Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Wesh to Sweden, the Formative Years (part 7): "Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986" compilation tape (2004?)

Not so long ago (or at least it seems that way but perhaps I’m heading toward the mid-life crisis faster than was previously thought), tapes were going virtually extinct in the Western punk scene. In fact, I really struggle to remember even buying a demo tape from a Western hardcore punk band (to be understood in terms of living and technological conditions rather than strictly geographically) in the early and mid noughties. Cdr’s - nowadays universally considered as the most uncool format ever for its rather bland and cold aspect - had replaced the tape format in terms of convenience (you could easily burn your own cd’s), low prices (cdr’s were cheaper) and availability (everyone had cd players in those days). My generation saw the decline of tapes in the early 90’s, followed by the unstoppable rise of the cd format, the arrival of a seemingly invincible new challenger in the guise of the mp3, the rapid decline of the cd format, the rebirth of the tape format now declared a deliciously vintage and exclusive - not to mention Insta-compatible - artifact and, eventually, the undisputed victory of online streaming platforms and the downfall of the mp3. And I am not even mentioning the vinyl format here because it had already lost much of its cultural and commercial relevance when I started to listen to music in the 90’s. Of course, punks have always bought vinyls and will keep doing so religiously, forever and ever, until the end of times because, when punk-rock was born, the vinyl format ruled the music industry and since, as a consequence, all the 70’s and 80’s classics were originally released on vinyl, our punk brains have so closely linked the content to the container that to keep releasing and buying vinyls 30 years after the format is a ritualistic way to connect ourselves to our roots and to our tribe, the distro table taking on an almost altar-like function where punk are given Holy Communion. To buy a record from a DIY punk distro is much more than just acquiring new music, it is also engaging culturally and symbolically in a historical subculture and taking part in one if its rituals, an act often summarized as "supporting the scene".  

But I digress as usual. While we still used tapes in the early noughties to make compilations for mates, tape radio shows and records we borrowed from each other or, of course, record our weekly afternoon drinking sessions that we also called "band practices" at the time (though I am really not sure it deserved to be referred to as such), we never considered releasing a demo tape and thought highly of the cd format which granted you more autonomy and could allow for a totally DIY project, though you did have to find someone with a computer that could burn cd's at decent rate. We did buy music tapes though, on a rather regular basis, from the Polish or Czech distro and labels like NNNW, Malarie or Trujaca Fala not only released many tapes of Eastern punk bands but also offered tape versions of Western bands for really cheap. Back then, many Polish punks did not own CD players and tapes were therefore still socially relevant and affordable for the unwashed masses. The format basically still made some sense at the time, even for us since, after all, we had grown up listening to tapes and still used them, only we did not think highly of a format that did not age well and knew it was bound to disappear. Tapes certainly did not have that hip, exclusive, vintage aura of nostalgia chic that it often has nowadays, completely disconnected from its very real convenience, its many uses and the crucial role it played in the development of punk in the 80's. I do buy tapes nowadays - because bands I love release tapes - and I am well aware of the technological obsolescence and the cultural snobbishness inherent in the format in 2020. The modern punk tape is twofold: it symbolizes something I actually love about us punx, that we have strong and meaningful cultural practices and rather subtle aesthetical traditions that we romantically and passionately keep alive (the act of buying demo tape makes you part of the tribe, even though you are going to stream the thing anyway), but the tape is also something that is more problematic and can be our downfall, that lies in our intentional exclusiveness and growing nostalgic obsession with a reconstructed "golden era", whether it translates into the music (the endless mimicking of the 80's) or the format (just show a tape to a modern teen). This might seem unrelated to the topic at hand but it is not as the social and cultural perception of the container also affects the way we engage with the content that homemade. What this endless rants is getting at is that this cheap-looking Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 tape, adorned with a xeroxed cover, that will conclude the introspective Wesh to Sweden series cannot be said to have a highly fashionable item of the winter 2004, when it was presumably bootlegged.

It might sound weird but I actually got this tape at an emocore show in 2004 (or was it 2005?). As you can imagine, I never cared much for the genre and, to this day, I would be at a loss to name any proper emo classics although the few bands I knew were actually alright. This did not mean I went to many emo shows but, as I remember it, my mates and I had nothing better to do on that particular Saturday night and it just so happened that it was the only "punk gig" taking place and we thought we would "hang out". At that time, we were really not that picky about the gigs' lineup or the genres the bands were adopting, we just went to "the punk gig", be it savage and sloppy crust punk, nasty goregrind, embarrassing French punk-rock, fucking folk punk or, in this case, bloody emocore. We would usually get a bit pissed on the outside (well, more than just a bit actually) and then get in to watch the bands, out of curiosity and to show our support to "the scene" because we did have some ethical principles. On this night, the long-running French record label and distro Emergence had set a table and was selling your usual hardcore cd's and vinyls as well as a couple of punk tapes, among which one immediately caught my eye: Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986.

