Tuesday 28 April 2015

Antisect lives

For many reasons, Antisect were the stuff of legends. Well, of punk legends I guess as they don't appear so legendary to my next-door neighbour. This band had everything: they had a powerful, dark sound; they were innovative and stimulating; they had potent lyrics and their imagery is still a reference to this day for many bands. And of course, they pioneered the post-apocalyptic crust look, which changed dramatically the beauty canons in the worldwide punk-rock galaxy. Although they only released two records during their relatively short existence in the 80's (from 1981 to 1987... or was it 1988?), they have remained this iconic, slightly enigmatic, anarchopunk entity. Their story certainly contributed to their cult status, with their mythic second Lp - which would have been called "Welcome to the new dark ages" if I'm not mistaken - never coming out because the tapes were lost in a London cab and becoming as a result some sort of lost arch. You can't cheat karma, can you?

Wink and Pete Boyce from an early gig with Flux

The band toured a lot and were, according to anyone who were lucky enough to see them and sober enough to remember it, an absolutely incredible live force. Them touring so much may have been one of the reasons why they didn't record much back in the 80's, but then Amebix also played a lot and they were a rather prolific band. Perhaps they saw the stage as a more relevant means of expression, the only place where they could really unleash their power and communicate, where they could, quite literally, be, whereas the studio environment may have felt a bit contrived and limited. Even assuming there is any truth to my rambling, this perceived reluctance to enter a studio didn't stop the band from releasing one of the most potent punk album ever, so you could say quality was paramount to quantity. I am pretty sure that more than a few British punks were nailed to the floor the first time they heard "in darkness there is no choice" (I would personally compare my first Antisect experience with a chokeslam): an organic, atmospheric punk masterpiece that brings Discharge-inspired music to a new level with longer and darker songs, two anguished vocalists full hope and despair, expanding, crushing guitar riffs that emphasize relentlessness, blended with heavy mid-tempo anarcho beats that were soaked in a barrel of melted steel, the moodiness of Flux of Pink Indians and the tension of Conflict. Despite their short discography, Antisect still had a tremendous influence on the anarchopunk and hardcore scene in the 80's, first because of the incredible tour de force that was their first Lp and also, because they toured a lot, I suppose that their impact on other people was mostly conveyed through their live shows and that a lot of Antisect live tapes were around at the time.

Lippy and Pete Boyce

Much has been written about them and there are some really good live shows available on records. The best one, arguably, was released in 1991: "Peace is better than a place in history". Each side of the record contains songs from two different gigs, an early one from 1982, the dischargy pre-"In darkness" era and another one from their last tour in 1987 when they offered the crust genre to punk-rock before splitting up. 1991 also saw the release of "Hallo there... How's life?" (with the creepy baby and pup on the cover) and "Live in the darkness", two Lp's with the very same live show from 1984, with the classical "In darkness" setlist. I'm not really sure why there were two versions of this live record, on two different record labels but it sounds like a typical punk misunderstanding between band members and record labels... Oh well. "Live in the darkness" is probably the one Antisect record that looks the less like an Antisect record and, in a very nerdy way, that makes it kinda cool. Apparently, the band's live records always come in group since 2010 also saw two of them being released by the always reliable Antisociety records. Actually, one of them, poetically entitled "Demos/Live 82", only has one of its sides dedicated to Antisect's live performance with a rather poorly recorded live from 1982 that is far inferior to the one found on "Peace is better", though the songs are pretty much from the same period and some of them are very rare and hard to find with a decent sound anyway. Fortunately, the dantean "Live in Leeds 1986" also saw the light of day that year with a smashing entire recording from the crust era (there was only about half of the set on "Peace is better") and an amazing artwork straight up from the "Out from the void" mood.

