Wednesday, 14 February 2018

California Screamin' (part 5): Resist and Exist "Ad Liberty" cd, 2010

Jurassic Park left a lasting impression on me when I first watched it as a kid in 1993. The parents of my best mate actually took the both of us to the movies in Paris for the occasion. We were 10 and overexcited at the prospect of seeing proper dinosaurs on screen. Of course, like all boys our age we loved dinos and had been playing with colourful plastic versions of these long-gone reptiles for years so the movie felt a bit like a consecration for us. We were aware that the special effects were amazing and I can still us in the queue chatting noisily and obnoxiously about how awesome it was going to be. Of course, we had seen the trailer on telly and we knew how realistic the dinosaurs were going to look. Or rather we thought we did. Jurassic Park scared me shitless and I was absolutely petrified, grabbing my seat like a sloth on its branch. I even thought of leaving the premises during the infamous kitchen scene but I was literally too afraid to move (The Grudge had the same effect on me many years later, though this time the reason why I stayed was that I was too hungover from the night before... oh well...). To this day, I still feel a little uncomfortable and nostalgic whenever I watch Jurassic Park. 

The other thing I took from the movie then was how ace it was to be an archaeologist because you got to wear a hat, be on your own and look for old things in the ground. Though I have always been too shit at biology to become a proper one, I sometimes feel like Professor Grant when I do my research for Terminal Sound Nuisance, digging endlessly to find fossilized pieces of information about punk bands from past eras, dusting them, showcasing them in this digital museum. Only I do not really see the point of wearing a hat indoors. That'd just be silly, yeah? 

This one was a piece of work. Which may seem quite strange since Resist and Exist is not like an obscure dinosaur that no one, apart from the usual bitter nerds, has heard about. They are pretty well-known and respected in the punk world for their longevity and their unwavering political commitment. I would even argue that, along with Aus-Rotten and Resist, they are the most influential US anarchopunk band from the 90's. If their mid/late 90's vinyl releases are pretty much classics, little do punx know (or care to, but that's an other matter) that R&E have had two existences, related but distinct, during the decade. Their first incarnation was rather short-lived but meaningful and relevant in the history and development of OC peacepunk at a pivotal time, what we often and wrongly see as the end of the golden punk era: the transition between the 80's and the 90's.



I have already written about R&E before (about a '03 live recording here) but I will not try not to repeat myself, pretty much because I love being redundant and raving about bands I love dearly. Besides, this post will closely focus on the band's first run and origins and how they are tied to the peacepunk scene. 

The Ad Liberty cd contains 24 songs taken from five different recordings. There is an eight-song demo recording from 1991 (it might be the very first demo but it is unclear as the Music For Social Change demo was recorded the same year and I don't know the precise month), one song from their very first gig in '91, two songs from the aforementioned Music For Social Change demo, two songs off their '92 demo entitled The Oppressors and a live set from the same year.  If you want to be thorough about early R&E (and why wouldn't you?), I strongly suggest you get the Music For Social Change cd (released on Fight For Your Mind in 2005) which includes additional songs from the demo of the same name as well different versions (mastered differently I presume) of the two songs from The Oppressors. The booklet of Ad Liberty tells the story of the band from the point of view of Chris who was, along with Jang and Cyhndi, the original singer. R&E was formed in December, 1990, when Jang offered Chris to join the band. The former had been working along with Jayd (from Media Children) on a song called "The system remains the same" (which makes it the very first R&E song I presume) and I guess they were looking for like-minded punx to form a band.



Now before I go on, let's point out a crucial element in the genesis of R&E, one that is made up of two words: Media Children. I have already touched upon MC previously (when writing about the S.I. One compilation Ep here) but have come across significant intel since. I suppose that MC epitomized, during their lifetime between 1988 and 1992, the third peacepunk generation in California, after the second one (basically made up of bands like The Iconoclast, Another Destructive System, A State of Mind or Diatribe) folded. They were peacepunk's third wind if you like. However, if you take a close look at the first lineup of MC, as indicated on their first 1988 demo Slaughter of the Innocent, you will realize that along with singer Tammy (one of peacepunk's most recognizable voice), the band was made up of Jang on vocals, Jayd on guitar and bass, and finally John on drums, all of whom were part of the first R&E lineup. Therefore, it would not be irrelevant to see '88 MC as some kind of precursor or sketch of what R&E would do just a few years later (or perhaps equally as the first personal experience of mates making punk music together). The first MC demo is, on the whole, not completely similar to R&E's first demos as it was a more melodic and slow-paced effort, somewhere between Atrocity, A State of Mind, Icon AD and Alternative, but then R&E also had moody, tuneful punk songs in their setlist along with their fast dischargy peacepunk sound. MC would go on with another lineup and a faster, Bristol-meets-ASOM sound, but both bands remained very close partners in crime, touring together and even sharing songs (R&E's "Anti war" and "The women song" were originally MC songs).



But back to the early R&E entity. The band played its first gig with MC (obviously) and Arise (a band with former Holocaust members that I am honestly dying to hear) and did some touring with Total Chaos, back when they were part of the OC peacepunk scene and did Antisect covers (this historical fact is known to have given a few self-proclaimed streetpunx a heart attack). In 1992, Jang left the band to form Autonomy along with (I believe) some MC members (R&E singer Cyhndi would join the band later on... I think!). But there was no hard feeling since R&E played their last gig in April, '92, with Autonomy. Of course, Jang would resurrect R&E after the demise of the latter, bringing with him songs from their first incarnation and even an Autonomy number ("Korean protest song" is basically a reworking the song of "Autonomy").  

