Punk can be a Daedelian microcosm. Its fauna and flora is immensely complex when looked at through untrained eye and even world renowned ethnologists humbly state that ancient punk societies are still very much shrouded in mystery. The most optimistic scholars think that normies may, one day in the future, come to grasp some of the inner workings of these fascinating civilizations, rich with dozens of vaguely drawn generic genres, extravagant dubious subgenres and absolutely anecdotal subsubgenres that have made punk a crucial part of Unesco's intangible cultural heritage list. Tragically punk was still below metal on that list which resulted in the particularly bloody Extreme Music Wars ending with metal's crushing victory thanks to the not insubstantial supply of swords, axes and nondescript spiky shits of the black metal community. Researchers have been working on many facets of punk societies around the world and notably their deity called Way of Life. Punks' reverence toward Way of Life has few equivalents on the planet even if scholars are still struggling to accurately understand the powers that Way of Life is supposed to confer to its believers in spite of the vast number of traditional punk songs dealing with the cult of Way of Life.
Punk's immemorial traditions emerged in the late 70's, as soon as the first wave either vanished or started to make money. One of the most crucial of such unwritten traditions lies in the passing of the Timeless Punk Values, a sort of compulsory rite of passage, a coming of age. It consists in a usually highly intoxicated punk Elder teaching, often through a lengthy rant about the True Meaning of Punk, a younger punk the ways of the tribe after he or she has been deemed worthy of inclusion in the cult. It has to be said that brevity in the pulpit is not what characterized Venerable Punk Elders, those who once got to see real punk in action like Discharge or Crass in '81 (substitute those bands with your own national punk myths), so that it is also an important test of stamina and resilience for the younger punk candidates. When the Sacred Knowledge about the True Meaning of Punk is finally passed the newly educated younger punk is requested to present a gift to the Punk Elder, generally a cheap bottle or a fiver for a pint. Fundamental Punk Values include - but are not restricted to - a hatred for authorities, the pigs and fascists; the ability to make the distinction between the Real Punks and their natural enemies, the Posers; a dislike for basic hygiene; poverty as a virtue and so on. The list is pretty much endless and evolves through time, making Tribe Membership a lifelong process. A profound disdain for punk sellouts and the bitterness of being stabbed in the back - especially among the Straight Edge Division - are some of the strongest values and must be taught with utmost serious. That takes us to today's bargain compilation Ep, Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records, a record that was dedicated to the critique and to the ban of anarchopunk-heroes-who-sold-out Chumbawamba.
I have already dealt with Chumba in the past with their excellent split Ep with A State of Mind which is a genuine anarchopunk classic, so that I am not going to assail my dear readers with the story of my encounter with the band again. The story of their selling out was still hot on the lips of older punks when I realized that, before they contributed a song to a football video game in 1998, they used to be one of Britain's smartest, most articulate, radical and inventive anarchopunk bands. To be honest, it was the early 00's and that came as a bit of shock and the massive stretch was hard to believe, but not to swallow, as I was completely unaware of the band's past status. Their ruinous decision did not seem to be primarily prompted by greed (though it must have mattered) but by the belief that going mainstream would help spread their anarchist message to the masses. Of course, it was nothing new and it sounds somewhat naive. After all, the DIY medium can be said to be the message itself, which I utterly agree with, but in the context of a stagnant and even conservative punk scene, compromising with the enemy might have looked like a way out of the inertia. Still, to this day, Chumba have remained the only anarchopunk band, or perhaps it would be more accurate the only band that had emerged from the anarchopunk scene, to sign on a major label, EMI. Devil's advocates would point out that Chumba's commercial success had already started with their collaborations with One Little Indian and they were no longer playing punk music anyway. They had incorporated folk and pop elements to their music, in a great fashion it has to be said, which resonated with the general public and it was probably not that surprising that a major label would one day knock on the door. Realistically, no other punk bands at the time would have been offered the same opportunity as Chumba and the idea of acts like Coitus or Wat Tyler signing to Warner sounds about as plausible as England winning the World Cup, although it would have been highly comical in some bizarre way.
