Thursday 31 January 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 2): Undead "Violent visions" Ep, 1982

No label conjures up the UK82 wave as much as Riot City Records and No Future Records. And not just in terms of sound. To mention those labels is an evocation of a specific look, of a very short but very dense and influential time period and, in the case of Riot City, of Bristol, a town that has taken an almost biblical dimension in punk mythology. Even - and probably especially - for someone who has never visited Bristol, it immediately brings Disorder, Chaos UK, Amebix, Vice Squad, cider, glue and Riot City Records to mind. There is no exception, the punk brain just works this way, it is a scientific law. No British town has historically been tied up to punk-rock as closely as Bristol in the collective punk psyche and, in retrospect, it is difficult to gauge how objective or rational the story really is. But in the end, it doesn't really matter. After all, every subcultural group need to create their own canonical myths and the idea of a lost punk Eden (punk Bristol in the 80's here, but you can replace it with New York, Stockholm or wherever your obsessive loyalty lies) is strong, albeit not necessarily very healthy.

Like many a young punk, I was fascinated with the second wave of British punk-rock in my teenage years (it wasn't called "UK82" yet to my knowledge) and I would try to buy as many Captain Oi cd reissues as possible since they were readily available and life was very much internet-free then. More often than not, these cd's were a bit hard to swallow as they included full discographies but then it was at least comprehensive. Basic band histories were provided, rarely the lyrics, but it was difficult to get the bigger picture or the interconnections of it all and I remember not understanding why a lot of punk bands started to get a bit shit toward the end of their run (usually around '83 or '84). Still, I have kept all these cd's (out of a Proustian mindset I suppose) and apart from a couple of genuine classics, I have never felt the need to hunt for original copies. As of 2019, the vinyl format has superseded the cd (Captain Oi released very few vinyls), but the trend of reissuing second wave UK punk bands is still going strong and I am still as interested and starry-eyed as ever. Some things never change, do they?

One band's discography that Captain Oi never got around to reissue at the time was Undead's, from Bristol, which is a bit of an oddity since they released two Ep's and one full Lp and were therefore completely cd-compatible (Step-1 Music eventually did release such an object in 2007 under the very imaginative title The Riot City Years - the only years Undead ever had). For some reason, Undead seem to be largely underappreciated when they are not casually ignored, which is strange for a Bristol band that had three records on legendary Riot City. Indeed, I have often seen some of their contemporaries that weren't even half as good receive high praises. So why the discrepancy?

I suppose the name "Undead" never really helped since it is a bit corny (I am sure it already was when they formed in 1981 and the addition of a crucifix after the prefix is questionable) and there were already two bands called The Undead in the $tates at the time (one from San Francisco and the other, much more famous, with an ex-Misfits member, neither I really care about). It might not have been the most clever idea for a moniker, especially since it brings psychobilly or horror punk to mind more than spiky punk-rock, but it is not the worst idea either. Apparently, Undead did not play much outside Bristol which did not help bolster their profile amidst the dozens of bands of the time. But the great equalizer of our time (aka da internet) usually renders such very concrete, contextualized facts meaningless, so there should be as many enthusiastic fans of Undead as there are of Ultra Violent. Right? I have a feeling that lack of "punk as fuck" photo shoots at the time also plays a role in the band's status. But then, how could they have known that they were not instammagrable enough?


As I said Undead started in mid-1981 and the boys look really young on the few pictures I have seen so it is safe to say that they must have been influenced not only by the first wave, but also by the beginning of the second wave itself. The legend has it (well, I got it from Burning Britain) that they lived close to Beki's from Vice Squad who then gave their first demo (recorded in December, 1981) to Simon from Riot City (the label was also managed by Dave and Shane from Vice Squad which accounted for many of their side projects releasing records on Riot City...not always for the best). He decided to include the song "Sanctuary" on the classic Riotous Assembly compilation Lp and offered a deal to Undead which would materialize into their first Ep, It's corruption, in April, 1982. Of course that year saw the release of a tremendous amount of amazing punk records in Britain so I am not sure how it was perceived at the time (it made the Indie Charts though). It's corruption is a lovely punk-rock single with the eponymous song being a simple but really catchy number which gave a glimpse at what would be become the band's trademark, namely pounding mid-paced tribal drum beats with a dark vibe which It weren't really your typical Bristol punk style. That first record was Riot City's seventh Ep, released between The Ejected's Have you got 10p? and Abrasive Wheels' Burn'em down (two of the records that best typified the quintessential UK82 sound) which is not a bad spot at all.

