Saturday, 4 April 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 10): Eve of the Scream "Control" 12'' Ep, 1989

Like my mommy used to tell me whenever I could not stop stuffing meself with chocolate cookies, all good things come to an end. Now that I can be described, in the broadest sense possible, as a grownup, at least officially, I have come to understand the depth of such a saying, and although I allow myself to overeat at times, I am afraid that even the most incredible things in the world - like Last Week's Trend is Now Passé for example, off the top of my head - do have to end eventually. And so this is the last part of this series that has focused on works pertaining to the second wave of British anarchopunk, all recorded during the second part of the 80's. By no means was it the first time I addressed this topic and, being of an obsessive nature, it won't probably be the last either (but I shall reasonably wait until the next pandemics, the dreadful Covid 20, also known as the Walrus Flu, hit the world in 2022 to get back to it). But before I leave you to your torpor and the streaming of irksome lockdown videos showing middle-class families tunelessly singing together in their spacious living room, your day shall be vastly improved by this write-up about a band you have probably never ever heard about: Eve of the Scream.

An unknown band? For real? In 2020? I know how it sounds. Disconcerting to say the least. And I know what you are thinking. Lost marbles and all that. You are probably blaming such a dubious statement on my pathological tendency to hyperbolise, one that can be verified pretty much in every articles I ever wrote for Terminal Sound Nuisance. And you would be wrong. I did take my medication and I truthfully believe that you, my faithful readers, are not acquainted with Eve of the Scream and, for once, I am not going to sneer at your ignorance and condescend to lecture you about your inadmissible shortcomings. In fact, it pains me to confess, until a relatively recent time, I was myself completely and sinfully oblivious to the existence of EOTS and consequently I shall be repenting by reciting three "Punk is dead" and five "Persons unknown" every night until I fucking die. 

I doubt you really want the whole story but you are still going to have it. In late 2015, I traveled to Brittany to attend a mate's party for New Year's Eve. The day before the customary midnight trades of germs, I was staying at another friend's, who is, to put it mildly, "an older punk". And I enjoy hanging out with older punks. Really, I do. They always have fascinating tales of insane punk gigs of yore to tell, or captivating anecdotes about old-school tours going seriously wrong, or gossip about how the singer of a legendary hardcore band is actually expert at behaving like a spoiled wanker. And of course, they often own old records and demo tapes and fanzines that you may never have heard about. So anyway, I was at this friend's place and we were chatting pleasantly, talking about recent bands we were into, this kind of things. Of course he is well aware that I claim to be a bit of an authority as far as vintage anarchopunk and crust go, a bit like a pundit, except I'm slightly better at discussing the validity of Discharge clones instead of Manchester United's shit transfer policy. So he innocently asks if I am familiar an 80's anarchopunk band called Eve of the Scream (with a French accent, as you can imagine). I replied that I did not, so he started fumbling around his record shelves and took out what looked like an Lp. Before the first chords arrived to my delicate ears, I honestly thought that I had either misheard the band's name or that he had mispronounced it. So when I realized that, not only was the band actually called Eve of the Scream, but that it was, indeed, a vintage anarcho act from the UK that was unbeknownst to me, I fell off my pedestal, instantly got off my high horse and started to get very excited about that mysterious band that had all the attributes of a personal favourite. It was a truly humbling experience, one that reminded me of why I enjoyed the company of knowledgeable old punks so much, as there are always things you can learn from their experience and stories. So thanks a lot for that. 

Once back at home, I immediately formed a research team capable to gather as much intelligence as possible about EOTS, the band that had inexplicably escaped me. Predictably, they only had the one record, the 12'' Ep Control from 1989, and I have not been able to find much about them, although a former EOTS member did create a soundcloud page 10 years ago that included the two recordings of the band (the aforementioned Control 12'' and a demo tape entitled Unbelievable Genocide) as well as some biographical elements. EOTS were from the Merseyside area, very close to Liverpool, and must have formed in the mid-80's. Mentions are made of a previous lineup to Unbelievable Genocide, but another earlier demo recording seems unlikely, and I have a feeling that EOTS may have been run like a collective and were possibly close to the free festivals scene, and I am not just saying that because they have a ska moment. Ippy (called Sherry on the cover), who is responsible for the backing vocals was apparently involved in the Greenham Women's Peace Camp movement and main singer Martin - who was still at school - used to play in Happy to be Sad (whatever that band might be!). After some skillful digs on a punk archaeological site, I was able to confirm that the Unbelievable Genocide tape (that is not even referenced on discogs) was originally released on Bluurg Tapes (at number 77), possibly in 1988. Unfortunately, the version of the demo uploaded onto the soundcloud page is apparently incomplete so that only six tracks are included. Although, this recording is not as crisp as Control, it nevertheless indicates what EOTS were trying to do in term of style. The band's music hints at that "free punk" sound that a significant number of anarchopunk bands in the mid/late 80's embraced, bands like Culture Shock, Freak Electric, Hippy Slags, Smartpils, Karma Sutra, basically bands that did not take the metal path and endeavoured to free punk-rock from its stylistic chains (and inspired by earlier non-conformist 80's punk bands) through the infusion of psychedelic rock, dub music, indie pop, ska, prog rock... The results of such miscegenation did not always demonstrate impeccable aesthetic judgements but it was a perfectly logical evolution from anarchopunk, just as valid as the contemporary crust wave. I am not saying that EOTS is an anarcho-dub collective, however I do get that "free" vibe from their catchy and danceable chorus-driven punk-rock with percussions. Three songs from Unbelievable Genocide were included on an anti-vivisection tape compilation entitled No Justification released in 1989 on a French label called Acts of Defiance - responsible for a couple of other such tapes from 1986 to 1992 (says discogs) - that also included Media Children and Γκούλαγκ, two bands who have already been invited to Terminal Sound Nuisance (No Justification also has songs from Brotherhood but, to be honest, they are unlikely to ever land here).

