Monday 20 December 2021

UK84, the Noise Ain't Dead (part 6): Chaos UK "Just mere slaves" 12'', 1997

Like every year, Bloody Christmas is coming again and government twats loudly claim - assuming there are still people caring for what they have to say - that, in this time of distress, the country needs to celebrate merrily while respecting health safety measures. Christmas remains some sort of odd and painful traditional duty with an almost patriotic touch in our current situation, as this year you don't have to kiss your right-wing brother-in-law or your ass-grabbing great-aunt. So the pandemic is not totally without benefit, although you will still have to endure your nephew running berserk around the table and turning the living room into a battlefield. Thanks fuck no one cares for notorious punk-repellent Mariah Carey in my family, it's like garlic to us. But am I only here to whine about Christmas Eve? No indeed. For the last Terminal Sound Nuisance post of 2021, I would like to make you a present in the shape of a lossless rip of a Chaos UK classic. It is not something you will be able to put at the foot of the plastic Christmas tree because it really is a download file but I suppose that if you actually download and open it on the 25th it can count as a valid present. 

Who doesn't know Bristol's Chaos UK? And more importantly, who doesn't like Chaos UK? If you have people in your circle of friends who happen to dislike the band, then you are clearly hanging out with the wrong gang. There is no exception. Sort your life out. Chaos UK belong to this category of bands that everyone likes to some extent, or at least have a lot of respect for. I would include bands such as Discharge, The Mob or Subhumans in this category and many more but I don't want to spend time making lists of bands just to have a bitter geezer declare that, just for the sake of arguing on a monday, he never rated Why very highly nor enjoyed Mob 47. I love taking on that precise role but of course hate it when the situation is reversed. Human nature I guess. Chaos UK really are a bag of quality crisps. Some people have them on a daily basis, others just on the way home after a night-out, others on rare occasions because they want to be slim or eat healthily or whatever dieticians say, while there are also those that never allow themselves to eat crisps but secretly crave for them. Chaos UK work exactly like that. They have their devoted fans, freakish outcasts who can listen to live tapes from the mid-80's, and people who are fine with enjoying a bit of Burning Britain occasionally, on their grandmother's birthday for instance. I like to think that I belong to the first category, the one where the very best of heroes meet.

Claiming that I have a Chaos UK story to tell could be a little far-fetched. It's not like my mum revealed on my 15th birthday that she helped pen "No security" or something. But the band being something of a foundational, heuristic one for me in my teenage years, I inevitably remember well the first time I heard them and the context. It was in 1999. My school only had one real punk. There were also baggies-wearing "skatecore" types who were into Fat Wreck Chords and singers who sounded like ducks, and I know what I am talking about since I had a brief "skatecore" phase myself. But there was only one real punk. After meeting that one real punk, my life changed completely as I started to dress seriously with bleached trousers, boots and an oversized jacket with beer caps as badges. Proper class. I started to hang with the real punk and we became friends. She made real punk tapes for me with The Casualties and older British bands like Varukers, Abrasive Wheels, Cock Sparrer or GBH on it and my own conversion into a real punk was swift indeed, to the great disappointment of my parents who even started to miss my baggie trousers phase which is a saying a lot. 


The school we went to had little equipment to speak of but there was a "radio club". The name might be a little misleading though. It was a simple room with a basic hi-fi system - it had a broken turntable and an Out of Order poster for some reason which made us feel like rebels - located just at the entrance of the refectory. We could use the room once a week but he music we played was not broadcast in the whole building of course, the school was not at this level of high technology. We just installed a chair before the door of the room where we placed the speakers and played the music as loud as possible to our fellow students queuing to get into the refectory. The radio show, if you can call it that, took place during lunch breaks so that many unsuspecting, unprepared and, in most cases, unwilling students got exposed to 90's streetpunk and oi - a large portion of which was pretty shite in retrospect - as well as a tasteful assortment of 80's British punk-rock. The speakers' wire would often be removed by lads who did not enjoy our impeccable punk taste but amazingly enough we never got physically brutalized or too victimized, in spite of us playing Casualties' "For the punx" and "Riot" every week. There were threats of mob violence, pitchforks and torches, but, for once, the gods of punk seemed to be protecting us. My mate was heavily into Chaos UK's "Farmyard boogie" a song which she would play often. I did not particularly enjoy the number, although I did pretend to because I wanted to look like I knew my shit. It is after all a rather long comedy song that is difficult to understand if you are not aware of West Country's rural accent but it was my first encounter with Chaos UK and listening to that song always takes me back to the days when I considered a tartan flat cap and oversized bleached pants to be crucial parts of my identity. My friend assured me that Chaos UK were the punkest band of all and more than 20 years later I can say that she was right to some extent. 

