Monday, 8 October 2018

Summer comps not summer camps (part 5): "Spleurk!" compilation Lp, 1988

There you go, here is the fifth installment of my unseasonal series about lovely compilations to listen to in the summertime. Some argue that I should have picked at least one record that includes jumpy, shorts-wearing Californians - usually wannabes - singing in nasal tones, but I just did not find it in my heart - and in my record collection - to do it. I suppose you can consider yourselves lucky for that discrepancy since I have never been into melodic hardcore from that side of the pond and writing about it would have been very challenging indeed (not to mention ripe with gratuitous negativity). So let's stick with the comfort zone of UK punk, although, it has to be pointed out, some bands on this one certainly looked up to American melody makers.


OMG! A barcode! :'o


I guess a compilation Lp called Spleurk conjures up images of nasty, distasteful, gore-oriented grindcore bands or numbingly deafening one-man noisecore bands, but you would be wrong. If the onomatopoeia is indeed used to convey the sense of something slimy and gross splashing on a surface (like a fat smoker's phlegm or a slice of your granny's sunday cake), the lineup of Spleurk has more than a few tunes in its bags and sounds decidedly more melodic than other late 80's UK compilations like Hiatus or Digging in Water (but about as much as Airstrip One if you need a point of comparison). But then, I suppose it makes sense since Spleurk was released on Meantime Records - the label founded by Ian Armstrong, who played in the tuneful Dan and then Sofahead - an entity that illustrated two coexisting sonic faces of the UK punk scene of the mid/late 80's. If Meantime did put out some illustrious gruff crust works by the likes of Sore Throat, Hellbastard or Mortal Terror, it also promoted the more melodic, US-influenced part of the scene with records from HDQ, Exit Condition or Leatherface, which certainly showed that there was more variety to the punk scene then than what is officially thought. As a result, the Lp sounds very diverse and, if it would be far-fetched to claim that it is packed with unforgettable punk anthems (the epic claim is often found on the cover of corny streetpunk/oi compilations and it is pretty much never true, I mean, who really needs live versions of Anti Nowhere League or Anti Pasti?), there are still some genuinely brilliant songs that will surely make your punk day. Besides, the Lp includes a thick booklet with artworks and lyrics from - almost - all the bands and that, faithful readers, is what a top notch comp is all about.




The first band of the Lp is Exit Condition, who hailed from one of punk's most sacred places: Stoke-On-Trent. Now, I am sure that the band is revered in some dark, badly ventilated corners of the punk scene but I am not that familiar with their discography (especially their 90's period). What I do know however is that their late 1988 Ep, Bite Down Hard, was not only a prime example of energetic and fast melodic hardcore but also ticked three incredible boxes for the time: it was released on Pusmort, produced by Bones and had a cover drawn by Squeal. If that does not qualify the Ep as a classic, I don't know what would. The song "Twisted tracks" is taken from EC's first demo tape, Impact Time, recorded in early 88', which was rawer and snottier than the Ep (works for me) but already contained the formula the band were great at, fast hardcore with great tunes, reminiscent of Hüsker Dü, Minor Threat and The Stupids. This is a perfect opener from a solid band that, I'm guessing, must be held in very high esteem by some segment of the punk population.




Next are Gold, Frankincense + Disk- Drive but first, that we will refer to as GFDD from now on for the sake of decency. I don't really know them that well but they had a song on an early Peaceville sampler and their first '87 Lp was also released on the label. I think they were from the Leeds area since Mavis and Harry from Chumbawamba (and Passion Killers for the former!) collaborated with the band on the aforementioned album. Musically I suppose you could say GFDD (who were really a dynamic duo) played progressive punk. Or something. Their songs had a lot of variations and variety and included drum machines, samples, weird sound effects. Interesting, creative stuff for sure but it's not really my cuppa. "Necessary extremes" sounds like a trancey, darkened, demented bend of GBH, NoMeansNo and industrial punk (?).




