Archive

Punk

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

flux_of_pink_indians-the_fucking_cunts_treat_us_like_pricks

Title: The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks
Author: Flux of Pink Indians
Label: Spiderleg Records
UK Release Year: 1984

2016 sees celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the birth of Punk with a very London centric focus. Halfway into the year and only a couple of months into the festivities, I am already sick of the sight of computer generated ransom lettering, dayglo colours and screened images. Don’t get me started on musical anthems from my youth being used in TV adverts—every time I see that McDonald’s / Buzzcocks’ advert I die a little inside.

But I was late to punk as a teenager, that was more my older brother’s era. I grew up with 2-Tone for my teenage rebellion, before getting into punk well after-the-fact. After getting into the first wave of punk bands several years from when they emerged, I fell for anarchopunk, as much for its political stance as its musical output. If I listen to much of that genre’s oeuvre today I find it embarrassing, but musically I still hold Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in high esteem. Both pushed the boundaries of what they did and challenged their fans to embrace more than just a three chord thrash with shouty animal rights lyrics. Their investigation into social and personal politics stretched to their craft—they were progressive, embracing free-jazz, noise, industrial, electronics, and in Flux’s case, dub and funk.

When, in 1985, I returned home after swapping 8 LPs I’d grown tired of at Colchester’s Parrot Records for Flux’s second album, little had prepared me for the assault my ears were about to receive. I assumed, very wrongly, I would be getting more of the same of their first release: Strive To Survive Causing The Least Suffering Possible. That was a concise metallic guitar/feedback thrash through shouty green anarchist lyrics, pithy and earnest with song titles such as: They Lie, We Die; We Don’t Want Your Progress; and Myxomatosis. It was sharp, to the point, aggressive and polemic. But as I had already fallen in love with the uncompromising artwork and title of their second album: The Fucking Pricks Treat Us Like Cunts, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks; I didn’t want the music to let me down.

My first impression, (after WTF have I swapped 8 LPs for?), was to ask myself whether I had a miss-pressing? The sound was muffled in places; the tracks didn’t seem to end but bled into each other; overdubbed electronic noises burst in and out; music stopped dead, punctuated with samples from different radio stations; the whole thing sounded like a complete racket. Which it is, of course. The first track  starts with feedback, electronic vibrating noises, then what sounds like the band playing live punches in with several people yelping ‘punk punk punk punk punk punk punk punk…’ The music/noise was as uncompromising as the artwork and title.

So in the spirit of these Eardrum Buzz posts, why have I picked this record out as changing my perspective of just what music can be? Firstly because it taught me the value of not rejecting something on first listen—I learned to love this record. Secondly because it was deliberately challenging and it shocked me out of my then musical complacencies. Thirdly because I got into its experimental nature. This, I thought, is what punk should be all about. Not because it is aggressive, but because it is attempting to explore new ground beyond the conventional, and anarcho-punk, like punk rock before it, had become conventional with their rockisms and formulas.

Fucking Pricks… is punk, sure, but it is also noise, industrial, jazz, and Dada. It is also extremely and unapologetically political. Sure, there are moments of pious preaching when the noise abates and you can make out spoken lyrics. This is as only anarchopunk bands can be, and this is what I have come to wince at when listening back to the genre’s cast. In Flux’s case these are the weaker elements against the sonic overload that is the rest of this album, and these wince-inducing parts become inconsequential against the rest of the musical onslaught. But all that that aside, in 1985 the record felt exciting and it got my heart racing.

As it transpires, on looking back, it was an important record for me. Later I would get into Tackhead’s industrial funk and more recently I’ve been listening to a lot of free-jazz, things I’m convinced this record paved the way for my ears to appreciate when the time came for me to discover them. Fucking Pricks… taught me to give things a second listen, it reaffirmed in me that anything can be music, and that the more you become familiar with something that you don’t first understand, the more it can reward your senses as you spend time with it.

What would I make of it today if I heard it for the first time? I don’t know, I expect I would find it sprawling and in need of editing and honing. But I would still recognise its challenging nature, its uncompromising and brave approach, and its sense of perversion. In listening back to it for the first time in years before writing this post, I thought of it in comparison with the Buzzcocks advert and the 40th anniversary of the first wave of punk that McDonald’s have jumped on. In thinking about this, Flux of Pink Indians need high praise indeed for making something that no corporation could ever appropriate.

