Sunday, 14 November 2021

UK84, the Noise ain't Dead (part 1): Potential Threat "Brainwashed" Ep, 1984

A close mate of mine, one of those wise punk elders whose foregone tales of mayhem and chaos we listen to around the bonfire while drinking half stale cans of lager, once detailed how he methodically organizes his record collection since he moved with his partner years ago. The setting of your record collection says a lot about you and one should be careful not to reveal it to malicious punks only out there to destroy your hard-earned reputation and mock your procedure of organization or point out any fashion faux pas publically. When a fellow punk confides in you about records' organization, you know you're officially family. Collecting hardcore records can be a cut-throat business which is often used as a way to assert one's superiority over the rest of the pack. Not unlike gorillas fighting each other for dominance, a stronger and larger record collection can ensure you the much coveted alpha male spot (only blokes engage in this kind of immature behaviours, let's be real). Losers have to bow their head in order to recognize alphas and compliment the winners, in a collective act of submission, on their perfect collection of 80's Japanese flexis, original pressings on Boston hardcore or, if you are really an elite level punk, the actual demo tapes of classic original hardcore bands. At least, inferior gorillas only have to roll over and pretend they did not just get the shit beaten out of them and alpha gorillas actually get sex out of this circus which is a major difference with hardcore record collectors who can only hoped to get a not-too-harsh bollocking from their partners from their ascendancy (not like the time they spent their monthly wage on a mint copy of a Tervet Kadet Ep, a bargain that oddly enough caused some tension at home). 

So yeah, my friend told me that he had a very simple method. The records were organized alphabetically but divided into two discrete categories: one was made up of the records that could be listened to with his wife and kids whereas the other one only had faster, meaner and rawer music. He called the latter category "the noise" which really cracked me up. He did not say "hardcore" or invoked any other genre, just "the noise". The coinage has a poetical, almost naive (in the artistic sense) quality to it. "Noise" and the level of noisiness can be said to be, after all, the unifying factor among all the hardcore churches. I remember once playing two very different songs to a mate who was absolutely not into punk music, as co-called normie not even into "rock music" for that matter, the man was a total virgin and therefore the ideal guinea pig for the experiment. So I played a Bad Religion number and then Discharge's "Fight back" to him. And he could not really tell the difference. To him, it was all noise and the variations were too minimal and insignificant to his untrained ears to be even considered as actual differences. It was only noise. Therefore my old-school punk friend's categorization makes sense only because it is aimed at his uninitiated family and not at him (though to be fair, his little one is not insensitive to Mob 47 as far as I can tell, but who isn't?). 

This fascinating digression leads me to the present series and how and why I selected the culprits. Nowadays, the term "noise" has grown to signify a very specific subgenre and sound textures in the punk scene, namely the Bristol school of cider-fueled distorted aural bollocking and its glorious Japanese heirs ("noise" can also be associated with Sonic Youth-type of American college rock noisiness but I always pretend it doesn't exist and I intend to keep doing so and die with my boots on, know what I mean?). Here the focus will not so much be on punk bristolness or crasherness but, from a very primary and primitive perspective, on British punk bands who could be characterized as post-UK82 "noise", fast and aggressive punk music representative of a national tradition (cough, like Discharge or Chaos UK, cough) in a time when many punk bands were either splitting up or betraying the cause and turning new-wave (what SxE people call "stabbing in the back"). So I picked six recordings from 1984 that exemplified what punk "noise" sounded like at that point in time in the UK so don't expect unlistenably glorious live performances from Scum Dribblers or Sons of Bad Breath. Because of the limited sample and because I am a hard-working bloke standing proud on working-class streets doing working-class things, I don't have the time and the energy to provide an exhaustive panorama of UK84 noise. Still, I think it will manage to provide a relevant picture and highlight some sort of genuine diversity. 


 

Let's start with Potential Threat, according to me one of the most underrated bands of the era. I already wrote about PT's Never Again Lp years ago so that I recommend you read the writeup if you want some background information about the band. It will save me some time and potentially allow me to get some fresh air and do working-class things in working-class streets such as looking hard, walking, standing proud in front of brickwalls or just being working-class (also known as Oi music reenactment, a bit like medieval cosplay but with boots, braces and dodgy band buttons). Whatever. PT were from Blackburn, a Lancashire town located between sunny Preston and Burnley primarily known for its football club who won the Premier League Title in 1995 because they had Alan Shearer in the team. As I said, PT should be considered as an 80's anarchopunk classic. They released two very strong Ep's in 1982 and 1984 displaying a ferocious Discharge-influenced sound, two albums in 1986 and 1989 with more of a anarcho crossover vibe and appeared on a number of compilations, which was more than many anarchopunk bands of the time could claim. And they had a genuinely great name too with positive yet antagonistic implications. Yet, the band was plagued with is known in punk medical circles as the "Oi Polloi Syndrome". Researches conducted by the Institute of Punk Lineups showed that bands affected by this syndrome experienced insane numbers of lineup changes which can hinder the band's potential. I don't know if that was the case for PT but their entry on Bored Teenagers indicates that, literally, dozens of drummers ans guitar players came and went through the band and they were too many to mention. This instability may have prevented the band from gaining momentum but those are only conjectures. 