Undead's second Ep, Violent visions, was released only three months after, in July. Despite the very short period of time between the two, it was a massive improvement. If It's corruption sounded a bit sloppy and raw, Violent visions was a more powerful and focused effort that kept the characteristic snotty teenage urgency of the delivery while maintaining a high level of tunefulness. A darker vibe also started to permeate the band's sound, the heavy mid-tempo tribal beats taking an almost hypnotic dimension, leading the listener into a sort of angry despair. This Ep, for its apparent simplicity, is just incredible. The chorus are remarkably catchy and roaring at the same time, uplifting and yet quite grim, and they can remain stuck in your head for days. The music has a primitive, urban feel that is authentically threatening and the vocals are brilliant, aggressive and snotty, but expressive and rather melodic in a spiky punk way. The riffs are fairly basic but work well since they rely on bleak repetitiveness (there are moody guitar leads here and there to break the monotony) and as such they convey perfectly the feeling of angry powerlessness that made the genre so potent. Violent visions can be seen as a perfect UK82 record although it was certainly darker and moodier than a lot of its contemporaries. However, it does retain that punk snottiness and singalong chorus so that it sounds both typical and atypical. Know what I mean? You shouldn't really need points of comparison but let's say that it is a near perfect blend of The Enemy, The Insane and Cult Maniax with a touch of dark punk, maybe like The Pact or Screaming Dead. The only bad thing about this Ep is the artwork. I am not sure who did it but it looks horrible and reminds me of embarrassingly cheesy heavy metal covers. This is exactly how a fantastic punk record shouldn't look like.

The best was still to come for Undead and their outstanding album The killing of reality is an unsung UK punk classic. Released on Riot City in early 1984 when the second wave already had one foot in the grave, it is one of the strongest UK82 Lp's. If the Ep format fitted the genre well, the same could not be said about the full Lp treatment. A lot of them sounded a little tedious or included forgettable fillers so that, while the wave produced many cracking Ep's, brilliant Lp's were much rarer (and actually, many bands never recorded one and many others shouldn't have). The killing of reality is a top-shelf dark UK82 punk Lp with a lot of personality and you can tell the band worked hard on their strong points and stressed the dark element of their songwriting with more martial mid-paced tribal drumming and more variety of tunes overall (they even wrote a seven minute song!). Still, it is undeniably and essentially a UK punk record back when a lot of bands were turning into mediocre postpunk/new wave parodies. This Lp got reissued by Radiation Records in 2014 so that you have got no excuse. Apparently the original version had a sticker saying "Guaranteed: no fuzz boxes" on the back cover because Bristol had more to offer indeed.

On the plus side, Undead had the decency not to reform in order to make a quick buck at some overpriced festivals.     


Wednesday 23 January 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 1): Total Chaos "There are no Russians in Afghanistan" Ep, 1982

First, I have to tell you the truth. I was unable to find a decent pun to name this new series. Not a single one. I did try, really, but nothing came apart from uninspired, humourless dross. So I safely resorted to an ironically bookish reference that would make me look knowledgeable and save appearances and my reputation. But you could also say that such metafictional revelations have become cheap tricks to circumvent any potential questioning and conceal the absence of substance. But then, punk in 2019 is all about metafictions so I suppose I am just running with the postmodern pack. It is a tough business.

Anyway, let's forget about the constructedness of self-conscious writing for the moment and focus on the object: good punk records. This mini series will be about some second wave British punk bands (yes, again) whose productions sounded, looked and read a bit different from your typical record of the era. I have nothing against typical, highly contextualized punk records, on the contrary, I really enjoy archetypal productions that aptly capture the mood of a specific time and place. The Ep's I selected (the iconic 80's format) cannot be said to be groundbreaking masterpieces that changed the face of punk forever, but they display something unusual or surprising, something worth remembering for a punk trivia night. Therefore you could say that they both represented the typical sound of UK punk-rock from the early 80's (in the best way possible), and yet, were not that typical as records, for various reasons - some of which have a lot to do with modern expectations that were shaped retrospectively by our epoch's obsession with classifications. But that's just a lot of fancy words to state a simple truth: the series is about five cool British punk records from the 80's. That's more tweetable I guess.

Let's start with Total Chaos. Yes, Total bloody Chaos. Now, when a punk hears the name Total Chaos, there is a high chance he or she is going to think right away about the famous LA-based punk band, which makes sense since they have been playing since 1990 (with Rob as the sole original member), recorded three albums for Epitaph and seem to be playing at big punk festivals every summer. I don't dislike the band, I think their early demos are enjoyable in a (very) raw, noizy, Disorder-y way and even Pledge of Defiance has some good songs (however, the best thing about LA Total Chaos is that they used to tour with Resist and Exist and Media Children in their early days, something that "streetpunx" vastly ignore). As a moniker, "Total Chaos" definitely conveys the idea of fast, aggressive, distorted, punker than punk punk-rock for the true punx. But in this case, this preconception is proven wrong since the Total Chaos we're dealing with today were actually highly tuneful, and much closer to bands like Chron Gen or The Epileptics than Chaos UK or Disorder. It is probable that when the band formed in 1979, the term "Total Chaos" didn't have quite the same connotations as a few years afterwards when the so-called UK82 wave was at full speed and mentions of chaos in a name immediately conjured up images of studs, spikes and cider.

