Monday 20 August 2018

Summer comps not summer camps (part 2): "Who? What? Why? When? Where?" compilation Lp, 1984

As one Steve Lake once put it, you can't cheat karma. 

Last week I received my copy of the Instinct of Survival/Asocial Terror Fabrication split Lp, a hot new record I had been dreaming about for months (so much so in fact that I was checking the website of Doomed to Extinction pretty much on a daily basis, just to be sure I would not miss it). My hands were shaking slightly with anticipation when I put the record on the turntable and pressed the button. I was expecting, or rather I was begging to be blown away by a healthy slice of proper old-school crust, I wanted this record to be a crunchy and solid work in and of itself as well as a prime example of smart referentiality, of crust reflexivity. And this record might very well do that but I would not know... The sad truth is that when I pressed the "on" button on my turntable, it did not turn at all. After thirty minutes of grumblings and mutterings (the national sport in France), I came to the realization that my faithful turntable was broken and momentarily useless. The irony that it ceased to work precisely when I was on the verge of playing a record I had been waiting for months did not escape me and I am still hopelessly wondering why the gods of punk would do that to such a reliable servant as myself. 

That my turntable is on its arse also impacts Terminal Sound Nuisance since I will not be able to complete this series of compilation in due time, and let's face it the joke does not work as well with "winter camps" (the images it conjures up are a bit grimmer...). Unfortunately, I did not think of ripping all the compilations before. However, the second part was ready so that is what you get for today. And summer is almost over anyway. Maybe I will work on some 90's tapes until I get the turntable repaired but only time will tell. It would be also be wise to sacrifice an unplayed Discharge record to appease the gods of punk and restore balance.

That I would one day eventually write about a Mortarhate compilation was, not unlike the apocalypse in every crust song, inevitable. People can gossip about Conflict and their doings all they like, the fact is that the band's labels, Mortarhate and Fight Back, released some crucial anarchopunk records between 1983 and 1986 at a time when the UK punk-rock scene as a whole was starting to recede. Of course, the popularity of Conflict at the time certainly helped the bands that Mortarhate also put out as much as it may have overshadowed them (some great bands like Icons of Filth or Exit-Stance remain to this day tagged as "Conflict's touring partners"). I first came across the Mortarhate roster through the Compilation of Deleted Dialogues double cd that included 14 of the early Ep's of the label. It was a great introduction and a mate of mine had an original copy of Who? What? Why? When? Where? which he bought for a fiver in the early 00's. He often played the Lp when we drank at his place so that it has become a bit of an iconic record for me. I guess that I feel two levels of appreciation for this Lp. One that is very naive and spontaneous and youthful, reminiscent of a time when we did not have many records or information about punk bands but the ones we did have, we knew by heart and listened to constantly, and when I casually listen to the comp now, I have recollections of these days and how we related to music. The other appreciation is much more analytical and argumentative and tied to how I listen to punk music now and how I look at bands, in this case bands I know very well and can easily contextualize. I sometimes miss the much more direct and instant approach I once had, but knowledge and habit curve and polish one's enthusiasm and turns it into meaningful passion. Right?

Who? What? Why? When? Where? was released in March, 1984 and I have no idea if the title was a nod toward The Weirdos from LA (it would be a stretch but why not after all) whose first album from 1979 bore the same name. It was Mortarhate's fourth vinyl record (only preceded by Conflict, Lost Cherrees and Hagar the Womb's) and first compilation, and along with the subsequent ones, We won't Be your Fucking Poor and We don't Want your Fucking War!, it rates as one of the best anarcho compilations ever released. This is a blunt statement but even a quick look at the lineup confirms it with a balanced mix of classic bands like Poison Girls, Conflict or Icons of Filth (although it must be pointed out that the latter as well as many other "classic bands" on the Lp were still in their infancy at the time and not yet canonized), lesser known gems like Vex or The Mad Are Sane and obscure bands that no one knows anything about like Know the Drill or Stigma. And that is exactly what I love about old compilations, that blend of established bands and anecdotal ones that made sense at that time, in that place. Who? What? Why? When? Where? is pretty much an "all killers, no fillers" and it is a rather diverse listen highlighting different paces, moods and intents and maybe the ideal introduction to someone who is clueless about anarchopunk. Of course, it is an 80's UK punk compilation with all that entails in terms of style and sound but it is also undeniably more varied than Riot City or No Future compilations. There are 18 bands on the Lp, some of them not really needing an introduction so let's get to it.