So, after all this background information, why choosing to talk about R&E in this peacepunk series? I mean, apart from the fact that their moniker was taken from an Antisect song? I am fully aware that the time gap between my last post, which explored the Naturecore's 12'' recorded in 1986, and these recordings from 1991 and 1992 can look suspicious. Did nothing happen in this five-year period? Of course not. OC crust happened. Essential bands like Apocalypse, A//Solution, This Bitter End, Mindrot, Glycine Max and, of course, Final Conflict emerged (though the latter were never technically a peacepunk band and inbetween scenes). But although they shared the values and the politics of peacepunk and can be seen as the logical sonic and aesthetic extension and continuation of it (just like in the UK really), they also reflected the birth of something new with a different artistic perspective and as such cannot be said to represent the "classic peacepunk sound". While R&E, at that time, were THE ultimate synthesis of the preceding decade.



If you were to be asked (say, during a fancy dinner party at the embassy or something) what 80's peacepunk is then look no further and play the early R&E demos. How ironic since they are actually 90's recordings but they concentrate what 80's peacepunk is all about musically, lyrically and aesthetically. The real strength of the band is how effortlessly they managed to synthesize the two schools of peacepunk while never losing sight of the structural British influence. You will find furious dischargy hardcore punk songs that nod lovingly toward The Iconoclast, Crucifix, Body Count, Against or Final Conflict, as well as moody and catchy anarcho numbers reminiscent of Atrocity, Trial, Naturecore or A State of Mind (yes, my evil peacepunk master plan was to write about four bands that the fifth one would perfectly summarize!), and all this with the intense versatility of Another Destructive System. I know I haven't really mentioned all the faster, more hardcore-sounding side of the scene in this series (because I already have before) but of course it played a major role in the shaping of the classic OC peace sound. As I said, the UK sound and inspiration are also very much present in R&E's songwriting and early Antisect, Anti-System, Liberty, Civilised Society?, The Sears or Potential Threat are obvious points of comparison. However, I would argue that they were a band heavily influenced and primarily motivated by the local historical peacepunk, in other terms a peacepunk-influenced peacepunk band (that's a lot of peace and a lot of punk, I know) which was important in and of itself.



As you can expect from demo recordings, the sound quality is not exactly crystal clear. It is raw punk with a sense of youthful urgency and spontaneity and that's precisely how it should sound. The presence of three singers gives the song a polyphonic vibe that conveys the collective identity of the band as well as a cracking vintage anarcho feel. The fast and furious hardcore numbers are brilliant and their ferocity is actually reinforced with the catchy and moodier, darker punk songs that Cyhndi's haunting voice make so poignant. Through these songs (as well as the inclusion of some poems), the band expressed a wider ranger of emotions, like melancholy on "Self destruct" or "When we meet again" or dignified outrage on "The oppressors" (perhaps one of the most uplifting anarchopunk songs of the period with fantastic male/female vocals and a terrific singalong chorus). The song "The system remains the same" (that the band would turn into "Movement" in the late 90's) may be my favourite with its tribal Crass-like beat and layered vocals and its deliciously melodic and poppy Chumbawamba conclusion. Genuine anarcho magics here. The live set (without Jang) is pretty rough but you can tell how receptive the audience is to the band's message and music and they cover BGK and Crass for good measure. The low point of the cd is the absence of lyrics (apart from the reggae-tinged "Ad liberty") which is a bit of a missed opportunity, especially with such a political band with a positive anarchist message. 

This was released on Mass Media Records, an OC-based record label with an ace dove logo that was close to the peacepunk scene of the early 90's (they shared the same address as Media Children actually) that released Ep's from Autonomy, Social Outcasts, Dan and of course Media Children before going on a hiatus for 15 years. Ad Liberty appeared to mark the return of MMR in 2010 (or is 2009?) since the label went on to release top shelf anarcho deathrock and postpunk in the following years with very convincing records from bands like Masses, Moral Hex or Silent Scream. By the way, this cd is still available, so you know what to do.



Since there were annoying gaps between tracks on the cd I did my best to blend songs when necessary (for the live set mostly as the gaps were too distracting). /And before wrapping it up, I strongly suggest you take a good look at Jang's youtube channel (here) if you want to learn more about these peacepunk years.




             

Thursday, 8 February 2018

California Screamin' (part 4): Naturecore "With love..." 12'', 1988

I do not remember exactly when and where I first read about Naturecore (or is it Nature Core? I dunno for sure but let's reasonably stick with Naturecore). But what I do distinctly remember however is that they were referred to and characterized as a "pre Vegan Reich band", a mention that instantly made them look suspicious to me. I had never met someone into Vegan Reich (and come to think about it, I still have to meet one to this day but perhaps the band has completely gone out of fashion after their Jihad nonsense and has become one of these bands people are unlikely to claim to like) and, to be perfectly honest, at that time, I had never even listened to them and was only familiar with their political message and what they stood for and that was enough for me to discard them. Now that I am older and (kinda) wiser and that I actually listened to Vegan Reich, I guess they are alright if you enjoy metalcore, politically confused ideology and "lookin' hard and livin' healthy" (which I don't). I don't get the appeal of their message and of their mosh parts, and I would not feel too comfortable at a Hardline gig (and vice versa), but then the global punk scene is baffling at times. 

