Monday, 16 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 5): Deadlock "Fear will Continue" Ep, 1994

By 1994, the d-beat wave was reaching its apex. The Swedes must have looked unbeatable then, not only could they rely on their glorious past of 80's Discharge-loving hardcore, but they were also very heavily armed in the present with units like Disfear, Dischange, Dispense, Driller Killer, Diskonto, Uncurbed and Warcollapse (mind you, Wolfpack and Skitsystem were not even around yet), each of them standing for a particular aspect of the D in all its lustrous glory (the "just like" school, the scandicore revival one, the crusty one, the metallic one, the rocking one and so on, it was a bit like the Spice Girls but with discharge-y music). I am pretty sure you could have reached as many as fifty shades of D at that time and I guess we can still feel the aftermath of that wave of Discharge porn that swept through punk-rock's barren wastelands at the time. It amazes me how in such a short period of time, so many bands started to go for rather similar and circumscribed forms of hardcore punk music. But then, that's how trends work I suppose: they contaminate even the most innocent punks. Tales of creative, challenging individuals (usually into Rorschach or Refused) turning into Discharge freaks after being unscrupulously and malevolently subjected to repeated listens of A Brutal Sight of War and Seeing Feeling Bleeding were whispered around campfires in order to warn children about the dangers of the D, and, if some were clearly gross exaggerations (a man was once rumoured to have changed its name from Michael to Dismichael, a hoax that was revealed by the local town hall), it is undeniable that many a fair-haired Christian child was lost to the insane beats of "Decontrol" during the decade of the 1990's.

But I am not here to talk about Sweden today but about a Japanese d-beat band you may not have heard of called Deadlock. Deadlock is an eloquent name for a punk band, one that conveys an uncertainty about the future, a feeling of hopelessness, conjuring up images of oppression and doom. From an early Gdansk punk-rock band, to a Greek hip-hop crew, an Australian power-metal act or a melodic death-metal fiasco from Germany, there have been many bands in the course of history who thought that Deadlock was a top moniker that was bound to make them look both profound and sullen. I have no idea whether the Japanese Deadlock we are dealing with, who originated from Kimitsu in the Chiba prefecture (on the other side of the Tokyo Bay), aspired to a profound and sullen look but there is no denying that the name is fully appropriate to the essence of d-beat and its aesthetics with its Cold War undertones. Information about Deadlock is scarce indeed and I readily confess that the band was completely unknown to me until quite recently. Deadlock were pointed out to me by a friendly old-timer who not only experienced the 90's d-wave (with much joy I'm sure) but also played in a band named after a Discharge song, so the source was, without the shadow of a doubt, very reliable. As difficult as it is to stomach, I suppose that I was not that familiar with the DIY Records catalogue after all. In my defense, Deadlock's Fear will Continue looks unoriginal, its cover being a particularly grisly war picture with what appeared to be corpses of children burnt to a crisp, and the (over)use of the Discharge font with the band's name written vertically on the bottom left corner. It is so generic that it can almost be said to be exceptional in its derivativeness. But after all, Sonatas in D Major is about the d-beat genre so that derivativeness, intertextuality and overt referentiality are part and parcel of it. The only way to combine proper d-beat orthodoxy and creativity - or even, dare I say it, originality - lies in the acuteness in the choice of references. In other words, d-beat originality implies that the object and/or the extent of your worship is tastefully unusual or somehow unique. And in Deadlock's case, creativity can be located in their open, comprehensive, inspirational Disaster influence.

Recent years have seen the growth of a massive interest in Disaster. While they were originally a humble d-beat band from the North of England active in the early 90's, one that was strictly known by official d-beat maniacs and people who were actually there at the time, one that was sometimes mocked for their assertive unoriginality, they are now something of a cult band and considered as the ultimate "just like" d-beat band, which is a fair assessment of Disaster's prowess. As we have already
explored in The Chronicles of Dis, Disaster wore their desire to sound "just like Discharge" on their studded jacket and while their contemporary soulmates, like Hellkrusher or Excrement of War, used the Discharge influence to do something a bit different, Disaster aimed at sounding "just like" Why, a romantic, if redundant, quest that meaningfully echoes with our current obsession with the recreation of a glorified past and could explain the renewed interest in the band (that and La Vida es un Mus' reissue obviously). And in came Deadlock in 1994, three years after the release of War Cry, with the bonhomous objective to sound just like Disaster. This incredible, hardly conceivable endeavour meant that Deadlock were trying to sound just like Disaster who were themselves trying to sound just like Discharge. Does it mean that Deadlock sound just like Discharge? Not really. The band sounded like Disaster first and foremost so I suppose it may have been the idea of sounding "just like Discharge" that motivated Deadlock more than the actual fact of sounding "just like Discharge". This a major controversial issue in d-beat philosophy and one that has been biliously discussed on numerous occasions. I can assure you that words have been exchanged.

Fear will Continue is therefore an open tribute to Disaster and a testimony to the validity of the "just like" school of d-beat. The aggressive, distorted, hypnotic sound of the guitar is close, the songwriting has the same relentless simplicity (especially the riffs), the structures and arrangements (the pauses, the drum rolls, the solos, the singalong chorus...) are remarkably similar and the singer really tries his best to replicate the Disaster singer's mannerisms (in the flow, the prosody, the intonation, the unmelodiousness and even in the occasional bad timing) though it is impossible to sound as ferocious, but one can always try, that's the essence of d-beat. The Ep cannot be said to be a monster of heaviness (like Disfear for instance) but it has an anguished repetitiveness reinforced by the circularity of the riffs and the very rhythmic tuneless shouts of the singer. If you are into Disaster or British Discharge-loving hardcore, Deadlock's Fear will Continue will occasion much joy and euphoria for a couple of days. The Ep is very thorough in its Discharge-via-Disaster-love but can also prove to be easier to listen to for people who are not crazy about the genre since the vocals are not too rough or harsh (in case you're wondering about the record's social potential and standing) and the production is well balanced, it sounds aggressive and mean but does not bury you tersely under a wall of noise, rather its mostly medium-paced beat wears you down until you feel the unbearable sense of impending doom andreach a trance-like state. It is definitely my kind of D although the lyrics are prime examples of broken English poetry. When the Ep came out, the d-beat modus operandi had already set foot in Japan and the always prolific Disclose had several Ep's under their belt (they recorded Tragedy one month after Fear will Continue). Of course, Disclose now have a legendary status but at the time, it must have been rather fascinating to see two bands, both of whom were equally obsessed with Discharge and Discharge-referentiality, develop very differently in terms of sound and textures while still paying tribute to the same endless well of inspiration. Just imagine what a split between those two would have been. 

Fear will Continue was released on DIY Records (the label of Ryuji from Battle of Disarm) in 1994 and it was the label's fourth Ep (after the Disclose/Selfish split Ep and before the Meaningful Consolidation 2xEp). They would appear on another Ep for DIY Records the following year, this time as a split with Noise Reduction from Belgium, and on the mammoth 3xLp compilation Chaos of Destruction from 1997 compiled by Kawakami that also includes ace bands like Anti Authorize, LIFE, Reality Crisis and of course Disclose. I am clueless as to the musical activities of Deadlock's members after the demise of the band and will welcome relevant information on the subject.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 4): Dispense "Nothing but the Truth" Ep, 1993

"When will it stop? When will it stop?" yells the irate punk as the chorus of the eponymous song "When will it stop" opening Dispense's Nothing but the Truth 1993 Ep. This ferocious-sounding bit is quite possibly the record's most remarkable moment and whenever a gentle soul reminds me of Dispense - which unsurprisingly does not happen very often to tell you the truth - I can hear with clarity the phrase "When ill it stop? When will it stop?", always repeated twice, just like in the song, resounding in my head. The doc tells me it is one of the many symptoms of a medical condition commonly found in persons who have been exposed to high levels of D for an extended period of time. It is a bit like being exposed to radioactivity, but with d-beat instead. It is by and large not lethal - only two casualties have ever been reported - but after effects can include irritability, antisocial behaviours, questionable clothing choices and an aggravated tendency to play a discharge-y beat with your fingers on any surface that is plane enough. So you can basically live a long, if unfulfilling, life with it. Long exposures to d-beat at a very young age have also been rumoured to prolong virginity but studies have been inconclusive so it remains mere surmise. Still, I am grateful I got into Crass before Discharge.

