Thursday 28 January 2016

Bellicose pessimism and the melancholy of Ελληνική πανκ (Part 5): Πανδημία "Mοντέρνα Πανούκλα" Lp, 2013

The last chapter of the Terminal Sound Nuisance Greek epics will deal with the the record that actually inspired it: Πανδημία's "Mοντέρνα Πανούκλα" Lp. It would be an understatement to say that it took everyone by surprise when it came out two years ago and that absolutely no one, apart from the local punks in Athens probably, saw it coming. In fact, no one even knew about the band until the album was released and, if it were not for its high quality, it would have been met with the same indifference that so many younger, "smaller" bands from lesser-known scenes experienced. In this day and age when so many records are released everywhere, we often tend to focus on familiar punk scenes that we feel deliver good, if predictable, punk-rock (say Portland, Malmö, Bristol or wherever you placed your trust) and dismiss the others. And a certain lack of curiosity doesn't explain everything, it is ironically also very hard and overwhelming to keep track of what is going on punk-wise. Despite means of communication that have never been so efficient, it sometimes feels like we are lost in an unreadable world of unfamiliar bands. Pandemia, like Arxi Tou Telou, were rightfully noticed because of the quality of their composition and certainly not because of any "ex-members" connection, unless you were really into Kalazaar or Räjähtää to begin with (again, things are different if you are local to Athens).

This work is very different from the previous four I posted and how could it not be? While Genia Tou Xaous, Gulag, Arnakia and Xaotiki Diastasi were essentially rooted in the early Greek punk scene (even though some of them reached their peak well into the 90's), Pandemia is decidedly a modern band, whose intent was not to rehash the classic Greek dark punk sound and go for all-out Ex-Humans or GTX worship. Given the context of the band's creation (they formed in 2008 but only recorded in 2013), I would argue that they were driven by the "postpunk" revival of the early 2010's, but not in the sense that they wanted to emulate sonically a trend that quickly, and sadly, became formulaic. Beside ripping off Skeletal Family, Vex and X-Mal Deutschland, the latest "postpunk" trend put an emphasis on moodiness and melancholy using bass-driven punk-rock and dark guitar leads, and although most of the recent postpunk bands didn't look to Greece for influence, Pandemia may have seen this as a chance to modernize and rebuild upon the old Greek dark punk sound by infusing it with a whole new bunch of influences. Or they just wanted to play dark punk music and went for it. The truth is probably somewhere between both.

The most striking difference with the classic Greek punk sound is the thickness. "Mοντέρνα Πανούκλα"'s sound is heavy, almost oppressive, but not in a sludgy way, it feels more like an explosion of restrained frustration than an attempt to crush the listener. The guitar is far more present than on earlier Greek punk records as well and its sound more upfront. Some more or less well-meaning friends of mine (who shall remain nameless) argued that the sound texture of the guitar melodies reminded them of neocrust, and while I sensed some dismissal in such comments, they are not irrelevant as there is definitely an Ekkaia vibe to the guitar (not a bad thing as they were excellent at writing gloomy melancholy guitar tunes). Even in terms of the overall production (and indeed of aesthetics), the comparison holds to some extent as there is a relentless intensity that is not dissimilar to the early/mid-00's crusty hardcore sound. However, the songwriting itself is firmly ensconced in anthemic mid-tempo punk-rock and, seen in that light, Pandemia's Lp is clearly a new fascinating chapter in the Greek dark punk sound.

The Lp is suffused with catchy bass lines that, albeit a tad overshadowed by the potent guitar leads, progressively make more sense listen after listen. The vocals are aggressive, almost threatening and raspy but they still convey a similar sense of fighting despair, of anger in the face of alienation. Like with all the others classic Greek punk records, the moods are pretty diverse on this Lp and the music is always a tool to express them (and not the other way around and that is a crucial point in the songwriting). From open doom and gloom, to frustration, melancholy, outrage, hope, foreboding, urgency... "Mοντέρνα Πανούκλα" aptly reflects them all while remaining a cohesive unit. Musically, I would argue that the production makes it sound angrier and more raging than the other records of the series (not unlike Adiexodo perhaps), but it would be relevant to point out that the particular political context in Greece at the time of the recording certainly incited the band to go for a more tense atmosphere. Modern sounds for modern times. All the elements that characterize the classic Greek dark sound can be found in Pandemia's Lp (the smart lines on the bass, the guitar leads, the variety of drum beats, the desperate yet beautiful vocals...) but they have been updated, so to speak, so that it really feels like the band was not paying a tribute to the older generations (strictly speaking, it is not a referential Lp at all) but rather, used the essence of the 80's sound, recreated its shapes and made it genuinely relevant again. This is a rich Lp that can appeal to many. It brings to mind old anarcho bands like The System, Stalag 17 or Virus, late Peni, acts like Part1 or Nerorgasmo, but also brooding, modern dark hardcore bands, and even No Hope for the Kids.