The Chaos UK record my friend owned and off which she played "Farmyard boogie" was the 1998 Best of... Chaos UK cd. During a glorious weekend trip in London later that year I managed to find a copy of the very same cd in a record store which felt like a war medal. I had never actually heard the cd in its entirety, apart from "Farmyard boogie" that I knew by heart and "Kill your baby" because we tried to shock people with it, so that digesting the remaining 24 songs proved to be quite an experience. The selection is fine actually. You can find classic vintage Chaos UK numbers from their Riot City Years as well as songs from later records like The Morning After the Night Before (I can still along to "Little bastard with ease). Writing this review makes me realize that there is a lot of Chaos UK material from the 90's, basically the Chaos-as-singer era, that I am really not that familiar with and haven't played that much, but listening to the split Lp's with Raw Noise and Death Side while writing this piece shows me that I might have been - for once - wrong. Oh well, I shall correct the inconsistency. Let's get back to that "best of" cd, admittedly a terrible format but it was the late 90's so bear with me. On the whole, I really liked the record, the noisier hardcore songs as much as the singalong cider punk-rock ones. There was one track however that was truly horrendous and confused me to no end, a 1983 live version of "False prophets" take from Flogging the Horse. I have listened to many horrendous live recordings from the 80's since then, some of them deeply scarring, but this one may take the cake especially since it was released on a proper album by Anagram Records. As a teen, the song terrified me and the very first time I heard it I could not even make out what was happening. If you have never listened to that rubbish, give it a go if you think you are hard enough. It makes Confuse's 1984 live recording sound overproduced. It made Chaos UK even more extreme in my teenage eyes.

Alright, I digress as usual. For some reason, no song from Just Mere Slaves were included on the 1998 cd. Maybe it had to with not getting the original label's - Selfish - permission or maybe the curator just decided to leave the songs out (my guess as to why is as good as yours). As a result, I was unaware of the existence of Just Mere Slaves for quite a long time, until the explosion of music blogs in the late 00's. A real shame since Just Mere Slaves has become my favourite Chaos UK recording, along with the hardcore thrash masterpiece that is Short Sharp Shock Lp. I cannot claim to be a proper Chaos UK historian but let's have some basics right. At that time Mower was on vocals, Gabba had taken on guitar duties, Chaos was still on the bass guitar of course and Chuck on the drums (EDIT: although not being able to get into Japan because of a criminal record, Age, Lunatic Fringe's drummer, replaced Chuck on this Japanese tour). The studio side of Just Mere Slaves was recorded in Japan during the band's tour in November, 1985. Along with their fellow noise-making Bristolians Disorder, Chaos UK have been massively influential on Japanese punk music. In fact, it is widely argued that it was their impact on a certain section of the Japanese scene - let's say Confuse, 白 (Kuro) or Gai and their plentiful offspring, to be brief - that subsequently spawned a punk subgenre now called "noisepunk", a once confidential and obscure cult that has persisted in secret and which the internet has made accessible and very popular among the noise-inclined punks (the name was apparently coined by The Wankys but I feel the terminology is useful and meaningful enough to be liberally applied retroactively). So I suppose that the coming of noise heroes Chaos UK to Japan must have been a massive deal at that time and the shows cannot have been anything but short sharp shocks of punk chaos.


