REVENGE OF THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN, a committed DIY hardcore punk band from Manchester, existed between 2004 and 2018 and rose to lofty heights in the scene. Ostensibly playing fast, fun, unpretentious hardcore and killer anthems, they also managed a little ska and even some dance remixes along the way. Kibou, Autonomonster and Toxic Wotsit have deemed it appropriate to bring forth a tribute single to pay homage to this well-loved band.
Five acts have taken up the challenge and they are a disparate lot, thankfully. East Anglia’s ever-prolific DOMESTICS haven’t tampered with the template for Booze Time but they do up the ante in the energy stakes. Lightening fast hardcore, done and dusted in a minute with exquisite gang back-ups. A perfect distillation of pulse-pounding punk. Ipswich’s CASUAL NAUSEA take on the brilliantly titled Fuck The Sea. They don’t break any new ground with the song but they are graced with an amazing female singer and a dude who sounds like Vyvyan off of The Young Ones. Oh, and a kind of ersatz Ukrainian folk guitar solo. I think.
Hastings’ MATILDA’S SCOUNDRELS bring their ‘aggro folk punk’ to the song Rrose Sélavy (To Make a Toast to Life). The folk touches are cool but the punk sections fall a little flat and the overall effect is underwhelming.
Netherlands’ BATWÖLF take on Ik Ben Frank and it’s pretty basic gruff punk which, while rattling along enjoyably enough, does little to butter my parsnips. Finally, from Denmark, we have STÖJ SNAK.
An acoustic-screamer-songwriter deal, their take on Another Way is a treat for two reasons: first, it has a rambunctious, earthy appeal akin to Reinventing Axel Rose-era AGAINST ME! Secondly, it features one Troels from the band MIGHTYMIDGETS. I know, right? They’re new to me too so I looked them up. Where have they been all my life? They had one album released in 2010, Raising Ruins For The Future, and it is a belter of immense proportions.
I digress. This EP is a mixed bag, however fans of ROTPM will love it. It’s always cool to hear how others have treated your favourite bands’ material. THE DOMESTICS and STÖJ SNAK win out with outstanding contributions and I love the latters’ inclusion of Andy Davies of ROTPM waxing lyrical on what DIY punk means to him. And I got to discover MIGHTY MIDGETS. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
“Rooted in place by significant negatives /social convention binds you / to those that will suck your soul dry / dance in the light of your burning bridges and Go! / Go!” (Dance In The Light Of Your Burning Bridges)
Woah! I didn’t know THE CRAVATS’ kids had formed a DISCHARGE homage and decided to incorporate their parents’ skronky saxophone? They haven’t? Well if they did…
Carrying on in a similar vein to last years Wretched Life 7″ but with added avante-garde touches. At the core of Crushed Down To Paste lies a heart of purest d-beat but what makes this interesting are the little nutso touches. Like that bit of psychedelic wind-tunnel guitar. Or the fact that they haven’t just put an echo vocal effect on one song – they’ve put it on every song. Then there’s the ubiquitous skronk-sax which, on the 5 minute Dance in the Light of Your Burning Bridges, takes on a soulful, warm brass sound. In parts, it even hints at 60’s TV theme and/or obscure Italian movie soundtrack.
Lyrically, there are some positives nestled within the blunt anti-fascism and real life grind. The overall feel is actually quite joyous, if you can believe that. The members’ previous bands are legendary – we’re talking SORE THROAT, ANTI-CIMEX, DOOM, THE DOMESTICS, REVENGE OF THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN & more. You can tell they’re having a ball.
The highlight of these seven tracks for me is experimental opener Jazz Wasps. The sax wails dischord and the wasps buzz around your head while James’ echoing, accented voice advises a stepping outside of the box: “I don’t want to put your life under the cosh, but clear out your holes with some jazz wasps…” More of that next time please.
Up for pre-order now, released on 10th July 2020. Limited to 500 copies worldwide. Order here in the UK.:
Rocking poppy punk backs up an ultra-sarcastic swipe at British fawning over American culture. The vocals are clear and right up front in the mix so those pesky Americans can hear every word. This South Wales trio play a slightly looser version of US pop punk, a la Lookout Records, no doubt intentional to reinforce the message. Written and recorded under lockdown, it’s catchy as all hell and reminds me of those underrated (at least in the UK) Dutch reprobates BAMBIX.
I’m sure this is a generational deal but it’s kinda odd reviewing a single digital track. I’m a true believer when it comes to music being a tactile, as well as a listening experience, so hopefully this will appear on a three-track EP at some point to paint a bigger picture.
Pre-order now, released 3rd July 2020. A quid from the bandcamp page, all proceeds to NAACP Legal Defence Fund and Colour of Change.
THE DOMESTICS & PIZZATRAMP: No Life/This Is Your Life Split LP (Kibou/TNS/Sick World) 2020
Two of the biggest beasts in British hardcore punk this week revealed their love of progressive rock by releasing a sprawling concept album. Fans were left shaken after hearing the news.
According to the ONS (Office for National Statistics), when news broke among the hardcore punk fraternity, requests for talking therapy increased by 0.001%, a figure not seen since 1983. It is thought that the increase then was caused by anarcho punk band SUBHUMANS releasing From The Cradle To The Grave album, the title track of which was almost seventeen minutes long.
PersonalPunk takes a look at this latest bloated epic, limited copies of which come in a pretentious snow-white vinyl in direct defiance of the genre’s standard red or black:
These two bands shared last years’ cute Discipline 5″ single. In an exercise in brevity, both bands managed to squeeze three songs in a minute onto their respective sides. In contrast, here they each take on the task of crafting an eleven-plus minute piece.
