Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Riot City Records/Simon Edwards interview

Riot City Records existed from 1980-1984, releasing some of the best bands and records of the UK82 era. Along with No Future Records, Riot City dominated the independent charts and left a lasting mark on punk. The bulk of this interview was conducted in 2008 with all questions answered candidly by the most gracious Simon Edwards, who is truly an absolute pleasure. Huge thanks to Simon for partaking in this interview.

Most photos come care of the Bristol Archives Records site. For additional photos of the Riot City Era and Bristol punk photos, please go to Simon Edwards photos, Manic Ears photos, and Bristol punk photos.

Simon Edwards hard at work

How and when did you get involved with working for record labels? Were you the owner of Heartbeat Records?

Yes to the question, I was the owner of Heartbeat Records. Basically my background was I used to play in bands. I then started managing bands and just looking after them and recording them. And then when the independent label thing started in 1976-77, I thought that I could do that as well. So I started Heartbeat Records. I just basically asked a lot of silly questions, "How'd you do this? How'd you do that?" And then I did it, and it worked. And I just went on from there.

How did you first hook up with Vice Squad? I know they were first on the "Avon Calling" compilation on Heartbeat.

That's right. Well, when I was doing Heartbeat Records, Heartbeat Records was essentially just for sort of local bands around the Bristol area. And there were so many bands around at the time that I couldn't put out enough records to satisfy the demand and all the stuff that was going on. So I did "Avon Calling" because that was the obvious thing to do to to try and get a lot of the bands on a record so they could get onto the radio and get people to hear it. And Vice Squad were one of the bands that gave me a demo tape. They were also playing around the area as well, and I was quite impressed with them. So, yeah, they got a place on the album.

"Avon Calling" compilation LP on Heartbeat Records (1979)

How did Riot City come to be formed, and why not just release the Vice Squad EP on Heartbeat Records?

Because Heartbeat was a label that was essentially for a broad spectrum of music. If you've heard all the Heartbeat releases, a lot of them are quite different than the others. There's some quite sort of folky things, and there's some quite hard rocky things, and there's some punky things. So it tended to sort of encompass a pretty broad spectrum of music. But with the Vice Squad thing, after "Avon Calling" was released, Vice Squad brought me a demo with four tracks that they wanted to put on an EP. And at the time with Heartbeat Records, I had a label link like a licensing deal with Cherry Red Records up in London and they did a lot of my distribution. I used to take all the stuff up, and I used to play demo tapes to the guy at Cherry Red, Iain McNay. Well, I took the Vice Squad tape up there, and i said "Look, hey, we've got this new band that's come along. They're on 'Avon Calling,' and now they've done their own EP and it sounds great." You know, and I played it to him and he said it was horrible. (Laughter) He didn't like it at all. And he said "Well, I don't really want Cherry Red Records to be involved in that at all, even on a distribution basis." So I said "OK, OK." So in the back of my head I thought "Well fuck you, I should do it myself," which is what I did. I made 1500 copies of it for the first pressing and never looked back shall we say. Before we did it though, Vice Squad did decide that they would also like to form a label that they would manage because there was a lot of new punk bands starting up with the second wave of punk. And they wanted to put a lot of these bands out on this record label. They wanted to call it Riot City Records because at the time, in this city of ours, Bristol, there were a lot of race riots in the poorer areas of Bristol. And of course a lot of the kids in Bristol were a bit sort of frightened and a bit worried of what was going on. So we really considered Bristol to be a "riot city." It just seemed the right thing to call the label Riot City Records, which is what we did. But obviously because Vice Squad, after they released their first EP, it sold so well and it got to number 1 in the Independent Charts and they started doing tours and they really became too busy to worry about doing the label. So they basically left it up to me to manage the label.

With the first press of "Last Rockers" only being 1,500, could you have imagined it going on to do so well with 22,000 copies sold and 40 weeks total on the chart?

Well, no because when we did the Heartbeat Records releases, we were sort of selling 2,000, 3,000 copies of each single, which to me was great. It was a really good thing to get those sort of sales. When the Vice Squad single sold, the "Last Rockers" sold 1,500 copies in about three or four days, and I just couldn't believe that. I thought "Why, what's going on here?" And so I then pressed up another 1,500 copies 'cause I thought that might, you know, just about fulfill the sales expectation. But then that, again, sold in about three or four days, and I thought "Shit, I'm going to have to rethink this thing." So I then pressed 10,000 copies and just away it went. It was just crazy, and I never ever expected it would go like that. But at that time, the second wave of punk was really taking off and there were bands like Chron Gen and the Exploited and everything just took off and went crazy.

With all the success for Vice Squad, what were your feelings when they signed on with EMI's Zonophone label and why? Did their signing with EMI gain greater exposure for Riot City or hurt the label?

Well, I didn't actually agree with them signing to EMI. I didn't think it would do them any good at all because I thought "Well, surely if there's enough demand for Vice Squad material, we can meet that demand through Riot City independently." And I still believe we could've done. And I actually know that I sold more Vice Squad records than EMI did, but that's another story. (Laughter) They had a management team, well, not team, but they had a couple of guys working for them who were really sort of set on them signing to EMI. And there was not a lot I could do about it. I was the guy that was publishing their music. So I did think in a way "Well, so long as I can keep the publishing, if they want to go and record for EMI, that doesn't really matter because then at least my Riot City publishing side of it will benefit from their EMI sales. And then I can still put out new singles by other bands." So that's the way I thought about it. But, no, I wasn't happy about them doing it. I think it probably got them out to a different type of audience because a lot of independent record shops that were selling punk rock at the time didn't want to stock EMI records. Even though the Sex Pistols were on EMI, the Sex Pistols were probably like a... I mean they were a bit of a one off in as much as yes, they signed to a major, but the second wave of punk really was a bit more independently minded. I think they would have sold a lot more had they stayed with me, really, for that reason.

Would you say this caused some confusion and resentment, when they did sign, from the more "hardcore" punks concerning the label?

Riot City Records label logo
Yes. Yes, it did because Dave and Shane from Vice Squad were the people that came up with the name Riot City. They were partially intending on using that for their EMI releases. Now I was happy with that because, I didn't mind, because I just wanted the name Riot City to be out there. So I was using it on my releases, they were using it on theirs. Now, we did get a bit of flack from the hardcore element, like I told you before. Particularly the Crass people were not happy with it, and they thought I was the back door to EMI. And they obviously didn't like EMI because of their corporate leanings, shall we say. I didn't have any connection whatsoever with EMI. The only connection I had with EMI was that they were paying me money for the publishing of Vice Squad music.

Would you say that you staunchly felt that punk should be independent and exist outside of the mainstream music industry? Did you identify with the DIY ethos of hardcore punk?

I do identify with the DIY and independent aspect of it, but I don't think that any genre of music has the right to stay in one place. If corporates want to do it, so long as they do it well and they do it right, I'm quite happy for them to do it. Basically it's all about the music isn't it really at the end of the day? If you can put out good music then I will back you as a record buyer no matter what label it's on.

I know you had a full time day job back then, but did you ever consider trying to live off the label?

Many times... But I've never been good at taking risks. (Laughter) I'm probably one of the world's worst businessmen. I do all the hard work and all the running around and all the craziness of it, but as far as putting in my hard earned gains like my house and that type of thing against doing that, then the answer would be no. My family would always come first.

How old were you at the time, and, since you weren't coming from the same angle as the new wave of punks, did you have any difficulty in relating at all?

I was in my 30s when I started it off, so I was a lot older than a lot of the guys that were in the bands. When I was younger, I was into the Small Faces and the Rolling Stones and the Who. You know, bands like that. I've always been into what I call the punk rock side of the music. I've always liked the anger, the angst, and I could always relate to kids who've got that feeling and that sort of ethos. So I didn't ever feel like an alien with these guys. I got on really well with them. And I always wanted to try and be a fifth member or sixth member of the band. I wanted to help them get through everything they had to do.

After the first two Vice Squad EPs, next up was the Insane and Abrasive Wheels singles...

