Wednesday 20 February 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 5): Kronstadt Uprising "Part of the game" Ep, 1985

To wrap up this hopefully enjoyable little series that should feed everyone's nostalgia for the coming months, let's talk about an 80's punk band that is rarely discussed among punks of the brand new age, Kronstadt Uprising. And yet, what a cracking name they picked. I mean, it may sound a little corny in 2019 but back when they went for that moniker in 1981 (they were originally, and rather enigmatically, called The Bleeding Pyles so the change was for the best), I am sure it sounded quite fresh in the punk scene and it might have enticed many teenagers to read about the actual Kronstadt uprising (me included, when I picked their cd discography in the early 00's) and dream about being a hero of the anarchist revolution or, at least, about finding as cool a name for a punk band.

I first came across KU when I bought a second-hand copy of the aforementioned cd Insurrection that Overground Records released in 2000. I had never heard of the band before but I already owned the Not so Brave Flux of Pink Indians' cd (that I incidentally got from the very same second-hand record store) and was able to identify the typically anarchopunk layout so I went for it, confident that it would be kinda similar to Flux. Of course, I was mostly wrong and a little disappointed since the KU cd could be defined as a collection of mostly rock'n'roll-sounding punk songs that sounded nothing like what a charmingly naive teenager was entitled to expect from a band marketed as "anarchopunk". I was not completely distressed though, because Insurrection still included the fantastic The Unknown Revolution Ep, released on Spiderleg (the label of Flux) in 1983 and I absolutely loved this Ep, and still do. I suppose the people who still listen to the band see that Ep as the band's defining moment, and rightly so. It is not a ground-breaking record but it certainly encapsulates the angry anarchopunk sound of the time and remains a minor classic of the genre, reminiscent of DIRT, Riot/Clone or early Conflict, with particularly raspy and pissed vocals. If you were asked to play a typical anarcho record of the period, picking The Unknown Revolution would be a relevant move, as it is neither too obscure nor too obvious and it would make you look sophisticated but not snobbish (and it just got reissued on vinyl). You basically cannot lose. Choosing their second Ep, Part of the Game, however, would not work as well and the purpose of this post is to keep you from making an insidious mistake that could cost you your reputation and the respect from your peers. Having perfect punk tastes is a constant struggle and I am glad I can help you achieve it. 

So KU were from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex (down South), like The Synix, with whom they punctually shared a few members throughout the years. Formed in 1981, they actually kept playing until 1987, although they went through a year-long hiatus and even a split and their last incarnation only included founding member and soul of the band, Steve (the drummer). The band's career is very well-documented in the booklet of the retrospective cd, in Burning Britain and even online, on the very interesting and comprehensive website about Southend Punk that you can check here (how wonderful, you won't even have to flip through actual pages), so I won't delve too much into the band's history here. 

A metaphor of the rock'n'roll circus

So why write about Part of the Game then? It sounds nothing like KU's first Ep and what modern listeners have come to associate anarchopunk with. From 1984 to their demise, the band took a decidedly rock'n'roll path that owed a lot to late 70's punk-rock and avowedly to Johnny Thunders. It is common knowledge that many early 80's punk bands tried to sound different when they reached the crucial stage of the mid/late 80's and, more often than not, it was disastrous and I don't need to name any band because that would just be a bit mean. However, I have always felt that KU's change of sound was, if not for the better, at least a very solid one. The band stuck to the DIY punk ethos of their anarchopunk roots, the songwriting was never lazy and they never went for goofy lyrics. If their new sound (and indeed, their new look) was rock'n'roll-oriented and even though some of their later songs are too much so for my own liking (we all have our limitations), there are some undeniable hits in KU's late catalogue and the two songs included on their '85 Ep, "Part of the game" and especially "The horsemen", are very strong songs. 

Backed by an energetic sound that stresses the raw aggression of the songwriting, these thick mid-paced numbers have a rather dark and gloomy vibe that make them standout from generic '77 revival punk. The vocals are tuneful of course but remain quite raucous and some bits on the drums and guitars are there to remind you that this is still a punk record. There is something threatening and almost macabre in KU's music and if the verses are quite typically rock'n'roll, the chorus have an epic and lugubrious catchiness that I find very enticing (the haunting backing chorus on "The horsemen" further emphasize that element). It sounds a bit like a blend between The Underdogs, The Damned and The Heartbreakers but recorded in a graveyard. It's not depressing by any means, but the presence of several grim reapers on the foldout cover is a good indication of the record's mood (and so is the picture of the band posing in full on rockers regalia). I suppose you could argue that Part of the Game is not far from the death-rock genre, but my expertise in this domain is too limited for me to make such a claim. The recording session also included a third song, "Live for today", that is just as good and can be found on the cd. 

