"Nacído Para Estorbar" LP (BCore Disc)
In the last decade or so, 80s Spanish punk has gone from being some of least known to foreign audiences to being easily obtained and well-documented. The domestic market for Spanish punk has always been strong, and the many Spanish-speaking punk scenes in Latin America have been fed by cassette, and later CD, bootlegs of Spain’s classics. But in the US and much of Europe and Japan, northern European and Italian punk reissues and bootlegs have filled the bins. There are always exceptions, but consider the fact that not a single Spanish hardcore rarity appeared on the three volumes of “Killed by Hardcore.” Explanations are easy to find. First, the early Spanish punk and hardcore scenes overlapped in a way that other countries’ scenes did not. Therefore, many of the classic singles were already fodder for those who collected punk that fell into the “Killed by Death” and “Bloodstains” camp, resulting in odd taste prejudices such that records not fitting the mold for either narrowly defined “punk” or “hardcore” camps were dismissed from each other. Also, some of the more brutal and strictly hardcore Spanish bands did not release records until after 85, the arbitrary cut-off for such collections of rarities, whereas many released no records at all. Another issue affecting overseas awareness is the relative infrequency of Spanish hardcore bands on classic 80s international hardcore compilation LPs from the US: only one on “Welcome to 1984,” zero on “Cleanse the Bacteria,” two on “PEACE” (one of which never had a vinyl release of its own). Not a single Spanish band appeared on the British label Xcentric Noise’s four cassette compilations or its LP collection “Beating the Meat.” At the same time, it’s worth noting, in the US, BCT released a cassette compilation featuring classic Spanish 80s hardcore bands, and the “World Class Punk” cassette Mykel Board compiled included one Spanish track. Still, in general, the direction of influence ran from London—or more accurately, from Bristol and Stoke-on-Trent—to Spain, not the reverse, with the notable exception of fisticuffs between Silvia from Ultimo Resorte and Nancy Spungen at a Johnny Moped gig in London in 77. Nonetheless, labels like Tralla (now defunct), Munster, Radikal 1977, Bazofia, La Vida Es Un Mus, and others have since produced a steady stream of vinyl reissues and first issues of previously tape-only recordings. A large percentage of the original vinyl releases has been reissued, and the vast archive of live and demo recordings continues to be plumbed. The quality of many of the releases whets the appetite of the overseas audience, driving further reissues, just as the numbers of Spanish-speaking punks outside Spain continue to grow, fomenting more interest in these bands. At this point, any punker who doesn’t rate Ultimo Resorte, Cocadictos, Eskorbuto, RIP, and MG-15 among some of the world’s greatest 80s hardcore punk bands must simply be ignorant—with no excuse! (I’m not even going to broach the topic—surely connected to rising interest in Spain’s punk past—of the incredible recent/current Spanish punk scene, as evidenced by OTAN, Firmeza-10, Destino Final, Silla Eléctrica, etc.)*
Already in the late 80s and early 90s, the desire for reissues of increasingly tough-to-find Spanish punk records was emerging. Unfortunately, this compilation, “Nacído Para Estorbar,” which was to have been released in 1989 did not come out until 20 years hence. But thanks to BCore, we have it now. In this time, the urgency of punks’ need for this compilation has increased, vitiated slightly by Kangrena’s 7" having been reissued a few years back. Still, one can never get enough Kangrena, methinks. The original version of this compilation was planned to include a poppy punk band I’d never heard (until I found their myspace page) called Wom! A2, but, as interesting as they may be, the substitute is, for my money, the reason to buy the record: the almighty Attak.
But I’ll proceed in the order of the tracklisting. First, Frenopaticss, whose rehearsal tape appeared on a BCT cassette without their knowledge, is a band whose promise may often be in the mind of tape traders and shit-fi hardcore enthusiasts. A minor legend just because they have not made it to vinyl until 25 years after their lone rough recording, Frenopaticss should not disappoint. Herein, frenzied guitar playing meets a vigorous drummer who’s constantly on the verge of getting ahead of himself but manages to keep it together. The band made a name for itself in Barcelona for provocative appearances in the media, representing everything polite society would want to deplore in punk rock. Their nihilism transformed into a studious anti-commercial stance, and their sound developed in parallel, into recognizably Discharge-influenced antiwar-core. The three songs that appear on this LP have a fuller, clearer sound than any circulating dubs of that rehearsal tape, but it’s a rough affair nevertheless. Their pioneering speed and aggression would set a standard for the strain of hardcore that would be followed by Spanish bands that any enthusiast of Shit-Fi should love, like Autodefensa, Delerium Tremens, Ruido de Rabia, etc. But before all of these bands came Attak.