What I also really enjoy about that "When will it stop? When will it stop?" chorus is that you can read it retroactively. Of course, the song is about Discharge wars, brutal fictional conflicts where innocent men, women and children (in that order, always) scream in agony on the battlefields of the atrocities of waarrgh. Unfortunately they are not that fictional and war is, of course, still horrendous. When you were a 90's Dis-band, it was dictated by law that at least 50% of all your songs had to be about waarrgh. In the rare cases of non-compliance that have been documented, bands were immediately deprived of the Dis prefix and shamed in fanzines, usually with accusations of selling out (which was pretty much the worse possible insult to spit out at a punk band). Those were of course the good old days when bands still had some integrity to show for themselves... But that's not really the point, the reason why I find the chorus particularly congenial is that, beside the condemnation of armed conflicts that slaughter and maim, you could also read it a comment on the Dis phenomenon. Of course, Dispense did not mean it that way but I cannot help thinking about the different d-beat trends that have spouted since the early 90's and, in this light, the only reasonable, sound answer to "When will it stop? When will it stop?" (always twice) is "Well, it ain't gonna". Whether you are into Dis bands or not is completely beside the point: there will always be Discharge imitators on a scale that is growing more and more global. And, as it causes me to contemplate on the D, that's exactly why I find the chorus so stimulating. Tragically, this answer is also relevant when applied to wars which is much less amusing.

As for Dispense, they were from Nyköping, Sweden, and must have formed around 1991 since their first demo - which I have lamentably never heard - was recorded in May, 1992. As far as I understand, Dispense was the members' first band and you could say that their rather short-lived career was not unlike Disfear's. The two bands were from the same town, had their first Ep on the same local label (No Records), shared a Dis prefix and were progressively tending toward a more heightened likeness to Discharge (especially for Disfear). I cannot be sure, but I bet that the 1992 Dispense demo is closer to traditional 80's Swedish hardcore than to total Discharge worship. The fact that the lyrics were originally written in Swedish points in that direction and, like Disfear, the shift to the English language also signified more sonic closeness to Discharge and one could even advance that the prevalence of English in 90's Discharge-loving punk bands was not just a characteristic feature of the first d-beat wave but a central component in the birth of the genre (Spanish d-beat would actually challenge this linguistic hegemony to great success). 

Dispense are often considered as an average Swedish band, which is unfair but also makes sense since there were a lot of bands going for a similar style (d-beat, crust, scandicore) at the time in Sweden and I guess we are all inclined to remember the cream of the crop, the top shelf stuff (Disfear, Meanwhile or Warcollapse) and discard (pun) the rest as "run-of-the-mill" or "middle-of-the-road", which does sound harsh, but then you have to admit that, even in retrospect, it looks like a d-beat epidemic was sweeping across the country, overrun by punx in dire need to play Discharge riffs. What a cracking time it must have been. Seriously. I suppose that the name "Dispense" did not exactly help either. It is not terrible or even embarrassing, I mean, twenty years after the fact, you can still look your betrothed in the eye and confess that you used to play in band called "Dispense" without too much fuss, and you could even say that it is objectively a better name than Dischange or Disfear and certainly nowhere near as bad as Dissober or Disfornicate (just try to admit this one out to your betrothed). It still is a pretty pedestrian 90's Dis moniker but, truth be told, recent years have shown (as if proofs were needed of modern punk rock's deliquescing creativity) that you can far worse than that. No names will be given. 

Classic D-words

Despite the Dis, Dispense did not exactly play d-beat like their neighbours Disfear on Brutal Sight of War or Dischange/Meanwhile on any given day. On Nothing but the Truth, they can be described as a punishing and heavy Swedish hardcore band, with a strong Discharge influence, inherent in the genre anyway (it feels almost redundant to point it out), but one that is not completely behind the steering wheel. I am reminded of a more robust version of Asocial, No Security or even Totalitär (in the raspy vocals especially). Like many Swedish hardcore/crust bands at the time, Dispense were produced by a bloke who specialized in recording extreme metal band so that the outcome sounds relentlessly punishing (are the drums almost too loud?). I think the songs are catchy enough in their conception for the genre, the musicianship is there, the sound is excellent, the riffs effective, the solos tasteful and there is no denying the raw, brusque power of the Ep. It sounds of course quite predictable but the distinct 90's textures and the delightfully dischargesque "When will it stop" remains an absolute hit in my book with prime singalong galore one the chorus. Clearly not a bad record in spite of a rather gruesome cover typical of the fashion of the day. My version of the Ep was released on No Records in 1993 (it was to be the third and last production of the label) but it was cojointly reissued in 1998 by Rødel and Finn Records just like the first Disfear Ep. Following Nothing but the Truth, Dispense did a mini cd for Really Fast Records entitled In the Cold Night, another fine record that saw the band at its d-beat-est with a more pronounced Discharge love. Dispense also had two songs included on the Really Fast Vol. 8 compilation Lp from 1993 (same session as Nothing but the Truth with one of them also on the Ep) alongside Randy and Refused (for real) and they also contributed three songs to the legendary Distortion to Hell '94 cd compilation, released on Distortion Records, where they rubbed shoulders with delicate acts such as Warcollapse, Asocial, Sauna, The Perukers, Driller Killer, 3-Way Cum or Bombraid. Those last three songs were the last recordings of Dispense. 

Is it the end of the story? Not really. Both Dispense's bass and guitar player would go on to form Victims (the former on vocals and the latter on the six stringed instrument) while the drummer would join Skitsystem. Not bad, right?   

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 3): Realities of War "S/t" Ep, 2013

It's monday morning and although I am not exactly straight and alert, I still have time on my hands before listening to Cock Sparrer on my way to work (because that's what real workers do, right?). I suppose normies would use that precious extra time to do some ironing and catch up on a tedious Netflix series so that they will have something to talk about with their colleagues and feel like their superficial critiques of mainstream American programs is actually akin to engaging in voicing a dissenting opinion. When you hear people claiming that they'd rather spend their night watching Netflix rather than go to a gig and support da scene, that's when you know there is something very wrong indeed with people and with the scene (let's be honest). Are Netflix and Instagram killing punk-rock? You've got four hours. As for me, I shall not be corrupted by this unrelenting propaganda machine and will rather spend my monday morning on something more intellectually rewarding and healthy, like write about an extraordinarily raw recoding of Japanese noizy d-beat from the early 90's. That will be my symbolic act of resistance to the kkkapitalist system and maybe I will also vacuum the flat if I'm done early.

