Tuesday, February 24, 2015

punk before punk

Various Artists - Dirty Water: The Birth of Punk Attitude
(Year Zero)
The Wire, 2010?

by Simon Reynolds

Punk must be the most over-determined event in rock history. The decade leading up to it is so crowded with antecedents that it's hard to see how it could possibly not have happened.  Dirty Water runs to two discs but it doesn't come close to exhausting the prehistory of 1976-and-all-that. Indeed part of the fun of Kris Needs's expertly selected compilation is thinking of things that ought to have been included. So the righteous presence of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's clangorous "The Hot City Symphony"  makes one wonder why not The Sweet, whose 1976 hit "Action" simply is punk with a lick of gloss.  If the serrated choogle of "Roxette"  by Dr Feelgood and the football terrace stomp of "Oo Oo Rudi" by Jook make the cut, why not the Mockney rockabilly of Kilburn and the High Roads's "Upminster Kid"?

These aren't quibbles, though, just the listener's natural response to the compilation's premise. In this respect, Dirty Water recalls Chuck Eddy's heterodox heavy metal guide, Stairway To Hell: there's a similar mixture of what-you'd-expect and stuff straining the genre's definition to bursting point.  So you get lashings of what Seventies rock writers called "high-octane" hard rock (MC5, Pink Fairies, Dictators, etc ) but also regular jolts of the aberrant: the multi-voiced babble of Sun Ra's "Rocket Number Nine,"  the psychotic mandolin busking of Silver Apples's "Confusion". 

Proto-punk is inherently amorphous, since roots can stretch back as far and as wide as you care to trace them. The Silhouettes's "Get A Job" and Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop" might be a stretch too far. Closer to Year Zero, there's Peter Hammill's "Nadir's Big Chance",  title track to a 1975 album on which the prog rocker took on the alter-ego Rikki Nadir, a "loud aggressive perpetual sixteen year old" playing "beefy punk songs".  It's a reminder that "punk" was common rock parlance for years before it signified a safety pin through the nose, from critics describing the young Springsteen as a "street punk" to boogie band Brownsville Station's 1974 LP School Punks.

Named after the Standells's Sixties garage ode to their hometown Boston's river and the "buggers lovers and thieves" clustered on its seedy banks, Dirty Water is a real blast of rock-historical edutainment.  But its accumulation of precursors and pre-echoes has one less salutary effect, which is to further erode the sense of punk as out-of-the-blue, a shocking surprise.  Archaeological investigations into the prehistory of revolutionary moments do tend to make them seem less of a break with the past than they felt at the time.   Ideally, the Dirty Water listener will come away not with the belief that Seventies rock fans really ought to have seen punk coming long way off, but with an enhanced awareness of History's contingent nature.  For this anthology points to the possibility that punk might have happened earlier, and differently.  Equally, if it could have happened earlier, yet didn't, it's just remotely conceivable that in 1976 it might not taken off at all. 

Friday, February 20, 2015



"Darkcore / Injustice" (Hate)

"Pretty Boys don't Survive Up North / Pretty Boys (gfuta Mix)" (Hate)

The Wire, 2009?

by Simon Reynolds

This double debut arrives clad in a back story that gives off a pungent whiff of "fishy". 

Supposedly, Unknown's two  12 inches are the first issues from a monster  cache of 1991-1994 vintage , never-before-released ardkore rave. At a rendezvous on Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire earlier this year, a mystery man handed over  "a carload full of dubplates and DAT tapes"  from producers who wish to remain anonymous.  

The tall-seeming tale  recalls the intrigue about that lost classic of Italodisco by Black Devil that Rephlex put out a few years back, which some alleged was really by Richard James and/or Luke Vibert (the latter of course put out his own faux-jungle EPs as, snigger, Amen Andrews). 

"Darkcore," the A-side of hate001, has the classic period signifiers down pat--mashed and smearily processed Amen breaks,  reedy twilight-zone synths,  tingle- triggering Morse Code riff. But there's something off about this track, from its disconcerting plinks of treated percussion to the peculiarly static and suspended quality of the groove, which you can't imagine mashing up any real ravefloor of the era. 

On the flipside "Injustice," two distinct rhythm tracks are placed in adjacence but never gell: a slow, ponderous beat (either proto-dubstep or post-dubstep, depending on whether this is the genuine article or a period pastiche) and  a juddering, fever-dream groove redolent of 1993 classics like Potential Bad Boy's "Work the Box". Wisps of sick noise snake up from the depths of the mix, but the overall feel is dislocated and remote, like a faded memory, creating an atmosphere closer to the elegaic mirages spun by Burial or V/vm's  "The Death of  Rave" .

 The second  slab o' vinyl  "Pretty Boys Don't Survive Up North"   is more convincing: the jarringly off-kilter pattern of metallic snares are a dead ringer for Boogie Times Tribe's "The Dark Stranger"  while the "gfuta mix" (done this year) makes the groove even more jagged while intensifying the Mentasm-synth until it's a writhing, maggoty cloud of malevolent sound hovering overhead.  

In the end, it doesn't really matter if this is a homage or a real-deal relic:  these tunes are ruff enough to transport this aging raver right back there like a regular time machine.