Sunday 30 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 4): Reality Control "The reproduction of Hate" Ep, 1983

The reproduction of hate, the black loneliness of fear, the blind helplessness of the young, whose only eyes are above them. The installation of bitter contempt at the moment of birth, the reproduction and the willing acceptance of hate, shaped and moulded like clay, to become a machine, strapped and muted by self-oppression. This is life, yet it is no life. The reproduction of hate, the conveyor belt of death in the factory of war. The reproduction of war - the complete destruction of man, woman, and all of their kind.

Not bad for a bunch of 16 year-olds. Not bad at all indeed. Of course, such a statement must be read and understood in the broader context of the British anarchopunk scene of the early 80's and, even more so, in the light of the harsh political climate that permeated the kingdom at that time, namely Thatcher's pointless war in the Falklands. But as much as a particular work reveals its essence when seen through the appropriate lens of time and place, I feel the words of Reality Control embodied perfectly the teenage angst, the outrage and this kind of empathetic anger that defined political punk worldwide in the 80's, like the Geordie version of a universally shared feeling. 

In a sensible world, Reality Control would be hailed as "a classic anarcho band". If our minds were fueled with critical thinking, open-mindedness and a healthy spirit of enquiry, instead of a cheap thirst for validation and a lazy obedience to fads, you would probably be able to see RC shirts and patches at any given DIY punk festivals (and if there weren't any, you would know that you were at the wrong kind of punk festivals with the wrong kind of punx, which is always a useful information, although one that usually comes too late). Simply put, 1983's The reproduction of hate stands as one of the best anarchopunk Ep's of the early 80's and judging from the quality of the band's demo from the following year (the greatly-named While we live in cages), RC definitely had a strong, no, a classic album in them and I dare anyone to listen to "The highest bidder" or "Sugar and spice" and deny it (I'll censor your comments anyway, I can't lose). Perhaps the rather moderate popularity of the band has something to do with their location, geographically known as Newcastle-upon-Tyne but proverbially referred to as "up North" by Londoners. I will be honest. Before I got into punk, the only thing I knew about Newcastle was Alan Shearer. But since my life-changing conversion to Crass, Discharge and lectures about the evilness of meat-eating, it has become apparent that the area was - and still is - ripe with top punk bands. Although the decentralizing idea of "think globally, act locally" inherent to anarchopunk certainly spawned many young bands and people to become involved in their own towns (and RC undeniably were through the infamous Gateshead Music Collective and The Station which played a crucial role in shaping the scene there), England being such a centralized country, thus impacting not only the music production but also how it is perceived culturally, must have affected the whole punk dynamics of the time and the subsequent canonization of some at the expense of others (and coming from Paris, I can easily imagine how it works).

But then, fate also stroke. Blame the naivety of youthfulness or maybe just ignorance but the standard reaction to the cover of The reproduction of hate is always - with variations that have to do with levels of linguistic fluency - the following: "OMG but why did they pick the same cover as Amebix' No Sanctuary? I mean, lol, right?". Of course, No Sanctuary was actually released just a few months after The reproduction of hate, in November, 1983, but the image has become so closely associated with Amebix that, even knowing so, it is difficult to dissociate it from this legendary band, without mentioning the fact that No Sanctuary was a Spiderleg record which meant that it was more widely available. Even I cannot help but think about Amebix when looking at RC's Ep. Talk about ingrained images. 

Like most of my generation (I presume), I first came across RC through the 2006 compilation cd Anti-Society which opened with "Forgive us", a song lifted from the band's first demo The happy face, recorded in early '83. Of course, I loved it and the introductory shouts to the song, "Money! Pay! Sin! Preach! Lies! War! Suck! Leech!", were all instant winners. This number is a catchy and tuneful one, a bit like a sloppy-but-passionate blend of Omega Tribe, Zounds and Chron Gen, but the rest of the demo also demonstrated that the band could pen moodier, darker songs as well as more dissonant and layered postpunk ones (like the ominous "But has it won?"). Although The happy face was thinly produced and not deprived of artistic flaws (to put it nicely), it certainly showed that the boys were quite ambitious in terms of songwriting. The reproduction of hate Ep would confirm this in the best way possible. 

