Wrong on Every Count no.4 – Welcome to 1984!

“Welcome to 1984! Has the year arrived figuratively as well as chronologically?…….”

So began Jeff Bale’s written sleeve notes to the Maximum Rock n Roll compliation album, ‘Welcome to 1984‘.  Billed at the time as one of the first international hardcore compilations, this record showcased a massive roster of 23 bands from 17 countries who had latched on to the forthcoming tidal wave of hardcore music that was soon to envelop the world.  For nostalgia fans, or those of you too young to have been there first time around, it was re-released for the 25th Anniversary of its release in 2009.  I decided to do a little feature on it as we approach the 28th year after release.

Here’s my story.  Let’s go all the way back [I seem to be writing that line more and more on Rip It Up, which just shows my advancing age] to summer, 1984.  I had traveled to London with my punk buddy Pete, who was guilty of introducing me to Black Flag’sDamaged‘ lp a couple of years previously.  That’s where the rot had set in, you see.  We had taken the underground up to Camden High Street, which in those days was less of a commercial playground for clueless foreign tourists, and more of a genuinely alternative enclave of London.  There was a great shop known as Rhythm Records at number 281 Camden High Street, and amongst their impressive selection of imports I found the ‘Welcome to 1984’ compilation.  I bought it there and then for about £4.99 as I recall, and headed home to Suffolk with my excitement building.  When we arrived back at Peter’s house, we fought to get our respective purchases onto the turntable first.  When I finally spun this disc, punk flowed from the speakers.

The album, whose bands were often decidedly less intense and intellectual than the MRR writers themselves, were a diverse bunch.  Kicking off side one, for example, you got ‘Outo Mae‘ by Finland’s Terveet Kådet, which was a brief blast of Scandinavian punk – who would have thought that the region would end up as the breeding ground for so much dark, aggressive hardcore and D-Beat in later years?  Next up was ‘Nada‘ by Brazil’s Ohlo Seco.  This remains one of the most raw, aggressive slices of punk rock I have ever heard – boy were those guys pissed!  The whiny voice of Doc Dart of the Crucifucks was next, topping off a [by today’s standards] pretty weedy yet addictive hardcore rant – ‘See our leaders walk on all fours, lower than the puke on my bathroom floor’ – brilliant!

Then, Denmark’s Electric Deads offered a melodic start to their track ‘Fish in a Pool‘.  This soon erupted into fast, metallic thrash with girl vocals, a cracking song and one that my buddy in Huddersfield Rich would come to love a couple of years later.  Germany’s Inferno were next with their ‘Perfekter Mensch‘, whilst we then had a real treat from France.  Kidnap played a really great, singalong chanting track in ‘No SS‘ with the refrain ‘No SS…Fuckin’ Nazis, Fuckin’ Nazis!’

Other stand outs included a ripping track by Holland’s Balthasaar Gerard’s Kommando [BGK], and a real classic from Japan’s The Stalin, entitled ‘Chicken Farm‘, and, according the the lyric sheet, containing the line “Do you want so badly to be a chicken farm chicken….taking three steps and then doing it over again?  You can never fly….Nothing but sunnyside up by any means – well made, and yet an omlette after all.  Fed up with it, eating it?

Yep, this album was a classic in every sense.  The aforementioned buddy, Rich, generally dug 60s music and was for some reason really taken with this compilation, especially the Crucifucks and Electric Deads tracks.  And that’s a small explanation for its appeal over the years – it was such a collection of unknown teenage punk bands, all thrashing away in a rented garage or basement in some nondescript suburb whilst annoying their parents with their mohawks and painted, studded leather jackets that it stripped away all the bullshit and false glamour around punk and showed it as it was – basic, sloppily played and totally sincere.

I was always unsure of the reason why MRR attached their lofty, intellectual analysis of the whole 1984 scenario to the album, because although some of the bands sung about anti-authoritarian subjects, this is in no way a collection of songs stating that we are all prisoners in a surveillance society – although that argument would certainly be true today in the UK where we are the most watched population in the ‘free’ world. But it was an eye opener because up until this point we were mainly listening to, and going to watch bands who fell under the ‘UK82’ banner, with their aesthetic of spiked hair, studded leathers, big boots and violent, hooligan mentality.  Hardcore was suddenly about a more agile, intellectual approach to the situation which adopted the middle class American appearance and our uniform changed overnight from Docs and Leathers to checked shirts and baseball boots!

Some of these bands went on to become well known in the scene – Icons of Filth and the influential Rattus and Huvudtvätt, for example.  Others no doubt disappeared into obscurity or broke up and became other bands.  But as an example of Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Rude Sincerity”, this album really told how it was and changed a lot of kids’ attitudes [mine included, and i’m still at it 28 years later].

It’s a depressing thought that now, almost 30 years after this record was released, we face CCTV cameras on every street corner, in every public building, we are tracked in our cars every time we go on a motorway by cameras reading our registration numbers, our bank cards are located every time we draw money from an ATM, drones fly in the sky at 20,000 feet and can pinpoint a person in a group on the ground in order to hit them with a deadly missile, and detention without trial is an accepted practice in the most ‘civilised’ countries in the world.  This album was ahead of its time, but only just, sadly.  1984 for sure.

“Welcome to 1984! Has the year arrived figuratively as well as chronologically?…….”

It sure has now Jeff!


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