The four songs from the first side of Just Mere Slaves were recorded during that tour which probably means that they recorded the thing on November, 12th in Tokyo since they had a day-off. I imagine the band basically entering the studio, unleashing the fucking fury, getting pissed with local punks and being done with it in just one day. The brilliant result is highly impressive. The first time I listened to Just Mere Slaves I immediately thought that it did not quite sound like a typical mid-80's Bristol recording. Of course the songwriting, the raw snotty vocals, the demented atmosphere and the pissed-and-proud vibe were unmistakably mid-80's Chaos UK manic hardcore thrash (there is a new version of "4 minute warning" to help listeners know what they are dealing with) but the frontal layers of highly distorted guitar and the piercing feedback, the extremity of it all, had that Japanese punk texture. There is something of a Japanese hardcore energy to Just Mere Slaves. The four studio songs retain that Chaos UK essence, an energy-driven, hardened, primal and mad-sounding take on the UK82 but at the same time they sound like noizy, triumphant and hyperbolic Japanese hardcore. Were Chaos UK aware of the wave of Bristol-influenced Japanese bands? It would be mere conjecture but they must have been familiar with some Japanese hardcore through the tape-trading network so could it be that they actually decided to emulate or experiment with that Japanese distorted, blown-out sound? Or was it the engineer's idea? Both? Just an epic piss-up in the studio? In any case, this circulation and circularity of influences is fascinating indeed, from Bristol to Japan, from Japan to Bristol, and Chaos UK got to play with Japanese hardcore legends like Gauze, Outo, The Execute, Lip Cream, Goul and Gastank (that is what I deduce from the thank list on the backcover, there could have been more). The studio side of Just Mere Slaves included a crazy and lightning fast rerecording of "4 minute warning" and three new songs: the loud and aggressive one-minute long hardcore scorcher "Rise from the rubble" which they will rerecord for the Chipping Sodbury Bonfire Tapes 1989 album; "City of dreams" a mid-paced wonder with hypnotic tribal drums and demented vocals and feedback; and "Just mere slaves", a fast, anthemic and emphatic song which is actually not unlike epic and direct Japanese hardcore, especially on the introduction and some of the transitions. 

I feel Just Mere Slaves is a crucial record, maybe not a masterpiece per se, but what is commonly called a minor classic. The energy and intensity level on the studio side is breathtaking and relentless. The blistering side might only be eight-minute long and make you crave for more but it does not get much better in terms of "noise ain't dead" UK punk. It was Chaos UK at their noisiest but I do think Short Sharp Shock sounded more threatening and savage and therefore groundbreaking. The other side of Just Mere Slaves is a live recording from their Osaka gig on November, 16th. The sound is surprisingly good considering the sonic chaos - it must have been taken directly from the mixing desk or something - and the daring listener will be exposed to nasty rendering of early Chaos UK classics, "Control", "Victimised", "No security", "Senseless conflict" and, of course, "Farmyard boogie", the Chaos UK song of my youth. This is punk-as-fuck as you can expect but still very much discernible (even the guitar solo is good) and enjoyable. Another live recording from the Japanese tour, from their opening Tokyo gig, can be listened to on the B side of the Stunned to Silence 1985 tape (my friend Erik from the always great Negative Insight wrote an article about this little-known tape that comes recommended, especially since everyone at the Negative Insight HQ soundly thinks that everybody loves Chaos UK). As hard to estimate as it might be, this short Chaos UK tour must have left a mark on the collective psyche of Japanese punks at the time. To this day, Chaos UK, along with Doom and of course Discharge, remain one of the most liked UK punk bands over there with still many bands working on their legacy so it is a safe bet to assume that Japanese punks really never stopped connecting with their music and attitude. And of course the band, Mower especially, helped consolidate the fashion of terminal crust pants and utility belt in Japan which are now only worn by the most elite crusties. 

The record was originally released on Selfish Records in 1986, a label that put out far too many classic mid-late 80's Japanese hardcore records to mention. My copy is however a 1997 reissue (or is it actually a bootleg? It looks like one so you tell me) from Sewage Records, a short-lived that also released Varukers Ep's. Black Konflik Records from Malaysia reissued last year Just Mere Slaves on cd so support the scene and get it.  

I would like to dedicate this writeup to my dear friend from school who I mentioned at the beginning and who tragically passed away in 2019. Without her, I would have never discovered real punk music and gigs. It changed my life forever and more than 20 years after, I am still grateful and feel quite lucky. So may you rest in peace, in punk, in power and let's farmyard boogie. 