“You’re old enough now son, you really ought to know the score, Life is pain and life is fucking war!”(No Life)
THE DOMESTICS are up first with ‘No Life’, an ode to educating ones self from the factory floor only to find that self-doubt and a class inferiority complex conspire to stymie progress at every turn.
Opening with a frankly astonishing slow burn involving discordant strings and rat-a-tat, tight-arse drumming, it soon explodes into the furious DISORDER meets OUT COLD speed frenzy the band are known for. No Life tells it’s story in compelling style, returning from its various forays – misgivings in the spoken interlude complete with strings, the quickfire, military drum call-and-response section, for example – back to the chorus of “No Loife!” and the overriding riff that underpin the whole piece. The production allows the band space to cut loose and Bri Doom at the 1in12 knows this stuff well. Comparisons to SUBHUMANS’ masterpiece From The Cradle To The Grave seem lazy but fair, chiefly due to that anchoring riff but this is crucial UK hardcore in 2020. Stunning work.
“When Orwell’s finest work is no longer fiction / when Huxley’s A to E comes to fruition / when Atwood’s hangings are commonplace / when the door sign flips to closed and we’ve fucked the place / you maniacs…”(This Is Your Life)
Flip over the heavy duty white vinyl and it’s the turn of PIZZATRAMP to challenge their, and our, limited attention span. Lyrically, This Is Your Life widens out from the micro of THE DOMESTICS individual class crisis and how the wider world pushes back, to the macro, as they take on the ghastly state of the world today. Hinting at 9/11 as a springboard for the shit-chute the world is currently hurtling down, they take on corrupt governments, pollution, apathy, death, famine and war. it is a desperate, beautiful thing to behold. The usually jokey PIZZATRAMP have really had enough, expanding on the sentiment in their earlier song Pollyticks, in which they confront the inescapable reality of the world becoming so fucked, it could no longer be ignored.
It’s startling to hear a band who usually sing about drinking, puking and sweating goths sounding so brutally honest and incensed. After the heavy, churning intro with just a pinch of metal, they’re away, with what can only be described as searing thrash. Akin to a heavier STUPIDS in overall sound, they hold the piece together with returning riffs and variations in pace throughout. On point gang shouts, effective siren sounds and a perfectly placed George W Bush Iraq War/Coalition speech up the intensity to almost unbearable levels. The production carries serious heft, their best yet and quite remarkable for a DIY release.
This release should be a game-changer, at least among the underground punk scene. It is in the right place at the right time both from a personal and a political perspective. Honestly? This is one of the best releases I’ve heard in a long, long time. I just want to keep playing it until I know the thing inside out and that doesn’t happen often in these days of choice without end. Bring the concept-thrash!
“Hold my beer while I fuck it up even more” (Hold My Beer)
New to me, NO MURDER NO MOUSTACHE started out sometime in 2019 when a guy called Owen decided to wrap some acoustic folk ditties in a punk attitude. For this five track EP, his first release proper, he’s gone for full-on folk punk energy with a celtic kick.
NO MURDER NO MOUSTACHE, eh? Well, dubious nomenclatures aside – after all, if I had the wherewithal to form a band it’d be called NEST OF TROUSER or CLUSTER OF RACIST DOGWALKERS – this is a nifty listen with attention to detail on song writing with hooks.
There is a heart-on-sleeve, bedroom troubadour feel about these songs, akin to a youthful FRANK TURNER fronting a folk band he harangued into forming following a busking session in Wales. Traditional instruments abound but it’s acoustically and vocally led, despite the mostly upbeat tempo’s and you can really see the ‘solo’ roots of the sound. I do get the sense that Owen is holding back a tad vocally though, almost as if he doesn’t want to upset the neighbours and I find myself urging him to let loose and SHOUT, dammit, to hell with those neighbours!
Lyrically, it’s earnest, bordering on naive, with broad brush strokes and fairly simplistic slogans but in these oh-so cynical times I find myself drawn to these flights of idealism like a frozen man to a camp fire. Mainly political in nature, he sings about the seemingly endless death rattle the world is currently experiencing, our own ludicrously inept leaders and, hello darkness my old friend, depression. For all of that though, these songs maintain an air of youthful defiance and optimism that’s difficult to resist. The final track is sung in Welsh and with my gaelic being a bit rusty I had to, cough, brush up in order to understand it. The title, Cyn Mae’r Byd Yn Cael Ei Ddinistro, translates as Before The World Is Destroyed and is an urgent call for unity against oppression. In Welsh.
This is a great little release which is only available on CD at present though the digital version gets you a 12 page zine of art and lyrics to read while you listen. For those of you who are partial to a bit of agit-folk with a punk soul you’ll be singing along to this as you protest the end of the world.
Another year, another Artcore, happily under-selling itself as ‘one of the last of the 1980’s hardcore punk zines’. Masterminded by a Welsh refugee in the US, Welly managed to get this out just in time for the Cov-apocalypse.
As soon as this latest issue arrives and you’ve donned your anti-viral reading gloves you can settle in for a fascinating pick n’ mix of bang-up-to-date interviews with current bands – the legendary and still-relevant SUBHUMANS (UK), LA’s Trump-baiting TOTAL MASSACRE, Amsterdam’s OPEN WOUNDS, TIED DOWN from the North East of England, Wales’ DRUNKEN MARKSMAN and London’s jaw-dropping GAME.