Typically the kind of records that makes you want to wear shades.


Friday 15 February 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 4): The Fits "Tears of a Nation" Ep, 1983

Last week, we saw that a band majoring in anarchopunk, No Choice, got to be released on the prime UK82 punk label, Riot City Records. Well, today will be the exact opposite, a band closely associated with the UK82 wave that had a record on a classic anarchopunk label: The Fits' Tears of a Nation released on Corpus Christi. 

It only really hit me a few years ago as I was taking a closer look at Corpus Christi's discography. For the ignoramuses among you, Corpus Christi Records was an offshoot of Crass Records, run by owner of Southern Studios, John Loder, and some members of Crass. The original idea was that, if you already had a release on Crass, you couldn't have a second one (it was one of the label's principles), but you could always go to Corpus Christi, which was the route taken by Rudimentary Peni, Lack of Knowledge, Alternative, Conflict or Omega Tribe. It also meant that you did not have to have Penny Rimbaud as a sound engineer, which gave more freedom to the recording bands (though I personally really like his work and his influence in the shaping of what has come to be known as "the typical anarchopunk sound"). Some bands on Corpus Christi, however, had never released anything on Crass Records before, which was the case for The Fits, a band that had previously been tied with labels like Beat the System!! or Rondelet Records. It is often said that there was more variety on Corpus Christi than on Crass but I tend to think that this impression has more to do with a superior flexibility and diversity in terms of production and sound (and of course, aesthetics) rather than style or songwriting strictly speaking. But I digress.

I first came across The Fits the same way I did many other second-wave UK punk bands in my teenage years: through a colossal Captain Oi discography. To be honest, I did not really like them at first and for a long time I would see this Blackpool band as a bit of an average act that had a couple of good songs but wrote too many fillers. If The Fits were a wrestler, in my mind, they would have been a mid carder like the Big Boss Man or Rick Martel (to give you some perspective, Abrasive Wheels would have definitely been Bret Hart). I think this had a lot to do with the way The Fits Punk Collection was curated. Arranging the songs in chronological order is usually the best choice you can make when dealing with such 80's punk bands since they almost always start great and then progressively turn pop-rock or New Romantic or whatever. But with The Fits, it was pretty much the other way around, since their first records were pretty bad but they eventually got better. It still meant that you had to listen to their whole first Lp before reaching the good stuff and it often proved too much for me at that age, especially since there were cd's with great songs from the beginning (I am aware it sounds a little silly but that was my listening practice back then). 

But let's talk about the band a little. Formed in Blackpool in 1979, their first Ep was the very shambolic and remarkably out-of-tune You Said we'd Never Make it. Of course, these three tracks opened the aforementioned cd compilation so it is little wonder that I was left unimpressed. I suppose it is enjoyable if you are into badly played, obnoxious snotty punk. It almost sounds experimental at times, though unintentionally. This first Ep was pretty successful and even got a repress on Beat the System Records, a Blackpool-based label that released very strong UK82 records, and although it doesn't get mentioned as often as the two mammoths Riot City and No Future, Beat the System was still responsible for putting out materials from Death Sentence, External Menace, Chaotic Youth, Uproar and One Way System (and Antisocial, but they sucked). The Fits then signed to Rondelet Records in 1981, a bigger indie label that had released records for Anti-Pasti (and later on for The Membranes, Special Duties and The Threats). Their 1982 Think for Yourself Ep was much better and showed what The Fits were actually good at, intense mid-paced punk-rock songs with loud aggressive vocals. The You're Nothing, You're Nowhere Lp recorded the same year had a very cool cover (but then The Fits often had a particular visual taste) but was pretty boring. I guess they were trying to build on the previous Ep but forgot that you actually had to write good songs for the formula to work well (for some reason the Lp got reissued in 2017 which shows once again that nostalgia is directionless). After some lineup changes (members from One Way System and the cruelly overlooked Chaotic Youth joined), The Fits recorded the convincing The Last Laugh Ep in 1982 (yes, that's three records in only one year, talk about productivity). The sound may not have been perfect but the songs were very catchy and energetic and you had some lovely hooks which showed that The Fits could actually write tuneful punk music without losing their angry vibe. I think it would not be far-fetched to claim that this Ep paved the way for the band's classic Ep, Tears of a Nation.