Cowboy Killers then follow with the song "Your dreaming" (a spelling mistake since it should have been "You're dreaming" as is indicated on the CK's first Lp, Koyaanisqatsi, for which the band re-recorded the song). This number is a sarcastic critique of anarchopunk's idealism and naivety (more often than not, their lyrics were often humorous and tongue-in-cheek) and Terminus even wrote the very serious song "We're dreaming?" in response to it. Anyway, CK were a fast, energetic and tuneful US-styled hardcore punk band (not unlike Bad Brains maybe) from Wales with great singalong chorus and a Biafra-esque singer who was famous for his stage antics. This early song was recorded in 1988 but the band kept going until 1999 which is quite an achievement. 




Sore Throat are next with a...let's call it a noise contribution. Technically, the band has four ""songs"" on Spleurk but three of them are just two second long bursts of savagery while the fourth one is a crunchy Frost-like cavemen stomp with a filthy metal riff and over-the-top gruff crustier than crust vocals. Yes, I love it. Misaaaarrrrrrggghhhhhhey! I'm sure you already know about Sore Throat so need to dwell upon them. Let's just say that your dad won't probably like them too much.




After this much-needed break of neanderthalic music, let's get back to some cracking tunes with the mighty Cold Vietnam from Redditch. Actually, I have already talked about them in the past for the 8 Years Too Late article about melodic UK anarchopunk circa 88/92. This is what I had to say about them. And yes I am literally quoting myself:

"This was an obscure band from the same area as Joyce McKinney Experience that only released one demo and appeared on a handful of compilations between 1988 and 1989: Cold Vietnam. Based in Redditch, the guitarist and singer, Andy Forward, had also played on Visions of Change's final LP, My Mind's Eye in 1989. Cold Vietnam formed in 1986 after the demise of several other local bands. They were apparently not too active for the first year but, in 1988, they managed to record a demo, Blast Into Action with Hunt the Man, that should have taken them to much greater things. Despite a cover reminiscent of the cheapest crossover music, the demo tape is an incredible effort. Carried by the singer's powerful and tuneful voice, "Blast Into Action" is a unique collection of political punk hits (with a strong emphasis on animal rights) and displays a wide variety of genres, from moody anthemic post punk, to passionate melodic US hardcore, to mid-tempo anarcho punk, to melodic UK punk rock and even a punky reggae number. Perfectly produced, this demo is one of the most underrated recordings of this era. Two songs were lifted from it and landed on the brilliant "Spleurk" compilation LP in 1988. Released on Meantime Records, it saw Cold Vietnam rub shoulders with bands like Sofa Head, HDQ and Cowboy Killers. It was not however Cold Vietnam's first vinyl appearance. Indeed, earlier in 1988, their song "Rock Stars" was included on a compilation LP entitled "Vinyl Virgins" that was aimed at providing a first vinyl appearance to promising rock bands! It was released on Mighty Sheffield Records and Cold Vietnam even contributed another song on the label's second compilation LP, Lemonade and Cyanide."  

CV have two songs on Spleurk, one on each side, "9-25" and "Hunt the man", both taken from their exquisite Blast into Action demo tape. "9-25" is an intense yet melodic hardcore number with catchy chorus reminiscent of this distinctly British, very tuneful take on hardcore that was rampant in the late 80's. "Hunt the man" is a hard-hitting, rocking mid-paced anarchopunk hit about animal rights. If Omega Tribe had been into heavy rock, it would have produced something close to this gem. A cracking, versatile band that had tremendous potential. 


The Fine Arts of hardcore


Trench Fever from Brixton, London, are up next and I must admit I have never really paid much attention to the band (though I really dig the name). Trapped in a Scene tells us that TF was made up of former Bad Dress Sense and Destructors (yes, Destructors!) members so you can already guess that they - also - played fast and tuneful UK hardcore influenced by Bad Brains and the likes, not unlike what Cowboy Killers or Depraved were also doing. Not bad but maybe a bit thin. I like the backing chorus and the cheesy drawing of the punk lad though.