The Vaultage section comes tooled up with interviews from the UK’s overlooked EXIT CONDITION, obscure anarcho doomsters PART 1 and legendary LA punk ‘zine Flipside. Elsewhere, Neil Cox’ ‘Punks In Parkas’ takes a look at the ’79 Mod Revival, while Andy Nystrom shares his whites-of-their-eyes recall of the early 80’s hardcore scene in Southern California. Welly holds his own with a typically exhaustive and exhausting round up of 70’s & 80’s Canadian punk but for me the zine’s crowning glory is the formidable reviews section. At once hilarious, straight-talking and illuminating, it never fails to provide me with some great new bands to check out. Like GAME. Wow. The review of ARMOURED FLU UNIT’s new 10″ begins:
“ARMOURED FLUE UNIT, the loose collective of outraged central heating engineers from across the UK are back and even more pissed off than they were before they got this bleeding job…”
…and carries on in similar amusing style. There’s everything from a chilly one-liner to a word-perfect, glowing review of the latest SUBHUMANS LP and you know that you are being guided by a punk with a passion for wordsmithery as well as the music and it’s heritage.
The vinyl included this time round is a real delicacy. Hailing from Houston, Texas in the late 70’s/early 80’s, MYDOLLS have had their 1981 debut EP reissued with new artwork and pressed onto a strange grey/green colour for inclusion. A change from the ‘zines usual slabs of raging hardcore, MYDOLLS come straight from the Rough Trade/SLITS/DELTA 5 post-punk workbook, though the band played gigs with hardcore bands such as MINOR THREAT & THE DICKS back in the looser days of cross-pollination. This three track EP is one of the most captivating in the Artcore series so far, all kitchen sink keyboards, minimal instrumentation and dramatic PATTI SMITH/SIOUXSIE-style vocals. ‘In Technicolour’ is particularly stunning and begins with an excerpt from their 1982 interview with John Peel before he introduces the track. Hearing Peely’s voice is a spine-tingling moment and it’s presence in this context is evidence of an attentive touch.
Artcore delivers high-end design and riveting content like no other across these 40 litho printed pages. It walks the line between jaded Brit-cynicism and punk rock passion with fierce intelligence. Sharp, real sharp. The best way to read the latest issue is in a feverish speed-fugue, before going through it again at your leisure as isolation begins to bite.
Hardcore heroes FIG. 4.0 caught me completely unawares. I’d been going to the Out of Spite punk festivals at the Joseph’s Well pub, Leeds in the early 2000s. A smoothly run all-dayer with a spirited but friendly atmosphere, they were a prime opportunity for outliers like myself to check out some great bands (PROPAGUMBHIS, THE TONE, VANILLA POD, ONE CAR PILE UP, WAT TYLER, TWOFOLD, JOE NINETY, JETS VS SHARKS, the list is long). They had a fair share of melodic punk and indie/introspective leaning bands play but didn’t often cover the harsher end of the spectrum. One day I will not easily forget – I was stood waiting for the next band to come on and they were FIG. 4.0. They exploded from that stage in a hyper-energetic barrage of beautiful thrash. Within seconds, the singer jumped into the crowd and screamed the lyrics into their faces, backed by a taut, ultra-fast attack akin to SPAZZ without the crusty bits or maybe even MDC with a Yorkshire twist. They made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and once again, I had discovered my new favourite band.
Fig. 4.0 formed in Autumn of 1999 when Matt (bass) joined Andrew (guitar), Steve (Drums) and Joe (Guitar and lead vox), who were already playing in a band and in need of a new bassist. At the same time, all the members were becoming regulars at Leeds punk and hardcore gigs and consequently growing out of the teen-pop-punk-ska bands that had influenced Fig. 4.0‘s embryonic incarnations. Christmas that year, they played their ‘scene debut’ with Dugong and The Propagumbhis and although their sound was still formative, they began to make friends and find support from a welcoming scene.
Spring and Summer 2000 bore a couple of demos, the first of which cost a fortune and sounded terrible, the second of which was recorded live on a minidisk player and sounded great (very few exist today, even the band’s own copies were misplaced years ago). A copy was picked up by Jamie Duncan, who had the misfortune to live near Joe in Bradford while they pretended to study at University. Being a fan of all things recorded in a toilet, Jamie began to ease on the pressure on the rest of us and after much foot-stamping and petulance a unanimous decision was met: “Give Fig. 4.0 a release and shut Jamie up”.
In Spring 2001, Joey Ramone visited Steve in a dream – the next day they went into the studio to record Action Image Exchange (No shit! Ask Steve – apparently Joey’s eyes were all white… weird.) Mixing the melodic and lyrical sensibilities of Dillinger Four with the all out bandana-thrash of What Happens Next?, Fig. 4.0 had created a unique and utterly brilliant record.
The two years that followed were characterised by diamonds upon legends upon heroes giving Fig. 4.0 gigs across the country as well as Wales and Ireland. Despite ups and downs, all the band equipment and car being stolen and the personal turbulence we all have to battle with, the 4.0 continued. Two new releases surfaced that Summer, firstly a split 7″ with Ensign on Household Name Records – their first release be engineered and produced entirely by the band, and secondly a split 7″ with Stand on Superfi Records called Tarts and Vicars.
Following the releases, guitarist Andrew left the band and Stoz (Charlie Don’t Surf, The Plight) took his place. The new line-up was short lived though as Fig. 4.0 played their last gig at the Out of Spite festival on 20th August 2004. Their long awaited split 7″ with Twofold was released on Gravity-Dip Records that same day.
(taken from the Bombed Out Records website)
For me, the band encompassed everything that was immense about modern hardcore punk rock. Finger-pointing singalongs, blasting thrash, catchy hooks and smart lyrics, all wrapped up in attention deficit-baiting short songs, it was all there. Well-loved in Leeds Punk City, they always drew a good crowd at the Out of Spite fest but, though reviews were full of praise, I could never understand why no-one really raved about them. I imagined that they would be a huge deal on the international DIY punk scene but don’t feel they ever got the kudos they deserved. I remember ranting enthusiastically about them to legendary Scunthorpe drummer and punk scene lifer Towie, over a beer at the Josephs Well bar and he divulged that they used to be a ska punk band called TINKER’S RUCKSACK. Didn’t see that one coming.