Well, no, it wasn't actually. We did the first two Vice Squad EPs. And we had the third tour by the "Resurrection" EP, and I did a 12" single which was putting the first two 7" EPs, one on either of this 12" single, which was like a tour release. That was the third one.

The Insane

So did Vice Squad choose the Insane and Abrasive Wheels, and when did you take over complete control of all the label decisions?

When we were on tour, we did a few gigs with the Insane. So the Insane became sort of friends of Vice Squad, and they were obviously a preferred release by Vice Squad, yeah. Abrasive Wheels were obviously known to Vice Squad and they were known to me, but I really wanted to find the band because I'd heard their own release of "Army Song," and I thought it was really, really good. And I thought the band would be good on the label. So that was really my own first release on the label, yeah.

Were you disappointed with the Insane and Abrasive Wheels moving onto No Future and Clay, respectively?

No, no. The way I approach these things is I'm a fan, alright. I buy music as well as make it, and I still do. I was buying loads of records in those days by other bands, so I had more of an affiliation with other labels, and I had a lot of love of what they were doing. So if the bands wanted to go somewhere else, I wasn't going to stand in their way. I wasn't that type of operation. I didn't sign the bands up for three years to make so many singles and albums with me. It was a very relaxed kind of relationship. The Abrasive Wheels more than the Insane, I mean I loved the Wheels, and we got on really well and I thought their music was great. Sure, it'd be nice to keep them, but I didn't really mind when they went, ya know. Probably of all of the bands that did go, they were probably the ones that I was sadder to see leave, but I was still supportive of them.

Well, let's face it, their releases on Riot City are much better than their releases on Clay...

Well, you said that, and I'm going to agree with you. (Laughter)

Abrasive Wheels

How were you distributing the records through Rough Trade and the Cartel? Could people also mailorder a copy from you? Did you have any U.S. or international distribution?

We did it through Caroline. Caroline Exports from the UK put all the stuff out from Rough Trade. And also Rough Trade had the Rough Trade America, didn't they, as well. So the Cartel went out through that direction. The Rough Trade and the Cartel was a really good little operation because I believe there were six separate outlets around the country in various cities like Bristol, York, Birmingham, Edinburgh... And they all had their own shops that were acting as little parts of this distribution network. It just meant that I could just go down the road and just take in the records to the shop and say "Here's another thousand of these." You could really see what was happening, and you could see the sales going, you could see all the sales slips coming in and the order forms. It was just quite an exciting time.

When and how did the "Riotous Assembly" compilation idea come about?

Again, that was a bit like, if you go back to what I explained about "Avon Calling," I was getting hundreds and hundreds of demo tapes from bands all over the country. You just feel, well I felt, that I wanted to try and help some of them. Just get a release of one of their songs on a record. "Riotous Assembly" was really an amalgamation of all those demo tapes that I thought deserved a chance to be heard. Some were a good idea, some maybe not so much a good idea. (Laughter) I'd say the album was alright, it was good. A bit of fun.

How did you advertise for submissions for it? How many demo tapes would you say you received from bands interested in being featured?

There was a little piece put in Sounds magazine. I think I spoke to one of the journalists and said "Look, I've got this idea. I'm going to do this compilation album. Bands that want to send me demos can." But before that really happened, I was getting demos anyway, so I already had a small number of bands that I could choose from.

I know this was your first encounter with "Chaotik Dischord", but was this also how you first got in contact with bands such as Court Martial, Undead, Expelled, and Chaos UK?

Those were all local bands, and so I live in the same town they live in. You tend to sort of run into them at gigs and pubs and things like that. And they just give you a cassette and say "Here listen to this. What do you think of this?" I see them playing live, and if I'm impressed with them I'd have said "Come on guys, let's do a single."

Court Martial

Were any of the other bands on the compilation ever offered to further record material for Riot City?

I don't think so, no. A lot of those bands were very, very small bands that weren't doing a lot. I just felt that one song that they'd done was really good, and they needed a chance. It wasn't really sort of a stepping stone to a Riot City EP. It was really a stepping stone for them to get off their arses. "Here's an opportunity for you to be heard. Now use it for yourselves and go out there and do something."

Original Chaotik Dischord demo tape

Can you please recount the Chaotik Dischord demo submission story and your feelings upon finding out it was members of Vice Squad?

(Laughter) What a jerk! Ya know? Well, let's put it this way: Because of the nature of how I used to receive demo tapes, people would give me demo tapes in pubs, people would send them to me in brown envelopes, and you know, you don't know who these guys are. They could be bloody anybody. But I was at a pub one evening, and the Vice Squad guys were all there. And the Vice Squad guys told me that they had had a tape sent to them by a band from Swindon called Chaotic Dischord. They asked them to give it to me because they didn't want to speak to a guy from a record label. I mean something as silly as that. And I bought into it. I thought "Well, yeah, some people are like that, some people aren't. Some people may be a bit nervous about meeting such an industry mogul as myself." (Laughter) So I thought "Fuck it, yeah. I'd give it a listen." So I played it, and I thought it was really good. After, I had no idea it that it was those guys, no idea at all. But the other thing was, I don't know how, but do you know a band called the Amebix?

Yes, I do, yeah.

Yeah, well, one of the guys from the Amebix told me. He said "Simon, you've been hoodwinked here. I'm sure this is fucking Vice Squad." I thought "Don't be fucking stupid, does that sound like Vice Squad to you?" I think he'd probably heard, you know. (Laughter) He knew, yeah. But I mean fuck it, it was the rock 'n roll swindle, wasn't it? (Laughter)

Rob "The Baron" Miller of Amebix (1983)

Were there other Vice Squad side projects besides Chaotic Dischord, Sex Aids, and Dead Katss?

There was, but they formed their own label, Resurrection Records. They put out one single.

What single was that?

I'm trying to think of the bloody name of the band now. You've got me. I'm an old man now! I can't think of things like this.
Downtown Bristol (1980)

Is it Lunatic Fringe by any chance?

It is Lunatic Fringe, yes, that's correct. And Lunatic Fringe were also on "Riotous Assembly."

Right, right, and then they went on to do that EP later on for COR, I believe.

They did, yeah. Yup, Children Of The Revolution.

Do you know offhand, is there more Sex Aids or Dead Katss material because there's just those three songs for Sex Aids on the EP and then the one Dead Katss song on the comp... So is there more than that total?

So far as I know there are no more tracks, but, you know, I've been hoodwinked before. It wouldn't surprise me if they came to my door tomorrow with an album. "Hey, we recorded an album back in 1981, are you gonna release it?" I don't know. I don't think so, no. I would be very surprised. I wouldn't think they would have enough material. (Laughter)

Why was a new label, Not Very Nice Records, formed to release Chaotic Dischord's "Now! That's What I Call A Fuckin' Racket (Vol. 1)" LP?

Precisely because of that. Again, that was Shane's idea, the Vice Squad's drummer. He thought it would be a big laugh to actually put it on a different label name. I mean it was all done through Riot City, but we just changed the name of the label and just put Not Very Nice Records because it wasn't really a very nice record. (Laughter) And in fact, later on in years, we did get into trouble with EMI America for using that title.

Can you please comment on the "trouble" you're referring to? I'm going to wager that it's in reference to Punkcore's (U.S.) reissuing of that album and EMI's "Now" series, but i'm just wondering, if that's true, can elaborate, and was EMI successful in their pursuance of the name?

Yeah, the old "Now Thats What I Call" thing became a problem when it was reissued in America. EMI saw it and put an injunction on it and threatened me with all sorts of legal niceties.  I did try and argue the toss with them over all the "sanctioned" foreign bootlegs of EMI stuff openly on sale in the Middle East and seemiingly uncontested whereas me selling a few thousand copies gets jumped on.  Needless to say they didn't like me saying that either so I gracefully gave in. Thats it!
Disorder's "Perdition" (1982) line up: (L to R) Boobs, Steve Allen, Virus, Taf

What was the reason for the formation of Disorder Records instead of just including them on the Riot City roster, especially when you were already releasing material by Chaos UK?

Because Disorder didn't want to go on Riot City. Disorder thought they were too hardcore to be on Riot City and Vice Squad were too poppy.