Not even one quid!

Generally, second-wave punk bands' defining moment could be located at their second or third records, but The Fits had to wait until their fifth one to reach that point (granted, they were so prolific in so short a time that lines became a bit blurry). After a meeting with the people from Crass (a rather funny recollection of the encounter is included in Glasper's Burning Britain), The Fits got a deal for an Ep on Corpus Christi which was recorded in June, 1983. Tears of a Nation is one of the strongest Ep's of the so-called UK82 wave and it sold well for good reasons. The Fits were at the top of their game in terms of focused songwriting and the sound is perfect, heavy, with a punky rawness, dark and powerful (it was produced by Barry Sage who also did the Test Tubes' celebrated Mating Sounds Lp). The title track was a threatening, desperate-sounding slow-paced number with rather depressive lyrics and a massive chorus that embodied the social despair of the times. Heavy stuff. "Bravado" was an angry, anthemic mid-paced song while "Breaking point" was a fast hardcore-ish one which showed that The Fits could also sound good when speeding up (the previous Ep pointed in that direction I suppose). The three songs were reminiscent of vintage One Way System (I suppose comparisons with Uproar, The Underdogs or Icons of Filth are relevant too here) in terms of boisterous intensity and gloomy songwriting, but still had The Fits' imprint. I am aware that we, collectively, have created a classifying discourse revolving around specific genres and aesthetics that comforts our modern way of looking at punk-rock. Like we need hashtags and keywords in order to comprehend music, we often try to retroactively force our analytical templates on cultural moments at the expense of relevance. What I mean is that Tears of a Nation may not fit (lol) perfectly the UK82 mould that the internet age has consecrated and it may be for the best. It is just a great record of raucous 80's punk-rock and in the end, that's all that matters. Besides, I am pretty sure that bands like No Hope for the Kids and all the other so-called "dark punk" bands around have been playing The Fits a lot (maybe even before it was cool again to be into UK82... the vicissitude of punk trends...). As for the cover, it may be The Fits' least original, with brooding pictures of the boys, looking half-way between cheesy heavy metal and mid-80's postpunk (ironically, this once corny look is more fashionable than ever... oh well). Unfortunately there is no insert, which is a bit of a shame, especially for a Corpus Christi record. 

Following this gem, The Fits released a split 12'' with Peter and the Test Tube Babies (an unlikely pairing but there you go) and two more Ep's, the rather good and melodic Action and the much less inspired Fact or Fiction. To tell you the truth, the songs included on those records were all at the end of the cd and I seldom listened as far. I do like the chorus on "Action" though. Obviously, it is not the end of The Fits' story since the band reformed and released a new cd single in 2013 and a full live album in 2015, but I haven't found the courage to listen to them yet. 


Friday 8 February 2019

Who Needs Wacky Titles Anyways!?! (part 3): No Choice "Sadist dream" Ep, 1983

Last time, I tackled a sadly overlooked record released on Riot City Records in 1982. Today's post will be something else entirely since we will be dealing with a sadly overlooked record released on Riot City Records in 1983. You see, that is exactly where the strength of Terminal Sound Nuisance lies: variety and constant reinvention. 

Undead's Violent Visions was Bristol label's Riot 15 while No Choice's Sadist Dream was Riot 20 and if not much time had passed between both releases, the years 1982 and 1983 were so prolific for Riot City (and many other punk labels at the time) that it is no wonder that records that did not sound exactly like the fashion of the day could have gone relatively unnoticed. As we have seen, Undead were both typical and yet quite original with their darker, gloomier take on the UK82 blueprint, No Choice however were unlike anything Riot City had released at that point and it stands as a bit of an anomaly - albeit a brilliant one - in the label's full catalogue, much more so than the label's subsequent Ep, Emergency's very Buzzcocks-influenced Points of View. No Choice, in terms of sound and lyrics, were basically an anarchopunk band (Ian Glasper was right to include them in The Day the Country Died), and you could definitely picture Sadist Dream being released on Bluurg or Spiderleg at the time. But punk-rock is full of little surprises and things are not always as clear-cut as we imagined them to be, especially from a point of view distorted by 35 years of storytelling and mythification regarding the collective fantasy that the 1980's have turned into.

