March 31, 2006


I wanted to do posts on two bands that don't have anything to do with eachother, then I realized both bands were on Rough Trade, so I guess that's the common thread today!
In early rock & roll a lot of songs started out with just the singer singing the first line, a capella, before the band would fall in. This gave the effect of a rallying cry, a call to arms: "Have you heard the news, there's a good-ah-rockin' tonight!" Most of Elvis's early singles started out this way: "Hound Dog", "Heartbreak Hotel", etc. etc. Then there's "Rock Around The Clock", "Great Balls Of Fire", "Blue Suede Shoes", you get the picture. With punk's ushering in of a new era you'd think there'd be lots of similar Punk Rock Rallying Cries, but I couldn't think of any! Johnny Rotten's "Rrright now!" kicks in after about 15 seconds of guitar-'n-drums fanfare in "Anarchy In The UK". Dave Vanian's muttered "Is she really going out with him?" intro to "New Rose" doesn't really count. It seems we have to look at the females; Poly Styrene wasn't afraid to start wailing unaccompanied by loud guitars, in fact almost every X Ray Spex tune starts off with her screeching the song title as loud as she can, but does that really count as part of the song? I can think of just one song in early (post-) punk that really starts like a battle cry, and that's "Aerosol Burns" by Essential Logic, whose singer Lora Logic also (coincidentally?) happened to be in X Ray Spex once.
As much as I love this tune, there's a couple of other Essential Logic tunes that I can't stand. And you're talking to someone who loves his Trout Mask Replica... It's just that Essential Logic sometimes sound like a bunch of school kids who, upon first hearing a Beefheart record, start writing songs that each have 200 breaks and tempo changes in them, and then think they're "like Beefheart".
A Rough Trade act that seems largely forgotten these days is the Monochrome Set. Strange, since they sound not unlike, say, the newly hip Orange Juice. I've read an interview with the guy who designed their "Strange Boutique" LP as well as all the Factory/ Joy Division stuff, and he's flat-out dismissing the band. Well, the Monochrome Set sure didn't take themselves as seriously as those doom & gloom-bands that were around at the same time (check out the hysterical laughing in the run-out groove of their "Symphonie Des Grauens" single). In a way, they were like an English counterpart to the Feelies, combining fast, frantic rhythms with clean, mathematically precise playing. Their drummer used to be in Savage Pencil's early punk group the Art Attacks, which probably accounts for the fast tempos (in that way they're like a pre-echo of the Smiths, another pop band with a punk drummer). Singer Bid had a uniquely fey/snotty style that was sort of hijacked a couple of years later by terrible '80's acts like Wang Chung and Men Without Hats... Maybe that's why they're still viewed as being uncool?
The song posted here, named "The Monochrome Set" after themselves (I can't believe I just said that...), also appeared on their first LP with Adam & The Ants-style Burundi drumming, tho' they predated the Antz by some 6 months! This is the single version on Rough Trade.

Essential Logic - Aerosol Burns (Kill Rock Stars website)
The Monochrome Set - The Monochrome Set
The Monochrome Set - Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (both 1979)

