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.


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