When their first release, ACTION! IMAGE! EXCHANGE! (Bombed Out Records) came out in 2002 on 10″ red vinyl and CD, it was the most excited I’d been about a release for years and it didn’t let me down. 17 ballistic missiles in twenty minutes, it was an exquisite melding of blast beats, fastcore and melodic punk. The fact that it also managed to retain an identity all of its own and be catchy to boot is testament to the bands’ majesty. The production was a little too clean but this was forgivable given the sheer class on offer.
I didn’t have a record player at the time so I bought the CD and absolutely hammered it. I was decorating my son’s bedroom at the time. He was still a baby but we were getting ready to move him from the Moses basket at the side of our bed into his own room and I decorated it to the 4.0. I know every glorious second, never get bored of giving it a spin and whenever I do I am transported back to that tiny room with aromas of fresh paint, wallpaper paste and the occasional cry from my son demanding a cuddle.
I have long since gotten a deck so I did eventually upgrade to a second-hand copy of the red 10″ for a couple of quid. You can still buy it new from Bombed Out Records and they have loads left. That blows my mind. If there was a scintilla of justice in this fly-blown world, it would have sold out in three months, been repressed and become a sort-after gem. If you think this might be your thing, here’s where you can still buy it. New. For a fiver.
The band played pretty much every Out of Spite until their split in 2004 and they were always the band of the day. Once, as I stood at the side of the stage drinking in their wonderful noise, those pesky hairs on the back of my neck unable to resist, something caught my eye in the crowd. I strained to see and spotted someone laden down with bags attempting to move towards the front. She spotted me and turned in my direction. It was my partner Lyn, wading through the FIG. 4.0 faithful carrying a wallet-rinsing quantity of shopping. Garnering a good amount of strange looks from the parting throng, she made her way towards me before asking if she could have the car keys to jettison the spoils of her shopping trip in the city.
The band released three split ep’s, the second a pairing with New Jersey hardcore band ENSIGN in 2003 (Household Name Records), the third and final with Kingston quirksters TWOFOLD in 2004 (Gravity DIP Records). The former was a self-produced effort and, while the songs were top notch, they struggled to rise above the worthy-but-muddied home production. The split with TWOFOLD was a different matter. Released on the day of their final gig, it contains four more tracks of schizo greatness, albeit with a slight air of inevitability that they may have exhausted their supply. Burn brightly, burn out…
Their finest moment is without doubt the first split, 2003’s Tarts And Vicars: Songs About Sexism & Religion on Superfi Records. They managed to achieve perfect production for their style: dirty, raw and powerful with just the right amount of clarity. The band fairly bristle with confidence, throwing in some inventive song structures amid the chaos. Though ACTION! IMAGE! EXCHANGE! is special, they never sounded better than on this EP. The band they share the split with are STAND. Hailing from Grimsby, they played a strange metallic punk with high-pitched screamy vocals interspersed with Yorkshire-accented rants. They man their barricade admirably and, all in, this is a truly underrated gem of a record. The vinyl itself is worth a mention. It’s solid pink which fits with the garish sleeve art and it’s seriously thick which fits with the heavy-duty music contained in the grooves. The last time I checked, you could buy a copy on Discogs for 3 quid. Incredible.
FIG. 4.0 split up after five short years. The band played their last gig on 20th August 2004 and – I missed it. I didn’t even know it was happening, what can I say? I am so happy that I saw them a handful of times – including once to us and about three other people one early afternoon at a horrifically attended 1 in 12 Club all dayer in Bradford. Members of the band joined with JOE NINETY folk to form THE DAUNTLESS ELITE who took the melodic bits of FIG. 4.0 and dispensed with the thrash. THE ELITE also became big hitters at the Joseph Well festivals. They wrote fantastically stirring sing-a-long anthems and I plan on writing about them some day. I still miss FIG. 4.0 though.
For those of you not hampered by a short attention span, here’s a link to the band’s three minute anthem, Your Wisdom, Our Youth. Enjoy!
All live photos courtesy of the Bombed Out Records website
THE WOODSMAN, a South Wales 3 piece, have managed to release two EP’s and two split singles in their two years together. Eschewing the bass in favour of a heaving bare bones assault, the resulting cacophony is akin to HEAD OF DAVID in a bloody, bare-knuckle fist fight with MINISTRY. Others have compared their din to KILLING JOKE, HELMET and THERAPY? I wouldn’t know about that but, once I’d gotten used to the upfront clean vocals, it did a tidy job of throwing me off my musical tunnel vision.
Across the five tracks on this EP, the vocals have a habit of switching from monotone to panic-inducing, much like the underrated NERVE RACK, while the guitars and drums pound out a noise weightier than it has any right to be, throwing in some loose rock stylings for good measure. The minute long instrumental Safe Word, even manages to build some subtle electronics into it’s crash-bash.
Lyrically, Lust For Likes takes a pop at the petri dish of social media. Buzz, a song about ‘shitty bosses’, disconcertingly contains the lines “I wanna rip out your eyes, I’m not gonna do that…” while the title track reports on the deplorable state of politics today with brutal simplicity.
Unfortunately only available on a CD, unless you were lucky enough to blag a lathe cut 7″ of the title song they made to sell at gigs, limited to ten copies. CD EP’s don’t hit my sweet spot but if you aren’t snooty about such things you should put your trust in THE WOODSMAN.
“FIVE FUCKS SCREAMING AND YELLING, PLAYING SHIT WITH LEFT WING SOCIAL AND PERSONAL SHIT.” from the BAD SAM Bandcamp page.