So: Attak! I have a fond memory of a long, intoxicated night 7 years ago when a certain Finnish punk maniac physically brutalized me in order to demonstrate the effects listening to Attak and Autodefensa would have on me. Not long after, a cassette sent from Finland appeared in my mailbox featuring Attak, Autodefensa, Van Sac, Kobra, and a few others. The tracklisting ended with the line “ENJOY THIS FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!” Indeed, what a long, shit-fi fuck it’s been. Attak’s rabid vocalist sets the band apart from others of the era with which many punks are already familiar. Such a psychopath! The guitarist seems like he’s in such a rush that be barely has time to play the entirety of the riff before beginning again. Their out-of-control, ferocious live recordings, to my mind, bridge the gap between US hardcore’s speed and intensity and the structure of the Discharge-influenced continental hardcore, with the rough flair only Southern Europe could provide. Think of Attak as the just-emerged-from-fascism rejoinder to Sweden’s social-democratic internationalist sound, as represented by Mob 47. What makes this rejoinder interesting is that Attak stumbled across this sound organically, whereas Mob 47, as incredible as the band was, consciously invoked both Discharge and Gang Green. This recording dates to 1982, before MDC’s Barcelona gig, where they shared the stage with Kangrena and Ultimo Resorte, and when, presumably, most BCN punks first encountered the rapid-fire US hardcore sound. (In general, I would attribute some of the snottiness of early Spanish hardcore bands like Larsen to a mixture of influence from UK 77 and Dead Kennedys, whom Attak loved as well.)
To digress for just a moment, I often wonder what went through the minds of punks at moments of encounter like that gig. Because I don’t believe the development of hardcore punk to be traceably, continuously linear or to have had a single foundational iteration—rather I think it was more-or-less spontaneous and simultaneous—did MDC’s music strike the average Barcelona punk (meaning the ones not well-informed about overseas scenes) as something novel or was it just a variation on what they already had witnessed with bands like Attak or Frenopaticss? Neither? Both? As I’ve noted before, when members of New Jersey’s the Worst first saw Circle Jerks in 1981, who were reputed to have been bringing to the east coast a new type of music called “hardcore punk,” their response was something along the lines of, “This isn’t new. We’ve been playing this kind of music already for a couple years.” Why does it matter? Well, with the passage of time, the “official” recounting of punk history, sarcalized by those who “were there,” ossifies into something that, I argue, contradicts punk’s promise: if one band “invented” hardcore and then disseminated it to all the rest, then what is the point of a notion like “do it yourself” ever having emerged? If punk rock, and hardcore, needed leaders and followers for its development, how could it ever have been “punk”? Antiauthoritarianism in the name of fixing historical authorities is nothing but. Maybe Attak’s sound was completely derivative and not at all contingent or inventive, but to foreclose the possibility of hardcore punk’s organic eruption by narrating its history teleologically undercuts the reason these kids were so angry in the first place and the political necessity of their anger.
Furthermore, to suppose that the reason “everyone” today knows about Bad Brains and “no one” knows about Attak can be linked to some inherent and objective qualities of each band’s music is to ignore how reception is conditioned by circumstance and ideology. There is no doubt that Bad Brains played music that blew minds, but for me it’s minds getting blown that is the important part. And that occurred around the world and the band that did so was not always Bad Brains. For some, it was undoubtedly Attak. It’s not that we cannot appreciate Bad Brains’s songwriting as being more compelling than Attak’s, which would be nearly every writer’s argument outside this website, the point for me is that our internal criteria by which we judge “tunefulness” or “raging” is not given in nature but rather conditioned socially. As such, the referent—eg, “Big Takeover”—cannot be isolated from its implication in social life stretching far back into history, which has developed the criteria with which we assess music’s effects on us. Yes, there are natural qualities of sound frequencies, but it’s the work of history that the peculiar sonic occurrence called a tritone was once called “diabolus in musica.” The internalization of the sentiment associated with dissonance such that it’s felt as a specific set of emotional responses is not the work of nature. Moreover, the way one listens to and responds to Bad Brains in 2009 differs from the way one would have listened in 1980, and, as such, the object—Bad Brains—cannot be said to be static. We can try to ascertain what this music was—meaning its production and reception—at a given moment, but our understanding of it is constantly evolving and that means that what we are able to hear and appreciate is constantly evolving. A mundane example is the experience everyone has had of hearing a song and not thinking much of it only to be encouraged by a trusted friend that it’s good, then to relisten and find that indeed, the song is great. That you now think I’m crazy, because I’m saying that music does not have inherent qualities that make us enjoy it (or not) but rather that these qualities are a “social construction,” that listening is the social practice that creates music, proves my point. “Naturalizing” social relations is the primary work of ideology. And to put it in scholarly terms, it’s a bummer that punks are often susceptible to this work of ideology as we narrate punk history because at its best I think punk rock can be the means by which we peel back the obfuscating layers of ideology surrounding music in general and social life itself.
OK, back to Attak (uh, that’s a Mob 47 song, whoops), other live recordings are also in circulation. This vinyl version has a far fuller sound than the circulating cassettes I’ve heard. The main point is that the Attak songs on this LP are pretty much essential for fans of rabid and rough hardcore punk. Note that this recording did not appear on the compilation cassette “Spaniard Punk Olé,” even though its sleeve is reproduced with this LP’s liner notes.