There are five songs on Control, recorded between 1988 and 1989. In fact, I am quite sure the last song "It's your choice", which was performed by a different lineup as stated on the backcover, previously appeared on the demo tape so that it is basically a four-song 12'' Ep with one extra track. EOTS did all their sessions at a local studio, called the Station House, with the help of one Paul Madden who notably worked on We Are Going to Eat You's Everywen the same year. Frustratingly, my copy of the record is bereft of any booklet or insert, which are very helpful in situating a band inside the punk cosmos with accuracy. But I am reputedly famous - and usually celebrated - to never run out of zeal when it comes to formulate wild guesses about unrenowned bands so I'll have a go by myself (and I have got the soundcloud page saved somewhere). Apparently, EOTS shared the stage with bands such as Rubella Ballet, City Indians, Culture Shock, Radical Dance Fatcion or Thatcher On Acid, and if you were to blend all these bands together, the resulting smoothie would taste something like EOTS. Control is a multifaceted anarchopunk record, fueled by clever and versatile songwriting skills and led by an outstanding performance and a strong presence of frontman Martin who really sings his heart out. In terms of musicianship, EOTS were nothing extraordinary - and admittedly having two drummers was probably a little ambitious for the demo session - although they are all pretty sound at what they do and the playing is not sloppy at all. But what really set Control apart lie in the dynamics of the songwriting, its youthful and uplifting energy. Control sounds like a fresh call to action, not because it is a unique punk masterpiece, but for the sense of urgency and optimism it manages to convey. The five songs are very well thought-out. For instance the song "Control" contains four different movements, after a soft tuneful introduction, you get a direct and snotty punk-rock entrée, before jumping to a full on ska interlude, and then to a dark postpunk break and finally to a poppy Chumba moment concluded by some epic guitar-driven punk-rock. Thanks to the sheer positive energy permeating the songwriting, "Control" never sounds disparate or clumsy, on the contrary it sounds like a proper story, greatly told from an angry teenage perspective, and the four other songs are just as convincing and memorable. EOTS were incredibly and, one feels, effortlessly catchy and tuneful too. The passionate dual male/female chorus will stick with you for days ("Dare to dream" is absolute gold) and the songs have that inherent danceable quality that can be found those early 90's anarcho bands like AOS3, Citizen Fish or Scum of Toytown, though EOTS are definitely more punk-rock-oriented. However, positing that this modest Liverpool band can be seen as an aesthetic bridge between the mid/late 80's free anarchopunk sound and the 90's anarcho-dub-punk is not irrelevant. But what do they really sound like, I figuratively hear you ask? Well, I suppose that they would feel comfortable with versatile psych punk bands like Culture Shock, Karma Sutra or Smartpils, but they also have that driving, lively, tuneful punk-rock element to them that can be found in bands like Hagar the Womb, Indian Dream or Naked, and of course they are especially close to the early '82/'84 Conflict sound either, especially in the way they are able to vary the tempos while still expressing a mood of anger.

The lyrics to the songs are not included and it's a real shame. From what I can gather, traditional anarchopunk topics like animal abuse, genocidal Western policies and manmade pollution are tackled. You can spot a dream catcher on the cover, which may be a little awkward retrospectively, and associated with the epigraph "Love, peace and positive change", it does conjure up images of long-haired punks traveling in a muddy van. As for the name Eve of the Scream, I wish I had a witty interpretation to offer but I don't.

Old punx rule, ok?  

Dare to dream

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 9): AOA "Satisfactory Arrangement" Lp, 1988

It is April Fool's Day and the joke is that most of the world population is in lockdown because of a depressive-looking reptilian anteater. The ground we are treading is shaky and little is known about our post-apocalyptic future, even for a scholar as resourceful and adroit as yours truly. The sad truth is that all I can do is to keep burbling on and on about some obscure, and yet wicked, bands in an attempt to illuminate the daily lives of millions around the globe. It is therefore my imperious duty as well as my unshakable resolve to keep writing and, through sharp wit and astute examination, fight boredom, banality and vapidity, for a better and unconfined tomorrow, when the whole Terminal Sound Nuisance staff will be, once again, able to run free, or at least take brisk walks, in their natural habitat, characteristically littered with dog excrements, greenish phlegm and pools of piss: the pavements of Paris. But until the glorious day arrives when liberty is restored (and when Parisians can rudely and selfishly complain their way through life again), I am afraid we will have to anaesthetise ourselves with the blue light of screens but thankfully I am here to provide you with some quality, highbrow entertainment that will give you a precious opportunity to shine at punk trivias and maybe find a mate (recent studies in punk anthropology have shown that such social events play an important role in punks' mating season).