And baffled I was upon reading that an obscure peacepunk band called Naturecore was somehow connected to Vegan Reich, so much so in fact that I buried the information somewhere in my brain and promptly forgot about Naturecore's existence. And then, last year, as I was tediously organizing my music files, I came across With Love... in the 80's US anarchopunk folder. "Oh yeah, that pre-Vegan Reich band. I can't remember what they sound like, so let's play it, just for kicks, they're probably terrible anyway". And of course, listening to the songs, I instantly felt very silly because not only is the record very good but it is undeniably rooted in the mid-80's peacepunk sound I love so much. So much for selective blindness... I had to investigate.



After some researches, I realized that the dread-inducing Vegan Reich tie was pretty thin indeed and the fact that it was this element that was put forward in introducing Naturecore has more to do with internet's click bait culture and unhealthy love for controversies than serious contextual work. What made Naturecore a "pre Vegan Reich band" was the inclusion of a Vegan Reich song, "Stop talking, start revenging", on the 1987 The ALF is Watching and There's no Place to Hide... compilation Lp. This was the very first song under the VR name, and apparently, singer and guru Sean Muttaqi had asked members of Naturecore to be his backing band for that purpose (there would be no other occasion as far as I know). I suppose they knew each other because of their common location and their involvement in animal rights activism and probably through the label No Master's Voice who released the aforementioned compilation and, one year later, the With Love... 12''. An anecdotal, if quite interesting, story all in all. Does it make Naturecore a pre Vegan Reich band? Not really and the song in question sounds a lot more like Naturecore than like subsequent Vegan Reich recordings.

But enough about that already. The band's contact address on the 12'' is the same as the label's, in Laguna Beach, so it is safe to assume that Naturecore must have been active in this specific area, not far from Orange County. I did not find much intel about the band other than their drummer Aaron also played in Armistice (not the 90's band but one that was active around 1984 apparently) and that the singer played in Black Apple Forest afterwards. Naturecore formed in 1984 and recorded With Love... in 1986, although it was to be released in 1988, and they also had a song on that ALF compilation. The thank list tells us that the band was in touch with some British anarchopunk bands like Dan, Chumbawamba and Karma Sutra (which is not very surprising given their sound and politics), fellow peacepunx A State of Mind and even Glycine Max (who must have been in their earliest stage at that point). 



There are five songs on the 12'', the last one of which actually pertains to sloppy folk music (a clear sign of anarcho-influenced music). On the whole, I would suggest that A State of Mind and their brand of versatile anarchopunk with male/female vocals and their focus on animal rights and personal liberation were probably a major influence and a source of inspiration for Naturecore. In addition to this basis, there is also a distinct crossover vibe to the songs (especially "The box", which opens the record, with its guitar solos and drum beat), not so much in terms of sound production but in the songwriting that uses typical crossover structures and riffs (you can even spot some clear-sounding funky bass lines). Yet, Naturecore did not really aim for heaviness and did not have a metal sound but more of a raw hardcore one, full of punk urgency. Some guitar leads and vocal parts (especially the flow) borrow from classic US hardcore and MDC come to mind. Although clearly embedded in the peacepunk tradition (the song "Employment and you" is an unsung anarcho hit) and inspired by the nascent crossover sound (remember the recording is from '86), Naturecore were far from generic, the beats are quite diverse and the writing not linear. I am reminded of a Californian version of Dan, Civilised Society? or, more accurately, of Decadence Within's early period, back when they were meaningfully inbetween dual vocal anarchopunk and crossover hardcore (namely the Speed Hippy Ep and the Shall we Dance? Lp). Or perhaps you could contextually read the band as a peacepunk version of Final Conflict, a transition? It could also be argued that, to some retrospective extent, Naturecore heralded the early sound of Nausea, Antischism or Mankind? although it is difficult to assess how well-known they were at the time outside of their locality.



Lyrically, Naturecore were strong and focused with songs about the brainwashing influence of television, employment as a disempowering tool, the unjust treatment of Native Americans at the end and the exploitation of tribal lands by the government and animal exploitation (quite obviously). Solid stuff. As a bonus, there is a message etched on the run-off groove area (I have always loved these) that says: "If our current system is working...I'de (sic) hate to see it when it's not!".

I managed to find an interview with singer Tammy from 2009 on a website run by Jang from Resist and Exist and Autonomy in which she touches upon her political activities at the time of Naturecore (interview). Though the page has not been updated for a while, a book about the peacepunk scene was apparently in the works at some point. How grand would that be... 





    

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

California Screamin' (part 3): A State of Mind / Chumbawamba "We are the world?" split Ep, 1986

Taken out of context, I suppose this split Ep can look slightly surreal in 2018. After all, it is a collaboration between one band that got to become a heavyweight of mainstream pop music in the 90's and another one that disintegrated not long after the record and is probably only remembered by punk nerds and those who were lucky enough to be part of the same scene at the time. The extent of this discrepancy is apparent only from a retrospective point of view and only matched by the degree of sonic similarities and political affinities that existed between Chumbawamba and A State of Mind in 1985. How different were to be their paths and yet how similar they appeared to be. 