Simple as that. I love Taf dearly from Disorder. And because he was in a band that I did on Heartbeat Records as well. Did you know that?

No, what band was that?

He was in the X-Certs. Oh yeah, good shit.

Oh, I didn't know that. Was he older than the rest of those people?

No, I don't think so. To be honest, I ain't got a fucking clue how old Taf is now. Taf is ageless. (Laughter) But that's the story. They thought they should have their own identity because they were a lot sort of more hardcore curbed than Chaos UK, I guess at that time. And they just felt that they didn't want to be part of the Riot City thing, and I was happy with that. Like I said, I'm a fan too, and I can see where they're coming from. So we decided to form a label for their band, yeah.
Ultra Violent
While records by Vice Squad, Abrasive Wheels, and the Ejected were selling pretty large numbers, what about releases like the Ultra Violent, Emergency, No Choice, and Underdogs? How many were pressed of records like those?

They did about 5,000. 3,000-5,000. The Ultra Violent was always one of my favorite releases on my Riot City. I thought that was a great release. And I like the Emergency one as well. Emergency were essentially part of Blitz. Did you know that?

No, I did not know that.

Yeah, yeah.

Do you know the connection there offhand by any chance?

They were all friends together basically. We did a gig with Blitz, and one of the guys said "We've got this song, but it's not like what we did. It's a slightly different thing." And I thought "Alright, let's hear it." They sent it to me and it was really good. And, yeah, that's what that's all about.

When you did the Ultra Violent, was that from a demo?


So had you heard them live or...?

They sent me a demo cassette of stuff, and those two songs were the ones I liked. But I think they recorded for someone else. I'm pretty sure they did something for someone else.

I was reading Ian Glasper's Burning Britain, and in regards to the Ultra Violent, it says that there were four songs recorded for the 7", three of which made it to the record. The fourth song was called "Sign Of The Times." Can you tell me why this song would have been left off?

Two reasons, it made the EP too long for a good loud cut, and we wanted a single track A side.

How did you go about finding out about new bands or asking a band to do a record? Did you worry about quality control and your label's reputation?

I always put out releases that I like. Some people might be surprised by that, but everything I release I like as a piece of music, otherwise I couldn't get myself behind it and want to work with it unless I was enjoying what I was hearing. So the things that I released on Riot City were things that I liked. Simple as that.

And what about finding out about new bands or asking a band to do a record?

Well, like I said before, I was getting heaps of demo tapes. I used to sift through them, and I used to choose. I used to see bands live and if something made me think "Well, this band's got something worth capturing," then I would say "Look, hey, that song you did three songs in was really good. Do you want to do that as a single?" It was honestly as loose as that. There was no master plan. It was just pick and choose what you find as you go along.

Were you intentionally diverse with the bands on your label? Because bands like the Varukers, Chaos UK, and Ultra Violent sound nothing like say No Choice for instance.
Varukers "Another Religion Another War" (1984) line up: (L to R) Andy Baker, Rat, Damian Thompson, Tony May
No, well, again you see, I've always had a very diverse taste in music, but I don't think you'd find much difference of the beliefs of the guy's of the bands in Chaos UK and No Choice. They were coming from the same angle, but they just delivered it in a different way.

Did you ever consider crossing over with a band from the anarcho scene like Exit-Stance or Flux Of Pink Indians or a post punk/goth band? No Future experimented a bit with Screaming Dead for example.

Sure, at one time, I was going to do something with SST. Yeah, I was in talks with the Black Flag people, and I was going to put out some American hardcore. Well, in fact, I did an album called "Hell Comes To Your House". That's where that came from. I was thinking of spreading my wings and doing something different. But I decided against it because I didn't think I would have enough time to do both. Because I've always done everything on my own. I've never had a partner, never had anyone to help me do it. Everything I've ever done on Riot City has been done purely by me alone. I did it that way, not because I don't trust people, but because I just wanted to make the attempt to make my own mistakes and make my own successes. I just enjoyed doing it that way.

Were there any bands that turned down offers from you or that broke up prior to recording? How about any bands that you turned down and regret or others you wish you'd asked?



Yup, I turned down Onslaught.

Onslaught early years photo

For the "Power From Hell" LP or for something...

Everything. They came to me in a pub with a demo, and they said "Hey, can you listen to this?" I said "Alright." So I took it home and listened to it. I looked at the work I had to do with other releases, and I loved what I heard, but I just couldn't have the time to do it. So I turned them down.

So was that toward the end of Riot City then?

It was, yeah. Yes, it was.

The "Power From Hell" LP is amazing obviously.

I know, I know. It was a combination of sales had probably started to drop off from Riot City. And probably my heart wasn't in it enough to want to do that.

There was a band called Genocide Association that involved the guy who went on to form Earache Records, and there's a letter online of theirs from the time stating they had a record offer from Riot City. I was wondering if this is true or bullshit.

The only link with Genocide Association is just that really. The band sent in a demo and I was impressed by it, etc. Not sure why we never did the release.

Genocide Association interview mentioning a Riot City offer

When you asked a band to do a single and they provided you with three songs, would the band go into the studio, record a bunch of songs, and then you or the band would choose what you felt to be the best three or how did that work?

No, they would go into the studio and record the three songs that we agreed prior to them going into the studio. Otherwise, they'd be in the bloody studio all week, and that'd cost a fortune. For instance, a good example of that is Mayhem, a band from Liverpool. We did a few gigs with them, and I really liked what they did. I said "Look, choose four songs that you want to do for your first EP." And they chose the four songs that they liked. "Good, love 'em. Go into the studio and record those four songs." That's what they did. Twice they did that.

How much unreleased material is there from the Riot City era? I know that the Underdogs for instance have two unreleased sessions, Chaos UK had that song "Police Protection", and there was the Expelled 12" that had been unreleased...

That's probably it actually. There are some live things which are floating around, but that really is probably it. Obviously bands like Mayhem may have recorded more themselves. But as far as my sessions go, nope, I think everything that's probably out there now is it.

I've always wondered about the likelihood that newly unearthed Riot City era stuff could be released.

Well, I've got loads of demos from bands that I don't know what to do with. And I often wonder whether it's worth doing a CD of all these demos, but I really don't know. It's not something I've made a conscious decision to do. But there really isn't any material that I know of that we haven't exhausted.

Put that Onslaught demo out on vinyl.

Well, yeah, yeah, definitely that's a good idea. (Laughter) I could even sell the cassette on eBay, I guess. (Laughter)

When "signing" a band, did you use contracts or just verbal agreements? Did the bands retain the rights to their songs and publishing?

I used a contract for Vice Squad because that was a bigger deal, and they also had a management team as well that required that. For all my publishing, I used not contracts, but what we call assignment forms. And you just assign that song to the Heartbeat Publishing Company and that's it. But the bands all own the rights to what they did, yeah.

So when labels like Anagram, Captain Oi, or Step 1 Music reissues them, do the bands receive royalties from that stuff?

Yes, they do. Oh yes. Basically how it works is the recording they do for me, I own that recording. And so that version of that song is mine or Captain Oi's or whoever. The band can go and record it again, and I have no say in it. That's how the system works.

Does Cherry Red currently own all of those then?

Captain Oi bought up the rights to Riot City Records.

When did they purchase that?

Probably five years ago maybe?

What was your reaction to Gary Bushell referring to Riot City as the "dustbin of punk"? Did that have any impact on sales?

(Laughter) People can say whatever the hell they like. He's just one guy, a journalist. A lot of people read his words, but they can read between the lines. He was always into the more sort of Blitz-ier side of punk, which is fine, not a problem. And if he didn't like me or the stuff I was putting out, then no problem. But he did like some. He liked Emergency and the Ejected and that sort of stuff.

Besides your issuing of the "Hell Comes To Your House" LP and the Channel 3 EP and DKs stuff, there were very few American releases on British labels. What do you think was the reason for this, and how did you come to release "Hell Comes To Your House?"

