Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Chronicles of Dis (part6): Cracked Cop Skulls "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" Ep,1998?

Trends. What make punk-rock go round. And round. In circles. Now that I am old enough to see things with (some) insight, I tend to see the endless waves of trends not only as inevitable but also as something structural. While I am never the last one to rant about the (in)validity of a given trend (and with the omnipotence of the internet, trends are coming and going faster than ever), especially after a few pints, they also fascinate me.

The various D-Beat trends perhaps epitomize best the characteristics of the punk trend. For the sake of demonstration, let's settle that there have been three D-Beat trends in the past twenty years, each of them corresponding to a decade (although a band like Disclose sat comfortably at the top of the game during two of them). D-Beat is a very peculiar subgenre since it inherently focuses on one band, Discharge, and on the various recreations, reworkings or adaptations of Discharge. It is therefore a very compact genre. However, even though the roots of all D-Bands are similar, the latest D-Beat trend is also influenced by the one just before. So while 90's Dischange were influenced solely by Discharge (and probably an assortment of 80's Swedish bands as well), 00's Warcry were influenced by Discharge AND 90's D-Beat, and a10's D-Beat band (it is far too early to find the real winners now) by 90's AND 00's D-Beat. That is all pretty obvious I suppose. The real fascinating thing is that, from a generation to the other, the bands don't necessarily hear the same things or even the whole thing, although the basic material is the same. How many bands blindly focus on the beat alone and completely forget the intonation or the bass work? I am not here to be judgmental or give away good and bad points, but when bands feel that the job is done as long as the drummer can vaguely play the Discharge beat and they pick a Disname, it is little surprising that I usually am underwhelmed by the vast majority of self-proclaimed D-Beat bands (whatever decade they belong to) who miss two absolutely crucial things in Discharge love: groove and anger. And ironically, a band like MG15, the archetypal proto-D-Beat band that many quote as an influence today, didn't even actually use a "D-Beat" on some of their songs, because at the time, the sole drum beat had not been crowned as the quintessence of Discharge. Fascinating, I told you.

The 90's D-Beat wave was not really emulated in Britain and quite logically so. Not only had Disaster already set the standards very high in terms of Discharge-impersonation but when the trend reached its peak (around 1994), bands like Doom, Excrement of War or Hellkrusher had already been playing Discharge-loving punk-rock for a few years. So it seemed maybe a little pointless to have a go at the orthodox Disgame at that time (though interestingly, the Varukers reformed precisely at that time when D-Beat was all the rage and I always wondered if that was coincidental). But as usual, there was an exception: Cracked Cop Skulls.

CCS formed in 1994 as a trio and released two Ep's, "No fucking tears for the pieces of shit" in 1995 and "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" in 1998. I am not sure if they were an active band or just a side-project but they were the only genuine D-Beat band from England during the 90's trend and, in my opinion, one of the very best too. The band was made up of old-timers from the UK hardcore/crust scene with Nick (first Sore Throat drummer and later in Ironside) on drums, Rat (from the one-man anarchovegan project Statement) and Jim (from Ripcord and Filthkick among many others), and I feel it is alway interesting to see what people involved in hardcore for years can come up with when working on such a meticulous subgenre as D-Beat. And "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?" is a genuine success for two reasons: it perfectly fits the D-Beat blueprint and yet it doesn't really sound like any other bands at the time.

While Disclose focused on sound texture and Disfear intended to intensify the Discharge recipe, CCS went for vibe and mood. The songs have an effective simplicity, the riffs sound obvious but they are all relevant in this frame. They kept a bouncy Discharge pace, much like Disaster, but didn't go for the sped-up D-Beat version like the Swedes. Actually the drummer used double-bass drums, which usually NEVER works (it is one of my unshakable deal-breaker with the subgenre) but still does in this case, as it doesn't pervert the general Discharge atmosphere or make the all-important beat unreadable. Very few bands can play a good Discharge beat with a double-bass and honestly I wouldn't recommend it. So what made the Ep so good? First, the songs are short, direct, to the point and they don't rely on sheer brutality (something Disgust obviously failed to understand) but on a feeling of urgency and actual anger that is very reminiscent of Discharge. Second, it is definitely bass-driven, with a thick groovy bottom, and some bass variations add this crucial "Why?" vibe that the songs need; the guitar's sound is heavy and powerful but doesn't feel overdone, it sounds urgent, direct and cohesive with the songwriting. Finally, the vocals are perfect, pissed but audible, shouted rather than yelled and the rhythm, tone and intonation are absolutely perfect as it does sound like an angry punk barking spontaneously, which has always been a Discharge prerequisite; besides, the idea to record two slightly out of speed layers of vocals is brilliant and gives the songs a crunchy 80's feel.

Another element that differentiated CCS from the other D-Beat bands was the lyrics. Instead of rehashing war and destruction haikus, the band tackled other subjects like class inequality, anger and frustration, repression (there is a mention of the infamous Criminal Justice Bill) and propaganda and I feel like the urgency in the music reflected a genuine need to write angry lyrics which also explains the wholeness of the songwriting. The Ep was recorded on 6th, August, 1995 ("fifty years to the day after the first atomic bomb was unleashed on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The threat has not faded with the onset of time. Safe new world?" you don't get much more symbolical than this!) but was only released in 1998 on SOA Records, from Italy (they were originally meant to be released on a Japanese compilation apparently).

