Thursday, July 16, 2009
7" EXPLOSION - PT 12
1993. The lucky few were on Bulletin Boards, a couple of diehards still clung onto their Prestel access. For the rest of us, procedures went something like this:
a) John Peel plays four tracks from a 'new Finnish label', which happen to blow you away enough that you record the lot onto a battered C90 in one go. One group's called Circle - yeah, whatever. But it's the two first groups that, in one fell swoop, seem to make the measly few records you've accumulated so far in your young life sound completely redundant.
b) Peel reads out the address of the label, which happens to be called Bad Vugum. It's based in some Finnish outpost called Oulu. After rewinding and replaying the details a few times, you suss out that the really great tracks were by a band called Coica (?) and The Vacuum Cleaners. So you scribble down the Bad Vugum PO Box address.
c) Sorry, no Googling for 'Bad Vugum'! Websites haven't been invented yet (and, when they have, you have to use some pile of shit search engine called 'Dogpile', that works on the premise that if you type in "Martha and the Vandellas" it'll return 18,024 results solely based on the words "and the"). Instead, it's a trip to the post office and a 10-minute queue for an International Reply Coupon.
d) Return home with IRC. You scribble down your address details and ask how you can possibly obtain records by the aforementioned bands. This isn't particularly easy - there's not enough room to scribble "the one that sounds like a Russian rave cabaret in a cave".
e) Then it's back down the post office. Your mentally ill mother decides that this would be really a good opportunity for you to pick up her thyroid tablets, and shoves a repeat prescription in your hand.
f) After a 15-minute queue, mainly caused by a deaf pensioner and a sullen teenage pervert in a shellsuit (trying to secure a copy of "Tit Spunk Explosion" between the "Radio Times" and "Practical Varnishing"), you weigh your flimsy IRC on a scale. The weight of the biro ink and the cost of postage to the esoteric netherworld of Suomi amounts to 98p. The counter staff toss your missive into a sack marked "GREASY FOREIGN MUCK". You then spend 10 minutes waiting for a deaf pensioner to fuck off out of the chemist's, and pick up a small brown bottle of pills from a woman with a beard.
g) And then - nothing. The days tumble past like plucked angels. Luton becomes a seaboard of damp, missed opportunities. The wind batters the leafless trees and the houses like a child poking an injured cat with a sharp twig. London might as well be on the moon. You pick up your monthly child allowance of £10, peeled from your parents' social security / pension (rent deducted, as always). "Well, if you can't be bothered to find a Saturday job!" your mother gnashes.
h) Nothing. The IRC's obviously been ground, underheel, into a stagnant puddle outside the PO depot.
i) Then - four weeks later - a reply! A catalogue of Bad Vugum releases, every single one hyped to death:
"NOISY AND RECKLESS, UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD...EXCEPT MAYBE IF YOU COULD COMBINE EARLY HALF JAPANESE AND VINTAGE FALL ON ACID...SPEED FOLK FROM HELL?.. DEFORMED THRASH METAL WITH A TWIST...LIKE A SAWED OFF SHOTGUN IN YOUR FACE...LIKE THE BASTARD SONS OF SPACEMEN 3 AND SWANS AFTER HAVING BEEN HIT ON THE HEAD WITH A HAMMER...DIRTBOWLIN' GUITAR CONTUSION...POISED TO EXPLODE INTO A BOWL OF RAZORS AND SHIT...ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE PORNO SOUNDTRACK MUSIC?...LIKE A VERY SLOW SUICIDE...MORE PROOF OF THE CURRENT SCANDINAVIAN SUPERIORITY IN THE SCUZZ-SNUFF DOMAIN...LIKE A NIGHTMARISH HARDCORE RADIO SKETCH...COME ACROSS LIKE ROLLINS BAND THRASHING IT OUT WITH THE BIRTHDAY PARTY...EXPLAIN WHY RAPEMAN, JESUS LIZARD AND BIG BLACK ALWAYS SOUNDED KIND OF CANDY-ASS...THE HARDEST AND NOISIEST JAZZ SKRONK"
Turns out that band is called KEUHKOT - but, shit! They've got two 7"s out on the label, John Peel didn't specify which one when he played the track and the titles are in Finnish anyway. And you can't afford two of them, as well as the Vacuum Cleaners one ("ABSOLUTELY COMPULSORY FOR HARD MACHINE-NOISE FREAKS"), at the sum of £1.75 and £1 air postage per disc. Just guess. That one. Might be the right one.
