SPIN magazine December 2000
Basement Tapes by Andrew
The greatest punk rock never heard
Punk may have been the most self-conscious genre ever, but
no band ever summed up '77-nearly-heaven's sense of its historical
mission as economically as Britain's long-lost Desperate Bicycles
on their 1978 EP New Cross New Cross: "It was easy.
It was cheap. Go and do it." And many bands did just
that-piercing the drought of the Me Decade by self-releasing records
that came and went like April showers. A very few careers blossomed
into bigger things, but thousands of bands vanished with only
a box of 500 unsold seven-inch singles to show for their efforts.
St. Louis punk archivist Chuck Warner remembers most of them. He's been collecting and selling rare DIY records for years, often including cassettes with his "Hyped to Death" catalogs. Last year Warner bought a CD burner to help his wife produce her online astrology show, which allowed him to begin work on one grand CD history of the DIY era-an Anthology of American Folk Music for dinky bands from Tampa and Dundee. The set, still in progress, covers records in his most recent catalog offering: the ones filed under R through Z in his collection. It is 28 CDs long.
Instead of creating a canon (the pompous Killed by Death series) or constructing a phony historical progression (Rhino's fully licensed and useless D.I.Y comps), Warner doesn't smother the music in an aesthetic or theoretical mesh, except the most general: His series (see hyped2death.com for availability) are divided into, among others, Homework (U.S. DPI) and Messthetics (U.K. DPI). Removing his taste from the equation, Warner lets the history unfold for itself- beautiful warts and all.
Take the Vancouver "fuck rock typified by Wasted Lives, or the Tom & Marty Band of the Richmond art-music scene. Please! But by almost any standard, London's Spunky Onions (a sort of middie-class Joy Division) or Johnstown, Pennsylvania's Mark E. Smith-worshiping Story of Failure were flowers unfairly consigned to the dustbin. Warner includes some tasty rarities by bands that went on to relative fame (Throwing Muses, Scritti Politti), but the real fun of his series is finally hearing Glenn Branca's storied Theoretical Girls single or learning that Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf did time in a silver-pants glam band: New Jersey's Shrapnel.
Plenty of bands today could learn from the negative example of Birmingham, England's Versatile Newts, whose retardo anthem "Newtrition-which declares "we ah Vahsill Noo-oo-oots" over and over-should never have been recorded, much less released. But knowing that Columbus, Ohio's secret history includes an almost-forgotten and amazing rock band like Screaming Urge is a reminder that history isn't always breezily packaged, much less legally licensed. And to think: Warner still has 17 letters left to go.
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