Arguably, this stark contrast must have been much more visible 15 or 20 years ago, back when Chumba were still famous, A State of Mind utterly unknown and the internet had not provided us with all the contextual information we now require and take for granted. The first time I heard Chumba was in 1998 playing the '98 World Cup video game (the tournament was taking place in France, you just could not escape it) because their song "Tubthumping" was used as the soundtrack and radio stations blasted the thing all day. At that time, I was much more interested in Rancid, NOFX and Green Day and did not pay much attention to them to be honest. Besides, France wan the bloody thing and, in the midst of the mass hysteria that ensued, I voluntarily forgot about the song (though I readily admitted it had a catchy chorus) and the band altogether, until a few years later, when I got my grubby hands on Aus-Rotten's Not One Single Fucking Hit Discography cd. Of course, I loved Aus-Rotten, their music and their message but this anthology of their early years was still confusing and a source of perplexity for me. At the end of the cd, there were some live recordings from the band, mostly covers actually. Aus-Rotten did versions of Flux and Conflict and, to be sure, that was perfectly normal. They also covered Upright Citizens, which I did not know at the time, but that did not really bother me, it was a very punky song. But then, they also played "30 years" from Chumbawamba. Yes, that band from the Playstation video game. I had vaguely heard that they used to be a punk band who "sold out for money and fame and shit" but I had not realized that they were an anarchopunk band (and they must have been, my younger self thought, since Aus-Rotten covered them) and probably a good one (again, since Aus-Rotten covered them, they must have been alright). But then the actual song was really not that good and - ironically - tuneless. So, what was I to think? 



In these pre-internet days (for me anyway), I had no other options than to ask older punks (and judging from their reaction when I mentioned Chumba, either one of sorrow or contempt, I quickly understood that the subject was touchy indeed) or try to find some punk recordings of theirs. Which, after a few unlucky accidents - namely me buying Anarchy and English Rebel Songs two albums I absolutely hated at the time - I eventually did when I managed to find tape copies of early Chumba demos. The sound was abysmal (they were probably copies of old original tapes) but the songs were great, unique, interesting and, well, quite inspiring. So I finally understood what the fuss was all about and why (older) people were so disappointed when they signed up for EMI. For my generation, it was already a done deal and my first interaction with Chumba was through a Sony game so I am not going to pretend that I retroactively felt betrayed, but for the ones that got into them when they were still a crucial part of the anarchopunk fabric, I guess it was rather heartbreaking. I read somewhere that, basically, after the demise of Crass in 1984, two related but still significantly different anarchopunk paths lied before you, Chumba and Conflict, and it is probably no coincidence that Conflict have gotten so much criticism throughout the years too. It is just a personal point of view, of course, and I guess there was a third option with Antisect, Amebix and the nascent crust/hardcore scene, but the idea is interesting. There is little point in glossing upon the controversy itself here and now as the argument would, in the very different context of both the current music industry and the punk scene today, be irrelevant. But I can understand, though I don't necessarily condone, the radical anti-Chumba sentiments I still see expressed here and there. 




But let's get to the record. At that point in time, ASOM and Chumba had very similar conceptions of punk music as an instrument for social change and as a vector of creation. The two bands were close (friends and comrades, I suppose, and they were even supposed to tour the States together at some point) and the Ep was as much as the result of this artistic and personal relation as it was meant to stand for the idea of communication and collaboration itself. I suppose there were other common points between both, structurally and creatively. They were collectives as much as proper "bands", embraced alternative lifestyles and were involved in political activism (on a theoretical as well as practical level). They were also influenced by early 80's anarchopunk while trying to bring more diversity and artistry to it at the same time, whether by literally importing elements from other musical genres into the punk recipe or by deconstructing the recipe itself (truth be told, neither went full on experimental or no-wave though, they still operated inside conventional music frameworks). 

The two Chumba songs on this Ep were recorded in December, 1985, between the Revolution Ep and the Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records Lp (a cruelly mistaken statement if you consider the sales of crust records nowadays), which many consider to be the band's crowning glories. In fact, this split is often disregarded in the band's legacy, perhaps because it was released inbetween two genuine classics or perhaps because it was not as well distributed or perhaps because people are just not thorough. I dunno. This was Chumba at their (punky) greatest and the two numbers, "Invasion" and "Isolation", are proper hits. You can hear the very theatrical, histrionic nature of the band, the ir versatility as the songs effortlessly fly from emotion to emotion and genre to genre. "Invasion" starts as a cheesy pop song before exploding into a danceable postpunk beat and settling into a Crass-y tribal punk beat with brilliant vocal superpositions and a Flux-like bass line. Angry, intense, immensely catchy and uplifting. "Isolation" basically starts off where "Invasion" stops as the bass part is similar. However, after the first thirty seconds of anarcho delicacy the song morphs into a poppy reggae song before ending with deliciously tuneful canons over a simple drum beat and bass line. Just ace songwriting. I do not know how they did it but at that time anything they wrote turned into gold. 




