Thursday, 18 April 2013
Internal Autonomy "Love & life" Ep 1991
The current postpunk trend of Belgrado, Blue Cross or Spectres has ambivalently led to a renewed interest in those old British anarchopunk bands whose sound was a bit darker or more goth-oriented than Crass or Conflict. The depth of this revival notwithstanding, I find it odd to apply the term "postpunk" to bands like Rubella Ballet, Lost Cherrees, Part 1 or indeed Internal Autonomy. To me, they always were anarchopunk bands since they were part of the anarchopunk world (though many bands at the time claimed that they were neither punks nor anarchists), which put the emphasis on the politics of punk (directly or indirectly) rather than on the genre you played, and this inclusiveness allowed different sounds to coexist. Of course, retrospectively, you can hear many musical similarities between those early anarcho bands and, judging from accounts of people who were involved at the time, there was a degree of conformity among the self-appointed non-conformists. Still, the anarcho scenes (the plural makes more sense here as there was not one, unified, homogenous scene but rather, plenty of small, local DIY punk scenes connected to each other) produced many musically diverse, challenging bands, from Chumba to Icons of Filth, The Mob to Antisect, Flowers in the Dustbin to Potential Threat. My point being that the current compulsive postpunk tag illustrates one thing: we focus too much on music and form, not enough on content and context. Genre-defining words are useful to some extent. After all, we still have to describe what we hear and the more accurate, the better. But it becomes problematic when such words become the end itself because it leads to mostly insignificant fragmentations inside punk scenes. Once, I even heard of a "raw punk scene"... How depressing is that? What made me so grumpy? Why can't I stop moaning? Should I get a life or something?
I was reading the booklet of Internal Autonomy's double cd this morning in order to prepare for this post when a sentence made me ponder. In place of the usual "band history", a founding member of IA wrote down a few thoughts about the political, social and musical context from which IA sprang in late 86/early 87. It is a very enjoyable and interesting read as the fellow is pretty witty and there are some clever notes. About the birth of the band, he essentially says that, had there been another huge musical phenomenon in the mid/late 80's, like punk was in the late 70's/early 80's, IA would have probably played something else genre-wise. Not that they disliked punk, quite the contrary, punk's liberating potential is clearly stressed, but the wider context of music production, even underground music, must be taken into consideration. For instance, without the global metal explosion in the 80's, crust music would not have happened and Deviated Instinct may have kept playing sloppy mid-tempo punk-rock. Basically, one cannot separate a band from its context and whithout the mainstream success of bands like Siouxsie, a lot of the underground "postpunk" bands would possibly have played something else. In other words, had IA formed five years later, they would have been a rave/techno/house collective. Thank fuck for the good timing.
It is often said that the second part of the 1980's in Britain was all about hardcore, crust, grindcore, in a word, noisy bollocks. While it is not all true (bands like Sofahead, Joyce McKinney Experience, Smartpils, The Next World were very tuneful), Internal Autonomy were still very unique for their time. Far from the demented crusty sound, they picked a gothier path and even experimented a bit with such unorthodox instruments as keyboards or violins. Despite the band's reluctance to call themselves "anarchopunk" due to the apparent stagnation and cliquishness of the anarcho scene in the late 80's, the politics and aesthetics of IA do ring that bell. Indeed, we are much closer to the sound of aforementioned Lost Cherrees and Rubella Ballet and to the politics of Crass and Poison Girls than to Napalm Death's bursts and Hellbastard or Deviated Instinct's doom and gloom.
"Love & life" is IA's first Ep, released in 1991 on Recordrom, a German label also responsible for such great records as Potential Threat's "Never again", Dan's "Can you dig it?" and IA's only Lp. The first song, "Love", is a deceptively upbeat and happy mid-tempo punk-rock tune about love and how, in a patriarchal society, it is represented as being a woman's only goal, something that, in order to achieve, she must be ready to suffer for. In the sleeve, it is said that "Love" is not an anti-love song but a song that is anti "love songs", which "represent a narrow and usually sexist conception of love, and exploit the emotional turmoils of people for huge profits". Clever stuff also conveyed in the cover parodying a woman's "destiny" with husband and kid. The next two tracks are bit less punky and more akin to Siouxsie or Skeletal Family with a darker goth vibe. "Gloria" is about refusing the guilt put upon us by the cross and "Beyond words" deals with our love of horror and gore as long as they are fictionalized or conveniently disconnected from our actual lives. Really good, questioning lyrics here. There are actually two different female singers on this record, Nikki on "Love" and Kirsty on "Gloria" and "Beyond words" and their different vocal styles reflect the different themes and tones of the songs (Nikki has a more tuneful, lighter voice while Kirsty's is deeper and more threatening). The sound on these three songs is really clear but still dry and retains a sense of urgency and angst, though in an insidious way.
Internal Autonomy is a top band and they have even reformed (they were due to play in Paris last year but sadly had to cancel) and I cannot recommend enough their almost exhaustive double-cd, so don't be a vinyl snob and get it.