Vandals are somewhat of a national underdog institution in the States and even
though this is almost a completely different band than the one whose roots go
back to 1982, at this point in time they're probably at their strongest. The
past year has seen the band operating on a broader scale with European support
slots to the Offspring & No Doubt (the later who recently covered the
Vandals yuletide anthem "Oi to the world")... and some crazed kid
embodying mental derangement on the X FILES by wearing a Vandals T-Shirt. This
interview was conducted with guitarist Warren Fitzgerald (WF) and bassist and
sole original member Joe Escalante (JE) on 8/8/98 on the quays across from the
NB - Do
you guys remember anything about the first time you were here...
WF - Not
the one ten years ago, no, he would remember.
Yeah, it was this small place and everybody was really drunk and it was a lot
of fun ... we stayed at someone's house and I kept asking everyone had they
heard of that movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" but nobody
had ever heard of it...
NB - what
are you talking about... everybody knows that film...
JE - Well
then they were pretending they'd never heard of it!
NB - it's
a cult classic to some people...
JE - Is
NB - I
was looking at the cover of the new CD and the pictures of the Helicopters have
me baffled because they look like stills out of a 1970s cop show or
JE - but
if you look closely, there's a 1988 Corvette in one of them... and that's what
baffled us about them... we were like, we thought they were from the 70s and
then there's this late model Corvette in there and they're from our singers
WF - His
office at his beer company...
JE - His
private collection of helicopter photos...
WF - Yes,
JE - We
would rehearse there and then we were going "What the fuck are we going to
put on the record?" and there were these photos and we kept asking him
what they were and he had no idea so we just took them off the wall and put
them on the record.
NB - Has
anyone else asked you about them?
JE - No,
you're the first one...
NB - I
was just looking at them going “What the fuck???” you know...
They're scenes from our video...
WF - From
our high budget video that we haven't shot yet...
BOZ - At
this point things must be a lot easier for American punk bands touring Europe
than it was 10 years ago...
JE - Yeah,
it's a lot easier... when we came 10 years ago, it was still pretty good
because no bands had been there... we hadn't been there and people made sure
they went to the show... now there's a lot more shows so some kids just won't
go because they know that the American band will be back next month, but it's
definitely a lot bigger now.
NB - And
did the support slot with NO DOUBT have any visible effect?
Yes... and we toured over here with the Offspring also so there are a lot more
braids and No Doubt fans with the Gwen dot on their forehead...
NB - Does
that happen in the States as well?
JE - No.
NB - One
thing that's pretty noticeable is that a lot of touring punk bands do festival
dates in Europe... are you doing any?
JE - The
only festivals we do are like... the Warped Tour and we haven't been invited to
any other festivals except for some in Italy... and it's only Italy so we've
got to fly out just for that... so we're just not at that point yet and I don't
know whether we want to do it or not... I wouldn't mind trying it...
NB - Are
you planning on playing over here more regularly now... like trying to build it
JE - Well
we've been to Europe... this is our 4th time to Europe in the last year and a
half so we consider that pretty regular...
NB - and
does that make a noticeable difference to sales figures of records... are they
selling more each time...
Yeah, it's the only thing that sells punk records is touring... there's no
radio or TV or anything else so... yeah, you definitely notice it.
Seeing as you have 3 guys who weren't in the band at the beginning, how far do
you delve into the back catalogue for playing live?
Hardly at all... most nights we'll play almost nothing from our back
catalogue... maybe one or two songs...
WF - Yeah,
we've put out 6 records with this line-up so we have lots of songs to choose
from and it's younger kids mostly and they tend to know the new stuff better...
Yeah, when we play an old song... there's always one drunk yelling for it and
then when we play it, nobody else has ever heard it before...
NB - Like
Yeah... good example... exactly...
- That's kind of like the Vandals greatest hit because it's been in films and on compilations... are you at the stage where it's haunting you and you just don't
want to play it any more...
JE - No,
it's just like... it depends... we play it sometimes now and sometimes we
don't... I think with this drummer we didn't even rehearse it because people
don't really ask for it, but I noticed when we got here, there's a lot more
people asking for it than usual... so maybe we should have learned it but...
usually the people that are asking for it are really loud drunks...