The only two members who were in the band from the beginning to the end were Foz and Pauline (though at first PT actually had a male singer), whose distinct vocals undoubtedly remain the band's hallmark and trait. Oddly enough, in a scene obsessed with its own origination - the same could be applied to our epoch as a whole - and perpetually engaging in performative nostalgia, PT are seldom mentioned in the "who was first" challenge. And yet, PT were one tof he very first female-fronted Discharge-inspired punk band around. After much cogitation, in fact, I cannot really think of any other band toying with proto d-beat music with a lady behind the mike as early as 1982. Solvent Abuse did have a couple of rough Discharge-inspired female-fronted numbers on their 1982 demo but PT had an actual Ep to show the same year. Taking part in the rather meaningless "who was first" contest - just a variation on the "who's strongest between classic hardcore band A and classic hardcore band B", not to be confused with the "who do you like best" questionaire which I happen to enjoy - is not my purpose. Still, I do think that acknowledging PT's special place in the 40 year-old history of Discharge-loving punk music is relevant, especially, and sadly, given the rather small contingent of females in that style. Therefore, I shall posit in the present erudite article that 1982's What's so Great Britain? Ep was in fact the first Discharge-inspired female-fronted hardcore punk Ep in punkstory. Bring on the controversy of you're hard enough.

One might ponder over the relevance of such a statement when applied to the context of the early 80's, a time when the practice of Discharge worshiping was still very much in its infancy. Clearly, PT never sat down and decided to be "just like Discharge" - a conscious thought process born only in the early 90's - and we often tend in an anachronistic move to project our own vision of the Discharge influence onto a time period when Discharge were not yet myth and legend (by 1982 Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing had only just come out). Beside, there was no such thing as a "hardcore scene" in Britain and even the consensual gap between the so-called UK82 bands of Riot City or No Future and the anarchopunk wave of Crass Records and Spiderleg was not always pronounced, if at all in smaller towns (I think there was a consensus among all punks that skinheads were wankers to be avoided though). The presence of a female singer in PT becomes anything but surprising if you see the band for what it primarily was: an anarchopunk band. As is commonly known among the learned punk circles, anti-sexism and feminism were important issues and many women were very active and involved in the anarchopunk, notably - but not only of course - in bands. There were dozens of female-fronted anarcho bands in the 80's and the band's birth and development must be seen in that light. In the end, PT were both just a young Blackburn-based anarchopunk band fond of Discharge (and who wasn't apart from Gary Bushell?) and retrospectively, at the same time, the first female-fronted Discharge-loving band.     

However, although undeniably influenced by the mighty D, this first Ep was much punkier sounding and not as mineral as Discharge's primal bursts of anger (bands like Blitz, The Insane, The Violators or The System were recorded at the same place, Hologram Studios in Stockport, which may account for the typical 1982 punk sound). The beat clearly points in the early Discharge direction ("Cheap labour" literally opens on a d-beat) as do most of the riffs, although the sound, if raw, is nowhere near as aggressive. And of course, Pauline vocals, half sung half spoken, were not the angry shouts commonly connected with Dischargy punk. I suppose What's so Great Britain could be compared to 1980's Discharge and Varukers' first Ep's infused with a punkier, more tuneful and dynamic vibe (early Conflict maybe? A-Heads?) and direct anarchist lyrics, a balance that is bound to please both Discore bouncers and spiky punks. This Ep is a brilliant artifact of early Discharge-influenced UK hardcore punk but the real kick up the arse would come two years later in the guise of the Brainwashed Ep.


 

Brainwashed probably stands as one of my favourite hardcore punk Ep's of the period, a statement that, I am well aware, is not a light one to make but that, as a free-thinker comfortably hidden behind a computer screen (an activity also known as "pissing about"), I am ready to make boldly. Stand strong, stand proud, right? This second Ep was recorded in November, 1984, with a different lineup (which can explain why it took the band two years to actually pull that one out). It was not the band's second recording however since PT had already worked in the studio the year prior but the five songs recorded then were sadly never released. I have bumped into a PT recording supposedly from 1983 but the five songs from this demo session clearly belong to the anarcho-crossover period of the band and different versions of them would all appear on Demand an Alternative, so my guess is that this "1983 demo" is plausibly a "1985 demo", unless PT switched genres every other year. Unlikely but punk-rock is like the World Wrestling Federation: anything can happen. 