Thanks to a more focused sound and a raw but adequate production, it managed to capture the different moods and emotions of the music perfectly. Recorded in July, 1983, and released soon after on Volume Records (a local label that belonged to a record store of the same name that also put out Toy Dolls and Total Chaos records), it included three glorious songs, "Sunny outlook", "Another sunrise" and "Man (reproduce)". The first two, both on side A, should probably be seen as the two faces of a same story since they deal with the same topic - the Falklands war - but from different angles and they adopt darker, more melancholy sounds and textures. "Sunny outlook" is told from the perspective of the war propaganda during the conflict and how people are made to be proud of the national heroes and of the derelict British Empire, while "Another sunrise" is the band's reaction toward and criticism of the war, its hypocritical atrocities and the warlike mentalities. Pretty smart move lyrically and the songs echo with each other very well too, both mournful and angry mid-paced dark punk numbers that remind Omega Tribe's moodier moments, Demob, The Mob and Zounds. On the flipside, the song "Man (reproduce)" is a different kind of animal though, much punchier and punkier in an Anthrax-meets-Alternative way and it might be my favourite of the Ep. After an eerie intro, the song bursts into an energetic punk-rock anthem with the catchiest riff and fantastic vocals that sound urgent and slightly insane, especially with the breathless voice of the singer, as if he were overwhelmed by the subject - it being the endless reproduction of injustice and oppression - and could barely contain his outrage. Brilliant example of the relation between form and content here. After this upbeat part, the song then evolves into fast and snotty punk-rock graced with gratuitous shouts (and I bloody love those) before ending with the initial eeriness of the intro. A genuine anarchopunk hit that even the tunelessness of the bass cannot damage. The band's aspiration to write articulate punk songs able to convey several emotions can be seen in the way the two guitars complete each other, again not unlike in Omega Tribe's work, so that the songs always remain rhythmical and tuneful at the same time, and to achieve that RC certainly compensated a relative lack of musical proficiency with seriously though-out songwriting. And how punk is that? 

Following this piece of magic, RC recorded the aforementioned While we live in cages demo in early '84, which saw them in an even darker and progressive mood, not unlike All the Madmen's bands like Flowers in the Dustbin or Null And Void for instance or even Alternative or The Lost Cherrees. The band then released a split flexi with their local partners in crime Blood Robots (a band that shared a lot of similarities with RC and that I rate at least as high) which included the song "Tears of blood", which for all its melancholy, its intensity and its beautiful tunes might be their crowning glory.

But in 2017, the best thing about Reality Control is that you can get their discography on vinyl and cd easily and for cheap thanks to Antisociety and Flat Earth Records. This is top-shelf, intelligent, and catchy anarchopunk. You know what you should do.             

Sunday 16 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 3): Riot/Clone "Destroy the myth of musical destruction" Ep, 1982

I first became aware of Riot/Clone in the very early noughties. For me, it was this exciting time when I was hungrily exploring the anarcho and crusty worlds which seemed to hold so much promise, enticed as I was by their black-and-white universe. I was a young idealist, and although I never was a spotty kid, I certainly had the typical arrogance of my age for I endeavoured to know everything there was to know about the British punk scene and nothing could have stopped me in my self-righteous quest. This thirst for knowledge was the one strict rule I lived by, my holy principle, my one-line Hagakure and if it took dilapidating my meager savings on - retrospectively - average UK punk, bothering old-timers tirelessly about taping me Anthrax and Disrupters songs (two bands I had not listened to but - for some unfathomable reason - I was absolutely certain I would love) until the early morning hours or spending whole afternoons in that one good record store listening to dozens of old 80's records without ever buying any (truth be told, the owner was more than used to this kind of behaviours and did not really care), then so be it. I used to make long lists of bands I had to hear and would progressively cross their names whenever I eventually did. And I still do actually. 

But back to Riot/Clone. One of my best mates was just back from London where he had bought randomly a few records from a local distro. He rang me up and asked me if I was up for listening to these novelties with him. Two hours later, I was at his place and we were looking at a mysterious pile of vinyls that just demanded to be played. One of them was Bare faced hypocrisy sells records, that anti-Chumbawamba Ep that was released on Ruptured Ambitions in 1998. Neither of us had really heard Chumba then. What we did know however was that the band had "sold out" terribly and that they had penned the anthem of the French world cup a few years before. I owned the video game so I was well aware of the fact. Despite our relative ignorance of the different issues that surrounded Chumba and completely unaware of the legacy of this formidable band, we completely agreed with the feelings behind the Ep that my friend must have bought originally because it had The Bus Station Loonies on it and he was crazy for them as he had seen them live during his stay in London. I noticed that it also included an Oi Polloi song (which was synonymous with sound politics) and had one band whose name I had written down on one of my lists: Riot/Clone with the song "Chumbawanka". I can still distinctly remember how awed I was upon first hearing that song. The music was alright, good even, energetic punk-rock, but what completely floored me was how angry the vocals sounded. The singer sounded SO pissed. I thought that he must have been mate with Chumbawamba and that the treason felt like a stab in the back to him, something like this. With hindsight, I now realize that it was the commodification of the anarchopunk politics and the resigned acceptance implied in Chumba's selling-out that angered R/C so much. The whole rock'n'roll swindle from one of our own basically. Of course, I have become a massive Chumba fan with the years but I can still remember the thrill of excitement that produced Dave Floyd's vocals when I first heard "Chumbawanka". And to this day, whenever I play it (I eventually bought the Ep), I still sing along to the chorus with an invisible microphone in my bedroom, though I have now learnt to draw the curtains before doing so. Just irresistible.     