j) Bad Vugum take CASH ONLY, so go down the post office with £5.50 in an envelope and queue for 20 minutes while a single mum kicks off about her gas bill and an old bloke in a car coat fumbles with an IRC addressed to "LATEX ANGEL PUBLISHING" in Holland. Pay £1.23 for postage, walk home, death drives a Lada down the dying autumn light.
k) The Scandi cunts have ripped me off.
l) That ragga 12" Peel played is fucking incredible! I have to track down a copy.
m) The PO knew there was cash inside and ripped it open.
n) Gigs in London, then terminal boredom.
o) A package arrives...
Seriously, that's what it was like! And YOU left that eBay seller negative feedback cos the item arrived SIX DAYS after ordering it! Maybe I've only kept hold of the Vacuum Cleaners' Cactus and Keuhkot's Latistaa totuudenetsinnan sanahelinaski EPs as a reminder of the struggle. Though it's probably also because they're two of the most out-there things I possess.
I don't know what they were putting in the water in Oulu back then...you probably need someone like Kid Shirt to review these properly. Actually, playing these back 16 years on, words still fail me. I mean, I COULD tell you that Jihad Express by Vacuum Cleaners sounds like the Russian Winter Palace on fire, with a load of merry go round horses crashing into a bank of overloading Korgs, and some hoarse dalek voice growling what might be "WE MUST WREAK TERROR"...or that Side 1 of the Keuhkot platter (is it worth reproducing the titles?) sounds like Serbian skinhead football hooligans playing in some Constructivist cabaret folk-jazz troupe - as interpreted by Steve Albini producing a DIY voodoo gabba outfit tribute to God Is My Co-Pilot, with a scathing orc on vox and...ah, fuck it, it's hopeless.
The Keuhkot record's the better of the two, completely wild, even if valuable vinyl's wasted by a couple of pointless tracks, like a loop of someone sneezing. Side 2 starts off like an electro peasant funeral in a dungeon, before bursting into a wild chase through some dark, murder-rife 1970s East European cartoon woodlands...nah, I still can't pinpoint it...I mean I COULD tell you all this, but the simple version's that I haven't heard anything like these before or since.
By the way, ingesting drugs or alcohol prior to playing doesn't make it any easier.
Who were these nutters? I haven't really heard anything else on the Bad Vugum label, except the Dumbstriking Incidents comp LP, which is mostly disposable save for, again, the contributions by Keuhkot and Vacuum Cleaners (I picked this up on CD, years later, for about 3 quid in MVE - I guess the bands never really left the underground). It's a shame because, glancing at the tattered catalogue insert, I'm intrigued by the sound of the (then) forthcoming Bad Vugum release "MIESKUORO HUUTAJAT 7" EP - A 30-members strong male choir shouting their own carefully-constructed, rhythmically complex versions (no melodic similarities left) of various Finnish patriotic songs, workers' songs and children's ditties".
I guess life can get a bit depressing in the North of Finland. It certainly was in Luton, at times. But who'd have guessed that Oulu harboured the black beating heart of Mutoid Motown viking berserker disco?
30 minutes of this stuff and I would end up going mental and throwing myself under the nearest train, though.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
7" EXPLOSION - PT 11
In 1990, it was pretty clear to the Touch & Go label that one Big Black wasn't enough for the world, so they went and released this pretty spiffing 45 by the Laughing Hyenas. The A-side chugs along noisily enough (with some uncanny Albini impersonations), but it's the flip, Candy, that makes this fucking essential to me, channelling the spirit of "Junkyard"-era Birthday Party for an all-out, amped-up, glass-gargling cacophony! I'm guessing I must have heard this track on John Peel, because - hey, being the gushing fountain of informed musical knowledge that I am!! - I can't remember them getting much attention from the music rags. Or maybe I just picked it up cos I thought Laughing Hyenas was a great name for a band.