WF - And
it seems like there's more people asking for it than there is because they're
...and you play it and everyone else is going "What? I don't know this
NB - So
at this point there's more product put out by this line-up than the rest of the
history of the band so you've established it...
WF - That
was all part of the master plan...
NB - The
new album sounds really, really good... do you reckon it's the best thing
JE - Oh,
thank you... we agree... we worked hard on it.
Whose idea was the Sound of Music track?
WF - That
was my idea...
JE - He
likes show tunes...
Well, aside from being a show tune lover, I noticed when we were on the Warped
tour... I had that soundtrack and girls get really gushy when they hear it so I
figured if we played it, maybe they would get gushy over us...
...that's something I never would have thought of... Has it ever crossed your
mind that at this point in time, the Vandals are suited to the big commercial
swoop up that has happened to the Bosstones, Offspring etc, Do you think that
maybe even unknown to yourself there's a chart hit in there waiting to happen?
That's like a big game to play and since we do other things it's hard and
everyone thinks that will happen... we get that question a lot... but it's just
we're doing so many other things...it's a real concentrated game... you get a
hit, you make this video, you have to do a bunch of tours that you don't want
to do because they're just for the purpose of playing radio shows and stuff
like that and we, for some reason or other, are not on that path and so, to me,
it's very hard to imagine without some huge accident...
NB - Well
it could happen, I mean, the music is there...
WF - It's
possible, but it's like winning the lottery, you know... all the bands - Green
Day, Offspring... all that stuff... it's just like the planets just aligned in
a certain way that it happened... and there was accessible punk music coming
out for 15 years before that happened so there's no real formula to it... we
just kind of do what we do and... who knows... we certainly don't expect that
NB - So
Nitro... do they even do singles at all...
Yeah, well... just promotional... they don't like release them commercially...
WF - Not
in a way that a major label does, no.
NB - I've
read a couple of interviews already which discuss the mullet song on the album
(“I've got an Ape Drape") and you've got the Achy Breaky reference in there... ls Billy Ray
Cyrus really that much of a fucking bastard... like responsible for crimes against
humanity in the states?
JE - I think
Musically speaking, yes...
NB - How
about in terms of the way people look?
JE - Oh
yeah...he's perpetuating some scary stuff...
WF - Well
he didn't invent that haircut but he certainly glorified it...
JE - He
put it on television.
Exactly... he brought it to peoples homes to where there's these poor bastards
sitting at home going, "You know, that might look good on me, I'll give it
JE - He's
the first guy to, I think, make money and have that haircut... it's like
"Look: I'm this rich glamorous star and I have this haircut".
NB - and then there's Michael Bolton...
WF - Well, Michael Bolton, his is a mystery to me... I don't think that's hair, I think
NB - So
we're not far off reopening the Nuremberg trials for bad hair?
JE - I'll
Well, you know... there's so many to blame, you know, and some of them were
just following orders...
NB - What
was the motivation behind doing the Christmas album?
WF - We
talked about it for years and we'd sit bored in the van driving around for
hours and hours and making up silly Christmas songs and, you know, the Yobs
(The Boys alter-ego) had done it before... and we thought, hey, there hasn't
been a punk Christmas record for a long time... and actually, that's probably,
besides the new record, that's my favourite record that we've done, just from
the fact that it was liberating... we could do whatever we wanted... we could
bring a string quartet on and nobody's going to say... oh we're sellouts ...
we're not punk... We're just doing it to dramatise the effect of how many
problems we have with Christmas... or how much we enjoy it or whatever...
NB - I
don't think that's really the case anymore because so many bands are broadening
... bringing other instruments in, I mean... the new Swingin’ Utters album has
cello and accordion and other stuff like that...
WF - The
thing is, I don't have a major problem with it... I like music in general... I
just like the notes and I like sounds... I like simple punk rock and I like
elaborate things, you know... classical music, whatever... but as long as the
lyrics are not clichéd garbage you hear on the radio then I don't have a
problem with it.