Conflict open the record with one of the most powerful song "Cruise". Someone once told me that when they formed, Conflict wanted to take Discharge ferocity and infuse it with the aggression of Crass (or the other way round, it also works). I suppose that this song can be summarized as such. Think what you like about Conflict, but in 1984 they sounded unstoppable and were penning one anthem after another. The way "Cruise" kicks in still sends shivers down my spine and the strong narrative quality of the songwriting is visible in just two minutes. Urgent, outraged and even emotional punk. What we gonna be doin now it's 1984? 

Next are Anthrax with "It'll be alright on the night". Now, I love Anthrax and their insane tempo changes, fast riffs and vocals that sound both tuneful and yet super snotty. But I remember disliking the introduction of the song when I first heard it, deeming it "too melodic". How wrong I was. One of their best songs for sure, like The Clash, 2 Minute War and Flux of Pink Indians on speed. 

Karma Sutra, from Luton, are a bit sloppier than the first two but their sense of a good tune does show and I challenge you not to sing along "It's our world too" after listening to their song. Starting out with a postpunk vibe, the song is a mid-paced punk song with the usual tribal beats. Top chorus, of course. Who would have thought that Karma Sutra would record one of the most interesting  and original anarcho Lp's three years after in the shape of the situationist inspired The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker?

Moet the Poet... What can I say? I used to hate that low-fi pop song because it sounded so cheesy. It still does, I guess but I kinda enjoy it now. I know nothing about Moet, do you?   

Sub Squad was another mysterious band that only released that one song... It starts off with a strong tribal beat and a good bass line before turning into a classic UK82 number with a snotty and catchy singalong chorus about London Town. 

Chaos didn't exactly pick the most original name for a punk band. In fact, they arguably picked the least original one possible. From London, Chaos actually existed from 1980 to 1986 which is quite honourable. I must admit that I was only aware of the rather good Mortarhate Ep Tribal Warfare and one demo before an unsuspected discography Lp of the band saw the light of day last year (to be honest, it is not all good and the band was versatile). "Hey you" is a great song though. Simplistic but strangely compelling aggressive punk song with direct vocals and an ace pogo beat. Very punky. 

Like Sub Squad, Stigma did not leave much of a trace on the anarcho scene at the time and their only other contribution was on another compilation, Fight Back's We don't Want your Fucking War (a sublabel of Mortarhate). However, they were quite heavy and potentially powerful and I wish they recorded more (is there a hidden demo somewhere?). Dark and hard-hitting, chaotic anarchopunk that reminds me of Exit-Stance, Stone the Crowz or Icons of Filth. Angry stuff about animal rights and a very neat skull logo to boot. 

Toxic Shock was probably the band I liked the least on Who? What? Why? When? Where? back when I first heard it. A jazzy and dissonant number with no drums and a four minute length! I was just not ready for it. But being older and wiser and more verse in the artier side of the anarchopunk scene, I now understand and even enjoy Toxic Shock, though I don't think I could listen to a double Lp from them. Influenced by Poison Girls, they were an anarcho feminist duo with former members of Sanction and Day Five with a lot of songs tackling sexism and militarism. They did not technically play punk-rock and were more into experimental, hypnotic avantgarde music with a saxophone (an instrument I cannot stomach for some reason). Great smart lyrics (and drawings) about the hypocrisy and casual machismo of male punks. Still relevant (sadly).

Vex are - especially from a retrospective point of view with the so-called postpunk revival of the past few years that saw all the punks trade their crust pants for peacoats and profess their love for Sisters of Mercy and The Cure - the hidden gem of the Lp. I'm not sure what we thought about that song 15 years ago. Probably that it sounded like goth music. Which is true I suppose. Dark and heavy moody punk music with morose vocals and potent tribal drums. A bit like early Amebix, Killing Joke with some Southern Death Cult and UK Decay. What I really love about Vex is that the emotionality that permeates their songwriting goes hand in hand with their punk intensity. Anarcho goth-punk? Whatever tag you want to impose on them, Vex crafted some of the most poignant dark punk songs of the early 80's and their Sanctuary 12'' comes highly recommended.