But you know when you hear something and you just KNOW the band have had their noses broken, scraped through 48-hour whiskey benders and left trails of demolished flats, shattered hearts and busted speakers in their wake? Not sure if Candy is a smack reference or just an ode to the type of girl who opens beer bottles with her teeth and has a black cat in a top hat tattooed on her shoulder (that's a good thing by the way), but this record's one of the umpteen reasons I never got into grunge a year or so later.
The conventional wisdom's that goths are 'miserable' - recently dead motormouth Steven Wells was always banging on about that - but I never saw what was so bad about being fascinated by graveyards. Why, I'm a big fan of graveyards myself. I'm no bigot, I'll go and talk to the dead. Goths were also big on 'snakebite and black', a most mysterious elixir that's now pretty much banned in the majority of pubs across England. Why, only recently, drinking in a Sam Smith joint in Marylebone, it came to my attention that one of my work colleagues is an ex-goth. We decided to switch to snakebite and black for the evening to toast this fact, as her boyfriend grimaced - bracing himself for a night of vomit and out of tune renditions of Temple of Love and She's a Carnival! Unfortunately, the guardians of public morals (posing as bar staff) refused to make us one. Then, no doubt reckoning we'd just concoct our own snakebites with separate pints, they told us they weren't serving cider to our table! This is what the fucking country's come to! Publicans turning away good money during a credit crunch!
BUT - if you want 'miserable', you should have seen grunge. When Kurt Cobain shot himself, I laughed, and I literally mean that. The bloke was a complete idiot - I mean, who the hell stresses and frets about maintaining their underground credibility AFTER they've just signed to a major label? He didn't exactly waste time in setting himself up in a massive house, employing a gardener and handyman to keep the place in check while he jetted off to shoot drugs with yet another bunch of temporary mates. I suppose the insidious music biz forced him to chuck his girlfriend in Seattle and hook up with a vacuous starfucker too. No, but he had a lumberjack shirt, he was keeping it real and everything!
Cobain, the patron saint of ditherers everywhere; frowning down, be-stubbled and black-eyed, from his tatty "I HATE MYSELF AND WANT TO DIE" cash-in poster. Pissed off about nothing. I passed up the chance to buy that Rednek "DEAD? NEVER MIND - NICE SHOOTING SON" T-shirt (I ended up buying the one with the Hamas guy with the rocket propelled grenade launcher, with "FACTION MAN - TERRORISM - JUST DO IT!" instead. I'd probably get grassed up by some interfering barman for wearing that now...), which is a shame, as Rednek have been extinct for years and the anti-Cobain clobber might be worth something on eBay.
Admittedly, I can stomach a few songs off 'Bleach' and 'Never Mind' NOW (mostly the bits they ripped off other bands I like) - but, at the time, it was living hell. I turned 16 and left school expecting chaos and fun - not spotty boys in German army shirts, composing letters to the NME explaining how they'd cried themselves to sleep that time the eejit collapsed after a smack bender! You know what I think Cobain's real legacy was? Prozac Nation. Anyway, doctors in the know say prozac's just a placebo anyway, which makes Wurtzel's tome literally a book based on nothing. She might as well have called it Great Daydreams I've Had.
In that context, I'm fiercely proud of my Laughing Hyenas 7". It shows that, while I've made MANY mistakes in life, missing this for a copy of Territorial Pissings wasn't one of them. I'm just gutted that Bono didn't top himself after the 'Zooropa' tour - that would have made 1994 an even better year than 2002. If you live next to a couple who have sex to Bruce Springsteen, I highly recommend Candy - essential arsenal for inter-neighbour noise wars!
In late 1992, my mate Tom convinced me to try to join the Anti-Nazi League. Some kid we knew called Mark had signed up at the St Albans branch, which struck us as a bit of a trek. We soon sussed why - the girls outnumbered the boys there by about 2:1. We jumped the train down there one Saturday afternoon, when the ANL were going to be 'on the street'. We didn't have a clue what was gonna happen. Would the boneheads turn up and attack? We'd seen the Battle of Waterloo on TV earlier that year, and the idea of a mass ruck appealed to us a bit. Not that we were particularly violent people, but we were very, very, very, very bored and it seemed like a potentially interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Besides, we wanted to avenge our dads for all those old 'No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish' signs they had to put up with.