Other interesting articles on The Fucking Pricks… :
Uncarved
Public Embarrassment Blues

Advertisements

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular Dubdog feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

Title: Spiral Scratch EP
Author: Buzzcocks
Label: New Hormones
UK Release Year: 1977

With all the talk in the media at the moment about punk’s 40th anniversary and whether Malcolm McLaren’s son will burn his £5m punk collection in protest against the celebrations, you’d have thought that punk only happened in London. Choosing not to mention the stateside influences, and the fact that punk was vital to those living outside of the capital, the London centric aspect of this heritage spectacle is what annoyed me in the first instance when I heard about the forthcoming celebrations.

While I heard much of the original punk shenanigans coming out of my brother’s bedroom door 40 years ago, being only 8 at the time I somewhat missed the (jubilee punk) boat. A few years later when I was living in Mansfield and all my friends were into heavy metal, which I hated, I started investigating punk for myself, despite it being pretty much dead in the water by then. Living in Mansfield with few cultural attractions and a peer group desperate for Americanisms, poodle hair and denim jackets covered in band patches, punk kept me sane, even if at that stage there weren’t really any contemporary bands for me to get into.

I can’t quite remember the order in which I heard things, (tapes from my Sister’s then boyfriend’s record collection muddies the water somewhat), but one week I paid £2.50 of my hard earned paper-round money for a copy of Spiral Scratch EP from a second hand record shop in town. I think by then I had already borrowed The Buzzcocks’ Love Bites from the local library, so I was used to Shelley’s vocals being one of the key features of the band. But Spiral Scratch knocked me for six. I immediately fell in love with Devoto’s voice, who I hadn’t heard up to that point. To this day he is one of my favourite vocalists in all of music’s rich history and I firmly believe he could sing over absolutely anything and make it better.

The music was nervy, uncoordinated, and rudimentary, and to my ears back then, incredibly fast. I don’t think I had ever heard anything so fast before. There was a frantic urgency to the four tracks as if the band were desperate to get through them and didn’t ultimately care about the quality of what they put down. The lyrics that Devoto yelped over the top were very different to Shelley’s which hid stories of homosexual longing and frustration in a overly heterosexual lyrical world. Devoto came across with much more of a sense of distain for sex that made him seem asexual and other-worldly, (that, and the Enoesque hairdo). A sense of nihilism and sarcasm shone through.

For me it captured the spirit of everything I thought that first wave of punk was about, and the Sex Pistols sounded over-produced and over-complicated in comparison, (excepting Lydon’s brilliant vocal delivery—I always thought Devoto and Rotten should compete in a sneer-off). Of the other all-male bands of the time, only Alternative TV came close in contempt for rock musics’ macho formulas and posturing, most other punk bands seemed to allow such vanities within their particular rock schtick. X-Ray Specs and The Slits, by their very nature, eschewed such things, but of the male bands, the aesthetics of sexual politics just wasn’t on their agendas, unlike Buzzcocks and Alternative TV.

The stand out track on Spiral Scratch is, without a doubt, Boredom. This track in itself sums up 1976/77 punk for me—the spirit that spawned it—and all other attempts to encapsulate the feeling of the movement were rendered pointless after this. It is no wonder that Devoto immediately left the band, having laid down the most punk of all records, there was little else to be said and he moved on to even greater things with Magazine. In essence, I suppose he became bored with punk having helped to create one of its masterpieces. He had created Boredom and became bored by it.

And all this from Manchester, not London.

B’dum b’dum.

Eardrum Buzz is an irregular feature looking at key pieces of music that have altered my perception of exactly what music can be. See Eardrum Buzz (intro) for further context. All comments are highly subjective.

Title: Venus In Furs
Author: Velvet Underground
Label: Verve
UK Release Year: 1967

Hearing Venus In Furs was a major musical milestone for me and I constantly wish I could hear it for the first time again for the revelation it caused.

Aged 15 I had at some point taped Lou Reed’s Transformer after borrowing it from my local library. Just seriously getting into Punk at the time, on hearing other’s say that Reed was its godfather, I couldn’t quite make the link with the glam I heard on his second solo LP, (excellent as I thought it was). And older friend with a wider musical knowledge than I had Diana Clapton’s Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground 1982 biography which I loved flicking through whenever I visited. It was this book that introduced me to the Velvets, or at least to their myth, prior to hearing their actual music.

On the back of this, one week I used some of my wages from a Saturday shelf-stacking job and took a punt on buying a 6 track import Velvet Underground sampler. The gatefold sleeve contained a stapled in booklet in either Spanish or Italian, with lots of photos of the band—despite not being able to read it, the photos alone made me think it was worth the £3.99 I paid. Although I wasn’t aware of the Velvet’s discography, I later found out the album collated together 6 tracks from Velvet Underground’s first three LPs. I can’t remember exactly what tracks, but can recall both Sister Ray from their second album and Pale Blue Eyes from their third were on it.