People who are fortunate enough to know me will all tell you the same thing: I am a huge sucker for Dan. Of course, the name is terrible and the band's aesthetics rather peculiar but Dan bridged the gap between classic UK anarchopunk and melodic hardcore with maestria, one cracking tune after another. I don't like Sofa Head quite as much, probably because the vintage anarcho influence was more in the background, but I see them as the logical, diachronic continuation of Dan. Hailing from Darlington, SH had Meantime boss Ian on the bass and Wal on the guitar (both previously in Dan), Claire on vocals and Laing (from Hex, HDQ and Leatherface) on the drums. However, the SH songs included on Spleurk were not recorded with Laing but with former Dan's drummer Jim, so you've basically got Dan with new compositions and a new vocalist. The two tracks, "Ugly" and "World", are raw but potent melodic hardcore punk anthems with top notch guitar leads and bass lines, reminiscent of other Northern bands previously mentioned but with anarcho-tinged female vocals, not unlike Indian Dream or... Dan. Really classy stuff though you can tell that the band was still in its embryonic stages. I particularly like the moodiness of "World" (the full correct title is "A world fir for nothing") which would be re-recorded for the first album. Ace! 




Next are Chopper, who also have two songs on the Lp, "Mr Shitface" and "Workout!". Now I know nothing about Chopper but from what I can hear, they were a humorous, fast, snotty hardcore band. The playing is a bit sloppy and the songwriting fairly generic but the energy is there and the lyrics to "Workout!" are pretty funny indeed. Works well enough on this compilation for me. 




The aptly-named Why? follow with the very good song "It could be better". The band was from Brighton and had a demo tape with the ineptly-named Immolato Tomatoes (Why?'s drummer would join Sleep afterwards). Why? were, judging from their aesthetics and lyrics, an anarchopunk band but they were certainly influenced by the tunefulness and speed of US hardcore like many other bands at the time included on Spleurk. I guess they retain a punkier side which reminds me quite a bit of an '87 Revulsion jamming with an '87 Hex in HDQ's shed. I really like it! The riffs are very melodic and the singing almost too happy-sounding at times but there is an undeniable drive and sense of tunes here that I find most pleasing. I wish I knew more songs from them. How catchy can punk get?




And now let's have some half-demented, weirdo, surrealistic punk-rock in the guise of Shrug, a long-running theatrical band from Middlesbrough. They are somehow difficult to describe and I suppose that's the whole point of Shrug anyway. I can hear bits of All the Madmen type anarchopunk like The Astronauts or Blyth Power, some dirty psychedelic rock (especially with the garage beats and the organ) and an absurdist sense of humour like a more adult Wat Tyler. It is actually really good once you get into it and the song "Donna and the Daleks" (about Doctor Who obviously) will make you move your hips in a disorderly situationist fashion. If Beckett or Barthelme had been into punk, they would have listened to Shrug I'm sure. An entertaining and interesting bunch.




Next are Doom. Yes, Doom. Need I say more? Actually, yes, I kinda do. This version of "Agree to differ" was recorded in May, 1988, a few months after the War Crimes sessions and was part of an unreleased demo - their third one - entitled Domesday that you can listen to in its entirety on the retrospective Doomed from the Start (I recommend the cd version, for once, because it has a fourth demo as well). Ironically, "Agree to differ" was one of the only slow songs from Doom's repertoire, not to mention the longest. It was Doom at its rawest and most juvenile and I just love the dark tones and the threatening simplicity of this number. Unselfconscious crust. Lovely.




Following up, City Indians, from Derby, contributed one of Spleurk's most memorable moments with their song "Hanging by a thread". In spite of their well-meaning but rather awkward and cheesy name (but then, Flux of Pink Indians had opened that gate earlier), CI were a solid anarchopunk band around in the mid-80's whose drummer Andy would join the mighty Concrete Sox in 1986. Their first demo Spoilsport was enjoyable but pretty generic however, 1987 Root of Freedom was a much more accomplished, versatile anarcho work that was both hard-hitting and moody, somewhere between Conflict and Ad'Nauseam for their fast and angry side and The Mob or Omega Tribe for the mellower, more introspective, darker vibe permeating the songwriting. Very classy stuff and "Hanging by a thread", having been recorded just a few months after Root of Freedom, displays the same attributes. The song starts as a heavy, angry mid-paced number, not unlike Icons of Filth or Stone the Crowz, before going into a soft, poppy, almost hippyish moment with delicate harmonics and tuneful vocals (Omega Tribe really springs to mind), then the punky mid-tempo resumes before ending with rocking dissonant guitar solos. Quite a ride. The riffs are great, the vocals are pissed, low-pitched and adequately expressive and the conception of the song itself shows that CI certainly had original ideas about songwriting. Unfortunately I cannot say that their 1988 Ep lived up to what they displayed earlier. Still, someone should reissue the recordings from 1986 and 1987. For my birthday for example. Just saying.   


