Saturday 29 April 2023

Still Believing in ANOK: Counter-Attack "Laments and Skulls" Lp, 1999

Counter-Attack were amazing, extraordinary, phenomenal, unique. And Belgian. To quote the mighty Brob Tilt Tapes blog (read it here), a genuine goldmine of rare DIY punk recordings and a formidable effort at documenting and preserving our common history and stories, C-A played Crass-inspired anarchopunk "in a time when everyone was into crust". And don't get me wrong, I personally loved it when everyone was into crust and Terminal Sound Nuisance is a pathetic attempt at reconverting punks to crustianity and the utter annihilation of shoegaze. Although I tragically only caught the tail end of the 90's wave, to be understood here more as a wave than mere chronological markers, in the early 00's, people still liked crust, even in such a crust-reluctant town like Paris (a bit of a paradox when you consider how bloody filthy it is), or at least liked it enough to support the touring crust bands and not give me too much shit for having far too many patches on my black jacket (most of them progressively disappeared, not unlike my hair sadly). But in this general context, taking into consideration the overall production of the global DIY punk scene in Europe, C-A can be said to stand out, not like a sore thumb (although the personal hygiene of the participants is unclear), but rather as a band that at that point in time were quite original and worked on a sound that had almost completely vanished. 

In retrospect, this disappearance can seem very odd since crust and a certain brand of DIY political hardcore punk owed a lot to 80's anarchopunk and people love the old-school anarcho bands or claimed to, and yet very few bands tried to build on that sound. It may have to do to some extent with the idea that the early 80's sound was behind us and the drive, the craving for new things in the 90's and 00's implied that the Crass-ish sonic take (like UK82's) just did not fit in with the following decades. I have always been a massive fan of the old anarchopunk sound but, despite some significant exceptions (A//Political, Stracony, Cress, Life's a Riot! for instance), contemporary bands just did not want to play that style. Beside, the whole trend of reforming had not really kicked in yet, and apart from a couple of bands like Icons of Filth or Lost Cherrees, the dinosaurs were clearly extinct and had not come back from the grave (for the better and the worse). As a result, one really had the impression that the traditional anarchopunk completely belonged in the past. The unstoppable wave of nostalgia, fueled by social media, technology and a new relation to music, had not hit us and the thought of an Alternative-worshiping band was as incongruous as wearing sandals at a Sick of it All gig or asking a Frenchman not to smoke in a closed venue. 

With my groupe of friends in the early 00's, we definitely listened to a lot of crust, of the neo and stench varieties since those were hot at the time, and we did not mind playing screamocrust bands with singers sounding like they just fell into an industrial press at 2am. I remember getting a copy of the Masters and Jesters and it deservedly got a lot of airplay. We were young, inexperienced, some of us still spotty, and we couldn't help but think that a band doing that Conflict style of punk in 2000 was a little odd (and we loved Conflict). We all agreed that C-A were the dog's bollocks and whenever I play this album, memories of us dissecting the music while drinking the cheapest lager from the off-licence instantly rush back. We did not own that many records at the time so we often ended up playing the same ones again and again. Needless to say I know Masters and Jesters by heart.

Before Laments and Skulls C-A had released a demo tape called Demonstrate or Demolition in 1996, a recording that meaningfully hinted at what they would become. While rawer, this demo is a jewel of energetic and intense snotty anarchopunk with male and female vocals (the band's original configuration) reminiscent of DIRT and especially bands such as Symbol of Freedom or Crude & Snyde (and Toxic Waste of course from whom they liberally borrow some lyrics). Top drawer, close your eyes and you're back to Thatcher's Britain. Laments and Skulls was recorded in late 1998 and it was a monumental first effort. The work keeps that punky, dynamic and urgent production while also highlighting the many details and hooks that makes the album so compelling and memorable. This was an ambitious undertaking as C-A went for a 43 minute long Lp which by today's standards is like a rock opera (for comparison purposes Bad Breeding's Exiled Lp is 32 minute long, Dogma's Lp is 28 and Subdued's only 24). However, Laments and Skulls never sounds like the band just stuffed as many songs as possible on the record, on the contrary, you can tell that a lot of thought was given to the selection, the order, the transitions, the flow and, above all, the plot. 