Total Chaos were from Gateshead (close to Newcastle, aka up north) and were active in the creation of The Garage, an important independent venue locally run by the Gateshead Gig Collective, who would open The Station a few years after, a legendary venue which hosted many great gigs and played a crucial role in the making of the punk scene in the area. The band recorded their first demo in early 1981, a rather rough seven-song tape which included primitive versions of songs that would end up on their first two Ep's. In 1982, they re-recorded two songs off the demo (their anthem "There are no Russians in Afghanistan" and "Primitive feeling") and a new one ("Revolution part 10") for their first vinyl output, There are no Russians in Afghanistan (this Cold War conflict really inspired punks it seems), released on their very own Slam records, although it would be repressed by Volume Records later on with a different backcover (that's the version posted here). The title track of this humble Ep, despite its minimal production, raw sound and limited musicianship, is an absolute winner with a contagious energy, snotty vocals and a catchy singalong chorus that only angry, angst-ridden teens can write properly. The song is rather basic in itself but the sense of tunes, the overall dynamics and the urgent delivery turn it into a genuine punk-rock hit, the very essence of punk. TC were a musically ambitious bunch in the sense that they did not want to sound too formulaic and were keen on trying different things, even on their first Ep. The second song has a darker, more melancholy mood and has a slower pace with an ominous postpunk guitar melody popping up. It still is fairly simple but, again, it works very well, probably because of the directness and spontaneity of the songwriting. They did not try to do, they just did. "Revolution part 10" is even more surprising since it is a drums and vocals number, which reminds me of D & V (though they actually came a little after). Fueled with political, anarcho-tinged lyrics, this song would have fitted just right on an anarchopunk compilation at the time  and it eventually landed on the 1982 Ep Papi, Queens, Reichkanzlers & Presidennti, a comp released on Attack Punk records from Italy that also included 5° Braccio and Kaaos (the label would become very successful with CCCP in the mid-80's).

Although often mentioned as a "UK82 band", TC appeared on the second volume of Bullshit Detector and had the "pay no more than" tag on their records. The boundaries between the anarchopunk scene and the so-called second wave of punk (often referred to as UK82 since the rise of the internet age) in the UK could evidently be quite porous according to your area. Whatever the box you want to force TC into, they believed in the value of creating a DIY punk scene for themselves and their lyrics were of a political variety, albeit always from a working-class perspective, with songs about media manipulation and distortions of facts (still very much relevant), the constant betrayals of political leaders, prisons, nuclear disarmament and so on. Their second Ep, Factory Man, was released the same year (1982) and showcased again the band's will to experiment, with two songs of catchy, energetic, tuneful punk-rock while the two others, much longer numbers, blended folk music, pop and Stiff Little Fingers (or something). It was the second release of Volume Records, a label which would become highly successful with another local band, The Toy Dolls. The band's final record would be the Fields & Bombs 12'' in 1983, a work that saw them experiment further with some new wave, glam and pop rock thrown in while keeping a catchy punk-rock backbone. It is not a great record, but it still makes for a good listen I guess.

The tuneful, snotty, catchy punk-rock songs that TC wrote were up there with what the second wave had the best to offer. Bands like Demob, Chron Gen, Reality or The Epileptics certainly come to mind and strangely enough there has never been a reissue of TC (yet?). Although it would be far-fetched to claim that everything they recorded was brilliant, they did pen a few unbeatable punk gems and just for that achievement, they should be properly considered. And come on, that chorus on "There are no Russians" is just punk magic and we all know it. And maybe they inspired other tune-oriented bands from the North like Reality Control, Famous Imposters or Blood Robots. I like to think so.

Friday 4 January 2019

Polish Tapes Not Police States (kurwa 6): Disgusting Lies "Pewnego dnia..." tape, 1999

Alright then, this is the last stop of my Polish punk tapes series and you could see that one as the final boss that you have to beat in order to win the game, the last man to toss over the top rope. It won't be an easy one to chew, let me tell you, and assuming you can swallow it at all, it is likely that you will need a nap afterwards and even an aspirin.