Out of Newport in South Wales, BAD SAM have punk rock heritage, It’s members having served time in many a mighty underground band: COWBOY KILLERS, THE ABS, FOUR LETTER WORD, DUB WAR, IN THE SHIT, FATTY JONES among others and, after ten years, they are clearly confident with their shit.
Following a couple of low-key CD releases, they unleashed their vinyl debut in 2013. Working Class Holocaust is a masterpiece of chunky, tuneful punk rock, coming off like a blue-collar DEAD KENNEDYS with Brit grit,
thanks in large part to the Biafra-Esque warble of vocalist Beddis. 2017 saw the follow-up, Bring Me The Head Of… facing the sophomore challenge with aplomb, bringing forth another set of sarcastic, scathing hits to the proles.
This is the bands’ first 7″ vinyl outing and it contains three tracks within its deep green grooves. Though lacking some heft in the production department, the band more than make up for it in the songwriting stakes. Leading track Alcoholic is the weakest, though still a spirited throttler with Beddis’ vocals being the stand-out element. Tag is a speedy run through containing a great beefy middle section. The real star here is the song Looking Back At Us. With its menacing/fast/menacing structure also incorporating echoey guitar fx, it has been filtered through decades of Welsh industrial decline and a promise of no future to give an authentic DK’s feel circa Plastic Surgery Disasters.
I managed to prise a copy of the CD version from the label. Extra track Dark Days, Dark Nite should have taken the place of Alcoholic on the vinyl version as it’s a blistering number with some refreshing guitar work to help it stand out from the pack. Two of these four tracks will appear on their next full-length album in different versions.
Unfortunately, the sleeve art disappoints, missing a trick with its lazy recycling of the Sam doll from the full-colour album sleeves and the overall design is shocking. Sorry lads. Frankly though, I would have bought this if it had come in a plain white sleeve with ‘new Bad Sam single’ scrawled in marker pen across the front, such is the quality of tuneage on offer. Long Live Welsh punk! Long Live BAD SAM!
“We’ve been shouting out loud now for so long, against all the things that we think are wrong, but these feelings we have are still so strong. Yes, we’re still fucking angry. With so much shit going on today there’s still so much that we have to say, so don’t expect us to go away when we’re still fucking angry…”(We’re Still Angry, from New Puppets – Same Old Machine EP, 2015)
ACTIVE MINDS are two brothers from Scarborough in North Yorkshire, Bobs on guitar/vocals and Set on drums. They formed in 1986 from the ashes of SAS (speak against society), who were active between 1983 & 1985. SAS recorded a demo (Sing Along Songs, 1983) and a self-released 7” single called Suave and Sophisticated (’85). They split with just 6 gigs under their belt and guitarist Bobs formed ACTIVE MINDS with his brother Set. They decided to try out as a two-piece to keep it focussed and have remained so to this day, 33 years of fiercely DIY, political hardcore punk. Their uncompromising stance remains intact though always shot through with critical thought and a willingness to accept change.
Over those years, the brothers have built up a prodigious discography. Mostly released on their own Loony Tunes label, they include six full-length albums, twelve singles and countless releases shared with other bands. They’ve toured DIY circuits throughout many countries and sparked the political imaginations of punks the world over, armed only with a shoestring budget and an unswerving belief in self-determination.
My own journey with the band yields little in the way of live experience, though I did catch them a few times in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Most memorable, apart from the Lincoln gig mentioned later in this piece, was on 19/10/91 at the Queens Hotel in my home town of Scunthorpe when they played with BLAGGERS ITA and local unit TERMINUS.
ACTIVE MINDS were new to many of the sizeable turnout and they blew the crowd away with their cacophony. I noted an abundance of comments expressing surprise at just how much of a racket they produced for a two-piece, a reaction they were well used to by this time.
Though we had quit promoting gigs at the Queens as Off With Her Head Promotions, the reins had been passed to friends who were continuing in fine style. I was still running a small DIY punk mail order under the OWHH name, chiefly to sell copies of the second TERMINUS EP, Fear, Despair & Hate, which we had helped to finance. As was commonplace at the time, I was using the ‘slipshod’ punk distro model, primarily consisting of a few scrawled reminders and an overreliance on an unfaithful memory, so when I saw AM drummer Set talking to someone who seemed to be pointing me out, I was curious. He made his way over, introduced himself and explained that, a couple of years before, I had sent him some copies of that TERMINUS EP to sell in his Loony Tunes distro and that he had finally sold them all. I’d forgotten all about it – slipshod punk distro model in full effect – and got a pleasant surprise when he handed over the cash. We had a quick chat and off he went to play their set.
I saw the band play an all-dayer at the legendary 1in12 Club in Bradford in the late ’90s, but I haven’t seen them since. On their recorded output, I have dipped in and out, depending on when life’s events have conspired to steer me away from the underground punk scene. On dipping my toe back in, I have always been pleasantly surprised to find them still operating and would relish catching up with the releases I’d missed.
What follows is the first part of an attempt at reviewing their entire vinyl output, interspersed with insights from Bobs (guitar/vocals) – much appreciation to him for taking the time to help me out with this. Warning! Due to the prolificity of ACTIVE MINDS, I may never catch up…
YOU CAN CLOSE YOUR EYES TO THE HORRORS OF REALITY… BUT THEY WON’T GO AWAY EP (Loony Tunes) 1987
“If you start talking shit, don’t expect us to stay silent – don’t expect us to accept it when you start getting violent. How can you be contented when there’s people dying every day? We’re angry people with a voice, and we won’t go away – never!”(Bullshit Detector)
Released in 1987, something of a ‘golden’ era in the underground punk scene due to being completely under the radar of the mainstream music industry. ACTIVE MINDS were certainly under my radar when this first EP came out, though I homed in on them soon after with the release of their flawed but jaw-dropping debut album, Welcome To The Slaughterhouse. 32 years later, I finally managed to snag a copy in order to kick this piece off so I’ll be grappling with a touch of hindsight. 8 tracks in 12 minutes on 7″ black vinyl with lyric insert & song explanations, the latter a custom they continue to this day.
