This short, but well-deserved break, of the past weeks allowed me to seriously think about new possible topics for Terminal Sound Nuisance that would be interesting to read and, above all, fun to write about. I have been listening to a lot of records that I had not played in years, some of them I thought I loved but turned out to be pretty average, while others that had never struck me as being particularly good really impressed me. It felt amazing to notice new things about records I used to play constantly 15 years ago and see them in a brand new light. Listening to music is also a personal process and good records grow with you and, sometimes, get better and more meaningful with age without ever losing what originally appealed to you in the first place, not unlike love relationships, wine-tasting or watching Jaws and Alien for the umpteenth time.
But anyway, the next few weeks will be dedicated to US punk and the first series will be about the anarchopunk wave that shook the country during the 90's. Since words are important, I would like to clarify this particular selection. Although I love to see anarchopunk as being a way of doing things and a common set of ideals rather than a strict musical genre, the five records I have picked actually fit with both perspectives: anarchist punk bands with an actual "anarchopunk sound" inspired by the 80's waves but with a distinct, albeit probably unintended, 90's vibe. And, to properly open "Anarchy in the U$A", no record is more relevant than Aus-Rotten's first Ep, "Anti-imperialist".
Aus-Rotten is one band that almost everyone at least knows about. They are a pan-punk band. While their music or their political stance may not appeal to all, mentions of their name are usually uttered in respect as they very much embodied the integrity and honesty of 90's anarchopunk. Love them or hate them but Aus-Rotten were genuine and it is little surprising that you can still spot their patches at streetpunk, hardcore or crust gigs, especially knowing that the band has played for a variety of crowds throughout their existence. While their presence on the unfortunately-named "Pogo attack" 1994 compilation Lp may look a little unsettling from our current context, it also showed that the boundaries between punk factions were more fluid and permeable (after all, The Casualties recorded two Lp's for Tribal War) and I think it underlined the band's intent to reach to the then growing "non-political streetpunk" scene rather than expressed their love for pogo-dancing. Besides, I guess the fact that they "looked the part" probably gave them credibility in the eyes of the mohawk-fetishizing punks and, from experience, not unlike for Conflict, I know that it still does which says a lot more about the state of punk in the 2010's than about Aus-Rotten.
While Aus-Rotten are often hailed as a classic 90's anarchopunk band (like Resist), the music and its inception are seldom, if ever, discussed or examined. You know what I am getting at, right? So let's get to it. AR formed in 1991 in Pittsburgh, also the hometown of Anti-Flag and The Pist, and recorded their first demo, "We are denied... They deny it", in 1992. These were pivotal years for political punk in the US. While the heyday of the OC anarcho/crust scene was fading, bands like Resist and Exist and Armistice were also emerging; Portland had Resist and Deprived to offer; Minneapolis was getting stronger through bands like Misery and Destroy and the political activism of Profane Existence; New England was the home of great crust with Disrupt and Deformed Conscience... Of course, it is always easier to see the bigger picture with hindsight, but I feel looking at Aus-Rotten as a transitional band, from the first half of the 90's to the second one, is particularly relevant, especially when you listen closely to their discography and how the band slowly changed through time. Although thinly produced (if at all), "We are denied" is a meaningful work located at a crossroads in the history of US anarchopunk that embodies the shift from the late 80's to the 90's sound. It doesn't really sound that much like early Aus-Rotten actually (though it shares the same energetic simplicity) and Dave's voice is hardly recognizable. Sonically it sits comfortably between the aggressive SoCal anarcho-hardcore sound of Final Conflict, Diatribe, Bitter End or Holocaust and Portland bands like Deprived or Resist that included the catchiness and the anthemic quality of UK82 into their dynamic, straight-up punk-rock. I find the demo particularly interesting, despite its rough and ready quality, as it clearly indicates where the band was coming from at the time.
"Anti-imperialist" was released just one year after "We are denied", in 1993, but the improvements are quite remarkable as the Ep is a much more focused effort. The SoCal influence is still heavy but I don't hear much of the Resist/Deprived this time. However, there is a strong UK anarcho feel on the Ep and Discharge, early Conflict, Icons of Filth, early Antisect (especially with the dual vocals) and even Legion of Parasites or Insurrection certainly come to mind. Of course, the band never hid that they were heavily into 80's anarchopunk and its aesthetics as the fold-out poster shows (it became a bit of trademark for them). "Anti-imperialist" attested that Aus-Rotten quickly found their sound, albeit still in its rudimentary version, and is one of the best blend of Final Conflict and Conflict that I can think of. It has this youthful, snotty feel that gives the rather simple dischargy songs the required energy and anger. The guitar sound is heavy and thick, the bass is upfront, buzzing and groovy, the drumming is slightly sloppy but energetic and intense, and I love the chaotic vibe of the dual vocals. Although it is not indicated, I am pretty sure the five songs come from two different recording sessions, with side A having a heavier guitar sound and sounding a little rougher on the whole, wile side B is more distorted, bass-driven (with some cracking lines) and generally tighter and more focused. The Ep epitomizes everything that was good about raw yet heavy, discharge-influenced 90's anarchopunk (some songs could almost be qualified as "proto-D-Beat" really) and listening to this in 2016 makes me think that it is really not that far from our modern brand of "raw punk" although it is not nowhere as self-conscious or referential. Aus-Rotten were famous for their angry, detailed and researched political lyrics which improved greatly throughout the years. On "Anti-imperialist", you can tell from the rather direct and simple writing that the members were still young, which doesn't make the message any less valid (the Ep deals with American imperialism) but shows how a band can mature politically as well as musically, as the two last albums demonstrated.
For all its simplicity, the Ep still never feels generic or derivative as it has this fire, this passion, this righteous energy that turn songs that may sound rather ordinary into unstoppable punk anthems. "Anti-imperialist" is just a genuinely good record and sometimes there are no logical reasons for it. It just is. Punk is magics, right?