February 23, 2006


Ever noticed with early UK post-punk bands, especially those who were fiercely ramshackle and lo-fi, how their very early stuff often sounds more "professional" than their later output? Take the Fall, for instance; their debut "Bingo Masters Breakout" and the brilliant 100-MPH followup "It's The New Thing" both sound very intricate and well-produced; after that you get the ultra-primitive (and equally great) likes of "Rowche Rumble" and "How I Wrote Plastic Man". The Swell Maps, the slickest stuff those pioneers of bedroom-fi ever did was at their very first studio session, the one that yielded the 1977 Read About Seymour EP as well as some tracks on their first LP, like the great "Vertical Slum" (all together now: The weather! The leather! The weather! The leather!). At the very start of DIY there weren't any set precedents yet; the sonic reference points those bands had, both pop (T Rex/ Roxy Music) and weirdo/underground (Can/ Beefheart), were all well-produced big-label acts, so that's the sound they were set on emulating. Probably.
Upon first playing, The Mekons' 1978 Where Were You single confounded me to the point where I believed it to be a fraud. Or maybe a mispressing. In any case, this couldn't possibly be the same band whose Never Been In A Riot Rough Trade (!) wouldn't carry because it was too amateurish! OK, the A side "Where Were You?" is kinda simple (as in smart-simple, like Wire), so even the staunchest of amateurs could probably be coaxed, at gunpoint, into playing a good take. But how do you explain the... er, other A side, "I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own)"? A supertight ball of interwoven rhythms, furious riffs and sudden stops and starts, this track conjures up the spirit of Mission of Burma at their most ("Go Fun Burn Man") out-there. How the hell did Fast Products' Bob Last make them play like that? It even sounds too good (good good, not bad good), everything sounds Big and Deep, thudding bass, pounding drums, scorching guitar, etc. It sounds better than most major-label punk from 1978! Well, I'd better let y'all listen to it...

Mekons - I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own)

February 16, 2006


My iMac is about 200 years old and when I try to post at home, it says "There's such-and-such thingie missing so you can't post, so tough shit." Well, something along those lines. As I only have access to a PC at my work on Thursdays and Fridays, I guess I'll post just once a week; but I'll try to publish 2 posts at one time each week. Only not this week, sorry!
When I got into collecting early Dutch punk, around 1985, a friend of mine sold me his spare copy of Utreg Punx, which was a total revelation to me. At the time we thought punk/HC was getting "better"; better playing (so more solos and more complexity), better recordings (i.e. lots of reverb and the dreaded 80's "gated" drum sound), better English, better rub-on lettering technique etc. In stark contrast, the sleeve for the 1980 Utreg Punx EP seemed the painstaking product of a bunch of 4-year-olds; it matched the music, which was raw, clumsy and had a childlike exuberance about it. It was the best thing I'd heard all year; especially the triple punch of the Lullabies/ Rakketax/ Noxious side left me gasping for breath. Lullabies start off with a great punk rock song (I still count in my band's - English - songs in Dutch as a tribute to them), then there's Rakketax who are doing a more lopsided/ arty punk thing with a brilliant girl singer (singing the classic lines "Van Agt (=Dutch prime minister) has the power/ Oh what a shower!"). Then there's a couple of seconds silence before all hell breaks loose. The Noxious track Sunday Fools is easily the loudest, most aggressive punk track I've ever heard, bar none. They sound like a bunch of escaped psychopaths that forced their way inside a studio (well, practice room with a 4-track), pick up instruments they've never played in their lives, and proceed to thoroughly destroy them while collapsing on top of eachother, all in 1 minute 8 seconds. It just sounds illegal; like a recording of somebody getting beaten up by a bunch of thugs. The fade-out is pretty cool too (my 2nd favourite song ending ever, after the Meat Puppets' "Foreign Lawns"). There were all kinds of rumours circulating about the Noxious: supposedly, they'd ask people if they knew about their band, then beat them up if the answer was no! They were hooligans, criminals, junkies and at least one of them had been killed. This reputation was probably exaggerated because of the sheer violence in their music, but it was at least partly true, as I found out when I got to talk to the Noxious' ex-singer Rob not too long ago. He's small, wiry and looking younger than his age (I expected some bull-necked tattooed thug), and eagerly regaled stories to me about the old days, like how they'd mug German tourists to get money for drugs! I was amazed when he told me they actually recorded Sunday Fools at the end of the Rakketax session; same equipment, same settings! They had about 5 minutes to get it right, as nobody could be bothered with wasting more time on them... That's when true punk classics are born, I guess!

