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.   

1 comment:

  1. Thank you , for this wonderfull addition. Epic "reviw" once again mr.Earslaughterers , you nail it!!!