If you are familiar with crusty hardcore from the 90's, which equates in Terminal Sound Nuisance terminology to "not being a poser" (though I have been told that it wasn't a very nice thing to say to people, for some reason), you have already heard of Disgusting Lies, read the name somewhere or at least seen their records on distros. I am not quite sure that seeing them in the list of youtube suggestions really counts but, it is 2019 after all, and one has to live with one's time so I will validate it magnanimously. Truth be told, from my experience, Disgusting Lies were never - outside of their home country at least - one of the big names of Polish crust. If you went on family feuds and were asked to name five classic 90's Polish crust bands, you would have gone spontaneously for Homomilitia, Infekcja, and Sanctus Iuda (your nerdy cousin would have then glanced at you scornfully and shouted "Enough!, Monoteizm Co Existence and Anti Hostility", but then the pretentious git has always been keen on making an exhibition of himself). And that's a bit of a shame since not only did DL have a decent run of more than a decade but they also produced some very worthy records along the way. 

Quite incredibly from the perspective of our current self-obsessed decade, DL had their own website. Not just a page on the social media of the moment, but an actual website that you can read here. Granted, it has not been updated since 2003, but browsing through it, I realized how I missed when bands ran their own sites and included a biography, a download section, a list of past and future gigs and whatnot instead of dressing up and posting pictures of themselves online. If you are interested in the exact lineup evolutions of the band, I suggest you check their very comprehensive history. But basically, DL formed in 1992 in łódź (aka Lodz) and released their first demo tape, entitled Byt Określa Świadomość, in 1995 on Bialystok-based label Demonstracja. Because I am a miserable sod, stupid me did not pick that tape at the festival last summer and therefore I am unable to comment on it at all. After the demo, Yaga (who would end up later in Oi Polloi, Disorder and currently in Satanic Malfunctions) joined on second guitar and DL released their first Ep, Rich man / Poor man, on Malarie in 1996, a record I amusingly found in a 300-yen record bin at Punk and Destroy in Osaka last year (the box also contained other class records of Stracony, Argue Damnation and The Unamused if you must know). The sound is raw but the Ep is absolutely ferocious and I rate it as one of my favourite Polish crust records from the 90's. Scandicore-infused, manic eurocrust with harsh dual vocals, somewhere between Driller Killer, Extreme Noise Terror, Homomilitia and Excrement of War and the aural equivalent of HBK's superkick. I am sure you can still find that fellow for cheap so do yourself a favour, will you?

One of the vocalists left after the release of the Ep, and guitar hero Marian took on the job of second singer for the recording of DL's first - and only - full Lp, Pewnego dnia... (meaning One day...) in 1998. It would be released on tape on Nikt Nic Nie Wie and on vinyl on Malarie in 1999. To work on a Polish punk tapes special without mentioning NNNW would have been nothing short of professional misconduct. This label from Nowy Targ has been going since 1989 (back when watching Japanese animes was my raison d'être) and has been the most prolific DIY Polish punk label ever since and it was also the first one I came across with in the early 00's. With more than 200 references that include classic Polish and foreign punk bands, there are just too many cracking NNNW releases to mention. I still cannot pronounce the label's name properly though... But anyway, the tape version of DL's album is what you are getting today and let me tell you that it is a fierce hardcore punk work with angry political lyrics. In fact, it almost sounds too relentless, intense and just inflexible at times with twenty songs of pummeling, direct, frontal hardcore crust energized by angry as fuck singers that just never seem to stop roaring, as if intent on beating the hapless listener to a pulp, like being hit with a stone cold stunner three times in a row (I'm a bit in a wrestling mood today). I don't mean to sound pedantic but my only reservation about this tape is that it may be a little too long and that it would have worked better with 14 or 15 songs. The production is significantly better and heavier on this one and closer to Scandinavia in terms of unimpaired brutality. It is not as crusty as the Ep and, on the whole, closer to bands like Driller Killer or Wolfpack, with a metallic grindcore touch that reminds me a lot of Toxic Bonkers. As I mentioned, the vocalists' tag team never let you catch you breath (in a Brazilian crossover hardcore way if you know what I mean) and the variety of gruff, hoarse or screechy tones keeps the tape from being monotonous. Four songs from Pewnego dnia... would end up on a split Ep with Fact from Japan on MCR Company (in 2008, the label would release a DL cd with the Lp and Ep). 

Following the album, Yaga would move to England and after a couple of lineup changes, DL recorded the Don't ask, just listen! that would be released as a 10'' in 2002 on Agipunk and Angry Records from Italy and finally, in 2005, a split Lp with the magnificent Campus Sterminii, also on Agipunk, both records seeing the band keeping up with their brutal scandicrust sound.