Of course, Chumba always had a tunefulness, a structural poppiness that made their songs so memorable (and I would argue that the joining of Mave and Daz from Passion Killers were probably instrumental in improving the band's tune detector) but there were other super tuneful anarcho bands around back then. What really set them apart was the ability to switch from 60's pop sensibility, to folk music, to angry and intense punk music, to catchy postpunk and so on, all the while telling a good, coherent story. Diverse but never disparate. That's the secret. Chumba are actually hard to describe properly but I tend to locate them in a certain brand of Northern anarchopunk sound (say The System, Kulturkampf or Blood Robots) but with a unique and refreshing innovativeness, a multimedia creative sense borrowed from Crass, a Zounds-like versatile theatricality and a love for the absurd not unlike The Fall or Adam and the Ants', a pop-punk touch like Lost Cherrees and, well, it is pointless to keep going I suppose. They really were their own. The history of the band is well documented now so keep digging if you feel like it. 




On the other side (well not really actually, you've got one song from each band per side), ASOM probably epitomized what peacepunk was all about. The band - although I am guessing that the term "collective" was more appropriate - has an interesting story. They originally formed as a three-piece made up of Robbie, Allison and Kevin in Philadelphia in 1982. Robbie originally played the bass in Sadistic Exploits, a local band that had one Ep and whose drummer went on to play in YDI. In May, '82, the newly created ASOM played with Crucifix and White Cross at a Better Youth Organization gig in Phillie and then did a string of gigs with Crucifix who were touring the East coast. By 1983, the band had relocated to the Bay Area and the following months saw them recruit Rip (from Trial), Mark and Greg (from Atrocity) in the new ASOM. 




Their first record was the 1984 Don't Vote... Subvert flexi which was a split with Liberté? (basically  a collaboration between ASOM and Carolyn - aka Cyrnai - from Treason and subsequently Trial) revolving around the theme of voting, or rather not voting (I particularly enjoy the "Don't vote, subvert" chant shouted exactly in the same way as Crass' "Fight war, not wars"). It showed the band in a crispy Crass Records mood, with adequate fuzziness, and, were it not for the accents, it would sit nicely between Riot/Clone and Anthrax. It was released on the band's own Mind Matter Records, a label that would be active until 1987 and release works from Cyrnai, Danbert Nobacon (from Chumba) and Christ On Parade (who, I recently learnt, were a post-Treason band!). The next record, the quite good if raw What's the Difference? Animal/Humyn Exploitation Ep, recorded in June, '85, was a stronger effort. This time around, ASOM had Robbie and Kevin on vocals, Carolyn/Cyrnai on guitar, Greg on drums and Mkultra on bass. Recorded by Rip, the Ep was more diverse and illustrated the band's creative intent to incorporate different elements. What's the Difference? was all about animal exploitation, veganism and the ecological and political aspects of these issues. Though sloppy at times, it is a rather ambitious Ep with two dissonant punk songs in the grand anarcho tradition (somewhere between Flux, Anthrax and The Apostles), one melancholy acoustic song that is quite beautiful and a weird experimental dirge that I think is a bit too long to be included on a mere Ep... Oh well... In proper anarchopunk fashion, it is a foldout cover with plenty to read about animal rights and human freedom.




If ASOM had just recorded these two records, I do not think I would have considered including them in the series. They are decent, but not great. Their last offering however is brilliant and I cannot help but wonder what a full Lp of the band would have sounded like. The two songs ASOM contributed to the Chumba split, "Shit's pride" and "A bite of the apple...is not enough", were recorded in November, '85, by Peter Miller at his studio and that may be where the main improvement came from. The band's previous sessions had been recorded at New Method, a venue (and social center/rehearsal space I assume) ASOM were involved in, and I am guessing that working in an other studio with somebody else than Rip made a difference (Peter Miller also engineered for Crucifix, Christ on Parade or Septic Death so I suppose he knew his shit) especially in terms of intensity and overall balance. 

To put it bluntly, ASOM sounded like San Francisco's Chumbawambas on this Ep. It feels a little strange to write this since they were actually sharing a record with a band they were also trying to emulate, but that's true. To be honest, I can hear other influences in ASOM's numbers, and a more accurate description would be - I think - a blend between Chumba and Alternative, with the first song sounding a lot like the latter while the second one borrows heavily from the former (the polyphonic quality of the vocal work and the melancholy folk music conclusion to the song are very highly reminiscent of Chumba). You know me, I am not hostile toward referential bands, on the contrary, I find them fascinating when they are well done and in this case, the execution is perfect. They could be Alternative or Chumba songs: moody, potent and proper catchy. After all some members of ASOM traveled to England in 1984 and met with Chumba (some of them would even tour with the Leeds-based band in '86) so the idea of one influencing the other is not silly or unreasonable. Odd perhaps since Chumba always tried to be unique and their own selves, but I cannot really blame a band for being influenced by Revolution and trying to emulate it, even in such a direct, obvious fashion. But then, wasn't it was peacepunk was also about? A re-creation of anarchopunk to fit the Californian context? 




