Sunday, 10 January 2016

Social Disease "Today" Ep, 1983

What would punk-rock be without Bristol? Now, that's a tough one to answer, but "cider-free" was one of the first things that come to my mind. And what would it sound like? Duller, quite probably, as this city strikes me as having a seemingly endless supply of punk snot. One things is certain: a parallel dimension where Chaos UK, Disorder and Amebix would never have existed does not sound worth visiting.

Social Disease were one of the lesser names in the early 80's Bristol punk scene and information about the band is sparse at best. After all, punk was the fashion of the day back then, it is therefore hardly surprising that so many bands sprang from that specific context, some absolutely brilliant, others quite forgettable, but all of them relevant to their own time and place. Many current bands strive to recreate this 80's sound and vibe, but it is always in vain, because punk-rock today is no longer new and you can't possibly imitate a 16-year old's excitement at novelty, especially a provocative, outrageous one. Could the incredible energy of Social Disease's Ep be resurrected in a studio in 2016? It might, but only for a bunch of angry teens looking to make a noise, and the chances that the end result won't sound punk are sky-high.

So what did a band with a rather common moniker like Social Disease do so well? Why does the "Today" Ep deserve to be seen as a UK82 hit? It is a minor classic, by its reach, but the quality of the songs could have made it a major one. I suppose it got lost in the midst of the dozens of punk records that were also released in 1983 but above all, them coming from Bristol and not being part of the Riot City rosters had to be an obstacle. Even Lunatic Fringe had had a song on "Riotous Assembly". I can't tell if Social Disease got out of Bristol at all or even if they played a lot locally. If anyone knows anything about them, please enlighten me.

There was one thing that really set Social Disease apart though, something that is pretty common today but was very unusual at the time: they had two singers. Of course, they were not the only band to use several vocalists. Crass, obviously, used different singers, although usually in separate songs ("Bloody revolution" is pretty much an exception when you really think about it), and so did The Violators, but again, almost always in distinct songs. I have already mentioned that 82/83-era Antisect was probably the first punk band to have two singers on duty on most of their songs, thus opening the door for the time-honoured, beloved trade-off style of vocals that bands like ENT and Disrupt built upon. But Social Disease used a different tactic, it was not "to each its song" or trade-off, it was "all the time and at the same time". In fact, the two singers Hag and Drakes' voices are constantly superimposing, blending, so that, at first, you almost get the impression that there are two vocal tracks instead of two different singers. But the picture at the back of the Ep tells a different story as it clearly shows two young punks shouting exactly the same thing at the same time. And you know what? It works perfectly, as the vocals are very tuneful but keep a spontaneously angry edge, and it adds the necessary youthful energy and intensity that makes a UK82 record great.

The production on "Today" is great, very clear, and it conveys the band's spirit to great effect. In terms of beat, the two songs "Tomorrow's burning" and "Today" borrow the vigorous mid-tempo of classic UK punk, while "Bully boys", with its Motörhead-like guitar riff, and, the highlight of the Ep with a catchy chorus to die for, "World at ransom" lie on the faster side of things. This is snotty, tuneful, high-energy, angry and fast UK82 punk-rock, somewhere between Instant Agony, Varukers and The Actives. Social Disease's 1982 "Utter nutter" demo, which, I would venture, was more a roughly recorded band practice on a boozy saturday, did show some promise but was by no means an accurate representation of the band's potential in a real studio. The lyrics are not included with the Ep (which apparently was usual for the genre) but my Chaos UK-trained ears teach me that the boys were ranting about the inevitability of nuclear war and bullies (another common theme as it must have been hard to be a young punk in England's rough areas).

"Today" was Karnage Records' only release and there is a mistake on the cover as it indicates that side 1 only includes the song "Today", whereas "Tomorrow's burning" is also on this side (DIY or what?). Judging from the one very short Social Disease interview I could find, the band was perhaps closer to anarchopunk than their Riot City peers (I mean, they do have a peace symbol on the cover). They thank Mark from The Snipers (who did probably my least favourite Crass Records Ep but let's not dwell on that) on the backcover and Hag has the Snipers painted on his leather jacket next to a Crass patch. That's the little insight I can provide. Well, they also thank their mums and dads so they were probably not orphans as well.

This Ep is terrific, it will make you feel like a teenager and drink cider, though not necessarily in that order.


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  2. I bought this record on a lark at a record fair around '91 or so and had the cover painted on the back of my leather jacket for years after. This is such an amazing record and deserves the hype!

  3. I went to college with Drakes and bought a copy of the e.p. off him. I then gave my copy of this to him as a wedding present some ten years later as he did not have a copy. I’ve since replaced it. I don’t think much happened after 1983 / 4 and I lost contact with him.

    1. This is such a strong record. Odd that it hasn't been reissued yet, but I guess it is only a matter of time (I wouldn't be surprised if Vomito Punk decided to do it).