As I mentioned in the first part of my highly fascinating autobiographical series Wesh to Sweden (rumoured to be soon adapted by Netflix but don't hold your breath), I first heard Mob 47 on the radio through a Paris-based radio show called Ça Rend Sourd that was broadcast every other sunday night and, in spite of it being the day of the Lord, played a lot of Scandinavian hardcore, grindcore and things of the D which, one surmises, can be considered as one of punk's dominical sacraments. A friend of mine with a computer in his room and a decent internet connection allowing for some soulseek frenzy then burnt a cdr, on my request, with plenty of random recordings of the band. I absolutely cherished that cdr. Mob 47 was probably the most energetic band I knew, they sounded so relentless and furious but also very snotty and punky. I could really picture a bunch of spotty teenagers getting pissed and playing as fast and hard as possible all afternoon. The very punky vibe that pervaded their raw hardcore songs reminded me of a sped up version of the Varukers' early recordings, a band that I was genuinely fond of. Although I did not own any official record of Mob 47 then - the Ultimate Attack discography was probably not out yet and neither was the reissue of the Ep - I had managed to find a tape that had their 1985 demo on one side and Asocial's 1982 demo on the other (kind of an odd one I now realize) the year before but spotting a vintage compilation with not only Mob 47 but also five other Stockholm bands I had never heard of felt like a sign from above, one not to be discarded (get it?). At that time I did not know that many scandicore bands from the 80's but, thanks to the very referential 90's Swedish wave, I had a rather precise idea of its characteristics. I knew of Anti-Cimex of course (my mate had compiled a very disorganized cdr with songs from all their periods as well as some Shitlickers numbers, for some reason, which was terribly confusing for me), Avskum (I had bought the bootleg Ep of Crucified by the System), No Security (the When the Gist is Sucked from the Fruit of Welfare bootleg discography was mine thanks to an earlier trip to the 1in12 Club in Bradford) and Disarm (read their name in a fanzine, got some mp3's through that aforementioned benevolent friends and adored the raucous but tuneful singing style over the raw hardcore music and still do). Along with Asocial through the aforementioned unofficial split tape, that must have been pretty much it, give or take one Svart Snö. Therefore the perspective to discover five new bands for a mere three euros felt like an unmissable opportunity, one that I took fearlessly with the proverbial heart full of pride. 

Was the name of the band "Discard" or "Discaro"? The doubt remained when we first listened to the tape collectively and passed around the minimal xeroxed cover but, as the self-appointed leader of the Shakespearean language, I pointed out that "Discard" actually meant something while "Discaro", to anybody's linguistic knowledge, did not. Needless to say that I played this tape to death and, to this day, it still easily ranked as one of my favourite hardcore punk compilation. I learnt years later that my Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 tape was a bootleg of 2000's Stockholms Mangel compilation Lp (released on the highly transparent label Swedish Punk Classics), a reissue of the original 1986 compilation tape Stockholms Mangel (fun fact: it is nowadays worth twice the medium monthly wage in Moldova). The 1986 tape only included Mob 47, Crudity and Agoni so that Protes Bengt, Discard and Röjers - as well as five Mob 47 songs - did not initially appear on the tape. To be honest, had some knowledgeable punk told me those nerd-oriented details when I acquired the object, I most certainly would not have given an actual fuck, but the compiling and recompiling history of Stockholms Mangel is rather interesting and might get handy on trivia nights. Another urgent reason why I bought the tape also lied in the presence of the band Agoni. At that time, we were seriously thinking of starting a crust punk band and has settled for the name Agonie (the French for "agony" obviously). We were therefore a bit upset that a band had already picked the moniker, even twenty years before, and worried that old-timers would mercilessly scoff at our choice. Those fears related to punk terminology proved to be unwarranted as, not only were Agoni a very obscure Swedish hardcore band, but we were also never good enough to be worthy of being scoffed at anyway.     