Throughout the years, I haven't been the only one to be impressed with Dave's vocal work. I do not remember when or where I first read it (possibly in a zine or on an old message board), but none other than Quorthon (of Bathory) was influenced by R/C (here is the proof). Funnily enough, he thought of the band as "oi/punk" probably because of the song "Bottled oi" that was on the first R/C Ep There's no government like NO government which he owned (but apparently did not read the lyrics to, or could it be that the term used in Sweden to classify second-wave UK punk-rock was "oi/punk"? Both I would assume.). I have always thought of early Bathory as being primarily influenced by GBH (The Exploited and Disorder are also on Quorthon's list, but surprisingly not Discharge if you need to know) but I can understand how the first R/C Ep helped shape the early Bathory sound. It is a primitive, straight-forward, dynamic Ep with simple but catchy punk-rock songs and really upfront vocals with the highly recognizable - and accented - voice of Dave making it impossible to mistake for any other punk bands. Somewhere between an angry snarl and a snotty sneer, it sounds viscerally angry and threatening but also slightly somber and woeful, demented even, as if he were directly talking to you about what pisses him off, how pissed off he is, how angry he is to be that pissed off and how depressing it is to be that angry all the time. It makes sense that Quorthon loved it.      

Destroy the myth of musical destruction was R/C's second record, released in late 1982 on their own label. The band took (and still does) the DIY ethos inherent in anarchopunk very seriously and, not unlike Six Minute War (with whom they actually also shared similarities in terms of sound), they released their first three Ep's (as well as Lost Cherrees' No fighting No war No trouble No more) on their own Riot/Clone Records. This late '82 offering is my favourite one from the band's 80's catalogue. The production is still very much on the raw side of punk-rock but more polished than on its predecessor and the playing as well as the songwriting are also more focused. It contains two mid-paced anthems that would easily get any self-respecting punk's foot tapping and two fast UK82 punk numbers that would have the very same punk reach for a cold can of cider. The dark-toned "Lucrative lies" reminds me of early Rubella Ballet while "H-block" - possibly the Ep's strongest number - has  a delightful The-Epileptics-meets-Six-Minute-War-in-South-London's-Crass-cache vibe. As mentioned, "Sick games" and "Stereotypes" are faster and hard-hitting, a bit like a bland of early Conflict, Subhumans and Disorder. I particularly enjoy how the guitar work corresponds to the different humours present on the record. It thrashes when it must and then switches to moody when required. The bass lines do the job perfectly, they are not particularly articulate but then, and to borrow a phrase from Ian Glasper when he described R/C's sound, the strong point of the band was to write "simple-yet-memorable tunes". And isn't that the key to write a good punk-rock song?

The running topic of Destroy the myth of musical destruction is... punk. Or rather how punk grew to corrupt its own ideals by creating its own rock stars, rigid dress codes and silly attitudes. The short text provided in the foldout is interesting. It argues that punk-rock, just like any youth cult before it, failed by replicating the same systemic mistakes, by reducing its essence to just music and fashion. It does not state that punk is completely useless but that it appears to be a pointless diversion for wannabe revolutionaries: "Punk is a good medium for expressing ideas and provoking thought but unfortunately it will never achieve anything else. Nothing will ever be changed by dressing up. (...) The punk movement is just a diversion. Something to take people's mind off the realities of everyday life by giving them records, gigs and a trend to follow." Harsh but nevertheless true I suppose. Two songs from the Ep deal with this topic, "Lucrative lies" is about the money-grabbing self-appointed leaders of the first wave of punk-rock and "Stereotypes" tackle the social conformity to the system's expectations and although it is not openly directed at the punk scene, the fact that the whole Ep revolves around the issue of punk's relevance indicates that it is not far-fetched to read it as a comment on punk stereotypicality. "Sick games" is a more classic song about power games and social conditioning with top-notch lines such as "If this system's the answer, it must have been a stupid question", while "H-block" is about IRA prisoners who went on hunger strikes during Thatcher's rule. The band thought wise (and it was) to explain the song's polemical motive a bit more and point out that it is about the British government's hypocrisy toward its political prisoners and the story of colonialism in Ireland. Definitely a smart band. 