Exit-Stance opens fire on the second side of the Lp with the song "Operation successful" that was recorded before their first Ep. You can tell that the band was still young and the sound is not quite as heavy and punishing as it would eventually become but the basis are already there. Fierce, mid-paced punk with angry and threatening vocals and hard-hitting riffs and beats. Exit-Stance conveyed a sense of anger that is hard to describe and even harder to replicate. Punk foaming with rage, punk that can spit. 

The amazing Poison Girls follow and what is there to say? The band was in full pop mode by 1984 but the lyrics were as articulate and clever as ever. "The offending article" is about male sexual predation, domestication, exploitation and how feminism can be linked with the struggle for animal rights. I must confess that it took me a long time to really enjoy Poison Girls but I have become a real sucker for their early years. I don't engage as much with later material musically but the words are always a pleasure. 

Know the Drill were two things: a one-hit wonder and a bizarre name for a band. To my knowledge, this is the only song they recorded but I could be wrong. Apparently hailing from the Manchester area, Know the Drill were what you would call nowadays an "anarcho postpunk" band, with a dark, moody, catchy music and an anarchopunk perspective on things. They remind me of Political Asylum - without the prog rock influence -, Blood Robots and Vex. Great song with a beautiful riff that is simple and yet so morose. I cannot believe such a top band only recorded the one song so be a dear and enlighten me, will you? 

You won't find a more UK82-ish band than Death Zone, from Newcastle, on Who? What? Why? When? Where? and it fits perfectly after some grim dark punk. A bit of a curious bunch Death Zone since they recorded a full Lp in 1989, a long time after that kind of sound had faded. They had a few thoroughly enjoyable demos in the early 80's and the song "The youth are to blame" can be considered as their anthem (with a name like that, it'd better be). Typical UK82 sound in the noblest sense of the term with snotty vocals, a catchy chorus, basic drumming and a memorable riff. Amazingly simple and simply amazing. I love that song.

Next is probably my favourite Lost Cherrees song, "The wait", at the height of the band's inspiration. I have always been a goofy fan of the band's bittersweet but highly tuneful brand of anarchopunk and capacity for expressing a wide variety of emotions (from sadness to anger, melancholy or joy) while always maintaining that rather upbeat Lost Cherrees sound that transpires in the melodies and the polyphonic female vocals (at that time, the band had three female vocalists). The keyboards bits are just a bonus here and this is powerful, sincere punk-rock with cracking tunes and energy. C'mon, let's all sing "His love is our blood" merrily!

16 Guns from London follow, right there with Death Zone in terms of effective and direct UK82 punk-rock with a good tune. I don't know much about the band (but they apparently reformed recently) but their early demo was pretty good if you are into pogo inducing UK punk-rock (and who isn't these days?).   

The magnificent Icons of Filth are next with an early song, "Stupid", that reflects what the band did best in their early years: angry punk-rock with direct lyrics and ominous riffs. Stig's vocals were one of a kind and his singing style - half-shouted and half-spoken - remains totally unique to this day and contributes to the "in your face" effect of the songwriting. This is classic Icons of Filth, heavy with a thick punky sound and energetic changes of pace. A crucial band that, for their threatening grooviness, probably had a strong influence on the emerging UK hardcore scene at the time (more about them here).

The Mad Are Sane have already been covered at length on Terminal Sound Nuisance a few years ago (here) so I am not going to repeat myself like a senile punk. They recorded a fantastic demo from which the song "Animal crimes" is taken and played heavy anarchopunk with pummeling tribal drums and mean, hoarse male vocals and shouted female ones. Top shelf recording to be stored with Exit-Stance and Stone the Crowz.