That's for the official releases. You'll be able to find many more live tapes or even filmed gigs on the web and in an act of shameful self-promotion, I strongly advise you to download the awe-inspiring Antisect/Sacrilege live tapes that I posted on Terminal Sound Nuisance a while back. So with all this material already available online, why should you bother reading, yet again, a post about recordings that you could listen to elsewhere? Well, for a start, some of these live recordings are only available on youtube and I personally don't feel like it is an appropriate enough channel to discuss music. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes play music on youtube just like everyone, but I don't think it is a good place to read and talk about music and I often have the impression that it dilutes everything into a meaningless series of songs. And if there is one thing that characterizes Antisect, it has to be this: meaning. So I have picked three live recordings from three different times that marked a change or a departure in the band's history and I will try to show why they can be seen as turning points. Let's geek my friends.

Polly, during the last tour I guess

Live at the Union Club, Nottingham, 9.4.1983

Quite a line-up... Antisect and Napalm Death opening for Subhumans, Disorder and Amebix... In fact there was a version of this very same flyer with Chaos UK as well...

This is an interesting one. Recorded five months after the other Notts gig that is included on "Peace is Better Than a Place in History" and five months before they entered Southern studios to record "In Darkness There is no Choice", this show aptly illustrates the transition from one period to another. The very first Antisect period can be witnessed on the "Demos/Live 1982" Lp which includes recordings from early 1982 (call me Captain Obvious) when they had only one singer, Pete Boyce, and when they still played with Discharge. But in fact the band didn't play those songs for very long since by the end of 1982, as the "Peace is better" Lp attests, two new singers had been recruited, Rich and Carolyn, and very few of the songs from the "Demos" Lp were still on the setlist (only "Aftermath" can be found on both records and only "Hallo there... how's life" seems to have survived long enough to be on the album), maybe because the influx of new members prompted the band to write new songs that would fit several vocalist better and, more likely, because the very first Antisect numbers were a bit rough.

Rich and Pete Boyce giving it all

Antisect was a band that moved fast and whose songwriting skills rapidly improved. By the time of this 1983 Nottingham gig, the band had moved from their hometown of Daventry to Northampton and got deeper into anarchopunk and politics. Musically they were starting to leave the path of simple and direct dischargy punk that had characterized them so far and had written a couple of slower, heavier songs that would appear on the Lp. This gig showed the band at a crossroad with songs from their second early period like "Resist and exist", "Four minutes past midnight" or "Ghost of mankind" (and even the rather obscure and brilliant number "The plot thickens") as well as songs that would land on the Lp like "Tortured and abused", "The buck stops here" and "The world's biggest runt". This was a time when Antisect used the dual vocal very well and I think it became one of their trademarks. Although Rich and Pete Boyce were already singing together since late 1982, their singing style had been so far of the trade-off variety: one singer shouts and the other one screams in reply, very much what would become a crustcore trait a few years afterwards. On this mid-1983 live, you can hear that on the newer prototypical "In darkness" songs, the vocal dynamic is somehow more subtle and less obvious. Lippy's guitar sound has grown to maturity, it has this tremendous, devastating force that greatly contributed to making "In darkness" such a seminal hardcore punk Lp.

Polly with probably the first official crust pants

You will notice that some songs that would land on "In darkness" appear here in slightly different versions: "Channel zero reality" doesn't have the same structure and "Education or indoctrination" even has some guitar and feedback on it which actually sound great. It has to be said that during the "In darkness" recording sessions, the band rewrote a lot of their songs so it is quite likely that they had played these early versions at least until then. The sound on this recording is quite poor so it may take a while to really get into it. It was also at this time that Antisect started to play their entire set without pause (if you listen closely there are breaks between songs on the 1982 side of "Peace is better"), as if it was the same story told in one long breath, not unlike Flux really, which I find really great but which is a bit of a pain to cut into separate songs. In order to give the Antisect live experience its full relevance, I strongly suggest that you listen to all these lives in one go. They will make a lot more sense.