What we got was about 10 alternative kids hanging around and an older man and woman running a paper and pamphlet stall. Mark was nowhere in sight (we later found out he'd been seeing a public school girl who'd paid for his membership and he seldom turned up to any of their events). The organiser just gave us membership forms and copies of the ANL bookshop special offers. Plenty of Primo Levi, which I'd already read, and stuff about Marx, which I didn't want to. Maybe the association with Mark had damned us, but we weren't exactly made to feel welcome. Not welcome enough to hand over a fiver anyway.
Things went a bit downhill cos of a badge I was wearing (the MoD roundel - you know, like mods wear on their parkas. Seen as being a bit politically suspect, for some reason. I'd only done it as a 'Battle of Britain' wind-up - you know, boneheads wore the Luftwaffe eagle on their combat jackets, so here's the RAF - who won - geddit? Oh, never mind, I was 16). Unfortunately, I was a bit of a gobby cunt back then and I took offence to being questioned and had a verbal pop at the bloke. Tom was a bit embarrassed, I don't know if that's cos I halted his attempts to fight the fash or cos he fancied the girl with the cut-off combat trousers. I did find it funny when the ANL claimed to have opposed the BNP in Luton's 'Bury Park area'. I knew people who lived in Bury Park and they never saw any damn ANL presence. I can't imagine the Bury Park Youth Posse had much to fear anyway, the BNP hardly went down there, there were too many Asians for them to escape a mauling for a start.
The next time I went to St Albans was to see Blaggers ITA play live at the Town Hall, not so much a band as the musical wing of Anti-Fascist Action. They were barely household names, but fairly sizeable in indie circles. They'd released an LP, United Colours of Blaggers ITA, which was getting distributed in HMV and Virgin, and were getting some good reviews in the music press. Unsurprisingly, maybe, seeing as they weren't scared to revive the Stranglers' tradition of decking journos who pissed them off. I got chatting to some AFA people and they seemed OK. Well, I thought they were OK enough to give them my address.
Anyway, around 1993, the Blaggers signed to EMI, a move viewed as a complete sell-out by the anarchist members of the group's fanbase. The group argued that they were getting their message across to a wider audience - well, at least they didn't start moping about it or appearing in videos as tortured Christ-like victims of music biz exploitation. They didn't really get the chance - their LP Bad Karma kind of bombed and the music press moved on to discuss rubbish new scenes, like 'Romo' and the 'New Wave of New Wave'.
Personally? I remember them appearing on The Word, and thinking it was absolutely fucking cringeworthy. Still, I don't ALWAYS give up on people, and I saw them live again at the Venue in New Cross in 1994, the first of two times I ever stagedived (intentionally). After that, they completely dropped off my radar.
This 7" came out on a white label just after they'd signed to EMI, hence the 'Ramraiders' tag. It's basically demo versions of two good songs off their United Colours album, Ten Men Dead and Wild Side. If pushed, I'd say the LP versions are way better, but I've hung onto this as a kind of momento of the gigs. I'm not sure why this was released - demos of tracks that ended up on their EMI LP would have made more sense - I'm not even sure if the Blaggers covertly sanctioned this or not.
A while later, their singer, Matty, died of a heroin overdose. Just googling the Laughing Hyenas, their female guitarist also died - a Xanax overdose, according to one website. There's a few ghosts blowing around these grooves...I don't really listen to Blaggers that often anymore, to be honest. Their music was quite an interesting mish-mash of influences at the time, but a lot of it sounds dated now. It's also bizarre to think that they used to be openly pro-IRA and violently anti-police - given that teenagers can now wind up in court for penning rap lyrics about beheadings. I mean, for fuck's sake - it's scribble on a bit of paper! They should see some of the psychotic tosh we used to come up with during maths lessons...
Thursday, July 02, 2009
7" EXPLOSION - PT 10
This is the first NEW YORK HOUSE record I ever bought - and completely by mistake. I actually thought it was gonna be London Posse-style UK hip hop! 'Todd Terry' meant nothing to me back then. I know bloggers are meant to be all-knowing paragons of...fucking hell, is it hot this week, or what? Sorry, anyway...this is Yeah Buddy b/w The Chase by Royal House. On the rare occasions that comrades brave it round my pad and start flicking round my 7"s, sniggering, Can you still actually play these? this is the one they always seem to ask about.