Finally the wonderful Hagar the Womb conclude the compilation Lp. I had no idea what the name of the band meant the first time I heard them (I suck at biblical references) and, pronounced with a French accent, "Hagar the Womb" sounds very funny... Anyway, I love the band of course, tuneful anarchopunk with dual female vocals and healthy pop tunes. "For the ferryman" is a low-fi but lovable poppy punk song with a hypnotic, almost psychedelic quality but keeping the punk spontaneity (and musicianship), between Lost Cherrees and Androids of Mu. Super catchy and a lovely way to close the record. 

A strong compilation that acts as a relevant and meaningful snapshot of the anarchopunk scene of the early-mid 80's, especially the interconnected Conflict galaxy. I cannot think of many other compilations that offered such a wide spectrum of the different genres and moods present in the anarchopunk scene of the time. Even Moet the Poet sounds alright now. Well, almost. 

Sunday 5 August 2018

Summer comps not summer camps (part 1): "Daffodils to the Daffodils Here's the Daffodils" compilation LP, 1984

As you may know (depending on where you live), a sadistic heatwave with a grudge is currently hitting Paris and other parts of Europe pretty hard right now. Parisians are already prone to complain constantly about anything and everything, so you can easily imagine the endless angry mumblings and exasperated sighs on the streets at the time of writing (the fact that France won the world cup a few weeks ago hardly alleviates the irritation). And that's precisely the time I chose to get Terminal Sound Nuisance going again, like the mythical phoenix, with my bum sticking to the chair, soaked armpits and the distracting buzzing of flies... I'm still unsure if it is out of uncrushable dedication or a glorified sense of sacrifice. But who cares! 

Let's talk about 80's punk compilations today, in a casual but smart fashion that will - hopefully - make you dust off and re-explore some old records. If you are familiar with my useless ravings, you already know that I am a sucker for good compilations, first, because I feel they capture the vibe and essence of a specific time and place and second, because I fell in love with punk-rock through compilations (proper or homemade ones done by mates). So they are a good way to reconnect, have a good time and enjoy a few beers. They are the punk equivalent of doing a cleanse or taking some time off to travel in South East Asia in order to "find yourself", only they require much less efforts or money. 

Where you will learn more about the finances of the label as well as the owner's vision of and for the punk scene

The first album of the Summer comps not summer camps series (my love for silly puns is unfortunately not getting any weaker) is Daffodils to the Daffodils Here's the Daffodils, released on Pax Records in 1984. During its rather short run as an independent punk label, Marcus Featherby's Pax put out some pretty crucial records from bands like Mau Maus, Anti-System and even The Exploited (their third and rather good 1983 Lp Let's Start a War) but I think that, some 35 years later, the label is mostly remembered for its top compilations. The Wargasm Lp, from 1982, was probably the most famous and sold very well thanks to its solid diverse lineup (Poison Girls, Dead Kennedys, Angelic Upstarts...) and its relevant antiwar message and I guess that most punk old-timers will spontaneously say "Wargasm" if you ask them what Pax Records reminds them of (I actually had to abduct several older punks to conduct this experiment so I know what I'm talking about). In my case, Pax makes me think primarily of two things: Anti-System and the trilogy of great punk as fuck compilations Lp with goofy titles and mischievous punks on the cover. With names such as Punk Dead - Nah Mate the Smell is Jus Summink in Yer Underpants Innit and Bollox to the Gonads - Here's the Testicles and covers depicting punx having a laugh, they certainly captivated my youthful imagination and exposed me to some fantastic bands. Daffodils was the part of the trilogy (and actually the last proper release of Pax) and its rather strange name referred to the anti-Bushell title of the previous compilation (which triggered some controversy, some shops refusing to carry it because it was deemed impolite). Apparently, the idea of the daffodils title came from an ironical gentleman comment from John Peel who suggested to replace naughty words with flowers. Actually, the record was originally going to be called One Man's Wombat Piss is Another Man's Real Ale (is it disastrous, hilarious or both? It does make me giggle, I admit).

