Sunday 21 June 2020

Ten Steps to Make Your Life CRUSTIER Starting Today (step 2): Oi Polloi "Outrage" Ep, 1988

Oi Polloi. 

A name synonymous with respect, integrity, resilience and invigorating raucous singalongs for punks all around the world since 1981. Of course, the band has had more members than I have had showers so far this year, however the dedication and positive energy that the singer Deek demonstrates on stage and on records is truly remarkable and, indeed, inspiring. Throughout their almost four decades of activity, Oi Polloi have released a lot of records so that one may feel understandably a bit lost looking at their discography. Because they have always been a staunch DIY punk band with anarcho politics, Oi Polloi remained in the DIY circuit and kept playing and sharing records with younger punk bands and releasing materials for DIY labels, while many self-proclaimed "bigger" bands proved to be nowhere as hard-working or honest in their approach. As time passed, and contrary to many old punk bands who were disconnected with the real DIY punk scene, Oi Polloi's sound has consistently evolved along global contemporary punk trends. As a result, you can say that most of their works reflect and capture the sonic moods of specific time periods while still retaining that distinct "Oi Polloi touch". And since this Scottish lot were very much alive and kicking (hard, it has to be stated) when the original UK crust wave started, it is little wonder that their late 80's output encapsulates some of the defining features of the old-school crust sound.

OP are a rare band in that everybody kinda likes them, maybe not love them, but at least show some sort of respectful appreciation for what the band stands for and for giving punks the cathartic opportunity to shout "Punk picnic oi oi oi!" once a year (sometimes twice if you're lucky). I first heard OP in my teenage years, that confusing time when "streetpunk" and oi meant the world to me, a romantic era when lyrics about "punx and skins getting drunk together on the street because they were on the dole and rejected by the system that they had to fight to survive" symbolised the essence of "real punk" and had a gospel-like quality. Admittedly the words were mostly abstract since still being a high-school kid I was neither technically unemployed nor "on the street" and was neither even that sociable nor a heavy drinker. It was more of a teenage fantasy than anything I guess. But anyway, my best mate had taped an album of a mysterious band called "Oi Polloi" which I remember he described as a great oi band (but then, with not one but two "oi" in the moniker, the opposite would have been nothing shirt insulting) with a singer sounding like he'd swallowed a whole box of rusty nails. It was Unite and Win!,  of course, OP's first album, quite possibly a tape of the Step-1 reissue of 2001 but I never owned it so it is just an overeducated guess. I really enjoyed the tape and thought the massive terrace-styled chorus were ace but as I was getting more and more into Crass and official anarchopunk bands at that time, I also appreciated that some songs, judging from their titles, seemed more serious. The extraordinary realization that there was a whole anarchopunk scene in the 80's coexisting with the so-called UK82 wave was one of biblical proportions and I dove headfirst into that black and white world adorned with doves, circled E's and slogans written in the crass font. In fact, you could say that I am still happily swimming. The year 2002 proved to be crucial in my relationship with OP as it was marked with two important events. First, I obtained the Outraged By the System cd that compiled 1988's Outrage Ep and their 1987 split Lp with Toxik Ephex and should therefore have been called The Crust Collection (but I doubt Step-1 would have been up for it as it would have deterred the baldies from getting it). This cd was a right kick up the arse as it blew away what I had heard previously from OP. It was heavier, harsher and faster, more intense but still very groovy indeed. It was crust but bleary-eyed me did not know it at the time. Also in 2002, I got to see OP in action, live at an antifa festival in Geneva, Switzerland, and they were absolutely amazing, with a serious political message but also a lot of positivity and fun and I remember singing along hard on "The only release". This live experience was a second, well-deserved kick up my sorry arse and I felt silly for originally misconstruing OP as an "oi band with alright lyrics". I came home safe in the satisfactory knowledge that OP had been an anarchopunk band all along and have since only revisited their oi repertoire with great moderation (there are some enjoyable numbers if I'm being honest that do speak to the 16 year old fan of the Rejects, Blitz and the Upstarts that secretly lives inside me and only gets out when someone plays "East End" after 1am).

To accurately present all the evolutions of OP would be a tedious task so let's stick to one of the the band's major works, the Outrage Ep, released in 1988 on the famous Bristol-based label Words of Warning whose very first record was a 1986 compilation Ep entitled You are not Alone that already included OP with the song "Nuclear waste" (as well as Stalag 17, Hex and Symbol of Freedom, you can read my thoughts on it here). OP had already demonstrated rather aptly that they were more than able to deliver intense Discharge-inspired anarchopunk on their previous releases, and the very direct Resist the Atomic Menace 1986 Ep, on Endangered Musik, and the Unlimited Genocide split Lp with the magnificent AOA, released the same year on Children of the Revolution, featured raw, aggressive and quite convincing instances of that fast brand of anarcho music popularised by  the mighty Antisect, Anti-System or Icons of Filth, the latter being a major influence on OP's songwriting, especially regarding the combinations between the heavy mid-paced moments and the all out trashing ones, a delicate art if there ever was one. The band further increased the intensity on their two next releases that coincided with the arrival of guitar player Arthur who was admittedly rather fond of the then booming thrash metal sound (hence the numerous guitar solos, the man would join The Exploited later on). I am not going to delve too much on the 1987 split Lp with the insanely catchy and tuneful Toxik Ephex, but suffice it to say that the infusion of a more metallic guitar sound conferred a generous crusty crunch to OP's music. This development was perfectly logical as not only were many early 80's anarcho hardcore bands "going metal" by the mid/late 80's but a whole new generation of bands were pioneering a new sound, playing faster, darker and heavier punk music. Because OP have been around forever, their production is nowadays rarely approached from a global diachronic perspective which is a shame since the band's progression enlightens and illustrates that of anarchopunk and as the crust wave properly kicked in in 1987, it makes sense that the band's sound reflected that new development (although such processes are almost never the outcome of a conscious decision, they just happen during practice).

Outrage was recorded in 1988 with the same lineup as the Toxik Ephex split but the production is clearly more powerful and balanced and I don't think OP ever sounded as ferocious as on these four songs. The title song "Outrage" is a crushing metallic discharge-y number like Antisect and AOA at their most intense with a thrash influence reminiscent of Final Conflict or Legion of Parasites and probably too many solos (but then that's also what makes such records so charming). The next one is the anthemic "Thugs in uniform", a song that has been medically proven to coerce punks into raising their fist and sing along (still one of Nature's greatest mysteries). While written and recorded as an oi song in its early version, on this Ep "Thugs in uniforms" sounds like Hellbastard teaming up with Icons of Filth to cover the Cockney Rejects. It retains the yobbo punky snottiness of the original but with a crustified moshing power complete with wanton "huh". Just perfect. I absolutely love this song. The opening scorcher on side B might be my favourite though as this rerecording of "Resist the atomic menace" blows away the original. Starting in utmost epic fashion with a heavy mid-tempo beat and a galloping thrash riff, the song then explodes into an uncontrollable cavemen crust storm with classic OP singalongs for good measure. The level of intensity is through the roof here and I particularly appreciate how the song goes back to the early stenchcore metal part with added anarcho spoken words over it. Genuinely classic song that reminds me of Pro Patria Mori in terms of anarcho crusty metal punk power with hints of Concrete Sox and "Out from the void"-era Antisect. Phew. The last numebr "Death by night" is once again a direct, heavy and thrashing fast Discharge-inspired tune with massive chorus, crazy soloing and mean spoken parts. It is undeniably a great one taking cues from aforementioned scruffy bands and I am also hearing a Swedish influence, like Anti-Cimex or Crude SS maybe, which would make sense of course. The sound on Outrage is heavy and intense with the appropriate rawness, highlighting the band's ferociousness as the drum pummels, the guitar thrashes, the bass thunders and Deek alternately vociferates with his distinctive gruff tone or vehemently recites political speeches. This is uplifting, energetic and powerful old-school anarcho-crust and unquestionably a classic Ep of the genre although it is seldom hailed as such, as if the band's longevity and different incarnations somehow prevented one to look at some of their works individually and contextually. Thanks fuck I'm here.          

Lyrically, OP hit hard as usual with straight-forward, in your face protest words about the dangers of nuclear power plants (in particular Dounreay in northern Scotland), police brutality, mad scientists and governments and multinationals plundering the Earth and its people. Pretty typical tropes but each song is accompanied by a short explanatory text providing some insight about the context as well as useful contacts to get involved in the struggle. The band even included a short and devastating review emanating from the evil "music press" likening their sound to "a breath of fresh ordure, way surpassing all expectations of dreadfulness" which made me giggle. It would have made a great title for a record. My only issue with Outrage is that the cover looks bland and very unappealing, which, for such an intense record, is a real shame and arguably any other piece of artwork from the insert would have been a better choice. I would even argue that, had Outrage been graced with a cover meaningly conveying its crusty anarcho power (especially in the light of some subsequent OP's artworks), it might be held in higher regards nowadays. Following the Ep, the band would release their utterly classic - and ace-looking - album In Defence of Our Earth in 1990, also for Words of Warning, this one clearly a well-known and appreciated work reflecting OP's songwriting flair as well as a certain diversity. Still, it does not beat Outrage in terms of sheer power. But then, few records do.  


Sunday 14 June 2020

Ten Steps to Make Your Life CRUSTIER Starting Today (step 1): Generic / Mortal Terror "S/t" split Lp, 1988

Hallo there, how's life? 

It has been four weeks since the end of the confinement and, little by little, it looks like the average locals are slowly finding their way back to being their own self-centered arseholes in an open air environment again. Excruciatingly banal stories of how they survived lockdown through Netflix and virtual boozing session with their mates now fill the air like butterflies in spring. I suppose future anthropologists will analyze this gregarious storytelling frenzy as a truly moving sign of resilience proving that life - or what passes for life anyway - always finds a way. As for me, I find it quite perplexing that the inevitable global realization that modern life is basically a massive existential void - one fueled by our own vanity, our shortening attention span and our belief in a new trinity made up of the superficial, the performative and the spectacular - has not sparked more philosophical questioning about the culture of consumerism, speed and artificial abundance we call home. 

Like everything else, punk-rock has been put on the back burner. At this time of the year, Europe is always full of touring bands looking for gigs and a way to sell their new record and the main issue has always been how to respond logistically to all the demands. But now, as Subhumans once said, there's no more gigs, at least for a while and no punk festivals will be held this summer. Punk is a multifaceted entity composed of several species and subspecies (often referred to as "scenes") that can usually coexist and even sometimes interbreed, although the gathering of some antagonistic punk species (like tough guy hardcore jocks and gutter teen punks) is injudicious and bound to result in testosterone contests, venue bans or plans of split records, which is much worse. However, there is one particular gene that runs through all the different punk tribes: the festival gene. Punks can't get enough of fests. Festival organizers tend to blend species that can appreciate, or at least tolerate, each other in order to avoid too much confrontation, so that everyone on location wears similar tribal distinctions that makes the audience feel at home and part of a passionate and dedicated community. From the outside, it just looks like two hundreds black-clad scruffy drunks in a field pretending to watch other scruffy drunks trying to play loud music on stage. But festivals can be said to symbolize the apex of the punk year as they are spaces for the expression and reaffirmation of a collective cultural identity. Ideally booked during the punk mating season, summer, festivals are also perfect opportunities to parade in full regalia in order to boast and impress potential partners, belittle possible rivals and cement your punk credibility through the acquisition of tasteful shirts and badges (you can stream the records online so why bother paying for them?), or you can also share beauty tips, trade useful contacts abroad for your next tour and further develop your love for nature in lice-ridden camping sites that are little more than a barren wasteland littered with cans and the first wave of festival goers. Heaven.

With the festival season basically ruined, the delicate reproductive cycle and natural balance of punk is endangered as the hot new bands of 2020 will not be allowed to tour this summer and that ace-looking studded jacket you completed in March will be left vastly unseen, a real shame if one considers the number of likes it already got on Insta. So what now? With the cancellation of punk festivals, summer can quickly get bleak and I have a feeling that the crust species, always particularly fond of festivals because of their natural tendency to get dirty and their imperviousness to most natural infections and parasites, will be especially badly hurt. And when my people are in trouble, when suffering awaits them, when they are no longer able to enjoy an average Doom-like band at 3am while downing their twentieth can of lager of the day, well it does make the eye watery and one just knows one just has to do something, especially if one never shirks from doing one's duty, albeit at one's small personal level, to make a festival-free summer bearable. So why not revisit records from the classic crust era, from the late 80's to the early 90's, and from the cradle of genre, Britain. I have been longing to write about (sometimes minor) UK crust classics for a while and now is as good a time as ever to indulge in this difficult but delightful task that will hopefully cheer up my fellow crusties in these dark times and provide with fancy topics of conversation and perhaps enlighten some commoners in the process (open-minded me, right?). 

What a lengthy introduction... My congratulations if you have read that far, your lionhearted tenacity shall be rewarded. Let's proceed to the actual record, one that I am particularly fond of and yet does not really get the credit it deserves. The hometown of Alan Shearer, Newcastle, and its wider area have always produced quality punk bands and the two participants of this split, Generic and Mortal Terror, both hailed from this town and epitomised that Northern take on the mid/late 80's UK hardcore wave although in different fashions. To be honest, I selected the album because of Mortal Terror, a band that, as one of the very first crust-influenced crust bands, managed to synthesise all the characteristics of the foundational crust wave in a very free and unselfconscious manner. Few crust records sound as gloriously spontaneous and punky as MT's side of the split with Generic and I cannot overstate how much I like it and, in fact, for a self-proclaimed crusty to claim the opposite would be tantamount to high treason. Therefore, although Generic technically occupy the first side of the Lp, I will deal with MT first. Let's start with a bit of formative history. Trapped in a Scene tells us that there were a couple of pre-MT bands, none of which released a demo, though I would have loved to give Nausea a listen as it was made up of Duncan and Scales who ended up in MT, Steve who went on drumming for Senile Decay and Hellkrusher (and much later one The Vile) and of Mandy, on the bass, who would end up singing in Health Hazard. By early 1988, the first MT lineup solidified with the aforementioned Dunc on the guitar and Scales on vocals, another singer named Pug, bass player Phil and another Phil on the drums who was at the time also responsible for the epic rhythm section of Newcastle's undisputed crust heroes Hellbastard. Small world, innit?

I already wrote a bit about MT ages ago (well, in 2012) when I tackled their split Lp with Aural Corpse but the split Lp with Generic being my favourite, I had always been toying with the idea of ranting once again on the crusty allurement of MT. I have to concede that, at first, I thought that the split with Aural Corpse was the band's first. My reasoning - if flawed - was pretty sound and based on the theory of punk evolution which determines that the Antisect/Anti-System/AOA anarcho hardcore style predates the ENT/Deviated Instinct crusty mayhem. However MT did it the other way around, starting with crust savagery and ending up sounding like they were around in late 1984, which was fairly unusual. In our deleteriously hyperconnected world, the relative obscurity of MT remains mysterious and I am disconsolate to confess that my specially-made MT shirt has not yet proved to convert anyone to the band's greatness. Truly unexplainable when one considers that MT's music is crust gratification of the highest order and tick absolutely all the boxes you are entitled to expect from an old-school UK crust record. From their very moniker that manages to sound formulaic even in 1988, but is at least an honest indication as to what you are going in for, to the obligatory ten second joke "song", the numerous mid-tempo filthy metallic "stenchcore" moments, the hyperbolic dual vocal cavemen crust teamwork, the epic grungy introduction to the deliciously raw and urgent sound (the eleven songs were recorded in five hours for £29), the MT side is classic in the best sense of the term, reminiscent of early Extreme Noise Terror for the speed and the brutally angry vocals, Terminal Filth Stenchcore Deviated Instinct and Grind the enemy Axegrinder for the crunchy and dirty dark metal riffing, Ripper Crust Hellbastard for the epic crust power and even early Napalm Death and Sore Throat when MT sound at their most manic and obnoxious. Whenever I play their side of the split (which is often, hence the skips), my face light up with beatific glee and the moment when the first song "Horrible death" kicks in into that typical, quintessential early crust sound after the ominously catchy introduction, to me, that epiphanic moment basically signifies crustness in all its disgusting glory. The ultimate crash course in crust.

This recording is equally fascinating because it stands for an early instance of crust-inflenced crust music, meaning that MT were one of the first punk bands to borrow openly from the genre's forefathers - who were peaking at the time - and try to replicate and indeed synthesise the original UK crust sound. The force of the band in 1988 precisely lied in their youthful and direct synthesis of the crust style that was at its apex at the time and could even be said to become quite derivative at that point. Therefore, I would further that MT absolutely sounded like generic UK crust and that, if in the late 80's or early 90's it would have been something of a limitation, a couple of decades later, I would argue that it is precisely what makes it so good and the perfect synthetic introduction to the original sound of crust. Besides, if you are really craving for creativity you've got that moody anarchopunk tone on "Sick butchers" and an merry oi-ish vibe of "Yankee go home" that does not really work that well but you could argue that such creative imperfections and silly humorousness are part and parcel of the crust genre and are therefore legitimate. MT's insert is a traditional cut'n'paste artwork completed with a sloppy collage and the lyrics are politically-oriented and deal with with animal abuse, US imperialism and an evil man called Bernard.

On the first side of the Lp are another Geordie orchestra, Generic, who were, in a paradoxical act of self-awareness and humility, not that generic in the British context of the mid/late 80's. If you hold any interest in that part of the music scene, then you will undoubtedly be familiar with Generic. If the name does not at least ring a distant bell, I'd, first, recommend a serious re-assessment of your life priorities and second, an immediate exploration of the band's solid discography. I wouldn't blame you too harshly for this academic lacuna since, in spite of releasing three Ep's and two split Lp's between 1985 and 1989 and being really active during a crucial period of the UK punk scene, Generic are tragically seldom discussed nowadays. As usual for this type of band, I strongly suggest you read their chapter in Trapped in a Scene if you want all the juicy bits about how they came to be, but since I don't really have anything better to do right now, I might as well throw in a couple of trivia details. The band formed in 1985 in Newcastle and was made up of Sned and Micky, who used to play in the excellent anarcho band Blood Robots, and of Terry and Wizz from In Memorium (which I have never heard). The driving idea behind Generic was to play energetic and angry hardcore punk with uncompromising political lyrics and although it would not be irrelevant to classify the band in your dusty and thick "fast hardcore thrash" folder, some pieces of songwriting were still quite reminiscent of the golden anarcho age (for example in the band's frequent use of spoken parts or in some of their darker, more tuneful moments), an artistic take on the 80's hardcore genre that undeniably increased my liking for them. Sure, you can enthusiastically jump and wear bandanas to the music, but there is always a Chumba-like moment just around the corner as well (or even litteral Chumba members like on the Torched Ep).

I freely admit that I played the Ep's more frequently than the Lp's and I feel that the Generic side on this particular album would have made a good Ep, were it not for the strange and uselessly long dub outro to "Violation" and the rather forgettable untitled last song (more a joke than anything else I guess). By the time Generic recorded the songs for the split, the lineup had changed several times and the band even survived a separation. As well as drumming, Sned played the bass on this one, with Wizz on the vocals and Terry on the guitar. If you are looking for energetic, versatile and angry hardcore punk with raspy vocals this sunday then it might very well do the trick. The songs are mostly fast-paced but the many manic tempo changes and songwriting creativity, notably some delightfully heavy crusty mid-paced moments or eerie anarcho intros, keep the listener on his or her toes and engaged. Clearly not formulaic and taking inspiration from a wide hardcore spectrum, Generic stood for international hardcore punk, both musically and conceptually, more than any other British bands at the time. I can hear MDC, CCM, Siege, Negazione, Olho Seco, Heresy, BGK, Black Flag, Kuro and probably many others. While the creeping anarchopunk influence gives away that Generic are indeed an 80's English bunch (the accent effortlessly revealing the specific region), I would argue that the music's core, its inspiration lies in the international hardcore wave and in the desire to be a part of it in the philosophy of "act locally, think globally". A pretty good listen even though I keep thinking that with a bit of trimming it would have a smashing Ep instead of a decent split Lp. In terms of lyrical content on this one, Generic appear to be quite critical of "the scene" and all the stereotyping, especially as far as masculinity is concerned, it can generate. There are also songs of empowerment encouraging you to seize the day. Generic always had relevant and relatable political and personal lyrics and it is indeed very shocking to know that the singer Wizz later on got charged with sexual misconduct which understandably makes an official Generic discography impossible.

This split Lp was released on classic Darlington-based label Meantime Records (run by Ian from Dan) in 1988 and I'm starting to realize that I'm basically posting all the Meantime discography little by little. Damn. After this album, MT went on to release another split Lp with Aural Corpse with a different lineup on Looney Tunes Records before they split. Scales then went on to sing in Sawn Off (with Sned from Generic) in the late 90's and Afterbirth in the mid 00's while Dunc played in Grudge. Generic recorded a last Ep, Torched, after this Lp. Drummer Sned and first guitar player Micky reunited in the great One By One in the early 90's and played in many bands afterwards (without mentioning running Flat Earth Records for Sned).

Enjoy this humble album as it conveys a relevant image of what the DIY punk scene was about in the North of England in terms of music and honesty. I love it.

PS: unrelated to the issue but since it cannot be said enough: fuck the police institution, fuck white supremacy, fuck the class system. Fuck.