I try to dissuade them from asking for a listen. This is cos I've got neighbours and I have to explain that, just as a Gurkha has to cut his thumb when he unsheaths his ceremonial knife (the blade MUST taste blood! Check their hands if you don't believe me), so I can't actually slip the vinyl out of its cover without spinning the block rockin' beats of The Chase at full whack.
I still don't know much about Todd Terry, except he was clearly swigging on the genius juice the night he cooked this up. I don't fully understand why a Noo Yoiker'd put a blocky graphic of a UK cop tearing after a raggamuffin on the cover, but this is such a great party 45 it does make me wonder why I still haven't been to NYC at the age of 33. It's probably all sterilised, gentrified crap now, but I've always wanted to test whether the 'American birds all go for an English accent' theory applies to gutter estuary.
This also sort of reminds me of how much fun it was taking Es, without dour Goa casualties blabbering on about Temporary Autonomous Zones, or how you shouldn't mix the chemical of universal love with Joy Division, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Big Black (I highly recommend all three if you're on one!) - I mean, they used to give MDMA to freaked out GIs for fuck's sake, just so they wouldn't end up beating Bangkok bargirls to death during their Singha-drenched R&R breaks...
So much nonsense has been scribbled about E, it beggars belief. Like, apparently you can't have sex on it. I don't know of ANYONE who actually reported this complaint - but that didn't stop some work-shy, academic hippie from starting the rumour. Also, the myth you're somehow attaining a higher state of consciousness by necking a superdove - give over! The people who spouted this at me were normally churning out endless Word Docs of 'E fiction' - probably the most WANK literary movement of all time. Thankfully, few of these manuscripts have survived, but I read one friend of a friend's attempt once and it was so awful, we'd sneak bits down the pub and sit around laughing, quoting excerpts at each other. Happy planet...ecstatic planet...happy fucking planet! was one particular clanger. And the chapters all starting with lines from 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe'! Jesus cry me a river...
Look, maybe I missed the bit when Chinnamasta descends and plunges your brain stalks into a Mayan fractal hotpot, but as I remember it, a good time on E was about heading down to Dixy Chicken in Spiderman masks and soundly declaring war on the establishment, ranting about how Colonel Sanders had possessed us and sent us to warn them off his manor, before being chased away by the Algerian staff; walking up the M1 (believing it to be a short cut to Neasden); and deciding that we were going to form the first band ever to perform solely to animals (exclusive gigs in London Zoo, dolphin marinas, dogs' homes, amphitheatres packed with apes, etc). We never really got that one off the blocks...but someone did actually tape me and my friend Nick once (through the wall) sitting up all night in Camberwell, me on guitar and him screaming like that Geordie in AC/DC, with a chorus of dogs barking from the estate opposite. So we got semi-close to it. I have no idea if the tape still exists, but God...if you thought Schoenberg had 'atonal' sewn up...
A pox on this heat! Oh shit, I haven't mentioned psychogeography for about 17 posts...I don't know why, but the further North you went in England, the Es were always more fun to do. Doing them in London was never QUITE as mind-blowing, to be honest. Sheffield and Leeds were top locations, though. I have no idea why this was so. Actually, it's probably cos there were fewer crusties wandering around in fleeces and sandals, banging on about how they'd just discovered their cerebellums were spaceships and that there'd be no war if everyone got luv dup - and more kids just out to have an aggro-free laugh. Gimme this Royal House 7" and some tough Yorkshire valkyrie hairdressers, rubbing glitter gel over their bodies in a bubble-tsunami, over that pseudo-spiritual hocus pocus, any day...
But, as notorious street-level cultural historian Popstar McFabulous surmised: "Brian Harvey getting nicked for driving on E was our generation's Altamont". Apparently, we've all upped our odds of developing crippling psychiatric problems in later life - but I don't care, I'm probably gonna get Alzheimer's anyway (thanks, my family)! The only other Todd Terry-related thing I own is Black Riot's A Day In the Life b/w Warlock 7" - another slice of house magic, though I do prefer the Royal House platter - just...