When I was talking about doing this deal, that was offered to me as a precursor to doing something more. And I listened to the album and I thought some of the tracks were really good. I thought maybe this is a stepping stone to see what the market was like and to see if it was an easy thing to work in Europe. It was quite difficult to be honest. I think that really sort of told me that if I wanted to go down that road as well, it would be a lot more work. I would have to get someone else to come in and give me a hand, maybe move to London. And I really wasn't up for that, so that's really what put the kibosh on that.

Did you have a relationship at all with Chris Berry or Richard Jones of No Future Records, Mike Stone from Clay, or anyone from Pax, Rot, Secret, or other labels?

Yeah, I knew Mike Stone you know obviously because the Wheels went to Clay. We spent a lot of time, we hung out together. He wanted to do it as amicably as he could, and I was quite happy with that. So we got to know each other. I knew Chris Berry and Richard Jones because they were both from Malvern, which is just north of Bristol geographically. So we were quite close, and I went to some of the gigs that they used to put on. It was all good stuff. I think there was some sort of pleasant rivalry between No Future and Riot City because we were dominating the top of the independent charts for about two years. They probably pipped it for the most releases over us. They had Blitz who always sold well anyway, so you know.

Looking back, what was your favorite release and who was your favorite band to work with?

Favorite band, I loved working with the Ejected. They were great guys. We had a lot of fun with them. But I also loved working people like Chaos UK 'cause they were just fucking crazy, and it was always fun being around them. Like I said to you before, I was a fan of the music, I loved doing the stuff, and I look back at it all with great affection. I said before that one of my favorite releases was Ultra Violent. I just thought that was a really strong single. I like the No Choice one. Obviously I like Vice Squad because Vice Squad were like my babies. I sort of grew up with them, they grew up with me, and it was good to see them do the sort of stuff they came out with. So yeah, I just enjoyed doing it all. Some of the gigs we did, I'd go with a lot of the bands, we did merchandise, and some of the gigs were just fantastically crazy times. It was just a really good thing to be part of, and I think I had a great life doing it.
Chaos UK photo in Punk Lives issue No. 5 (1982)
The Ejected - "A Touch Of Class" LP (1982)
What made you decide to call it quits with the label?

It was just a combination of falling sales and, with falling sales, there wasn't so much good music being offered. I just thought maybe it's time to quit while you're nearly ahead. (Laughter)

All in all you sold 154,413 7" singles, 28,203 12" EPs, and 50,220 LPs. Those numbers are quite staggering, wouldn't you say?

Well, they're not staggering if you did some of the things on No Future, it would be bigger figures. It was a staggering amount for me to sell as one guy doing a record label. I was pretty impressed with it looking back on it. It's even more impressive when you compare it with what people sell these days. I mean obviously the way you buy music these days is a lot different, but to be able to sell one type of media in that quantity, it was terrific, really exciting stuff.

Once Riot City was done, did you continue to follow the hardcore scene in Bristol with labels like COR and Manic Ears?

Yeah, I was aware of them. I kind of thought that because they were doing their own thing and I wasn't really sort of part of it enough to be involved in it. So they just go on with it, and I guess I thought "Well, I've done my bit. Now it's time for them to take over the helm, and they can take it to whatever level they can. Good luck to them all."

Are you still in contact with anyone from back then today?

A lot of people, yeah. Yeah, because people see things we released and they get in touch. "Hey, you've released such and such. Brilliant. Here it comes again." They're all really pleased that it's still out there. Because look, I mean let's face it, no one really thought 30 years later people would still be wanting to buy stuff that we did back then. That's a crazy thing. You do these things and you make the records, and you make them for the time. OK? It's a very sort of instantaneous thing. You do the record and in sort of six or seven weeks it's gone. You go onto the next one. Who would ever think "I'm doing this record and in 30 years time, people are going to be wanting to hear it again." You don't think like that, so it's an amazing thing to happen. I never dreamt that someone from America would want to phone me up 30 years after doing my first record wanting to talk about what I did. I'm flattered, which is what I said to you. I'm flattered and honored to talk to you about it.

[Post interview material]

Is there any chance you can just talk for a second about Mayhem or your experiences working with them?

They were a nice bunch of blokes. We did a couple of gigs with them. They seemed good, and the music was good. I always hoped they would do bigger things, really, because they were quite a strong band. I really did see them going places. I think they fell apart shortly after the second EP was released.

[Simon talking again:]

Going back to what you said about Chaos UK [pre-interview], if I had to have a favorite image of what I did back in those days, it's the picture I took of Chaos UK staying outside the hair salon.

Oh, you took that.

I took that. Still today, that is my favorite image of that time. I think it just captures everything, and they just look great. Going back to the "Riotous Assembly" thing as well, I took all those photographs for that as well. We arranged one Saturday morning for all the Bristol punks to come down to the center of Bristol. I was going to do this big photoshoot outside Virgin Records. We arranged this through the pubs and clubs, you know. "Be there, be there." And I went down there, and there were about 500-1000 punks down there. And we had the police and everything. It was a really fun day. (Laughter) But it's things like that that stick in your mind and they were just really, really good little periods of the time.
"Riotous Assembly" photo shoot, Bristol (1980)
When you look at Chaotic Dischord pictures and they're wearing "I Hate Chaos UK" shirts and had lyrics against them in their songs, what was the reason for all that?

There was always a bit of animosity between Chaos UK and Vice Squad because, you see, what you've got to realize is Vice Squad weren't hardcore at all. They didn't have any hardcore ethics. They liked punk rock, but they were more Buzzcocks than they were Disorder, shall we say. There was always like a little bit of rivalry going on, so they just used to say they used to hate each other, which was fun for me. I quite enjoyed all that.

Controversy sells, right.

Yeah, and of course on the Chaotic Dischord 12", when Captain Sensible was singing he of course got into that and started singing "I fucking hate Chaos UK. Who the fuck are Chaos UK anyway?" (Laughter)
Beki Bondage of Vice Squad

Does the "Fuck Off You Cunt, What A Load Of Bollocks" by Chaotic Dischord have Beki singing do you know?

What happened was Chaotic Dischord, they were essentially the Vice Squad road crew. And the Vice Squad road crew split. (Laughter) Essentially what happened was Igor moved up to London. Bambi, who was guy who was the main instigator, stayed in Bristol. And so Igor decided to record an album up there with different people and call it Chaotic Dischord.

I understand. So it's only sort of Chaotic Dischord.

It's only sort of Chaotic Dischord, yeah. It's not the real Chaotic Dischord.

Is there other Chaotic Dischord material that's unreleased?

There always might be because they did a lot of stuff that even I probably don't know about. I don't know. There always could be, who knows. Leave it open.


Additional information:

The Riot City Records Story - Simon Edwards

Monday, April 20, 2015

Vex Interview

Over the the next few weeks, I will be adding interviews and possibly some articles from the aborted anarcho punk/goth issue of Negative Insight. Originally slated to be Issue #2 and feature bands such as Vex, Part 1, The Mob, Southern Death Cult, and many more, we ultimately decided to abandon the issue. The first part is a Vex interview that is included below.


For some bands, a lack of output relegates them to the land of forgotten obscurity where their legacy and quality are represented by permanent residence in the dollar bin. For others, a lack of output elevates them to a level of obscurity obsessively sought out by a dedicated few intrigued by greatness that came and went with such little documentation. Vex can safely be placed in the latter category, far and above dollar bin fodder. In fact, Vex may be the perfect example of the adage "less is more." Having left behind only one official vinyl release of their own (the four song "Sanctuary" 12" on the Mortarhate Records offshoot Fight Back Records, 1984), along with a prior demo, a few comp tracks, and some live tapes, they seemingly vanished from existence, gaining themselves quite an allure and mystique. This became even more true due to their one and only 12" being a flawless staple, if not the pinnacle, of the genre. Vex's lack of further output leaves their legacy untarnished by lesser subsequent release, but it also leaves one salivating over how great of an LP they could have written.