To get back to Brainwashed, this Ep should be seen as one of the strongest proto d-beat records of the 80's. The drumming stands as one of the purest d-beat style of the era. It sounds highly energetic, pummeling and very prominent in the mix which I personally love. It reminds me of the drums on Anti-System Defense of the Realm, Varukers' Massacred Millions and even Iconoclast's demo. The guitar riffs are not as punk-rock oriented as on What's so Great Britain and there is an evident shift to a more primitive and aggressive form of Discharge-loving hardcore punk, which was not an isolated case in the UK (with the two above-mentioned bands as well as classics acts like Antisect and smaller noise units like Violent Uprising or Warwound). In instrumental terms, Brainwashed is a model d-beat raw punk record. The guitar sound is raw, distorted but still discernible and adequate in its vigorous delivery. What makes PT stood out was, of course, Pauline's warm, heartfelt and raucous voice and strong dynamic singing style. Where many similar bands of the era went for dark and angry shouts with varying amount of snottiness, the vocals in PT kept that half-spoken, half-sung punk touch reminiscent of a more classic anarchopunk sound that defined their sound on the previous Ep. The words are very distinct, you are not exactly yelled at relentlessly - though it does occur - and the lyrics are rather long, not unlike early Antisect and Anti-System again. I love how she can jump from d-beat driven speeches to a more classic in-your-face Dischargy prosody. Brainwashed, beside the three top notch raw Dis numbers, also included a melancholy song with only vocals and - gasp - non-distorted guitar dealing with vivisection from the animal's point of view (an issue that the band felt very strongly about), again in the 80's anarchopunk tradition which made PT's strongly and fundamentally embedded in that particular scene. The anti-Thatcher cut'n'paste cover is also perfectly coherent with the protest punk aesthetics as the massive circled A indicates. That should have made for a great shirt were it not for the additional inclusion of a swastika and the statement "a nazi with a social degree" which unfortunately makes the shirt unwearable in certain social gatherings and of course at work (speaking from experience here) as it could definitely send the wrong message. I therefore recommend placing a button over the swastika and carrying a spare one in case the first one falls (also speaking from experience here). 

This wonderful fast and loud Ep - it is only five-minute long - was released on the legendary Bristol-based label Children of the Revolution Records in 1984, which made Brainwashed one of its first releases. Following the Ep, PT experienced yet other lineup changes and managed to regroup to record two albums, Demand an Alternative in 1986 for Mortarhate and Never Again 1989 for Recordrom Records, which saw them go for a more crossover metallic punk sound while keeping the classic anarchopunk vibe and politics. Like Civilised Society? and The Sears meeting English Dogs and early Concrete Sox or something. The first album was recently reissued so there is hope that some kind soul will take care of the first two Ep's too at some point which would allow people to discover or re-explore those two gems of early Dischargy female-fronted anarchopunk. It would be well-deserved.



 

 

Brainwashed                 

4 comments:

  1. Noise ain't Dead HAHAHA!! great article as usual mr. Earslaughterers, fantastic job once more, you make my day.UK84 begins very promising, cheers!! VirOuLenCy

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    1. Thanks mate, hopefully you will not be disappointed with the rest of the exploration of the noise not being dead. Cheers

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  2. Interesting history of Brainwashed.  I was the drummer for Potential Threat on the Brainwashed EP and was the  drummer with Potential Threat from around the end of 81 to around 86 I think it was , I've done a lot since then and so my memory is a little sketchy on dates .
    The demo mentioned above didn't turn out how we wanted, partly down to Andy knocking a bottle of Scrumpy cider over the mixing desk , my snare skin went and forgot to pack a spare,  so we was one of the first to use a recording studio sample machine back then. Which we used to trigger a snare sound , but it sounded soft and more like the New Romantic sound of the time lol. The bass drum was meant to be like a horse running pummelling sound, but never got it coming through in the session how I wanted it to really sound .

    There's also another 2 unreleased studio tracks from the Other War recordings for Motorhate , Fight for Life was never released but was my personal fave of that demo, being heavily "Why" Discharge period influenced . There was a lot of demo tapes made of practice sessions back then as well.
    Orginally the album "Demand an Alternative " was meant to be real heavy blistering attack of UK Hardcore from that current line up . We rehearsed for over 12 months for it and would have been a killer LP and heavily influenced by early Discharge and the likes of Anti Cimex  and Mob 47 with a bit of Heresy and Ripcord thrown in the mix.
    But cracks appeared and personal arguments over not turning up for practice, recordings and turning down gigs. This all made me walk to try and force the issue of recording the Album ASAP,  but sadly it fell on deaf ears and we went our separate ways.

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    1. Thanks a million for your contribution. It's very interesting. I like "Demand an alternative" as it is but I love the idea that it was originally meant to have more of a hardcore/Swedish influence. What a magnificent album it would have been.

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