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.