A Discharge-themed series was bound to happen really, I was just waiting for the right moment. And now the time has come. I was looking for inspiration after the exhausting and demanding "progressive-punk" epics and, while browsing through my tapes, I came across this one, "Does Dis system work?", that I bought ages ago and had completely forgotten about. It is a great tape with a solid line-up, a smart construction and a sweet DIY feel that is both snotty and unpretentious. It contains 60 minutes of unadulterated love for Discharge and Discharge-lovers and, believe me, that is a lot of love.
First, let's talk a little about the true heroes of the tape, Stoke-on-Trent's finest: Discharge. Much has already been written about them and I don't have any exclusive piece of information to distil. The influence they exerted on extreme music cannot be underestimated, and I am not only talking about D-beat or crust bands, or 80's metal bands, or even hardcore bands as a whole, but also about the second wave of British punk-rock, be it the so-called UK82 wave or, to a lesser extent, the anarcho one (for two reasons: first, because Crass came before and were its primary influence and second, because what has come to be known as "anarchopunk" was much more diverse and disparate than "UK82"). In the "UK special" issue of Games of the Arseholes, Stuart Schrader said (I am quoting from memory here, I lost the bloody thing...) that, seen as a UK82 or second-wave of British punk band, Discharge were terrible. I get that what he is saying is that, seen through the prism of 77 punk canon, Discharge were a bad punk band. And I disagree, they were different and nothing was ever the same after them and as such, they don't really fit in UK82 as much as they started it, even though no one really came close to sounding like Discharge in the end. They were both in it and far beyond it. To begin to understand how much of a game-changer Discharge were, let's take a look at other UK punk records that were released in the same months as "Realities of war", an Ep that was recorded on february 12th 1980 and released a few weeks afterwards. I am not interested in the very first incarnation of Discharge and the 1977 demo they did with a different line-up is of little relevance here, apart from the fact that it indicated that the boys had been playing punk-rock for a few years before they unleashed the fury.
The first Ep of The Exploited, "Army life", was recorded a couple of months after "Realities of war" and although it obviously brought something new to the table (especially in the obnoxiously aggressive vocals of Wattie and the arrangement of the chorus), it is still firmly rooted in the 77 punk sound, albeit in the aggro-oriented "Sham 69-lads version" that Bushell was trying to push, and the fact that The Exploited were included on the "Oi! The album" (that came out just before "Army life") showed that. There's no denying that The Exploited's debut records were intense, very influential and brought a brute punk edge to the Bushell roster, however they came nowhere close to the novelty and the raw brutality of Discharge. And very obviously, The Exploited quickly picked some elements from Discharge, as can be seen on 1981's "Dead cities" Ep, but they never mastered the awesome impact of Discharge's golden era (to some extent, the "Let's start a war" Lp was a desperate attempt at replicating "Hear nothing"). The other UK82 titan, GBH, hadn't even done their first gig by the time "Realities of war" was released and by the time they recorded their first demo, Discharge's third Ep, "Decontrol", was already out. To give you an idea, the first Lp of the Cockney Rejects was released at the same time as "Realities of war" and UK Subs' "Teenage" Ep was out just a few weeks before "Fight back". On the other side of the pond, Black Flag's "Jealous again" saw the light of day in march of 1980. I am not trying to imply that the aforementioned bands are bad, generic or tame at all and GBH and The Exploited certainly knew how to take what they needed from Discharge in order to give their sound added power. But in 1980, they were all basically still playing this hardened version of rock'n'roll that was punk-rock between 1976 and 1980.