Yeah, the Christmas album has a real vibe about it... it's like you weren't
under any commitment to throw something that was going to be your best album
together, yet, for that reason, it sounds great... I mean... how quickly was it
WF - Oh,
that was done in April, it was done very quickly...
Slapped together for $2000.
WF - We
recorded THE QUICKENING right before that... and then the Christmas record was
mastered which is the final process of it where it's readied for manufacturing
before THE QUICKENING was even out so it was about 2 months or less from
recording to finish...
...and that cost about $3000... it was about 5% of the cost of recording the
Exactly... it was done so cheaply and so quickly... but for some reason I think
that's part of the charm of it...
NB - how
strange is it locking yourself in a studio in April and recording a Christmas
WF - I
can't describe how much fucking therapy I needed just from doing that record...
Christmas is over for a couple of months... then you're right into Christmas
and then by the time the record is out it's Christmas again... yeah... I had
one too many Christmas's that year... it seemed like two too many
NB - How
did Rat Scabies end up playing on it?
WF - He's
an old friend of mine and he was in town and we were having all sorts of guest
musicians and drummers and so... I'd written this song and I thought it was
perfect for his style... his little shuffle that he's good at...
Yeah... I reckon that's my favourite song on the album...
WF - Oh,
NB - I
don't know whether you feel the same way but for a lot of people over here that
I talk to... the pop punk thing that's been manifesting in the states... it's
getting to the stage where a label releases a sampler and the sampler sounds
like one bands album...
Right, well, you know there are a lot of bands that sound very similar in the
pop punk genre and a lot of them that are very influenced by some of the
earlier ones... so they all kind of have a similar sound but... I don't know...
I look at it in the way that if they're all being derivative then at least they
are all copying a good song to start with so it doesn't really bother me that
much... you know what I mean... at least it's not a flood of...
JE - It
used to be a lot of bad songs that sounded the same...
Exactly, so, you know, the state of music... punk rock has improved a lot...
especially over the last couple of years.
NB - Do
you think that has a lot to do with the fact that people have a lot more money
at their disposal to do things???
Well, I think that... and I think that there's now a lot of bands who've been a
real key in it... like NOFX has...I'd say they're definitely in that genre...
JE - Yeah,
they make it fun to be a NOFX fan... you know... put out so many records and
have really good shows and they attract more people into it...
WF - And
really on their own terms they've managed to bypass radio and MTV and things
like that... and be successful at it and put out good records.
NB - But
that was the thing... NOFX came over to Europe and played everywhere...
basically really, really small places ...
Yeah, they worked it over here... they paid their dues over here, that's for
JE - But
they also backed it up by putting out good records.
WF - And
you know, starting like that, Mike starting the label... and a lot of bands are
somewhat similar sounding to a certain degree but the quality of their music
was definitely above what was going on in the early '90s...
NB - With
all the stuff you have going on outside the band, how often do you get to go
out on the road???
WF - Well
in the last few years we toured a lot... and then... only since we were working
on finishing this record we decided to slow down a bit... but in the past few
years we were touring like 5 months out of the year so we were out quite a
bit... now, it's kinda... see how
the record does and see what the reception and we squeeze it in when we can.
NB - And
there's KUNG FU records on top of that... who's responsible for that?
...right... that's me and Joe.
NB - How
big an operation is that? The only things I know that have been on it are the
GLORY DAZE soundtrack, the Vandals Christmas album and Assorted Jellybeans...
JE - And
we're about to release BLINK l82's very first record... like a kind of 15 song
demo thing of the very first recordings that they released... we're putting
that out pretty soon...
NB - I'm
only familiar with their name...
They're very big in America but they really haven't hit Europe that much at
JE - They
have a Gold record in America and they're doing ok in London but they haven't
really done much else... it's a good band... you know, NOFX-y style...
NB - How
did you get involved with the GLORY DAZE soundtrack?
JE - They
wanted Fat Mike to score that movie...
WF - Yeah... that's how it actually started, they wanted him to do the score and
then I did some work like that, you know, doing the underscore for movies and I
ended up working with the director and doing that and from there they decided
they needed a musical director... so Joe took over the music directing...
picking out songs for it... and then it just kind of made sense to put it out
on our label.