In true DIY fashion, "Mοντέρνα Πανούκλα" was the result of a collaboration between six record labels, the excellent Scarecrow records, Scull Crasher records, Eye5 records, and We don't fight it records from Greece, as well as Imminent Destruction records from the UK. Pandemia unfortunately split up but their follow-up, the split Lp with fellow dark punks Era of Fear, from Xanthi, is also worthwhile and probably closer to the classic Greek sound with a distinct emotionnal influence (I never thought I'd be writing this, but there you go).



Monday 25 January 2016

Bellicose pessimism and the melancholy of Ελληνική πανκ (part 4): Χαοτική Διάσταση "Πολίτες Της Κόλασης" Ep, 1993

This Ep is particularly significant to me for two reasons.

First, it reasserts the relevance of good music blogs. I first heard it through Music Not Noize, a blog that I really enjoy for its editorial choices (a bit of a solemn expression in the context of a punk blog, but you get the gist) and for the fact that it focuses on the tuneful side of punk songwriting, while countless other music blogs only, and lazily sometimes, deal in "crust to death" music. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but I feel like we sometimes show ourselves as one-trick ponies, while punk has a lot more to offer. So thank you Music Not Noize.

Second, Χαοτική Διάσταση's "Πολίτες Της Κόλασης" completely floored me. I just couldn't believe how brilliant the songs were when I first listened to them. A truly epiphanic moment, a rare thing to be cherished, not unlike the first time I saw a wrestling match on telly as a kid. I instantly knew I wanted to become a wrestler. Of course, things didn't exactly go as planned and 25 years later, being a skinny chain-smoking bloke, I realize I might never become a wrestler at all. I am still thinking of embracing a career as a referee though.

Xaotiki Diastasi (meaning Chaotic Dimension) were from Patra, in northern Peloponnese, not a small town by any means, but one where the punk scene was certainly not as developed as in Athens or Thessaloniki. Xaotiki Diastasi's story is not so dissimilar to Arnakia's when you think about it. XD also formed in the 80's, in 1986, but knew an incredibly long period of silence, as they stopped playing between 1988 and 1992, when they reformed. Although they played a few gigs during their 80's life, in Athens notably, there is no recorded trace of it and they first entered a recording studio when the trio rose back from the dead in 1992 to create the "Χρόνια Σιωπής" (meaning "Years of silence") demo tape. Although thinly produced, XD's first endeavour into the studio highlighted the band's unmistakable songwriting skills and their almost organic sense of a good tune. Perhaps like Arnakia, the fact that they experienced first hand the mid/late 80's Greek punk scene, but didn't actually record until a good few years afterwards, influenced the way they composed their songs. They feel rather mature and thought through, as if XD had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, not so much the products of a young band but more the result of a reflexive process about their 80's influences (there is a great cover of Ex-Humans on the tape).

And it is not even a shaky conjecture to say that "Χρόνια Σιωπής" was well-received at the time. When Xaotiki Diastasi recorded their first Ep the following year in 1993, it was produced by none other than Dimitri from the iconic Panx Romana. The "Πολίτες Της Κόλασης" Ep ("Citizens of hell") had four songs, two of which already appeared on the demo, and was infinitely better-recorded than their previous work which really showed how genuinely good XD were. On this Ep the composition is not as melancholy as the previous records of the series as it has an almost somber uplifting quality that could be explained by the presence of the Panx Romana fellow behind the desk (he also produced their 1996 Lp but by that time, I think the band purposefully went for a darker martial sound texture). It is certainly not joyful though, but it has that early punk-rock feel that emphasizes the idea of moody, edgy frustration and disillusionment more than it portrays antagonistic despair. There is an accurate sense of urgency in Xaotiki Diastasi's Ep that reminds me of Genia Tou Xaous and Panx Romana's first Lp's (although the two contemporary bands picked very different aesthetic paths).

