A Few Thoughts On The Sex Pistols, Selling Out and Being Punk as Fun

So the other week, everyone had a big freak out over the Sex Pistols credit cards, at least in the marketing world. Richard Branson decided that he wanted to make finance ‘sexy’, so evidently, some bits of plastic with the word ‘bollocks’ on that you can swipe to make purchases with was the way to go about it. The Daily Fail et al have all jumped on it, the comments sections of virtually every website yelling loudly about how the Sex Pistols continue to ‘sell out’.

I hate to break it to you, aging punks everywhere, but I’ll let you in on a secret that pretty much everyone else knows – the Sex Pistols were basically sell-outs from the start.

Malcolm McLaren’s London boutique, Sex, was a mecca for obnoxious young people everywhere. One two, fuck you, here’s an expensive pair of tartan bondage pants designed by Vivienne Westwood. The Sex Pistols, at the right place at the right time, became a marketing vehicle for McLaren – tailor-made to swear, shock, and look punk as fuck. They were lucky in that they actually wrote some pretty decent songs – to this day, I still crank up the volume whenever ‘Bodies’ comes on in the car – and later, when John Lydon went off to form PiL (ultimately far, far better), their punk credentials were kind of set in stone. To the average bloke, at least, The Sex Pistols were the very definition of punk. So then when Johnny Rotten appears on the telly selling Country Life butter, or a crappy ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ design shows up in Topshop, the average bloke is outraged. What happened to punk? Where’s all the meaning gone?

Asides from ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘God Save the Queen’, and maybe ‘Pretty Vacant’, The Sex Pistols’ magnum opus was less about political unrest and far more about fun. Even ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is imbued with a sense of fiendish joy, a feeling of intense glee at the prospect of giving the world a middle finger and fucking off into the haze of the London underground. But I ask – does it need a message? Can’t we just be content with fun? If you wanted politics in your punk, the 70’s saw plenty of bands who were very good at that, whose very existence was a direct affront to the norm, but The Sex Pistols were not it. Striving to find a message other than general discontent, and a hell of a lot of fun, in Never Mind the Bollocks is fairly pointless – just enjoy it for what it is.

Similarly, the new album by Slaves, a guitar-drum-punk duo from Royal Tunbridge Wells, has raised similar questions with regards to its message. It’s rare I disagree with Punktastic, but their review of Are You Satisfied? asked when Slaves would find their message. What they missed is that it’s already there – just go out and have some bloody fun. Stop moaning about stuff. Enjoy life, in every way that you can.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between Slaves and the Pistols. For a start, Slaves can write a much better song. But at their very core, it’s all about making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun when you’re doing it. There’s a certain level of ridiculousness coming back to punk, which arguably has lost its sense of fun when it isn’t being diluted down into sub-genre after sub-genre, and I for one am pretty stoked. And admittedly, it’s actually quite nice to see a punk band back at the top of the charts in amongst all the usual tat. Now go and be nice to your pets.

Notes from the Keybed – This Month in Synths [May(be slightly late) 2015]

A slightly delayed ‘Notes From The Keybed’ this month as I’ve been moving house and been without internet for several weeks! Connected normality has now returned and I’ve had lots of great new synthy music to catch up on, starting with the return of everyone’s favourite Irish anarcho-synth-brats Fight Like Apes, whose new self-titled third album has barely left my speak-ers (and head – damn catchy earworms!) since its release at the end of May. Their most accessible work yet, the album sounds made for pop chart domination, but still retains their distinctly cynical lyrics, McCluskey-esque indie gloom wrapped in ear candy, and tasty twin-synth attack. Single ‘Pretty Keen On Centrefolds’ is the sort of song that will remain in your head for days, with a sing-along chorus and quirky synth hooks dancing around a typically deadpan vocal that rejoices in its own self-loathing. Elsewhere the album takes in chiptune influences on ‘I Am Not A Merry Man’ as well as possibly my favourite pop song of the year so far with ‘Pop Itch’. Fight Like Apes was the result of a successful Fund It campaign launched in 2013 that raised €20,000 within a matter of days following the band splitting from previous label Model Citizen before finding a new home on consistently excellent UK indie lovelies Alcopop! Records. Despite scaling new commercial heights by achieving #1 in the Irish indie charts, the band haven’t lost their punk roots with song titles including ‘I Don’t Want To Have To Mate With You’ as well as closer ‘Carousel’ concluding with a nursery rhyme ‘Satan Satan Satan’ chant-a-long. Delightful stuff as ever from MayKay, Pockets and chums.

