Saturday, 28 March 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 8): Karma Sutra "The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker" Lp, 1987

This is the twelfth day of national confinement and I am deeply saddened to announce that tragedy has eventually hit the Terminal Sound Nuisance empire. Indeed, although the unspeakable truth was clearly looming near, I had done my best, until then, to ignore it, pretend it did not even exist, deny in fact the very possibility of its existence. But now it no longer seems possible to hide from the facts: the confinement has made my beach body history. Whereas only two weeks ago, I could easily display incredible steel abs, a small but flabby belly is now growing in their place, like a shabby 80's bumbag. Needless to say that my self-esteem has been shattered by this unheralded and unfathomable event, but, as disconsolate as I understandably am, I shall, against the odds of getting a bit fat, like a modern day hero, keep doing the blog when I should probably exercise more. That is the French panache in a nutshell.

Looking at some of the bands I picked for Last Week's Trend is Now Passé made me realize that, alternatively, I could as well have called the series Great Bands with Questionable Monikers. Today's band may actually take the biscuit in terms of unwise choice of substantive since their name is a pun. Coming from a country with a strong (and, as far as I am concerned, unfortunate) tradition of punk bands going for supposedly hilarious pun-related names (common decency and fear for my personal safety command me not to give examples), a band called Karma Sutra immediately sounds well dodgy (not as much as Skama Sutra, but still close). I first heard KS through the Profane Existence 15 Year Anniversary compilation cd that was included with the issue #45 of the magazine in 2004. There were a lot of top bands on that cd and, young and idealist, my friends and I often played it because it was a good introduction to different styles of political hardcore punk and, since it covered a period of fifteen years, it gave us an introductory glance at the diachroneity of punk music. Besides there were State of Fear, Hiatus and Detestation on it and they were the real fucking deal. I remember that the KS song included on the cd, "Poll tax", really stood out from the rest, with its 80's vibe, those heavy and hypnotic tribal beats and Crass-like female vocals. And then there was also the flute. Yes, an actual flute. We did not really know what to make of it to be honest, especially since we were primarily looking for hard-hitting crust music at that time and the flute clearly belonged to the "prohibited instruments" category that only barefaced hippie rockers dared use. There was a general agreement that, until the flute kicked in, the song was, yes different, but in a good way, so why would anyone spoil an otherwise perfectly decent composition with an instrument reeking of artisanal goat cheese? I had not played "Poll tax" for ages before working on this blog entry and it brought back many memories of more innocent, less cynical times. I had not realized at the time that it was an unreleased KS song that was originally meant for a benefit compilation that never happened (possibly for the poll tax prisoners I presume). Also, I did not remember the song to be that brilliant, in spite of, or rather thanks to the flute (still prohibited in punk in 99% of cases though).

There is not much information about KS floating around on the web so that I had to sharpen my inquisitiveness in order to gather some facts. They were from Luton, like UK Decay, and must have formed around 1982 or 1983, although the singer Dave Commodity used to sing in the Phallic Symbols before (all things considered, the name could have been worse than KS). While singer Dave provides some interesting liner notes for the Anti-Society compilation cd, they are only briefly mentioned in The Day the Country Died since, unfortunately, none of the band met with Glasper and there is just one tiny paragraph about them. However, the Dominant Patri singer, another anarchopunk band from Luton that may (this is a wild guess) have had a member in common (Bugsy) with them, states that KS played a crucial role in the making of local scene at the time, like many bands, their lack of global exposure not reflecting at all their importance on a local level. After playing with Conflict, they got offered to record a song for a Mortarhate compilation which would materialise with the inclusion of the highly catchy "It's our world too" on the Who? What? Why? Where? When? Lp in 1984 (already reviewed here). One year later, they once again contributed a song to Mortarhate's We don't Want Your fucking War Lp, this time "How the other half die", this time with a better sound and tighter musicianship, and backed with those prominent tribal beats that would come to typify the KS sound. The band went on to appear on other compilation Lp's, 1987's God Save Us from the USA, a benefit Lp for the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign that also included bands like Heresy and Dan, Mystic Records' Airstrip One in 1988 (the atrocious cd reissue of which was reviewed here) and Life is Change in 1989, released on a German label (KS toured Germany in 1988), Beri Beri, responsible for records from bands like Life But How to Live it?, Stengte Dører or Samiam. The chronology of KS's demo tapes and recording sessions is at best foggy. There is a rather raw four-song demo entitled Anarchy and Peace supposedly released in 1985 that saw the band exercise their punky moodiness, while the very strong song "Fantasy ball" that appeared on Anti-Society was part of another demo session (probably 1986?) and I have no idea when "Poll tax" - and the oethr '87/'89 compilation songs - was actually recorded though I would venture that it was after the album. I bet there are still unreleased KS songs from such sessions gathering dust in a Luton basement, just waiting for an alacritous adventurer to bring them back to life. Anyone brave enough?

One thing is certain though, KS's overlooked masterpiece, The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker, was recorded in Sheffield at Vibrasound Studio (The Abused and Switzerland's sloppiest The Decay also recorded there) in 1987 and released on Paradoxical Records the same year. Daydreams can be described as a concept album revolving around several revolutionary ideas that the band develops in the songs, as each of them reads as a chapter from an anarchist pamphlet and is followed by a long explanation further detailing the political implications of the topics. Like Chumbawamba, with whom they were close and often gigged, or even The Apostles, KS were very articulate politically and genuinely anarchists. The thick booklet provided with The Daydreams reads like a pamphlet and focuses on radical politics that went far beyond the usual antiwar rants from your average anarchopunk bands. The texts refer to the situationist notion of the spectacle, to Malatesta, to prison struggles, to a radical criticism of the notion of gender, of private property, of class oppression, of cultural brainwashing, of ineffective revolutionary tactics, of left-wing mythologies, of the notion of artists, of the feudal wage system... It is basically a rather dense anarchist magazine with the open purpose of making you question what you take as normal in your daily life. In a word, propaganda. If the writers are clearly passionate and somewhat idealists, they never sound preachy or judgmental and the cartoons provided to illustrate the statements are humorous and probably borrowed from 1970's situationism (which I quite like). The music and the words stand for the daydreams of this symbolical production line worker, for what he or she is thinking about in the utopian realms of the dream, and as a result, the album itself becomes the daydreams, the metaphorical happy place where oppression is debated and fought. It is an intelligent album with a strong message and a coherent structure, pregnant with meaning, and it can certainly be considered as a major achievement, like Chumba's Pictures of Starving Children or Conflict's Ungovernable Force, although it came out at a time when the original anarcho waves had already died out and thus did not get all the praises it deserved.

The Daydreams is a remarkably narrative Lp. Instead of a mere collection of songs, the listener is offered a political pamphlet put into punk music (or is it the opposite?). It is a moody, varied work where different genres echo and complement each other, where different paces reflect the impetuosity of human emotions, where spoken parts and instrumentals serve to give a meaningful frame to the whole. Approached through the prism of the daydream metaphor, precisely because of their dreamlike quality, I have to reluctantly admit that even the hypnotic flute parts come to make sense by creating a fragile, misty atmosphere. The Daydreams is a vibrant, polyphonous and above all ambitious album with at its core a bittersweet hopefulness that is undeniably unique in the anarchopunk world. It is not a flawless work and I suspect the songwriting and conceptual dimensions at times proved a little too challenging for the band, but the end result is impressive nonetheless. KS were a very moody band, able to express genuine outrage, heartfelt optimism, or despair from to song and as a result the band's music, aided by the album format that allowed them to build the right vibe, experiment and give the songs enough time to be truly eloquent. The different genres present on the Lp reflect this versatility, from folk music, to heavy and pounding tribal rock, to soft pop with harmonics, flute and even cello, to epic polyphonous anarchopunk with male and female vocals or dark goth-tinged postpunk (every shade of anarcho music but hardcore punk really), KS used many tools to create a cohesive and memorable whole, a quality further emphasised by the fact that a lot of the songs seamlessly blend into each other, as if it were a sort of punk epics. Comparisons with other bands become not only difficult but perhaps a little pointless as well. I guess that if Chumbawamba and Killing Joke had written an album together, it would have been quite close, the cold and tribal drumming section of KS being remarkably heavy. Bands like Smartpils, Omega Tribe, Civilised Society?, even Vex, Flowers in the Dustbin, No Defences or The Mad Are Sane could be mentioned too, but in the end it would be much more meaningful to just listen to the Lp.

Of course, as shown on the backcover of the album, KS took their political considerations to their logical ends and even questioned the validity of popular music and how, as a capitalist industry, it can be used as a pacification agent even when it promotes supposedly revolutionary bands: "The covers may have looked revolutionary but it was all a con, the biggest con ever". They also criticize the commodification of punk music and how we all got caught in consumerist behaviours stemming from capitalist culture, replacing "revolutionary activity" with "sub-cultural rebellion" - a critique that Bookchin formulated. This very issue may have prompted the demise of KS themselves since, while some members wanted to get out of the punk scene and try to reach wider audience (a condition known as the "Chumba syndrome"), others were involved in the free music, travelers' scene that was more about the anarchist lifestyle and less about revolutionary propaganda. In any case, the band split up in the late 80's (1989 is my best guess). The Daydreams of a Production Line Worker is very hard to find today and it was never reissued properly although an early 00's cd reissue is rumoured to exist. Apparently the Swiss customs pounded a large quantity of the Lp, probably when KS were on tour in the area in 1988, so I suppose you can blame Switzerland for the current scandalous price of the album on discogs, though I would personally blame our modern inflationist mentality. It's pretty sad, really.


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