Anarcho Fine Arts 101


By comparison, Upset Tummy sound quite basic but no less enjoyable if you are into parodical anarchopunk spoken words. The song is called "State oppression" and it pretty much ticks all the boxes which makes me think that it is some kind of joke band (assuming it is an actual band). The address is from Gipsy Hill, London, where some well-known farcical jokers lived (and still do to my knowledge) so my best guess is that Sean Wat Tyler had some fun in the studio with a mate and send these 30 seconds of self-righteous anarcho outrage to Meantime. But I could be wrong.




Nox Mortis were of course much more serious - not to mention gloomier - and, like Cold Vietnam, I have already touched upon the band in that quixotic article about late 80's anarchopunk (here). If anything, our current decade can be defined as a very nostalgic one, to the point of goofiness at times. Not only are 80's punk-rock bands being reissued at a crazy pace, but even new bands tend to do little more than worship and refer to 80's punk-rock bands, often branded with the essentialist seal of "authenticity". And to be honest, it's not just punk-rock, it's pretty much a global postmodern urban thing. But anyway, I am dying to see the day when there will be a NM reissue. In fact, along with Awake Mankind, The Assassins and Polemic, NM is THE 80's anarchopunk band I would love to see reissued (and my opinion is gold so if you want to be seen as one of the cool kids, you should at least pretend to agree with the statement).

NM were from Southampton and formed in 1986 from the ashes of another local anarcho band called Suicide Pact (I unfortunately know only one song from SP but, based on that one number, they played moody female-fronted anarchopunk, just how I like it). Musically, the band was absolutely brilliant, tuneful and dark, passionate and desperate, angry and sad, reminiscent of Omega Tribe Kulturkampf, Naked or The Mob (or even Demob actually), with great emotional, bittersweet vocals, moody guitar leads and the catchiest of tunes. However, NM were not your typical punks: they were into poetry. To be more specific, into WW1 poets. Some of their songs ("Arms and the boys", "Flanders Field" and of course "In memoriam") were adaptations of poems from WW1 poets Ewart Alan Mackintosh, Wilfred Owen and John McCrae and the very name Nox Mortis referred to Paul Bewsher. Pretty grim and moving at the same time, I admit, but then it was a clever and original way to express your opposition to war and it certainly conveys an appropriate sense of hopelessness and loss. War-poem-turned-anarchopunk "In memoriam" is maybe the band's best songs, intense and profound, with that typical anarcho sensibility. It was recorded in 1987 during the same session as the Shall we Dance? split Lp. Top drawer, definitely.




Next are HDQ, a fairly well-known and respected band from Sunderland that included three members of Hex (and of course, Leatherface). I am not sure when "Bridges & walls" was recorded (1987? 1988?) but I guess it was with the same lineup as the You Suck! Lp that was also released on Meantime. So basically it was the melodic hardcore HDQ, a prime example of the British version of US melodic hardcore bands like 7 Second or Hüsker Dü. I like that song and I can definitely hear the similarities between this HDQ and late Hex. It's a winner, full of energy, passion and tunes (of course). 




The last band of Spleurk is Inside Out, the only non-British one on the Lp since they were an all-female trio from Detroit. I am not really familiar with them but I guess they fit well in this context. I suppose you could describe them as a proto-riot grrrl band, with that typical grungy rock sound and garage tones. I've never been much of a sucker for that specific early 90's American sound, precisely because it sounds too American for my ears, but this Inside Out's song does it for me. Quite poppy and punky at the same time, like cross between Androids of MU, Joyce McKinney Experience and US bands like The Gits. Fun and liberating.





To wrap it up, I have got some good news for you: you'll be able to find Spleurk for pretty cheap. I am not sure why, since it is a solid compilation from a significant label with some very strong songs and an ace-looking booklet, but there you go. If I were a cynical bastard I would venture that the reason is that the hipster fringe of the punk scene does not care for that sound (yet?) and prices haven't been inflated (yet?). A second volume of Spleurk was released in 1990 but I don't think it is quite as good, or maybe it's just not punky enough for me. Yet?     








   

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