I think I took this one from Gabe's old blog, Slaughter of the Innocent (or was it still Nation on Fire?). So thanks for that!

Live at the Station, Gateshead, 6.10.1984

Antisect and Amebix for £1,50... You gotta love the "No glue" warning at the bottom!

The Station played an essential role in the making of the anarchopunk scene in the Newcastle area in the early 80's. Not only was it a self-run venue (a former police station, no less!) which saw bands like Icons of Filth, Alternative or The Clash (yes) play throughout the years, but it also served as a shared rehearsal space for local bands such as Blood Robots and Reality Control. As such, touring punk bands who ventured up North were bound to play at the Station at some point. This Antisect live show was recorded about six months after the release of "In Darkness There is no Choice", a record that reached number 4 in the indie charts at the time. This is an important factor when you listen to this recording. Before the Lp, Antisect's reputation was solely based on their live performances. After all, they didn't even have a track on a Mortarhate compilation to show for. One may think that the fact that they shared the stage with as famous a band as Discharge in their early days also helped make Antisect known, especially since, if one is to believe Anti-System, they were even more ferocious than Discharge (but then the dual vocal attack combined with fast aggressive punk music, unheard of until then in Britain, must have played a part in building this impression). Them also playing regularly with Flux of Pink Indians certainly helped putting their name of the anarcho map of the time. But still, they didn't even have a decent demo to sell the punters.

A caricature drawn after that very Station gig.

After such a successful Lp, one would think that Antisect would have tried to build on this achievement and give the people what they were expecting: the full "In darkness" setlist, just like on the "Hallo there... How's life?" live Lp that was recorded in February 1984. But listening to this late 84 gig, one thing is apparent: they did not. I think that two reasons can be given for that. First, there had been some significant line-up changes in Antisect with the second singer, Rich Hill, leaving and Wink, the original bass player being replaced with John Bryson. Perhaps the band decided more or less consciously to write some new material in order to go on and that it was made possible with the  new influence of John (a fellow who was into heavily into Black Sabbath). One also has to remember that by late 1984, a lot of punk bands were "turning metal" (some with little success... cough...Discharge...cough) and that acts such as Venom or Celtic Frost, without mentioning the early thrash metal wave, were gaining momentum. Second, I would suggest that Antisect was not a band that chose the easy way and they always followed their own path, and if that meant playing metal-punk songs before an audience expecting excitedly all the "In Darkness" hits, so be it. But back to the actual gig.

Carolyn and Lippy. Taken during the gig.

This Antisect live recording is one of the most peculiar I have heard. Pete Boyce and Carolyn are left in charge of all the vocal duties so that there is no longer a gruffy, low voice. You can feel that the band was between two important stages. There is a strong heavy metal influence but they have not yet reached the punishing heaviness of their late period. You can definitely spot early versions of songs that would appear in their classic crust setlist later on but under different names. For instance, "Out from the void I" is entitled "Towards the eclipse" here and "Tomorrow is" is a primitive version of "New dark ages". If anything, this gig illustrates the band's songwriting process as you can see which bits they kept and which ones were left out of the final songs. Only two songs remained from the album, "In darkness" and "Heresy", and despite several meaningful changes, the two songs that would make up the "Out from the void" Ep were pretty much already written.

During the gig as well

Musically, this is not unlike early Concrete Sox or Civilised Society? actually. I particularly love the fact that Carolyn has the chance to be really present in some songs. There are several cracking spoken parts backed up with eerie mid-tempo moments, I'm thinking in particular about the version of "Behind the lines" here, that are really worthwhile and will bring a new light on Antisect (so to speak, it is all darkness as we all know). As if that was not enough, you can find two exclusive songs on this one: "Chant", a classic singalong anarcho anthem with "There is no them and us, there is only you and meeeeeeeeeeeee" repeated over and over, and "Square pegs", an epic, long number with a dirgy tune that strongly reminds me of Nausea's crust era... During that post "In darkness" year, Antisect would tour Italy with this line-up, and, probably, with a rather similar setlist (this is a wild guess since I have unfortunately never heard any live recordings from Antisect's foreign tours). Who knows, their metallic anarchopunk approach may have pleased and influenced Wretched during that tour...