I have always loved the manic energy and the youthful anger that pervade Mob 47's music and, obviously, the sheer speed of the songs, so fast that the songs constantly sound like they are on the brink of derailing. As an accelerated hardcore version of the traditional Discharge beat, some people have been calling the Mob 47 pace "C-beat", which is both ridiculous and awesome (but then, so is punk I guess). The seven songs originally included on the Stockholms Mangel tape from 1986 were recorded in January, 1985, with Ake on vocals but the five additional songs come from different recording sessions: "Racist regime" was done in June, 1985, "Stop the slaughter" in February, 1985, "Arms race" in April, 1985, all with Robban on vocals, while "Couch slouch" and "Nedrusta nu" were recorded in September, 1987 with Tommy behind the mike during the band's practice before the band's last 80's gig (in case you did not know, no less than five singers - including guitarist Ake - tried their luck in Mob 47). All the songs were recorded in the "bowling studio" (Ake's parents owned a bowling alley) and therefore have the same specific tone, raw, rough even, but warm and frenzied. What more can I say about this wonderful band that has already been well documented? They epitomized the typically Swedish "mangel sound", that brand of furiously fast, raw, short, Dis-oriented hardcore songs, and were therefore quite particular and identifiable, but, at the same time, as their covers of BGK, Varukers and DRI attested, they were completely rooted in and indicative of the collective worldwide hardcore explosion of the 80's. Both unique and representative. And I had forgotten how brilliantly catchy and powerful those guitar riffs sounded like and how much of an influence on crust punk they have been (just listen to State of Fear and Consume if you need a blatant example). An exceptional band for ordinary punks, one that can appeal to fans of Gang Green, Disorder, Minor Threat, Ratos de Porao or Discharge alike. This band smokes. Love it.
The insanely energetic Mob 47 are always going to be a tough act to follow and, to be fair, when I got the tape, I did not think much of Agoni who, though not bad at all, inevitably struck me as a little bland and, well, even slow when compared to the other bands. Throughout the years though, I have taken to really enjoy the gruff hardcore power of Agoni, reminiscent of fellow Swedes Svart Parad, early Avskum, Bombanfall or, of course, Anti-Cimex. Seven rough songs in about eight minutes of raw and pummeling käng with cavemen vocals and aggressive rousing chorus that were originally released as a demo tape in 1985. Classic but aptly executed with that typical Scandinavian crunch. Following those early songs, the band got bitten by long-haired drunks wearing sleeveless denim jacket in a dodgy rock bar on the outskirts of Stockholm and subsequently changed their name to Agony and started playing thrash metal, a turn that, out of common decency, I shall not comment upon. As is often the case in punk-rock, the Stockholm hardcore scene was quite incestuous and one could not be a proper scene member unless he or she played in at least three different Discharge-loving bands (a very sensible rule indeed). Agoni's singer Per also growled in the magnificent Discard (and apparently wrote many lyrics for Mob 47) while Peter joined Svart Snö later on. For some strange reasons, the Agoni demo was never reissued but I am sure it will eventually get the treatment.     