But anyway, on the split the ASOM lineup was Robbie on vocals and bass, Chris on guitar, Greg on drums and Juliet on vocals. The title of the record, We are the World?, of course referred to the famous song - written by the disgustingly cheesy USA for Africa - that illustrated how hypocritical the 80's charity campaigns sponsored by the show business industry and big corporations really were (a theme Chumba explored on their first album). The thick booklet details the military, economic and political neocolonial cooperation between the US and the British governments and how the citizens of these two countries are brainwashed into believing in the official propaganda from the cradle to the grave. It is an anti-patriotic, anti-governement record if you will. It was released on Agit-Matter Records, basically the fusion of Chumba's Agit Prop and ASOM's Mind Matter. The peacepunks then toured with the mighty Iconoclast in 1986 before calling it a day in 1987.  







Wednesday, 24 January 2018

California Screamin' (part 2): Subtle Oppression / Atrocity / Clark Kent "Their Eyes don't Lie" split Ep, 1984

Peacepunk, as one of many punk facets that can be contextualized in time and place, was, as I posited previously, very much a response to British anarchopunk, a recreation and actualization of the anarchopunk ethos and sound in California (to be more accurate San Francisco and Orange County). If there were strong, meaningful sonic similarities between the UK and the US versions (it does not take a musical genius to spot them), they also shared the politics, the aesthetics and a specific aestheticization of these politics. If you asked your average punk what anarchopunx (or peacepunx) were like, he would have probably answered something like "vegetarian hippies who don't recognize the greatness of The Exploited (can be replaced with an American hardcore band if the context requires it)". And actually, your average punk would still answer something along those lines nowadays, especially with the current "anti-PC" trend that does not exactly tend to raise the bar in terms of critical thinking. 



This said, our punk friend would not be completely wrong as pacifism (not to be confused with non-violence) and animal rights are the two emblematic issues embraced by anarchopunx in the 80's. The former usually manifested itself through the (sometimes excessive) use of the peace symbol while the latter was conveyed through shocking pictures and slogans depicting the horrific implications of meat-eating in our modern societies. Of course, I suppose these are seen as either clichés or unquestionable parts of a given template nowadays, and I guess that even back then, people started to roll their eyes after hearing yet another anti-vivisection song. Still, even though there was a trend element to animal rights in the punk scene back then, it is undeniable that many of us (I hope) were made aware of the horrors of the slaughterhouse and of meat culture thanks to anarcho bands and, quite clearly, Atrocity and Subtle Oppression were adamant that the slaughter and exploitation had to stop. 

I suppose that a lot of the peacepunx were self-proclaimed vegetarians at the time but, to my knowledge (and please, correct me if I'm wrong), this split Ep is the first record entirely dedicated to animal rights and liberation to rise, not only from that corner of the scene, but from the US punk scene as a whole (of course, MDC had pro-vegetarian songs in '82/'83 but none as explicitly pro-animal rights). There were probably bands singing about it before but this Ep revolved entirely around this theme and it makes sense that it was financed and produced by the Student Action Corps for Animals, who were a campus-based student collective for animal rights from Washington DC (that's a pretty unusual producer but I suppose that the political connections between Berkeley and DC made such a project possible). There is a lot to read on the subject on this Ep and the foldout cover/poster format is used at its full extent with several texts and pictures to illustrate and make a point (which is the whole idea anyway). Educational stuff. I can definitely imagine this Ep being released on Mortarhate at the time and I suppose Conflict have a lot to answer for here anyway. 



But let's start with the actual content of the Ep and with the first band...or bands... or...well, it is a bit unclear to be honest. The track on side A is made up of two parts, a spoken one which is the introduction to the second one, the actual song. The thing is that the spoken word was done by Clark Kent (I hope the geezer wore glasses at least) while the song was performed by Subtle Oppression. So does that actually make the Ep a 3-way split or just a usual one? You tell me. Even discogs doesn't know what to make of that one since the entry is shambolic to say the least. Anyway, Clark's bit is actually a poem entitled Sonnet for a Cow (even as a vegan, this one is too cheesy for me) which I am not going to comment upon (let's say the prosody ain't quite right) and focus instead on Subtle Oppression... a band I know virtually nothing about, apart from the fact they were from Bethesda, close to DC, and therefore were probably part of or at least connected to the Student Action Corps for Animals (it sounds likely). But that's about it. I have not been able to find anything about them on the world wide web. Enlighten me if you can.

I cannot claim to be a DC punk expert or fan. The only thing I know with certainty is that there were a lot of jumpy hardcore bands over there. Was Subtle Oppression one of them? Absolutely not. They played rather theatrical-sounding anarcho postpunk with high-pitched vocals, clear guitars and a mid-paced beat. I am reminded of UK bands like Flowers in the Dustbin, Zounds, Youthinasia or Slaughter of the Innocent, which is a very good thing but it is hard to tell what the band was going for on just one song and no information. The sound is great, the musicianship is there and the songwriting pretty strong so I would tend to think that the band must have had some studio recording but that could be wishful thinking. Their song, "Deep beneath the rituals", unsurprisingly deals with the culturally constructed habit of meat consumption disguised as a natural act.



On the other side are Atrocity, who are the reason why I picked this record they were a Berkeley-based peacepunk band. As I mentioned in the review about Trial, Atrocity were part of the first generation of San Francisco peacepunk bands along with Crucifix, Trial, Treason, Peace love Happiness and A State of Mind (apparently, the six of them shared the bill at a classic gig that took place at the Club Foot in Dogpatch) and one of the singers, Sarah Borruso, was John Trial and Matt Crucifix' sister. Also in the band were Katherine (vocals), Jennifer (bass), Paul (guitar) and Greg (drums) who I suspect was also behind A State of Mind's kits. I could not find much intel about Atrocity (the moniker does not exactly make researching easy) but their participants were apparently really young when the band was formed in 1983 (in their mid-teens) which is both impressive since the songs are brilliant and a little depressing when I think about how useless my 15 year old self used to be... Oh well... 