The is a proper ALBUM in the sense that it sounds like a cohesive narrative whole, it tells a specific story and literally makes sense. To be honest, without this storytelling quality, it would be near impossible to pull out a 43 minute modern anarchopunk album and not lose the listener's attention (there were no smart phones to doomscroll on in 1999 though). Here is the vegan menu: delicious guitar hooks, memorable tunes, dynamic bass lines, always smart and spicy change of paces - from the fast 1-2-1-2 UK82 beat to the Crass-like tribal one -, epic Conflict-like introductions and intense spoken words, wisely used samples and psychedelic transitions, a climactic sense of songwriting, some of the snottiest punky trade-off dual vocals you will ever hear (with such brilliant British accents that you'd think you are in Hackney) and a seriousness and an honesty that go with the style and lyrical content (this is punk for the anarchist revolution, brothers and sisters). There is even an enjoyable - and fortunately short - ska part. 

What a band, what an album. Conflict is the most pregnant influence here of course. There are more than a few nods to classic Conflict and the vocal flow and tone are close to Colin's but what Laments and Skulls do with perfection is the meaning-creating synthesis of 80's anarchopunk. I can distinctly hear Flux of Pink Indians, Crass, Alternative, Stalag 17, Anthrax, Chumbawamba, some UK82 too as C-A were a rather fast band on the whole but they used mid-paced songs, dissonant moments, samples, moody or psychedelic introductions to make the speed angry. I wouldn't change anything on this album and any self-respecting anarchopunk fan should know and revere this band. 

Members of C-A also got to play in Visions of War and Katastrophobia as well as a band called Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat and I can't help thinking what my mother would say, apart from "for fuck sake", if I came to my nephew's birthday wearing a shirt of that band. As I mentioned the band went on to record the equally good Masters and Jesters released in 2000 on Nabate Records and there was a final recording entitled Culex Pipiens (I believe) with three songs displaying a mode modern heavier production. I cannot find information about this session so perhaps the band did not do anything with it. That'd be a story for another time. Don't be a dreary arseholes and get into Counter-Attack.    

This review is respectfully dedicated to drummer Ivan, who went missing in 2016. 

Laments and skulls

Sunday 23 April 2023

Still Believing in ANOK: Firing Squad "S/t" Ep, 1993

When I came up with the selection for the present series Still Believing in ANOK I did not realize how little-known a lot of the records I picked were. Not in the sense that they are hard to find - though some of them are - but because people forgot about them or never really cared for them in the first place. Locality matters of course and some seemingly unknown bands were actually famous in their home country (like Stracony and others we'll tackle later on) but on the whole, from a global eagle-like perspective, well, they are a bit obscure but not in a good way and it can be difficult to grab people's precious volatile attention with old unloved records that have set camp in the £1 discount boxes since 2006, proof that, not only were they never deemed "all-time classics" but that they also never deserved to be crowned retroactively. I see some of the records included in this series as "minor anarchopunk classics" - a euphemism meaning I think they are brilliant but did not sell well - and others as relevant interesting artifacts of a sound and aesthetics that were no longer popular at that time. Of course, because life, like my dad's diatribes, is made of contradictions, today's record, Firing Squad's 1993 Ep cannot reasonably be said to belong to either category thus rendering this first paragraph kinda useless. 