As we are drawing near the end of Last Week's Trend is Now Passé, it being a ten-part series, I figured that it would be interesting to include a hard-hitting and uncompromising hardcore punk record. Until then, I had favoured that brand of poppy, tuneful and moody punk-rock that we have collectively grown to associate, in a retrospective and sometimes decontextualised movement, with the notion of 80's UK anarchopunk. I believe that this tendency is a double-edged sword. While on the one hand, I can conceive that this propensity to isolate certain specific descriptive traits common to a significant number of bands pertaining to a similar cultural context (the so-called anarchopunk waves) can be useful to generalise and create an actual musical genre, on the other hand the rhetorical boundaries that "genre-making" inevitable occasion tend to exclude bands that, on the surface, do not fit with the established identificational parameters. This is a highly subjective process of course - and one that is completely independent from the band's volition - and the doxastic template that this past decade and social media qualified as "anarchopunk" is subject to change, but it also accounts for uninformed but loud discrepancies that, as a sanctimonious nerd, I just cannot let go. My point, you may ask? Well, why don't people worship more the mighty AOA? Granted, too many people wrongly equate "postpunk" with "anarchopunk" nowadays, with rather equivocal results, but that a band like AOA -who proudly stood for that influential and potent school of Discharge-fueled anarchopunk, who existed for eight years and released three records, who were undisputedly one of the most fiercest-sounding entities of the era and whose shirt I have been wearing since the mid 00's - is not held in the highest regard is just criminal. But I will do my best not to give the impression that I am declaiming from the pulpit and damning all the heathens to HELL.

There is a good chapter about AOA in The Day the Country Died so as usual I encourage you to get a copy. I remember distinctly the first time I read about AOA, or rather the first time I saw about them. My unhealthy passion for punk shirts - some would call it hoarding, really - is not new and I have been known to hover around distro tables, on the lookout for neat Amebix tops among other treats. As soon as I had access to an internet connection, I feverishly scrutinised online distros, often from overseas, that offered a wide range of punk shirts. Among them was Punk Stuff, who seemed to screen-print shirts from all my favourite bands which caused me to gasp in awe (and eventually pass out) the first time I browsed their selection. Among all these brilliant designs was one that I had never seen before from a band I had never heard of before: AOA and their legendary peace logo that can be found on the cover of Who are they Trying to Con. Here was an unknown punk band that I instinctively knew would irrevocably become a favourite of mine. A truly cosmic awakening. My attempts at intimidating older punks into taping some AOA materials sadly remained ineffective but fate was on my side since the extraordinary punk anthem "Who are they trying to con" got picked by Overground Records for inclusion on the Anti-Society compilation cd in 2006. Shortly after, I was able to find a copy of the Satisfactory Arrangement Lp for a decent price, an acquisition which made the purchase of the aforementioned shirt from Punk Stuff both legitimate and vital.

When one ponders over the trending topic of furious, hardcore-sounding, vintage anarchopunk bands - and one is entitled to do so every so often, as a health measure - one usually comes up with such Discharge-influenced legendary bands like Antisect, Anti-System or Icons of Filth, and one isn't wrong to be sure, however one still makes the common mistake to omit to include AOA in this exclusive list, a faux pas that would have you thrown in my personal pangolin tank in a Terminal Sound Nuisance utopia. AOA were from Loanhead, South of Edinburgh, Scotland, and formed in 1982. The AOA acronym originally stood for All Out Attack (if you were not into Blitz at 16, you definitely suck at being a punk), but other versions comprised All Our Anger or Antithesis Of Apathy. I suppose the band is mostly remembered for their blistering 12'' Who are they Trying to Con from 1985, released on Children of the Revolution Records, and fair enough, I would argue it is one of the best Discharge-inspired recordings to come out of the UK and songs like "Disaster area" or the title track are brutal slabs of unadulterated 80's anarchopunk anger. Also on COR, the following year, with a new drummer, they shared a split Lp with their partners in crime Oi Polloi entitled Unlimited Genocide that easily stands as one of the greatest Scottish anarchopunk records with both bands delivering some seriously hard-hitting anarcho thrash on their respective side, with AOA sounding like a no holds barred brawl between Antisect, Crucifix and Warwound. After this Lp, the singer Steven settled in London where he went on to front the crusty hardcore thrash unit Gutrot (with Darren from Axegrinder on the drums) which prompted AOA to recruit Murph, on vocals, and Loaf, on the drums, from another local punk bands called The Degenerates. This lineup recorded the Satisfactory Arrangement Lp on two separate occasion, the first time in December, 1986, and the second almost a year later, in November, 1987.