Sticking with Alcopop!, the label are releasing a new EP from indie disco tykes Waylayers during June. ‘Re:Verse’ combines the carnival vibes of ‘Sleepwalking’ with new wave house jams on ‘N2U’ and will no doubt be a perfect sunshine soundtrack throughout the months ahead. The London three-piece are recommended for fans of the futuristic pop sounds of Delphic and latter-day Klaxons and will be hitting the festival circuit this summer.

Back in 2012 I stumbled across a video online of one of those cool-looking hipster parties that only ever really happened in films. You know the sort, a bunch of attractive people dancing (and not being at all self-aware like in real life) in a darkened room – oh look there’s one with a camera (as you do), another with a silly hairstyle, etc… However in the middle of this hot mess was a duo playing the most ridiculously nasty trap jams with deliciously 80’s bell sounds sprinkled on top. Accompanied by a smorgasbord of musical gear from samplers and drum pads to all manner of effects units, it piqued by interest beyond my expectations of the usual ‘frat boy’ shenanigans. Turns out this was a live session of ‘Bells’ by Plant Plants and I was hooked. The London duo have now evolved into a three-piece live act called M.Y. MACHINES, with a sneak preview EP streaming over on Soundcloud. Included in the Stay Pift EP is a rerecorded version of ‘Bells’, now called ‘8E!!S’, and it is still just as devastatingly catchy as it was three years ago. Stick it on in the car and try not to nod your head like the hip-hop mogul you really are. The other tracks on the EP are just as great, with the the Battles-esque staccato guitar trails of ‘Machine House’ sitting nicely alongside the trendy vocal house of ‘X’. It’s seriously well-produced stuff that will appeal to people well outside the demographic of that original video. Check it out – you might be surprised!

Nerdcore synth-pop-rock is one genre that never fails to make me go ‘YES PLEASE!’ and that is exactly what was promised in my inbox when this fine zine’s editor sent me a link to The Robot Knights. Fronted by Maddy Myers, a games journalist who also plays a mean keytar, the Boston trio write songs about robots and dragons and zombies and cool stuff like that! On songs like ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ and ‘Werewolf On The Dancefloor’ their indie disco shines, with hooky keyboard lines meeting garage punk guitars and dancey drum beats. I just wish there was more like the synthy arpeggios of ‘Clone Machine’ and less of the standard pub rock of ‘Amazon’, which is a fairly uninspiring slice of bluesy guitar rock. When they crack out the synths though it is brilliant – more of this please! Their entire catalogue is available for free download from Bandcamp so is def-initely worth a look and a click. For being a badass lady standing her own in the still regrettably male-driven worlds of video-games and music – and for being damn handy on the Roland shoulder synth – this month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Myers! Keep slaying those dragons and riffs, synth fans, and we’ll see you next month…

Review: Snake – Love, Hate, Life, Death [EP]

They say punk is dead in the UK. Well while it might not be alive and kicking, it’s got a pulse. As proof, we bring you Snake.

Snake, in their current form, are a ‘bare-essentials’ punk two-piece. What the shitting hell is ‘bare-essentials punk’ you ask? Put it this way: there’s a single guitar, one set of drums, and fervid, vehement vocals – the bare-essentials of hardcore punk. But by calling them ‘bare-essentials’ I don’t mean any disrespect – the sounds breaking forth from these two brothers from Kingston Upon Thames, London, is violent, harsh, and – considering there is only two of them – bloody impressive. Don’t get me wrong, the sound of a bass is salient in its absence, but that doesn’t mean you miss it. By powering forward with just a guitar, drums, and the bile in their lungs, you get a destructive rawness when listening to Snake’s new EP, Love, Hate, Life, Death. It’s just like moshing into a grater, y’know?

The rawness isn’t just created by absence either. It’s not just there because of a lack of a bassist, because of a failure to apply some technical gloss, or because of a bit of production polish that never got added. The fresh out of the cauldron vibe is fully sought after, the EP was played and recorded live. No polish wanted, no gloss needed. This is brutal punk, made to be heard loud, seen live, and to completely lose your shit to.

The EP kicks off with ‘Love’, not the most coveted topic of punk. Although it’s a pretty slow starting pace, singer/guitarist Louis’s vocals manage to add some fleeting urgency and carry the melody of the track. The drums, played by brother Will, pound on with a constant driving beat throughout the song. It certainly manages to be dark and gloomy, but that’s a dynamic you expect to find midway through a full length release, not as the opening track of a short EP. All in all, it is possibly the weakest of the four-track release, sticking to the same pattern and sounding more sad and pessimistic than aggressive. It’s mostly just a shame because it gives such a false impression for what lays ahead; luckily, it isn’t a sign of what follows!

