Saapaat: some recent hardcore bootlegsReviewed here, three recent bootlegs of three crucial '80's hardcore bands from around the world. Each of the countries represented here-- Japan, Finland and the USA-- was particularly renowned for the strength of its hardcore, and each band here was arguably the single most important in its own national scene. Equally importantly, each band maintained an authentic mystique that survives to this day, and each band surpassed and transcended the aesthetic limitations of the scenes that they are often regarded as epitomizing. It's also nice to see that, contrary to the unfortunate history of shoddily done, greedily-priced bootlegs marked by bad sound and either wrong information or none at all, these records are consistently nicely put together and easily recommended to fans both old and new.
GISM "Live Tokyo 1982 -1983" LP
Tokyo's GISM remain perhaps the single most intriguing and mythologized band in hardcore history, with a litany of anecdotes and rumours borne of singer Sakevi's all-too-real insanity, expressed through his brutally surreal visual artwork, haunting lyrics and honest commitment to the sort of violence and chaos that is simply symbolic grist to the artistic mill for 99% of punks. Married to an astonishingly strange yet undeniably effective reconciliation of rough hardcore, industrial noise and wailing hair metal with a extremist left revolutionary ideology and a sartorial sensibility borrowed straight from early Motley Crue records, the result was GISM. For this reason, any serious collector of obscure and foreign hardcore that might normally turn his or her nose up at the usual cash-grab live bootlegs can be forgiven for ignoring their better judgement and shelling out for anything otherwise unheard. As a fan and as an amateur scholar of this music, it's fascinating to see how GISM's signature sound developed, and these extremely early live recordings provide as good a chance as any to view that progression.
Side one's April 1982 gig is, of course, unspeakably raw and noisy, but the vocals are relatively clear, the drums audible and the guitars provide a steady churn of barely-structured rushing thrash and feedback that, while nowhere near so sophisticated or metallic as the band would become when late guitarist Randy Uchida joined soon after, is powerful and anguished. Recorded just five or six months after their November '81 debut and five months before the set partially captured on the seminal "Outsider" comp LP, it's probably a bit foolish to make any firm assessments of influence and inspiration based on such rough recordings, but I would nonetheless be surprised if the band weren't listening to an awful lot of very early UK hardcore at this stage. The speed and snarled vocals are much more suggestive of Discharge, Disorder and Chaos UK than of traditional '70's punk or even the better-known contemporary American hardcore, and the likelihood of likeminded Finnish, Swedish or Italian bands being widely heard in Japan at this stage seems slim (feel free to correct me if you know otherwise, because the possibilities are intriguing).
The second side was recorded some time in 1983, and the sound is marginally better (similar to the much-maligned live material on Negative Approach's "Total Recall", which I think sounds great). The sound has already progressed considerably, with the songs generally tighter and faster, and most importantly, Uchida's guitar thrashing out the serious riffing and wild leadwork that would soon become Japcore's defining components. It's less historically important than the first set, perhaps, but it's a great listen if you're a GISM freak and probably completely unlistenable to just about anyone else...consider yourself warned. Oh yeah, and as usual for Absolute Power releases, the packaging is stellar and packed with insight and information. Clearly a labour of love from some truly dedicated fans.
Black Flag "Licorice Pizza and more" EP
The Dead Kennedys were bigger at the time, Minor Threat lived out the ethic most consistently and Bad Brains probably had the best songs of them all, but when push comes to shove, Flag will have to go down in history as the single greatest American hardcore band of all time, and this is a pretty sweet reminder of why that's the case. Originally pressed in a limited promotional edition of 1000 copies and intended to be given away for free at the California chain Licorice Pizza's record stores, this 1981 single was the first Black Flag release with new DC transplant Henry "Rollins" Garfield on vocals and also featured Dez Cadena on second guitar. Few seem to have survived-- the liner notes here claiming that a good chunk of the pressing was simply trashed by the stores-- and the single is now a serious wantlist staple for punk collectors. Luckily, there's more to recommend this record than simple obscurity, despite the fact that it's a live promo. Recorded by Target Video in San Francisco, the two songs on the original 45 ("Thirsty and Miserable" b/w "Life of Pain") are anything but throwaways. Admittedly, I'm not inclined to believe that this legendary beast of a band, captured here near their peak, would even have been capable of recording a throwaway at this point, and this can only support my bias. "Thirsty and Miserable" is a driving chunk of sheer power with typically abrasive Ginn guitar throwing shrapnel all over the place, while "Life of Pain" starts off ugly and lurching but soon breaks into a sustained barrage of frantic thrash that's as fast as anything they ever put on a normal release (always ahead of the game, Flag soon opted to deliberately avoid playing this fast when everyone else decided it seemed like a good idea). The production is ideal, coming off like a nice, raw studio job rather than any sort of live recording, and the addition of a previously unreleased "Spray Paint the Walls" with Dez on vocals, culled from the 1981 "Damaged" demos, is a welcome bonus. Packaging isn't flashy, but it's packed full of info, including a large insert reproducing a 1980 interview with the band, and it's definitely the work of a fan and not just some hack trying to turn a quick buck. Very recommended.
Terveet Kadet "Jeesus Perkele" EP
The mighty Terveet Kadet (which means "Healthy Hands", incidentally) and their most famous compatriots Rattus both blew out of Finland in 1980 with great, short debut singles, but while the latter produced a very good but very traditional punk rock record that hardly suggested the brutality of their later, more hardcore material, Terveet Kadet came charging right out with a really savage, stripped down blast of raw, primitive thrash that predates pretty much everything else that sounds similar (it's interesting to note that the band's own website mentions them forming to play Discharge-inspired hardcore in January of 1980; the first Discharge EP was released in March of that year.) This new EP compiles the first single in its entirety (the three songs clocking in at about two minutes altogether!) and a couple of surprisingly good-sounding 1981 live tracks on side A, while the the flipside comprises all four songs the band contributed to 1984's excellent "Yalta Hi-Life" compilation LP. While the 1980 stuff is definitely cool and a worthwhile addition to any collection of quality hardcore, the 1984 songs are totally punishing, with speeds cranked up to the maximum, catchy choruses, more interesting guitar parts and a generally streamlined, more economical attack at work. It's great, great stuff and, along with the quality packaging and information enclosed, pushes this properly into the "essential" pile.