March 23, 2006


Ivy Green, 1979. Far right: Tim Mullens.
I only had the vaguest notion of Ivy Green being the "first Dutch punk band" when sometime in 1984/85 my band opened for them. It was at a benefit for the English miners' strike, and upon finding out Ivy Green were actually, like, being paid to appear, that particular blend of Righteous Hardcore Outrage took hold of us. What were they thinking, those rock stars? Getting rich off those starving miners! We conveniently forgot about the fact that we didn't have any equipment, so no expenses either. I remember one of their moustache-wearing members came up to me after we played and told me he really liked what we were doing (which was a blur of out-of-tune out-of-sync hardcore thrash, as we liked to call it in those days). Thinking back I can't believe how stupid and jaded I was, at 17, but I didn't even leave the dressing room to see them play. Luckily I got old and wise very fast, as the following year I picked up a copy of their genius 1978 debut LP. Around the same time I made up for my lost opportunity by seeing them play a couple of times; they'd turned into a punk+horns-outfit not unlike Eternally Yours-era Saints, and while I didn't care much for their records of that period, they really punked out live.
When Ivy Green burst onto the national scene back in '77, they were the perfect embodiment of pure unspoiled punk naivety that the music press were looking for, noble savages from the tiny village of Hazerswoude that, isolated from the world, had to invent punk rock all by themselves. They looked the part: country bumpkins with moustaches, not a safety pin in sight. They weren't art school or careerist bandwagon-jumpers, they were The Real Thing! To top it off, they made a brilliant LP that's still one of the all-time classics, and sadly unavailable in any form right now.
Of course Ivy Green weren't as unsophisticated as everybody would have liked them to be; for instance, there's a big Jonathan Richman/ Modern Lovers-influence at work in their fast, droning, often 1- or 2-chord-songs like "Sex on the radio", "I'm your television" and of course "I'm sure we're gonna make it" (aka "Wap shoo wap"). But it's more Modern-Lovers-with-firecrackers-stuck-up-their-asses the way they do it, with relentless boom-thud-boom-thud drumming (courtesy 14 year old Artur van Dijke), two guitars (one pub-rockish sounding, the other a chainsaw of fuzz; a trick often used by early punk bands) and the undecipherable helium warble of leader Tim Mullens. Even though the LP was released on special Atlantic punk imprint Pogo records (whose only other act to my knowledge were the Suburban Studs), it totally bombed as punk failed to break in prog/MOR/Eagles-loving Holland.
Between 1978 and 1983, as punk was going DIY, then going hardcore, Ivy Green only released one song: the great "Pak 'm Beet" on seminal Dutch-language-only comp LP Uitholling Overdwars. Some of the acts on this record would become super famous in Holland in 3-4 years time, but Ivy Green's Chuck Berry-style ode to "playing with it" leaves them far behind, gasping in the dust clouds. The lyrics are hilarious; I'm not going to translate as that would spoil the effect; suffice to say this is a Dutch cousin of "Orgasm Addict".

Another Subculture Going Bad
Sex On The Radio
Mister, Mister (from first LP, 1978)
Pak 'm Beet (1979)

March 17, 2006


Just got the Special AKA's 1982 single "The Boiler" in the mail the other day. I got home late at night and put it on the turntable. It starts off like some sort of Easy Listening blues, not unlike some tracks on the 2nd Specials album, which is no coincidence as this was Jerry ("bike rack") Dammers' post-Specials band. There's a girl telling a story in a matter-of-fact Cockney accent about meeting some bloke, who insists on buying her some "gear", then they go out, he buys her drinks, etc. The tune - which isn't as arresting as some other Dammers compositions like "Ghost Town" or the Miles-Davis-played-by-Hungarian-gypsies "War Crimes" - shuffles ahead. Then he wants to go up to her place; she refuses, he gets angry, walks away. She's on her own, in the street. Then suddenly someone grabs her and... At this point the screaming starts; I had to gradually turn the volume down until I could only hear the sound of the needle, because I was afraid my girlfriend would wake up and run down the stairs, but also because it made me feel plain embarrassed listening to it.
For Jerry Dammers to put out this track as a single, hot on the heels of the Specials' 1980-81 string of hits, was a sure-fire way of committing commercial suicide. What was he thinking? Try to imagine some deejay in 1982 spinning this inbetween "Agadoo" and "'Taint what you do" (by those other former Specials, Fun Boy Three)... Try to imagine people playing this even to dance to... It's impossible. I guess he just put this record out because he felt he had to, simple as that.
It made me think of an equally harrowing song, but from the viewpoint of the perpetrator: "Gunpoint Affection" by the great DC punk band Black Market Baby. Now I don't usually post American mp3's as that's taken care of nicely by a bunch of other blogs, but I'll make an exception for this one. When this song appeared on their 1983 Senseless Offerings LP (one of the best punk LP's ever) some people thought they were actually glorifying rape. Well, they sure don't sing "It's bad! It's bad!"; but the fact that you can't clearly figure out where the band stands makes the song all the more powerful and harrowing, in my opinion.