The EP kicks off with Murder In The Laboratory, a youthful slice of D-beat (DISCHARGE-style) and a rant on vivisection. Bobs sounds so young here but he was just 20 when this EP was recorded and Set even younger at 18. On Bullshit Detector, he channels Nick Blinko of RUDIMENTARY PENI. I’ve never heard him do that before and it’s really quite thrilling. Being Different Is No Crime is an enjoyable 20 seconds of ultra-fast blasting thrash, a style that had been knocking on the door of the DIY punk scene for some time.
Blind Acceptance is 2 minutes and 20 seconds of mid-paced youthful naivete followed by another 10-second thrasher. An End To The Killing is a short, sharp burst of speedy Japanese-style punk and Too Far Away To Care treats us to half a minute of drums and vocals, managing to deliver a broad grin to PersonalPunk’s face with its D&V/SIX MINUTE WAR rudiments and fluffed ending. The EP closes with An Excuse For Apathy, no less than a six-minute noisy epic with multiple tempo changes.
It is obvious from the sleeve and title of the EP that this was never going to be a collection of love songs. It’s worth stating, as Penny Rimbaud of CRASS made clear regarding their own output, that when one expresses ire over injustice and ill-treatment of humans, animals and the planet, that anger is borne out of great love and compassion. Rimbaud riffing on a ‘Che’ Guevara quote there. “Let me say, at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love” (Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara).
Lyrically, the band always intended to use their platform to speak their minds, to share and challenge ideas both political and social. Indeed, they felt it would have been a wasted opportunity to do otherwise. Here, they cover the hot topics of the times: the obvious flaws of religion, Third World hunger and charity, vivisection and the meat industry, calling people out on shit-talk, being true to oneself, empty sloganeering and nuclear war. This was 1987, and despite the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation felt so keenly in the early ’80s having diminished, the cold war was still palpable.
Musically, this debut showcases their love of, and willingness to attempt many different styles of punk, hardcore and thrash. I asked guitarist/vocalist Bobs whether this was a conscious decision or simply feeding a natural creative urge?
Bobs: It’s hard to put yourself back into the mindset you had so long ago. We had pretty wide musical tastes, and I think we’ve always tried to experiment with things musically because of that – albeit, restricted by our limited musical abilities. There are some people who play in 3 or 4 bands, because they want to play different stuff but probably don’t think it could fit together in one band/project. We’ve never thought like that. It means that we always felt that our records could end up sounding like a compilation of different styles – which can put some people off, I suppose. But it expresses who we are, and, as much as anything, that’s why we’re playing music.
I also asked him where it was recorded and whether the decision not to include production credits on their releases was an attempt to avoid typical mainstream music business behaviour or simply because they didn’t think anyone would be interested?
Bobs: I didn’t think anybody would be interested. I mean, it doesn’t interest me at all really. Of late, we have started to put some production credits on records. I think it was Bri Doom who first asked why we didn’t (when we recorded some stuff with him), and suggested that it was a way of acknowledging someone else’s contribution to the process – which I do understand. This also makes some sense if the recording engineer is a fellow member of the “scene”. But back when we started, that wasn’t the case. The first EP was recorded in a local studio which was originally called Gladiator, but later changed its name to Trinity Studios after the name of the street it was on. I guess Gladiator had a more rock connotation, and by the late 80’s and early 90’s they were wanting a different image to bring in more than just a dwindling number of rock bands. The studio engineer was a local guy called Pete Jackson, who owned the studio.
After an initial pressing of 2000, a further 2000 copies were pressed some 10 years later. I asked Bobs how the EP was received and how it had sold?
Bobs: From memory, I think it was received pretty well at the time. I think it made it into 4 of Maximum Rocknroll reviewers top tens of the month, which certainly never happened again! It sold out in about a year or so, if I remember correctly. I think we still had some left when the LP came out the following year, but it probably sold out soon after that. We didn’t really think about re-pressing it at the time, which may seem odd with the benefit of hindsight, but we didn’t really have any concept that there would ever be people who’d want a copy but who hadn’t had a chance to already get it. Back then, we obviously couldn’t see the future – didn’t know we’d still be playing decades later, or that the Eastern Bloc would disintegrate, and loads of people from Eastern Europe might be interested in getting hold of a record that they couldn’t buy at the time. That’s principally why we ended up re-releasing it in the 90’s. The re-issue had to be re-cut, as the master had been destroyed (along with the master tape). We had to dub a copy from an unplayed test-pressing to cut the new plate.
Their recorded output has varied in production quality over the years but this first effort is clean and powerful enough for its time and budget. To conclude, I was curious about Bobs’ thoughts on their first effort 33 years later:
Bobs: Listening back to it now, the recording sounds pretty thin – particularly the guitar sound. At that time we were pretty hardline about recording everything live in the studio, with no overdubs, and I was only playing my guitar through a single amp – which, when you mic it up close, doesn’t give you anything like a full sound. Also, our musicianship was pretty basic back then – even by our standards! So the recording sounds pretty primitive to modern ears. Having said that, a lot of DIY stuff that was coming out around that time sounded rough compared to current standards, and I think it was a pretty fair representation of what we were like at that time – so I can’t complain. I like the fact that we got a fair amount of musical variation on the record, which probably helped to set a template for us for the future.