I am not sure why the band waited that long between the two sessions but unfortunately there are disparities between them, further reinforced by the fact that each session corresponds to one of the side of the vinyl. Let's start with the A side that includes the '87 recording session. Clearly the most creative of the two, this side sees AOA experiment more emphatically than usual with several pounding tempos, from their customary Discharge beat, to heavy anarcho tribal rhythms and mid-paced hardcore charges, the songs always hit hard but remain quite unpredictable in terms of patterns, not unlike a more raging Conflict maybe. While I love the songwriting on this side of Lp, I have to say that the guitar sounds too murky and lacks in aggression while you cannot hear all the elements of the drum kit (like the bass drum for instance). On the contrary, the bass sounds fantastic (and there are some ace bass lines for the listener to enjoy), groovy and driving, and the vocals are perfectly recorded for the genre, very upfront and distinguishable. As a result of this imbalance, you have very strong songs that are missing the energy and the precision that a cohesive production would have offered. I am not saying that it is a mess, it's really not, but just a missed opportunity especially since the band was bringing new things to the table, like more thrashing Broken Bones-like metallic riff, more diversity on the drums and even atmospheric and gloomy Amebix-like moments, almost qualifying this recording as proto-crust.

The B side with the late '86 session is probably half-way between the Unlimited Genocide split Lp and the A side of Satisfactory Arrangement in terms of songwriting, as the new drummer was already trying new things. Contrary to the A side, the production does justice to the songs this time. AOA unleash their crushing power there with six songs of manic anarcho hardcore thrash, somewhere between Antisect or Anti-System for the dark and relentlessness aggression, Exit-Stance or Icons of Filth for the direct suffocating heaviness and mid/late 80's Chaos UK for the furious hostility, the merging of those influences creating a Scottish brand of uncompromising anarchopunk that Oi Polloi would also carry. New singer Murph, for his first session with the band, does a magnificent job at conveying a sense of visceral outrage and of uncontrollable threat that take the whole Lp to a different level. The man could shout his head off like a demented soul, but also utter fierce political statements during classic moments of anarcho spoken parts, while always sounding naturally pissed off and about to grab you by the throat, the gruff tone of his voice like the epitome of anger. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics confirm that AOA were not exactly content with the state of the world. The mid-80's were bleak and it shows. My copy of the Lp does not have an insert but the lyrics can be found in the thick booklet that came with the official AOA discography double cd, Axis Of Ascendancy self-released by the band in 2008. From the brutality of the English colonial rule in Northern Ireland, to the lethality of so-called "non-lethal weapons", to the mass control of population, social subservience, the need to work together, global pollution caused by manmade economic systems and of course vivisection.

In the end, Satisfactory Arrangement leaves a strange taste in the mouth, with one side being decent but still impaired by a weak production, while the other one is an anarcho hardcore whirlwind foaming with rage. I personally cannot help imagining how bloody amazing the first side would have sounded with a crunchier, more powerful guitar sound and drum parts you can actually discern. Of course, "what ifs" being pointless to confront our sinister reality, I still warmly recommend this geezer. It was released on Endangered Musik in 1988, a label run by Steve Beatty who actually drummed once for AOA in Bristol (as he was already hitting things with Stone the Crowz) after their own drummer had left only days before the beginning of the tour!

Absolutely classic stuff.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 8): Karma Sutra "The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker" Lp, 1987

This is the twelfth day of national confinement and I am deeply saddened to announce that tragedy has eventually hit the Terminal Sound Nuisance empire. Indeed, although the unspeakable truth was clearly looming near, I had done my best, until then, to ignore it, pretend it did not even exist, deny in fact the very possibility of its existence. But now it no longer seems possible to hide from the facts: the confinement has made my beach body history. Whereas only two weeks ago, I could easily display incredible steel abs, a small but flabby belly is now growing in their place, like a shabby 80's bumbag. Needless to say that my self-esteem has been shattered by this unheralded and unfathomable event, but, as disconsolate as I understandably am, I shall, against the odds of getting a bit fat, like a modern day hero, keep doing the blog when I should probably exercise more. That is the French panache in a nutshell.

Looking at some of the bands I picked for Last Week's Trend is Now Passé made me realize that, alternatively, I could as well have called the series Great Bands with Questionable Monikers. Today's band may actually take the biscuit in terms of unwise choice of substantive since their name is a pun. Coming from a country with a strong (and, as far as I am concerned, unfortunate) tradition of punk bands going for supposedly hilarious pun-related names (common decency and fear for my personal safety command me not to give examples), a band called Karma Sutra immediately sounds well dodgy (not as much as Skama Sutra, but still close). I first heard KS through the Profane Existence 15 Year Anniversary compilation cd that was included with the issue #45 of the magazine in 2004. There were a lot of top bands on that cd and, young and idealist, my friends and I often played it because it was a good introduction to different styles of political hardcore punk and, since it covered a period of fifteen years, it gave us an introductory glance at the diachroneity of punk music. Besides there were State of Fear, Hiatus and Detestation on it and they were the real fucking deal. I remember that the KS song included on the cd, "Poll tax", really stood out from the rest, with its 80's vibe, those heavy and hypnotic tribal beats and Crass-like female vocals. And then there was also the flute. Yes, an actual flute. We did not really know what to make of it to be honest, especially since we were primarily looking for hard-hitting crust music at that time and the flute clearly belonged to the "prohibited instruments" category that only barefaced hippie rockers dared use. There was a general agreement that, until the flute kicked in, the song was, yes different, but in a good way, so why would anyone spoil an otherwise perfectly decent composition with an instrument reeking of artisanal goat cheese? I had not played "Poll tax" for ages before working on this blog entry and it brought back many memories of more innocent, less cynical times. I had not realized at the time that it was an unreleased KS song that was originally meant for a benefit compilation that never happened (possibly for the poll tax prisoners I presume). Also, I did not remember the song to be that brilliant, in spite of, or rather thanks to the flute (still prohibited in punk in 99% of cases though).