Musically, "Πολίτες Της Κόλασης" is a genuine accomplishment that summarizes everything that is great about Greek punk. Deceptively simple and incredibly catchy songs that demonstrate how punk-rock energy can blend seamlessly with new wave tunes. Of course, bands like Ex-Humans or Gulag come to mind, but it also summons up Chron Gen at their moody best, the beautiful bitterness of Polish punk-rock and the energy of 80's Yugoslavian bands. The four songs on the Ep exemplify the effectiveness of smart variations of mid-tempo punk music, from Crass-like beats, dry postpunk rhythm to 77-styled pattern, they are all integrated into the band's sound. As usual for the genre, the music is really bass-driven with catchy dark guitar leads dressing the whole and the vocal are mostly sung, with that sort of tuneful spontaneity that cannot fail to hook the listener.

I am aware that most people rate the "Δεν Περιμένω" ("I am waiting") Lp higher than this Ep and indeed, it can be seen as a stronger work with a better, heavier production stressing deeply the melancholy side of Xaotiki Diastasi. I personally enjoy both an awful lot and you cannot really beat the punk quality of the Ep, although it is arguably not as refined as the album. As I understand it, the lyrics are suitably angry and pessimistic, of a political nature, with a song about heroin (not an uncommon theme I am afraid for Greek punk bands at the time). Both Ep and Lp were released on the prominent Wipeout Records and hopefully, some kind soul will reissue them at some point.

My copy of the Ep has seen better days, truth be told, so there is one scratch on the first song and the side B has surface noise... Well, punk innit?

Xaotiki Diastasi        

Saturday 23 January 2016

Bellicose pessimism and the melancholy of Ελληνική πανκ (part 3): Αρνάκια "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" Lp, 1993

Arnakia (meaning "Lambs") exemplifies perfectly the difficulty to assess the reach and influence of a band in its home country, when they remain completely obscure in your own. I only got to know about them six months ago, when I spent an entire afternoon exploring the discography of Wipeout Records. I must admit that the name "arnakia" made me smile at first because it sounds close to the French word "arnaque" which means "swindle"... Tell anyone about Arnakia over here and you are bound to hear an endless flow of terrible puns. I know, what a terrible sense of humour we have... But anyway, there was a band I had never heard of at all, that appeared to have been around in the late 80's and 90's, had enticing visuals and were supposed to play punk-rock. I was intrigued and gave it a go. And I was both upset and delighted after listening to just one song off that Lp. Upset, because the thought that I had failed to notice Arnakia for so long was frustrating, and delighted because the "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" Lp is easily one of the very best punk-rock albums from Greece.

So, how could such a brilliant band elude me for so long? I have never seen Arnakia mentioned in record reviews, articles or on music blogs. However, judging by the decent amount of information one can find about them, they were not in the least an unknown band in Greece. On the contrary, I have the impression that they appealed to a quite wide audience at home and that this Lp is recognized as a minor classic. Perhaps that this failing of mine can be explained by punk's collective obsession with the 80's, something I am also guilty of. "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" was recorded in 1993 and many of us, consciously or not, tend to draw a line when we think about "punk classics" and the determining factor is often the decade to which the band is supposed to belong. Had this Lp been released four years earlier, it might have been given a cult status, albeit a confidential one. A harsh, but not completely unfair statement, when one looks honestly at our judging scale.

The irony in all this is that Arnakia was actually an 80's band. They formed in 1984 in Athens and even had two songs included on the "Συνταγή Αντί Θανάτου" compilation Lp from 1986, alongside Anti... among others. But, from what I could gather, the band knew quite a few line-up troubles with members constantly leaving, sometimes to return later on, so that the band had to stop playing during rather long periods of time. The early years of the band were therefore a little chaotic and it may have postponed the full development of Arnakia's potential, which was already obvious when one considers the two tracks they contributed to the aforementioned compilation. Although thinly produced, these two songs already demonstrated the incredible quality of the band's songwriting, characterized by a distinct sense of tunes, fantastic postpunk guitar leads and beautiful vocals. With a tighter, stronger line-up and even better compositions, the band came back in the early 90's and delivered this incredible album that not only built upon the legacy of the Greek dark punk sound from the mid/late 80's, but also opened new possibilities for the genre that they would go on to explore for their second album.

"Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" is a genuinely great Lp in the sense that everyone can get something meaningful from it. The very clear production makes it a rather accessible work and none of the subtle music arrangements is lost. On some level, it could almost be seen as a "pop-punk" Lp, not because it sounds like American melodic punk music (I never understood why it was called "pop-punk" actually, when I hear the term, I think about the Buzzcocks and Ulster punk, not about California), but because it has an undeniable pop sensibility for the refinement of the tunes. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely rooted in Greek punk territory but so much care has been given to the melodies that the pop tag is not irrelevant either. Everything on this Lp is close to perfection: the bass lines are omnipresent, wittily conceived and always smartly used to lead the songs; the sound of the guitar is clear, almost eerie, but the leads are dark and tense, which significantly conveys that sense of melancholy; the drum beats are accurate and the sung vocals are emotional, able to express a lot of different, sometimes conflicting emotions. The mature songwriting helps create a soundscape that is completely whole and yet very diverse, in terms of sound and mood, and if you really think about it, this is one of the defining factors of the Greek sound. "Στο Στόμα Του Λύκου" is tough to describe, some would qualify it as a postpunk record, and they wouldn't be wrong, but there is a crucial punk-rock energy too, and as I mentioned, it is not deprived of pop sensibility either. To my British-trained ears, there is something of A Touch of Hysteria or Null And Void, but with a Greek punk tension and a dark ethereal feel. The overall atmosphere is probably not as desperate as on the GTX's Lp and not as organic as on the Gulag's, since Arnakia's has more of a sense of vulnerability and beauty that is also dark and tense.

Does it sound like the two previous records I posted? Absolutely not, unless you are approaching utter deafness or are just too lazy to actually listen to them. But there is still this similar intent, although it is not aestheticized in the same way.

The second Arnakia album, released in 1999 also on Wipeout Records, saw the band in an even more indie-rock mode but still keeping the dark punk backbone. It will not be everyone's cuppa tea but it is a very interesting listen nevertheless.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Bellicose pessimism and the melancholy of Ελληνική πανκ (part 2): Γκούλαγκ "Στην Αυλή Των Θεαμάτων" Lp, 1990

The next instalment of the Greek punk-rock series is Γκούλαγκ (Gulag)'s first proper album, the "Στην Αυλή Των Θεαμάτων" Lp from 1990, which I will refer to as the "In the showyard" Lp from now on (who knew it would be such a pain to edit texts that include non-Latin alphabets...). This Lp is undeniably one of the great classics of the genre and one of the best Greek punk Lp's of all time. "In the showyard" is a unique work that saw Gulag at the top of their game and in fact, I would even argue that they could not have done a better Lp. I just can't think of any single things in terms of songwriting that I would like to change in this album (apart from the cover probably... but we'll come back to that later).

While a lot of the classic 80's punk bands were located in Athens, Gulag were from Thessaloniki, a place renowned for its student life and its radical left-wing leanings, and are probably the town's most famous, emblematic punk band. Contrary to Genia Tou Xaous, Gulag moved pretty quickly in their early days. They formed in late 1985 and released their first record but one year after, the "Είσοδος Κινδύνου 0° C" mini album. Interestingly, the band started just as the scene was really, albeit unknowingly, beginning to consolidate its dark punk sound. Significantly, it also implied that Gulag's early sound was probably influenced by the Ex-Humans or Genia Tou Xaous, and although they definitely brought other elements to the table, it is not unlikely that they also intended to build on what older bands from Athens were doing at the time. If Gulag were not, chronologically, a second-generation Greek punk band (after all GTX only released their first album in 1986), the fact that they borrowed key elements from the early Greek punk scene and reached their apex in the early 90's could make such a term relevant when dealing with them. But enough conjectures.

"Είσοδος Κινδύνου 0° C" was a highly promising collection of songs. Despite a rough, almost misty production, it already stressed the band's flair for great composition. While certainly reminiscent of the Ex-Humans' Lp, there was also an All the Madmen vibe to Gulag and I can't help thinking that bands like The Mob, Flowers in the Dustbin or Blyth Power may have had an influence at that stage. There are two reasons for this. First, on a very material level, Gulag contributed directly to the creation of the label that released the 12'', Thessaloniki's Lazy Dog Records, a label that not only went on to release Greek versions of The Mob or Astronauts' records, but also released a DIY compilation tape in 1987 entitled "No dogs fly here" (now, what a pun). Second, from a more analytical perspective, Gulag's sound has the same kind of warmth as the aforementioned UK bands. I have already heard people say that The Mob were "cold-sounding", something that I disagree with completely. Yes, they create a dark atmosphere, but there is an unmistakable human warmth permeating the work of the band, especially in the vocals. I am not saying that Gulag's singer sounded like Mark from The Mob, but that they both conveyed sadness, passion but also sympathy and warmth. That point is crucial when dealing with the Greek punk-rock sound: hopeless and dark it may be, but it is endowed with the warmth of alienated human suffering. And vice-versa. No, just kidding.