Firing Squad are proper obscure, even to anarchopunk platinum users. In fact, they are a bit of an enigma, and, were it not for this record having been released on Mass Media Records, I suppose they would have been totally engulfed into oblivion and most elite nerds like myself wouldn't have had the pleasure the patronize a teenage punk with sentences such as "Firing Squad were pretty big in my days, at least three people knew of them back then" or "did you know there was already a 80's hardcore band from the state of Washington called Firing Squad? Oh you don't, well that's not on Tok Tube now, is it?". I wonder why there aren't more kids at punk shows... Anyway, I don't remember when I got the Ep, definitely a long time ago, but it was the connection with Mass Media that prompted the transaction. The rather cryptic cover did not help: it depicts a lion biting a medieval representation of the sun under the watchful eyes of four shades-wearing clowns (Pierrots probably), the whole thing over a tridimensional psychedelic checkered background. Why is the sun bleeding over a globe (is it supposed to be the Earth?)? Why so much symbolism? It looks like a tarot card. The backcover is as confusing: more of the same crazy background and a two-headed dragon with the sun on the left and the moon on the right. How the hell are you supposed to know it is a punk record? Thank fuck the Mass Media logo has a circled A and some doves because otherwise I would have been far too narrow-minded to even consider looking at it. 

The visual side of the Ep aside (be careful when you unfold the cover, if you do not enjoy visual illusions, have a sick bag handy), there is no indication as to where Firing Squad came from. On the insert of the No Lip Service compilation Ep, where they appeared, also released on Mass Media, their address is located in Newbury Park, Ventura County, California. In spite of a very dynamic peacepunk and crust scene at that time in Southern California - well-documented on Terminal Sound Nuisance - with bands like Resist and Exist, Autonomy or Media Children offering a sound very much influenced by old-school anarchopunk, it would make sense to endeavour that Firing Squad belonged to that part of the punk scene but they did not really, although they crossed paths. This makes them even more mysterious, especially since you could argue that they also played old-school anarchopunk, although their take was significantly different.

Firing Squad's music is original. The Ep is not a note-perfect masterclass but it has an undeniable charm that makes it quite compelling. The first song is an emotional (it was the 90's after all) and tuneful mid-paced number with an underlying moodiness and snotty angry vocals that go surprisingly well with the music. Just imagine a depressive jam between Chumbawamba and Conflict with a bit of an emocore vibe, or let's just say that Nabate would have been well into this. The other side is even more challenging as "Declare civil war" is basically a reggae song. Yes, a reggae song. Now, when I was getting into serious music - also known as my "how many patches can I fit on this black denim jacket?" phase - listening to reggae was akin to ordering tap water on a date for me: have some self-respect and run for your life and quick. But then, I grew a bit softer, stopped trying and got really into the British anarcho dub punk bands like PAIN or AOS3 and that's exactly the vibe I am getting from this song, only with a bit of flanger oddness. After a couple of minutes, it turns into a straight-up raucous punk anthem with great singalongs that would not have sounded out of place on the Resist/Deprived split Ep. 

No idea what that is

The song they contributed to the aforementioned Not Lip Service Ep was equally fresh, angry yet catchy, maybe a bit angrier too, and it goes to show that this inventive band had a great potential and possibly a genuinely classic album in them. The band used some clever sound effects on their sound and with the production being quite raw and direct, it confers a very organic spontaneous vibe to the songs which makes me go back to the Ep's atmosphere quite often. It is, as much as I hate the term, a "grower". Instead of looking at the 80's sound, it might be more relevant to see Firing Squad as a definite 90's one. A moodier weirder version of One By One, AOS3 or Civil Disobedience? A depressed prelude to A//Political? 

Just listen to the record I guess.      