Today's Sonatas in D Major will be Realities of War's self-titled Ep, first released in 2013 but actually recorded 21 years before that, in 1992. As the band bio, written by the guitar player tells us, RoW was never an actual band and this recording was only done for fun by two bored but devoted teenagers who had access to a studio at their school but did not really bother to share the result. I know it already sounds very much like the beginning of a punk fairytale but then when the guitarist adds, for the sake of realism, that "one day of 1992 after listening to DISASTER and SORE THROAT, we decided to go to the studio to try something like that", the story almost falls into unabated teary-eyed romanticism and the most idealistic among us are praying for this magic story to go on. In a perfect alternative world, some other punk (with DISCHARGE and DOOM patches!) that the drummer vaguely knew from his hometown would give the recording a listen, think it's amazing and offer to play the bass (because as you have guessed it, it was just a drum and guitar hardcore project). This three-piece would practice a lot and record a proper demo tape in 1993 and their revolutionary d-beat noize will make them noticed and they'll get to play at the infamous Final Noise Attack gigs in Osaka and share the stage with bands like Gloom and Crusade. At that time they will start to form a strong friendship with another Japanese band, from Kochi city, who was also trying to invent a distorted version of Discharge and further systematize a formula and an artistic view: Disclose. RoW and Disclose would often share the stage and this partnership would materialize through an incredible split Lp entitled Devastation Inferno recorded in 1994 and released on MCR, the distribution of which would make both bands known throughout the world and revered to this very day. That would have been the perfect version of the story. In reality, RoW never played outside of the studio and this project remained a one-off thing, stuck at the stage of the first practice forever. Sob sob.

Would we have heard of RoW if the guitar player in question was not Jacky from Framtid and Crust War? Probably not. After all, the recording was never released, not even as a demo, and therefore very few people would have even been aware of RoW at the time (especially since Jacky was also then involved in a real band, Asphyxia, whose demo would too be reissued in the 00's). Except that Jacky found the recording by chance years after that and sent it to Kawakami (from Disclose you dimwit) "just for fun". It made sense that he liked the recording, since after all it was made up of raw, distorted and primitive d-beat punk songs, not dissimilar to what Kawakami was trying to do exactly at the same time, great minds thinking alike and all that. Then the recording was sent to John from No Fucker, who thought of releasing it but eventually did not, and it finally saw the light of day on a proper Ep in 2013 thanks to Not Very Nice Records, a US label responsible for other noizy stuff from the likes of Chaos Destroy, Scum or Rotozaza. 

I will not beat around the bush: in order to appreciate this Ep, you already have to be really into raw d-beat. If a friend wants to get to know d-beat music better, asks you for help and you end up playing RoW, then you can be sure that he or she will never get into it. If that was your initial intention, well done mate, that person will probably never ask you for musical recommendations ever, but if you wanted to make a convert, then you are just a bad punk. Let's face it, this is a very rough recording, even if in a good way. Some badgers' arses are softer than that. But then, it was basically a recording of a first rehearsal done by two teenage punks, with no bass guitar, so all in all, the result is really not that bad. The sound quality aside, it is pretty fascinating to hear the obsession for Discharge and Discharge-loving hardcore that made the basis for RoW and in that light, they were right on time for the real start of the 90's d-beat explosion and their referring to Disaster as an influence is significant as it points to a second degree Discharge-loving influence and not just Discharge which means that they thrived for a "just like Discharge" sound while emulating prior talented copyists in the process, meaning that RoW was as much about the love for Dis(charge) than about Discharge in flesh and boooones (do you copy?). Because of obvious technical limitations, it is difficult to say if the rawness of the end product was intentional and how much would they have polished the sound if given the chance. Similarly, I wonder if the primitiveness of the songwriting and the directness of the riffs (for instance) were totally conditioned by the time limit or if they denoted a will to play stripped down, pure, quintessential Discharge music. I suppose the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  

I personally do not mind the raw rehearsal sound (after all I have raved about Gutrot and even Eat Shit on Terminal Sound Nuisance) and in addition to early Discharge and Disaster, I am reminded of genuinely raw early discharge-y bands like Subversion, Violent Uprising or even Diatribe, of demo era Doom instead of Sore Throat (the opening of "Doombastards" leaves little room for doubt), and of Disclose of course, especially in the vocal tone, but the similarity is unintentional, if not anachronistic. As I said, the guitar riffs are very simple, direct and aggressive and the d-beat is very pure and, dare I say it, innocent. I just love how the singer introduces the band at the start and then at the end says "Thank you, good night" as if it were a proper gig. It just sounds adorable especially when you put in perspective with the barrage of raw noise that just hit you. RoW sound almost refreshing for their genuine and youthful version of the raw and distorted d-beat, they sound like the lost paradise, essentially prelapsarian, unspoilt by the massive coming trend, symbolical of a time when the name "Realities of War" referred also to Discharge and not just to the whole d-beat phenomenon. It does sound a bit corny to our jaded ears nowadays but that's because we have become cynical bastards.

This is for the true lovers of the D. Seven songs, five of which are untitled. This noize kills posers and can therefore be used as a repellent. 


Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 2): The Perukers "GBG 1992" Ep, 1993

First, let's talk a bit about etiquette. 

In a genre that relies so much on references and on dischargian knowledge to be really effective - if not enjoyable at all - it makes sense that the practice of covering either Discharge or a band influenced by Discharge is a critical one. And of course, doing it right is a complex task that has to be taken seriously. Picking too obvious a song to cover (like "Hear nothing see nothing say nothing" or "Why" or "Warmachine" or "Police bastard" for instance) does not come recommended. Older bands have already done it and better. The only situation where I can see it working would be if you are not a d-beat band and the choice of covering a Discharge song is a little unexpected. In this case, it does not really matter what song you chose. So unless you are under these specific circumstances, I would not advise picking a dis anthem that is too famous. Indeed, choosing a song that is deemed a minor classic by the-cool-kids-who-know-their-shit (you know the ones, they are usually standing at the back, arms crossed, taking mental notes about the band and examining if it plays the right kind of punk music, and they are usually not actual kids) will make you and your band look well-read and aware of the protocol and you should be able to charge a bit more for your demo (if it is on tape, a cdr will be heavily frowned upon). However, do not select too obscure a song. Covering a song that no one knows makes people feel uncomfortable and insecure about their self worth and punk knowledge and will make you look pretentious, but this time not in a good way (and it will probably indicate that you first heard it on youtube, which is unacceptable). Basically, go for Disarm instead of Total Armsvett. Another, more subtle and clever way, to pay tribute to the good d-stuff is to re-use riffs or arrangements or lyrics or visuals from classic discharge-y hardcore bands in order to notify the cool kids that you are one of them without having to literally cover a song. Again, be careful, if the nods are too easily perceived, it can work against you and make you look like you are trying too hard to look cool (which is the exact opposite of good taste). Unless the plainness is ironic and self-conscious which makes the calculated heavy nods primarily about the process of referentiality and highlight your awareness of the intertextual game. It's an endlessly tough business.

Of course, you can also choose to play it like The Perukers, not give a single fuck and record three obvious covers of Discharge, Shitlickers and The Varukers in three hours. It is probably much funnier as well.

Were The Perukers an actual band? Well, it really depends on your definition of what a punk is or should be. Since they only played one live gig ever and recorded only twice in eight years, I think we can safely say that The Perukers were more akin to an entertaining, enjoyable side project for all the members involved (who were all part of more serious and committed bands), basically something to do when they had time to kill in the studio and were craving to play simple and brutal hardcore punk. I am not completely sure as to who did what exactly in the band but it was made up of Chris, Rigo and Robert from Driller Killer - the latter playing in Anti-Cimex at the time as well - and John from Black Uniforms (apparently Cliff was also involved but his role is a bit unclear as far as this Ep is concerned). With such a lineage, one is entitled to expect beefy, hard-hitting and heavy hardcore music from experienced Swedes and of course one is not disappointed.