Lullabies - System
Rakketax - Van Agt
Noxious - Sunday Fools

February 02, 2006


Here's two great UK punk 45's I bought really cheap. The UK-versus-US-punk controversy (We started it! -No, we did! -But we're better! etc.) shows no signs of letting up; I like both kinds but I have to admit there's a difference between '70's UK and US punk that's hard to pin down. American punk's got a certain swagger, both in its rhythm and in the vocals, that can be traced back to the ubiquitous MC5/Stooges/Dolls and further back to garage/rockabilly/r&b. English punk, in contrast, has a rootlessness that makes it sound nervous and ratty, a bit like the early Stones rushing through Chuck Berry's "Carol", while the singing is often best described as "quaint"; influences for British punk seem to lie more in comedy/satire (many already noted the similarity between Johnny Rotten and Father Steptoe!). Now let's look at these two beauties from the UK... I bought the Cortinas' Fascist Dictator 45 mainly because it was the first release on the great Step Forward label (I was never too crazy about the stuff I'd heard, like "Defiant Pose"). So I was in for a pleasant surprise! While the A side is pretty good sped-up R&B (with a singer that's actually sounding like an American!), the flip "Television Families" is the winner; a great, fast, herky-jerky tune that sounds like the Hives with the Dirtbombs' Mick (come to think of it, I always thought only Englishmen were ever allowed to be called Mick) Collins singing!
On the other side of the UK punk spectrum we have the brilliant Adverts. Everybody knows their early singles like "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" (even Gary Gilmore's brother owned a copy), but this one is from a little later when they were yesterday's news. While recording "Television's Over" someone must have prophetically thought "Guitars are over", as they are as good as inaudible in the mix, reduced to a subliminal buzz that could just as well have been a farting synth or something. The thudding drums (a la Gary Gilmore) remain, and after a couple of listens you realize this is one of TV (I wonder if the title of this song was autobiographical?) Smith's greatest songs. This song, like most stuff by the Adverts, sounds quintessentially British, not in the way I described above, but - to these ears at least - it's got a late '60's English Outsider vibe, a bit like Syd Barrett or Roy Harper, but most of all it reminds me of SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things! If you think I'm crazy just check out the Phil Mayish drawn-out sneer and the eerie two-note guitar riff in the chorus. (And if you don't have SF Sorrow, run to your record store!)

Cortinas - Television Families
Adverts - Television's Over


Let's kick off with one of my all-time faves from Holland. Everything about the first 6 song EP from 1980 by De Straks (= The In A Whiles!) smacks of old-fashioned unashamed Righteousness, from the "NEVER MORE THAN F 2,50" (then about $1) stamp to the angry us-against-you lyrics to the hot-potato-in-throat singing. In 1980 I was 12 and not into punk yet. Thinking about 1980 slightly nauseating fragments of music pop into my head; "Bette Davis' Eyes" - the theme from Hill Street Blues - a particularly terrible Dutch disco outfit called Spargo... The weird thing is: that music seems like only a couple of years ago, like it's never gone away, while Dutch punk records from the same period sound like they could be a hundred years old, from some distant revolutionary year like 1917 or 1870 or something. Part of it's the production; most self-released punk records from the era just sound unbelievably primitive, which sorta gives it an aura of danger; as if you're listening to something you're not supposed to listen to, like a black box recording of a plane crash. Actually some of them, like the Noxious' 1980 "Sunday Fools", sound like a plane crash. Nowadays loads of lo-fi/garage bands try their best using today's equipment to sound as fucked up as those records, and don't succeed. Then there's the 100% irony-free anger which hasn't yet turned into the stylized anger of later hardcore/metal but sounds genuine, like someone is shouting at you in the street. (Someone with a pretty posh accent; as they were based in Delft, a student town, my guess is these guys were pretty well-to-do, which didn't stop them from singing about rich guys stealing their food!) This feeling of "we are right! you are wrong!" seems aeons removed from 2006, even though on a more practical level punk's "the world owes me everything, I owe the world nothing" motto has been adopted by the mainstream in a big way. In 1980, putting out a record would get you noticed all over the country; punks would buy your record (provided they could find it) just because it was punk. It wasn't like today when there's this massive outpouring of records/CD's that no one can keep track of and that will all end up in the drummer's attic. Back then, you pressed up 500 or 1000 copies and it would sell out in a couple of months. I believe De Straks pressed 500 copies, and yet - from what I've heard - they could play some faraway place and people would be singing along, knowing all the words! Talk about the old days... Musically, this EP is a combination of the 2 styles of Dutch punk then current: half staccato art-punk (Ex, Tandstickorshocks) and half blazing 4/4 punk rock (Lullabies, Nitwitz).

De Straks - Koningin
De Straks - Eet U Smakelijk