The strength of Pax compilations lied in their variety, at a time when the punk scene was becoming more and more divided, and in the inclusion of foreign punk bands (Bollox to the Gonads notably had Crude SS, Canal Terror, Savage Circle and Subversion), something that was certainly not to be taken for granted in the early 80's in the UK scene. Maybe because of the insular nature of Britain, mentalities seemed to have been quite close-minded to "foreign punk-rock" at that time in some quarters of the punk scene. As Featherby wrote it himself in the liner notes to Swedish band Noncens: "Whenever you think of "foreign" punk groups, the reaction is usually negative - but there are some bloody good ones about." That this even needed to be said in 1984 is revealing and even awkwardly funny in retrospect (the same thing can be said about Featherby urging locals to read MRR). The hardcore explosion of the following years thankfully changed a lot of things for the better but I sometimes wonder if this kind of chauvinistic attitude has completely vanished from "the scene" when I hear people claiming in all seriousness that "real hardcore is American". Oh well. 

But let's get to the actual record. Daffodils is my favourite compilation out of the three because it has the most diversity and versatility with nine bands and twenty songs displaying different shades of 80's punk music. And because it includes Onslaught. Some bands offered several tracks to the record but they were disseminated and not placed in a row so that it does not sound redundant (I guess) and makes for a more pleasant, less mechanical listen with a genuine comp feel.

The opening song is "Facts of war" from the mighty Mau Maus, which is taken from their strongest record, the Facts of War Ep, also released on Pax like the band's first two Ep's (the label and band were both from sunny Sheffield). I know some people love the music but dislike the vocals of Mau Maus, and although I can see why, I love them precisely for the very upfront, threatening, gritty, almost Oi-esque vocals that made them sound so intense. Mau Maus was one of the first UK bands to play fast and aggro-oriented thrashy hardcore punk with political lyrics, like a cross between Discharge, Riot Squad and US hardcore. A classic band that I never get tired of. 

Next are the mighty Onslaught, from Bristol, with their ultimate hit "Black horse of famine" and "Shadow of death" on the other side. I originally got a cdr version of Daffodils precisely because I wanted to listen to them since I had read in a fanzine somewhere that they sounded like a primitive, metallic Discharge. Though I quite enjoy Power From Hell, I much prefer the earlier recordings of Onslaught (as the old adage "the demos were better" is actually true here) when they sounded like a dischargy hardcore punk bands trying to play metal and had charged hair and studs. It is feral, dark, aggressive, clearly metal but super punky at the same time. Like the ideal first date between Discharge and Venom. The sound is perfect here (sadly the previous demos are rough) and I so wish they had recorded an Lp with that sound and songwriting. "Black horse of famine" is one of the finest and meanest examples of greatness-inducing simplicity. Ace.

You will also find two songs of the magnificent Destrucktions on Daffodils, taken from their hardcore masterpiece Vox Populi. Hailing from Ulvila, Finland, they had Peikko from Kaaos on the guitar and played typical Propaganda hardcore (you saw that coming, right?) with the typical youthful energy and aggressive snottiness inherent in the style. The threatening teenage vocals are by the book, the bass is thick, the riffs simple but great and the chaotic power genre-defining. Their mid-paced "Trade union" is the definitive winner and your best introduction to the do's and don't's of Finnish hardcore. The title of the songs are in English but they sing in Suomi, as you would expect if you are at all familiar with the genre. Their sole Lp (that has not been reissued yet and is therefore highly expensive) was released on Rock-O-Rama, great hardcore punk label turned RAC around 1984. How do you go from Riistetyt to Skrewdriver? It still beats me.

Unjust from the Bronx, New York City, contributed four songs of direct and fast punk music to the compilation that are reminiscent of the early days of US hardcore with its distinct prosodics. Very energetic and quite tuneful. Unjust would appear one year later on the Big City's One Big Crowd compilation Lp that a lot of tough American hardcore bands and even Sheer Terror (not my cuppa but you can picture where they were coming from).