Following the release of the mini-album, Gulag toured Europe and played locally with bands as diverse as The Ex, Naftia and Chaos UK. In early 1989, they self-released a highly impressive demo entitled "Είμαστε Μικροί Μα Θα Μεγαλώσουμε" but I won't dwell on this one too much because it is basically a rough version of the album that would be recorded not even a year later, in december 1989. If "In the showyard" didn't exist, I would probably be raving like a madman about this tape because the songs are just fantastic, but since it does, let's just say that Gulag managed to polish and refine their songwriting between this tape release and the album's recording. An Ep, entitled "Big talk", was also released in 1989 but the sound is so rough and distracting, that I am wondering why the band still went for its release...

"In the showyard" has everything you can expect from a good Greek punk-rock record with solid, catchy bass lines, intelligent guitar riffs and leads and subtly dark tunes to die for. But it is actually much more than this. In a MRR review of this Lp from 2012, the writer, among other justified praises, said that it was never "predictable" and that is precisely where the strength of "In the showyard" lies. The range of mood and musical elements demonstrated in the Lp is just breathtaking. The band moves from sadness to optimism, from melancholy to rage, from compliant alienation to antagonistic resistance with ease, seamlessly, the Lp feels like a journey throughout various, but singularly-driven, human emotions. To manage this unpretentious tour de force, Gulag used different musical elements, there is hardcore-punk, punk-rock, postpunk and metal (with a bloody blast beat in one song that should not work but miraculously makes sense... Talent, perhaps?) that all work and blend together to create this Lp. "In the showyard" can appeal to anyone because of its variety and yet feels completely unique. The vocals are particularly impressive and are one of the Lp's strongest points. It is obvious that the singer can actually sing and is able to express different emotions with passion, vibrance and without ever overshadowing the wholeness of the songs.

In terms of influence, Genia Tou Xaous' first Lp is obvious because it also demonstrated varied and yet cohesive, passionate songwriting, but Gulag's sound is much rounder, indeed warmer, not as angular as GTX's. As I mentioned earlier, some All the Madmen bands and other UK anarcho bands could be points of comparison. But for some reason, and that is rather uncommon for me, Gulag's "In the showyard" also reminds me of early Social Distortion (especially in the composition) or even of The Misfits, and mentions of Californian bands like 45 Grave or Christian Death wouldn't be off-topic either. Do not expect some "deathrock", Gulag's sound is rooted in Greek punk, but there is still that dark American vibe floating around, readapted to fit the peculiarities of the context.

There are English translations of the lyrics, which is great to see, and you can tell (in spite of the usual risk of loss of meaning that such an exercise entails) that they fit the moodiness of the music perfectly. Gulag use metaphors and images to convey social hypocrisy, the inability to empathize, our self-created system of frustration and compensation, the fantasy to run away, literally or through drugs or death... There is definitely a lot to them and although the English is broken at times (but then, it never stopped anyone from loving Japanese punk-rock), they are well worth anyone's time and illustrate the band's intent to blend form and content in their work. As for the cover... well I am still struggling on this one to be honest... It depicts a pack of green cats waiting for food (I presume) in a bleak, grey room where two elderly persons seem to be living. It does give a sense of unease and gloom and the cats don't exactly look cute here... Would it have been my first pick for an Lp cover? Probably not.

Following "In the showyard", Gulag did an excellent Ep in 1994 called "Η Άλλη Πλευρά", again for Lazy Dog Records, that was every bit as potent as the first Lp. Unfortunately, their second album 1996's "Πάτα Γερά" told another story that illustrated the danger of being a punk band in the mid-90's. Gulag went "fusion". And I don't mean that they fused genres through great songwriting. No, they just became a "fusion band". I just can't talk about this album because it pains me too much. I hope you understand. The band pretty much split up after this although they still sporadically reform to play some local gigs.      


Tuesday 19 January 2016

Bellicose pessimism and the melancholy of Ελληνική πανκ (part 1): Γενιά Του Χάους - Γενιά Του Χάους / Ρέκβιεμ cd, 1996

2013 was an important year for me: that year, I fell in love with Greek punk-rock. The weird thing is that it wasn't love at first sight between Greek punk-rock and I. Whereas my ever-growing passion for Greek crust started the second I played the Hibernation Lp for the first time in 2004, it took me longer to really get to understand the beauty and majesty of its punk-rock uncle. Before 2013, I had already heard classic 80's bands like Panx Romana, Genia Tou Xaous or Adiexodo, but, stupid me, never bothered to really dig deeper for some reason. Not unlike in a cheesy romantic comedy, Greek punk-rock was like someone I would regularly bump into at social gatherings, enjoyed exchanging a few words with, but didn't actually know that well or even care to. And then, something happened and all of a sudden, a passing acquaintance became a tumultuous passion. And since then, we have been having an affair and we've quickly become lovers on Discogs. So, what made my ears beat so hard in 2013? It was the Πανδημία (Pandemia) Lp, an unpretentious album that took so many people by storm when we least expected it. When looking desperately for dark, anthemic, moody, brooding punk-rock, all our faces were turned toward the US or Scandinavia, but it really came from Athens.