So in 1997, Chumba signed to EMI, 8 years after taking part to the Fuck EMI compilation Lp alongside Generic, Sore Throat or Thatcher on Acid. The fact that the band had always been quite critical of punk's apathy and rules and would spread radical anarcho-situationist politics made what was qualified as an unacceptable betrayal an even bitterer pill to swallow. The band has also repeatedly spat on money-grabbing multinational companies and pointed out their hypocrisy and responsibility in the harshest forms of capitalistic exploitation. They sang about taking back control of our lives and abolishing capitalism. That a band like The Exploited would sign to EMI would be bad enough but nowhere near as shocking, which accounted for the general uproar then. Chumbawamba had committed two unforgivable crimes that were explicitly depicted in the Gospel of Real Punk: they sold out and stabbed the backs of the scene that made them who they were. To add insult to injury, the band had stated on several occasion that they would never ever sign to a major record company, but on the other hand they had not yet been handed the cash. A lot of the money the band made was given to worthy political causes, campaigns and struggling social centers and at least they never gave up their agitprop approach and their lyrics remained smart and political although the music became a bit shite to be honest. It is in the context of this betrayal and the outrage it caused that Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records was released. That a major label would even seriously consider signing an anarchopunk or DIY hardcore band nowadays sounds like a divagation of a stark raving mad punk and the closest situation we encountered was Epitaph offering GLOSS a deal a few years ago which the band eventually turned way. They split not long after. In our current era of shorter and shorter attention span and global equalizing culture, I am not even sure people would really be shocked by "one of us" selling out. I suppose the fake display of outrage would only get only approval for a couple of weeks so it might not be worthwhile to think too hard about it, right?
The Ep is a bit of a strange one. First the lineup indicated on the backcover is totally wrong as The Chineapple Punx, Love Chips & Peace or Wat Tyler do not appear on the Ep. Riot/Clone, Bus Station Loonies and Oi Polloi are actually included and a fourth band, Anxiety Society, completes it. The reason for this discrepancy has to do with copyright issues, since the three missing bands were not given the permission by Chumba to do the covers (which made sense with the EMI contract, although it made the situation even sadder) although Danbert Nobacon had apparently allowed it. The three missing songs could be obtained directly from the label if you sent a coupon to the address, which was only fair after all. As expected, the lyrics on the compilation deal with the hypocrisy and treachery inherent to the band's signing and use or parody lyrics from Chumba, stressing in the process that the band was taking part exactly in what they so radically criticized before. Satire is a punk tradition after all. Oi Polloi reworked the classic "Rotten to the core" song by Rudimentary Peni" using the Chumba situation) while Riot/Clone were even more direct with "Chumbawanka". There is an interesting column about Chumba's move on the backcover written by Chris from Bus Station Loonies and Ruptured Ambitions Records that sums up the feelings and the mood of the anarcho scene pretty nicely.
So what do we actually get on the Ep then? The first song is "Chumbawanka" by Riot/Clone, possibly one of the band's strongest numbers. The band was going strong in the mid/late 90's and, with Paco from Conflict behind the kit, it could be said that it was the band's finest hour which is not something that can be said about many reformed 80's anarchopunk band. On this song, R/C unleash a direct and mean punk-rock attack with great riffs and a raw sound and Dave Floyd's sounds extremely pissed, even for him. The man's vocals were always a major asset of R/C - not to mention an influence on Bathory - and as a younger punk myself, I was always very impressed with the spitting snotty anger infusing the band's words. The title of the song "Chumbawanka" is pretty self-explanatory and listening to it, one could have the impression that the members of Chumba all took a shit in Dave Floyd's shoes while he was sleeping and that he wrote the song in the morning upon the discovery. 90's UK anarchopunk at its very best. Mean furious shit. The 1997 Lp To Find a Little Bluebird comes highly recommended and I suspect the song was recorded during the same session.