Just Mere Slaves             


Wednesday 15 December 2021

UK84, the Noise Ain't Dead (part 5): Solvent Abuse "Last salute" Lp, 2007

According to me - and my fine perception of punk is of the highest standard and therefore bound to get you some punk points if you abide by it - Demo Tapes has been one of the best punk labels specialized in reissues - if not the best although I also a lot of respect for Antisociety - in recent years. After checking, I realized A Touch of Hysteria's one-sided Lp - Demo Tapes' first undertaking - was actually released in 2006, which is really not that recent and some hairlines certainly receded since then, but you know what I mean by "in recnet years". I have already touched upon the label's work in my old review of the Passion Killers' Lp but I decided that the idea to write about Demo Tapes again was a marvellous one indeed that should be followed through with my customary determination - and since I haven't had that many great ideas this year, I am hoping this might make up for the inconsistency. Beside Demo Tapes' work is easy to get excited about and hopefully it will bring some joy to all the miserable bastards reading this. You're welcome.  

The past 15 years have seen an insane number of reissues, in all subgenres of the big dysfunctional family that is "the punk scene". New labels started to devote much of their efforts toward making old and classic - by which I mean almost always from the 80's - bands available to the next generations and to experienced - by which I mean almost always hoarding - record collectors, modern Sisyphuses craving to complete their collection at the expense of an adequate diet and often of a working marriage. Labels like Radiation and Vomitopunk with UK82 punk for example. Other established labels like F.O.A.D and Mad Butcher also started resurrecting vintage and rare records, with the former, whatever one thinks about the highly productive fellow, displaying a truly remarkable passion and attention to very diverse reissues (from Svart Parad, Brigada do Odio, Human Gas or Industrial Suicide to name but a few). There have been far too many punk reissues - on vinyl for the most part - since the mid noughties to even consider making an exhaustive list of them all. Let's not be silly. But had anyone predicted ten years ago that I would be able to get hold top releases of old recordings from Bed Boys, Ψύχωση, Disattack, Post Mortem or Kalashnikov, I would have diagnosed a case of severe marble-losing or registered the prophet into a rehab center for deluded punks. But here we are in 2021 and there are just too many desirable reissues of canonical bands around, so many in fact that keeping up with them has become a time-consuming, expensive and at times even fastidious, task. While at first, I was annoyingly overexcited and probably insufferably enthusiastic about reissues of once-unattainable seductive records, the novelty of affordable nostalgia on vinyl slowly started to wear out. Today, I have a hard time feeling the same eagerness for most reissues, even from bands I genuinely love. Even the Chaotic Youth Lp barely made the ole heart beat and I consider them as one of the most underrated bands under the UK82 umbrella. 


Why why why but why? I would hypothesize that this overabundance of reissues of 80's bands has a lot to do with the internet. I know it can be easy and convenient to put the blame on "the internet" but I feel the growing reliance on streaming platforms, that have now turned into near monopolies, has changed the way we listen to punk and how we reflect on old punk music. The internet and its corollary, the incentive of overconsumption of readily available cultural artifacts that are decontextualised in order to be lazily absorbed, have contributed to radically broaden our knowledge and speed up considerably the reissuing process. We all want and need a piece of history in order to feel like we belong. I do believe that this process was inevitable and is very positive in some respect. After all, knowing the culture and history of punk music is indeed important and enlightening - I remember getting quite emotional whenever I bought a Captain Oi reissue in the very early 00's, even the shit ones, so I completely relate to this idea - and the possibility for discovery is limitless with the internet. However it has also created a juicy market for nostalgia which, combined with the great equalizing effect of the internet, has profoundly changed the way we engage with the past. But then, I also think that reissuing some bands, and not only that but also the reasons why it is done and the way it is done, can be necessary and crucial. I have regularly touched upon such fascinating topics on the blog and, while it makes me look clever and scholarly (and possibly a bit boringly self-admiring), they are not really fun to read and a series called The Noise Ain't Dead has to be fun so let's bloody 'ave it. But if you long for more bitter whining, I suggest you buy my brand new book entitled Things were not quite as dreadful before: a punk's mid-life crisis in the age of Spotify