Now that my relationship with Greek punk-rock has become stable, I can see things more clearly and I will try to define and explore what makes Greek punk-rock stand out. I picked five great, significant records, ranging from 1986 to 2013 that illustrate what I term the "bellicose pessimism" of Greek punk-rock, a genre that sounds both melancholy and combative. I would argue that this sense of "bellicose pessimism" is present in every early Greek punk bands. Panx Romana and Stress were very Clash-influenced, very energetic and had somehow a rather hopeful sound, however a few of their songs (I am thinking about "Genoktonia" for Stress and "Zo sto fobo" for Panx Romana) were definitely flirting with the darker tones of post-punk but still kept that raging punk edge, something that is fundamental to understand when dealing with the Greek "dark punk" sound. Anti... on the other hand were obviously already experimenting with the sound of melancholy but, while they were undeniably part of the political punk spectrum, their songwriting and their keyboards-based music made them influential in terms of tunes but no so much in terms of music strictly speaking. 

I would argue that the early bands that best illustrated the dark aggressive quality of Greek punk-rock were Adiexodo, Ex-Humans and Genia Tou Xaous. Despite rather rough, gritty vocals, not dissimilar to some Oi! bands', Adiexodo's music was incisive and intense but the basis were there: bass-driven, deceptively simple, mostly mid-tempo punk-rock with dark and yet fiery riffs blending UK punk and postpunk. Ex-Humans certainly played a sadder-sounding brand of punk, closer to postpunk than Adiexodo's raw rendering of second-wave punk-rock. Once you get past the rough production and the almost depressive, "out of tune" vocals (that would be a misleading listening of Ex-Humans, I am pretty sure the singing is purposefully performed), their 1984 album, "Ανώφελη Επιβίωση", looks like the genre-defining, brilliant classic record that it really is and it perfectly reflects how crucial the joint work between the drivingly catchy bass lines and the intricate guitar riffs is to Greek punk-rock. Finally, yet another band from Athens, and my favourite one from the 80's Greek scene, are Genia Tou Xaous (Chaos Generation). And they are my first pick for today's post.

GTX formed as early as 1982, although it took them a few years to reach a stable line-up and shape their identity as a band. Their first venture into a recording studio took place in late 1983 and materialized the following year with the release of a split tape with Adiexodo. Despite the overall sloppiness, GTX's songs indicated that the band had potential, although they were still far from what they would achieve. Recorded with their first singer, their side of the tape included 6 songs of dark, raw punk-rock that can remind one of early Spanish hardcore-punk (think IV Reich and the likes), of UK anarcho bands like Part1 or Peni and even of what some current noisepunk bands are doing, but all in all they are pretty difficult to describe. The split tape has been reissued as a split Lp in recent years for those interested. 

GTX recorded their first self-titled Lp in 1986 and it was released on Di Di Music, an independent rock music label that put out Greek pressings of records from Dead Kennedys, The Ex and even Sonic Youth (and Les Thugs!). It is always very difficult, if not precarious, to assess a band's importance and significance in a given context from a stranger's perspective. This said, GTX's first album is a ground-breaking record, unlike anything Greece had produced so far (in fact, I am even struggling to think of any another band from that era that sounds similar). Building upon their previous work and possibly taking cues from the Ex-Humans' Lp, this album is not only one of the best Greek punk Lp's of the 80's, like 1987's "Paidia sta opla" from Panx Romana, it shaped a world of its own from the sounds of second-wave punk-rock and postpunk, and yet escaped easy categorization. Of course, it is not deprived of flaws, the sound is a bit thin in places and the vocals are not always perfectly placed, but it has such a strong identity that it definitely transcends such matters. "Genia tou xaous" is a masterpiece of dark punk-rock. 