During the Crucifix tour!

Overall the sound is decent but not heavy enough so, again, you'll have to make an effort to get into this. And as usual there is no pause between songs. This was taken from youtube where you will find some pictures taken during the gig as well. And since I am a pretty magnanimous bloke, I have included an interview that was done just after the Station gig. Yeah, you're welcome.

The post-gig interview

Live at Planet X, Liverpool, 27.3.1987

With Napalm Death opening up...

Listening to these three lives, it feels as though they are not from the same band. In fact, you could say that they stand for Antisect throughout the different stages of the band's life. It is both the same band and a different one. A bit like, once you've played "Why?": there is a before and an after. I have talked about the first two live recordings through the prism of transition and inbetweenness. There was a band that hadn't reached completion of a specific stage, it was in a state of ambivalence, of change. But this gig from 1987, recorded during Antisect's last tour, showed the band at its full power, really tight, incredibly heavy and intense. This may be my favourite Antisect period, although they sadly didn't survive it. But let's go backward a little. By 1985, Antisect had become a three-piece, with Pete Boyce and Carolyn leaving the band. This led the band to become tighter and tighter, I suppose, since John and Lippy had to handle the vocals as well. This didn't stop them touring in Holland and Belgium and although I have yet to listen to a decent live recording from that three-piece period, they apparently didn't lose any of their power on stage. It was at this time that they consolidated their classic crust repertoire. In parallel with this metallic strengthening, the lyrics became darker, less direct and expressed precisely the difficulty to express oneself, to reach to people, to get out from the social void. Dark days indeed.

Last singer Tim

In 1986, the band changed members again, with John (who actually sang on the "Out from the void" Ep) leaving and being replaced with Lawrence from Anthrax and Tim being recruited on vocal duties. It was with this final line-up that the band reached the crust nirvana: Lippy and Polly as immortal founding members and the two fresh members, Tim and Lawrence. I feel that the several live recordings from that last tour from 1987 (one of them, recorded in Norwich, appears on the side B of "Peace is better"), are even better than the "Live in Leeds 1986", and I'm not saying this lightly either. By 1987, the band used a new intro, as epic and brilliant as the 1986 one, which would be "borrowed" in the mid 00's by Effigy on their split with Hellshock (geek mode [off]) and had added a few extra songs as well such as "Still in darkness" and "Burn it to the ground".

As a three-piece with John on the left.

They always looked good in caricatures

I have already talked at length about the greatness of late Antisect but to make it short, let's say that they took the crunchy and groovy heaviness of Motörhead and Celtic Frost to their own darkened brand of dischargy anarchopunk. Tim does a great job on vocals: the voice is gruffy and angry but still distinguishable (even from a live recording). My only complaint with this particular live recording is that the vocals are a bit too low perhaps but the rest of the instruments are as they should be.

Lippy in guitar hero mode

This was taken from a filmed gig that you can watch on youtube and witness the scenic presence that Antisect had. There was clearly a peculiar atmosphere settling when they played. This was recorded directly through the mixing desk, which accounted for the good sound, as were most of their 86/87 gigs that you can find on the web (I also strongly recommend the ones in Norwich and in Carlisle from this same last tour).

Final bassist Lawrence

Finally, searching through my Antisect museum, I found a flyer from 1988 which saw them play with... Anti-System and Anorexia in Bradford. Yes, that is a live tape I already posted on Terminal Sound Nuisance whose date perplexed me since Anti-System were meant to have called it a quit in 1986... until I found the confirmation of a reformation from 1988. All this to say that Antisect were apparently still playing by may 1988... The truth is out there.