If Trial could be seen through the prism of the "All the Madmen anarcho sound", Atrocity took their influences in the tradition of female-fronted anarchopunk that was really strong in the first part of the 1980's in the UK and, if it were not for the accentuation, you would doubtlessly think they were part of that scene. Of course, there has been in recent years a resurgence of interest in 80's anarchopunk and quite a few US bands have been trying - more or less successfully - to recreate that UK sound. Yet, just like for Trial, I find odd, if not almost disturbing, that a band like Atrocity is never mentioned despite this "anarcho trend". What works so well here is the spontaneity of the songwriting. Probably because the members were so young, they just went for it with determination and without a second thought (just like the bands they were influenced by really). That youthful energy and boldness are what makes the two Atrocity songs so incredibly good. Tuneful but moody anarchopunk with dual female vocals, somewhere between Lost Cherrees, Rubella Ballet and Icon AD for the melancholy melodies and bands like DIRT, A-Heads or The Sears for the upbeat snottiness, although it is hard to tell if, by 1984, the band had actually heard all those bands. The dual female vocals work perfectly and creatively together through variations in tones and patterns, sometimes their different vocal styles overlapping and intertwining, hence creating layered polyphonous moments, at other times singing along together in true punk fashion or in a trade-off manner... On the vocal level, I am reminded of Chumba, Alternative or even bands like Joyce McKinney or Chin Chin, and although these came after Atrocity, it will give you an idea. 



Several articles, critical essays or even books have been written in the past few years about feminism and females in punk-rock, especially from a US point of view or taking the US punk scene as the background. Of course, a lot of them focus on the Riot Grrrl wave of the 90's but the absence of bands like Atrocity in this type of work - usually coming from the academic world but not always - is surprising if not a little problematic because the teenagers in Atrocity ruled hard, although it is difficult to assess what kind of influence the band really had... I guess a book about peacepunk is long overdue (I know such a project was started a couple of years ago but I suppose it sadly fell through).   
Anyway, the two songs, "Animal fate" and "Silent victims", both about animal welfare, were recorded during the summer of 1984 by Rip (from Trial and A State of Mind) and if you are into vintage anarchopunk, you should try to find a copy of this split Ep (it goes for cheap). Peacepunk at its best. Two other Atrocity songs can be found on a mixtape compiled in 1991 by Aaron Cometbus (of the notorious Cometbus fanzine and also known as "Green Day's mate"), probably rehearsal recordings judging from the sound quality but they still make for a decent listen (there is also an unreleased Trial song on the tape). 

Could there be more unknown Atrocity recordings? I'm not holding my breath...  







   


Thursday, 18 January 2018

California Screamin' (part 1): Trial "S/t" Ep, 1983

Fuck me, it is 2018 already and, after dealing with the traditional bad news and exchanging the usual phony wishes that the new year invariably brings, it is high time I get to work again with a brand new series about a genre that is particularly dear to my soft heart: peacepunk. 



My faithful readers know full well that I have already raved about peacepunk bands or about their legatees on several occasions in the past (The Iconoclast, Another Destructive System, Glycine Max or Diatribe have already been invited on Terminal Sound Nuisance among others) but I have never done an actual series on the subject. To be honest, the enterprise is tricky for several reasons. First, 80's bands associated to peacepunk are not very well documented, if at all in some cases, so that writing about them proves difficult and potentially foolhardy. Second, the very concept of "peacepunk" can seem problematic in itself and must be imperatively read and understood in the specific context of its birth, namely California and its different punk creative centers. As I touched upon in the post about Iconoclast, to be a "peacepunk" band or to identify as one was apparently a matter of some importance or even a bone of contention in the 80's. This probably had a lot to do with the nature of the Californian punk scenes that had so many punk tribes, and sometimes antagonistic ones too, that you could basically choose your own punk subscene inside the larger punk scene. It could also be argued that the highly political nature of peacepunk bands, their vocal dedication to serious causes and their overt pacifism was not to everyone's taste and that tribal rivalries must have occurred (maybe not unlike the tensions that emerged in the UK with the rise of anarchopunk), hence the "peacepunk question" sounding somewhat crucial. 



Why peacepunk thrived so proliferously in the Bay Area and Southern California is open to argument and discussion and I am certainly not familiar enough with the broader Californian punk scenes to be able to emit a definitive judgement. Undeniably, peacepunk bands were deeply influenced by Crass and the anarchopunk politics (feminism, animal rights, militant pacifism and so on) and aesthetics (bloody doves everywhere mate) and by Discharge's radical and raw antiwar stance to an extent that had few - if any - equivalents in the world. Perhaps the liberal political tradition of San Francisco (the parallels with the politics of the hippie movement are relevant) was a key factor and, as Stuart from Shit-Fi suggested in his review of Diatribe, perhaps the social conditions in SoCal experienced by young punks made the anger of Discharge and the serious stance of Crass relevant. Or perhaps, they just all wanted to wear black clothes and charged hair and that peacepunk was basically the only available punk option back then. For the sake of defining (and we just love our definitions steady, don't we?) let's assume in the context of this series that peacepunk was a successful and inspiring adaptation (in other terms, not a copy but an actualisation) of British anarchopunk in Californian contexts. 