Strong leading bass lines that are thoughtful and careful; intricate guitar works with a clear sound that oscillate between the delicate pathos of goth-punk and the boldness of punk-rock; a wide, but amazingly cohesive, variety of beats ranging from Crass-like tribal rhythms, binary punky tempos, mid-paced punk-rock to slow and mournful postpunk dirges. The vocals on this Lp would almost deserve a post of their own (I'll spare you the effort, I promise). They convey so many genuine emotions, sometimes in one single song, and yet, they never sound overdone or self-conscious. From breathless, furious despair, to overt defiance, deep sadness or beautiful melancholy, GTX's voices are sombre, passionate if not totally epic on some choruses. And despite the different tones and musical variations, the Lp always sounds like a cohesive whole and is deprived of any patchwork-feel that diverse records sometimes demonstrate. Finding relevant points of comparison when dealing with this Lp is a thankless task, let me tell you, that could give one the impression of a mismatched work. In addition to local bands like the Ex-Humans, I can hear some UK anarchopunk like Flux or The System, some Part1/Peni dark weirdness, European hardcore-punk bands like Contrazione, Armia or Chaos Z perhaps, some Yugoslavian postpunk vibes too like Paraf or Termiti and other European postpunk bands... and I am sure it all sounds very confusing now. Sometimes, comparing is just not worth it.


The addition of a second guitar player, among other things, is a defining factor in GTX's second Lp, entitled "Ρέκβιεμ" ("Requiem"), which was recorded and released in 1989, the year that also saw GTX split up (not exactly the best way to promote a new album, but there you go). However, the most fundamental change in this follow-up is... metal. Now, I can imagine what you are thinking, something along the lines of "yet another good punk band that turned into cheap crossover by the end of the 80's, I've heard it all before and I'll have none of it". But hear me out, if "Ρέκβιεμ" is not made of the same stuff as "Genia tou xaous", it doesn't mean it is irrelevant to the Greek "dark punk" style or that it is a minor album. As we will see in the next posts, metal got to be an actual influence on Greek punk-rock from the late 80's on, although most bands used it with moderation and, indeed, taste. GTX were by no means the first punk band to add some metal to their punk recipe (since by 1988, the Greek crust scene was slowly rising with bands like Naftia, Xaotiko Telos or Xaotiki Apeili) and they certainly didn't turn into Metallica-wannabes. 

I suppose you could say that GTX substituted the intricate postpunk guitar leads with dark metal riffs, but they didn't make them the highlights of the show. Rather, I would argue that the metal addition was meant to complement the songwriting and to help create a heavier atmosphere. That "Requiem" must have been quite an influence on the emerging crust scene is obvious and if you are into Greek crust, you will be able to connect the dots easily, for instance with the use of a synth and the particular mood inherent to the genre. Although this Lp could be seen as metal-punk, it doesn't rely on speed or brutality to convey its dark, melancholy quality. Not unlike late works of bands like Amebix or Antisect, "Requiem" is much more about mood and songwriting and even it strayed away from "postpunk", if you listen to it closely, the driving intent is not essentially different from the first Lp, it is a continuation but not a departure.

Both of these Lp's were reissued on one cd in 1996, entitled "Γενιά Του Χάους / Ρέκβιεμ" and released on Wipeout Records, the most prominent Greek punk labels at the time. I bought my copy recently and it was still sealed so it didn't sell that well apparently... For some reason, new artworks were provided for this reissue and the original ones don't appear in the booklet. There are however, three unreleased tracks on the cd, among which a spectacular folk version of "Στίγμα" from 1983 that epitomizes the beautiful sadness and melancholy of GTX. This cd is worth getting just for this track.

The lyrics are provided but sadly not translated. From what I could gather, GTX wrote about social injustices and politics from an emotional perspective, describing the feelings at stake rather the ills themselves, often using poetry or metaphors to make their point. And talking about the lack of translation, a book about Greek punk-rock has just been published and someone must do it. Either that or I could just learn Greek I suppose.


Thursday 14 January 2016

The Underdogs "East of Dachau" Ep, 1983

It appears that I don't like to make things easy for the TSN staff lately as today's record is yet another minor masterpiece from a band there is not much information about and that released just the one Ep... Well, it's not as bad as Social Disease, I could gather some bits here and there, like a scavenging archeologist. Although there is a tiny chapter about them in Burning Britain, the band is actually not interviewed and despite the size of Ian Glasper's contact book, I assume even he could not find their tracks or they just declined the invite. Perhaps the recent reissue of the band's two demos on vinyl, "Riot in Rothwell" and "East of Dachau", might trigger some renewed interest in the band as their repertoire was really strong and, above all, incredibly ahead of its time, but we'll come back to that later.