Kangrena’s “Terrorismo Sonoro” 7" has an otherworldly quality to it, reminiscent of the feeling of Italy’s Underage. What might in other circumstances have been considered technological limitations in the recording process had the effect here of creating a unique, irreproducible sound. About that sound: now that I’ve reiterated one position on how to being to think about hardcore punk, it’s hard to avoid it. For example, Kangrena seem to have thought of themselves as playing music like the Sex Pistols but sped up and roughened. Is that a definition of hardcore? If so, why does it sound like Discharge but also sound nothing like Discharge, who, themselves, of course derived from the Pistols even as they consigned the Pistols to the dustbin of history? This question is unanswerable. So, the familiar answer, which I admit to liking even as I hate it, is, “Don’t overthink it. Just enjoy the music.” Kangrena, whose name is a punky bastardization of the Spanish for gangrene, offer much to enjoy. That guitar sound is “something else,” as they say in New Jersey. But whereas this record seems to stumble into hardcore territory, they released two subsequent cassettes that are firmly in the hardcore camp. Apparently, BCore has just issued a CD and LP compiling these cassettes. Because Tralla reissued “Terrorismo Sonoro” a few years back, I wish this LP had included some of the tape-only Kangrena material, but the 1989 tracklisting was to have included the Kangrena 7", so that’s that. In comparison to the Tralla reissue, I think this LP’s versions of the songs sound slightly inferior, but the original vinyl version sounded pretty poor. It’s strange, but the material that was originally only on tape seems to have improved in sound quality on this LP, but the material from vinyl has declined, or perhaps just remained unimproved.
Moving right along, Sentido Común is the one band on this LP I had never heard before. Fans of Desechables, later Ultimo Resorte, Morticia y los Decrepitos, etc., will enjoy this one: it’s dark female-fronted mid-tempo punk. If the band were English, they’d be considered anarcho-punk, in the vein of Vex, Flux of Pink Indians, and the Mob. Somewhat remarkably, unlike some of their compatriots, their dark sound does not much veer toward the Crampsian, campy horror rocknroll. Instead, it remains within the anarcho ascetic aesthetic. The highlight of their sound is surely the guitar tone and playing, which, though more buried than one would prefer, manages to be diffuse but astringent, fuzzy yet pointed. Trust me. Surprisingly, the guitarist went on to be in the skate-core band Subterranean Kids later in the 80s.
Finally, Codigo Neurótico provide a representative example of the transitionary Spanish hardcore punk sound—is it hardcore or is it punk? Even more interesting, perhaps: why did this band (sorta) “make it” commercially? I don’t have too much to say about their songs, which are classics but not world-beaters. Again, I’m interested in what light the band might be able shed on our thinking of the transformations between 77 and 82. The key is to remember that the distinction and periodization separating “punk” from “hardcore,” which may seem obvious in today’s parlance, was in the process of being constructed when this band recorded its 7". In the US, to some degree, the distinction was imposed externally, or it emerged in a reactionary way by those early punks upset with the homogenizing effects of the louder-faster-shorter trends or equally by those younger punks opposed to and perceiving the commercial viability of that which wasn’t brutally fast. Those concerned with maintaining the underground tack of punk rock therefore transformed its capaciousness of sound; the question to ask therefore is whether the sound’s relative homogenization can be thought of separately from the lamentable shift from punk rock’s initial anything-goes spirit to its narrowly heteronormative, masculinist, and white (suburban?) iterations as the 80s wore on. Believe me, I’m the last to think of hardcore punk as homogenous—this website should be proof of the utter ridiculousness of that position—but it’s true that many both within and outside the hardcore punk scene perceived a trend toward homogeneity in sound as the 80s wore on, with the bands that did not fit into the codification of the “hardcore” sound becoming labeled and imagined as something else entirely. How can we explain that paradox: that what made punk rock so revolutionary may have been its capaciousness, queerness, and non-whiteness, which was exactly what the attempt to keep it sonically underground eroded practically? These questions would have to be posed in a different way in each local scene based on the specificities, so I don’t want to generalize, but it’s worth rethinking the degree to which we can imagine, through bands like Codigo Neurótico and Sentido Común, an alternative to the rigid distinctions the scene has inherited and must still struggle through, between “punk” as queer, not gender-conforming, and non-white and “hardcore” as masculine, hetero, and white. The point is that even though none of my punk friends, or those in my milieu (the over-30, globe-trotting punk set), would think of punk and hardcore as separable, we still need bands like Limp Wrist or Finally Punk to continue to destabilize the boundaries we have internalized. Recalling what I said earlier about taste and social construction, the point would be that every time one thinks that one doesn’t like a band and the reason is “taste,” one should question the degree to which the reason depends on the band’s conformance to one’s internalized set of gendered, racialized, heteronormative expectations for what “hardcore punk” is supposed to sound like. Then blast Attak and slam-skank to death the jodiendolo system.
*Note: I’m using the words “Spain” and “Spanish” throughout, but it should be noted that all of the bands on this compilation hailed from Catalonia, and many of the shit-fi hardcore bands that came in their wake were Basque.