The name kinda sucks I suppose. Captain Obvious informed me that it is a massive nod toward The Varukers so let's stick with that. I guess you could say that the name "varukers" kinda sucks too. After all, it is a spelling alteration of "verrucas" and while I am sure it looked like a very appealing idea to their teenage selves, at the end of the day it still refers to plantar warts, we just don't think about it because The Varukers are a classic band. So The Perukers means, in Swedish, "the wigs". Pretty silly I guess, but then it might have been an inside joke between them because judging from band pictures of Driller Killer or Black Uniforms they all had really great hair at the time (in a cheesy metal way) so perhaps people wondered if they were wearing wigs or something. I know I am wondering and it was 30 years ago. But anyway, as mentioned there are three covers on GBG 1992 from The Varukers ("Protest and survive", which was the original spelling of the song on the self-titled 1981 Ep), Discharge ("Protest & survive") and Shitlickers ("Spräckta snuttskallar"). There are many enormous D-Easter eggs on the Ep, from the title referring to Shitlickers' GBG 1982, to the "thanks to no fucker!" on the backcover (if you don't know where that comes from, you must leave your Card Membership on my desk tomorrow by 9:00 am, sorry not sorry), the cover itself depicting two punx wearing studded jackets looking at a nuclear explosion that is the same as that of Mob 47's "Nuclear attack" design, the use of the Varukers font or the picture of a Shitlickers shirt on the label of the side B. The thing is ripe with references, some are grotesquely clear, others a little more subtle, but in the end you can see that the band had a lot of fun doing that and it also shows in the music. Of course it sounds a lot like early Driller Killer being drunk in the studio and still effortlessly nailing four songs before heading back to the pub. The production is quite clear for the genre (it was recorded at the metal-oriented Fredman Studio), the guitar sounds great and thrashes its way through these classic hardcore anthems, everything is highly energetic and even the sloppier parts in the vocals do not diminish the mean, aggressive intensity that The Perukers managed to unleash (the chorus on "Spräckta snuttskallar" is insanely powerful). Being a big fan of early Driller Killer's scandi hardcore style and considering the first two albums Brutalize and Total Fucking Hate as classic 90's hardcore records, of course I have fun listening to GBG 1992, and that's probably what The Perukers intended to produce, a nasty, punk as fuck tribute to some early greats with a metal punk touch. Even their own composition, "Burn out", sounds like a cover of an 80's hardcore band. 

The fact that this Ep was released on Distortion Records (it was the label's second piece of wax and the sleeve design was done by none other than the label's owner) also motivated its inclusion in the Sonatas in D Major series as the label played a major role in the 90's in the development of Discharge-loving Swedish hardcore and crust. I am too young to have known the glory years of Distortion but I was told about its significance many times by a couple of old-timers and even the briefest look at the discography (Anti-Cimex, Disfear, Wolfpack, Driller Killer, Skitsystem, the reissues of Shitlickers, Mob 47 and Moderat Likvidation, Disfornicate... ok maybe not them) can show how important it has been for a whole generation and a series about d-beat without a record from the Distortion catalogue would have been utterly preposterous (I received death threats for much less). The legend has it that Mats, founder of Distortion records, glued Why to his turntable when it came out because he loved the record so much. I have no idea if this is a true story but it is definitely a very romantic one (though it's kinda impractical) and in the end D-beat is a very romantic subgenre. The Perukers released a second Ep on Distortion in 2001 entitled Disploited with covers from GBH, Doom and The Exploited. Not quite as much fun to get into to be fair but you know what they say about sequels.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Sonatas in D Major (part 1): Disfear "S/t" Ep, 1998

More than three years ago, in the spring of 2016, I fiercely battled, on this very arena, a genre I had not yet dared to really approach: d-beat. Armed with my wits and a lot of time on my hands (I was fully unemployed then and writing at length about being Discharge by proxy sounded like the best idea I ever had), I fought long and hard in order to understand and identify this inspiring passion, this fearless and devouring Discharge love that have led countless bands to proudly pay tribute to the Stoke-on-Trent instrumentalists. And, as we saw then, there are different ways to express praises to the Discharge sound, ranging from attempts at sounding just like Discharge, to embracing the whole Discharge-inspired universe as valid and self-sufficient materials (a bit like Marvel or DC), the singular Discharge cover tradition that punks still celebrate today, working on sound textures,  effects, intertextuality, referentiality and, metatextually, on reflecting on the Dis phenomenon itself. The Chronicles of Dis - that was the series' name - were about all that. The selection illustrated different aspects of Discharge love and I tried to highlight its historical roots and put forward significant practices of the mighty D that were relevant. Following this formidably demanding enterprise, I became unable to stop my fingers from playing a galloping d-beat on any wooden surface that happened to be in their vicinity. It proved to be quite awkward, especially at funerals.

Despite almost overdosing on Discharge then, I grew to feel that the work was somehow incomplete and I caught myself thinking about records that could or even should have been included. In the end, I had to face the facts: I had some unfinished business with d-beat. The time has now come for the second round with a brand new series, entitled Sonatas in D Major, which will be about Discharge love and Dis-inspired records - yet again - with twelve meaningful records that I will tackle chronologically according to the dates of recording (not necessarily the same as the release dates). I am aware that sequels usually suck but then there are always movies like Batman Returns or Gremlins 2 to give me hope. Even Jaws 2 is not that bad, right?

And let's start with an absolute classic d-beat band: Disfear. Now, I guess everyone knows about Disfear and if you ask a passerby to name only one d-beat band, he or she is likely to reply either Disclose or Disfear, choices which could be argued to stand for the two major trends in d-beat, the distortion-loving raw Dis or the heavy, beefy, rocking Dis. I guess you could see them as two different d-beat schools essentially expressing a similar fascination for Discharge, though probably not for the same facets of the band. But after all, our likings are heavily conditioned by circumstances and by what we used to like, what we are used to like and what we have grown to expect to like, so that listening to Why for the first time is not the same experience to an Entombed, an Exploited or a Motörhead fan. Since their two albums on Relapse, Disfear have become quite well-known and celebrated in the punk/metal world, but of course the original old-fashioned hardcore die-hards will always favour "their early stuff" or even, if you are an elite-level hardcore expert, "their demo recordings". But let's take a listen to Disfear's first steps since it is actually the topic of the day.

The band actually started in Nyköping, Sverige, as Anti-Bofors in 1989. If you're wondering the word Bofors refers to a Swedish owned arms manufacturer and is now widely associated with the 40 mm anti-aircraft gun used during WWII - on both sides of the conflict. Bofors were also involved in a major corruption scandal with the government of India in the 80's which probably led a bunch of scruffy teenage Swedish punks to go for the name Anti-Bofors. The band, then as a three-piece with bass player Henke also handling the vocals, recorded one eponymous Ep in 1991 for No Records. This Ep has never been reissued on vinyl and is now highly sought-after but I suppose it is only a matter of time. After seeing the Svart Parad double lp reissue, everything is possible. Anti-Bofors, although clearly Discharge-influenced like all the Swedish hardcore bands of the time, cannot be said to be a d-beat band. Instead they were certainly trying to emulate the raw and gruff Scando hardcore sound of bands like Bombanfall, Disarm or indeed Svart Parad with amazingly hoarse vocals. A genuinely classic Ep that very much sounded like an 80's hardcore record, contrary to the first offering under the name of Disfear that marked the band's entry into the 90's sound-wise.

But first let's ask ourselves a very existential question: why did they change their name to Disfear? A reasonable hypothesis would be that the prefix "Dis" indicated more evidently the band's shift toward a more Discharge-inspired sound and songwriting and I suppose that it does make sense. I am much more perplexed about the choice of the substantive "fear". Obviously "disfear" is not a word so what does it mean? I suppose it could be the contraction of "this fear" but I personally think that it refers to the aestheticization of a particular fear (of the war, of state oppression, all the usual theme of the Discharge literature) in the form of the classic Discharge formula, as if it were the actual sound of that fear. Or maybe they looked at Dischange and thought that they too could get away with a silly Dis-name. I suppose it is somewhere in the middle.