There is not much information about KS floating around on the web so that I had to sharpen my inquisitiveness in order to gather some facts. They were from Luton, like UK Decay, and must have formed around 1982 or 1983, although the singer Dave Commodity used to sing in the Phallic Symbols before (all things considered, the name could have been worse than KS). While singer Dave provides some interesting liner notes for the Anti-Society compilation cd, they are only briefly mentioned in The Day the Country Died since, unfortunately, none of the band met with Glasper and there is just one tiny paragraph about them. However, the Dominant Patri singer, another anarchopunk band from Luton that may (this is a wild guess) have had a member in common (Bugsy) with them, states that KS played a crucial role in the making of local scene at the time, like many bands, their lack of global exposure not reflecting at all their importance on a local level. After playing with Conflict, they got offered to record a song for a Mortarhate compilation which would materialise with the inclusion of the highly catchy "It's our world too" on the Who? What? Why? Where? When? Lp in 1984 (already reviewed here). One year later, they once again contributed a song to Mortarhate's We don't Want Your fucking War Lp, this time "How the other half die", this time with a better sound and tighter musicianship, and backed with those prominent tribal beats that would come to typify the KS sound. The band went on to appear on other compilation Lp's, 1987's God Save Us from the USA, a benefit Lp for the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign that also included bands like Heresy and Dan, Mystic Records' Airstrip One in 1988 (the atrocious cd reissue of which was reviewed here) and Life is Change in 1989, released on a German label (KS toured Germany in 1988), Beri Beri, responsible for records from bands like Life But How to Live it?, Stengte Dører or Samiam. The chronology of KS's demo tapes and recording sessions is at best foggy. There is a rather raw four-song demo entitled Anarchy and Peace supposedly released in 1985 that saw the band exercise their punky moodiness, while the very strong song "Fantasy ball" that appeared on Anti-Society was part of another demo session (probably 1986?) and I have no idea when "Poll tax" - and the oethr '87/'89 compilation songs - was actually recorded though I would venture that it was after the album. I bet there are still unreleased KS songs from such sessions gathering dust in a Luton basement, just waiting for an alacritous adventurer to bring them back to life. Anyone brave enough?

One thing is certain though, KS's overlooked masterpiece, The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker, was recorded in Sheffield at Vibrasound Studio (The Abused and Switzerland's sloppiest The Decay also recorded there) in 1987 and released on Paradoxical Records the same year. Daydreams can be described as a concept album revolving around several revolutionary ideas that the band develops in the songs, as each of them reads as a chapter from an anarchist pamphlet and is followed by a long explanation further detailing the political implications of the topics. Like Chumbawamba, with whom they were close and often gigged, or even The Apostles, KS were very articulate politically and genuinely anarchists. The thick booklet provided with The Daydreams reads like a pamphlet and focuses on radical politics that went far beyond the usual antiwar rants from your average anarchopunk bands. The texts refer to the situationist notion of the spectacle, to Malatesta, to prison struggles, to a radical criticism of the notion of gender, of private property, of class oppression, of cultural brainwashing, of ineffective revolutionary tactics, of left-wing mythologies, of the notion of artists, of the feudal wage system... It is basically a rather dense anarchist magazine with the open purpose of making you question what you take as normal in your daily life. In a word, propaganda. If the writers are clearly passionate and somewhat idealists, they never sound preachy or judgmental and the cartoons provided to illustrate the statements are humorous and probably borrowed from 1970's situationism (which I quite like). The music and the words stand for the daydreams of this symbolical production line worker, for what he or she is thinking about in the utopian realms of the dream, and as a result, the album itself becomes the daydreams, the metaphorical happy place where oppression is debated and fought. It is an intelligent album with a strong message and a coherent structure, pregnant with meaning, and it can certainly be considered as a major achievement, like Chumba's Pictures of Starving Children or Conflict's Ungovernable Force, although it came out at a time when the original anarcho waves had already died out and thus did not get all the praises it deserved.