But Discharge were something else entirely. They displayed an intense, unadulterated, pummeling anger that was so direct and rather "unmusical" for the time that they were the band that truly opened the gates for the second wave of British punk-rock, as they took punk-rock to another level that was different but must have felt so exciting and so accessible at the same time. Arguably the greatest strength of Discharge must have been their directness and their stark clarity that delineated brand new aesthetics of anger. It is difficult to tell what bands influenced Discharge, they were certainly groovier than most of their punk peers so there must have been a heavy-metal thing going on and I would tend to think their clever systematization of a formula came from the Ramones, pretty obvious but still relevant. One other possible influence that possibly played a role in Discharge's formation was Crass, although the two bands were very different in almost all aspects. However, "The feeding of the 5000" hit the stores in february of 1979 and "Stations of the Crass" did one year later. Although, the influence of Crass is widely recognized in terms of politics and visuals, the impact they had on music is seldom discussed. To some extent, Crass were the first punk band to stop playing "rock'n'roll"and even though their approach was much more self-conscious, articulate and artistic than Discharge, fuzzy, fast and direct songs with little actual melody and upfront tuneless vocals like "End result", "Big hands" or "Chairman of the bored" may have shown that transforming punk-rock into something more primal and noisier was viable. And from an aesthetic perspective, the influence of the stern black and white visuals of Crass that heavily used symbolism may have been an inspiration too, although Discharge's were more simplistic but no less striking. But that's just all a theory...
But let's get back to our actual tape. "Does Dis system work?" was compiled by Pablo from Earth Citizens/Strongly Opposed/Resistance Prod in 1995, at a time when the D-Beat mania was at its peak and dozens of bands were having a go at sounding like Discharge and picked usually terrible Disnames. However, this tape is not exactly a "D-Beat" compilation either and its structure is actually very clever. There are 36 songs, 18 actual Discharge songs and 18 from "Dis-bands", and throughout the tape, each Discharge song is followed by a Disband song, which is actually a great idea and an actual disdream. It will make you listen to Discharge (the best way to keep healthy, to be sure) and enjoy a variety of Discharge-influenced bands, all in one hour. Pablo only used the Discharge's Ep's and "Why?" to make this one in order to reflect the rawer side of the band (I suspect his copy of "Hear nothing" was actually scratched due to overplaying!), although he did include the two crossover songs from the "Price of silence" 1983 Ep as well (I don't mind actually, I enjoy them). In true DIY fashion the last songs of both sides are cut because of space issues. Still punk innit?
The line-up is lovely on that one, you've got some of the best 90's D-Beat bands like Disclose, Disfear or Dischange, some top notch Discharge covers from Extreme Noise Terror, Asocial and Final Conflict (their version of "A look at tomorrow" is probably one of my favourite Discharge covers actually, it is just seething with anger), some crispy Swedish hardcore with the unbeatable Anti-Cimex, Disarm and Discard (the first "D-Beat" band although the term feels anachronistic when applied to them), and you will even find some rather obscure bands beating the D like Time Square Preachers and Dissober from Sweden (as you can guess, there are more than a few bands from Sweden on this one). On a special note, I particularly enjoy the inclusion of Crow and their song "No violence" on "Does Dis system work?". The choice is far from obvious as I rarely think of Crow as a band typically influenced by Discharge but I am obviously wrong, the guitar sound, the solo, the slightly out of sync singing, the accentuation, the groovy bass, the drums on the chorus... It is an excellent inclusion as it shows that you don't actually have to play an orthodox d-beat on the drums in order to pen a perfect Discharge-inspired song (something that so many current bands fail to understand, their obsession with the drum beat obliterating all the needed groovy intensity of Discharge...).
"Does Dis system work?" is a genuine work of love and a great mixtape. The sound is what it is, there are a few scratches here and there, but it is not what matters in the end. Some of Discharge's lyrics are included in a cut'n'paste fashion and although I know Pablo to be quite serious about Discharge, there is also some much-welcome humour in the insert ("This bootleg compiled in April '95, with respect to Discharge and everyone that takes them seriously (but NOT TOO SERIOUS!). FIGHT THE SYSTEM, FIGHT BACK!") which brings a smile to my face. And you have got to love this mention on the side of the tape: "Are ya "Dis" enough?! Fuck trendies." Snotty just the way I like it.
This tape was the 7th installment of Punk Boot-Leg Tapes (there were 16 different tapes in all, with some tape discographies of bands that were hard to find in these pre-internet days). Apparently, not more than 20 copies of each tapes were made.
Finally, I would like to send a big thank you to Pablo for taking the time to give me details about this Disclaration of love and to Luc for helping me find the culprit. Cheers to you! You are Dis enough.