Although it is probably less true nowadays than it used to be, compilations are the most meaningful way to get to discover a scene. Of course, I am not talking here about benefit compilations that gather bands from all over for a specific cause, or label compilations that are meant to introduce innocent listeners to the tastes and circles of friends of a particular person. No, here we are dealing with local bands being released on a local label discussing the issues facing a local scene. Yes, "local" is the trope of the day.
Such compilations can be quite risky too as one is often tempted to include bands that, however local, friendly and active, can be quite terrible too. But then, I guess that's also what makes this sort of compilation memorable. After all, any given local scene at any given time has its own average band that you can't help liking because they're mates and a compilation without them would be less relevant, though maybe more bearable for those outside your locality. But awesome musicianship was never the primary aim of local compilations anyway since, as I mentioned, the point is to bring outsiders inside your own punk scene. From a diachronic perspective, it also offers a significant picture of what people were into at the time and how an area can shape a sound or, perhaps even truer, how a sound can shape an area.
Because I am an obsessional bastard, this compilation revolves around mid-90's bands mostly from the North of England. There well be familiar faces as well, as this Ep included the Nerves from Nottingham (I reviewed their glorious split with Substandard a couple of years ago), State of Filth (remember their split with Anarchy Spanky? No? Well, you should. Now, get out of here.) and some bands that also appeared on the 1in12 Club compilation "Decade of dissidence" like Stalingrad, Voorhees, Manfat and Headache.
First, and it has to be said with the utmost seriousness, this record looks fucking great. It comes in a brown paper cover, that has aged surprisingly well in the case of my copy, and includes a 16-page booklet with a word from the bloke behind it all and some artwork and lyrics from all the bands. Not only does it look brilliant but it is also an interesting, ultimately positive read. "The boredom and the bullshit". Now that may be the best name for a punk record ever. Has there ever been a punk kid that didn't feel bored to death and surrounded by bullshit? Of course not. Aren't boredom and bullshit the two main motivations behind forming up a band, or starting a zine, or just trying to meet up with like-minded people? What would punk-rock be without all the boredom and the bullshit? Well, I for one know where it would be: in an unmarked grave. Bored kids trying to resist the bullshit is what saves punk-rock (or hardcore or whatever) from oblivion. The opening text in the booklet "The boredom and the bullshit: two things that saturate our lives" is about fighting both and trying to liberate oneself from the social alienation that we have to live through and reclaim our lives (or parts of them, even small ones). It will be a losing fight but at least let's give it a good try and maybe some quality punk music will come out of it. Yes, it is a hopeful, positive message and I totally relate to it (even on tuesdays).
Music-wise, I am not going to lie, not all the bands are my cup of tea, which does not mean that they are bad at what they do. Kitchener, from Manchester play fast hardcore in the US fashion, not quite unlike Los Crudos but with slower parts that bring to mind Born Against or something. Pigpile also play US-inspired hardcore but are not as fast as they have more of an 80's feel. Marker manage to pull two songs in 50 seconds of intense and raw fast hardcore while hardcore heroes, the Voorhees, head-butt their way through with a 30 second scorcher of burning Negative Approach worship.
Now about the bands I enjoy the most. Let's start with One By One, one of the most crucial 90's English band. I am not going to rant over people's apparent lack of interest in 90's punk again (and yes, that's a preterition for you) but I find quite amazing that there is still no One By One reissue to this day. I understand that the former members may want to focus on new projects rather than old ones, but I really hope there will be a One By One discography at some point. With two former Generic members, there is undeniably a hardcore backbone to One By One's music. But where Generic favoured aggression, One By One used tunefulness and smart song-writing in order to be intense. It is a hard to find points of comparison because they were really a unique band, and Karin's vocals really took the band to a next level, but I guess a cross between energetic yet tuneful US hardcore and Potential Threat with a Chumbawamba feel for the articulate and passionate politics and some musical arrangements. Their song on the comp, a fast number called "Alternative to what?", is a slightly bitter take on the DIY punk scene and its monotony. Still crucial though.
On "The boredom and the bullshit" you will find Manfat, a band from Leeds I know little about, though I also own their Ep. Although I don't always need that kind of sound, sometimes it works perfectly. Heavy and dark music, a bit grungy with heavy riffs the sort of which create an oppressive atmosphere. It is not heaviness for heaviness' sake either as the production is rather thin, just down-tuned slow hardcore like it was done in the mid-90's. Headache is the weirdest band on the Ep and actually they may have also been the weirdest band around at the time along with Witchknot. Crazy hardcore punk with demented vocals and a lot of breaks, it sounds like Civil Disobedience on mushrooms or something. Fantastic artwork on their part as usual and a genuinely unique band with a lot of personality and probably a lot of personality disorder as well.
Stalingrad may very well take the cake on this Ep with one amazing song "Human byproduct". In 1995, the band was still in its infancy and played metallic hardcore not unlike Rorschach or 13. This is mean, angry, desperate music with teeth and an aesthetics that set them apart. I often see Stalingrad as a band that bridged the gap between US-style hardcore and the UK crust sound since, if you listen closely (and you will), you will sense a late Deviated Instinct feel and even some Hellbastard riffing to their early recordings although their vision was set to the other side of the pond.
State of Filth's number on this Ep will probably surprise those of you who enjoyed their split with Anarchy Spanky. This is a different line-up that didn't include Wayne yet and it is not the grinding crustcore tornado that it would become. It is, however, still very much worth your while: fast, raw, shambolic, political hardcore punk strongly reminiscent of Electro Hippies. What else does one really need? Finally the Nerves from Notts fly the "studs ans spikes" flag high and proud on this one with their usual fast, anthemic punk-rock that is really an updated version of the UK82 sound keeping the snottiness but hitting harder. There were a lot of bands at the time trying to do it but few pulled it as well as the Nerves.
"The boredom and the bullshit" is a sincere record with a top-notch message that reeks of DIY punk ethos and a relevant document of what the hardcore scene in Northern England looked like. It was released on Refusenik records, a sadly short-lived label that also did the Ep's of Underclass, Kitchener and Ebola. As usual you should be able to get a copy in a 1£ record bin. To be listened to while reading "Armed with anger".