Yeah, we just asked them the whole time... "We wanna put it out" even
though movies like that get made all the time and they don't come out... we
knew we could put together a good compilation.
Basically what it is... yeah.
JE - And
also it's fun to work with a director and say, you know... "I think the
Bouncing Souls should go here... "... and we tried to make it a little
better than it was... and then we made what we think is a pretty good
compilation out of it and even though the movie wasn't really ever released in
the United States, it still sold 8000 units just as a cool compilation album...
and now it's just come out on video cassette...
WF - Ben
Affleck won a fucking Oscar...
Yeah, Ben Affleck, the star won an Oscar and stuff so it's doing a lot better
now... it turned out to be a good deal for us.
That's what I was wondering... the film obviously didn't go anywhere...
WF - Well
it's going to be on all the major cable stations... the movie stations in
America, which is going to help...
Yeah, it's starting to do that and we think it'll be around for a long time...
and now these guys who made Ben Affleck's next movie CHASING AMY and the movie
CLERKS... they're putting 3 of the songs on our new album on their next film.
WF - We
That's Kevin Smith isn’t it?
JE - Yeah
... he just sent us a fax the other day and said I want these 3 songs...
NB - I
was reading over the Vandals interview that came with the Rodney On The ROQ
compilation in 1982... it seems strange that the bands that are still going
from that era have had their greatest success, like Social Distortion... would
you have ever thought that for a minute at any point?
No... well, Social Distortion, those guys... I always liked them... but they're
like fuck ups, you know... they're a miracle, the fact that they've lasted this
WF - What
with drugs and everything like that... they managed to pull it together.
JE - They
have a really good manager... he's a friend of mine... he had a lot of faith in
them and took care of them and even though they don't sell a huge amount and
get played on the radio a lot in the States, they are all basically, in my
opinion, taken care of for the rest of their lives the way their manager has
worked their career... and it's VERY bizarre that that happened...
seems really strange that they were on Sony...
Yeah, they just finished a seven-year deal with Sony...
WF - yeah,
they put out a few records on Sony...
JE - They
were on Sony for 7 years and now they're free and they're gonna make a huge
amount off money on their next deal, believe it or not... it's going to be a
huge payday... they will never have to work again after this next one...
NB - Has
anyone been sniffing around the Vandals like that?
Yeah, we get a lot of that sniffing... a lot of it... so we think about it and
then we just kind of try to last as long as we can being on Nitro... until the
very, very last second... we'd much rather have success on Nitro than try to
have success on a major label...
NB - Is
Nitro suited to what you're doing in that you're not pressured into doing
Yeah... definitely suited to us...
NB - I
noticed your name on a few other bands records as legal representation... are
you involved in that in a big way?
JE - A
little bit... I worked at a TV network for a long time and when I left to start
this label and tour more, to make money I would represent bands and record
labels so I'm a lawyer outside... I'm the Swingin’ Utters lawyer, A couple of
other bands... some record labels like Skunk and Fearless... that sort of
NB - It's strange that not only are there all these people in punk bands
... the stereotype is that you're meant to be fuck ups and outcasts or
whatever... and then there's people like yourselves and say, Bad Religion...
who have members in respectable professional careers outside... and then you
have people who were maybe 200 times bigger might ever be... Twisted Sister,
The Bay City Rollers... someone like that who are now sitting in bedsits going
"Damnit, I used to be something"...
Yeah, and seriously... WHAT DO THEY DO?... At that point, what do they do? That
scares me more than anything... That's why I always have like gone to school
and made sure I had something else to do because what do you do when it's all
over and you still have 40 years left of your life?
Yeah... where do you go from there?
You've just got to have things... like a career...
NB - Dee
Snider is probably sitting at home in front of the mirror looking at his filed
Exactly ... it's like ... "What now???"...
Yeah... that to me is just worse than anything... it's worse than failing at
music for 100 years...
With that in mind, can see at this point how long the Vandals will go on for?
JE - I
don't know... I don't see any end in sight... As we get older we tour less, but
you know, when I got into my 30s, I toured more than ever in my life... so, I
don't know... we'll keep making records... that's for sure...
Yeah... that's easy and it’s fun...