That's a definite no

Firing Squad

Sunday 16 April 2023

Still believing in ANOK: Life's a Riot! "S/t" Ep, 2001

Our flat is small. Housing is a very relative concept depending on where you live. A small flat on the outskirts of Paris is not the same as a small flat in Berlin, Dublin or Acapulco (I can only assume, I have never set foot there). When I started Terminal Sound Nuisance in 2012 I lived in a 9m2 room - the word "flat" sounds a bit like a hyperbole in that case - with a shared "bathroom" - a bathless room, in the broad sense of the term - in the corridor. Once, I found actual shit on the bog's wall, not the most pleasant discovery on a Monday morning especially since I was pretty certain it was not mine. I have always suspected it was the girl's next door, she looked very tidy and wore far too much perfume but I could sense she despised me a great deal, probably because there were times when I blasted Atrocious Madness a bit late at night. But like the size of flats, late Atrocious Madness is relative. Then I miraculously got a full-time job which allowed me to move to a palace-size flat of 11m2. I still did not have my own bathroom and there was clearly fart maniacs using the thing too but I never found any shit on the walls. I did uncover a filthy pair of knickers though. And a proper bum sleeping in the shower. The poor bastard was cold and I just did not have the heart to kick him out. To be fair, while he was at it, he could have actually used the shower because his feet stank like a dead hamster. 

A few years later, finally, my partner and I moved to a staggering 22m2 flat with our own bathroom (to this day I still like a bourgeois for just being able to take a dump without having a knobhead waiting and sighing loudly in front of the cubicle while playing Candy Crush on his phone, pure evil that). But I am not here to talk about my dull housing adventures. I am just running out of space for new records. I am well aware that it is basically a first-world problem but still, it means that I have to get rid of records I don't need (but how do you even define this notion?) or just don't listen to (again, does listening to a single-sided once four years ago counts as "not listen to"?). And I have to admit that Life's a Riot!'s Ep usually ends up in the "records-I-will-probably-store-in-our-tiny-and-already-packed-basement-but-still-might-play-once-before-just-to-make-sure" and each time I play it again, I realize how good it is and blame myself for even considering banishing it to that dreadful spider-infested place. I still have to make room and it breaks my heart so that I end up buying new records just to feel better about the loss. First-world problem, I told you. Did I mention I also own an offshore record collection?

The story behind the acquisition is both sad and heroic in that it makes me look like a saviour of unloved punk. Ages ago, a friend of mine was getting rid of some Ep's he no longer wanted (records he had himself been given if I remember correctly) and being a kind-hearted charitable fellow, I agreed to take the records under my wing. I think we can safely say that I am Paris punk's answer to Gandhi, the main difference being that I still have (some) hair. The internet is rather quiet about them but here is what I have been able to gather. Life's a Riot! (a reference to Billy Bragg I presume?) were a Finnish band active in the early 00's and I think it might have been some sort of side project from the people from Diaspora (Joakim, Mari and Jossu also played in that band). In any case it was made up of people involved in many local bands ranging from Alakulttuurin Kusipäät, Pax Americana, Scumbrigade (Joakim was from Sweden) and even Tampere SS and Kuolleet Kukat (for the drummer Juha who sadly passed away in 2004) which accounts for the band clearly knowing what they are doing.

But what exactly were they doing then? Helsinki's Life's a Riot played energetic anarchopunk with male and female vocals blending the classic UK sound of bands like Alternative, Hagar the Womb or The Sears, the more modern approach of Harum-Scarum, Mankind? or Jobbykrust and I can also hear a touch of Californian peacepunk like early Resist and Exist or Media Children. The opening number is a case in point with its Zounds-like introduction followed by overlapping vocals (anarcho spoken words over angrily shouted slogan) and then a fast and pissed phase. I love how the vocal polyphony and variety of flows and textures work within the songs, it never sounds forced (even the accents sound pretty British) and it confers a delicious catchiness that really makes the Ep stand out. It is, objectively, a strong record so that it feels very odd to see the ridiculously low price of the Ep on discogs. I realize the belief that discogs reflects the quality of a record is about as delusional as believing you could become a Tik Tok influencer while you're already 43. If anything, discogs reflects the popularity of a record at a given time which does not equate the substantial quality (although it can) and in this light it is needless to point out that Life's a Riot! can be said to have been almost completely forgotten and that their tuneful, dynamic brand of old-school anarchopunk did not really fit with the punk's trends of the early 00's. Rejoice, you can get the thing for the price of a bag of crisps (and not even the fancy organic middle-class brand, just the regular one you can eat remorselessly at 1am after the gig). 

