Monday, 14 August 2017

The Tumult of a Decad (part 6): Disrupters "Alive in the electric chair" 12'', 1985

Sometimes, a name can sound so evocative that, even if you are unsure of its actual meaning, you just fall in love with it. Take the word "thoroughly" for instance. The first time I heard it (probably during that excruciatingly boring class about Wordsworth and Byron that I had to take), I did not know what it meant exactly. I was aware that it implied some kind of serious business since the teacher would frown with an air of utmost gravity and make an emphatic hand gesture whenever he uttered it. But more importantly, I loved the sound of the word and how the syllables fitted with each other. It brought images of intellectual sophistication to my mind and, despite the relative obscurity of its actual meaning, it made me feel pretty smart - which is what studying is all about when you think about it - now that I had a word like "thoroughly" in my bag of tricks. I henceforth used "thoroughly" carefully and parsimoniously, almost religiously, as if a bad use of the word on my part would somehow decrease its power. 

I fell for the Disrupters a bit like I did for "thoroughly". The first time I heard the name "Disrupters", it immediately clicked with me. Even before I got to hear them, I knew instinctively that I was going to love them and although the Disrupters never really conjured up images of glamour and refinement like "thoroughly" did, this superficial - and completely artificial - knowledge of the band made me feel good. Here was a band that I didn't know but was absolutely sure to love because they had such a great name. They had a dis prefix and the name sounded both punky and political. How could I not like them? 

I don't remember exactly how or when I first came across the Disrupters but I understood that they were that one anarcho band on the Punk and disorderly Lp with the song "Young offender". It was the early 00's in Paris so finding Disrupters records was near impossible and access to the internet was extremely limited for me. So I did what I always did whenever I became obsessed with a band that I just needed to hear, as if it were a crucial matter, one of life-changing proportions: I bothered older punks about it. I remember a particularly startled look upon a mate's face when I claimed that the world (meaning "me, myself and I") needed a Disrupters discography. But it was sadly to no avail, as no one really seemed to either know about the band or care enough to tape me something from them. And then, one day, in 2002, I received the distro list of Punk as Fuck, a massive distro based in France with tons of streetpunk but also some old-school anarchopunk. I almost fainted when I realized that he had a Disrupters tape, Gas the Punx (A collection 1980-1988), which was a whole discography tape, no less. So I wrote a letter to the distro with a list of what I wanted and included a check with it. I remember not hearing from the guy for months and at some point I thought the letter had got lost or that I had been ripped off. And then, out of the blue, I had a phone call one day with the distro guy asking me if I still wanted the records (there were the cd discographies of The Mob and Zounds as well, two bands that had been on my list for some time, and the order would prove to be a life-changing move). Finally, the parcel came and, at last, I was able to listen to the Disrupters wholly. And of course, I loved them and the tape, released on Pablo's Resistance Productions, came with a massive booklet full of lyrics and cool drawings (which my mum accidentally threw away, but that's another story entirely).

Welcome to 1985: three mullets and one moustache.

Today still I have a soft spot for the Disrupters, probably as much for the memory of my youthful obsession with them as for the actual music and stance. And I still think they picked a top name. Now that I am older and that my spectrum of obsessions has considerably broadened, I think it is a fair statement to say that Disrupters are one of the many 80's anarchopunk bands that are cruelly underrated. Contrary to a lot of other bands from that scene, they played for eight years (with a one-year hiatus though) and were rather prolific (perhaps too much so in hindsight), with two full albums, three Ep's and one 12''. They had their own record label, Radical Change, which released some classic anarcho records from Self-Abuse, Icon AD or Revulsion (the latter, being also from Norwich, were regular touring partners of the Disrupters), were politically active and greatly helped in the making of the Norwich DIY punk scene, for instance including a song from a then young local band called Deviated Instinct on Radical Change's compilation Words Worth Shouting, whose cover was also drawn by young Mid (the backcover was actually done by a Parisian, a good friend of mine, who used to follow Haine Brigade on tour in the 80's... small punk world, innit?). Nowadays, although the band reformed a few years ago, the Disrupters' legacy is seldom discussed or examined. So it was only a matter of time before I dealt with this Norwich bunch.

Forming in 1980, the Disrupters were part of the second wave of British anarchopunk, the one that emerged in the very early 80's. Their first Ep, from 1981, Young Offender, was a gloriously sloppy, snotty, teenage angst-fueled, punky offering, a genuine two-chords wonder that, for all its simplicity, managed to sound catchy and spontaneous, somewhere between The Epileptics and The Synix. The second Ep, 1982's Shelters for the Rich, was perhaps moodier and better produced (or just produced, really) and it is my favourite early Disrupters record. It retained that lovable punk urgency and amateurism but catchier riffs and a more brooding atmosphere made it a stronger effort. The first album, Unrehearsed Wrongs, from 1983, also comes recommended as it displayed some heavier moments while keeping the tuneful hooks. But to me, the band's real crowning glory was their last record, Alive in the Electric Chair. 

Released in 1985 and recorded during two sessions (you can hear the difference if you focus), it is, by far, the band's most mature and best written work, one that epitomizes what the Disrupters did best: raucous, simple but catchy punk-rock anthems with a dark undertone. The vocals always played an important role in making the band remarkable, as they sound warm and raucous but also threatening, able to convey a very real sense of frustration. The Disrupters were possibly punkier than a lot of their anarcho colleagues, and this unashamedly rock'n'roll aspect does shine through on this 12'', especially in the record's singalong quality. I am reminded of mid-80's Kronstadt Uprising on that level, but also of bands like Blitz, The Underdogs, One Way System or The Defects who, if you care to feel the music instead of just hearing it, all had a dark and desperate tone permeating their anthemic boisterous songwriting and that is exactly where the Disrupters succeeded on their last record, in the balance between the two. Darkness and frustration are always lurking. On the surface of the very rocky riff of "Give me a rush", behind the hauntingly spiteful screams of "Rot in Hell" (arguably the band's best song) and the desperate chorus of "I'm still here", in the melancholy reggae-tinged "Tearing apart"... Alive in the Electric Chair is a magnificent punk-rock record, simultaneously inhabited with a dark, heavy simplicity and a catchy, uplifting raucousness. The very upfront bass-lines work well here with the rather clear sound of the guitar and its smart leads, the drums are reminiscent of the cold tribal beats of Crass and I cannot imagine a better singer for these six songs as he adds a proper intensity and sincerity to the music. 

The lyrics are pretty direct and tackle different subjects, from the nihilistic use of drugs, to the weak liberal politics of the CND, vengeance, depression and the prison system. And as a bonus, you even have a short comic entitled PC Porker goes undercover which always makes me giggle and the traditional runout groove etching with "Tell us about the money Johnny" on side one and "Come back Ian, I'm pregnant" on the other. I do hope Johnny was able to pay his debt and that Ian was a good dad. 


  1. Just stumbled on this. Nice article, thanks for putting it up. Steve Hansell (Disrupters) You might like this