Vex took the best elements of several precursors and combined them to create their own sound. This included the anthemic protest charge of anarcho punk, the jagged guitar work of Killing Joke, the harmonic and impassioned vocals of Southern Death Cult, and hypnotic tribal drum rhythms of Siouxie And The Banshees. Vex released a three song demo in 1983, of which the track "It's No Crime" would be re-recorded for inclusion on their "Sanctuary" 12" a year later. Another song from the demo, "Pressure," would be included on the "Not Waving But Drowning" compilation LP (Little Sister Enterprises, 1983). And the version of "It's No Crime" from the "Sanctuary" 12" also appears on the "Who What? Why? When? Where?" LP (Mortarhate Records, 1984). But the most interesting of their comp tracks is their final submission, "Rushing To Hide," from the "We Don't Want Your Fucking Law!" LP (Fight Back Records, 1985), as this song is clearly taken from a different studio session than those that produced their other tracks. Were more songs recorded at the time of "Rushing To Hide"? If so, how many and what happened to them? I would love to know. "Rushing To Hide" shows the band with a bit more tense sound. The vocals are slightly less melodic and instead border on shouted. Perhaps this is closer to how a follow up release would have sounded. I can only hope that some day additional songs from that session will be released.

In addition to the demo and studio recordings, there are at least three known live bootlegs floating around. The first is raw in quality and was recorded live in Norwich, England on July 22, 1983. The second was recorded on March 3, 1984 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, England. It contains six songs from the demo and 12" and is of pretty good quality. The third is from an unknown date and venue and features nine songs of less than great quality as well. All three sets feature songs that were not on any official Vex releases such as "Tonight," "Passion Wall," "Shadow Of Beauty," and a cover of T. Rex's "20th Century Boy."

The lack of information regarding the band is rarely seen in today's age of instant communication and limitless resources to track people down. The days of record collectors calling everyone across the country with the same name of the band members they are trying to hunt down are over. Internet search engines and social networking sites have made it so you can find virtually anyone as quickly as you can type. Still, the former members of Vex remained elusive. Even folks who personally knew the band had no idea what happened to them. Rumors regarding the ex-members whereabouts made their story that much more intriguing. So it was with great surprise after much searching that I was able to come across a former member of this enigmatic group. Scrote, Vex's vocalist who now goes by the name Yanu, was kind enough to reply to my emails about the band's history. Unfortunately, his memory was not the best on the details sadly due to a struggle with drug abuse for many years. But Yanu is now clean and recounted as much as he could in this bio in his own words.

All words by Yanu, taken from several email conversations over the first half of 2011 and broken up into two separate parts.

Part 1:

You're right, I haven't been directly involved in the punk scene for a long time now. I think if you were bought up in that era then it never really leaves you. I'm still an anarchist at heart just not interested in the punk scene or music anymore.

It's pretty surprising to me that people are still interested in Vex considering the limited amount of music that we managed to record, but I'm glad people are still enjoying it.

The best track we recorded was "Rushing To Hid," which was put out on Mortarhate's "We Don't Want Your Fucking War" LP, but I haven't been able to find it anywhere as I don't have a recording of it myself.

I've checked out Vex online once or twice and am pretty amazed that there are people still discussing our 12" EP, "Sanctuary," and putting up YouTube videos, etc.

When punk first happened in the late '70s, it was so liberating. There was a real vibe on the street, a real feeling that we could smash the status quo and create something better. The first time I heard Johnny Rotten from the Pistols tell some radio reporter to "Fuck off," I was in the kitchen at my home with my mother. She was totally shocked and turned the radio off. It was amazing. It somehow gave me permission to say fuck off as well. I was only 15 or something at the time and all my resentments from parental pressure to school, etc. was just bubbling up inside me. I soon as I heard him say them words it lit a fuze in me; it allowed me to say it and mean it too. I wanted freedom, real freedom, fuck all their laws, rules, inhibitions, etc. I think it was that week I dyed my hair with blue food colouring, tore up my trousers and t-shirts and there was no going back...

After a while of being on the scene, i realized the real hardcore Anarchists were the bands like Crass, Conflict etc, although by the time i was old enough to play music was the early 80's with bands like Southern Death Cult and Bauhaus were on the rise.

I agreed with the sentiment of the anarchist bands but enjoyed the music more of the early goth bands and i guess that's how Vex started, with our feet in both those worlds..

It was funny when we first did shows, we weren't like any other bands on the venue. The first times we played in support of Conflict the crowds just either watched or hurled abuse at us, in there minds we weren't hardcore enough musically but after a while they caught on to our vibe. One of our best shows was at the 100 Club in London when we blew Broken Bones { the guitarist from Discharges band } away, getting so many encores that by the time the headline act came on there was hardly anyone left in the audience.

You have to understand that most of that period of my life I was on a cocktail of solvents, speed, alcohol, marijuana and a varied assortment of pills, haha. Most of the connections to our recordings and most of the gigs I can't remember, as I was out of my head most of the time, as was most of the audience.

What I do remember was why we finally split up just as it was about to take off for us. We had the possibility of a signing to a major label that meant we would have to subdue some of our styling and lyrics, etc. Me and the drummer, Mark Russell, stuck to our anarchistic guns and told the label where to go and the guitarist and the bass player wanted us to compromise in order to get more airplay. (They, both being more form the goth background than the hardcore anarchist roots than me and the drummer held to.) From what I can remember, the arguing inside the band on this fundamental point of differences in direction split the band up eventually...

By this time, I was using heroin and really can't remember too much about it as the drug was starting to consume my life.

After Vex, I basically lost myself completely to my addiction to heroin, all my values of freedom and anarchistic revolution went out the window as I became more and more addicted, eventually ODing multiple times, ending up in and out of insane asylums and drug rehabs...

As for me now, miraculously I've been clean from drink and drugs for over 17 years now, half of my friends from the punk days are either dead, in prison or suffering from addiction problems themselves. The only people I know who are still carrying the banner strong are Conflict, although I don't have any contact with the band members.

Punk and anarchism for me was fine as an initial ideology of rebellion, but beyond smashing everything up (and believe me, if you knew any of us back then, we smashed a lot of shit up), as a way of living and generating an alternative future, it failed in my opinion.

It's worn now more as a fashion statement than as a way of life, and in my opinion, has no real power...

As for me, I've been an outlaw my whole life... I've never voted, I've never paid a dime in tax, I even now use a pseudonym so no government can track my where abouts. I'm FREE: I do what I want, where I want, with who ever I want, whenever I want and have worked out a way to live pretty self sustaining and self supporting.

I don't listen to punk nor do i dress like one anymore, but I live more the life of a true anarchist than most people I know...

Viva La Revolution

Part 2:

Like I said before, I was pretty high most of the time, but I think it was A&M that wanted to sign us up for a record deal. We were supposed to do a punk cover of "Twentieth Century Boy" by T Rex, and we wanted the cover art to be a picture of a punk kicking in a TV screen with Margaret Thatcher's face on it, but they wouldn't let us use that. So like I said before, we had an internal fight within the band. Me and Mark the drummer not wanting to comprimise, and it ended up splitting the band up.

To do with Conflict, we were all from pretty much the same area South East London. I can't remember exactly how we managed to end up on the road with them but we did. It was a lot of fun, we all got along pretty cool. "Sanctuary" was made and, yes, I think that was made before any other compilations we were on and stuff. We owed a lot to Conflict; they got our name on the map in whatever small way we were recognized at the time. As for Colin and Conflict, I ain't got a bad word to say about 'em, had some great times with Big John and Paco. Of course we're all hypocrites in our own way, but Conflict are still going strong and inspiring people to personal liberty.

I guess Conflict were the closest band we were into and played with, other bands like Dirt, Flux, etc. were around, but we kept ourselves to ourselves. Like I said before, being more inspired musically by Southern Death Cult, UK Decay, Joy Division, etc.

As for the "Rushing To Hide" recordings, yes, there were different takes of that that were recorded. As for are there any other recordings of other songs, god knows. We didn't do that much recording really, mostly just lotsa gigs... I think Mortarhate probably own the rights to our music, I've got no fucking idea, ha.

After the band split, we all went our different ways, and I only keep in contact with Mark the drummer occasionally. As for Duncan and Dave, the bass player and guitarist, who knows where they are at now and what there doing...

