|NME 19th February 1983
Is it too early for a '76 punk
revival, or are these new
warriors part of a brand
new positivism in '83?
RICHARD NORTH treads
through the Blood And
Roses of a new movement
to uncover the answers.
Photos: ANTON CORBIJN
"Don't dream it, be it."- Rocky Horror Show
THE BOY sits before the staring mirror and ponders his clean-shaven reflection. Smiling, he selects a carefully compiled tape and slots it into his machine.
'Fatman' is the first track: Southern Death Cult excite him and he dances in his seat while unscrewing a tube of foundation cream.
He's got to look good tonight and it's becoming every night because he's off out to a gig. He's going to see one of his bands, one of the groups he regularly sees. Brigandage, Southern Death Cult, Danse Society, Ritual, Rubella Ballet, Virgin Prunes, Specimen, The Mob... They're the only ones that mean anything to him any more.
Tonight it's Blood And Roses at London's Moonlight Club and all his friends will be there. One of their tracks, 'Your Sin Is Your Salvation', comes up on the tape and the boy remembers the last time he saw them.
The blur of colour, the heady atmosphere, the fun, the collective feeling of motion - forward! It made him feel alive, positive, and then he formed a group the next week.
Finishing his make-up the boy turns his attention to his dyed blue hair, carefully back-combing it into disarray. Last week he'd been beaten up by some skinheads because they didn't like the look of him. He remembers their fury but shrugs: he enjoys his appearance and is proud to look different. In a way he's almost glad that his clothes and attitude had provoked the attack-their mindlessness wrapped in a dull, grey, lazy uniform of bitterness gives him a reason to be their opposite.
He feels bright and optimistic about the future, slipping into a pair of leather trousers, noticing he's only got a few quid left in his pocket. It doesn't matter though, the dole gives him time to do things, like his group.
A Brigandage number blares out: 'Hope', it seems to sum things up for him. With its message on his lips the boy half-dances across the room, through the door and out.
|" I don't like the word movement, but there's now a large collection of bands and people with the same positive feeling." - Andi, singer with Sex Gang Children, speaking on the opening night of Son of Batcave|
|HAIL ERIS, Goddess of Discord, and pass the ammunition: as the heavy drumbeat rolls and the harsh chords crash and sometimes even tingle, it's then that the boys and girls come out to play.
With wild-coloured spiked hair freezing the eye, and even more vivid clothes to spice the imagination - faces, thoughts and actions - the atmosphere's infused with a charge of excitement, an air of abandon underlined with a sense of purpose.
Something stirs again in this land of fetid, directionless sludgery, this land of pretend optimism and grim reality. Theory and practice are being synthesised under the golden umbrella of a 24-hour long ideal.
Welcome to the new positive punk.
Although it's not the purpose of this article to create any kind of movement or cult, any easy or accessible bandwagon to be tumbled onto, it is indisputable that a large number of bands and people involved in the culture called rock, have sprung up at approximately the same time, facing their lifestyles in the same direction. Maybe unconsciously so, it's a huge collective force that we can call the new positive punk a re-evaluation and rejuvenation of the ideals that made the original outburst so great, an intensification of and expansion of that ethos of individuality, creativity and rebellion. The same buzz that burned our streets, hearts and minds in '76/77 is happening again.
The Industrial Revolution is over, a new era has begun, and the current mood is an affirmation of that point. The natural energy that for over 200 years has been poured into the physical, the rational and the materialistic, has now all grown crooked. The mental/magical power has been lost: it was simply not needed -
steam engines, radios, electricity were so much easier and they worked. But now the glamour is wearing off; we can see the strings and wires, the clockwork squeaks...the radiation is beginning to corrode the pretty box.
All the darkness and light, all the forces are still there deep underneath, bubbling, steaming, fermenting. The instinct, ritual and ceremony are rising again in everyday life; many people are starting to use the tarot and l-Ching. And the new punk groups are a reflection of this feeling; their use of mystical/metaphysical imagery and symbolism is a striking common denominator. Not in the way of dumb-dabbling and superficial posturing of, say, a Black Sabbath with their (gasp) black magic kick.
Nor is it a silly hippy Tolkien fantasy joyride, or even a Killing Joke stench-of-death gloomier-than-thou slice of fanaticism. lt is, instead, an intelligent and natural interest in mystery, rather than history, that is a sign of an open mind.
These groups are aware: UK Decay (positive punk forefathers), using the dark to contrast and finally emphasise the light; Sex Gang Children taking us into the sub-world of the Crowleyan abyss; while Blood And Roses are pushing the symbols a whole lot further, their guitarist Bob being a serious student of the Art.
The mystical tide we are talking about here refers, if nothing else, to the inner warmth and virtal energy that human beings regard as the most favourable state to live in. The new positive punk has tapped into this current.
And if all this sounds a touch heavy, let's consider the humour, style and inherent fun that are essential parts of the movement. Let's look at groups like Specimen, who are more Rocky Horror than Aleister Crowley, preening themselves in a glam-soaked traipse among the ruins. Or The Virgin Prunes' cheeky onstage oral sex send-up. The real humor is intermixed with the sheer sense of joy de vivre present at such gatherings.
Here is a glow of energy and life that overcomes the need for artificial stimulation. Unlike the heroin or barbituate sodden club scene or the glue-swamped Oi/punk arena, the emphasis here is not on drugs. Although illicit substances are not unknown, the desperate desire to nullify boredom is not present, and therefore there is no narcotic edge to the scene. Members of several groups (such as Southern Death Cult, Sex Gang Children and UK Decay) do not even drink.