All I can now remember of putting the album on for the first time was the incredible effect hearing Venus In Furs had on me. I had not heard a single thing like it before in my 15 short years and it put my head in a spin. Those viola stabs and background drone, the laconic out-of-kilter drums, the chiming guitar and those ever so strange lyrics that were drawled poetically from Reed’s lips. And dropped into the middle of all of this, that uplifting chorus that all too soon, and seamlessly, reverts back to the repetitive atonal noise of the verse. This changed everything for me. I was unsure whether I liked it or not but felt compelled to listen to it again, and again, and again. As it became more familiar to my ears I became more intrigued with it, and more intoxicated by it.

I am incredibly grateful to this song for opening up my ears to vast new musical possibilities. Literal lyrics and actual tunes suddenly didn’t seem as important as they had moments before. And I now realise as I look back that without this song there is so much that I now appreciate and enjoy that I would never have given a chance, dismissing it simply as tuneless and unmusical prior to this experience. But Velvet Underground’s Venus In Furs didn’t just widen my musical perspective, it also opened my mind to looking at many things from a non-mainstream stance—art, politics, philosophy, you name it. In challenging my perspective on music, Venus In Furs made me question my views on many other things; views that were formed purely on a narrow experience. Ultimately it taught me the value of exploring different possibilities beyond the limitations of what was popular, what other’s deemed ‘acceptable’, and what mainstream society presented as culture.

IMG_1025

I was tempted to write about this a few weeks ago when it first hit the news that Virgin were going to adorn their credit cards with Sex Pistols’ artwork. On top of my initial revulsion I then saw this advert and considering it so wrong on so many levels, I didn’t quite know where to start.

However, the original Sex Pistols’ designer, Jamie Reid, probably says it best in this letter which is a response to an article in The Guardian about the cards by Johnny Sharp.

CIasnm-WwAANZvQ.jpg-large

“Dear Johnny,
In response to your G2 piece FILTY LUCRE, I can only express my complete disgust at the use of my art work for the VIRGIN credit cards. It seems typical of the times we live in. Especially with the Tory (bankers) victory in the last election. It seems so removed from the original 1977 spirit of the Pistols but to be sure these times of questioning and change and alternatives will come again.
As the original artists I have no rights over its usage. Virgin have the rights to use it as they like.
If it was up to me I would never agree to such usage.
Yours Jamie Reid”

Reid has also responded with some new artwork on his website titled The Death of Money: Anarchy and Revolution 1977—Abhorrence and Revulsion 2015 

I couldn’t put it better myself. That said, it did amuse me to see that Reid doesn’t seem to have the same ‘disgust’ for collaborating with Fred Perry and adorning their shirts with some of his work. Fred Perry say of the collaboration: “Some 40 years on his work continues to inspire individuality and free-thinking…Jamie Reid’s three designs speak of both his wit and sense of rebellion”. ‘Sense of rebellion’ rather than actual rebellion would be about right, but then I suppose as Fred Perry aren’t bankers, turning rebellion into money, to quote Strummer, isn’t such a problem for Reid.

sm4052100front

I too look forward to seeing ‘times of questioning and change and alternatives’ come again Jamie.

You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Produced by Lisa Sofia, Robin Ryde and Charlie Waterhouse, The Truth of Revolution, Brother, taking its title from a lyric by UK’s Crass, mostly examines second and third generation punks that took the early rebellious attitude and DIY beliefs and formed life philosophies of them. The UK anarcho-punk scene is more of a starting point for many of the very personal stories told throughout to book, and specifically Crass are cited by many as being influential to their world view. But this book is much more expansive than that as the authors travelled the globe to interview those they thought carried the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ and who looked for alternatives to accepted societal belief systems. Interviews with Crass‘ Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher, Subhumans’ Dick Lucas and the Poison Girls’ Vi Subversa tell the tale of alternative living and libertarian leanings in the UK. What punk meant to those on the other side of the Atlantic is represented by American comic book author and singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, producer / musician Steve Albini, straight-edge pioneer and Fugazi guitarist Ian MacKaye and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Penny Rimbaud