From the last tour




Monday 13 April 2015

Virus "Unacceptable noise levels" cd, 2007


Reforming. The eternal myth and paradox. The shitstorm starter. The excuse for endless online arguing, boasting, radical postures or justifications for selling-out. It is the punk equivalent of online name-calling between football supporters. There are usually two fighting sides on this issue. The intransigent will claim that any act of reforming is a betrayal of the punk ethos and, assuming they are into postmodern theory, add that the text is nothing without its actual context. In other terms, what is the point of watching men in their forties sing about topics relevant to them when they were 16? At the other end of the argument, you will find those who think that it is all just music and that they will be happy to hear old favourites of theirs being played live, the idea that the band (or indeed the songs) may have lost its significance not carrying much weight.

While carefully written punk lyrics keep their significance throughout the years (to some extent at least), expressions of teenage frustration may not translate as well when re-enacted by balding men who have had nothing to do with the music world for 25 years. To put it bluntly, on a strictly musical level, texts written by Antisect, Icons of Filth or Amebix are pretty timeless, still relevant today. On the other hand, I would feel a little uncomfortable seeing The Partisans or Abrasive Wheels doing their songs about being 16 and on the dole, not that these bands are necessarily bad today, I bloody love them, but to me they epitomized the youthful, snotty aggression that can't be recreated and I'd much rather see a young band cover them. Know what I mean?

And then you have to consider the motivations of a reforming band. It may not be fair since we rarely question the motivations or the "morality" of a new band, but here you go, old bands have been glorified and mythologized to such an extent that any act of resurrection is akin to heresy and has to go before the punk inquisition. I remember the late Andy Shocker, in the last issue of the sadly missed Punk Shocker, writing something along these lines (I'm paraphrasing here) "who wants to see a reformation of a band that only had the one track on the 'You're bollocks, we're bollocks, fuck the fucking bollocks' compilation Lp in 1984?" And really, what's the point of reforming if you're only going to play big festivals with other reformed bands, doing your old songs because the new ones are really not that good since you've lost the flame, and because the audience only want to get drunk and sing along to your two old hits anyway, because they're the only songs they really know, just like they do at home. It's like an expensive karaoke night really.

I used to be astonished when I was told that some old classic band reformed. It was a mixture of excitation, suspicion, disappointment and curiosity. To be honest I had no idea who Virus were when I got this cd the year it came out (and I was a little upset that I did not). I remember the label saying they were an old anarchopunk band who were extremely good live but never really got to record anything decent back in the 80's. Seeing that it was Jon Active writing this and he certainly knows his shit when it comes to the British anarcho scene, I decided to give it a go. So although Virus were indeed a reformation, since I had no idea who they were initially, I tend not to see them in the same light as "bigger" names (or just bands who did an Ep back then) I am familiar with and therefore scrutinize with a more critical eye.

Back in the 80's, Virus only appeared on one compilation Lp in 1985, "We won't be your fucking poor" on Mortarhate records. To be honest, their offering on this record is hardly memorable (and the band wholeheartedly agree with this as their interview in "The day the country died", which was done before their 00's reformation, attests) and with a chorus that goes "It's about fucking time that a turkey has its say" it almost achieves the same cult status as Oi Polloi's unbeatable "Whale song". Basically, if you were a cynical bastard, you could say that the Punk Shocker reformation theorem could be applied to Virus. But not only am I famous (if not envied) for my legendary open-mindedness but it appears that this Virus cd deserves your attention.

