Monday 18 August 2014

Zero Tolerance "Home sweet Hackney" cd, 1999

The sun is shining today, a rare sight lately, and I am not at work, an even rarer occurrence. The perfect day to lock myself in inside my infamous Crustcave and reflect upon a forgotten record illustrating the "three chords=three songs" philosophy. It's been a while since I last posted some proper, old-school punk-rock that will undoubtedly launch a cider frenzy upon the unsuspecting public.

Words have always had unstable meanings.

I remember an issue of the Game of the Arseholes zine from the first half of the 2000's that was about UK punk. In this issue, Stuart Schrader (ultimate punk records nerd running the brilliant Shit-Fi website) aptly and solemnly declared that, at the time of writing (2004 or something), there was nothing quite as unpopular in the DIY political punk scene (for lack of a better term) as 80's British punk-rock, also known as UK82. And of course, he was right (to some extent at least) and therefore decided to write a GOTA "UK special" in order to rant over bands and records that deserved respect and love instead of indifference and scorn. I was obviously really happy with this issue (but then GOTA never failed to deliver) since I have always loved this brand of punk-rock that the Partisans, Abrasive Wheels or Uproar stood for. Although Schrader focused on UK82 in his zine, a very similar comment could have been made about British anarchopunk at the time. Only 10 years ago, Disorder and Chaos UK were largely deemed uncool by the cool punx. It took a new trend that saw dozens of bands trying to be from 80's Bristol (and let's face it, some of them were really good at that) to put the UK82 genre back on the DIY punk map. Discharge of course has always played in another category and has never been seen as a "UK82" band (according to Schrader, seeing Discharge in this light, as part of this specific wave, somehow reduced their attractivity, something I can grasp the meaning of but that I disagree with). Being a bit of a moaner, I was bitterly surprised to see people, all of a sudden, starting to claim their love for Blitz and Disorder. On the other hand, this UK82 trend (which has steadily faded since the start of the postpunk one...) may have prompted, through renewed interest, some reissues that I would not have imagined possible before (take the Ad'Nauseam and Impact Lp's for instance).

To a large extent, the comments above apply mostly to the North-American scenes and are irrelevant to other places. But since trends pretty much start over there and since a lot of new record-buying habits are created on that side of the other world ("Gods are born in the USA" right?), I would argue that it had some impact globally. It would be a mistake to think that the second wave of British punk-rock had sunk into obscurity until self-proclaimed "UK82 type bands" started playing in the late 00's/early 10's. Very far from it. It's just that, until then, the genre had been adopted by another punk crowd, the so-called "streetpunx", people heavily into the Casualties and sporting perfect colourful mohawks, bondage trousers, studs and posing hard before brick walls. This is the apolitical Punkcore crowd that is apart from the DIY punk scene. Interestingly - it's even fascinating when you think about it and what it implies in terms of the listening process - Punkcore type bands and DIY bands, though both influenced by similar early 80's UK bands, don't sound alike at all. In fact, even when they cover the same songs, they are extremely different. It's as if they didn't hear the same things when listening to the same band. On the one hand, streetpunk bands usually aim for a heavier, clearer sound, they intend to build on the formula in order to improve on it through the addition of harcore influences, the old English bands being used as the basis. And they don't use the term "UK82", to them, it's streetpunk. On the other hand, modern UK82 bands, coming from the DIY punk scene, want to maximise the formula and stay close to the vintage sound and songwriting, they usually put an emphasis on UK82's specific characters (the binar drum beat, the slighly reverbed vocals, the flow and so on) and are highly referential. They are accurate and effective tribute bands aiming at the recreation of the 80's sound (this can be applied to a variety of other subgenres).

What do the British punks think about all this? They mostly don't give a fuck I reckon. In fact, I would argue that there has never really been neither an actual "Punkcore type band" nor a "modern DIY UK82 band" over there. One could venture that they don't see their legacy quite in the same light. Of course, there are many British bands still very much influenced by the 80's greats but they sound nothing like either aforementioned categories. Zero Tolerance formed in 1997 at the start of the horrendous, terrible "US streetpunk fashion" and 10 years before Germ Attak rediscovered Riot City Records. Like most 90's bands, ZT are about as hip today as Boyzone. To be fair, the name "Zero Tolerance" brings to mind tough guy NYC hardcore more than it does North London punk squats, but you would be wrong to assume that Zero Tolerance were fond of karate dance style. Indeed, you will find no song about a legendary "pit of death", or "honour and respect" and there is no reference to moshing, only genuine punk-rock with street-smart politics.