Similar themes emerge throughout the different interviews, from being anti-war to championing vegetarianism, from environmental concerns to resolutely rejecting the ideology of government and control. While this may be a book about philosophy, personal politics and taking responsibility for your own actions is really at its heart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is incredible to see what impact a small music scene from the UK, (in anarcho-punk), has had globally, for this isn’t just a tale of Anglo-American agit-prop. Einar Örn Benediktsson, (from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes), and Jón Gnarr formed the Best Party as a protest against Iceland’s 2008 economic crash which resulted in Gnarr becoming Major of Reykjavik in 2010—both cite punk as major influences on their attitude to politics. When it was set up the Best Party declared it would dissolve itself and as a result, after 4 years in power, Gnarr stepped down as Mayor this year after successfully running the city on anarchist principles. Benediktsson, who was a City Councillor says: “I’m an anarchist and people say, ‘But you’re not an anarchist because you work within the system. You are part of the system now’. Okay, I may be part of the system, but what I learned through punk was to listen and to take on board ideas, to try to understand and not make up my mind that things should be only one way.” After also stepping down after his first term, he goes on to say: “I don’t want the power. It’s not mine to own. It is everybody else’s so please, please come in, use it, be part of it because it’s ours to share, to feel good. I don’t think it’s naïve to say it.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The interviews running throughout the book are interspersed with topic heading such as Disruption; Construction; Distraction; Creation; and The Dark Side of Punk as monikers to discuss different philosophical attitudes that emanated from punk. Anarchy as a political theory and personal practice is interwoven throughout, and shining through all the interviews and discussions is a positive attitude to humanity and wanting to make life better firstly through self-determination and secondly through not wanting to rip others off. As a result, at the heart of this is a very humanist world view, one that believes living by a personal set of principles is as important as trying to shake things up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are several new pieces of artwork featured throughout as well, from the likes of Gee Vaucher, Jeffrey Lewis, Dominic Thackray, Gaye Black and David King, among others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jeffrey Lewis, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

David King, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dominic Thackray, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gee Vaucher, 2014

Co-author Charlie Waterhouse, a graphic designer and photographer, has ensured that the book is beautifully typeset avoiding any punk aesthetic clichés. This helps to set this study firmly in the here and now, deliberately steering this away from coffee table book nostalgia and ensuring the reader sees this text is about the relevancy of punk and its myriad of associated philosophies to today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gee Vaucher

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Each of the authors have been affected by punk as a musical force in different ways. “Charlie’s life was derailed when he heard the Fall’s Lay Of The Land on [John] Peel'”, declares the acknowledgements. While, “Lisa’s DJing career was almost strangled at birth by Steve Albini when she cued up her first record by Big Black at the wrong speed,”…and “Robin cut his teeth on punk music at the age of 13 by sneaking into UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers gigs”. It goes on to say: “Although none of them knew it, The Truth of Revolution, Brother was always going to be the result of their friendship.”

For myself this book has allowed me to reflect on my days as a punk and the attitudes and beliefs that sprang from reading bands’ lyrics as I listened to their music. This went on to shape my personal view of the world and my sense of responsibility to those around me and society in general. One of the things that bands like Crass did for me was to teach me not to just be anti something but to also consider my role in shaping the world. As such, my vegetarianism, environmental considerations and distrust of hierarchical structures and elites comes very much from my time listening to Crass and associated bands in my late teens and early twenties. While I haven’t called myself a punk in years—I haven’t needed the youthful obsession of creating an identity for myself and thus labelling my whole persona for many years—this book has made me think again about punk as a proud term, the philosophies I adopted in my youth that have stuck with me to this day, and how this has shaped my outlook on life. And for that, I am very grateful to Lisa, Robin and Charlie, and to all the contributors to The Truth of Revolution, Brother.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Truth of Revolution back cover

The Truth of Revolution, Brother and a number of prints of photographs taken while conducting interviews can be purchased directly from Situation Press

Below, Crass’ Bloody Revolutions, the last line of which gives this publication its title:

Cover

“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.

Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.

SidNViv

Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine circa 1976

The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.

I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.

Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border

Today I stumbled across The Truth of Revolution, Brother, a proposed book about the philosophy of punk.

Taking its title from a Crass lyric, (the infamous anarcho-punk band that took punk’s DIY ethos to a whole new socio-political level), the book promises to go well beyond the music, fashion and graphics shlock that most nostalgic punk cash-ins opt for. For anyone like myself who formed many of their personal and social political beliefs from their experiences within the punk movement will understand what an important document this could end up being. Particularly if the accompanying promo video is anything to go by:

 

The book is being put together by the surnameless Lisa, Charlie and Robin, who say the book is largely written and designed, almost ready to go. With a launch date of August 2014, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for the first print run, and come payday, I’ll be on Kickstarter making my donation.

 

%d bloggers like this: