Wednesday 1 April 2020

Last Week's Trend is Now Passé (part 9): AOA "Satisfactory Arrangement" Lp, 1988

It is April Fool's Day and the joke is that most of the world population is in lockdown because of a depressive-looking reptilian anteater. The ground we are treading is shaky and little is known about our post-apocalyptic future, even for a scholar as resourceful and adroit as yours truly. The sad truth is that all I can do is to keep burbling on and on about some obscure, and yet wicked, bands in an attempt to illuminate the daily lives of millions around the globe. It is therefore my imperious duty as well as my unshakable resolve to keep writing and, through sharp wit and astute examination, fight boredom, banality and vapidity, for a better and unconfined tomorrow, when the whole Terminal Sound Nuisance staff will be, once again, able to run free, or at least take brisk walks, in their natural habitat, characteristically littered with dog excrements, greenish phlegm and pools of piss: the pavements of Paris. But until the glorious day arrives when liberty is restored (and when Parisians can rudely and selfishly complain their way through life again), I am afraid we will have to anaesthetise ourselves with the blue light of screens but thankfully I am here to provide you with some quality, highbrow entertainment that will give you a precious opportunity to shine at punk trivias and maybe find a mate (recent studies in punk anthropology have shown that such social events play an important role in punks' mating season).

As we are drawing near the end of Last Week's Trend is Now Passé, it being a ten-part series, I figured that it would be interesting to include a hard-hitting and uncompromising hardcore punk record. Until then, I had favoured that brand of poppy, tuneful and moody punk-rock that we have collectively grown to associate, in a retrospective and sometimes decontextualised movement, with the notion of 80's UK anarchopunk. I believe that this tendency is a double-edged sword. While on the one hand, I can conceive that this propensity to isolate certain specific descriptive traits common to a significant number of bands pertaining to a similar cultural context (the so-called anarchopunk waves) can be useful to generalise and create an actual musical genre, on the other hand the rhetorical boundaries that "genre-making" inevitable occasion tend to exclude bands that, on the surface, do not fit with the established identificational parameters. This is a highly subjective process of course - and one that is completely independent from the band's volition - and the doxastic template that this past decade and social media qualified as "anarchopunk" is subject to change, but it also accounts for uninformed but loud discrepancies that, as a sanctimonious nerd, I just cannot let go. My point, you may ask? Well, why don't people worship more the mighty AOA? Granted, too many people wrongly equate "postpunk" with "anarchopunk" nowadays, with rather equivocal results, but that a band like AOA -who proudly stood for that influential and potent school of Discharge-fueled anarchopunk, who existed for eight years and released three records, who were undisputedly one of the most fiercest-sounding entities of the era and whose shirt I have been wearing since the mid 00's - is not held in the highest regard is just criminal. But I will do my best not to give the impression that I am declaiming from the pulpit and damning all the heathens to HELL.

There is a good chapter about AOA in The Day the Country Died so as usual I encourage you to get a copy. I remember distinctly the first time I read about AOA, or rather the first time I saw about them. My unhealthy passion for punk shirts - some would call it hoarding, really - is not new and I have been known to hover around distro tables, on the lookout for neat Amebix tops among other treats. As soon as I had access to an internet connection, I feverishly scrutinised online distros, often from overseas, that offered a wide range of punk shirts. Among them was Punk Stuff, who seemed to screen-print shirts from all my favourite bands which caused me to gasp in awe (and eventually pass out) the first time I browsed their selection. Among all these brilliant designs was one that I had never seen before from a band I had never heard of before: AOA and their legendary peace logo that can be found on the cover of Who are they Trying to Con. Here was an unknown punk band that I instinctively knew would irrevocably become a favourite of mine. A truly cosmic awakening. My attempts at intimidating older punks into taping some AOA materials sadly remained ineffective but fate was on my side since the extraordinary punk anthem "Who are they trying to con" got picked by Overground Records for inclusion on the Anti-Society compilation cd in 2006. Shortly after, I was able to find a copy of the Satisfactory Arrangement Lp for a decent price, an acquisition which made the purchase of the aforementioned shirt from Punk Stuff both legitimate and vital.

When one ponders over the trending topic of furious, hardcore-sounding, vintage anarchopunk bands - and one is entitled to do so every so often, as a health measure - one usually comes up with such Discharge-influenced legendary bands like Antisect, Anti-System or Icons of Filth, and one isn't wrong to be sure, however one still makes the common mistake to omit to include AOA in this exclusive list, a faux pas that would have you thrown in my personal pangolin tank in a Terminal Sound Nuisance utopia. AOA were from Loanhead, South of Edinburgh, Scotland, and formed in 1982. The AOA acronym originally stood for All Out Attack (if you were not into Blitz at 16, you definitely suck at being a punk), but other versions comprised All Our Anger or Antithesis Of Apathy. I suppose the band is mostly remembered for their blistering 12'' Who are they Trying to Con from 1985, released on Children of the Revolution Records, and fair enough, I would argue it is one of the best Discharge-inspired recordings to come out of the UK and songs like "Disaster area" or the title track are brutal slabs of unadulterated 80's anarchopunk anger. Also on COR, the following year, with a new drummer, they shared a split Lp with their partners in crime Oi Polloi entitled Unlimited Genocide that easily stands as one of the greatest Scottish anarchopunk records with both bands delivering some seriously hard-hitting anarcho thrash on their respective side, with AOA sounding like a no holds barred brawl between Antisect, Crucifix and Warwound. After this Lp, the singer Steven settled in London where he went on to front the crusty hardcore thrash unit Gutrot (with Darren from Axegrinder on the drums) which prompted AOA to recruit Murph, on vocals, and Loaf, on the drums, from another local punk bands called The Degenerates. This lineup recorded the Satisfactory Arrangement Lp on two separate occasion, the first time in December, 1986, and the second almost a year later, in November, 1987.

I am not sure why the band waited that long between the two sessions but unfortunately there are disparities between them, further reinforced by the fact that each session corresponds to one of the side of the vinyl. Let's start with the A side that includes the '87 recording session. Clearly the most creative of the two, this side sees AOA experiment more emphatically than usual with several pounding tempos, from their customary Discharge beat, to heavy anarcho tribal rhythms and mid-paced hardcore charges, the songs always hit hard but remain quite unpredictable in terms of patterns, not unlike a more raging Conflict maybe. While I love the songwriting on this side of Lp, I have to say that the guitar sounds too murky and lacks in aggression while you cannot hear all the elements of the drum kit (like the bass drum for instance). On the contrary, the bass sounds fantastic (and there are some ace bass lines for the listener to enjoy), groovy and driving, and the vocals are perfectly recorded for the genre, very upfront and distinguishable. As a result of this imbalance, you have very strong songs that are missing the energy and the precision that a cohesive production would have offered. I am not saying that it is a mess, it's really not, but just a missed opportunity especially since the band was bringing new things to the table, like more thrashing Broken Bones-like metallic riff, more diversity on the drums and even atmospheric and gloomy Amebix-like moments, almost qualifying this recording as proto-crust.

The B side with the late '86 session is probably half-way between the Unlimited Genocide split Lp and the A side of Satisfactory Arrangement in terms of songwriting, as the new drummer was already trying new things. Contrary to the A side, the production does justice to the songs this time. AOA unleash their crushing power there with six songs of manic anarcho hardcore thrash, somewhere between Antisect or Anti-System for the dark and relentlessness aggression, Exit-Stance or Icons of Filth for the direct suffocating heaviness and mid/late 80's Chaos UK for the furious hostility, the merging of those influences creating a Scottish brand of uncompromising anarchopunk that Oi Polloi would also carry. New singer Murph, for his first session with the band, does a magnificent job at conveying a sense of visceral outrage and of uncontrollable threat that take the whole Lp to a different level. The man could shout his head off like a demented soul, but also utter fierce political statements during classic moments of anarcho spoken parts, while always sounding naturally pissed off and about to grab you by the throat, the gruff tone of his voice like the epitome of anger. Unsurprisingly, the lyrics confirm that AOA were not exactly content with the state of the world. The mid-80's were bleak and it shows. My copy of the Lp does not have an insert but the lyrics can be found in the thick booklet that came with the official AOA discography double cd, Axis Of Ascendancy self-released by the band in 2008. From the brutality of the English colonial rule in Northern Ireland, to the lethality of so-called "non-lethal weapons", to the mass control of population, social subservience, the need to work together, global pollution caused by manmade economic systems and of course vivisection.

In the end, Satisfactory Arrangement leaves a strange taste in the mouth, with one side being decent but still impaired by a weak production, while the other one is an anarcho hardcore whirlwind foaming with rage. I personally cannot help imagining how bloody amazing the first side would have sounded with a crunchier, more powerful guitar sound and drum parts you can actually discern. Of course, "what ifs" being pointless to confront our sinister reality, I still warmly recommend this geezer. It was released on Endangered Musik in 1988, a label run by Steve Beatty who actually drummed once for AOA in Bristol (as he was already hitting things with Stone the Crowz) after their own drummer had left only days before the beginning of the tour!

Absolutely classic stuff.


  1. Do you know of any demos or other recordings by The Degenerates? I have one song called "Down On The Farm" on a tape that I got 30+ years ago but haven't ever found anything else by them. Usually when there's one song, though, there are others, so I've been looking for them for ages.

    1. Yes there was a 6 song demo tape