So, what's Messthetics?

Messthetics is about something truly important and vital that really DID happen after the punters took up the cry of "punk is dead" (And no, we don't mean Joy Division.) And in its way, DIY was just as revolutionary as punk.

However proletarian punk was at the musician level (say, 70% in the U.K., 2% in the U.S.), it became business-as-usual almost instantly in terms of manufacturing and marketing. Sure, Stiff and Radar stayed independent for a couple of years, but even before the Sex Pistols got to EMI or A&M, they were cutting acetates at Abbey Road.

The Desperate Bicycles set the initial standard for the Do It Yourself alternative. To cut mastering costs in half, they pressed the same two songs on either side of their first two singles (August '77 and Feb. '78), and they recorded in one take. Younger fans may be surprised at their printed sleeves and labels [one side only, natch], but in 1978, both letter-press and offset printing were cheaper than photocopying, even in quantities of a couple hundred (although a surprising number of UK DIY 45s came in editions of 1000 or more). But the true rallying cry of DIY came from the 'Bicycles' "The Medium Was Tedium:" "It was easy. It was cheap. Go and do it!"

While punk fizzled in '78 in a wave of tunelessness and gobbing, more timid bands either plugged away at over-hyped (and again, tuneless) skinny-tie pop [Pleasers, Boyfriends] or diluted whatever other fresh ideas they might have had with ever-more expensive gear and slicker production values. So meanwhile John Peel and others were only too happy to play and promote the rising tide of self-produced, home-made vinyl. (The U.K. listings for Volume were chiefly compiled from Mr. Peel's archives: if a DIY record is not listed, chances are good that the band never sent him one.) But back to budgetary matters:

Bands were more likely to list their production costs than to list their band-members' names. They were highly competitive about the former...and quite egalitarian about the latter, which were frequently given only as indeterminate three-letter grunts: Gez, Baz, Kaz, Daz, Loz, Tag, Jaf, Nik, Nag, etc. (This annoying habit became a veritable art form in the Oi era, of course.)

A great deal of the DIY "sound" is characterized by wheezy unreliable keyboards. Since they'd gone utterly out of fashion and/or having been superceded by newer electronics, Voxx Continentals and Rolands and Farfisas and Fender-Rhodeses and even a few Hammonds had become as cheap or cheaper than guitars in 1978. And every crappy studio still had a rattly old piano in the corner. Other common non-punk elements are hippie-psychedelic guitar chops, and bass-lines lifted rather directly from JJ Burnel of the Stranglers (an underappreciated genius of some magnitude). Oh yeah, and hardly anyone ever worried about their tunings or musicianship...

Messthetics posits a DIY-centric universe, so this series is inclusive, not exclusive. For instance, after the DIY sound had been around for a while, certain more established or commercially successful bands began to record songs that were musically indistinguishable from the real thing. They're here. Likewise, a bunch of DIY bands recorded straight-ahead punk songs (that regularly turn up on KBD-style comps). And some of those are here, too.

Have fun!

* Messthetics band-links A-to-M * N-to-Z *

Johan's Top 100 D.I.Y. singles of all time (Ugly Things #19)

Can't wait? Buy Messthetics CDs now!

If you're just seeing one big screen now -without a directory on the left- click HERE for our easy-to-browse frames version.