Special AKA feat. Rhoda Dakar - The Boiler
Black Market Baby - Gunpoint Affection

March 09, 2006


Vic Godard's Subway Sect were the fifth UK punk band, ever. Rereading what I've just typed it sounds totally absurd, but according to the old History Books it's as clear as that. First there was nothing; then, on Day 1 of Year Zero there were the Sex Pistols, to be followed on Day 2 by Clash, Damned and Buzzcocks. Then God, I mean Malcolm McLaren and Bernie Rhodes decided to have a punk festival, so they created Suzy and the Banshees, who weren't really a band yet, and Subway Sect. There you have it: punk band nr. 5. Of course, with the passing of time we realized it wasn't all that cut-and-dried, in fact the mid-70's were a big blur of various shades of crosspollinating glam/ hippie/ pre-/ proto-/ post- as well as mere punk noises. But the fact still remains that, because of the "school of '76"-connection, Subway Sect are probably the most famous punk band nobody's ever actually, like, heard. There are some big conspiracy theories on why their LP was never (to this day) released, but my guess is their manager Rhodes was just too busy doing the Clash to be bothered. "Nobody's scared"/ "Dontsplitit", the sole 45 the "real" Subway Sect did release (recorded in 1977, released in 1978), is a great peek into an era when it seemed everything was possible; apart from the fact that these guys really couldn't play (whereas the Clash and Pistols were just pretending), it doesn't follow any (Punk) Rock rules; you don't know where the song is going, don't know what Vic Godard's singing reminds you of, can't place their garbage-cans-and-vacuum-cleaner sound in any sort of tradition (Velvet Underground everybody says; I don't hear it), that's why if there ever was such a thing as real punk, this has gotta be it! I'd love to hear that lost LP.
Never mind the Famous-Punk-Bands-You've-Never-Heard, let's talk about the Bands-That-Were-Around-But-Weren't-Cool-Enough. Like Ultravox! (No, I wasn't shouting, they were actually named "Ultravox!") This early Midge Ure-free incarnation was around when punk's first stirrings were felt, yet they were never lumped in with punk (unlike say, the extremely un-punk Dire Straits or Boomtown Rats!) Maybe they sounded too much like Roxy Music, especially some of their rawer live stuff on Viva! (Is that were they got the exclamation point from?), and those Year Zero punks were too ashamed of their past as Roxy fans to like Ultravox!! (Yes, I did shout this time.) Anyway, their second single "Young Savage" from May '77 is pretty wild; I like the sleeve design too, it's very, er... punk.

Subway Sect - Nobody's Scared
Subway Sect - Dontsplitit
Ultravox! - Young Savage

March 02, 2006


If there's one band in the Netherlands that embodies Do It Yourself, it's gotta be The Ex. Like say, Black Flag in the US, they helped build the whole indie labels/venues/distro-network over here in the early/mid 80's. The funny thing is, throughout the years they've become so saturated with this DIY spirit it has seeped into every facet of their daily lives. I was once at the Konkurrent warehouse, browsing through their records (this was back when "browsing" was something you did with your hands instead of a mouse), when someone wanted to hear a certain record. Only problem was, there was no (working) record player in the room. Promptly Ex-singer-slash-Konkurrent-worker G.W. Sok proceeded to build a makeshift phonograph out of a pin and a rolled-up paper cone! (Sadly, it didn't work.) On a later occasion, when G.W. and I were both temporary members of a certain Dutch brass/punkband, there was an urgent need for coffee but no coffee filter holders. Amid great wailing and gnashing of teeth, Jos (which is his real name), unfazed, built a coffee filter out of a plastic cup by punching holes in it. I became an Ex fan (no, not an ex-fan) when someone taped their 2nd LP History Is What's Happening for me. I was 14 and had just graduated from the Beatles via the Jam to punk/new wave. I checked out some happening English bands (Sham, Rejects, Upstarts) right when they'd just put out their worst LP's ever (I mean, remember The Game? Power and the Glory?). I even tried to like that stuff for a while, to no avail; it wasn't before I got my first taste of Dutch punk like Nitwitz, Svatsox and (of course) The Ex, that the lightbulb above my head went on and I went "YES! This is it!" The Ex put out stacks of records in the past 25 years, but the first ones will always be my favorites. Not that I don't like their later stuff, it's just that I started seeing them live regularly from about 1985 on, and while I kept buying their records they paled in comparison to their blistering live act. One particular show they did around 1991, in a small hall/staircase of a local movie house, is in my top 3 of best gigs ever. It's also the early song lyrics that are the closest to Jos's unique in-person sense of humour: tracks like "Rock & Rollstoel" from their 1980 All Corpses Smell The Same debut EP (but that one's in Dutch), "The Sky Is Blue Again" and "Human Car". Here's some mp3's (not my own but from their own website! There's lots more, check it out).

The Ex - Human Car (Live-Skive EP, 1980)
The Ex - The Sky Is Blue Again (Disturbing Domestic Peace LP, 1980)