I have yet to meet a punk who is not into Peni, or at least doesn't claim he or she is. The first time I heard them was through a home-made tape that had songs from a lot of different Peni records with no indication or classification whatsoever, therefore inducing in the teenage inexperienced punk-rocker I was then a tremendous WTF effect. Now that I am older but don't look it, I still feel in awe before their work but I suppose I can relate to it much better.
That Rudimentary Peni was an uncommon, highly original band among the UK punk scene has already been stated countless times. They formed in 1980 after the demise of the Magits, a rather unlistenable band that had Jon and Nick Blinko in it (he actually played an influential role in the early years of cult goth-punk band the S-Haters as well). Prior to the rise of Peni (no pun intended), the both of them had also created a small record label called Outer Himalayan Records that was used to put out records of the Magits, but also of the aforementioned S-Haters and Soft Drinks, the two bands Peni shared the stage with for their very first gig. The first Peni Ep from 1981 was also released on Outer Himalayan and if it always difficult to really know the reception it got when it came out, I am pretty sure that the phrase "insane and intense punk-rock from out of nowhere" would fit just right.
So what made them so unique? Obviously, one could mention the artwork, the aesthetics of the band that mattered as much as the music itself with their bizarre, deranged and morbid representations of social madness, influenced by the works of Lovecraft, Poe and outsiders' art, that feel both uncomfortably monstrous and yet recognizable. But there is another sticking dimension to Peni that is not often discussed. If you try to forget the morbid and deranged for a second, and focus instead on the early songs of Peni. Absolutely NO ONE in Britain in 1981 was playing this kind of punk music.
A few years ago, I remember a friend of mine who grew up listening to US hardcore trying to describe Peni to someone who didn't know them at all. My friend described them as "some sort of early American hardcore music but with a morbid and demented identity". If we always tend to define things with what we already know, through our own experiences and background, it was still a revelation to me since I had never thought of Peni as a "hardcore" band. And yet, if you listen closely, and even though there is a definite English feel to their sound, Peni could relevantly be seen as probably the first US hardcore-influenced band in the UK. In 1981, there were of course hard-hitting UK punk bands like Discharge or Chaos UK, but they didn't sound anything like the early hardcore bands from the other side of the pond. It is often thought that the first British bands that were openly influenced by the US hardcore scene were acts like the Stupids, AYS, Heresy and so on, but that was not until 1984, and these bands were attracted by the speed of US hardcore and not so much its groove. Listening closely to Peni's first Ep's only shows that, indeed, there is a strong similarity with hardcore music: aggressively fast mid-tempo scorchers with this distinct feel in the riffs. And then there is the incredible shortness of the songs themselves, with several of them lasting a minute or even less. I can't really think of another British punk in 1981 band at the time who wrote such short songs, apart from 6 Minute War (but then, I doubt they were ever an influence on Peni...). In an interview with Grant from 1982 (read it here), he states that bands like Minor Threat, Neos, Gang Green and Necros are influences (and you can certainly add Black Flag to the list as early Peni had a similar roundness). Also listed are Part 1 (who were artistically and personally quite close to Peni), Crass (for their bass-driven songwriting and their uncompromising approach), but also The Mob and even Amebix (who were still "The Amebix" by then) which makes sense since, despite the big music differences, Peni, Amebix and The Mob were part of the anarcho scene but didn't totally fit in it, as they all played with the macabre and had their own unique dark sound.
But let's get to the actual record. "Farce" was recorded in 1982 and released on Crass after Penny had been given a copy of the first Peni Ep. As was the tradition, it was recorded at Southern, produced by Penny Rimbaud and engineered by John Loder. Now, I have already talked about the continuity that one can notice on Crass Records releases as far as music production is concerned and "Farce" is no exception. Apparently, the band members were not too chuffed about the result and arguably the first Peni Ep was probably closer sound-wise to how the band wanted to sound like. Basically, "Farce" was produced like a Crass album, with a rather trebly, distorted guitar sound, omnipresent drums and a driving bass sound. Nick probably never sounded as much like a Boston hardcore singer on the verge of hysteria as on "Farce", which is pretty funny considering Penny was unlikely to have been into US hardcore (and after all he did not produce the MDC Ep). The vocals make me feel like a madman is grabbing me by the shoulders, the mouth foaming, eyes protuberant, and trying to explain to me why the end of the world is just around the corner. And yes, that is a good feeling.
Although the 1981 Ep and the immense "Death church" Lp were possibly better incarnations of Peni's early work, I still have a soft spot for "Farce" and the song "Sacrifice", with its uncontrollable anger, is one of my favourite punk songs ever. It is of course difficult to find points of comparison when discussing a band as unique as Rudimentary Peni, but for the sake of it let's say that it sounds like a Lovecraft convention held in an asylum where Die Kreuzen, Crass and Chaos UK were invited to play. Or something. "Farce" is also Peni's most political record, not illogical considering it was on Crass Records. Apparently, bass player Grant was the one into Crass anarcho politics and it is likely that he penned the explanatory texts that you can find inside the gatefold sleeve. Pretty good stuff it is too with long rants about religious indoctrination (a current theme in Peni's work, be it music or visuals), sexism, competition under capitalist rule and one about the alienating notion of youth culture and the acceptable cliché of the rebellious youth (had someone been reading situationist writings?). Although Peni were certainly not your orthodox anarchopunk band, and they did not define themselves as such actually, their lyrics still reflected social alienation and social ills, albeit under the shape of metaphors using morbid or macabre images.
The recent revival of postpunk and deathrock has made some qualify Peni as a deathrock band on the ground of their imagery, which is pretty ironic considering Peni's criticism of petty denominations. While I can understand why some people might see them as such, I personally associate "deathrock" with horror, sci-fi and California and not with playing with Concrete Sox in 1993, but whatever... To me, Peni is an unpunk punk band promoting the importance of one's true self when faced with society's restrictions and the grimness of human nature.
My copy of "Farce" has seen better days so there are a few crackles here and there and the scans are not exactly immaculate (how fitting for a band despising religion). The former owner thought convenient to write the song numbers on the backcover but he didn't manage to get it right... Oh well, punks will be punks.