As you may know (depending on where you live), a sadistic heatwave with a grudge is currently hitting Paris and other parts of Europe pretty hard right now. Parisians are already prone to complain constantly about anything and everything, so you can easily imagine the endless angry mumblings and exasperated sighs on the streets at the time of writing (the fact that France won the world cup a few weeks ago hardly alleviates the irritation). And that's precisely the time I chose to get Terminal Sound Nuisance going again, like the mythical phoenix, with my bum sticking to the chair, soaked armpits and the distracting buzzing of flies... I'm still unsure if it is out of uncrushable dedication or a glorified sense of sacrifice. But who cares!
Let's talk about 80's punk compilations today, in a casual but smart fashion that will - hopefully - make you dust off and re-explore some old records. If you are familiar with my useless ravings, you already know that I am a sucker for good compilations, first, because I feel they capture the vibe and essence of a specific time and place and second, because I fell in love with punk-rock through compilations (proper or homemade ones done by mates). So they are a good way to reconnect, have a good time and enjoy a few beers. They are the punk equivalent of doing a cleanse or taking some time off to travel in South East Asia in order to "find yourself", only they require much less efforts or money.
Where you will learn more about the finances of the label as well as the owner's vision of and for the punk scene
The first album of the Summer comps not summer camps series (my love for silly puns is unfortunately not getting any weaker) is Daffodils to the Daffodils Here's the Daffodils, released on Pax Records in 1984. During its rather short run as an independent punk label, Marcus Featherby's Pax put out some pretty crucial records from bands like Mau Maus, Anti-System and even The Exploited (their third and rather good 1983 Lp Let's Start a War) but I think that, some 35 years later, the label is mostly remembered for its top compilations. The Wargasm Lp, from 1982, was probably the most famous and sold very well thanks to its solid diverse lineup (Poison Girls, Dead Kennedys, Angelic Upstarts...) and its relevant antiwar message and I guess that most punk old-timers will spontaneously say "Wargasm" if you ask them what Pax Records reminds them of (I actually had to abduct several older punks to conduct this experiment so I know what I'm talking about). In my case, Pax makes me think primarily of two things: Anti-System and the trilogy of great punk as fuck compilations Lp with goofy titles and mischievous punks on the cover. With names such as Punk Dead - Nah Mate the Smell is Jus Summink in Yer Underpants Innit and Bollox to the Gonads - Here's the Testicles and covers depicting punx having a laugh, they certainly captivated my youthful imagination and exposed me to some fantastic bands. Daffodils was the part of the trilogy (and actually the last proper release of Pax) and its rather strange name referred to the anti-Bushell title of the previous compilation (which triggered some controversy, some shops refusing to carry it because it was deemed impolite). Apparently, the idea of the daffodils title came from an ironical gentleman comment from John Peel who suggested to replace naughty words with flowers. Actually, the record was originally going to be called One Man's Wombat Piss is Another Man's Real Ale (is it disastrous, hilarious or both? It does make me giggle, I admit).
The strength of Pax compilations lied in their variety, at a time when the punk scene was becoming more and more divided, and in the inclusion of foreign punk bands (Bollox to the Gonads notably had Crude SS, Canal Terror, Savage Circle and Subversion), something that was certainly not to be taken for granted in the early 80's in the UK scene. Maybe because of the insular nature of Britain, mentalities seemed to have been quite close-minded to "foreign punk-rock" at that time in some quarters of the punk scene. As Featherby wrote it himself in the liner notes to Swedish band Noncens: "Whenever you think of "foreign" punk groups, the reaction is usually negative - but there are some bloody good ones about." That this even needed to be said in 1984 is revealing and even awkwardly funny in retrospect (the same thing can be said about Featherby urging locals to read MRR). The hardcore explosion of the following years thankfully changed a lot of things for the better but I sometimes wonder if this kind of chauvinistic attitude has completely vanished from "the scene" when I hear people claiming in all seriousness that "real hardcore is American". Oh well.
But let's get to the actual record. Daffodils is my favourite compilation out of the three because it has the most diversity and versatility with nine bands and twenty songs displaying different shades of 80's punk music. And because it includes Onslaught. Some bands offered several tracks to the record but they were disseminated and not placed in a row so that it does not sound redundant (I guess) and makes for a more pleasant, less mechanical listen with a genuine comp feel.
The opening song is "Facts of war" from the mighty Mau Maus, which is taken from their strongest record, the Facts of War Ep, also released on Pax like the band's first two Ep's (the label and band were both from sunny Sheffield). I know some people love the music but dislike the vocals of Mau Maus, and although I can see why, I love them precisely for the very upfront, threatening, gritty, almost Oi-esque vocals that made them sound so intense. Mau Maus was one of the first UK bands to play fast and aggro-oriented thrashy hardcore punk with political lyrics, like a cross between Discharge, Riot Squad and US hardcore. A classic band that I never get tired of.
Next are the mighty Onslaught, from Bristol, with their ultimate hit "Black horse of famine" and "Shadow of death" on the other side. I originally got a cdr version of Daffodils precisely because I wanted to listen to them since I had read in a fanzine somewhere that they sounded like a primitive, metallic Discharge. Though I quite enjoy Power From Hell, I much prefer the earlier recordings of Onslaught (as the old adage "the demos were better" is actually true here) when they sounded like a dischargy hardcore punk bands trying to play metal and had charged hair and studs. It is feral, dark, aggressive, clearly metal but super punky at the same time. Like the ideal first date between Discharge and Venom. The sound is perfect here (sadly the previous demos are rough) and I so wish they had recorded an Lp with that sound and songwriting. "Black horse of famine" is one of the finest and meanest examples of greatness-inducing simplicity. Ace.