The band had a new vocalist, Jeppe, on their self-titled Ep that originally appeared in 1992, on No Records once again (the label released a third Ep, Dispense's Nothing but the Truth before folding up) but the instrumental team is similar. Musically, only one year after the Anti-Bofors Ep, the band is much tighter and more powerful. The improvement in terms of sound was massive but then the Ep was recorded at Sunlight Studio by Tomas Skogsberg who worked on production with all the Swedish death-metal bands of the period (Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, Grave... just name any one of them, Tomas was in on it), a collaboration that also accounted for the darker, meaner vibe running though the songs. The primitive hardcore gruffness was all but gone as the band progressed and their anger became more focused and sharper, though they retained a raw hardcore vibe and were not yet quite the relentless d-beat machine they would eventually become. I really enjoy this first Disfear offering because it perfectly epitomized the transition between brutal, hard-hitting Swedish hardcore and 90's d-beat orthodoxy. You can hear that the band navigated between hardcore bands like Totalitär or No Security and full on Discharge-worship. Perhaps this middle ground was best embodied by the flow of the vocals in Swedish, sometimes close to the fast-paced, raspy, Totalitär-like school, sometimes almost similar to Cal's peculiar intonation (although the tone of Jeppe's voice on this one is higher-pitched and closer to the classic Swedish hardcore way). The five songs sound very potent, aggressive and energetic with a an urgent and tense raw sound, the vocals sound fucking pissed, the riffs are great in a sort of classic and tasteful way. In their early years, Disfear's music really sounded like an unstoppable and cruel warmachine approaching and I think it is probably best served on repeat mode in order to enjoy the repetition of repetitiveness. Know what I mean? The visuals on this Ep are stark, severe and appropriately macabre and the lyrics are in Swedish and deal with religion and war (interestingly, the shift to English lyrics on subsequent records also corresponded with the growing Discharge influence on the songwriting and singing style). This eponymous Ep paved the way for the crucial d-beat masterpieces, the mammoth Discharge-loving Ep A Brutal Sight of War, from 1993 (my favourite Disfear record and easily one of the best d-beat records ever recorded), and the absolutely relentless Soul Scars album from 1995, two records that pretty much defined what has come to be associated with Swedish d-beat, with a heavy production, crushing riffs and a vocal work that saw Jeppe really find his hoarse but distinctive style.

My copy of the Disfear is not the original from 1992 but a 1998 repress co-released by German label Rødel Records based in Berlin and responsible for a lot of grindcore/crust/fastcore records (Rot, Yacopsae, MVD or Autoritär to name a few) and Finn Records, a Swedish label specialized in quality Discore music that put out many Totalitär records, but also stuff from G-Anx, Uncurbed or the Excrement of War/Dischange split Ep (small world). And if you are into early Disfear - and do keep in mind that you should be in order to be for real - their eponymous 1992 Ep and A Brutal Sight of War 1993 Ep were finally reissued on vinyl last year by La Familia Records, Havoc Records and Disfear Records (it had been previously reissued by Feral Ward in 2004 so you know it is definitely classic stuff). You know what to do.        

Austere indeed


Friday, 9 August 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 10): Surrender "S/t" Ep, 2007

This is the last part of my pointless but rather fun series about those records I completely forgot I owned and I hope you enjoyed it. Of course, by nature, it was a very dispersed endeavour as my memory works in mysterious ways and I cannot really see a common artistic thread between all these Ep's. I guess my forgetting had more to with how or when I came to acquire them rather than with their merit and relevance or what they sounded like. Let me tell you that I own much worse records that I will neither be able to forget nor get rid of. How unfortunate. It is strange that I could not recall owning this Surrender Ep because I love the band. I distinctly remembered getting a subsequent one, There is no War from 2009, definitely enjoying the tunes but still thinking that it was a bit of a short - 6 minutes and 20 seconds to be accurate - and expensive one - I think I bought it for a fiver and there is no insert. I was not really disappointed or upset but I noticed the discrepancy and still remember I did. Now, ten years later, it is deemed perfectly normal to pay 6€ for 6 minutes worth of hardcore punk music, but then it hurt a little. I suppose we were still in the early stages of the technological and cultural transitional stage and although it was not that long ago, it does feel like a completely different era. But my hairline has not receded that much and in the end that's all that matters. 

But back to Surrender. Since I saw them play in Paris in May, 2009, I suppose I must have bought their first S/t Ep on that occasion. I don't think I had heard them before and the gig itself was not particularly packed. They were billed as an anarchopunk band from Berkeley but it did not necessarily imply that they were going to go for a strong 80's anarcho vibe, but just that they had radical political lyrics and were evolving in the anarchopunk spheres. For all I knew, they could have been a crust punk or a folk punk band and the anarchopunk tag on the handout would have still made sense. At the time there were very few bands openly going for the old-school Crass-ish anarcho sound anyway so chances that Surrender were going to sound like something out of the Mortarhate or Bluurg back catalogue were thin indeed. Basically, I was very unsuspecting and, in retrospect, gladly so, since Surrender surprised me with their brilliantly written, passionate peacepunk music (that is to say the Californian take on the original UK anarchopunk sound). They sounded like no other current band at the time and I loved the agitprop theatrics of the performance with the singer being literally blindfolded, the bass player wearing a mask over his mouth, the ace-looking peacepunk backdrop and all the spoken parts in the songs. It felt both fresh and referential at the time.     

Although there was certainly a renewed interest in the British anarchopunk scene from the 80's thanks to Overground's "anti compilations", to Ian Glasper's tremendous work The Day the Country Died, published in 2006, and to Lance Hahn's fascinating interviews of classic anarcho bands in MRR (at the same period), few historical anarchopunk bands had reformed yet and there was virtually no contemporary punk band doing the classic anarcho thing. I am not sure why that is. Perhaps punx were not as obsessed with nostalgia and prone to unabated 80's referentiality in the 00's (Discharge worship, or D-beat, having been already turned into an actual legitimate genre in the 90's was the obvious exception along with the Japanese punk scene, because, well, you know, Japan) or perhaps youtube had not yet opened the gates to even the most obscure hardcore bands. A band like Germ Attak, with its overt and erudite UK82 worship, was still very much a conceptual exception. This is not to say that vintage Crass-like acts were not listened to or had no influence on contemporary bands, but more often than not, political bands at the time were more likely to play neocrust - though by 2009 the trend was on its last feet - or progressive hardcore than Zounds-inspired poppy anarchopunk. To be fair, Contravene did have songs with Chumba-like moments, which is what made them quite original, but it was one influence among others and you did have some English bands with a strong Conflict vibe (like Active Slaughter for instance, or the Anthrax-ish Bug Central) but it was fairly circumscribed. Surrender, on the other hand, were all-out Chumbawamba converts and invited the little-known and rather confidential glorious Californian 80's peacepunk sound to the table.

Surrender formed in 2005 and were from Berkeley, which, when you listen to their music, feels almost pleonastic. The band had Paul Curran, formerly from Crimpshrine, on the bass which probably accounted for the decent turnout at the Paris gig. I never could get into Crimpshrine so I don't know much about them but I know a lot of people love them and the "ex-Crimpshrine" tag was helpful for Surrender I suppose. By now you have already guessed what Surrender were all about musically but let me be more accurate. I think the biggest inspirations would be Chumba and A State of Mind, at the time when the two bands shared a split Ep (reviewed on Terminal Sound Nuisance, small world) in 1986 and sounded quite alike. The songs are melodic, poppy even and deceptively upbeat, as if the tunes could barely conceal the political anger and outrage. The presence of several singers, male and female, certainly confers the same polyphonic quality that you can find in Chumba or, indeed, Crass. Rhythmically the band is versatile but always keeping this martial, tribal vibe reminiscent of mid-paced UK anarchopunk, while the bass is upfront, offering additional catchiness in the guise of brilliant lines with sometimes subtle hooks, and the guitar does not hesitate to change tones and techniques when the song needs to be enhanced. On the whole the songwriting is quite innovative and goes beyond the classic binary structure, like Chumba or Crass did, keeping a meaningful narrative quality with unexpected changes of moods and paces. The tunes are strong, sounding both sad and uplifiting, and never predictable. As for the lyrics, they are carefully written political diatribe about personal and collective resistance, conflicting feelings about the relevance of politics (and punk as a vessel for change I would assume), the need to do something about it all and the sense that it might all be a big con and we may be tricked into doing what we do, like predictably harmless rebels. This is quality anarcho music that brings to mind the classic Californian peacepunk bands such as A State of Mind, Trial (though not as postpunk), Sleeping Dogs (though not as avantgarde) or Resist and Exist, as well as the British originators like Chumba (obviously), Crass, Omega Tribe or Alternative.