JE - And
we let everyone in the band do whatever they want, you know... someone goes off
and does whatever they're gonna do... that is why it lasts a long time... it's
not like you're in this band and it's exclusive... and if you do anything else,
you're kicked out... it doesn't work that way...
Yeah... it doesn't work that way... we're free thinkers
NB - So
maybe we'll see the Vandals doing not just film scores but... maybe a full
soundtrack... a South Pacific type thing???
WF - We
do all sorts of different stuff and I produce a lot of records... that's what I
do at home... I'm in the studio with other bands... bands on our label... bands
on other labels and that's my other job... it's music related but it's also...
lf people stop coming to see us, it's not going to affect that career.
Hitler Bad, Vandals Good CD ******
recently, the Vandals have been a grossly under-recognised stalwart of US punk
... sure they've had their line-up shuffles and whatnot, but as they exist
today, they're at their strongest. In terms of broadening their sound, the
experience the Xmas album bought them is very visible here... It's hard to
destructively criticise songs like "The people that are going to
hell" or "My Girlfriend's dead". It's a kind of acute angle on
life that says these things have real overtones, but you've got to laugh
anyway. "I've got an ape drape" is their de-celebration of the mullet
cut and there's even a Rodgers & Hammerstein track, which sits well amongst
all this. Another obvious characteristic that colours this album is the bands
capacity to blend competent Beach Boys harmonies with loud guitars... something
much strived for amongst current punk bands but rarely achieved... and what's
most important is that, the music comes across in such a way that suggests the
band themselves are enjoying this more than they ever have!! (NITRO Records)
Look at Ice T or WASP or loads of other rockers, rappers and punkers - does anyone really believe their attempts to shock to be anything more than a pathetic pantomime, a marketing decoy to camouflage bland music. Maybe someone like G.G. Allin was actually sincere about his atrocities ... but he was hardly inspirational (you certainly won't catch me eating my shit or ODing on heroin) and was a threat to no one but himself; just a fool with a stool. Now and then however, ya get a genius - someone who astounds with their innovation and talent and shocks and inspires with their courage and charisma. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was such a phenomenon and when he died last year in his native Nigeria, well, I was sadder than Elton John. In Africa, he is a legend. One million people smashed thru police barricades to attend his funeral in Lagos last August. He had the charisma of a car crash, the courage of a cockroach, the creativity of a big bang and a lust for life that makes Iggy a constipated nun. Just seek out a video of the man in concert... he'll be the one wearing nothing but silk bikini knickers and a saxophone, a hyper-sexed, hyper-vexed hurricane gyrating and lollollolling with the 27 dancing girls that he married in a mass ceremony in 1978. Marvel at this volcanic vibrator of a man and hurl yourself into the mad regal celebratory mixture of jazz, funk and hi-life that he named 'Afro-Beat'. And ask yourself if you'd be actin' like such a contagious case of catatonia if your country's military leaders had imprisoned you, tortured you, sent 1,000 soldiers round to beat up your friends and burn down your house, and got the local coppers to throw your mum out a high window to her death.
For 28 of its 38 years of independence, Nigeria, home to over 200 million live nipples, has been ruled by military dictators and they don't like to be fucked with ... just ask Ken Sero Wiwa or Wole Soyinka (both writers condemned to death - Sero Wiwa was hanged in 1995, Soyinka lives in exile). But Fela fucked with them, even when rich and famous throughout the world, he denounced their oppression and corruption with albums like "Authority Stealing", "Vagabonds in Power" and "I Go Shout Plenty". Through his concerts and many of his 124 albums, he incited the poor to get politically aware and active, not to accept their subjugation (as in "Why Black Men dey carry Shit?” "No Agreement", "Give me Shit, I Give you Shit" and "Teacher, don't teach me Nonsense"); he was a spokesperson for Blacks all over the world (in his 1984 album, "Beasts of No Nation", he slams Thatcher and Reagan for supporting Apartheid in South Africa). He was the first major African artist to sing in Pidgin English so that street people all over Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana could understand.
