The Face Of Punk Gothique
The UK DECAY Brussells connection , by Steve Keaton
The Metro is deserted. Turnstiles gleam silver in the artificial light and eerie mechanical cries echo through the foreign silence. Occasionally a native (identifiable by their bleak dress and warts – nearly everyone over thirty has ‘em here) stumbles blank faced past the empty ticket office and down the dead escalator to the brightly lit platforms, there to await trains I’m sure will never arrive.
Above the small winding streets are equally desolate, only empty MacDonald’s cartons brave the drizzle blown along past the shuttered tea-shops by a weak breeze.
This is Brussells and if you avoid the sex shop neon of the shopping arcades you’ll discover a city as lifeless as a month old leg of lamb. The few people you may see wandering about have a glassy-eyed zombie-like appearance and it’s only the apparent lack of gaping crimson wounds that assures you haven’t waltzed unsuspecting onto the set of a new George A Romero fear fest.
This is Brussells, capital of Belgium and the last date on UK Decay’s European tour sheet.
It’s a dull grey city of spectacular gothic architecture juxtaposed alongside the glum and modern, its almost Europe’s answer to the Cabinet of Dr Calagai. The considerable contrasts reminiscent of the forced perspectives in that classic 1919 German horror flick.
It may well be about as Rock n roll as West Runton yet it does boast a bizarre identity all its own. And the place suits the young British band like pine box does a cadaver. With song titles like ‘Necrophilia’ ‘The Black Cat’ (based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name) and ‘Rising from the dead’ you can see that they’re not your bunch of spiky tops.
Abbo, the band’s engaging vocalist once told me that they had a fascination with death (its ok he was laughing at the time). Even so their imagery is striking and the music is thick with Victorian menace – and Banshee/Antz spice.
Could this be the coming of Punk Gothique? With Bauhaus flying in on similar wings could it be the next big thing?
They’ve been in my estimation one of the few groups generating and genuine excitement in what has been of late a desperately stale alternative chart. Their last single, ‘For My Country’ was with no exaggeration, something of a minor masterpiece, a vehement anti war piece built around a powerful militant beat.
Now they’ve just released their fourth, a double A sided effort of ‘Unexpected Guest’ and ‘Dresden’ on Fresh Records. And what a jewel it is, a fine successor to ‘Country’ it seems to grow in stature with every spin. In fact albeit a contradictory one.
‘It was written at the same time as ‘For My Country’ reveals Abbo as he tries to peer beyond a clump of beaded hair that obscures his vision and veils his nose.
‘The first one was intended to be a passive, anti-nationalist thing, with ‘Dresden’ we’ve taken a cynical view of passivity, like Chamberlain’s passiveness could take twenty per cent of the blame for World War 2. The attitude that we wanted to put over was like, if fascists moved into England we move out. That’s a very negative way to be.’
The flipside on the other hand is lighter fare, a typical Decay tale of ghostly visitation, shivermetimbers. But even this has a deeper theme, that of violation of privacy.
‘Basically ‘Unexpected guest’ is a return to the same sort of story as ‘Black Cat’ (which incidentally is the title track of their second single; its just been repressed so check it out ghouls) but it does have a more realistic theme. It was written after we had a burglar in the house, he came one night while we were all asleep. I thought, Christ he’s been through everything, from my old school books to me sweaty socks and I don’t know who it was. And when I was small I always used to think that there was someone hiding in my wardrobe, that one night he’d creep up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. That’s all in the song too.’
The band formed some two years ago in Luton, part of a lively local scene that has sadly run out of steam, much to Decays regret. They were Abbo, Steve Harle (drums), Spon – great name that – (guitar), and Segovia (bass) and it was their unique stance, their preoccupation with the macabre which first attracted my attention. Since then I’ve seen their mildly gory horizons broaden and the music mature into the fiendish force it is today. Frankly I’ve been entranced. Their devotion to the movement that spawned them has been admirable. As well as trying to be a catalyst for other local bands, they’ve run a fanzine, ‘Suss’ and attempted to open a shop/Social centre for local punks. The latter has been only a partial success as Decay have been too busy touring to keep it a going concern.
Ask them if they’re a punk band and the reply will be a loud: ‘Definitely! We all came from the seventy-six, seventy-seven scene. The imagery, the music, everything reflects in our attitude. You don’t have to wear bondage trousers and have Crass on the back of your leather jacket to be a punk y’know. It’s the lifestyle we lead. Fast and happy go lucky…….
This is already their second tour of Europe, for a band with precious little in the way of greenbacks it must have been something of a gamble but it looks like its going to pay off. Interest from these uncultured climes is growing all the time, and the crowds they’ve been playing to have been receptive to say the least.
‘Berlin’s a strange sort of place,’ says Abbo, ‘When we played the Club (I couldn’t quite make out the name but if you croak ‘Musical’ in a guttural German accent you’ll be on the right lines) we got a strange mixture of trendy jet setters, because there’s nowhere else for them to go, and Berlins heavy punk-type movement not to mention quite a few hippies, it’s a real cross section.