This is a remarkable debut: raw, earthy and inventive and, though still a brash and youthful listen, they were clearly able to draw on their experiences in SAS and come up with a much more focused sound.
FOR BEST RESULTS, PLAY LOUD!
WELCOME TO THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE LP (Loony Tunes) 1988
“The trickling waters of a humble stream, like the first conception of a distant dream, gently flowing down a mountain, slowly but surely, it gathers momentum. Our ideas are like trickles of water… streams become rivers, and rivers grow wider, our ideas grow stronger in much the same way. Provided we communicate with more and more people, our numbers will swell with every new day and one day, we will become a flood…(Stream)
Just a year on from their debut EP and the release of this ambitious 18 track album caused quite a few ripples in the underground punk pond at the time. Unleashed amid a backdrop of fanzine interviews accusing many of the leading lights of the scene of being rip-off merchants and fashion victims, the ‘sticker’ on the front cover set out their stall: pay no more than £2.50. It went even further, stating that the band were selling it for £2.00 postpaid so if you bought it at a gig you could pay as little as £1.40.
I asked Bobs whether they were throwing down a gauntlet to certain labels and characters within the DIY punk scene they saw as being exploitative and did they receive any flak for their stance? How well did the record sell and did it pay for itself?
Bobs: Despite the low price, we’d worked out that we could recover all the money we spent on it (including recording costs) if we sold the initial 2,400 copies, and we easily managed that. Yes, I guess we were throwing down the gauntlet at the time, and yes, we did get some flak for it – in particular from Hammy at Peaceville. At the time there was a lot of hype around the UK hardcore scene, with interest from the mainstream music media etc. No doubt this helped to sell the album in the quantities that it did. But we also were very wary of that influence dangling carrots in front of labels which had started off as DIY but which we thought could end off being co-opted into the mainstream music industry. We felt that we had to nail our colours to the DIY punk mast, and show that we were never going to be interested in turning into big money hardcore/metal labels – so that’s what we did.
In stark contrast to the black and white cover art so beloved at the time – itself, a hangover from the scenes’ infatuation with anarcho-punk records of the early 80’s – the LP sported a full-colour glossy cover. Depicting horrific scenes from inside a slaughterhouse, this theme continues in the lyrics to four of the eighteen songs: the ill-treatment of animals, the brutal reality of the abattoir and the hypocrisy of eating certain animals in the West versus outrage at other cultures eating animals we consider pets. Anecdotally, the album was responsible for turning many people onto animal rights and vegetarianism so I wanted to know if this had been borne out in their own experience over the intervening years?
Bobs: Yes, it has – although I don’t know to what extent this happened.
I’ve certainly heard from people who said that it influenced them, although you don’t hear that so much these days – probably because the album’s so old, and because we don’t get the number of people corresponding with us that we used to. It’s still the sort of thing that might crop up if we tour abroad though – someone will come up after a gig and say they first heard us when they were a teenager, and that they gave up eating meat as a result, or whatever.
Elsewhere, there are ruminations on the arms race, royalty, punk scene hypocrisy, pacifism, gender roles and other heady topics. The folded A3 sheet inside features all lyrics with explanations and they make for interesting reading. After all, the name of the band is ACTIVE MINDS and this release is drenched in a desire to question and grow, unafraid to confront sacred scene cows alongside more generic, but no less important, topics.
The brothers have always been voracious listeners of punk and hardcore from around the world and this is clear in their need to be creative within the genre. While there is plenty of noisy punk and whirlwind thrash on offer, they try out different styles and tempos, not always successfully but always with heart. For example, there is way more gentle piano than you might expect, some of it really quite beautiful (Stream), as well as the occasional finger picky guitar intro.
Bobs: I played the piano parts, and we still recorded everything live – so that means I was singing along to “Stream” as I played it, and with “Will They Ever Learn?” I was sat at the piano stool with my guitar slung round my neck at the beginning and in the middle. You can faintly hear a couple of noises as I’m manoeuvring myself on and off the stool.
Opener Glorification of Death gives a cheeky nod to the thrash metal stylings of bands attempting to straddle the two genres in the late ’80s, while on 30-second blitz I’m Sick Of It, Bobs glowers “If I hear another moronic metal band sing sexist, macho, or satanic related bullshit, I will throw up!” Elsewhere, there is the nifty, low budget sing-a-long of The Heroes Are All Dead, the jangly guitar in Waste Of Money and an AMEBIX-esque intro to crunching closer Welcome To The Slaughterhouse, climaxing with Bobs spitting out some harsh meat industry statistics over squalling feedback.
I’m reminded of an early CHUMBAWAMBA demo, a helping of ANTISECT, a dollop of Swedish thrash and a smattering of classic anarcho-punk – there are four re-worked tracks from their SAS days – but the majority of this record is ACTIVE MINDS carving out their own identity and endlessly pushing against the limitations of working as a two-piece. The aforementioned subtleties and occasional playing around with scabrous melodies serve as engaging breaks between the fast punk and raw thrash, and, endearingly, they leave in the occasional mistake. I was keen to find out where it was recorded and who by:
Bobs: It was actually recorded in three sessions. The first 6 songs were recorded locally at Gladiator/Trinity. A few weeks later we recorded the next 5 songs at Lion Studios in Leeds (with Andy from Gold, Frankincense And Disk-Drive engineering), before returning to Gladiator for the last 7 songs. The reason for going to Lion was that they had a piano, which we needed for a couple of the songs.
The production is fairly rudimentary, but it is clear and if you boost the bass and turn it up loud it works just fine. Finally, I asked Bobs how many copies have been pressed over the years and what his feelings are about it now?