As the title of the album already gives away, the band was from Hackney, a rather rough working-class neighbourhood in London famous, among other things, for its mental punk squats. Originally, ZT had another singer, Martin, who sadly died after the release of the first Ep, "Sick of you" (which was produced by Lippy from Antisect). After that sad event, guitarist Simon took over singing duties. At the start, Clara, who was previously in the glorious Pissed Mouthy Trollops, was playing the bass guitar but was replaced with Mik from the mighty Coitus and the Restarts, before Clara returned for the band's last Ep, "Drugs runner". Line-up unstability also affected the drumming stool, as Criss, from External Menace, PMT and later Demented Are Go, replaced the original drummer after the first Ep. The band's best works, this album and the great split Lp with the Restarts, were recorded as a three-piece of Simon, Mik and Criss.

Zero Tolerance had this distinct 90's feel to them. Unpretentious, straight-up punk-rock that sounds like a slightly enhanced version of the 80's bands (especially the drumming) but still manages to be relevant in its current context and deprived of any nostalgia. This is old-school punk-rock by the punks and for the punks, like their brilliant contemporary Red Flag 77 and Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys. It's not that easy to record a full album of simple and direct punk-rock without boring the listener after two songs. After all, Zero Tolerance played pretty basic three-chords punk music but they managed to keep things interesting through catchy hooks and singalong chorus that don't sound forceful or cheesy. This is punk from the streets but not streetpunk, if you know what I mean. Listen closely to the music, and behind the simple chords and the snotty vocals, you will discern the clear and yet warm and slightly distorted guitar sound, the catchy leads, a smart bass part or a tuneful chorus that perfectly do the trick of making the songs memorable, not that they are punk hits, but in the sense that you will be able to whistle to them and hum their tunes after two listens. My only complaint is the use of "oi! oi! oi!" during some backing vocal parts that is a little systematic (but then, as punx in their 30's, I am pretty sure it made them laugh) but then some of the songs have a nice, old-school oi feel too (like late Mania or something), so that's part of the deal I suppose.

Most of the songs are bouncy 1-2-1-2 punk numbers with raucous and snotty that rely on catchiness rather than speed, although there are also a couple of faster tracks that show that the music's pace was a matter of choice. As mentioned, Red Flag and SST come to mind, as well as 90's era External Menace and Chaos UK, and maybe Chaotic Youth and Mayhem from the early 80's. Lyrically, Zero Tolerance were rooted in a particular context and sang about it, from the rise of the CCTV in England, the omnipresence of the police on TV, the urban planning and gentrification at work in Hackney, the dole office spying on people in order to control them, to rampant homelessness. There are also a couple of songs about everyday life, betrayal and being on the boozer. I especially like "38 bus", a song about the perfect-looking punks posing for the tourists in the centre of London.

There are two covers on this album. The first one is the anthemic "Don't conform" originally written by External Menace. A timeless punk hit that sounds as good as the original (that's no mean feat, believe me). The second one is far more original and surprising since it is a cover of "Breathe" from... Prodigy! It works astonishingly well as a UK82 song but it is quite difficult to recognize the original song if you don't already know. A great cover choice that makes sense since Prodigy's guitar player, Graham Butt, originally played in the Destructors, English Dogs (at the apex of their metalpunk years, no less) and even did a stint in Policebastard. I seem to remember when I bought "Home sweet Hackney", that there was some sort of connection between Zero Tolerance and Butt, but that was a long time ago and the internet reveals nothing. Any truth to that?

The album was released on French label Combat Rock, a record label that never really shone for its great tastes in my opinion but nevertheless released a couple of good records from The Sect, Red London, The Outcasts or Heyoka.

PS: being rather untidy, I lost all my bloody zines a few years ago (well, they were thrown away) and I would really like to read that Game of the Arseholes issue I mentioned, so if anyone has got a pdf version of it or something, I would really grateful.


Monday 11 August 2014

Glycine Max "Violent mind // Peaceful heart" Lp, 1996

Really, how can you go wrong with a band paying tribute to Antisect and Sore Throat in their logo? Exactly. You can't.

Glycine Max crossed my mind a few days ago while I was looking for obscure and yet quality punk covers for the legendary Détruire l'Ennui radio show. We do a "punk covers special" at least twice a year and I always try to pick songs that are both little-known and likely to kick some ass. That was also an opportunity to play the Lp at home and realize how bloody brilliant it still is and how tragically overlooked the band remains. And of course, I played their Body Count cover yesterday (funny to think that this very same song has also been covered by Armistice, a band that came from that Californian anarchocrusy scene as well).