‘Hate’ really picks up the momentum, kicking on with the pace and developing an intensity in the music, while a real catchiness manages to cling to the core of the song. I guarantee that this track in particular will have a whole crowd screaming angrily back at the band: “I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul, I’m A Lost Soul”. It would be difficult to find a fan – especially a punk fan – who can’t find a sense of resonance with that. In fact, much of the EP will strike a chord with the troubled souls listening. Everybody’s felt lost sometime… I can’t stress how much more I enjoyed this second track than the first. It’s faster, but still low, cranking up the aggression. It’s almost cathartic, screaming out all of the clenched up anger and unleashing a destructive, fast-paced storm of punk.

‘Life’ continues down the path Hate started us on. On this track in particular, I think the introduction of a bass would be a loss rather than a gain. The rawness Snake capture really can’t be overstated. With a constant powerful riff ‘Life’ is as effective as possible, giving you a reason to get angry – if you weren’t already – and making you want to tear shit up. This is what punk is about, with crunching breakdowns closing out. Final track ‘Death’, despite its name, has got a real positive message: don’t be afraid, don’t dread death, and live life to the fullest. It’s not the message you usually expect from punk, but I really enjoy the positive vibes laid in a blanket of aggressive screams. More dirty riffs, more coarse vocals, more quality punk. This is more like it.

If you enjoy your punk loud, fast, and full of intensity, you need to check out Love, Hate, Life, Death; if that’s not how you enjoy punk, are you sure you even like punk? Seriously?! What can we take from these four tracks? Well Snake have some serious promise. That’s a fact. Despite a somewhat underwhelming start, this lures you in and leaves you wanting more; that’s the job of an EP, so mission accomplished.

4 out of 5 high fives!

TBO Update – 18 May 2015

Hey hey!

So I’m currently in the middle of moving house and internet is extremely intermittent. I’ve got a few articles and reviews coming up which will go live as and when I can get them up! But normal service will resume from 1 June.

xoxo – Robyn

Review: WOAHNOWS – Understanding and Everything Else

Following a slew of successful singles and some good ol’ fashioned non-stop touring, south-west indie punks WOAHNOWS have delivered their debut album on the consistently excellent Big Scary Monsters label. Understanding and Everything Else is packed with riotous riff rock interwoven with catchy pop hooks, successfully translating the duo’s raucous live experience into half an hour of solid punk bangers.

Their first release as a two-piece since the departure of former bassist Dan James, the interplay between singer-guitarist Tim Rowing Parker and drummer Adam Wherly is as tight as our newly elected government. The guitar riffs and drums organically meld together as one instrument, with a fantastically live feel to the recording.

Previous WOAHNOWS releases have been promising but, for this reviewer, somewhat samey in terms of sound and style; as much as I loved the likes of Go and Collective Aspiration the songs on Understanding… are far more distinctive and individual from each other. Each track has its own identity, from the fast riffy punk of ‘Sounds Like Spitting’ to the Tubelord-esque singalongs on ‘Life In Reverse’. The band even slow it down for some 6/8 balladry on ‘Neutral Haste’, which provides a welcome midway interlude. As ever with WOAHNOWS the vocals are stand-out brilliant, with some terrific gang shouts and harmonies throughout. They’ve even managed to squeeze in a cheeky hardcore section on album highlight ‘Livid / Rise’, which is gloriously vitriolic and will kick ass in a live setting.

The guitar tone throughout is bang-on, with some filthy fuzz contrasted with the sort of clarity that every riff-based indie band has been chasing since Dananananaykroyd’s debut. The guitar riffs worm their way into your brain, being equally as catchy as the vocal melodies and disprove the notion that punk rock ran of ideas years ago.
The album will no doubt appeal to fans of Gnarwolves, Brawlers and Pulled Apart By Horses, with infectious melodies perfectly balanced alongside a credible punk rock attitude and pit-worthy mosh-outs. It is worth mentioning what a perfect signing WOAHNOWS are for BSM; the band sound absolutely made for the label’s shouty yet catchy ethos, and the label are home to some ideal bedfellows for the Plymouth boys to hit the road with.

WOAHNOWS are touring the UK and Europe throughout May and June and will no doubt be soundtracking the summer festival season too. See you at the front!

4.5 out of 5 high fives!