Agony Shorthand

Friday, February 14, 2003
FOLK IN HELL.....One of the more interesting "revivals" of recent vintage has been the penetrating interest in lost punk- and post-punk-era 45s from the UK -- the "D.I.Y." movement, if you will. These long-forgotten 7" singles from the late 70s and early 80s are usually marked by a distinct lack of professionalism and recording quality, shoddy sleeve graphics, a latent (or sometimes blatant) hostility to the music industry, and the frequent use of keyboards or modulation effects. Flagship bands in this micro-world would be the Desperate Bicycles, Animals and Men, Anorexia, Tronics, Beyond The Implode, and Danny & The Dressmakers. We are definitely talking small time here.

I trace the upsurge in interest -- and let's be honest here, we're talking about a small handful of collectors and freaks, not the world at large -- to a number of factors. First, there are probably no more REALLY GREAT late 70s punk rock songs left to "discover". Compilations that come out these days are a case study in diminishing returns; witness all the Killed By Deaths and Bloodstains comps sitting unbought in your better record stores -- an unthinkable proposition when those first started appearing. Second, two really great new compilation series showed up: Instant Pop Classics and Messthetics, the first real cataloging of these UK art misfits that I know of. Finally, and I do say this with some reluctance: Johan Kugelberg's pieces in recent issues of Ugly Things on the Top 100 D.I.Y. 45s have really helped blow the lid off of this buried treasure. Now the kids are interested -- all fifty of us.

With this new DIY/UK/H2D exuberance coursing through my veins, I bid a small amount on eBay for a compilation that looked promising called "Folk In Hell". Kugelberg talked a bunch in one of those articles about a UK label charmingly called FUCK OFF that apparently put out a ton of this stuff -- well, sure enough, the "Folk In Hell" CD was originally a 1980 cassette subtitled "Alternative rubbish from West London" on none other than Fuck Off. There are some telling statements on the reproduced sleeve art:

"These bands play at free and cheap gigs promoted by the Cohen agency. They loathe the music biz as it is corrupt and holding back the evolution of the planet"
"Towards the redefinition of culture. From the heart"
"No Sell Out!"

I'm impressed. This is gonna be GREAT, right? Well, no. This is, almost to a song, totally inept, in a not particularly charming manner. There was a good reason that things once came out on cassette only, even when the price to put out a 45 was a few quid and a couple bob -- that is, LOW. Sure, there are flashes of beautiful naivete that almost break through into coherent songs -- I'm thinking of the Instant Automatons' "Gillian" and "Beat" by Jasmine Smythe -- but no "Don't Misbehave In The New Age"s or "The Medium Was Tedium"s here, I'm afraid. The Bloodstains-iz-ation of the UK DIY scene has begun!