Following up are the fantastic Crudity, a band with a rather unfortunate name from the perspective of a Frenchman fond of silly puns (believe me, that's somewhat pleonastic as I have yet to meet a French person who is not desperate to crack a joke after learning that there is a band called "Crudity"). If you are the kind of punk who cannot ever grow tired of Mob 47, listening to Crudity could be an ideally healthy sonic complement and will have you fantasize the magic excavation of a yet unknown Mob 47 session. Fast, catchy and raw, riff-driven mangel-style hardcore punk with top notch angry singalongs and raspy vocals courtesy of Tommy, who later joined Mob 47. Crudity was also the first band of Mart Hällgren (referred to as a punk legend on the internet) who went on to play in De Lyckliga Kompisarna, Ubba and Greven & James, in other terms bands I have absolutely never heard about... To get back to the heavenly rawness at stake, Crudity were to the point and, perhaps, a little heavier - or just a tad more Cimexian - than their closest neighbours. Twelve short songs of mean hardcore fury recorded in 1985 by Ake in the infamous bowling alley that will have you pogo like you're 16 again (I'd recommend warming up a little before though, one is never too cautious) which, when you think about it, is rather paradoxical since Crudity only ever played one gig in 1984. So maybe don't think too hard about it.
Next are the brutal Protes Bengt, the first of the three bands that were not originally included on the compilation tape, but do appear on 2000's expanded version and on this DIY unofficial tape of mine. Although undeniably more a studio project than an actual band, Protes Bengt are the stuff of legends. A shame they never played a proper gig then, a somewhat unusual characteristic in a genre that is best appreciated live with a suspiciously foamy pint of lager and foul-breathed punters speaking far too close to your face. Formed in 1985 by Ake and Chrille from Mob 47 and Per and Ola who played in Filthy Christians, PB will remain in the grand narrative of punk (a narrative is pretty much like a story but it immediately tells the reader you have a university degree, hence its inclusion here) as that lightning fast, crazy and rough hardcore band that had a 32-song Ep in 1986, In Bengt we Trust. I do not know the exact recording details of the 16 songs included on Stockholm Hardcore, but presuming that they were recorded sometime in 1986 at Ake's bowling studio is a safe bet. The first 12 songs originally appeared on the Bengt E Sängt tape, the following three were taken from the Ep and I am clueless about the last one, "Trippelmoral", that has Ake on vocals. Contrary to Mob 47, Agoni and Crudity, who, on the whole, reveled in just one faster-than-D-beat, PB proved to be even faster. With a more direct and brutal hardcore music, but also adopting a less linear style that was closer to that emerging brand of fast hardcore that used proto blast beats (bands like Siege, Gauze, DRI or Lärm), PB sound quite different from the other bands on the tape. Well, there is still a significant reliance on the traditional Dis-mangel beat but I would argue that the dominating beat here is the proto blast beat and I would not be surprised to learn that PB were a meaningful influence through the mid-80's tape trading movement on many early grindcore and crust bands (especially in the light of Filthy Christians' eventual direction). The vocals are deliciously gruff and caveman-like and, among all the insane speed, there are even a couple of mid-paced crunchy metallic pace to remind you that you are entering the second part of the 80's. The sound is, well, rough like a badger's arse but I wouldn't have it any other way because that's exactly how I want speed-crazed old-school hardcore to sound like. Most of the songs don't even last a minute (some don't even make it to 30 seconds in fact) and many obey the untold but pregnant rule of primitive hardcore "one riff equals one song" and there is nothing wrong with such wise zen-like religious beliefs. PB's music is probably not safe for work but will probably be a blast at your 8 year old nephew's birthday party.
Next up are Discard which I have already discussed at length in my Pulitzer price-winning diatribe here so I am not going to bother repeating myself too much. If you missed the previous seasons of Terminal Sound Nuisance, Discard was yet another side-project of Ake and Chrille from Mob 47, this time aided in their quest for noize by Per from Agoni and Rickard (later on in Asocial). Discard was the band Doom wanted to be when they started and you could argue that in terms of conception and philosophy (but not of execution), Discard created the d-beat genre. As Ake willfully admits in an interview from the latest issue of the great Our Future fanzine "DISCARD was meant to be a DISCHARGE rip-off band, the music, lyrics and band logo", however I personally would not qualify them as a genuine d-beat band since their version of the Discharge formula was faster, rougher and more gruff, therefore they did not sound "just like" Discharge like Disaster or the 90's incarnation of Discard did. The D is too serious a subject not to be dealt with subtlety. The Discard songs on Stockholms Mangel/Hardcore were taken from the deliciously raw Sound of War recording session from 1985 and sound like Discharge being covered by a bunch of disgruntled bears on speed. Certainly one of my favourite hardcore recordings from the 80's. The last band on the tape is Röjers, yet another band with guitar hero Ake. The band only ever recorded three songs, one of which is just a 24 second long blasting hardcore filler, so it is rather arduous to make a definitive judgement. The perceptive listener will have little trouble to recognize Ake's potent hardcore riffs - the man basically personifies the dynamism inherent in hardcore punk - and vocals (right?). The songs are still bloody fast scorchers and do not stray too far from the safety of traditional scandicore territory, but you can still hear a soft but distinct Venomous and evil touch in the singing style and the arrangements, not unlike Mob 47 jamming with Onslaught and Criminal Justice in the bowling studio, knowhatimean? I had forgotten how thoroughly enjoyable those Röjers songs sounded like and it is a shame the band, more probably a studio project, did not record more at the time. No recording dates but 1985 or 1986 seem sensible.
The sound of the tape is obviously a bit rough. First, because all the original recordings were spontaneous slabs of raw 80's mangel so only a simpleton would feel entitled to expect clean-sounding music; second, because it is a homemade bootleg tape that is the same age as the dodgy teenagers who smoke weed listening to vocodered crap in front of your flat; and third, because I played Stockholm Hardcore a lot and I have fond memories of taking the portable tape player out on hot summer days and getting pissed on the river banks with friends while blasting those classic Swedish hardcore songs and showing the fingers to the tourists on their fly boats. Good times.
This is mangel heaven. My sole complaint is very minor but why is it called Stockholm Hardcore 1983-1986 when all the recordings were done between 1985 and 1986? I like Stockholms Mangel better, don't you?                           



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