Had Life's a Riot! been around later they would have probably been a popular band - maybe playing K-Town and being offered records on fashionable labels - as there was a renewed interest in the old-school anarchopunk sound (which must be seen in parallel with the UK82 revival I reckon) from the late 00's on, possibly caused and encouraged by Ian Glasper's work, the Overground anarcho compilations and the works of labels like Demo Tapes. 00's bands like Surrender or OK? and 2010's ones like Vivid Sekt, Dogma or fellow Finns 1981, in their early days, are not dissimilar to what Life's a Riot! were doing (the same could be said about Stracony, which we tackled last time). 

The Ep's cover displays the old picture of a dog wearing a gas mask (it was quite the thing during WWI) but I have always thought it looked like a chameleon or some kind of weird lizards. The record has a foldout cover and the lyrics are about the grey zone, Big Brother and Buenaventura Durrutti. It was released on Witchhunt Records - the band's own label that put out records from Diaspora, Mushroom Attack or Unkind - and Les Nains Aussi, a label from Grenoble, that cryptically translates as "dwarves too", that must be saluted for still being very much active.

Don't be a poser and grab the Ep, yeah?

Life's a Riot!    

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Still believing in ANOK: Stracony "Love and friendship" Ep, 1998 (?)

Sometimes I feel the 90's often get a bad name unfairly, and I do not just mean the old age with adult diapers and Alzheimer, but also the decade's musical production. Being a man prone to right wrongs, even when I have actually been proven wrong, Terminal Sound Nuisance has often been a safe space for 90's punk records that are ignored or discarded to the £2 record bin, the pits of Hell for a record. This common dismissal of an objectively very rich decade is somewhat curious and maybe revealing of our modern mood. I am the first to admit that some 90's bands (it was also, after all, the explosion of emocore) did manage to seek new heights of musical atrocities, no mean feat considering the 80's birthed the New Romantics trend. Of course, the 80's always get a free pass, even the shite music recorded during this decade (cough cough Grave New World) can now be ironically enjoyed but the 90's are judged harshly. Perhaps the period needs its Stranger Things to be appealing again? 

90's punk was an intensely creative period and literally dozens of subgenres solidified meaningfully or popped up during that time period. A lot of the DIY network we still deal with today was originally built in the 90's and taken care of afterwards. The decade was also the last days of pre-internet punk - what I love to refer as the Prelapsarian Era - and by the mid-00's the unstoppable march of social media on our listening and creative practices began for real, like an epic hog taking a dump on your mum's favourite flower bed. Absolute 80's worship was not as common and generic yet (except for Discharge worship obviously), and a lot of bands claimed that they wanted to do something new, which was perhaps a little paradoxical when one considers the amount of similar-sounding eurocrust or Swedish d-beat bands, but then you did have some genuinely free punk music. Nothing should be idealized but nothing should be overlooked. The 90's remain too undocumented or unloved and this series, like many before, is also about showing some appreciation to bands that toyed with the original anarcho sounds and took it into a new decade 

Enter Stracony from Kołobrzeg on the Baltic sea, one of the best bands that took a classic 80's UK anarcho variation and used it to create their own sound. If you are a cynical, perpetually angry bastard, you could say that the band suffered from the Portland Syndrome, a condition that implied that if you were from a cool punk city (usually from the U$ of A or Japan) you would get much more acknowledgement than if you happen to be from the arse-end of the world (aka a poor country), even if you played exactly the same music. Nothing to do with Portland per se but at the time I brilliantly synthesized this theorem, Portland was all the shit and anything coming out of there was applauded. It can easily be replaced with New York, London or Paris nowadays - assuming your sole musical ambition is to play a Fred Perry fashion show - and the place can be a record label too. But then, some 25 years later, what does it matter? Punk has always been made up of trends, fashions and is ruled by the cult of hype and instant fame like all aspects of cultural life. One just has to be curious and keep in mind that punk is an international movement and not just a showcase for egos and if people want to miss good music because it does not come from the right place, so be it. 