After this self-released Ep, Surrender recorded the 2008 split Ep with Acts of Sedition, then the ugly-looking There is no War Ep for La Vida Es un Mus in 2009 - back when the label was much smaller - which is also excellent, a full Lp entitled Paper Thrones the same year for Thrillhouse Records and, finally, a split Ep with Finland's 1981 in 2011 for Stonehenge Records. I know some people dislike the album and I have to admit that I did not get into it as easily as I did for the Ep's, but I feel it is a very strong, more diverse work which makes sense given the demanding songwriting that the genre requires for a longer format (let's face it, even though not everyone is able to pull out a Pictures of Starving Children, you do have to pull out some serious and inspired songwriting skills if you want to make a decent chumba-esque Lp). I guess Surrender must have stopped shortly after the split with 1981. Dan on the guitar went on to play in No Sir I Won't (which kept to the same proper peacepunk path as Surrender) and later on in Brain Killer, drummer Heather joined Composite and Paul did Onion Flavored Rings. It is difficult to assess Surrender's legacy but to some extent, they prefigured the growing influence of old-school anarchopunk on the 2010's hardcore punk scene, which mainly materialized in the so-called postpunk revival. Many American postpunk bands especially (like Moral Hex or Funeral Parade for example) openly referred to the UK anarchopunk of yore, which was really nice at first, but then, as is often the case with trends, far too many bands started to play the exact same thing while also claiming the anarcho heritage. At some point, whenever you read that a band was influenced by old-school anarchopunk, it basically meant that it was some kind of dark postpunk band wearing The Mob or Peni shirts. But anyway, I digress. Bands like the mysterious Ok? quickly followed Surrender and the aforementioned 1981 have made a reputation for themselves and although they are a bit too close to happy-sounding indie rock at times, I still cannot think of a better Chumba-inspired band in today's punk scene. There were and are others now obviously, but I would argue that back when Surrender started, they were pretty much the only referential old-school peacepunk band around. Yet they never sounded gimmicky or like a parody of who they were influenced by (it sometimes happens) as you can tell by the relevance of their lyrics and the unpretentiousness of their records and of their live presence. A really solid punk band that I wish was still around.    


Thursday, 1 August 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 9): Socialcrime "Protest noise" Ep, 1998 (?)

I guess the more records you own, the more you tend to forget about them. That's only logical after all. No one can relate deeply to thousands of records and more often than not, I play a new acquisition once before storing in the correct alphabetical section (which is something I just love since it makes me feel like I am doing crucial archiving work). The internet has caused the punk market - for lack of a better, more comforting term that would not make me feel like a sheepish consumer of D-beat - to be constantly flooded with new bands you have to love (because they are much better than the previous ones, but still not as good as the next), new records you just need to get (and quick, copies are going fast!), new tours you should attend, new trends you have to follow if you want to keep up, so that, I feel, it has become increasingly difficult to relate on a deeper level to new punk music. I guess Zounds predicted it, in some way almost 40 years ago. Like everything in 2019, punk has become much faster, the norm being 18 months old bands with only one demo tape under their belt that are touring - and instagramming - on other continents. 

If I see millennial bashing as a sure sign of misplaced bitterness - and of getting older, but in a sad way - sometimes I do sincerely wonder how today's teens relate to punk bands, since the insane, unlimited abundance of readily available music necessarily affects how you consider a band. Do they carelessly skip from Mob 47, to GISM, Crass, Eskorbuto or Kaaos in mere minutes, without batting an eyelid, since after all it is all on youtube, and then casually choose what they prefer? I have met teenage punks who had a tremendous knowledge of obscure 80's hardcore bands, the kind of bands that only did one great tape and that nerdy collectors used to whisper about in dark corners at gigs, usually Japanese bands that I was completely unaware of when I was their age. I mean, in a way it is impressive but also a little scary. I remember perfectly the very first Japanese band I discovered, it was Hi-Standard with the Growing up album (on cd obviously) that I got on a trip in Germany, aged 14, because it was on Fat Wreck Chords and I liked NoFX. So you can imagine that bands like Sodom, State Children or Tranquilizer were very far off the picture. A few years after that, when I was getting into "real punk" - which translated into me compulsively counting mohicans, studs and beers on the record covers to assess the level of punkness - I got Dick Spikies and Discocks, two Japanese oi streetpunk bands that were quite good at what they did I suppose (funnily enough, I am pretty sure they would be more fashionable nowadays since everyone seems to be into oi-ish UK82 punk). Finally, when I discovered the politics of anarchopunk and how good-looking I was with patches on my jacket, Battle of Disarm was the first Japanese crusty band I got into along with another, much lesser known act called Socialcrime. 

If you think about it, in the context, it makes perfect sense that I grabbed a copy of a Socialcrime record since they were released on Tribal War Asia, a division of Tribal War Records, a label run by Neil from Nausea/Final Warning and therefore one that I could trust with my life and my wallet. Tribal War Asia releases were quite easy to find and fairly cheap and they looked crusty as fuck so getting Socialcrime's Statement of rage 2001 album (it is actually a cd in a Lp gatefold cover) was a safe bet and made sense in my early 00's context. Oddly, the band is never really discussed and rarely mentioned, when at all. Perhaps they were active at a time when there was too much quality bands doing a similar genre in Japan, and they went largely unnoticed. While I don't think Socialcrime were extraordinary, especially in the midst of the mid 90's/early 00's Japanese hardcore punk scene, this Ep still makes for a good listen if you are into raw hardcore punk. I do not remember when or where I got hold of a copy of Protest noise but it must have been during a record shopping spree in Osaka last year (as I told you before, I went completely berserk because of the plethora of ace records and had to be carried out of the store by the security guard). In fact, I am pretty sure that I was unaware that there even was a Socialcrime Ep, so it was a bit of a surprise and it was a cheap second-hand record so the investment was minimal and I didn't think about it twice. 

I don't know exactly when Protest noise was recorded and released. Judging from the production and the overall sound quality, it certainly predates Statement of rage, so I would say 1998 (correct me if I am wrong). Socialcrime were a three-piece from Tokyo and discogs tells me the band members did not play in other bands before or after, apart from drummer Toumiya who went on to play in The Charge. Their 1999 tape released on Malaysian label Broken Noise Records seems to compile songs taken from different recordings and since there is a live version of "Okinawa" from 1996, I suppose the band must have formed during the mid-90's. Apparently, they were close to Battle of Disarm and DIY Records since they appear on the short thank list provided on the Ep and they contributed to three compilations released on Thrash Ahoy (along with bands like BoD, Argue Damnation, Power of Idea, Fuck on the Beach or GJPB) so there could be a connection there as well, but that's about all I can guess with my magnifying glass. I remember being really into their album back in the day but then it also had a lot to do with the fact that I had much fewer records and the idea of a Japanese crusty hardcore band was still exciting and fresh (that feeling unfortunately went away a long time ago as I realized how bloody massive the Japanese scene was...). But, almost 20 years later, have Socialcrime aged well or was my listening experience distorted by youthful punk excitement? 