The Daydreams is a remarkably narrative Lp. Instead of a mere collection of songs, the listener is offered a political pamphlet put into punk music (or is it the opposite?). It is a moody, varied work where different genres echo and complement each other, where different paces reflect the impetuosity of human emotions, where spoken parts and instrumentals serve to give a meaningful frame to the whole. Approached through the prism of the daydream metaphor, precisely because of their dreamlike quality, I have to reluctantly admit that even the hypnotic flute parts come to make sense by creating a fragile, misty atmosphere. The Daydreams is a vibrant, polyphonous and above all ambitious album with at its core a bittersweet hopefulness that is undeniably unique in the anarchopunk world. It is not a flawless work and I suspect the songwriting and conceptual dimensions at times proved a little too challenging for the band, but the end result is impressive nonetheless. KS were a very moody band, able to express genuine outrage, heartfelt optimism, or despair from to song and as a result the band's music, aided by the album format that allowed them to build the right vibe, experiment and give the songs enough time to be truly eloquent. The different genres present on the Lp reflect this versatility, from folk music, to heavy and pounding tribal rock, to soft pop with harmonics, flute and even cello, to epic polyphonous anarchopunk with male and female vocals or dark goth-tinged postpunk (every shade of anarcho music but hardcore punk really), KS used many tools to create a cohesive and memorable whole, a quality further emphasised by the fact that a lot of the songs seamlessly blend into each other, as if it were a sort of punk epics. Comparisons with other bands become not only difficult but perhaps a little pointless as well. I guess that if Chumbawamba and Killing Joke had written an album together, it would have been quite close, the cold and tribal drumming section of KS being remarkably heavy. Bands like Smartpils, Omega Tribe, Civilised Society?, even Vex, Flowers in the Dustbin, No Defences or The Mad Are Sane could be mentioned too, but in the end it would be much more meaningful to just listen to the Lp.

Of course, as shown on the backcover of the album, KS took their political considerations to their logical ends and even questioned the validity of popular music and how, as a capitalist industry, it can be used as a pacification agent even when it promotes supposedly revolutionary bands: "The covers may have looked revolutionary but it was all a con, the biggest con ever". They also criticize the commodification of punk music and how we all got caught in consumerist behaviours stemming from capitalist culture, replacing "revolutionary activity" with "sub-cultural rebellion" - a critique that Bookchin formulated. This very issue may have prompted the demise of KS themselves since, while some members wanted to get out of the punk scene and try to reach wider audience (a condition known as the "Chumba syndrome"), others were involved in the free music, travelers' scene that was more about the anarchist lifestyle and less about revolutionary propaganda. In any case, the band split up in the late 80's (1989 is my best guess). The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker is very hard to find today and it was never reissued properly although an early 00's cd reissue is rumoured to exist. Apparently the Swiss customs pounded a large quantity of the Lp, probably when KS were on tour in the area in 1988, so I suppose you can blame Switzerland for the current scandalous price of the album on discogs, though I would personally blame our modern inflationist mentality. It's pretty sad, really.


Monday, 23 March 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 7): "Shall we dance?" compilation Lp, 1987

Here we go again. The valorous Terminal Sound Nuisance team is still on lockdown but more than ever determined to spread the good word about punk etiquette to my confined brothers and sisters all over the world. Unfortunately, since I will not be able to engage in my second favourite activity - the boastful display of my exclusive and high-class collection of crust shirts - for a couple of weeks more, at least, I shall focus all my energy on the blog in order to educate my fellow punks about the respectability of decent punk tastes, for the common good. I mean, it is either that or wasting your few remaining brain cells watching some dross on Netflix, so I suppose Terminal Sound Nuisance is almost like sending humanitarian aid. Thank fuck I have been graced with the gift of prolixity.

Today's post will address a compilation Lp entitled Shall we Dance?, released on the classic label of Dan's Ian Armstrong, Meantime Records. Now, with a title like Shall we Dance? one legitimately expects to be properly entertained and see his or her anxieties about that bloody virus mollified and one will not be disappointed. Let's first tackle an aspect of this record that has divided the punk community since its release in 1987, tearing families apart, breaking lasting friendship, destroying marriages, sparking riots at distro tables: should this album be called a compilation Lp, a four-way split Lp or even a four-way-split compilation Lp? More than thirty years later, there is still strong disagreements on the issue and it seems no consensus in the punk academic circles will ever be reached. As a respected self-proclaimed scene veteran myself, with solid punk credentials, receding hairlines and all that, I personally consider Shall we Dance? as a compilation simply because it is curated as such. I know such a bold statement might stir controversy but I like to live dangerously.

Four bands are included on the Lp, Joyce McKinney Experience, Decadence Within, Nox Mortis and Incest Brothers, two of which - JME and NM - were part of that grandiose article about UK anarchopunk from 1988 to 1992 that we did with Erik Negative Insight and, were it not for a corrupt jury, would have got the Pulitzer Prize (so make sure you read it so that I don't need to repeat myself). Besides, my beloved JME also had their 1990 12'', Cuddle This, reviewed here so they are not exactly newcomers to the blog. My oft fabled astuteness leads me to suggest that the purpose, the driving idea behind of Shall we Dance? was to offer new, interesting bands a record opportunity. In that light, it makes sense that the Lp was JME, NM and IB's first vinyl output. DW's 1986 recording is the odd one out because, as the band points out on their insert, by the time Shall we Dance? hit the DIY punk distros, they not only had a new lineup but had also changed musical direction so that the DW songs did not reflect what the band was about in 1987 (another example of how staggeringly quick bands moved in the 80's). Still, in spite of this slight discrepancy, the compilation should be described as a relevant introduction to four young English punk bands at a crucial time. Indeed, the year was 1987, and the shimmering crust, thrash punk, UK hardcore, grindcore waves were all ready to erupt in a spectacular fashion and officially supplant the older punk generations. In that light, this humble Meantime Records album, basically compiling four early recordings (three being actual first recordings!) from four up-and-coming punk bands, also embodied the new blood of the scene at that specific moment, notwithstanding the fact that two out of these four bands would eventually sink into obscurity.