Next you have "Always tell the punters" by Anxiety Society, a band I found little information about but that must have been connected to Ruptured Ambitions as three of the compilations they contributed a song to - the band never had a record of their own - were released on said label. The present song is something on an electro-pop pisstake of Chumbawamba which is rather pleasant and tuneful to the ear and a fitting parody. I probably count not take a whole of Anxiety Society but it works here. There are other songs on the Crass tribute You've Heard it all Before or the Fish Out of the Water tape if you are interested.
On side B, Oi Polloi offer the song "Shhh-it", a reference to Chumba's Shhh Lp. As previously mentioned, the lyrics to the song are a reworking of the words of Rudi Peni's "Rotten to the core": "Have you noticed that rockstars always seem to lie so much / Chumbawamba once said they cared - but they never really gave a fuck". At that time Chris from BSL/Ruptured Ambitions was drumming for Oi Polloi which made their inclusion logical. The infamous Scots have a long discography under their belt so that it sometimes feels a little difficult to sort out the very good stuff from the more average materials. This 1995 number belongs to the great ones, without a doubt. The band released some very solid records in the 90's, most notably the Guilty Ep in 1994 on Ruptured Ambitions (obviously) and "Shhh-it" definitely sounds like this period. Heavy and metallic dirty anarcho-hardcore with an old-school UKcrust influence, the usual singalong chrous and straight-forward lyrics. Classic stuff from an eternal band.
Finally, Bus Station Loonies deliver the song "Charlie Harper" and, well, a non-participation of the band to Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records would have been rather odd indeed. BSL were always full of vim and they described themselves as a cross between Crass and Splodgenessabounds which, as strange as it may sound, makes sense when you give them a listen. I must confess that I don't like everything from their repertoire but they do have a solid sense of tunes and a contagious energy. The song is about staying true to the punk ideals and yet another blow to Chumba's falseness, as opposed to UK Subs' legendary frontman. Snotty energetic punk-rock with a humourous almost absurd touch, as the song ends with the sound of a man taking a massive shit during what sounds like a BSL gig. Pretty well done and a fine instance of punk's cider-loving silliness that still pales compared to the BSL's greatest achivement: their inclusion in the Guiness Book of Records after they played 25 gigs in 25 venues in 12 hours. In the end, that's what punk is also really about, innit?
The three songs that could not make it to the record are equally worthy if you yearn for more Chumbawamba-bashing and you can find them pretty easily on the web. As for Ruptured Ambitions, it released two excellent Ep's that you should really (re)visit after this compilation Ep, Policebastard's Gulf War Syndrome and Sensa Yuma's Everyday's your Last Day. As for Chumbawamba, they got poppier and poppier, left EMI in 2002 and eventually stopped completely in 2012. A documentary about this fascinating, controversial and in spite of everything still highly inspiring band entitled I Get Knocked Down will be released soon and I am extremely curious. 25 years after Chumba's betrayal and 10 years after they split, the affair feels rather distant and I have little doubt that the younger generations of punks know or even care to know about an important event in the history and mythology of anarchopunk. Would it even be relevant to get angry and criticize the wrong - according to me - choice made by a now inactive band in a completely different context? I'd rather enjoy and find motivation in Revolution, Anarchy, Picture of Starving Children and English Rebel Songs. I suppose time healed some wounds as Sean, who played in Wat Tyler and wrote an anti-Chumba song for the Ep, reissued the excellent first demo of Passion Killers - a band that had three future members of Chumba - on his label Demo Tapes. Darren and Mavis from Chumba and Passion Killers now play in Interrobang‽, an interesting postpunk band with anarchist tendencies that I find very convincing and the Lp on All the Madmen records contains some proper punk tunes with clever lyrics.
Rest assured that Terminal Sound Nuisance shall never sell out and that your backs will be safe with me. Punk belongs to the punx, you've heard it all before.