Bobs: The initial print run was 2,400 copies, but they sold really quickly and we had to re-press it within a few months. There have been further reprints since then. Altogether there were 7,500 pressed in the end, in 6 different pressings. Again, I think it’s very rough round the edges – a bit (a lot?) sloppy in places, but a fair representation of what we were about at the time. Lyrically, as well, I think it’s a work which shows the enthusiasm and passion of youth, but which is sometimes expressed in ways which seem less tolerant than I would use today. Musically, I like the variety that we put on it, but the roughness of the execution means that it’s not something I’d recommend to people these days if they want to know what we’re about – even though some people seem to regard it as the quintessential Active Minds record.
Regardless, Welcome To The Slaughterhouse is a crude but incisive debut album, brimming with ideas and questions and completely unafraid to be heartfelt and honest with the underground punk scene it was unleashed upon.
CAPITALISM IS A DISEASE AND MONEY AN ADDICTIVE DRUG EP (Loony Tunes) 1991
“When you want to buy records do you go into a shop? To find out what’s going on do you read the music press? Check out the underground – it’s healthy and alive. You’ve got to support it if our ‘movement’ is to survive. Take part and create – don’t just consume and spectate.” (Participation Is The Key)
Three years later, Bobs and Set found themselves back at Gladiator/Trinity with Pete Jackson once again producing this 9 track 7″ EP.
The synth and drum machine that kicks off the five-plus minute opener Take a Straight Look At a Crooked World, reminds us that AM are not afraid to embark on a bit of boundary-pushing. Opening up somber and stark and blessed with an enviable slow build, it eventually bursts, via some powerful but clean guitar, into a frantic verse and catchy chorus, the former sung by drummer Set.
I do love this track but here’s a memory to ponder: I saw the band a few times back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. One time, they played with JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE in a mirror-tiled night club in Lincoln and they opened with this song. I remember Set singing, the deployment of the drum machine and synth and thinking that, though they were attempting something different, it fell flat and didn’t work. I recall quite a stunned audience reaction too. We needn’t have worried our conservative little heads though, as the rest of the set was the usual fast, raw punk. I must have been about twenty-five at the time, so I have zero excuse for being so desperately narrow of mind. I bought this EP soon after, possibly even that night, and this track became a firm favourite. I was keen to get Bobs’ view on this song musically and in particular whether there were any influences:
Bobs: I can’t remember if there was any particular, specific musical influence on that song. Obviously, it’s quite a different take on a hardcore song, but I think it fitted in with our approach of looking for different ways of doing stuff. We were always very interested in bands that brought different instruments into their brands of hardcore, and the first 2 records by HC Andersen (from Finland) had come out by then – we both loved their use of glockenspiel, so that could have been an influence. As far as I recall, that night at Lincoln was probably the only time we ever played it live. It was the sort of track that needed a good PA to work properly – something where we could hear the backing track clearly enough to play along to without going out of time, and most of the venues we were playing around that time didn’t really have the sort of sound system and monitors which would allow us to do the song without it degenerating into a mess. I’m not sure it would have gone down too well live anyway – if you think it was a bit of a curveball that you weren’t ready for when you first heard it on record, imagine unveiling it in front of a live audience who were hearing you for the first time. I can’t remember how it went down in Lincoln. Can you? I can imagine there would have been a fair amount of bemusement… (see above – PP)
Lyrically, it’s their version of John Lennon’s Imagine, of being told that one’s ideas and dreams for peace are simplistic, naive even, adding that giving in to the so-called ‘human nature’ to be selfish and violent only serves to excuse us from even attempting to make the world a better place. On Split The Scene, an enjoyably ramshackle but tuneful song, they address the backlash received following the release of the Welcome To The Slaughterhouse LP.
Accused of being ‘back-stabbers’ after they dared to criticize elements of the DIY punk and hardcore scene for emulating the mainstream music business, the band felt they had nothing in common with the labels they had castigated and so couldn’t be accused of disunity.
Of the 9 tracks on this EP, there are a couple of short, sore-throated thrash attacks and a fistful of straight-up punk songs. Lyrically, the DIY scene gets a shout out for support on the enjoyable 30-second throttle of Participation Is The Key. Can’t Hide Forever and Competition Time cover societal conditioning and the pressure to fit in respectively. The tight n’ catchy Gunrunner – an old SAS song given a new lease of life – picks apart the dubious practice of selling arms to so-called freedom fighters and is augmented by some nifty drumming. The latter is one of a clutch of songs looking at the futility of war from different perspectives. AM always come up with interesting angles on hoary topics and the two lyric sheets finish off with an interesting essay on the first Gulf War, which, along with America, the UK had just embarked upon.
The production on Take A Straight Look At A Crooked World is punchy and clear, assisted by clean guitar, keys and drum machine. On the other eight songs the sound is rawer, as befitting an earthy DIY punk record and more powerful than the previous releases. The cover art is striking, making good use of stark b&w surrounded by subtle colours.
I asked Bobs how many copies have been pressed and what were his thoughts on the EP now?
Bobs: The initial pressing was 2,700, and we later re-pressed it twice, to give a total number of 4,800 out there somewhere. I was still only playing through one guitar amp at the time, so the sound is still pretty thin, but we’d been practicing pretty regularly for a few years by the time we did this, and, for me, the recording sounds better than the first couple of records. And I still have a soft spot for “Take A Straight Look At A Crooked World”. A few years ago we did a gig in Spain with a hip-hop act called Perro Lobo, who used that track as the basis for one of their songs, which was pretty cool… There’s a link for it here: https://perrolobo.bandcamp.com/track/bot-n-de-autoreverse-2
ACTIVE MINDS began the ’90s with more of their signature pick n’ mix hardcore punk, but for me, it’s all about the five minutes and twenty-eight seconds of leftfield electro-thrash that kicks off this EP. And do check out that PERRO LOBO track.