Stracony were quite popular in Poland and the distribution of their Uważajcie - Bomby Wiszą Nad Waszymi Głowami album was good since it was released on Tribal War Records in 2000, the label being based in Portland at the time (lol I know right!). The Tribal War connection definitely made me buy the album. I was closely following the label's production and always loved the releases, and still do for the most part, and the striking cover left little doubt as to the band's sonic stance and politics. It was also a time when I realized the international quality of the punk scene and completely embraced it. Polish punk was massive and it made sense to give it a go for that reason as well. To this day, I still believe that this work is one of the best anarcho albums of the 90's and an unsung classic, like most old-school anarchopunk records of this era (with some exceptions which we will see).


Fun fact: the first time I met my future wife in 2017, we actually talked about Stracony. Her being Polish and very knowledgeable about the scene, we started chatting up about Polish punk bands and I did my best to impress her with my astounding expertise. Little did I realize that my appalling pronunciation led to some misunderstanding and at times she stared at me like I was just making up bands with strange names. One of the bands I could not pronounce the name of properly was Stracony (the gold medal in my terrifying attempts went to Insekty Na Jajach). Later on, after I described the Lp's cover, she finally understood my mumbo jumbo, and confirmed that the band was very popular and pretty much a classic. Ironically "stracony" means "lost". You cannot make that up. 

But let's get back to the record. I found the Love and friendship Ep in the ¥300 record bin at the Punk and Destroy record store in Osaka (it was originally the record's actual price). It might seem like an odd location to find a Polish anarchopunk record but the Ep was released on Peace Punk Records, a short-lived Japanese label from Tokyo that released materials from Social Genocide, Dios Hastio and Peaceful Protest (could there be a connection?), so the presence of Stracony was not extraordinary. The production on the Ep is much rawer than on the very clean-sounding latter album and it confers to the songs a very old-school youthful vibe, so that if you don't know the band you could very well believe the year was 1985. The influences are quite obvious early Chumbawamba (especially in the changes of danceable beats and the versatility) and Alternative (in the positive punk energy) immediately comes to mind. Crass is not completely out of the picture but in terms of comparison Stracony would be a dynamic, spontaneous and a shambolic teenage take on this music monument, which, from my perspective, is a massive compliment. I just love the impetuous genuine energy of the music, of the snotty angry male/female vocals and the catchy hooks in the songwriting (yes, even the reggae part) are irresistible. It just sounds fresh and unself-conscious. You can sense the band just believed in what they were doing and you cannot fake that. No recording date is included but the six songs of the Ep actually appeared previously on a tape entitled Nowy System and released in 1997 on Qrva Sistema, a prolific tape label in the 90's. There is no release date either for Love and friendship but my best guess would be 1998 but correct me if I am wrong. 

At that point in their "career", Stracony were sonically not far at all from another Polish band that also worked on that Chumba-meets-Crass-Records sound called Kanada. This band's run was short (from 1989 to 1991 I think) and they were apparently not very well-known so that it would be difficult to assess that Stracony had been in some way influenced or inspired by an older band with a similar music (old-school UK anarchopunk with mixed vocals in Polish, a bit moodier maybe), but whatever the answer is, the fact is rather fascinating. The last number of the Ep is an instrumental with some trumpets, an instrument that I generally avoid at all costs in punk music but actually works (it would be used a lot more on the Lp) and, well, Armia and their horns were also brilliant so maybe Polish punks are just good at arsing around with them. The Ep comes in a DIY foldout cover with the lyrics about religion, revolutionary violence, the traditional Polish family or NATO being translated into English and Japanese.

This is a little jewel of sincere and bouncy old-school anarchopunk and should be a part of any decent collection if you are into that sound.    

Love and friendship