So yes, Solvent Abuse. Brilliant punk name in the context of widespread glue sniffing, an activity I would not recommend, especially when over 20. I got this Lp when it came out in 2007 (or was it really early 2008?). I had thoroughly enjoyed DT's first release, the demo of A Touch of Hysteria, and it was one of those records that got a lot of airplay at the squat I was living in at the time - golden days when a shower every fortnight was deemed acceptable - especially the song "Death cart", a miracle of tuneful darkly poppy anarchopunk. I had also acquired the second DT's production, Extended Play by The Mental (Dick Lucas' first band) but to this very day I have never really managed to get into it, connect with it, although I very much expected myself to, what with the band sounding sloppy, snotty, unashamedly punk and having a song called "God for a day" about the giro. Both Lp's were well done with accurate details about recordings but nothing out of the ordinary. Just serious enough reissues and the opportunity to discover bands I did not know the existence of so I could brag about them afterwards, just standard punk behaviour really. So it made sense to buy DT's third record as Solvent Abuse were another band that was completely unknown to me - and to anyone I knew as far as I could tell - and the cover had a circled A and a studded belt so it could clearly not disappoint. Little did I know that Last Salute would be the best Lp reissue - by a good deal - I had ever seen at that point in time. Even before playing the record, looking at the massive booklet that included so many band pictures, letters from classic labels, all original artwork, fanzine reviews, gig posters... The object in itself and the amount of work that went with it were breathtaking indeed. I had always been a sucker for records accompanied by thick booklets so it felt truly awe-inspiring and made some other records at the time - and today still - look a bit tepid and half-arsed. I am aware it might sound a little harsh, and I suppose it is. Last Salute carried an irrefutable admirableness, or, as modern bellends too lazy to form actual sentences would say, it had a "wow factor".  

Solvent Abuse - which will be referred to as SA from now on, which feels somewhat uncomfortable - were from the Nottingham area, existed for three years, from 1981 to 1984, and only enjoyed the one vinyl appearance, one song on 1983's compilation Lp (I've got those...) Demo-Lition Blues! on Insane Records, a label unsurprisingly run by members of The Insane. Apparently the band formed on the glamorous bus from Notts to Alfreton, where future members bumped into each other by chance. They were all from Watnall, a place I have never been to but sounds like a town out of The League of Gentlemen. SA played with quite a few established 80's bands at the time like The Adicts or Peter so I suppose they must have been a significant act locally, although there were so many band then that it must have been hard to get noticed at all. They are the epitome of an obscure band, pretty much known and genuinely appreciated by people who were either there or people into punk archaeology. The 2007 Lp amazingly managed to give SA a second life and spread their name around, certainly much further than when they were still around as a local band. I don't suppose they have retrospectively really become "a classic 80's band" - as the formation of this category, of the canon, has become shaky and somewhat meaningless with the hegemony of youtube. Yet the fact that a contemporary Paris band proudly covered "Heroin girls" definitely proves that the reissue achieved what it meant to: bringing SA in the conversation about UK82. And I, for one, am both thankful and grateful for that. 


But what about the music then? Last Salute is made up of SA's three demos, the first two both recorded in 1982 - in June and October respectively - and the third one in early 1984. The first five songs of Last Salute are part of the band's first endeavour into the Nottingham-based studio and illustrates what those young punks were originally all about. Before I go any further into primitive 80's UK punk territories, not unlike a hound following a scent, let me warn you that the sound is raw, if not rough, on the first demo (and on the second one as well actually) but with a series called The Noise Ain't Dead precisely dedicated to raw, fast and noisy mid-80's British punk, you are expected to know what you're in for. SA's music is interesting and worth investigating for two main reasons. First, the band had both a male and a female singer. They did not sing together, in the trade-off style for instance, as each of them had their own numbers to angrily shout to, kinda like The Violators' vocal structures. Still I would venture that SA are primarily remembered and enjoyed as a "female-fronted punk band" which is both true and incorrect, especially since only the bloke remained for the last 1984 demo. The second reason why a basic knowledge of SA might come handy during punk trivia night is that a significant number of their songs fit the early Discharge-influenced template, raw and direct proto-hardcore punk with a pure form of d-beat. "Vigilante" (top singalong chorus on this one) and "Last salute" - which ended up being picked for inclusion on the aforementioned compilation Lp Demo-Lition Blues - are great examples of the rawest kind of proto d-beat Discharge-loving anthems, like The Varukers, Anti-System or Antisect - not quite as dark and furious as the former though. The other three songs (two of which are fronted by Jar) are your classic dynamic and snotty anarchopunk songs somewhere between Action Pact and A-Heads and they work well enough. 