Let's start with JME, an old favourite of mine that I also got to encounter through a Boss Tuneage double-cd discography from 2006, that I initially did feel like buying but, just like with the Dan one, still got in the end (so thank you boss). As a result, I often tend to associate both bands and, after all, there are meaningful similarities between them: beside being contemporaries, they both started out with strong dual female vocals, they had a very upbeat vibe, catchy tunes, a songwriting versatility, without mentioning very odd band names and colourful artworks which, because of the religious crust cult I belong to, makes it impossible for me to ever wear a JME or Dan shirt. Bummer. However, I guess JME could be said to be even more pop-oriented than Dan, but that is a heated debate I am not getting into, although I should point out that, by the end of their career in the early 90's, it certainly was true as they had essentially become a Britpop band. The band was from Leamington Spa (hometown of Bad Beach, Bolt Thrower, Varukers and Depraved with whom they shared a member, drummer Gigs) and although my preference goes to the delightfully melodic Cuddle This, I presume it is not far-fetched to claim that their 1988 Lp, Joyce Offspring, is what they will always be remembered for and only the most obtuse punk could remain insensitive to the pervading catchiness of JME's tunes. The four JME songs on Shall we dance? were part of a demo recording done in early 1987 (a fifth song from this session, "Slaughter in the Faroe Islands", was not included on the Lp) and, although it was just the band's first endeavour into a studio, the songs epitomised, albeit in a rather punky and raw fashion, what the band was genuinely proficient at: writing potent but melodic punk songs. The dual female vocals really complement themselves meaningfully, jumping from pop harmonies to a more aggressive raspy style with ease, displaying a wide variety of emotions that the songwriting really highlights. And it is no basic punk-rock either, there are some proper basslines and original guitar hooks and clever tempo changes and it never sounds generic. If you really think about JME may have been the catchiest UK punk band of the mid/late 80's (with Blyth Power). These four memorable songs would be rerecorded with a better production for the aforementioned Joyce Offspring Lp, a true punk classic that managed to combine the energy of early hardcore, the snottiness of anarchopunk and the melodies of pop-punk. Essential band that sounds a bit like a pillow fight between Bad Brains and Lost Cherrees.

The second band on the first side is Decadence Within, yet another one with a rather questionable moniker, although not for the same reasons as JME (at least it didn't refer to a priest-raping teenage girl, but it reminds me too much of Decadent Few for me to validate it completely). As they freely admit it themselves in Ian Glasper's Trapped in a Scene, DW may have been one of the hardest-working and longest-running UK hardcore bands of their generation, their run spanning from 1984 to 1995, but they were also one of the least popular. Apparently they played their first gig in 1985 with Shrapnel and a mysterious band called Discarded Remnants of an Age No More which goes to show that DW was not such a bad name after all. Because of the band's longevity and prolificacy, it is only logical that they already appeared several times on Terminal Sound Nuisance for their participation on punk samplers like the tragic Oi! Sound of UK (where they are referred to as Decadance Within on the cover!), A Vile PeaceHiatus and Endless Struggle. I must admit that I never really got into DW that much and I first became acquainted with them through the Soulwound cd on Peaceville that also included This Lunacy. I vaguely remember buying this second-hand for really cheap on ebay at a time when, naive and impetuous, I was still very much exploring that corner of the UK scene with a heart full of idealism. And I did not like the cd at all as it sounded like an American crossover hardcore band and I was hoping for a metallic UK crust punk one. I did not eat for a whole week and the scars have never truly healed. As a result, I promptly discarded DW as a hopelessly US-styled hardcore act and did not play the cd again (I still have it though). And then, Overground Records started to release its grandiose anarchopunk tetralogy - the so-called Anti compilation series - that certainly encouraged me to dig deeper and expand my epistemological stance toward anarchopunk. I realized that DW were included on the second volume, Anti-State, which was a little baffling to me since DW were fundamentally tied to "that late 80's crossover sound" and I did not expect them to rub shoulders with The Mob, Disrupters or Subhumans on an anarcho-themed compilation. The DW was "A breath of fresh air" and it is a brilliant song, close to the old-school classic anarchopunk sound indeed and I had trouble linking that song with the Soulwound cd. But bands moved really fast at the time and could take radical turns in a matter of months.