That the "East of Dachau" Ep remains to this day one of Riot City's lesser-known record baffles me, as it is definitely one of the label's most potent releases. Punk has always been full of such injustices that give cult status to average bands and drown genuinely great ones into anecdotal obscurity. The Underdogs were a Yorkshire band, from Rothwell, like The Expelled (a member of which would actually join The Underdogs at some point while another one provided backing vocals for the Ep), a town close to Abrasive Wheels' Leeds. The band didn't play for very long, for about three years, between 1981 and 1984, probably because "East of Dachau" didn't sell very well and their planned mini-album for Riot City never materialized because of financial issues (although it had already been recorded and is known as the "Riot in Rothwell" demo if I am correct). By 1984 anyway, the second-wave of British punk-rock was already losing momentum and it is hardly surprising that the label had run out of money and the ever-versatile public had already fallen out of love for punk-rock... During their lifetime, the band still played with the Upstarts, One Way System and Subhumans, thus proving that the boundary between so-called UK82 punk bands and anarchopunk ones was more permeable than it looked depending on where you lived.

The actual dates of recording of The Underdogs' works are pretty unclear as I have come across several contradictory pieces of information. They were all done between 1982 and 1983 but I haven't managed to clarify which songs belonged to which recording sessions... I first knew of The Underdogs about ten years ago through a cdr claiming to include two demos, but the order of the songs and the production quality don't seem to completely fit with the recent reissue... If anyone cares to clarify all this, I'd be very thankful, although, truth be told, it is not what really what matters the most about 1983's memorable "East of Dachau".

To be completely honest, and it hurts me to confess it, I had forgotten a little about The Underdogs until a mate of mine, who is every bit as obsessed with UK82 punk as I am, gave me his spare copy of the "East of Dachau" Ep. But he did it with a purpose in his mind as he told me "give this one a good listen and tell me it doesn't sound like No Hope For The Kids!". Now, that is a flabbergasting thing to say about a 1983 Riot City Ep, isn't it? And "flabbergasting" is such a terrific word to use, right? But anyway, I was astonished but also very excited as my friend usually speaks the truth when we talk about records, an activity we can do for hours without tiring. And you know what? He is bloody right. The song "East of Dachau" does sound like a No Hope for the Kids' unreleased hit. The crucial thing about this is not so much that the Danes were into The Underdogs when they were all the rage 10 years ago (they were always very British-sounding to my ears anyway), but that in a small Yorkshire town in 1983, some kids were rocking this moody brand of anthemic mid-tempo punk-rock that so many people, from very different punk backgrounds, have got into since NHFTK. It would be a tad ridiculous to say that The Underdogs were 25 years too early, but honestly, if you released a selection of their 10 best songs and say they were from Scandinavia circa 2010, I am convinced they would sell in a heartbeat (the boys would have to look a bit trendier though, with plaid shirts and big badges, spiky hair don't really sell in that field).

A bit like Demob or The Samples, The Underdogs were this kind of bands that could effortlessly pen cracking, anthemic punk-rock song that were energetic but kept an almost melancholy edge. "East of Dachau" is really to die for, it is passionate, dark and intense, one of the best British punk-rock songs of that decade, without a doubt. And it sounds so modern too. The melodies on the guitar are incredibly ahead of the band's time and no one sang quite like U.G. at the time, with his rough, yet emotional, warm tone. There is something of Depraved and even Leatherface in The Underdogs as well, albeit in a sloppier and more direct form. Of course, their primary influences were the first wave of British punk-rock and you can tell that bands like The Clash, The Neurotics or Stiff Little Fingers must have inspirational in the way they wrote music. And of course, there are numbers that are more typical of classic UK82 punk-rock with that 1-2-1-2 beat and the catchy chorus you can sing along to (like the song "Dead soldier" on the Ep). But there is also so much more to The Underdogs, especially in their approach to tunes, in how they conveyed their frustration in a beautiful, powerful fashion through incredibly catchy vocal works, smart songwriting, instinctive and yet refined guitar melodies, hooking bass lines and a heart-felt rendering of the Cold War era from the perspective of a teen from poverty-stricken Yorkshire. This band could and should have been huge.

I chose to include the "Riot in Rothwell" recording (or the version of it I have anyway) along with the "East of Dachau" Ep, because it contains unsung punk hits that were meant to be released and can appeal to a lot of us. So give them a go and if you bump into a copy of the "Punk demos collection", just get it. It could be 2016's best-spent tenner.

And thanks to Mike for giving me this Ep. You are a top geezer!