Perhaps this CCS Ep is best summed up by Paolo SOA in the booklet of the triple-cd reissue of the label's Ep's: "The tracks were absolutely brilliant, if you like the D-Beat stuff without being a clone". That was the magic of CCS. While on the one hand, they were undeniably a D-Beat project (there are many Discharge nods in the songs and the name "Cracked Cop Skulls" is a reference to Shitlickers and this kind of intertextuality is so typical of the subgenre), they didn't sound like other D-Beat bands. They certainly worked on Discharge love but took it from another perspective and focused on writing simple songs that contained the essence of angry Discharge and if anything, it shows that there are different meaningful ways to D-Beat heaven.

After CCS stopped, Jim played for Dumbstruck and Nick and Rat formed Unborn. Around 1997 (I think), Jim and Rat teamed with Stick from Doom to continue the work CCS had started under the name of Squandered and the 1998 split Ep with Disclose as well as the compilation tracks on "Chaos of destruction" are highly recommendable, although not quite as brilliant as "Why pussyfoot when you can kill?".


  1. This band makes me head spin in the best of ways. The potential of what I hope to find in music. I have a post-2000 demo that they've asked me to not share, so I know they have unreleased recordings. I want to hear them all. I NEED to hear them.

    To me, CCS is one of a handful of bands that are caveman-like. Almost primordial in a sense. A type of brutality that falls outside the realm of definition or explanation. The vibe is knuckledragging, skull-thumping, crucial vitality. It's how I feel about Man is the Bastard, too. A tiny band of groups that have no real connective tissue other than collecting at the same fire of energy.

    Thanks for sharing this. I don't think I like this as much as the 1st 7", which is on my all-time favorite EPs list, but I love all of this band. I'm excited to have this lossless. -ZM

    1. Yes, I remember you saying that you prefer the first Ep to this one. I always found the sound of the drums distracting on the first one to be honest, although the songs are undeniably good. The cavemen metaphor is relevant actually, I like it.

  2. It's an interesting question: what makes a band a "d-beat" band? Along the same lines: can a band be described as a "d-beat" band even if they don't use d-beats in their songs? But preliminary to these questions, I suppose we have to clarify what we mean by "d-beat" in the first place: are we referring to a subgenre of "bands influenced by Discharge" generally, or are we referring to bands where the drummer actually employs a "d-beat" drum pattern in at least some of the songs? (Clearly, the term is so ubiquitous now that it gets used both ways.)

    I started thinking about this when you mentioned Doom and Excrement of War as crucial Discharge-loving bands. Now there's no doubt that Doom was heavily influenced by the Discharge template. But the fact remains: Doom doesn't use d-beats. Because of that, I've never really thought of Doom as a "d-beat" band at all - and this despite the fact that other aspects of their music obviously betray a strong Discharge influence. (Let me also clarify here that I am aware Discharge themselves did not always employ a d-beat drum pattern, even in their classic era.) So in my own mind, I guess I draw a distinction between bands that are clearly (to me) "d-beat" bands (see, e.g., Meanwhile), and bands that are merely "influenced by Discharge" but who do not fall in the "d-beat" subgenre (see, e.g., Doom). So while I agree with your contention that a narrow focus on the d-beat drum pattern to the exclusion of other aspects of the Discharge template may result in mediocre music, the use of a d-beat drum pattern nevertheless remains a necessary component of a "d-beat" band in my mind.

    This may be a pointless mental exercise, to the extent that the bands themselves aren't necessarily thinking about these things during the music-making process. But then again, even if a subgenre/label such as "d-beat" initially starts out as being imposed from the outside, and is only intended as a means of organizing or facilitating discussion, it is obvious that the music can very quickly become self-referential (and as you say, intertextual). Maybe there's no better example of this than the development of "d-beat" from Discard onwards, as you've already pointed out.

    Anyway, I'm not saying anything new here. Great post as usual and looking forward to the next one.

    1. I actually agree with you and that's why I used the term "Discharge-loving" instead of "D-Beat" to qualify Doom and EOW. Although still depending uoon which decades you are dealing with (because there WERE some changes), I see D-Beat as the open intent to write music like Discharge and not just to play Discharge-influenced music. Of course, Disclose never sounded like Discharge (precisely because of their sound) but they used their formula with deference.

      Does a D-Beat band have do use a D-Beat pace? I would tend to think that it does, because the systematization of a peculiar beat was crucial to Discharge. However, there are exceptions that I can think of, like Deathcharge (especially on the 2001 Ep that was mentioned in a comment) who basically wrote three mid-tempo Discharge songs but didn't play a D-Beat. They sounded a lot like Discharge and yet... Fascinating subject indeed!

      As for the relevance of the D-Beat tag (which I am not a huge fan of actually), well... I would tend to think that the level of Discharge self-awareness has to be very high in order to write good D-Beat songs, the narrow genre requires it. It is a bit like writing a villanelle, spontaneity has very little room in it, it is a matter of vibe, mood and texture applied to a rigorous formula.

  3. For us not-in-the-know of CCS, please post the other 7" and if possible any other stuff with them, cause this kills!

  4. Thanks for the great words. There are quite a few recordings that remain unreleased. Something to sort out in the future.

    CCS formed as a 4 piece originally with John from Anorexia on vocals. Recorded a demo with that line up before the first 7".

    New 7" released last year. More to come in the future.

    For the record I played with a single bass drum pedal.

    Cheers Nick.

    1. I would be delighted to see the unreleased recordings getting a proper vinyl treatment one day.

      So it is a single bass drum pedal then? My bad, sorry for the mistake, it really sounds like a double at times (probably your drumming technique then?).

      Anyway, thanks a lot for commenting.


  5. to clarify, john did NOT play in anorexia as nick stated, it was ARROGANCE.
    as for the single bass drum, the sound you thought was a double bass drum was because of the senstive pedal nick was using at the time.