But back to No Choice, a band unlucky enough to hail from Wales. Now, I have nothing against Welsh punk-rock, on the contrary, but you have to admit that many amazing 80's punk bands from Wales unfairly remain largely ignored, like Shrapnel, Soldier Dolls, Symbol of Freedom or indeed No Choice themselves. Therefore I cannot recommend Antisociety's grand 2012 compilation Bullsheep Detector (Wales is supposed to have a lot of sheep and the Google search "Wales sheep to human ratio" is apparently widespread) which offers a great and thoroughly enjoyable overview of early 80's Welsh punk music including a classic No Choice number. The band formed in Cardiff in 1982 and settled for the "No Choice" moniker in order to reflect the pervasive feeling of powerlessness inherent in the working-class life of teenagers during Thatcher's rule and the need to do something about it. I have never been a fan of band names starting with a "No" because they always remind of jumpy U$ hardcore from the 90's for some reason. To be fair, No Choice could not be further from 80's hardcore though. 

Their first demo was recorded in 1982. It was a collection of 13 songs which, despite a very raw, trebly sound and some really sloppy bits (to play in time or in tune was not always a priority), showcased what No Choice really excelled at: crafting tuneful anthemic punk songs with a strong Beat vibe. I would be lying if I claimed that this first demo was flawless. However, songs like "Wotswar", "Hard life", "Sale on" or "YOP" are instant winners blending the poppy, melancholy side of anarchopunk with gritty singalong punk-rock. A bit like a lo-fi jam between Zounds, Omega Tribe, Demob, Menace and Passion Killers. Though by no means a ground-breaking recording, it sounds very promising and fresh and after a gig with Chaos UK in Cardiff (they also got to play with local anarcho heroes Icons of Filth, Conflict and Omega Tribe), Chaos took a copy of the demo to Simon from Riot City who then offered No Choice a deal for an Ep which Sadist Dream would materialize.  

Sadist Dream is certainly not your average Riot City Ep and the cover, a mushroom cloud with the shadows of a mother and her child in the foreground (the latter weirdly resembling the creature in the movie E.T.), was already a clue that No Choice's pacifist imagery and politics were closer to those of Crass than Vice Squad's. And indeed, I can imagine how baffled some of the listeners must have been when playing the A-side of the Ep: it is an almost five minute long pensive spoken word piece - done by the band's second singer Cid - about war with melancholy melodies in the background. If I am a sucker for such anarcho cheese and therefore gladly enjoy it, one has to admit that it had much to do with Flux of Pink Indians' praxis and had no antecedent in what Riot City would usually put out. The two songs on the B-side are fantastic slices of anthemic melodic political punk-rock. "Nuclear disaster" starts out deceptively with a slow eerie, Zounds-like introduction before exploding into an intense bass-driven punk number with a dark, hypnotic guitar tune and very passionate vocals about the - then - impending threat of nuclear annihilation (not unlike Kulturkampf I guess). The second song, "Cream of the crop", is a massive working-class (and proud) hymn with a crispy Beat vibe and a chorus of the catchiest order, a bit like a mix between Demob and the Upstarts or something. On the whole, the production is still quite raw, with an organic sound that confers warmth and authenticity to the songs and even though there are a couple of sloppy bits here and there, the energy and the ambition to play non-generic catchy punk-rock are remarkable. I love Sadist Dream and I apologize for the skips on the rip but I have played that fucker a lot. 

Following the Ep, the band split up (of course they would) but reformed shortly after with a new drummer. This lineup recorded the magnificent Question Time? demo in 1984, a six song effort that was, by far, their most powerful in terms of sound and saw No Choice at the peak of their songwriting ability as they blended seamlessly catchy melodic poppy tunes and anthemic working-class punk-rock with sensible political lyrics from the heart. If you like your anarchopunk with grit and tunes, it just doesn't get much better than this demo (that no one thought of reissuing it on vinyl yet is unexplainable although Grand Theft Audio released a cd that compiled the band's 80's recordings in 2001) and four songs from it got included on two Rot Records compilations (the Have a Rotten Christmas ones). 

This was not the end of the No Choice story however. Along with Tim from Icons of Filth, three members of No Choice formed SAND in the 90's before reforming No Choice in 2001 for good. The band didn't try to live on their past and wrote a new songs with a different sound, though they did not give up on tunefulness, quite close to UK melodic hardcore like Leatherface, HDQ or Snuff. Their 2003 album on Newest Industry Records, Dry River Fishing, is very good if you are into that sound. I got to see them in 2013 and they were energetic and only played songs from their 00's albums which was both a bit of a disappointment since I wanted to sing along to "Cream of the crop" and also a sign that they did not want to be just an old reformed band from the 80's. Truly punk this lot.