Hurray, acceptation letters!


The second demo certainly showed some improvements, albeit rather limited ones, with the two primitive, primal Discharge-y songs were sung (well, you know what I mean) by Jar thus making "60 seconds" and both versions of "Chant" - two were included although they sound very similar - the first examples of female-fronted proto d-beat thrash music, along with Potential Threat as we saw in the first part of the series. There should be some sort of music award for that. The remaining four songs are of the mid-paced snotty punk variety again, with a vibe reminiscent of The Defects or Picture Frame Seduction because of Shelley's vocals. The last demo saw SA develop that more rocking GBH-infused heavy and catchy punk-rock to great effect - the songs "They've got guns" is really good - thanks to a noticeable progression in terms of production and musicianship, but it does go a little beyond the Noise ain't Dead template. 

Last Salute can sound a little too long at times primarily because some of the songs could probably have been shorter and because discography often feels a bit lengthy.  The Lp is, however, a magnificent work of passion and loving dedication and, from that point on, Demo Tapes has always delivered the very best in terms of research, context development and packaging. Their records makes you feel like you get to know the bands in a meaningful fashion, almost intimately so (alright, maybe it is just me). DT is run by the very knowledgeable Sean Forbes, who used to take care of Rugger Bugger, so that you know you are going to be offered the most exhaustive and accurate details and comprehensive pieces of archaeologic evidences about unfairly little-known punk bands that reinforce that sense of punk's collective history and remembering. It could not be better. In SA's case, polite but firm - in that typical English way - rejection letters from Clay Records and Riot City Records - who must have been receiving hundreds of such requests at that time - are even included. You will also find a short article about solvent abuse and how this dangerous pastime was tied to the worsening living conditions under Maggie's rule original reviews of the band's tape and live performances. And dozens of pictures of teenage punks with spiky hair and questionable sense of fashion of course. Time-traveling to the days when punk was fresh and at its peak from your sofa. Last Salute was actually a collaboration with Pure Punk Records, an Italian label that reissued the very underrated Soldier Dolls - they too had stellar Discharge-loving numbers - and catchy Brummies Drongos For Europe. 


Demo Tapes would keep releasing top notch early obscure Discharge-y bands (like Violent Uprising or very recently Disattack) as well as amazing tuneful anarchopunk (Passion Killers and No Defences) and even some classic early crust (Pro Patria Mori), three of the things I love best in the world. They are all works of love and the process of gathering the many pieces of information and getting hold of all the original master tapes is a long one so that DT has "only" released eleven records so far, but with Asylum's Is this the Price? being just out, the serious punk who cares about legacy and being bollocked by noise just knows that quality requires time. The passion has not been killed.           

                                                                         Solvent Abuse

Sunday 5 December 2021

UK84, the Noise Ain't Dead (part 4): Leukaemia "Demo 1984" Ep, 2016

Originally, I expected this piece to be a difficult one to pull out. First, let me apologize, with humility. I incidentally inserted the wrong download link on the previous write-up about Legion of Parasites. Basically, I pasted the Leukaemia link instead of the Undesirable Guests one but then I presume the heedful readers of Terminal Sound Nuisance - yes, like yourself for example - will have noticed this unusual blunder and realized that this was no LoP and another band entirely and I am grateful to the benevolent soul for quickly spotting my faux-pas and calling for its prompt correction. So I salute your vigilance my noise-loving Comrade. But my gaffe is not the reason why I thought this post might prove to be quite hard as I have never been one to be in any way hindered by loss of face. The main concern I had was that there is not much information about Leukaemia and that therefore there was an alarming chance that I might not be able to show off my usual breathtaking knowledge about punk-rock with accurate details and insight about the life and death of the band and what they did music-wise after the demise of Leukaemia and their favourite brand of cider. 