All this to say that the DW you get on Shall we Dance? is the old-school anarchopunk one, not the jumpy hardcore one. As I mentioned earlier, this DW recording was not new and not specifically done for the compilation. In fact, it was the band's first demo, recorded in July, 1986, and as a warning they tell the listener on the insert that "we hope you enjoy these songs but bear in mind that they are OLD!!". About one year-old to be accurate. The warning is fair though since at the time of writing DW had a new lineup with a new guitar player well into thrashing hardcore and the female singer was gone, without mentioning that the band already had a record out, the very enjoyable Speed Hippy Ep released in late 1986. As the band reveal in the liner notes, the inclusion of older DW songs on the Meantime compilation is the result of the band wanting to do something with a good recording that was gathering dust and of Ian Armstrong's opinion that the old songs sound better than what DW were doing then! So how do they sound then? The songwriting is quite ambitious actually with song structures focusing on narration, daring mood changes, over-the-top soloing (the guitar player was a massive Hendrix fan apparently), crazy drum rolls and even some vocal effects. Not everything works and there are moments when the drummer should have gone for something a bit simpler and when guitar solos were not necessary, but while they remain firmly in the anarchopunk camp sonically, they were not generic. The sound is very clear for a demo recording and the dual male/female vocals work fine, with Am's potent and deep singing style contrasting with Kev's angry snotty shouting, and the guitar riffing is strong. Try to imagine a blend of Civilised Society?, Conflict, The Sears and The Instigators and you will not be far off. The Speed Hippy Ep builds on the same inspirational drive and thanks to a groovier production can be said to be a superior work that I personally really like, although the accomplished guitar player does tend to venture into classic rock territories a bit too much for his own good at times and the cover is very ugly. DW's lyrics then dealt a lot with animal rights and two out of the three songs on Shall we Dance? are about this topic. Classically trained, with an interesting twist, unfairly overlooked anarchopunk.

The first band on the B side are the magnificent Nox Mortis from Southampton. I have already raved about NM on two occasions, in the article about 88-92 anarchopunk and in my review of Spleurk, another Meantime compilation Lp which includes their most glorious anthem "In memoriam". Incidentally, "In memoriam" was originally supposed to appear on Shall we Dance?, as it was part of the same recording session as the other three songs, but could not fit on the actual vinyl because of length issues. As a result, they ended up leaving that song out but their lyrics sheet was ready so they just indicated that "The above song isn't on due to a lack of time... sorry". By no means was it an unusual mistake in the amateur realms of DIY punk and I also love punk for such imperfections. That NM never got reissued, or even acknowledged at a time when so many claim to be into 80's anarchopunk, remains an abstruse enigma in 2020 and I spare no effort in spreading the gospel. I can think of other such deserving bands equally worthy of attention, and ideally, reissues like The Assassins, Systematic Annex, Awake Mankind or Polemic but none of them quite as much as Nox Mortis. The three songs on the Lp were recorded in 1987 and highlight the band's remarkable talent for writing moody, intense, poignant, melancholy, beautiful and dark punk-rock songs. The concept behind NM was to adapt the so-called war poets, poems written on The Great War's frontline, into punk songs and they managed to work on poems by Ewart Alan Mackintosh, Wilfred Owen and John McCrae. NM's singer and bass player Simon died tragically in April, 1988, after a long illness and the Spleurk Lp was dedicated to him. The band's first recording, a rawer but still fantastic demo, also comes very highly recommended if you crave for soulful and passionate anarchopunk music reminiscent of The Mob, Omega Tribe, Naked or Kulturkampf. In memoriam.

The final band, Incest Brothers, on Shall we Dance? is infinitely more jocular than NM. In fact, they were what you can call a joke band, a punk subgenre that is not uncommon in Britain, a country reputed for its peculiar sense of humour. Surprisingly - and terrifyingly - enough, there was an 80's Swedish punk band with more of a late 70's vibe also called Incest Brothers which, if anything, proves that there might be such a thing as a "punk sense of humour" after all. I do not dislike joke bands but am a rather picky eater when it comes to them. With extremely silly and puerile songs about farting "Breakwind", undies "Dungarundies" or naturism "Naked city", I guess IB must have been a fun bunch to hang around and drink with if one is to believe their interview in Trapped in a Scene. This Leeds-based crew never took themselves seriously and their first gig took place at the Totally Crap Festival - that also saw pre-Intense Degree band System Sikness or Skumdribbblurzzz "perform" live - which they headlined. The Brothers recorded seven songs for Shall we Dance? two of which are just Sore Throatish bursts of hardcore noise. Sonically however, IB were not the wall of unlistenable chaotic noise one would normally associate with a band that had a member claiming that it was morally wrong for a punk band to practice. In fact, they were capable of writing some pretty energetic, catchy, if chaotic, US-flavoured hardcore punk tunes of their own, a bit like a goofier and sloppier Stupids, Youth Brigade or Doctor & the Crippens. A silly but not incompetent band that believed in the power of doing silly dances so that's always something.  

Shall we Dance?, as a record, looks brilliant. The four bands contributed a lyrics sheet as well as an additional piece of artwork that are all part of a big foldout cover and you can tell that each of them took their role seriously. All the pieces are not merely well executed, they also meaningfully convey what the bands stand for and how they see themselves aesthetically and lyrically. The relation between how the artworks look and how the bands sound is a close one, pregnant with signification. It therefore comes as no surprise that NM's pieces are evocative and mournful when IB's show inept drawings of silly punks. The cover of the record itself, drawn by Mick from Chemical Warfare zine looks ace a,d I enjoy the Crumb-influenced style. Four punks from four different schools (you've got the US hardcore kid with his skateboard and baseball cap, the dirty crusty missing teeth with wheat in his hair, the high as fuck spiky punk and the anarcho punk with her feminist badges) all united in the perspective of dancing together. Cool shit.