Virus were and are from the good city of Dorset, in the Southwest of England. They initially existed from 1983 to 1986, recorded two demos, both in 1984, and also got to play with Subhumans, Conflict, Liberty, the amazing Hex, the fantastic Blyth Power or the supersonic Disorder (epic mood you all). As I said my first encounter with the band was through this 2007 album and not their original 80's recordings so there are two ways to look at "Unacceptable noise levels". If you are not familiar with their 80's output, do not worry for a second, as this album does not require you to. It stands on its own two feet with ease, and although it undeniably sounds like English anarchopunk, the songwriting is solid enough to make one forget that this is a reformation album. I would go as far as saying that this is one of the very best British anarchopunk album of the 00's, my only complaint being that there may be too many songs (24 of them in 48 minutes, no less). If you already know their 80's demos then you won't be disappointed either, as "Unacceptable noise levels" contains both rerecorded old songs and new ones. If the first demo, "Infected", was indeed a little thin-sounding, the second one, "You can't ignore it forever", was excellent and some of its songs would have made a cracking Ep for Spiderleg or Bluurg at the time. Fortunately, some 20 years later, Virus have not lost their punk-rock skills, nor have they forgotten their political anger.

I won't deny that today I tend to prefer "You can't ignore it" to "Unacceptable noise levels", not because the latter is necessarily inferior, but mainly because of its production, which is probably a little too clean and lacks the spontaneity that you can hear in the first recordings. On the other hand, one of the main complaints that bands formulate in "The day the country died" has to do with what they sounded like at the time in the studio. For some reason, most of them feel that their demo, or Ep, or album did not have the sound they were looking for and did not represent them properly. The irony is that nowadays, modern anarchopunk fanatics like myself are usually drawn to the genre (among many other things obviously) because of the specific sound and characteristics it developped in the 80's. So while it makes sense that an old band would try to correct the mistakes of the early recordings and get a good production because they didn't have the opportunity to do so the first time around, a lot of people will prefer the old sound, as flawed as it might be, precisely because it is a  raw and fragile embodiment of the DIY spirit of the 80's. Craving for the past is a young man's game. We live in an odd age.

If you have never listened to Virus at all, expect mostly mid-tempo dark punk-rock, with a couple of faster songs too, somewhere between The System, Subhumans, Part 1 and Flux of Pink Indians, but with a heavier modern anarchopunk production (think Bug Central or Active Slaughter). The songs are fairly simple if you listen closely. There are no incredible riffs or earth-shattering songwriting, but they work nevertheless, maybe because of their simplicity, their directness which makes Virus sound quite familiar even to an unenlightened listener. Still, the light, but distinct, cold, dark, mournful mood that pervades some of the slower songs, combined with the snotty and aggressive atmosphere of the faster ones, create a sense of peculiarity which also makes one notice and individualize them. It is both everything you expect from the genre, with the typical anarcho drum patterns, spoken parts about political issues and the typical prosody in the vocals, and there is this little twist that makes Virus stand out. It really is good and a meaningful, genuine continuation of their old demos: they expand on them without betraying their spirit.

The lyrics are quite long and well-written. You find a couple of numbers about animal exploitation and bloodsports, but also CCTV, capitalist industrialization, green issues, social violence, the shallowness of modern society, class justice and how fucked up the world is. The songs are seriously pissed off and the fact that they angrily wrote about modern topics show that they still give a fuck and that's quite reassuring. The artwork on the cd is nothing spectacular, a little plain maybe, but the band had the good idea to keep their great anarchopunk logo on the cover (i'm a sucker for that sorta thing). This was released on Active Distribution in 2007, an anarchist label and distro that also released their second album, "Virulence" in 2011, that I feel is not quite as convincing as this one. In 2013 they also did an Ep for All the Madmen Records called "It's not what it appears" that looks brilliant and is a solid effort. Virus are still very much active though as they will have a new Ep out shortly on Anthrax's label, Grow Your Own Records, which will be a split with Bug Central and The Sytem and they will also be part of a compilation Lp on the same label alongside The Sytem, Anthrax, Hagar the Womb and Flowers in the Dustbin among others. Now, I'm certainly looking forward to these babies.

And if you are interested in hearing their 1984 demos, the promising "Infected" and the fantastic "You can't ignore it forever", you can get it from the always reliable Terminal Escape.