Saturday 27 April 2013

Confusion "Hopeless" Ep 1991

Being wrong is sometimes a good thing. Last year, I predicted that Colombian noisepunk was soon going to be the new trend that all the cool punks were going to adopt and pretend to have known and loved forever (to be honest most of my predictions turn out to be wrong). But while paying tribute to Wretched, Disorder or RIP (or mimicking them, depending on how you decide to see it) remains in the realms of the feasible, trying to play like Dexkoncierto, Ataque de Sonido Bastardos Sin Nombre or Herpes is a completely different endeavour altogether. This Colombian brand of punk came from Medellin in the late 80's/early 90's, at a time when it was considered as the most dangerous city in the world (hence its nickname "metrallo"). Among all this violence and chaos could only emerge violent and chaotic punk-rock. The Medellin bands of this era are all extremely distorted, completely sloppy, rough as a badger's arse and very direct. Harsh punk for harsh living conditions.

If limited musical skills are common enough in punk-rock, I have never heard a sound quite as rough as what you can find on such classic compilations as "La ciudad podrida" (1990) or "Estamos en la sima" (1989). Terrible recording conditions and shitty instruments are probably the reasons why it is such a sonic mess (in fact, most of these bands were so broke that they shared the same crappy guitars, drums and amps which account for the very similar super-distorted, blown out sound of these bands). You can add to these material limitations the urgency, the anger, the nihilism that drenched Medellin punk-rock. Those bands were - litterally - playing as if their lives depended on it, as if there would be no tomorrow, and for good reason as the death toll in those years was quite considerable among punks. Can a Japanese, French or Spanish band reproduce this sound? It is very unlikely and it is for the best. 1989/1992 Medellin bands stripped punk-rock down of anything remotely tuneful and created a genre that is so unashamedly noisy, discordant, spontaneously nihilistic, that it cannot be faked.

Now enters Confusion, which is often classified as an old-school grindcore band, and indeed, Napalm Death, Agathocles, Sore Throat and fellow latino grindcoreros Rot, Anarchus or Cacofonia are relevant points of comparison. Confusion were also from the late 80's/early 90's and played old-school grindcore (bordering on noisecore at times) with a raw sound and no technical wankery. But they were also from Medellin and if Confusion's sound is not quite as harsh as their punkier counterparts, some of the bands included on "La ciudad podrida" and "La sima" were close enough to proto-grindcore (just listen to Herpes and you'll know what I mean). The guitar sound on this Ep is not unlike the contemporary Medellin punk bands', very harsh and mushy, and there is a similar sense of urgency flowing through the record. One might venture that Confusion were as much into Agathocles as they were into their fellow antioquieño punk-rockers' burst of desperate fury. Or it could also be that, living in Medellin at the time, Confusion were meant to play naturally an even more extreme and chaotic version of grindcore.

Confusion's lyrics (they chose to sing in English for some reason) tend to confirm such as a claim. Entitled "Hopeless", the Ep contains seven songs about violence from the guerillas and the right-wing paramilitary groups, slaughters of peasants, the abuse of human rights, political corruption and the ties between terrorism and the authorities, poverty in las comunas, censorship and how fighting for justice can get you killed. Although written in broken English, you can see that the political context of Colombia and the utter chaos of Medellin at the time shaped what Confusion had to say: "Choose the silence or choose the death to be a good Colombian citizen". In this respect, the band picked exactly the right moniker: confusion indeed. "Hopeless" was recorded in 1991 and was Confusion's second Ep after the 1990 "Civilization?" flexi on Standard of Rebellion records, a short-lived label that also released Ep's from Seven Minutes of Nausea and CFUDL, and before a split Ep with Arsedestroyer in 1993. Both "Hopeless" and the aforementioned split were released on Amok records from Germany. A few years ago, Obliteration records from Japan released a discography cd of Confusion entitled "Demo's lition" that includes the band's Ep's.