Unfortunately, this 2016 reissue does not include any particulars about Leukaemia which, I think, is a bit of a missed opportunity. Quite austere really. I am one to support any effort aimed at offering a new life and exposure to little-known, obscure bands and recordings and this is where the record's intentions point to: allowing unsuspecting punks, and potentially a new generation, to discover what Leukaemia were all about. The Ep still is the only way to hear and enjoy the songs with a decent sound and, if, I feel, constructive criticism is necessary, I was not the one heroically getting through the long and sometimes laborious process of releasing it so that I am, first and foremost, thankful, even if a little frustrated too because everybody's looking for a little bit more, innit?


So Leukaemia, right? Clearly not the most famous band of the era and I suppose that, if you are familiar with them at all, you either saw them "back in the day" and probably forgot much of their live performances because you were still in your teens, got plastered at all gigs then but not so drunk that you did not pick a demo tape; or you downloaded the demo from the colossal blog that has been uploading an insane amount of punk recordings from all decades and countries since 2008, a prehistoric time when there was neither Instagram nor Snapchat and Twitter was still only a small twat farm. The blog is very much a database in which you can lose any sense of time and priority and slowly starve yourself to death because you are too busy downloading 80's Czech punk-rock. There are worse deaths than that and the blog is shoegaze-free so that it is very much a safe space for all. However I did not personally become familiar with Leukaemia through any of these two ways (the first one can be eliminated straight away as I was much too busy baby crawling in 1984). 

Sometime in 2009, I downloaded a tape compilation called To Russia With Love from a blog, out of curiosity, a trait that I consider to be the greatest quality only as far as punk music is considered (I am no melomane and others genre leave me cold). I sadly cannot remember the name of the blog, at all, and could not find any trace of it on the web so if you were the one behind the uploading, I wish to thank you solemnly. At that time there were a lot of fine, praiseworthy punk blogs and, well, my memory is failing me right now. To Russia With Love looked a little mysterious and, as a consequence, alluring to my thirsty for knowledge self. Being a lifelong fan of British punk music, the compilation tape's lineup appeared exciting indeed as it included some UK bands I had absolutely never heard about. While some bands on the tape were already mates (like Liberty, The Deformed or Symbol of Freedom), others were merely passing acquaintances (I only knew the one song from Anathema) and a significant number were total strangers that eventually proved to be brilliant. Elating indeed. Schutzhaft were a snotty and direct catchy classic Mortarhate-ish anarcho band with a brilliant guitar sound; Co Exist were a tuneful Alternative-like act; Ted Heath were a strange mix of progressive rock introduction and hard-hitting raw UK hardcore punk Last Rites. But the band that really caught my attention was Leukaemia.


To Russia With Love - the title is actually completed with "Piss Off to Russia Yourself" in case you were wondering about some sort of worrying James Bond worship - was released in 1985 on LOL Tapes, a label I did not know when I first heard the comp but was very meaningful locally (and yes, the name has not exactly aged well but no one knew at the time what would become of the acronym "lol"). Based in Surrey, LOL Tapes - meaning Love Of Life - was run by Lorenzo from Anathema and existed from 1984 to 1987. Beside releasing Anathema demos, including one shared with the amazing Systematic Annex, and tapes from bands like The Apostles, Martial Law or Post-Mortem, LOL put out many homemade tape compilations that exemplified the staunch autonomous DIY spirit, the radical politics and sense of togetherness of the anarchopunk scene at that time. Discogs tells me that there were eleven of these compilation tapes (there were three volumes of Persons Unknown) which usually included smaller bands that often did not have vinyl releases. Seeing the lineups in 2021 might give the wrong ideas about the level of popularity of the bands but I would assume that, in 1984, bands like Passion Killers, Onslaught, Kulturkampf or Dirge - who all enjoyed proper vinyl reissues in the last decade or so and have become rather known about - were not exactly headlining festivals and very much local bands (though I could be wrong, in 1985 I was still babbling, and not about Discharge, so what do I know). Many other bands have remained locked in obscurity and unfortunately, so far I have only been able to hear To Russia With Love and Somewhere Over the Rainbow There's a Better World (the latter wan the award of "Cheesiest Name for Punk Mixtape" in 1985) and although many of the songs from the compilations are now available elsewhere, I would love for someone to upload them properly. They are pieces of our common history and provide a look at a particular time, place and stance and are therefore significant.