With three tracks on Daffodils, Noncens from Helsingborg, Sweden, demonstrated how pervasive the influence of the second wave of British punk-rock with songs that would have fitted perfectly on Riot City or No Future. In fact, you could even argue that Noncens gave the cream of the crop of UK82 bands a serious run for their money. The three songs are stellar, "The battlefield" and "Black and white" being fast and well-crafted snotty punk numbers somewhere between Varukers, Picture Frame Seduction or Mayhem, absolute top-shelf UK82 punk. "Give us a future" is a mid-paced gem that starts with a super epic vibe before turning into a postpunk-flavoured snotty cold war anthem, like The Enemy jamming with UK Decay. Amazing song that contains everything that was good about early 80's punk. Noncens also had an Ep in 1983 with a much more straigh-forward, rawer punk sound and a more distinctive Swedish vibe (especially in the Asta Kask-like chorus). Really good band that I know little about. Swedish punk nerds, now is the time to school me.

A second band from NYC contributed songs to this Pax piece of wax: No Control. To say that Featherby was excited about the band would be an understatement as he literally raves about them. I don't know much about them and apparently they did not really achieve what was predicted. No Control played hard-hitting punk with upfront female vocals and an early hardcore feel (there are some textbook riffs). Pretty good indeed especially at their fastest. The band also included members of The Psychos and Sheer Terror.

What would an '84 compilation Lp be without some danceable goth-tinged postpunk? For that, Leitmotiv had two songs on Daffodils displaying not only rather mature songwriting abilities but musicianship superior to the other bands. Coming from Bradford, the band was originally called Science (which was kind of a shite name) and had ties with the punk scene. Leitmotiv were far from derivative or generic and played dark, but not sinister, and powerful postpunk with a trance-like quality, a strong drum section and hypnotically catchy synthwave moments. They are quite difficult to compare (for me anyway) but I can see them share the stage with fellow Bradfordians New Model Army or Southern Death Cult, or with Arch Criminals and UK Decay, although they don't sound like them. Old-school punky goth music with some Northern grit. The two songs "(Living in a) tin" and "Silent run" also appeared on an Ep.

The inclusion of Demob's "No room for you" can be seen as surprising. After all, the No Room for You Ep was released three years prior to Daffodils, in 1981. So why then? Well, simply because it was Featherby's favourite punk song! And let's face it, "No room for you" is indeed one of the best punk-rock numbers ever written. Seriously. It has everything. Teenage angst, tunes to die for, lyrics you can relate to easily, melancholy, frustration, a feeling of togetherness... It has been in my "Top 5 songs to sing in the shower" for years. If you've never given it a listen, I actually envy you. It still gives me the chills. Basically the best of what the '77 wave had to offer reworked in an '82 framework. What a song... 

Finally, Morbid Humour, from Bradford, offered two songs to this wonderful compilation (well technically three, but "Oh my God" is basically one song cut in half and it makes more sense to see it as a cohesive whole) and, along with Onslaught, they were the main reason why I originally wanted to listen to Daffodils so bad and why I finally bought a physical copy. I had read that MH was a short-lived anarchopunk band that had members from Anti-System (Nogsy, Phil and Varik), so of course I just had to check them out, knowing that there was a high possibility I was going to love them and, if not, I could still use the Anti-System connection as a piece of trivia in order to show off. It was a win-win situation. Still, I did not expect MH to be THAT good and I completely relate to the words "the intensity caused me to have shivers down my spine" from the liner notes. Nogsy was the first singer of Anti-System and I really appreciate his vocal tone, snotty but emotional and it fitted MH's sound maybe even better than it did A-S. Although the term has been so overused in recent years that it has almost lost its real substance, MH played dark and passionate mid-paced anarchopunk. Eerie and morose, intense and outraged, bellicose and melancholy, the band managed to conjure up all these emotions into their songs, despite having only recorded a demo. The two songs on the compilation are precious and I do not know why they did not garner more attention at the time (they did not play much apparently and were said to be mysterious... whatever that entails). The dual vocals certainly add more energy and depth to the songs and the complementarity is heartfelt. Their genuine achievement however lies in their balanced songwriting, somewhere between angry, tuneful punk-rock and darker, melancholy postpunk, a vehicle for raw emotions. Take the best of The System, Flux of Pink Indians and Reality Control and infuses it with Peni, Naked and Zounds and you'll be close. Moody anarchopunk doesn't get much better. Just listen to the transitional riff between the two parts of "Oh my God". Wonderful. 

Enjoy the compilation. Fuck the heat. I'm done.