Thursday 18 April 2013

Internal Autonomy "Love & life" Ep 1991

The current postpunk trend of Belgrado, Blue Cross or Spectres has ambivalently led to a renewed interest in those old British anarchopunk bands whose sound was a bit darker or more goth-oriented than Crass or Conflict. The depth of this revival notwithstanding, I find it odd to apply the term "postpunk" to bands like Rubella Ballet, Lost Cherrees, Part 1 or indeed Internal Autonomy. To me, they always were anarchopunk bands since they were part of the anarchopunk world (though many bands at the time claimed that they were neither punks nor anarchists), which put the emphasis on the politics of punk (directly or indirectly) rather than on the genre you played, and this inclusiveness allowed different sounds to coexist. Of course, retrospectively, you can hear many musical similarities between those early anarcho bands and, judging from accounts of people who were involved at the time, there was a degree of conformity among the self-appointed non-conformists. Still, the anarcho scenes (the plural makes more sense here as there was not one, unified, homogenous scene but rather, plenty of small, local DIY punk scenes connected to each other) produced many musically diverse, challenging bands, from Chumba to Icons of Filth, The Mob to Antisect, Flowers in the Dustbin to Potential Threat. My point being that the current compulsive postpunk tag illustrates one thing: we focus too much on music and form, not enough on content and context. Genre-defining words are useful to some extent. After all, we still have to describe what we hear and the more accurate, the better. But it becomes problematic when such words become the end itself because it leads to mostly insignificant fragmentations inside punk scenes. Once, I even heard of a "raw punk scene"... How depressing is that? What made me so grumpy? Why can't I stop moaning? Should I get a life or something?

I was reading the booklet of Internal Autonomy's double cd this morning in order to prepare for this post when a sentence made me ponder. In place of the usual "band history", a founding member of IA wrote down a few thoughts about the political, social and musical context from which IA sprang in late 86/early 87. It is a very enjoyable and interesting read as the fellow is pretty witty and there are some clever notes. About the birth of the band, he essentially says that, had there been another huge musical phenomenon in the mid/late 80's, like punk was in the late 70's/early 80's, IA would have probably played something else genre-wise. Not that they disliked punk, quite the contrary, punk's liberating potential is clearly stressed, but the wider context of music production, even underground music, must be taken into consideration. For instance, without the global metal explosion in the 80's, crust music would not have happened and Deviated Instinct may have kept playing sloppy mid-tempo punk-rock. Basically, one cannot separate a band from its context and whithout the mainstream success of bands like Siouxsie, a lot of the underground "postpunk" bands would possibly have played something else. In other words, had IA formed five years later, they would have been a rave/techno/house collective. Thank fuck for the good timing.

It is often said that the second part of the 1980's in Britain was all about hardcore, crust, grindcore, in a word, noisy bollocks. While it is not all true (bands like Sofahead, Joyce McKinney Experience, Smartpils, The Next World were very tuneful), Internal Autonomy were still very unique for their time. Far from the demented crusty sound, they picked a gothier path and even experimented a bit with such unorthodox instruments as keyboards or violins. Despite the band's reluctance to call themselves "anarchopunk" due to the apparent stagnation and cliquishness of the anarcho scene in the late 80's, the politics and aesthetics of IA do ring that bell. Indeed, we are much closer to the sound of aforementioned Lost Cherrees and Rubella Ballet and to the politics of Crass and Poison Girls than to Napalm Death's bursts and Hellbastard or Deviated Instinct's doom and gloom.