Following this Ep, R/C released the Blood on your hands? Ep about animal rights in 1984. They reformed in the 90's, stronger and angrier than ever and recorded the massive 1995 double Lp Still no government like NO government (which contained re-recordings of all R/C's early sings), then the To find a little bluebird Lp in 1997, a cracking album with a horrible cover, Do you want fries with that? in 1997 and Success in 2007, which, despite a song about the Chelsea FC (about the gentrification of football really), was actually a solid effort. And R/C are back since you can expect a new Ep very soon. And the best thing is that, after all those years, Dave still sounds as pissed off as he did in 1982, 1995 or 2007. Only now I know it is not all Chumbawamba's fault. 

Fun facts about this record. "Dave Floyd is god" has been etched on the A side, while B has "She's got it well suss'd cos all we want is peace". I am not sure what it is supposed to mean (a go at Thatcher? Dave Floyd being a descendent of Jesus Christ? Drunken private jokes?) but there you go. 

Friday 7 July 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 2): Soldiers of Fortune "Waiting for World War III" Lp, 1981

Pretty sure no one could have seen that one coming, right? 

The year 1981 was definitely ripe with top-shelf punk records in Britain and the second generation of anarchopunk bands was steadily growing. The No doves fly here, Demystification, Demolition War and Neu Smell Ep's were all released in 1981 and many crucial bands were forming and learning how to play (or how not to play) their instruments and how to paint a banner with peace and anok symbols. I suppose I could have picked any one of these classic records and go for it. But I thought (kinda) long and (a little) hard and decided to select a little-known record from an obscure band that is almost never discussed and that I know virtually nothing about. Again, that is my idea of fun. 

And let's introduce the subject with a very bold statement that only a pretentious twat like myself can genuinely believe in: had it been released on a London label, Waiting for World War III would be deemed an absolute classic record nowadays and you would see vintage anarcho fanatics wear Soldiers of Fortune shirts and have massive buttons on their vegan leather jacket. There, I said it and this is the gospel truth. Here is the thing though, SOF were not technically a British band in 1981. The band was indeed made up of three English punks but was based in Berlin where the lads squatted between 1980 and 1982, a fact that inevitably reminds one of B-Movie. I must admit that I pondered over the relevance of including a Berlin band in a series about British anarchopunk but the particular history of Soldiers of Fortune, especially the post-1982 period, is totally coherent with the context of the UK anarchopunk narrative without mentioning the fact that the members were punk squatters in one of the most politically and musically exciting cities in the eighties. Besides, after writing about a non-anarchist anarchopunk band with 6 Minute War, why not rave about an English anarchopunk bands from Berlin?

SOF was a trio that originated from Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, a declining and reactionary resort town notorious for being the first one to have suffered an aerial bombardment in the UK during WWI (it was also severely bombed during the Blitz) and for the collapse of a bridge in 1845 that caused the death of 79 kids. Although its name sounds a bit funny (c'mon, let's face it, it does), Yarmouth looks like a pretty grim place to grow up in and the song "Small town sunday" is there to remind you of the reason why the band fucked off to Berlin when they had the chance. SOF lived in Squatting Heaven for two years, where they recorded this album in 1981 and the Stars/Autonomia Ep the following year, just before they moved back to England, London to be specific, where they went on squatting and got heavily involved in the anarchopunk scene. They notably played at the Zig Zag squat in late 1982 along with The Mob, The Apostles, Flux of Pink Indians and Omega Tribe. 

To give you an idea of where the band stood in the grand story of British punk and of how active they were, here is a comment that was published on the excellent blog Nuzz Prowling Wolf, in a post about SOF's Ep (you can read it here):

"Actually the Soldiers were originally from Great Yarmouth, and consisted of two brothers, Ingmar on guitar and vo, and Roger on bass plus Trevor on drums. They moved to Berlin in 1980, and to London in '82 and helped set up the Kafe Kollaps squat bar in West Hampstead along with the Burn It Down collective, who then opened the Burn It Down Ballroom on Finchley Road in 1983 (Crass played the first gig, the Soldiers also played; The Mob were regulars) and the Glasshouse in Camden in 1984. The Burn It Downs also put on the first ever Class War benefit gig in 1984 (in what used to be the Camden Council housing offices just off Finchley Road) which was headlined by Poison Girls, helped set up the Ambulance Station in the Old Kent Road, supplied PA's for lots of squat gigs and joined with CopyArt in 1985. The Soldiers became a kind of Cult-lite in 1986, moved back to Berlin and stopped playing music."