As for the days of Vex and the scene back then, it was fucking amazing: full of vitality, power and the feeling of constant revolution. When you could go to the Lyceum in London and see eight of the top punk bands for £4, it was great. You have to remember the punks were at war, literally, with the skinheads and fascist movement at the time. I had a huge spiked chain that I would wrap around the mike stand and when the skinheads would bust in, as they inevitably did to try and disrupt the gig, I would pull that chain off the stand and be cracking skulls at the edge of the stage to keep them at bay...

I go to gigs now occasionally, where they stat at 9 PM sharp and end at 11 PM with loud music and a bunch of posers and generally come away disappointed. Wishing that there was the vibe we had back in the day, the feeling of anarchy and destruction and total fucking mayhem most of the time, haha...

That's all ya getting from me bro, hope it works for ya.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Greek Crust (Hibernation, Chaotic End, etc.)

This article was originally included in a Social Napalm email update that was published in February of 2012.

For the write up at the end this month, my man Ian the librarian has written an excellent and very detailed piece on Greek crust. The Greek scene (like the Polish scene) has produced an extensive amount of great crust punk that often goes unheralded for a variety of reasons. Ian goes into these reasons in his own piece, but just to emphasize it, I think strongest reason is the language barrier and the fact that the Greek language features it's own unique alphabet separate from the Latin derived languages used by the rest of Europe, making it difficult for non Greek speaking fans to familiarize themselves with specific band names and releases. Bands whose names were translated to English such as Hibernation, Chaotic End, and Forgotten Prophecy became far better recognized for the English version of their name than their proper Greek language name. The defining characteristic of Greek crust is how much it is all influenced by Amebix and Axegrinder with their own distinct traits added on, and this continues to this day. Greece has always had a vibrant tradition of class consciousness and political protest dating back to well documented ancient times, and this is also clear in the lyrics and themes of the songs. The article covers the big name bands as well as many lesser known groups as well, and i'm really happy to have it included here. So mega thanks to Ian for contributing it. If anyone would like to contact him directly, go for it at iduncans@gmail.com.

Here it is:

Erik invited me to write a brief article about Greek crust, which is still by and large criminally underrated outside of Greece. I don't purport to know much about the inner-workings of the bands or scene; I'm writing about these records purely from a fan's perspective. Moreover, I’m going to be discussing the crustier side of the music and will be skipping some of Greece’s great punk bands, such as Genia Tou Chaous (Chaos Generation) and Stress. Greek punk feels virtually unknown outside of Greece, perhaps partially because of the more insular nature of the scene, or possibly because the Greek alphabet makes the band names difficult to read and search for by anyone who isn’t familiar with the language. Nevertheless, while European countries like Sweden and Finland were putting themselves on the map doing their own take on Discharge and Disorder, Greece seemed to be years late to hardcore punk and instead had a flourishing post-punk scene influenced by usual suspects like Joy Division. Hardcore slowly emerged in the mid-late '80s with bands like Stress, Adieksodo (Dead End), Antidrasi (Reaction), and Genia Tou Chaous – check out the "Διατάραξη Κοινής Ησυχίας," or "Disturbance of the Common Peace" compilation from 1984 on Enigma Records for a good overview of early Greek punk. It's a stellar comp, with each band contributing two unique songs that prove to be some of their best material.

It wasn't long before Greek punks emerging from the squat scene clearly began absorbing Amebix and Axegrinder records, and the scene emerged with its own uniquely Greek take on heavy, dark crust that took over and is still popular there today. Like current Greek politics and protests, the music is volatile with dark, apocalyptic overtones. I’m going to do my best to summarize the more accessible bands (i.e. those that had vinyl releases).

Industrial Suicide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp5f5kAhlOg)
Possibly the first band in Greece to play in the heavier, crustier style that would define later bands. They released two demo tapes (in 1987 and 1989) before members went on to form Naytia (Nausea). Industrial Suicide played abrasive, metallic crust punk with guttural vocals very much akin to Swedish bands like Bombanfall or Doom and Bolt Thrower's early material. Both tapes are available online in their entirety if you look around, but I have yet to find copies with good sound quality. It’s a shame – these demos are absolutely crying out for a nice reissue!

Antidrasi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wab-yp6zjSE)
Antidrasi are more of a hardcore punk band who remind me of South American / Mexican bands like Olho Seco and Massacre 68. They released a hyper-rare and abrasive 7” that should appeal to any and all noise-punks in 1989, and then an LP with a similar sound in 1990. The LP is one of the cornerstones of Greek HC – it’s raw, abrasive, and highly political. The cover features a zombie cop in front of the Greek flag, and the first song (translating to "Pig Meat") directly references the riots-sparking murder of a Greek teenager by cops. Antidrasi's second LP, "Enantia" ("Against") is a bit more polished, but still very strong HC and highly recommend. They are still together nowadays and still as politically-active as ever, but their music is more metallic hardcore and lacks the rawer edge that makes their first handful of records so great.

Naytia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJGWkjtM3s0)
One of the classics of Greek punk, Naytia formed in 1987 or 1988 playing crust-influenced hardcore. I could be wrong, but I believe that personnel from Industrial Suicide were involved. Their first demo ("The Sweet Secrets of Life") was released in 1989, followed by the fantastic “European Alienaissance” LP in 1991 and a split LP with German band Graue Zellen on Skuld in 1994. The LP has a detailed foldout poster with English translations of the lyrics and plenty of artwork. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find and is in dire need of a repress.

Negative Stance (Arnitika Stahsi) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8Q_tuMB5mA)
Some of Negative Stance's material is a bit more on the traditional melodic Greek HC punk tip than crust, but I'm including them because they gigged around with the bigger crust bands in the early 1990s and definitely had a few metal flourishes. They released a split LP with British band Kismet HC in 1990, and then a full-length of their own ("Angels of Deceit") on Greece’s famous Wipe Out! Records; Genet Records did the international version, making it pretty easy to locate. There was also a 7” released on none other than Profane Existence that same year, featuring two songs that were on the LP. Like much of Greek punk, their lyrics were introspective and existential but still highly political.

Forgotten Prophecy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hygXTxaoRvw)
Similar in sound to Naytia (and I believe featuring at least one ex-member), Forgotten Prophecy was a short-lived band very much in the traditional dark Greek crust vein. Their sole recorded legacy is a split LP with the pre-Fleas and Lice band Mushroom Attack, released by Loony Tunes out of the UK in 1990.

Panikos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7OW1f4d6dQ)
Formed in the late '80s and still going strong, Panikos are for me of the genre-defining Greek crust bands. Their sound veers from slower, heavier Amebix-inspired slowness to faster, more rocking crust-metal songs. Their split LP with Germans WWK and 7" from the 1990s are excellent and reasonably easy to find. The strongest recording may be "Awakening From Lethargy," released last year on a bevy of labels and still readily available in distros. The production is thick and crunchy with great rocking crust riffs and some minimal spacey synth work that doesn’t overwhelm the music.

Hibernation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WHBjID-z_E)
I always lump Hibernation in with Panikos in the pantheon of '90s Greek crust even though their riffs are a bit less rock-influenced. They’re faster on their 7”s released in 1997 and 2000; 2003's Skuld LP "Into the Silence of Eternal Sorrow: slows down the pace and adds some synth. The LP also boasts a less muddy production than the still solid 7"s. Guitarist Alexander was also in Forgotten Prophecy. These records are all pretty easy to locate, and well worth the effort.

Chaotic End (Xaotiko Telos) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTqNOaPbPA0)
An absolute must for Amebix / Axegrinder fans, Xaotiko Telos had members of Ashen Breath and Hibernation. They played heavy, dirgey crust with strong riffing and a good use of synth, never overwhelming the music. The singer sounds phenomenally angry and desperate, like he’s shouting on a moonless night near some ancient Greek ruins. Note that the cover of their sole 1993 LP on Wipe Out! Records features the ‘crust bird,' popularized later by Tragedy. When it comes to their imagery, I can’t help but also be a bit reminded of the more ecologically-minded Scottish bands Sedition and Scatha.