The first part of California Screamin' (yes I know it is  the name of a roller coaster but it actually changed its name to Incredicoaster - sigh - on January, 8th, so basically I am now legally entitled to use the name, right?) will focus on a first generation peacepunk band from San Francisco, Trial - no, not the 90's SxE band, where do you think you are? SF Trial formed in 1982, when the band members were still spotty teenagers, and split up in 1987 (I think?), releasing this self-titled Ep in 1983 and the Moments of Collapse Lp in 1986 in the meantime. Interestingly, the brother of Trial's singer John, was Matt, the bass player from Crucifix, and their sister was Sarah, Atrocity's singer (family dinners at the Borruso's must have been so fun). In actual facts, there were more connections between Crucifix and Trial: Chris, the original drummer of the former played on the latter's album; guitar player Jake recorded the Trial Ep; Freak Records (run by Crucifix if I understand well) released the aforementioned Ep as well as Crucifix' Nineteen Eighty-Four Ep; and of course the bands often played together. On the broader scale, Crucifix were completely instrumental in the making of the peacepunk scene and their overarching influence (on a musical, visual or lyrical level) cannot be overestimated. They played a major role in the development of the scene and certainly inspired the early generation of peacepunk bands like Treason, Against, A State of Mind or Peace Love Happiness (yes, it is a real band) to get involved.





There was no common point between Trial and Crucifix musically however. Where Crucifix were blending US hardcore energy with Discharge relentlessness, Trial were a moodier bunch that does not fail to remind one of vintage British anarchopunk bands of the same time. Beside John on vocals, the band was made up of Desmond on the bass (he actually also contributed to an early version of Faith No More, as did Jake Crucifix), Rip on the guitar (he also played in A State of Mind) and Jason on the drums. If there were any justice in this world, this Ep would be considered an absolute classic of US anarchopunk and one of peacepunk's most memorable moments of brilliance and I would be invited to do conferences all over the world (I am pretty cheap too, just an alright couch and a bag of crisps). There were not that many mid-paced, dark anarcho acts in the States in the 80's, or rather, not many that would fit today's definition of a "mid-paced, dark anarcho band", and seeing that there are a lot of current US bands purportedly playing "dark anarchopostpunk", one would have thought that a band like Trial would have benefited retroactively from this resurgence. But no. What a strange world...  




Musically, we are deep in the moodiness that characterized the most somber shores of the UK anarchopunk territories and I am strongly reminded of bands like Reality Control, Blood Robots or Alternative, with a distinctly darker tone reminiscent of Rudi Peni, The Mob or Part 1. Not exactly joyful, I'll give you that, but extremely catchy. The mid-paced "Inborn system" has a morose and melancholy tuneful tone - almost macabre yet danceable - that works very well and may also point in the deathrock direction (which would make sense for a Californian band), "From the sky..." is faster with the typical anarcho tribal beat and sounds like the perfect cross between Omega Tribe and Vex (but with an American accent), and finally "Is this to be?" (Discharge reference?) is a slow, haunting number with surf-like guitar and a demented atmosphere that would fit nicely on a 13th Chime record. The bass lines are melodic, driving and aptly somber, the guitar is scratchy and dark as expected, the drumming is solid and tasteful and the vocals are neither quite sung nor quite spoken, conferring the song a spontaneous feel of brooding despair and righteous teenage outrage, aka on the proverbial punk edge. This is a brilliant Ep and a rare occurrence of an 80's American band going for the typical UK sound of The Mob, Zounds and all (The Apostates also come to mind but they were a later band). Pretty unique if you ask me.  




The aesthetics of the record itself are ripe with peacepunk symbols and slogans, so much so that you could pretty much play a Crass-themed bingo (the band came up with the awesome logo depicting a peace symbol turned into a ticking clock). From the dove on the cover (for some shite reason, the former owner scribbled something next to it...) to the adamant anti-military booklet provided with the Ep, the poignant pacifist imagery, the gruesome war pictures, the countless slogans on the whole foldout cover, the long poem of self-liberation... "I question, thereby I avoid their grasp. I seek freedom, thereby I escape the ignorance which I am told is reality." There is a lot to read on this one and there are tiny details you will probably not catch the first time around. While some of it is naive and idealistic, I do appreciate the honesty, the sincerity and the vulnerability permeating it all and how the visual aspect of the record and the political content it conveys are as important and relevant as the music (this notion of "music as artistic militancy" was central to peacepunk). Apparently, Trial's live performances were enhanced with visual components such as banners, slideshows, film loops and so forth which gave a dark apocalyptic atmosphere to the experience (and probably distracted the audience from the musical fuck-ups too).    





Following this Ep, Trial released the Moments of Collapse Lp in 1986 with Carolyn (formerly in Treason, A State of Mind and Sleeping Dogs) on the guitar, an excellent and inventive postpunk/goth album full of introspective politics and dark tunes that is worth your while. Certainly different from the Ep but definitely a solid record.





So... Who's up for a Trial discography? There must be some demo recordings somewhere, right?