballroom on Finchley Road in 1983 (Crass played the first gig, the Soldiers also played; The Mob were regulars) and the Glasshouse in Camden in 1984. The Burn It Downs also put on the first ever Class War benefit gig in 1984 (in what used to be the Camden Council housing offices just off Finchley Road) which was headlined by Poison Girls, helped set up the Ambulance Station in the Old Kent Road, supplied PA's for lots of squat gigs and joined with CopyArt in 1985. The Soldiers became a kind of Cult-lite in 1986, moved back to Berlin and stopped playing music."

(The person who commented was anonymous but, judging from the precision of the account, was clearly involved in that specific part of the London scene at the time. Who knows, perhaps someone close to "The Soldiers"?)

Anyway, in spite of the band's obvious commitment to the anarcho scene during their London years, they largely remain one of the best, as well as one of the most unknown, bands of the early 80's. One could venture that since their records had been released on small Berlin labels, they were not widely available in England, but apparently the Ep could still be found at SOF gigs after they came back from their Eastern stay. It is a bit of a mystery to me how that good a band never had the chance of a British pressing, or even just a tape version. Perhaps as a band, they were not really interested in doing so and preferred to focus on the present and on making things happen rather than on their past recordings? This would certainly be honourable but still deprived many local punks of their musical greatness. Because if Waiting for World War III had been released on Xcentric Crass Records or even on Bluurg Tapes, let me tell you that it would have drowned under an endless shower of praises. 

I cannot remember exactly when I first bumped into SOF but it was definitely through a music blog (those things from a distant past). I liked the cover and decided to give it a go, expecting typical early German punk-rock or postpunk. First listening to the opening song was like a mystical moment, something akin to an epiphany, not unlike when I first heard Pro Patria Mori or when I first learnt how to snap my fingers a kid (the latter got me in detention at school but that's a completely different story). Not only was I in awe at the brilliance of the melody, but I was also astounded that such a great band playing exactly the kind of tuneful and melancholy Britpunk that I am so in love with could have escaped me. It was so good that it almost upset me. Why didn't anyone tell me about SOF? Where are my mates when I most need them? Needless to say that after that incident many a phone number was deleted from my repertoire. 

SOF were certainly not your typically Crass-sounding snotty anarcho band. Actually, if you listened to the Lp without knowing SOF (and without paying much too much attention to the lyrics), you could think that the songs are taken from some unreleased session from a '77 band. The late 70's influence is strong in SOF and bands like The Adverts or The Boys (without the rocky vibe) do come to mind. I am also reminded of Ulster bands like Rudi or The Outcasts, of the punkier band of the mod revival even, and with several reggae-tinged songs, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts and even The Clash are not far off either (I am generally not one to toy with reggae or ska too much but when the songs are moody and if there ain't too many of them, I can be up for it). However, if SOF had that amazing tunefulness and sense of melody associated with the school of '77, they also had a distinctly moody vibe running through the album, which is most obvious in the band's postpunk and goth moments (like on the tribal "Totem" and the über-catchy trance-like "Voice of the Mysterons") but permeates the whole work, so that in the end the band was closer in terms of textures and intent to The Wall and Demob or - in the anarcho realms - to Naked and even Omega Tribe. A (post)punky re-adaptation of '77 tonalities if you will. 

I know I overuse the words "tuneful" and "catchy" and the whole lexical field of melody far too much but honestly, and without the shadow of a doubt, SOF were one of the most inventive tune-oriented anarchopunk bands of their generation. Just listen to the bittersweet chorus of "Small town sunday", to the arrangements of "Sound and the fury" (the "Glory boys" break in this song is just fantastic and they only - and wisely - use it once), to the Killing Jokesque beats of "Totem", to the dark groove of "War drums", to the emotional simplicity of the reggae song "For the unknown soldiers"... The production is ace for the genre, not overdone and quite clear, all the songs being well-written enough not to need too fancy a sound. Although Waiting for World War III can be described as an old-school punk-rock album sonically (which it is), there is enough variety thanks to the addition of goth-punk and reggae to make it stand out, not only as a great collection of songs, but as a cohesive entity. Basically, a proper punk album in the noblest sense of the term with two underlying motives: an incomparable sense of a good tune and a bellicose melancholy.    

There was no lyric sheet in my copy (Discogs says there was one though so a scan would be welcome) but since the boys actually sing (and they do good job at it, I wish more anarcho bands dared to sing these days...) you can understand all the words. Songs about boredom and unemployment in small-town England, Cold War paranoia, work and, of course, war and imperialism. My copy of the record has clearly seen better days (which means that it was played often, which is good, or that it was not properly stored, which is a fucking shame and should be severely punished, public hanging might be a little too harsh but flogging would be fine) and there are some loud crackles, especially on the reggae song now that I think about it. As mentioned, SOF also released an Ep in 1982, that is more postpunk-oriented but equally great and clearly deserves its entry in the much coveted 80's anarcho-goth canon.

The one thing I hate about this record is that, not only does the side A runs on 33rpm while side B runs on 45rpm, but they mixed up the labels so that it is always a bit of a mess to play... 

This is the best British anarchopunk band you have never heard of. 

You're welcome.

The labels of Hell