He didn't have to get himself into trouble. As a middle class kid, he could have earned a respectable living... after school in Nigeria, his parents had sent him to Oxford to become a doctor - but good 01' Fela bounced straight off the plane and enrolled in music instead, causing his angry pop to cut off all financial support. So Fela lived from the band he set up, playing straightforward jazz. After a few years working in a radio station back home, he headed for the States, attracted by the music of James Brown and the way that Black Americans were using European instruments to innovate and make 'black music'. Even though (or perhaps because) his mum was a radical feminist nationalist in Nigeria, he was never interested in politics until confronted with racism in England and when he befriended Sandra Smith of the Black Panthers in America, he began to see the potential of Black Power and adopted this as his rallying call for the rest of his career.
He returned definitively to Nigeria in 1973 and began his crusade to use his music to arouse people in as many ways as possible - it's sexy and relentless, hypnotic and bombastic. He changed the name of his club to 'The Shrine' and people piled in not just for the mesmerising music but also his 'yabbis' - lessons on black history, politics and music. He was on a mission to change the mentality of the poor majority who had been brainwashed by the experience of colonialism to believe that they were 'supposed to be poor'. He was a preacher but no sanctimonious saint - he got through more grass than a mad cow and slept with more women than a necrophiliac undertaker (even with 27 wives, he couldn't stay faithful!). A permanent rider on the Excess Express, his compound in Lagos was always burstin' with friends, family and wives ("I love them all, I spend every night with at least 3 of them" he revealed in one interview when aged 54!). The people loved him. And he loved people ... and hated dictators that get rich by keeping them poor and ignorant.
The dictators hated him too. So Fela and his merry entourage went toe-to-toe with a succession of evil soldier greed heads for 24 years before the artist finally died. The following are just highlights of the half absurd, half-tragic history of their clashes: In 1974, just a year after coming back to Nigeria and becoming a star with his band Afrika 70, the authorities were already looking for ways to shunt this Iippy upstart out of public view: he was arrested for possession of dope... then released after 2 weeks in prison ... 2 days later, the Filth raided his house again and found more grass... which Fela swiftly swallowed... so he was brought to the copshop and forced to shit in a dish which was then whisked away for analysis –nothing came of this and Fela released an album entitled "Expensive Shit" to commemorate the experience! 5 months later, the police stopped by his house one night and beat him up, hospitalising him for 9 days. In December 1975, the miffed military authorities concocted some farcical kidnapping charge and arrested our hero. The charges were then dropped but Fela had to fight for months to get his instruments back and two of his group spent 9 months in a squalid jail cell. In February 1977 came Fela's biggest and most bitter clash with authority: dictator Olusegun Obasanjo sent 1000 armed soldiers round to the funster's gaff... they battered his brothers, mates and passing journalists, and then threw his 82 year old mother out her bedroom window and raised the whole place to the ground. His mother died shortly afterwards and an enraged Fela and friends stomped past armed guards and placed her coffin on the doorsteps of the seat of parliament. His next album is called "Coffin for the Head of State". In 1981, he is arrested for knocking the hats of 2 traffic policemen... while holding him, the police decide to charge this mega-rich superstar with... armed robbery! The case is dumped out of court.
Then in 1984, the government accuses him of smuggling foreign currencies; he was condemned to 5 years in Nigeria's worst prison. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience but he floundered for 17 months in some dark dungeon before another coup d'etat overthrew the leader that put him there. In 1993, he got another chance to sample Nigerian prison hospitality after a man was found murdered in his club. He was released when the trial finally came to court... Fela had not even been in the country at the time of the murder. In 1996, still peeved that they've never managed to shut the bastard up, a gang of policeman fire randomly into Fela's house ... six people were seriously injured. His final clash with the police came just 5 months before his death when he was already languishing sick in his leaba: the government ordered police to go search his house and arrest him if they found any grass, knowing full well that ol' Fela always had an ample stash. He was awaiting trial for this when he popped it. Sure, the likes of Public Enemy and Hiphoprisy and many others have castigated a go-go and pointed their fingers and waved their fists ... but US and European leaders are about as dangerous as Rolf Harris when put alongside some of Nigeria's glorious fuhrers – the bould Fela was huntin' goddam dragons.