It never ceases to amaze me, in a rather negative way, how the early Californian crust wave has not profited from the 2000's stenchcore revival. In fact, this scene has remained largely ignored by the punks who discovered (or re-discovered) all the fantastic UK crust bands through modern acts such as Hellshock or Stormcrow. While it is not a rare occurrence to spot crusty punx sporting Axegrinder, Sacrilege or Deviated Instinct paraphernalia at festivals, I very seldom, if ever, see anyone with Apocalypse, A//Solution or Glycine Max patches. There could be several logical reasons for this discrepancy. After all, the Californian crust scene has been less prolific than the British one and therefore has had less influence globally throughout the years. You could also argue that these US bands were, to some extent, only trying to recreate what their UK counterparts had been doing for a couple of years and one usually has a higher opinion toward the originators of a genre (although the birth of musical subgenres can never really be tied to the bands only as there is a whole specific cultural context that precisely makes the appearance of a new genre possible, but that's another debate entirely). Finally, one could venture that the Cali bands involved in the late 80's and early 90's have had little influence over the mid/late 90's American crust acts themselves that were less metal-sounding and faster (more Swedish, less British perhaps?). If Nausea, Disrupt, Misery or even Destroy! remained classics, and not only in the States, it seems the Californian wave hardly managed to get out of California.

I have already ranted over the Californian scene in previous posts when dealing with Mindrot, Resist and Exist, Iconoclast, Skaven and Dystopia so I will try to not repeat myself too much. In their lifetime, from 1986 to 1991, Glycine Max only released two demos with a rather crude sound that had more to do with fast and raw hardcore punk than with mid-tempo crust punk. The first four songs on the B side of this Lp are taken from their second demo (from 1989 I believe) and show the band in a "peacepunk" mood (let's stick with the local term!) akin to Iconoclast, Diatribe, Body Count of course, early Antisect or early Legion of Parasites. It is good political hardcore punk to be sure but the real nuggets are to be found on the A side of the Lp. These were recorded in late 1990, at the height of the band's power and are vintage, classic crust anthems. Apocalyptic, dark mid-tempo metallic punk with a lot of personality (the terrific voice of the singer really helps) that brings to mind Hellbastard, Amebix or Axegrinder and fellow Californian crust heroes Apocalypse and A//Solution. Top of the shelf stenchcore indeed. The last four songs on the B side were also recorded in late 1990 and see Glycine Max in the same top-notch crusty shape but in a live environment at Gilman Street this time. The icing on the cake is the final Hellbastard cover, "Nazis killed", which, despite it being a 24 year old live recording, is easily the best Hellbastard cover I have heard so far (I will grant you that there aren't too many competitors in this category). To top it off, Glycine Max wrote great lyrics. The words to the song "Violent mind, peaceful heart", about social alienation's paradoxical effects on our own feelings and psyche, go so well with the angst-ridden tunes that the song, to me, is a prime example of a meaningful merging of shape and content. In addition to songs about similarly dark topics (see "Falling apart"), you will also mind more traditional anti-state protest songs that will make you angry and, hopefully, happy as well.

I am pretty sure that the four songs on the A side were meant to appear on a proper Lp at the time but I guess the band split up before recording the other side. That or it took six years for the labels to actually release them but that sounds a bit unlikely. By the time the "Violent mind // Peaceful heart" Lp saw the light of day, Glycine Max was sadly no more, a fact that might also account for the band's current anonymity. A fucking shame that should have been alleviated five years ago when a cd compilation with tracks from the demos and from the Lp (minus the live songs for some reason) got released. As a self-appointed nerd, it should be pointed out that the Lp studio tracks appear in slightly different versions as the quotes used as intros to the songs are not the same (digression: have you ever noticed that Scatha used the same Exorcist quote on the first track of their second Lp?). But enough digression, the cd was released in order to support the family of Glycine Max's drummer Mark (he also played in Apocalypse and Scarred for Life) who had sadly just passed away. This is a great cd and it can still be found for cheap so if you have any faith in genuine CRUST music, then do yourself a favour. The Lp was originally released on Misanthropic records, a Dystopia-related label that I already mentioned in a former post entry, and on Voltic Records, a short-lived project that released only two records (the other one being... an A//Solution cd!).

After the demise of Glycine Max, the singer Raygunn along with drummer Mark formed the excellent and underrated Final-conflictesque Scarred For Life (he also played in Dogma Mundista), while bassist John eventually played with Beat To Death.