For perhaps the first time, an active and flourishing dissenting body will not go down with its hind legs kicking as the drug takes over.
Money and time are tight: so both of them are being spent on something far more enjoyable and important: style. There's a veritable explosion of multi-coloured aestheticism. So different from the bland, stereotyped Oi boot boy punk fare of jeans, leather jacket and studs, this is an individualist stance even if it tends towards a common identity. A green-haired spike-topped girl wearing a long black pleated skirt, white parachute top and bootlace tie passes a tasselled, black-haired mohawk in creepers, white socks, red pegs and self-made, neatly-designed T-shirt. Something clicks. They smile in acknowledgement.
We are fireworks.
"I think that our influence comes from
the fact that there are so many
negative bands around. We 're not -
so away we go!" - Bob, guitarist with
Blood And Roses, Stoke Newington
IF THE bands absorb, reflect and present (not
necessarily in that order, it's a give and take
thing) the attitude of their fans and the tone of
their surroundings - and I think that the
important ones do - then we can trace the whole
thing back to its roots, travelling through the
erotic politics of the influential Doors and the
tense dusky danger of The Velvet Underground,
then we come to The Sex Pistols, who operated
under a vicious amalgam of style and direction.
Projecting a perfect combination of distorted but
relevant aesthetics, music and suss, their all-
mportant effect was the provocation of thought.
Then, veering away from 1002 misdirected
cardboard copies, we come to the Banshees
and the Ants. These two are important to the
new positive punk: the Banshees because of
their sheer power of imagination, and the Ants
because of their promotion of sensuous 'black'
Both had an adventurous and rebellious air
about them that cut through the regressive dross. Their outlook, musically and in angle of thought, went beyond the proscribed boundaries of behaviour at the time. They explored the edges of light and dark and some of the areas in between. They were a progression and they are the two clearest reference points to this recent outburst of energy.
Back at the tail - end of '78 and beyond, punk spun into a taildive of tuinol-dazed tiredness. A pause. Trends came and went: dead ends such as mod, new romanticism — up to and including the funk craze—all took their toll on the vital energy. And those who stuck with the essence of their punk were faced with the
development of Oi. Punk, under the guidance of certain lobots, gathered itself around a banner of no brains, no style, no heart and no hope. Heads buried in the glue-bag of dejection and floundering away under a barrage of three-chord rubbish — this was, and is, no way to lead a life.
Some drifted with the anarcho scene which at the time (1980/81) was the only worthwhile concern going. But by 1983, when everything is said and done, that angle seems too flat and puritan to be of much inspirational value. Crass, although anti-sexist, were and still are extremely sexless: a stark, bleak Oliver Cromwell new model army, who have sense but no sensuality.
At the opposite end of the scale, inspired by the feeling of the Ants etc, come the two groups who are the immediate forerunners of today's flood. They are Bauhaus and, later, Theatre Of Hate — both of whom capitalised on the idea of style and, what is more, a 'dangerous' and sensuous style that attracted more and more fans who were sick of the bleak and macho Oi and the shallow cult with no name.
It's these fans, reacting against the devaluation of punk, and fired by the spirit of the above-mentioned mentors, who are acting now. They've created a colourful and thriving nationwide scene — resplendent in their individuality but still linked by a progressive punk idiom, one that says go instead of stop, expand instead of contract, yes instead of no. A new, positive punk.
|"Stimulating thought, bringing people together, entertaining people, creating an atmosphere of sheer exhilaration and enjoyment. These are the main things." — lan, singer wfth Southern Death Cult, NME 2.10.82
ANDI SEX Gang twitches in the spotlight, the beam reflecting his harsh features and closely-cropped hair. He clenches his fists and spits out 'Into The Abyss'.
lan Southern Death Cult flails his arms and chicken-wardances across the stage, a sharp youthful figure with black be-feathered mohawk. His song is 'Moya', the words and the power behind the words providing an insight into cultural stagnation. He howls and shrieks in defiance. Mark from The Mob, an anarcho-renegade, with his bleached dread hair stands up straight before the microphone, growling "Still living in the English fear, waiting for the witch-hunt dear."
All this and more as Michelle Brigandage leaps onto the amps, top hat at a rackish angle. "As we walk in the sunlight honesty protects our
|eyes, " is her cry. And Bob Blood And Roses, he just grins, he knows... "Love is the Law"— their tale underlining the truly optimistic undercurrent to this mood.
And the fans, bedecked in sparkling, inventive garb, they kick, they jump, they scream.
"A night for celebration, a night to unwind," repeats the diminishing echo from the ghost of UK Decay. "For celebration, celebration, celebration..."
"There's nothing else. Everything else has been stripped from us. So now we're just gonna do it. There's no other choice."— Michelle, singer with Brigandage
SO HERE it is: the new positive punk, with no empty promises of revolution, either in the rock'n'roll sense or the wider political sphere. Here is only a chance of self awareness, of personal revolution, of colourful perception and galvanisation of the imagination that startles the slumbering mind and body from their sloth.
Certainly this is revolution in the non-political sense, but at the same time it's neither escapist nor defeatist. It is, in fact, "political" in the genuine sense of the word.
Individuality? Creativity? Rebellion? The synthesis.comes at the moment when you do the one thing, the only thing, when you know you're not just a trivial counter on the social chequerboard. Here are thousands doing that one thing: merging an explosive and cutting style with a sense of positive belief and achievement, and having fun while they're doing it.
The Oi-sters and their ilk may have taken punk a few millimetres to the right or a centimeter to the left, but not one damn step forward.
This is punk—at last built on rock and not on sand.