Ashen Breath (Anasa Stahti) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWZZDIBlvPY)
Along with the Chaotic End LP, this is one of the very best Greek crust records. The riffs are catchy and the band plays faster ala Panikos or Forgotten Prophecy. They did one LP on the small Greek label "Do It Yourself" Records in 1994, and were also featured on a comp. a few years later on the same label. The LP is probably the rarest Greek crust record, but stock copies of the compilation did turn up a few years ago and can probably still be scored for an only semi-crazy price.

Psychosis (Ψύχωση) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQpaGN-cN30)
Really just a footnote because I haven't heard much about or by them, but Psychosis' two tracks on the aforementioned Do It Yourself Records compilation are top-tier examples of heavy '90s Greek crust punk. I would love to hear the entire demo!

Newer Bands:
There are also a handful of newer Greek crust bands that are well worth a look for fans of the style. Stateless in the Universe (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0E5g8EJ3VA ) had a member of Naytia and did a split LP with a German band called Knallkopf in 2001, and then seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth. It's a little more melodic than Naytia, mainly because of the less guttural vocals. Epithanatios Roghos (Death Rattle - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr5aRw4v2XY) plays crust with a melodic edge not too far from bands like His Hero Is Gone, but with that distinct Greek style. They did a split LP with Poreia Sto Perithorio (Journey to the Margin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5zYZn06Nh4) which is still moderately easy to find, and was even sitting around in distros in the U.S. for a couple of years. Dyspnea (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN67sFKMtqI) plays stench Greek crust with guttural vocals – check out their split 7” with Czech crusties Nakot. Anti-Mob (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TetY9n7jKmg) is a melodic crust band with some slight Tragedy / Japanese similarities, but the Greek style propels what might be forgettable into something worth tracking down. They are best known for a split 7” with the German band Burial, but they also did their own 7” five years ago that received limited distribution. Most recently, there's Hellstorm (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M2HBgjASbg), who, as the name implies, take a few cues from Axegrinder but maintain their own Greek sound. They did a single-sided, screened 12” (a vinyl release of their demo) and a split LP with Last Legion Alive. To my knowledge, these records have only really been distributed in Europe, but are still available.

Deutsch Punk Uber Alles! (1980s German Punk)

I am extremely grateful and pleased to feature a fantastic article written on 1980s German punk from a long time friend writing under the pseudonym of Oswald Bitterman. His knowledge is extensive on this stuff, and i'm just flattered to have one of his writings featured here.

Deutsch Punk Uber Alles!
by Oswald Bitterman

When punk rock exploded in the late 70's, the aftershocks were felt immediately around the world. By the time the first wave of bands from New York and London were releasing their debuts, bands were popping up in every rock n roll loving country you can point to on a map. Hardcore, of course, arrived a few years later. Western Europe and Japan soon followed suit again: the international hardcore scene peaking in the mid 80's. At this time, the first wave of this sub genre seemed to be floundering in regards to the US and Britain. As a result, many of the absolute best punk records of 1984-1986 are from non English speaking countries. One could argue that the spread of hardcore around the world was a credit to the deep meaning hidden within these abrasive tunes.

Culture crossed national borders much slower and with more difficulty in those pre-internet years. People would write to each other from across the world, trading records, dubbed cassettes and merchandise. Being into this music in some places was a heroic act in itself. In the Soviet Bloc, any cultural deviants faced crushing opposition from the powers that be. People faced time in jail or a mental institution for stepping out Communist Party norms. No privately owned labels meant no way to get controversial music released. (For instance: Dezerter, Poland's biggest punk export, could only get their 1983 debut 7" released on a state-run label or not at all.). Parts of Latin America boasted large punk communities in spite of all the gang violence, murderous drug cartels, poverty and almost complete lack of a music industry infrastructure. Through commitment and dedication, many of these scenes have been able to survive into the present day.

International hardcore did have some popularity within the UK and US music scenes at this time. Probably a half dozen such acts played the US, usually financing their tour with massive Goldenvoice promoted gigs in Southern California. The British punk scene eventually embraced the groups too. Along with US hardcore and Celtic Frost, bands from Sweden and Japan were among the most important influences on the late 80's crust scene.

Fast forward to contemporary punks: this past decade has seen a real explosion in interest in foreign hardcore from the 1980's (and today). It has now gotten to the point where Rattus shirts seem to outnumber the GBH shirts at shows.

Obviously file sharing has had a hand in all this. Music from all over the world is readily available at the push of a button and kids now seem to know who Eskorbuto is before they have even heard The Damned. So its now much easier to find out about bands from far flung corners of this tainted globe. But whats the appeal of these acts? The fact is, its not just punk in another language, different countries had their own sounds: taking bits from the US and British scenes and making them their own. Any language barrier is basically irrelevant. Plenty of these groups sang in English and with real punk, you cant understand the words no matter what anyway. Music in another language also makes for a unique and special listening experience. The human voice becomes a fourth instrument, so you can concentrate on the rush of glorious noise. Album artwork should tip the listener off to lyrical content and you can certainly bet if the group is a gaggle of mohicans, they aren't singing about the glory of Jeebus!

Within the scene, three clear favorites seem to have emerged: Finland, Sweden and Japan. My own favorite is quite clear too to anyone who knows me. It is punk from Germany: Deutschpunk!

In my definition, Deutschpunk in the 80's was a sound, not just bands that played punk in the Western Republic of Germany (info on East German punk, like the excellent Schleimkeim, is difficult to come by and that's another story completely). To split hairs, I would not include some of the very good but more generic bands like Vorkriegsphase and Crap Scrapers within this definition because they sounded like they could be from another country. The "classic" Deutschpunk musical style was somewhat similar to second wave UK punk with its boozy singalong choruses. However, its often played at a faster clip. This speed doesn't seem to translate into a significant USHC influence. It almost sounds artificially sped up at times: like UK82 played at the wrong RPM. Many of the best acts of the genre played a variety of musical styles within the punk spectrum side by side. Production was usually professional without being too squeaky clean, so the shoelace raw punk maniacs can still dig a lot of it.

Of the no doubt rich history of this chapter of punk I have very little knowledge. The vague time line in this article is based on impressions I've gotten from collecting the genre for about a decade, some sparse info I've obtained from various sources and from my own personal opinions.

Like many international scenes, punk in Germany trailed the original British movement by a few years to the point that many of the bands were still playing mid tempo '77 style punk by 1980-1982. However, the collective musical palette of the subculture in the country was also expanding with Oi! style acts popping up (Daily Terror), as well as some so-so generic hardcore acts. The best early bands of this period and slightly earlier were The Buttocks and Screamer. The Buttocks were absolutely a proto-HARDCORE band. They formed in the late 70's playing blisteringly fast punk tunes. Lyrical content protested police violence and New Wave sellout foolishness. Screamer, from Hamburg, was another awesome group from around the same time. They eventually evolved into the ever popular Slime and, in fact, several songs off the second Slime LP are reworked/re-recorded Screamer songs. The excellent post Slime combo, The Targets, used some of these tunes as well.

I would consider the peak period for the scene to be between 1983 and 1986 but a preview of the brilliance to come could be seen a few years earlier in the form of the above mentioned Slime but also the equally outstanding Upright Citizens. These two acts seemed to get the ball rolling above all others with a much more evolved sound. Slime first appeared in 7" form with a controversial offering titled 'Wir Wollen Keine Bullenschweine' (which translates roughly to "We don't want pigs") and also tracks on the important "Soundtracks Zum Untergang" compilation LP. "Polizei/SA/SS" off this record, is one of their very best songs. Again, the lyrical mode is one of anti-police sentiment (which is always punk as fuck, of course) and the song is very very fucking fast. Its as full of piss and vinegar as the ground breaking Middle Class 'Out of Vogue' EP and much faster than anything coming out of the UK at this time. Frankly, the sheer brilliance of this cut makes the rest of the bands on the record look stupid and old fashioned, in my opinion. Upright Citizens exploded into the scene with their excellent 'Bombs of Peace' 12" in 1982. The primary influence was clearly British but more fast and scrappy. The total package was topped off by snotty but socially aware lyrics (in English). They would go on to be one of the most vital acts of the era, very much tied into the broader international hardcore scene. To the best of my knowledge, they were the first and only band during the period to tour the US.