Anyway the hardcore punks just sort of stood there and glared because they thought we were what they call Poppers, which is like Disco boys because we didn’t have short cropped hair and our checked trousers didn’t help.
The thing is though we’d already arranged to play a free gig a week later at a place called the KZ thirty six. A squat in the Turkish part of Berlin, a real shitty area where all the street level punks live. The police don’t dare go there, it’s a real heavy place.’
Its later explained to me that KZ is the name of a concentration camp and Thirty six is the district. ‘It’s right by the wall,’ continues Abbo, ‘and no one wants to live there apart from the immigrants and the punks. All these Grebos live on one side and the punks on the other. There have been loads of riots over there, have they shown them on British telly? They’ve just passed a new law in Germany over squatting and they’re really cracking down on it.
That’s what all the fuss is about. So you can imagine why we weren’t looking forward to it very much. We only wanted to do it as a Robin Hood type of thing.’ The singer shudders at the memory. ‘With all those greasers and punks in the audience it looked very violent, but it went really well, just a few scuffles at the beginning. It was just about the most rewarding gig I’ve ever done.’
‘Some punk came up to me the night before the gig and said, ‘Tomorrow is zer start of zer revolution!’, confides a wry faced Spon, ‘I said, what? And he said, ‘Oh ya, ver having der mass anarchist riot tomorrow!’ (actually Spon related all this minus the Basil Fawlty accent. I’ve added it purely for effect, who said creative writing is dead?) And it happened.
Going to the gig we saw all these Police and roadblocks and stuff. Its strange because we want no part of an anarchist system, but they used our gig to build up the adrenalin to carry out their riot, everyone at the gig had batons.
Afterwards they all piled out and smashed out the windows to the banks and the big stores. The punks there really don’t care, they’ll stop at nothing to bring the system down.
Thankfully this lunatic fringe seems to be concentrated mainly in Germany, far from the pastoral delights of Neasden; I wonder if the Regets have ever thought of going to Berlin?
‘From there we went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, now Holland is ok but we played this place called The Milky Way which is infamous for selling its fifteen varieties of dope over the counter and we literally came out to a cloud of dope smoke and spent the night choking through the set. They’ve got cushions on the floor, the hippies dream, a different world from England and Germany.
Holland is stuck between the two, a passive place where people who can’t take either system go because there’s no real pressure there. It’s so slow. Its got its own punk community but like everything else there its drug orientated.’
Decay have just negotiated the first major whirlpool of their career. The loss of bassman Segovia.
‘The problem basically was we went full time, and Segovia didn’t want to take the band any further. He’s got a reasonable job and a pleasant girlfriend,’ Abbo makes it sound like a disease,’ and he couldn’t really see his future with us or the band.
He liked playing the music on a small level but was reluctant to make it full time. It wasn’t unexpected, we talked about it for some six months or so and he left on very amicable terms. He didn’t want to hold us back.’
Now I liked Segovia, he had many endearing traits like after a few pints he’d attempt to engage you in conversation not an inch and a half away from the old olfactory organs. Such encounters would inevitably leave you well damp with spittle. He was a fine musician too.
‘We had some trouble finding a replacement. Bassplayers aren’t that uncommon but they have a tendency to be incompatible. We wanted someone local, from the same scene as us. In the end we decided to go for a personality rather than a bassplayer, we could always teach’em to play.’
The personality turned out to be Lol, a young lady of striking appearance – destined to be a very high entry in the Sounds ‘Horny bird like’ chart, no question – classically trained keyboardist with another Luton band the Statics.
It was a wise choice for not only is she a bloody sight better looking than her predecessor (no offence Seg) but a talented songwriter in her own right.
Only there seems to be some confusion over her current/future role in the band. Lol insists that she hasn’t left the Statics and Decay aren’t sure if she wants the gig permanent.
‘I haven’t really left the other band.’ Explains the pink haired one, ’I’m in both of them…but I’ve had a lot of hassle with the other band really. The guitarist is really good…’
Abbo steps in to help clarify things. ‘the Statics are a group of people who play in a band and have nothing in common except their pleasant music.’
Once again he makes it sound like a disease
‘Ooh, you cunt!’ replies Lol sweetly. In fact Lol has only been playing bass for three weeks, having picked it up to join the band. ‘I didn’t really like it before,’ she confesses, ‘I’d been playing for a week before we had a warm up gig in Northampton…which was bloody useless, then it was literally into the deep end in Berlin, But I didn’t mind, I really hate Luton, it was a good excuse to get out.’
There’s been so much to do, I just haven’t had a chance to get bored. But there all dirty sods really, they could all do with a good wash. The only problems I’ve had really has been with Spon’s feet.
‘That’s why he wears Jackboots,’ explains Steve Harle seriously, ‘to encase the odour. Actually having a new person in the band has really made a lot of difference. It’s made us see things differently, especially as she writes in another style to us. She’s calmed down our more aggressive side.’
Like the Alien on the Nostromo, UK Decay are changing, evolving into something….different with every killing. They are already a formidable beast. Punk Gothique? Its looking just fine.
Steve Keaton for Sounds Music Paper February 27th 1981