The Protest noise Ep is not a bad record and while I don't think I could listen to an album worth of songs with that particular production, it works perfectly on an Ep format. What strikes me is how genuinely raw it sounds. Of course, many Japanese hardcore bands crave for a raw distorted sound but in general they intentionally work on the textures to achieve it, through effects, pedals, production and other tricks, so that the rawness and crudity are more akin to well-crafted and elaborated artistic choices rather than the results of material necessities. Protest noise's rough hardcore sound could be by choice but it sounds so much like it was recoded live in their practice space (there is only one layer of guitar and the bass is too high) that artistic intentionality is very unlikely. Besides Statement of rage is a well produced powerful offering so it would not make much sense to go for a rough production on purpose on the previous record. But anyway, the Ep sounds so direct, spontaneous and just really raw that I am reminded of some Brazilian crusty hardcore bands, not so much for the songwriting but for the atmosphere. Socialcrime are not as crusty as I remembered and would probably be best qualified as raw stripped-down hardcore thrash, somewhere between Battle of Disarm, Varukers, Private Jesus Detector, Crocodileskink with a 90's anarchopunk flavour and some Burning Spirit hardcore. The pace is of the fast and relentless galloping d-beat variety with the drums being loud in the mix, the bass is very present too but the sound is probably too high-pitched and lacks groovy heaviness (but then given the overall raw production, it might have been for the best), the guitar riffs are actually good and quite catchy although the guitar is a bit buried and the vocals are shouted in Japanese and sound deliciously gruff and pissed.

The fact that the band decided to have lyrics in Japanese is definitely a plus as it confers additional impact to the very clear vocal delivery and you can hear - although you don't understand what he's on about - that they are very angry indeed. I would argue that this linguistic choice can be explained by the political motivation of the band which are very clear in the lyrics' translations and the explanatory texts. Protest noise is about Japan's brutal colonial past as much as it is about its neocolonial present. The major difference between both periods lies in the means to achieve domination, through military occupation before as opposed to economic invasion now. Socialcrime also have a song, "Okinawa", about the US military bases located there and how the local population are struggling under this rule, with local women being regularly assaulted and abused by American soldiers. "System Japan", my favourite of the three songs, is about the traditional sense of sacrifice in Japan and how it is used by the ruling class to have more money and more power. The translations are not perfect but you can tell that the lyrics are honest and reflect political realities in Japan which makes for a nice change. Too often bands are happy to just sing about "freedom", "truth" or "war" completely out of context but in this case Socialcrime's protest songs are clearly rooted in specific conditions which gives this humble political record of raw hardcore thrash a distinct anarchopunk coloration and makes it quite lovable.

Protest noise was released on Tribal War Asia (the sublabel run by bloke form Crocodilesking) and One Coin Record, a label responsible for the Thrash Ahoi compilations as well as records from Battle of Disarm, Screen Out or Cluster Bomb Unit. The Ep was distributed by Active Distribution in Europe (like most Tribal War materials) and Noise Arrived Music (NAM on the backcover) but I could not find anything about it so I am clueless as to what it actually is. Socialcrime then recorded a full album, also on Tribal War Asia, with a much clearer sound production, courtesy of Shoji Matsugane who also worked for Fuck On the Beach, which gave Statement of rage a lot more hardcore power and focus. There are a couple of fillers on the album but it is pretty raging nonetheless and with a sharp and angry political message. A self-titled tape is also included on the discogs page but there is no date. I guess it is a demo from the same years as the album since the four songs are also on Statement of rage.

If you want some political hardcore that is genuinely raw and angry for this summer, look no further.  


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 8): PUS "The real scapeghost" Ep, 1992

It could be argued that life in our so-called modern societies are being increasingly filled with petty, meaningless trivia through the overarching presence of the internet. It could also be argued that our growingly shorter attention span is a a result of this abundance of irrelevant details and that our greed for novelties is fueled by our own fear to be outdated and cast aside. Being irrelevant or even being socially sanctioned as such has become far worse than being dead. 

Still, trivia remains the easiest way to break the ice in many social situations, especially potentially awkward ones, like punk gigs for instance. Sometimes, all your mates are here so you don't need to come up with clever things to say during conversations that will make you look suave and sophisticated (aka SAS). Your friends are already familiar with your natural awesomeness. But there are other times when you don't really know anyone at gigs and you need to make friends, and for that you need clever-sounding introductory sentences and a good piece of punk trivia is ideal. This takes me to Terminal Sound Nuisance since this very blog has been voted the best place on the internet to find proper intel and anecdotes about cool punk bands that are obscure enough to make you look knowledgeable (but not too obscure, otherwise you are going to sound all nerdy and creepy and scare people away). Who knew these humble rants of mine would bring people together in friendship and unity! And since we're at it, here is a fun piece of punk trivia for your future new best friend: did you know that PUS stood for Punx Underpants Smell, a reference to the Pax compilation Lp Punk Dead - Nah Mate, the Smell is jus Summink in yer Underpants innit? Amazing, right? I mean it makes the name PUS - already a top punk moniker - even better. If knowing that doesn't get you at least a date, I don't what will.

I suppose that, in spite of their punker than punk name, PUS will be mostly remembered by the British punks active in the 90's who got to see them live. They were from Wisbech and were active for most of the 90's, at least between 1991 and 1999, an honourable run in itself when you compare it to modern hardcore bands' lifespan (or maybe ephemeral hardcore is the new black, I dunno). Quite sadly, PUS seem to have been largely forgotten and, although they were not the best band of the decade, they wrote some solid anarchopunk songs in their day. I cannot remember exactly where or when I got The Real Scapeghost but I know the Ep was lingering in a discounted record box, a fate that many 90's and 00's records are familiar with and that even more bands from our current decade will know when the deafening hype is over and people actually listen to them. I do remember exactly when I first encountered PUS however. I got their Death from the Skies discography cd in 2003 in Leeds at an Extinction of Mankind gig. And guess what, even then the cd was in the discount section. It must be karma. Despite the rather ugly cover depicting a warplane and the fact that I had never heard of PUS, I thought that spending a few quids for a discography was a bargain and brought the record home. I have to admit that the cd was a bit of a let down at the time for two main reasons. First, I expected the band to have more of a UK hardcore sound (c'mon, there's a bloody warplane on the cover, it was a fair assumption) and second, there are 33 tracks on the cd and it is a lot to digest.

This said, with the passing of the years, I grew to really enjoy PUS. In fact, the deeper I descended into the nether regions of the 80's anarchopunk wave, the fonder of PUS I became. The band can be seen as an embodiment of one of several relevant post "classic anarchopunk" paths. You could either take anarchopunk as a spirit and a stance not essentially bound to punk music and therefore go for a totally different sound (like techno, indie, dub...) but keeping the same political perspective. Or you could consider anarchopunk as both a stance and an actual genre which, as such, could legitimately be kept alive even 10 years after it peaked. PUS - and bands like Riot/Clone, Haywire, Kismet HC, Combat Shock, Substandard... - picked the second option. The Real Scapeghost was their first Ep, recorded in 1992, and while the production is undeniably thin, it is still a throughly replayable record with a genuine snotty punk vibe. Of course, there are sloppy bits here and there, some songs would have probably benefited from some structural changes and a more focused approach, but on the whole there is a freshness and a spontaneity that contrasts sharply with current bands that claim to be influenced by 80's anarchopunk but end up sounding like they calculate everything and value referential minutiae over everything else. In this light and for all its flaws, The Real Scapeghost is an interesting listen and, for the songs "Scapeghost", "Democracy", "Eternity" and "Shadow of death" (yes, there are eight songs on the Ep!), even a great one if you are into anarchopunk or UK82 (yes, you should be taking notes). There are several paces and vibes on the Ep, ranging from the fast and snotty Bristolian school to darker mid-tempo anarcho tunes and even a reggae-ish one (probably the weakest of the bunch but the band got much better at those afterwards). I can hear a lot of influences in the early PUS sound, Subhumans and early Conflict being obvious ones but you can also add bands like Riot/Clone, Karma Sutra or The Waste to the list.

This strong old-school anarchopunk vibe can also be seen in the lovely antiwar cover of The Real Scapeghost as well as in the backcover which depicts a logo comprised of a nuclear mushroom, a peace symbol and a crucifix (the ole 3 in 1 anarchopunk bargain pack). Lyrics deal with the atrocities of war, pollution, state control and of course animal rights, a theme that PUS tackled a lot as they included in the insert a list of useful addresses as well as some information about the ongoing exploitation of animals, pretty typical of political punk bands in the 90's and something that I always found great and indeed inspiring. After that humble snotty punk Ep the band recruited a second singer and meaningfully polished their sound into a powerful and tuneful blend of dual male/female vocals anarchopunk reminiscent of early Civilised Society?, late DIRT, PAIN and Toxic Waste that can be heard on their subsequent Ep's on Know Records, '96 A Life in Fear and the  '97 split with Omobna. PUS also appeared on a number of compilations throughout the years that you may even own since some of them were put out by labels like Panx, Loony Tunes, DIY Records, Discrete Records and Resistance Productions. As mentioned earlier, the best way to discover the band would be to get hold of a copy of the Death from the Skies cd, released on Bomb Factory Records (a label that put out some great 90's anarcho music by the likes of Contempt and Riot/Clone). This should not be too difficult considering PUS' current popularity. So if you see it gathering dust on a distro, you know what to do. Finally, I am not sure what the members did after the band split up apart from drummer Sonny, who also played in Combat Shock at the time, who would join Constant State of Terror and more recently Flowers in the Dustbin.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 7): Protess "Positiveness" Ep, 2001

Ace epic cover

Once again, this is a record that keeps slipping through the cracks and yet one that I never intended to neglect. Although I can never quite remember how it sounds like, I know full well who I got it from. It was during an online record sale organized by Profane Existence about ten years ago. Money was needed to cover some debts (I think) and parts of record collections had to be sold away to that effect. I was an active member of the message board at the time so got the full list early and managed to grab a copy of Legion of Parasites' Lp, The Prison of Life. Needless to say that I was ecstatic to finally get hold of such a classic and although I realize that to still boast about it to this day is a tad embarrassing, I can't really help it. Yes indeed, the deal was pretty good. In the list there were a couple of records from bands I had never heard of but looked interesting judging from the short descriptions that accompanied them. So, upon reflection, I wisely added two Ep's to my shopping list, one being Jesusexercise's fantastic Ep, while the other was Positiveness by Protess, which was said to be a female-fronted anarcho hardcore band from Japan (or something along these lines). 

Protess formed in 1998 in Sapporo, hometown of Slang, a major player in the Japanese hardcore game (u feel me?) and as a matter of fact they may still be playing, as I have seen live videos from 2015 so it is possible. If it seems to have been singer Yumi's first band (correct me if I'm wrong), the other members were already playing in bands when Protess started. Guitar player Koyuru was in the furious Japanese grinding hardcore band Knuckle Head, along with bass player Takeharu and drummer Taketora who were also playing in Barricade, who were more of a distorted noizy hardcore unit. I am clueless about the actual origin of the name but I came up with three theories:

1. During a drunken band meeting in a bar, after much deliberation, everyone agreed on Protest and went on to celebrate the newly born band. However, a glass was spilled on the sheet of paper where the name had been written down. The next day, no one could actually remember which name they had settled for but fortunately the sheet was found. However the last letter of Protest was blurred and unreadable and the "t" became an "s", hence Protess instead of Protest.

2. The band had a very good friend called Tess and was originally conceived as a pro-Tess act.

3. It was a spelling nod toward the classic female-fronted Japanese punk band Gomess.

Anyway, I suppose Protess are best remembered nowadays for their 2008 split Ep with melodic punk band Signal Lost from Austin that was released on Prank Records, but even that would actually be a rather optimistic assumption (I mean, who still listens to records from the late 00's?). The band's first demo, recorded in 1998, was a raw but meaningful endeavour which set the tone for what was to come in terms of inspiration and songwriting for Protess. Although there was certainly a traditional Japcore vibe on the demo - especially in the faster bits and in the typical backing chorus - Protess did not aim primarily for that sound and were more progressive and versatile, "modern"-sounding if you wish, trying to blend different beats and genres in order to create a passionate whole. Of course, many bands were trying the same thing worldwide and you could argue that this artistic drive and desire to innovate was very much contextualised and even characteristic of the late 90's and early 00's. The 1999 split Ep with Noise Pollution on MCR showed the band in a much tighter mode with a very clean production that highlighted the band's emotional aspect (arguably a bit too much) but it was Positiveness, thanks to a potent and crunchy sound production from one Koji who had already recorded materials from Crude and Mustang, from that really summarized what Protess were all about.

I cannot claim to be a massive fan of the type of hardcore sound Protess were going for in 2001, however the song on the first side of the Ep, "心に花を", is undeniably a hit. It manages to be heavy, epic and triumphant in a Japanese hardcore way, diverse but coherent without ever losing the listener in spite of its length (almost 6 minutes) and above all intense and passionate. The song is mostly a dark, mid-paced number that reminds me of Scatha, Debris and Unhinged, with punishing and heavy tribal beats (the drumming is fantastic all around), but there's also an actual melodic emocore moment toward the end that gives Anomie a run for their money as well as a genuine and epic burning spirit abrasive moment. The vocalist Yumi sounds very ardent, both indignant and hopeful, and the fact that the words are in Japanese confers even more intensity to the prosody and therefore the song. On the whole, "心に花を" works very well and never sounds disparate, on the contrary, its circular structure of echoes maintains its narrative quality, which is something you always need to have if you are going for epic moody hardcore. The second song is not bad by any means and sounds quite similar to the first one, but it just is not as inspired and catchy to ears and it didn't grab my attention.

As mentioned above, a band such as Unhinged (who are cruelly underrated if you ask me) must have been a major influence, especially with the female vocals and the emotional but heavy and angry music, and I can definitely picture a Protess recording for Nabate. Beside them, I suppose the tentacular destructive power of His Hero Is Gone must have played a role in influencing the band as well as UK tribal hardcore bands like Scatha and Sedition (the visuals of the Ep certainly point in that direction), maybe some Antisect and Anti-System and obviously other progressive emotional hardcore bands that were contemporaries but that I know nothing about (but then, I decline omniscience). I don't really listen to that type of music anymore but I really enjoyed playing Positiveness. Of course, it is quite dated and the last decade was overrun with hardcore bands who wanted to be heavy, epic and melodic (cough neocrust cough), but Protess sound and look first and foremost as a genuine punk band who played hardcore with passion and in the end that's exactly what you need to have for an Ep to be solid. This one was released on Sprout Records, a label run by Tsuyoshi (who went to be sing in the MG15 fanboy band Desperdicio) that also released materials from Sacrifice and Youth Strike Chord. I just love the manga-like drawing of the band on the cover (I am a sucker for those) but haven't been able to find other pieces from the artist, so if you are aware of some, please let me know. 

Incidentally, the copy of the Ep contained two photographs from Protess playing live somewhere in 1999. I have no idea who took them but they are pretty cool so here they are.

There's even a bloody sticker!