As stated before, I think 1983 was the year Deutschpunk really came into its own. In record numbers, bands all over West Germany picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Slime. 1983 and the couple of years following, saw a flurry of mind blowing releases with nary a dud in evidence. The country had one of the largest punk communities in the world as evidenced by the Chaos-Tage punk festival held in Hanover. (The fest was attended yearly by thousands of rowdy punk rockers, toting around pet rats, burning down the city and clashing with Nazi Skinheads).

There is just so much to like about this amazing era of punk rock. I present to you a short list of some of my favorite Deutschpunk bands and their best records in no particular order.

Slime from Hamburg is a group I highly regard among all punk bands. They are arguably the biggest act of this time period and are considered one of the most important underground groups to come from Germany EVER. They certainly set the tone for the bands that followed in their wake. Unlike most other acts, they were fresh right out of the box and played in that classic Deutschpunk vein a good 3 years before everyone else. Their musical style is characterized by big, sweeping terrace chant choruses complimenting non-wimpy anthems, lightning fast ragers and unfortunately the occasional reggae tune (ignore this dreck: the only major blemish on their early discography). The groups anti-police/anti government stance got them into hot water and made them infamous. Their records were banned, stores selling their merchandise were raided and their gigs were busted up by the pigs. In this way, they were almost like the Deutsche Sex Pistols/Black Flag! Narrowing down a favorite among the three incredible albums they released before their original split in the mid 80's is a difficult task. In my opinion, their career highlight is "Stortebeker" off their third LP 'Alle Gegen Alle' but best over all release..?After much soul searching and painful introspection, I would have to select their 1981 debut self titled LP. The album has both English and Deutsche language tracks , divided into two sides. It begins with the rousing call to arms: "We don't need the Army" and doesn't stop being nearly perfect until the needle lifts. Again, its hard to pick a favorite as nearly every song is amazing. (Ignore the reggae song!!!!) Even the slightly goofy "Robot Age" has a killer chorus; something of a Slime trademark it appears. "A.C.A.B." is a stand out cut. It ranks among the best tunes on the topic of that very special relationship between punk and pig and is quite superior to the 4-Skins songs of the same name. "Hey Punk!" will also have you uncontrollably pumping your fist and thrashing around your dingy studio apartment. This record was so very awesome that the authorities tried to literally drown out the sentiments contained within. There is a censored version of it, with amusingly enough, parts of songs actually bleeped out to protect the delicate sensibilities of the public. Those songs are basically unlistenable in this form but it still makes one chuckle.

Crawling out of the punk rock gutters of Cologne, came Bluttat ("Bloody Deed"). I have heard them compared to DIRT and Potential Threat and that sounds vaguely correct. Its punk rock with male and female vocals and anarcho ethics. Lyrical topics include: war, police, apartheid, no future etc but with a sense of humor. They released three LPs in the first half of the decade. Their second album, 'Nkululeko', is their most hardcore offering, which of course makes it their best. Released in 1984, it really does sound like a faster, more raw Potential Threat on many songs. "Oarl" features some excellent use of male and female vocals. “Fight your Wars” is another classic with a forceful but catchy chorus coupled over some alarmingly intense guitar thrashing. "Sty" compares the West German republic to the place where swine dwell in their own filth and has a cool bridge chant of "Destroy the motors of society!" Sound advice and an indication of the band's noble mission. The record has a lot of songs and a lot of ideas. Its not all thrashy punk but they manage to pull it all off including some forays into an acapella and a weird creepy slow number with keyboards. A hardcore punk classic!

Vorkriegsjugend (not to be confused with Vorkiegsphase) hailed from Berlin. This was a band of squatter punks. They shared members with Zerstorte Jugend, who were also excellent.

The Vorkiegsjugend moniker means "pre-war youth" and they still retain a sizable fan base to this day despite a very small discography. The 'Heute Spass, Morgen Tod' EP was their first release. Other than the fact that its a double 7" (not unheard of but not too common), the first thing one notices is the cool cover. Its a photo of their dingy, run down squat with barely visable Articles of Faith and Void logos on it. However, the music is pure Deutschpunk, not much yank influence in evidence. It features seven songs: four fast and three mid tempo, but its never boring for a second. The vocal style is high and raspy. A bit evil sounding even for a Teutonic language. "Vaterland" begins the assault on your feeble eardrums. Its a pounding and catchy slower track with an irresistible bass-line. It kicks into the faster "Ratten" before the next track "Rache" which is even better with its cool, echo-y chorus. The two sounds, slow and fast ,featured at the beginning, set the town for the remaining tracks: the songs alternate between the two tempos. This record is frankly one of the best of the genre but unfortunately one of the hardest and most expensive to find in its original format (typically German punk records are fairly cheap). I recommend seeking out the 12" reissue on a Brazilian label from a couple years later.

…And then there's Blut + Eisen from Hanover. This band is my absolute favorite and the first Deutschpunk band that really clicked with me. During their reign, they released two LPs, a 7" and a split 7". Much like Slime, I found it hard to decide on which record stands above the others. 'Schon Geseh'n', their second album is great. It features some of the very best songs they did but half of it is some odd (but kinda cool) slower numbers that flow into each other. Their first LP, "Schrei Doch!" is thus their magnum opus. The record is just amazing. Its fearless originality makes it hard to accurately describe, however: mere words cannot do it justice. The sound is catchy and intense but skewed and random without being arty. It features atypical song arrangements, songs that end and begin without a break, weird middle sections with church bells in the background and a part where the tune just stops and everyone counts to three, three times before it kicks back in again with stunning speed and precision.

These are dense songs, with many more different parts to them than is average in short hardcore punk blasts. But they also feature Abrasive Wheels style hooks that will stay in your brain until the cops beat you into a stupor. There isn't a single bad song on the record. Just when you think its going to be a boring bit, it kicks into a different riff and the whole thing changes. My absolute favorite Deutschpunk song of all time rages hard as the second to last track. "Darf ich es wagen das zu sagen" is one of the most pissed off punk songs ever written, especially as it builds to its crescendo at the end. It also features some cool reverb on the vocals like so many great UK82 bands.

Along with Malinheads, Scapegoats and Vorkiegsphase, Inferno unleashed the most brutal thrash attack among Deutschpunk bands. However, in the classic German punk tradition, this Augsburg act had a very tight and polished sound and well written tunes . This is why I don't lump them in with the above mentioned noise merchants. Words like "harsh" and "dark" come to mind when you are indulging in their brilliant music, but its all still very hummable for those of us who aren't nursing or elderly. They appeared on many compilations and offered up a slew of uniformly incredible records right up through 1986 but 1983's 'Tot & Wahnsinn' is their gem among gems. 'Death and Madness' the title translates to and boy, does it fit. Although admittedly it does features a few tracks with silly lyrics like "Ram it Up", its 20 tracks of unprecedented intensity. This is their debut, and its great right down to the awesome Pushead artwork of an unfortunate fellow with a melting face.”Life at War” uses slower and fast bits to great effect, and the excellent "Escape from.." raises the middle finger to society with a chainsaw-like guitar whizzing away. Basically hardcore punk perfection.

These are just some of many many incredible releases from this time period to come out of Germany. For better or for worse, things changed after 1986, just like everywhere else. It was now the age of Teutonic thrash metal (Kreator, Sodom etc). In the punk world, this period saw the rise of US style "skate-core" bands like Spermbirds, Hostages of Ayatollah, Sons of Sadism and others. It wasn't terrible music but honestly seemed very light weight and childish compared to what came before. (why anyone would rather wear shorts and a baseball cap over a leather jacket and boots is beyond me but hey, I wasn't there!) This scene was more woven into the larger hardcore movement happening at this time and so punk in Germany lost a good deal of its uniqueness. In spite of this, the country apparently remains a staunch punk zone to this day, catering to a variety of sub genres under this big banner labeled 'punk'. Still, the classic period of hardcore punk from Germany remains very under appreciated compared to Japan and others, even though the record are relatively cheap and easy to find. I look forward to the day when more people know about and appreciate these great sounding bands.