"Love & life" is IA's first Ep, released in 1991 on Recordrom, a German label also responsible for such great records as Potential Threat's "Never again", Dan's "Can you dig it?" and IA's only Lp. The first song, "Love", is a deceptively upbeat and happy mid-tempo punk-rock tune about love and how, in a patriarchal society, it is represented as being a woman's only goal, something that, in order to achieve, she must be ready to suffer for. In the sleeve, it is said that "Love" is not an anti-love song but a song that is anti "love songs", which "represent a narrow and usually sexist conception of love, and exploit the emotional turmoils of people for huge profits". Clever stuff also conveyed in the cover  parodying a woman's "destiny" with husband and kid. The next two tracks are bit less punky and more akin to Siouxsie or Skeletal Family with a darker goth vibe. "Gloria" is about refusing the guilt put upon us by the cross and "Beyond words" deals with our love of horror and gore as long as they are fictionalized or conveniently disconnected from our actual lives. Really good, questioning lyrics here. There are actually two different female singers on this record, Nikki on "Love" and Kirsty on "Gloria" and "Beyond words" and their different vocal styles reflect the different themes and tones of the songs (Nikki has a more tuneful, lighter voice while Kirsty's is deeper and more threatening). The sound on these three songs is really clear but still dry and retains a sense of urgency and angst, though in an insidious way.

Internal Autonomy is a top band and they have even reformed (they were due to play in Paris last year but sadly had to cancel) and I cannot recommend enough their almost exhaustive double-cd, so don't be a vinyl snob and get it.    

Thursday 11 April 2013

A tribute to Thatchula: Mayhem "Gentle murder" Ep 1982

After a couple of weeks of traveling, hence the absence of new posts on Terminal Sound Nuisance, I came back home on monday with this glorious news: the death of Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher's influence on British punk-rock in the 80's cannot be underestimated. Glasper's books reveal that Maggie, her party and her ideology, motivated many a young punk band to form throughout the long and grim years that made up her rule. Indeed, she was, with reason, everyone's most hated figure and one may argue that a more moderate PM could have resulted in more moderate punk bands. Would there have been as many anti-war songs if the Falklands war hadn't happened? As many anti-nuclear weapons songs if she hadn't deployed American cruise missiles in Britain? As many songs about unemployment and poverty among the working-class if she hadn't been such a ruthless supporter of the wealthy and propertied and hadn't declared class war on the miners? As many anti Apartheid songs if she hadn't supported the South African government? Would the Belfast anarcho scene have been so flourishing without Maggie's plastic bullets?

Of course, it would be cynical to claim that her existence did any good. She did a lot of harm that can still be felt and paved the way for the hardcore liberalism that is so fashionable today. She contributed to fuel the anger of many youths frustrated at seeing such a horrible character running the country and it is undeniable that punk-rock would not have been the same without her.

To join in the celebration of her death, I decide to post a record from 1982 that, beside being great, aptly reflects the anger and the tension of the time. Sadly, when you mention Mayhem, people immediately think you are talking about half-demented, dressed-up Norwegians running in a dark forest. But ten years before the dodgy Scandinavians, there was an English band going by the name Mayhem, hailing from Southport in Merseyside. Although not the most famous band of the era, Mayhem will probably be remembered for the song "Psycho" that appeared on the compilation "A riotous assembly" and is one of the very best punk songs of the UK82 genre. "Gentle murder", Mayhem's first - and best - record, was released in 1982 by none other than Riot City Records. It was the label's 13th release, between Chaos UK's "Loud, political and uncompromising" and The Ejected's "Have you got 10p?".

Though unmistakably of its time, this Ep is definitely top-of-the-shelf second-wave British punk-rock. It is aggressive and snotty, with a rocking feel in the guitar sound, not unlike GBH or Picture Frame Seduction. The chorus are very catchy and have this singalong quality that you expect from this type of bands. Apart from "Dogsbody", a bouncy mid-tempo number, the songs are quite fast, "Blood money" using the typical GBH/One Way System's pummeling beat. The lyrics are sadly not included, but the last song, "Patriots", was an ironical song against the Falklands war denouncing dumb patriotism and people who blindly followed the Thatcher's propaganda and joined in the war hysteria against Argentinians.

A great record from a band that should have gone on playing fast punk-rock instead of slowing down (but then, that seemed to be a contagious disease at the time). If you enjoy aforementioned GBH and Picture Frame Seduction, The Threats, The Defects or Soldier Dolls, then Mayhem will be your cup of tea and a great soundtrack to Maggie's funeral.