To get back to Leukaemia, their two songs appearing on To Russia With Love, "3rd World annihilation" and "Pain and suffering", were previously included on another LOL tape, the split demo tape shared with the aforementioned excellent Schutzhaft for which Leukaemia had recorded a total of seven songs, which make up the 2016 Ep. Leukaemia were from Peterborough (like Schutzhaft) and Stamford and were part of a thriving local scene in the mid-80's with established bands like Destructors or English Dogs and certainly dozens of other local bands that I am unaware of. Leukaemia can rightly be said to be one of those "underestimated bands" that punks regularly debate about. Sometimes such verbal jousts can be endless - they obey to the typical "the pettier, the longer" theorem - but I can safely claim that Leukaemia is a hidden UK hardcore gem and maybe the best band of that category that you have never heard of. The demo was recorded (live in the studio I assume) in November, 1984, in a studio in Peterborough (although the singer says "Cheers goodnight" at the end of the song "Roman conquest" so it is a little confusing, perhaps it was just in jest) and you'd be very wrong to expect Leukaemia to unleash the kind of chaotic noise-loving Bristol-styled (like Dead Meat for instance) that UK punk is oft associated to. 

First, the band's recording is really tight, especially considering that it was only a first demo and that the deliciously raw production indicates that there probably were not many takes or tracks. Second, Leukaemia were more diverse than your average punk band and I see them, not unlike Legion of Parasites, as an early example of a UK punk band being influenced by American hardcore. They do not really sound like a US hardcore act though. The chorus clearly have that British sensibility, the themes, occasional dual vocals and spoken bits and anarchopunk topics also point to a national tradition. But still, the demo hinted at what was to come: the rapid spread of non-British punk influences, which was, for such an insular place, not to be taken for granted. Leukaemia manage to combine a punky singalong vibe and catchy UK punk arrangements with more subtle guitar parts, thought-out bass lines and some vocal work and energy typical of early American hardcore. If the band was rather fast, they always kept a tuneful, hummably memorable side, unlike the more Discharge-oriented bands of the period and on that level they do remind me of a cross between bands like Potential Threat and Legion of Parasites, other mid-80's punk-as-fuck proto-hardcore bands like Last Rites, The Fiend and Criminal Justice, some US hardcore of course and even Conflict for the threateningness. The guitar has a distortion but does not sound heavy in the mix and the clear sound of the bass drives the thing. The pissed vocals are high in the mix and you can understand everything they are saying which makes the songs even more aggressive. I personally love how the drums sound like, primitive and energetic (and there is some solid drumming on the demo), and I feel that, for this kind of raw punk hardcore, this recording is quite ideal. 


Someone mentioned in the comment below the youtube upload of the demo that Leukaemia were influenced by The Stranglers, Rudimentary Peni, Discharge and American hardcore and who am I to say that a cocktail of these four wouldn't sound like them? If you are looking for genuinely raw dynamic fast punk music, the 1984 Leukaemia demo will delight you. My favourite song has to be "Reactor disaster" with its dual vocal work and opening spoken part it basically pushed all the right buttons. I am an easy man to please. The band did not record anything else, which is a shame, since the demo definitely displayed potential and one can only dream about what the boys could have achieved in a proper studio and with a proper vinyl release. Some of the songs are actual hits and, had they been given the power the band probably craved for, the world could have been a very different place. Or at least I would doubtlessly own one more record. 

This Ep was reissued by Pro-Anti Records, a label based in Switzerland and run by one Grant Dow, who previously played in The Desecrators, an epic local crossover act that also had Gizz Butt - from English Dogs and yes, Prodigy - on the guitar. So I suppose Grant Dow lived at some point in Peterborough and moved operations to Switzerland. I have no idea what or if the members of Leukaemia did afterwards band-wise so you may enlighten me.