You will also find two songs of the magnificent Destrucktions on Daffodils, taken from their hardcore masterpiece Vox Populi. Hailing from Ulvila, Finland, they had Peikko from Kaaos on the guitar and played typical Propaganda hardcore (you saw that coming, right?) with the typical youthful energy and aggressive snottiness inherent in the style. The threatening teenage vocals are by the book, the bass is thick, the riffs simple but great and the chaotic power genre-defining. Their mid-paced "Trade union" is the definitive winner and your best introduction to the do's and don't's of Finnish hardcore. The title of the songs are in English but they sing in Suomi, as you would expect if you are at all familiar with the genre. Their sole Lp (that has not been reissued yet and is therefore highly expensive) was released on Rock-O-Rama, great hardcore punk label turned RAC around 1984. How do you go from Riistetyt to Skrewdriver? It still beats me.
Unjust from the Bronx, New York City, contributed four songs of direct and fast punk music to the compilation that are reminiscent of the early days of US hardcore with its distinct prosodics. Very energetic and quite tuneful. Unjust would appear one year later on the Big City's One Big Crowd compilation Lp that a lot of tough American hardcore bands and even Sheer Terror (not my cuppa but you can picture where they were coming from).
With three tracks on Daffodils, Noncens from Helsingborg, Sweden, demonstrated how pervasive the influence of the second wave of British punk-rock with songs that would have fitted perfectly on Riot City or No Future. In fact, you could even argue that Noncens gave the cream of the crop of UK82 bands a serious run for their money. The three songs are stellar, "The battlefield" and "Black and white" being fast and well-crafted snotty punk numbers somewhere between Varukers, Picture Frame Seduction or Mayhem, absolute top-shelf UK82 punk. "Give us a future" is a mid-paced gem that starts with a super epic vibe before turning into a postpunk-flavoured snotty cold war anthem, like The Enemy jamming with UK Decay. Amazing song that contains everything that was good about early 80's punk. Noncens also had an Ep in 1983 with a much more straigh-forward, rawer punk sound and a more distinctive Swedish vibe (especially in the Asta Kask-like chorus). Really good band that I know little about. Swedish punk nerds, now is the time to school me.
A second band from NYC contributed songs to this Pax piece of wax: No Control. To say that Featherby was excited about the band would be an understatement as he literally raves about them. I don't know much about them and apparently they did not really achieve what was predicted. No Control played hard-hitting punk with upfront female vocals and an early hardcore feel (there are some textbook riffs). Pretty good indeed especially at their fastest. The band also included members of The Psychos and Sheer Terror.
What would an '84 compilation Lp be without some danceable goth-tinged postpunk? For that, Leitmotiv had two songs on Daffodils displaying not only rather mature songwriting abilities but musicianship superior to the other bands. Coming from Bradford, the band was originally called Science (which was kind of a shite name) and had ties with the punk scene. Leitmotiv were far from derivative or generic and played dark, but not sinister, and powerful postpunk with a trance-like quality, a strong drum section and hypnotically catchy synthwave moments. They are quite difficult to compare (for me anyway) but I can see them share the stage with fellow Bradfordians New Model Army or Southern Death Cult, or with Arch Criminals and UK Decay, although they don't sound like them. Old-school punky goth music with some Northern grit. The two songs "(Living in a) tin" and "Silent run" also appeared on an Ep.
The inclusion of Demob's "No room for you" can be seen as surprising. After all, the No Room for You Ep was released three years prior to Daffodils, in 1981. So why then? Well, simply because it was Featherby's favourite punk song! And let's face it, "No room for you" is indeed one of the best punk-rock numbers ever written. Seriously. It has everything. Teenage angst, tunes to die for, lyrics you can relate to easily, melancholy, frustration, a feeling of togetherness... It has been in my "Top 5 songs to sing in the shower" for years. If you've never given it a listen, I actually envy you. It still gives me the chills. Basically the best of what the '77 wave had to offer reworked in an '82 framework. What a song...
Finally, Morbid Humour, from Bradford, offered two songs to this wonderful compilation (well technically three, but "Oh my God" is basically one song cut in half and it makes more sense to see it as a cohesive whole) and, along with Onslaught, they were the main reason why I originally wanted to listen to Daffodils so bad and why I finally bought a physical copy. I had read that MH was a short-lived anarchopunk band that had members from Anti-System (Nogsy, Phil and Varik), so of course I just had to check them out, knowing that there was a high possibility I was going to love them and, if not, I could still use the Anti-System connection as a piece of trivia in order to show off. It was a win-win situation. Still, I did not expect MH to be THAT good and I completely relate to the words "the intensity caused me to have shivers down my spine" from the liner notes. Nogsy was the first singer of Anti-System and I really appreciate his vocal tone, snotty but emotional and it fitted MH's sound maybe even better than it did A-S. Although the term has been so overused in recent years that it has almost lost its real substance, MH played dark and passionate mid-paced anarchopunk. Eerie and morose, intense and outraged, bellicose and melancholy, the band managed to conjure up all these emotions into their songs, despite having only recorded a demo. The two songs on the compilation are precious and I do not know why they did not garner more attention at the time (they did not play much apparently and were said to be mysterious... whatever that entails). The dual vocals certainly add more energy and depth to the songs and the complementarity is heartfelt. Their genuine achievement however lies in their balanced songwriting, somewhere between angry, tuneful punk-rock and darker, melancholy postpunk, a vehicle for raw emotions. Take the best of The System, Flux of Pink Indians and Reality Control and infuses it with Peni, Naked and Zounds and you'll be close. Moody anarchopunk doesn't get much better. Just listen to the transitional riff between the two parts of "Oh my God". Wonderful.