It was AIDS that finally did what no authority could do - shut him up. And when I hear that one of Africa's biggest singers of the moment - Senegal's Youssou N’dour, demands the equivalent of 25,000 quid to play 5 songs at a concert promoting consumption of African products instead of imported ones, I realise how unique the great Fela was. (Incidentally, I just read in my paper today that his brother, Beko Ransome-Kuti, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in ‘96 for plotting to overthrow General Abacha, is dying in prison due to lack of medical attention).
4 years ago, a certain rabid and dedicated blogger compiled 7 volumes of a very excellent bootleg series called Synthesizers Rules 1978-1983( cough! ) collating a
diaspora of proto electronic singles, starting with widely known releases and
becoming steadily more obscure as the series went on. The later volumes were
region specific, including French and German compilations, and if there were
anything that could call itself the Irish equivalent, then STRANGE PASSION
makes a very good case for itself (although electronic music is only a portion
of what’s here). This is an era that has generated increased interest over the
past 2-3 years and while there’s no doubt that inventive noise suffered
domestically as a result of emigration, isolation and general poverty, the
slug-trails of punk, new wave, power pop and electronic music did manage to
leave at least a handful of oddities which have weathered well. Somewhat
insipidly, the sounds of the era are often referred to as post-punk as if it
were a well-rounded genre. Later into the 80s this nasty habit would also befall
the word “indie”, but much like the bands/entities on this compilation, there
is no real common gene except for their existence in the same period. STRANGE
PASSION simply looks at a space in time where music had changed considerably
and many new possibilities were now presented to those whose creativity largely
outweighed their musical literacy.
DOGMATIC ELEMENT encapsulated a prevailing sound at the dawn of the 1980s: a
creative period after the second wave of punk bands (including a very strong climate
in Northern Ireland) acted as ambassadors for a low fidelity, self-driven
direction of music. JUST FRIENDS featured all the components of what would
drive independent guitar music throughout the 1980s, including strong basic
hooks and distinctive vocals but like so many others at the time, the band
failed to capitalize in any significant way.
THE THREAT’s HIGH COST OF LIVING is probably one of the
more celebrated articles of the era, remembered fondly for its influence and
innovation beyond the drudgery of amateur punk. In a legacy of one standalone
7” and a haze of urban mythology, the sonic palette encapsulated the seeds of
sophomore Wire and PiL (The story of THE THREAT is covered in detail by the
CHANT! CHANT! CHANT!, spawned from a fracture in a
line-up of THE THREAT and were distinctive for inventive bass playing and a
killer pudding-bowl fringe. PLAY SAFE from their solitary 7” is overstated in
duration by about a minute and the flipside, QUICKSAND, was an altogether
superior piece of indigenous guitar abrasion.
The VIRGIN PRUNES debut, TWENTY TENS, is the first of a
glorious run of incredible records that capture a unique and brute primitivism.
In this country, history often maligns the Virgin Prunes because of their
associations (elsewhere, they seem to get their deserved recognition), but
while the core line-up remained intact, their recorded output was off the map
in all sorts of wonderful ways.
Under the name OPERATING THEATRE, Roger Doyle created one
of the great Irish albums of the 70’s in the mesmerizing RAPID EYE MOVEMENTS, a
Musique Concrète masterwork on Steven Stapleton’s United Dairies label, so I
was curiously disappointed to uncover a mildewed copy of the AUSTRIAN single
some time in the mid 1990s only to find that the next logical step was a
ghastly commercial trajectory. Utterly indecisive as to what it was supposed to
be, it belies the focus of almost everything else Roger Doyle has done.
Clearly, an academically informed musician would be the first to fail in a climate
where rank amateurs were succeeding and this was not to be Mr. Doyle’s destiny.
He sensibly returned to leftfield composition and has been incredibly
productive ever since (Interestingly, RAPID EYE MOVEMENTS was reissued on CD as
Roger Doyle, not Operating Theatre).
After the demise of THE THREAT, STANO’s first single
ROOM/TOWN (issued by Vox magazine) combined a wide range of experimental
elements with all the idiosyncrasy of a bedroom recording background. While
ROOM struck out a somber electronic rhythm and an insular mesh of piano chords,
the track featured here, TOWN, devised a discordant funk that still sounds
alien to any time period in music... no easy feat! STANO’s adventures in sound
continue steadily to this day.