(The person who commented was anonymous but, judging from the precision of the account, was clearly involved in that specific part of the London scene at the time. Who knows, perhaps someone close to "The Soldiers"?)

Anyway, in spite of the band's obvious commitment to the anarcho scene during their London years, they largely remain one of the best, as well as one of the most unknown, bands of the early 80's. One could venture that since their records had been released on small Berlin labels, they were not widely available in England, but apparently the Ep could still be found at SOF gigs after they came back from their Eastern stay. It is a bit of a mystery to me how that good a band never had the chance of a British pressing, or even just a tape version. Perhaps as a band, they were not really interested in doing so and preferred to focus on the present and on making things happen rather than on their past recordings? This would certainly be honourable but still deprived many local punks of their musical greatness. Because if Waiting for World War III had been released on Xcentric Crass Records or even on Bluurg Tapes, let me tell you that it would have drowned under an endless shower of praises. 

I cannot remember exactly when I first bumped into SOF but it was definitely through a music blog (those things from a distant past). I liked the cover and decided to give it a go, expecting typical early German punk-rock or postpunk. First listening to the opening song was like a mystical moment, something akin to an epiphany, not unlike when I first heard Pro Patria Mori or when I first learnt how to snap my fingers a kid (the latter got me in detention at school but that's a completely different story). Not only was I in awe at the brilliance of the melody, but I was also astounded that such a great band playing exactly the kind of tuneful and melancholy Britpunk that I am so in love with could have escaped me. It was so good that it almost upset me. Why didn't anyone tell me about SOF? Where are my mates when I most need them? Needless to say that after that incident many a phone number was deleted from my repertoire. 

SOF were certainly not your typically Crass-sounding snotty anarcho band. Actually, if you listened to the Lp without knowing SOF (and without paying much too much attention to the lyrics), you could think that the songs are taken from some unreleased session from a '77 band. The late 70's influence is strong in SOF and bands like The Adverts or The Boys (without the rocky vibe) do come to mind. I am also reminded of Ulster bands like Rudi or The Outcasts, of the punkier band of the mod revival even, and with several reggae-tinged songs, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ruts and even The Clash are not far off either (I am generally not one to toy with reggae or ska too much but when the songs are moody and if there ain't too many of them, I can be up for it). However, if SOF had that amazing tunefulness and sense of melody associated with the school of '77, they also had a distinctly moody vibe running through the album, which is most obvious in the band's postpunk and goth moments (like on the tribal "Totem" and the über-catchy trance-like "Voice of the Mysterons") but permeates the whole work, so that in the end the band was closer in terms of textures and intent to The Wall and Demob or - in the anarcho realms - to Naked and even Omega Tribe. A (post)punky re-adaptation of '77 tonalities if you will. 

I know I overuse the words "tuneful" and "catchy" and the whole lexical field of melody far too much but honestly, and without the shadow of a doubt, SOF were one of the most inventive tune-oriented anarchopunk bands of their generation. Just listen to the bittersweet chorus of "Small town sunday", to the arrangements of "Sound and the fury" (the "Glory boys" break in this song is just fantastic and they only - and wisely - use it once), to the Killing Jokesque beats of "Totem", to the dark groove of "War drums", to the emotional simplicity of the reggae song "For the unknown soldiers"... The production is ace for the genre, not overdone and quite clear, all the songs being well-written enough not to need too fancy a sound. Although Waiting for World War III can be described as an old-school punk-rock album sonically (which it is), there is enough variety thanks to the addition of goth-punk and reggae to make it stand out, not only as a great collection of songs, but as a cohesive entity. Basically, a proper punk album in the noblest sense of the term with two underlying motives: an incomparable sense of a good tune and a bellicose melancholy.    

There was no lyric sheet in my copy (Discogs says there was one though so a scan would be welcome) but since the boys actually sing (and they do good job at it, I wish more anarcho bands dared to sing these days...) you can understand all the words. Songs about boredom and unemployment in small-town England, Cold War paranoia, work and, of course, war and imperialism. My copy of the record has clearly seen better days (which means that it was played often, which is good, or that it was not properly stored, which is a fucking shame and should be severely punished, public hanging might be a little too harsh but flogging would be fine) and there are some loud crackles, especially on the reggae song now that I think about it. As mentioned, SOF also released an Ep in 1982, that is more postpunk-oriented but equally great and clearly deserves its entry in the much coveted 80's anarcho-goth canon.

The one thing I hate about this record is that, not only does the side A runs on 33rpm while side B runs on 45rpm, but they mixed up the labels so that it is always a bit of a mess to play... 

This is the best British anarchopunk band you have never heard of. 

You're welcome.

The labels of Hell