The PERIDOTS, one of the more enigmatic entities out of
Dublin in the early part of the decade, experimented in primal bubbling synths,
acoustic instruments and dark brooding lyrics (a formula later perfected by the
likes of the LEGENDARY PINK DOTS). Their official output was limited to a 7”
and a compilation cut - NO WATER appears to be an unreleased track and I’m
aware of one other recording, SO MANY ANGELS, which makes curious as to what
else might be there. As a product of the infancy of amateur synth music, The
PERIDOTS sound is very much of its place in time but this addition to their
tiny oeuvre is fascinating.
ALWAYS IN DANGER by Dundalk band CHOICE is the sort of
minimal synth pop that would have clocked up mileage had the band started in a
major city in England. It has the root elements of what might have been
nurtured into something viable for an early 80’s chart band.
LAST DAYS by the economically and somewhat studiously
entitled PH was product of post PERIDOTS recordings by Peter Hamilton. Never
released, it’s the sort of willfully morose underground synth pop that sounded
great for a brief moment in time before it’s very essence demanded progression
and a choice between the sparkle of the Gallup top 20 or the purgatory of mid
A product of distant shores, AVENUE B was an accidental
downtown Manhattan club hit for Wexford ex-pats MAJOR THINKERS. It’s a
ramshackle and irritatingly intoxicating piece of what can best be described as
mutant disco (possibly Ireland’s only contribution to the genre?).
SM CORPORATION was the end result of a succession of
synth groups led by ex-Radiator Steve Averill. According to the album’s sleeve
notes, ACCENTUATE was originally composed as an ad jingle for a clothing store
in Switzer’s. The SM CORPORATION moniker itself suggests deliberate sonic
multi-tasking and while pandering to aspects of commerciality might have been
viewed as crass at the time, it would now simply be accepted as “library of
sound” (I’ve no doubt that at some point in the not too distant past, the
notion of Daphne Oram’s BBC Radiophonic Workshop experiments being packaged as
a standalone listen was inconceivable - a Jingle for a store in Switzer’s is
kind of the Craggy Island version of this!). The second SM CORPORATION track,
FIRE FROM ABOVE is an early version of a track that later received an official
release on a Comet compilation. This is a definite shot at creating something
similar to successful early Mute synthpop and has a confidence and charm to it
even without the obvious wizardry and budget of Vince Clarke. Sleeve notes
state that unreleased recordings are considerable.
TRIPPER HUMANE’s DISCOLAND, a cassette release sold by
it’s creator to school friends in 1981, is an exercise in outsider art with a
calamitous mix of domestic percussion, meandering timing and cassette
production. This is an excellent indication of the sort of results that could
be obtained in synth music at entry level and is definitely worth a study for
the solo segment alone (although it’s somewhat of a relief that TRIPPER HUMANE
is limited to one track – the novelty would simply become irritation
A final track from OPERATING THEATRE, EIGHTIES RAMPWALK,
sees Roger Doyle fare much better than his pop attempt. This subdued
instrumental passage from a Fanning session in 1981 glistens with an ambient
professionalism suggesting that, while he’s undoubtedly the most important
figure in Irish electronic sound, he’s possibly the most out of place here.
As I obtained some of these artifacts through record shop
excavations 15-20 years ago, this era of Irish music will always remind me of
grimy crate digging hands. It’s only when they’ve been digitized and collated
in this fashion does the aged film of dirt lift to reveal elements of greater
substance that may otherwise have been obscured by mildewed (or missing)
picture sleeves, or the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl records that were
handled in a faddish manner by their original owners. Given the scope of this
compilation, I was hoping that it would include the greatest of all synth driven
artifacts from this country, the oddball genius of MAX VON RAP’s I WISH I HAD A
KAWASAKI (for another day and another compilation perhaps?). That aside,
there’s much to absorb from these recordings and their corresponding sleeve
notes and STRANGE PASSION succeeds as a captivating exercise in the
presentation of raw inspiration from it’s chosen place in time. - BOZ