“Aftermath” (Get Revenge Records, GRR-017)
The list of American hardcore bands influenced by Discharge would be long indeed, even though “Discharge-style” hardcore is most often associated with Finland and Sweden. Still, there’s a Discharge influence—Battalion of Saints, Poison Idea, SSD—and there’s a Discharge influence—Crucifix, Iconoclast, and, best of all, Diatribe. Though from California and nominally peace-punk, Diatribe didn’t actually fit in well with the categorization. They came later than Crucifix, Against, and The Iconoclast and their sound was much more hardcore than Another Destructive System or Treason—though not as metal as Final Conflict or the late ‘80s crust bands that came after them. Peace-punk, in its varied forms, took hold in Southern California ( Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego), San Francisco, and New York more so than anywhere else in the States. True, these regions were home to the largest scenes, so there was room for more varied subgenres among the legions of punx, but I believe something about the character of these places lent itself to this appropriation and Americanization of a British musical invention. Southern California, with its huge Latino population butted up against the vapid celebrity culture and, in turn, the xenophobic Republican stronghold of Orange County (which produced some of the most violent original American hardcore bands), is rife with contradiction that would be fruitful for a punk lyricist trying to relate Discharge’s lyrics to his own everyday life. San Francisco, on the other hand, has always had the feeling of being aloof, disconnected from the rest of the country due to its liberal politics and queer culture, which themselves actually alienate many. Finally, New York is a crazy bouillabaisse of these cultures, but unlike any other, with so many immigrants, so much corporate money, and yet deep social isolation in the midst of a billowing metropolis. Perhaps there is no explaining it, but to me, Diatribe, from San Diego, seem like they couldn’t have originated anywhere else. Their earnest belief that what they were doing was a radical political (anarchist, animal rights) project, an educational mission, combined with the horror-themed song “Psycho Killer,” captures perfectly not just the adolescent punk rock worldview but the contradictions of Southern California. Unlike The Iconoclast, Diatribe never had any of the (hippie-esque) dark, acoustic peace punk stylings. They played nothing but pure raging d-beat raw punk and matched the music with strong political beliefs.
Today, their pro-vegetarian and anti-vivisection attitude seems much less radical than it must have in 1985. What interests me most is their message, written in an autobiography (rather than interview) in Maximum Rocknoll in 1985, about border conflicts and why Latin Americans emigrate to the United States. At the time, not many bands were talking about this issue, which is obviously still highly contentious today. Diatribe write: “If all the money spent on border enforcement went for housing and food, everyone would be better off. If American companies exploiting the resources of Central and South America stopped, people wouldn’t be forced to leave their homes in search of food and jobs.” It’s funny how these lines from this anarchist punk band constitute a much more intelligent analysis of the “immigration” issue than can be found in much of the mainstream press today. I believe that the band was so accurate because they were from San Diego, a city that has been forced to confront the injustice that has led to illegal immigration for far longer than the rest of the United States. Diatribe’s intelligence about this issue demonstrates their essential “California-ness,” and maybe shows one reason why punks formed bands of this type in California and not in other places in the United States. Of course there were many idiotic ‘80s hardcore bands from California, but that only throws into relief what a breath of fresh air the anarchist bands were.
This EP contains the six-song “Aftermath” demo, Diatribe’s only widely circulated recording. One track from it, “I’m Your Leader,” appeared on the Mortarhate 2xLP compilation “We Won’t Be Your Fucking Poor.” The demo was bootlegged circa 1991 on vinyl 7" by Revoltation Records in the UK, with one additional song called “The Day I Was Born,” obviously from a different recording session. Oddly, the order of the tracks on the Revoltation bootleg is not the same as on the original cassette. (The present reissue doesn’t use the original order either.) The Revoltation bootleg was coveted by lovers of raw punk, but even with the extra track, it is made obsolete by this reissue, which has much better sound quality. In fact, the sound could be better than surviving original copies of the cassette, as the vinyl was mastered from the original reel. The music is fast, with a redoubtable crunchy guitar and a perfect reproduction of the Discharge songwriting formula. “Hellish Inferno” actually seems to pay homage to Crucifix’s “Prejudice,” but mostly it’s as if Diatribe weren’t listening to much other than Discharge—though they covered Conflict live. A couple breakdowns slow the tempo (and induce hard-pitting in the living room), but mostly the music is fierce and relentless. No other American drummer played a d-beat in the ‘80s as convincingly as Diatribe’s (who, you may not have known, was African-American). So: you need this reissue. It’s great, and long overdue.
Other than “Aftermath,” Diatribe’s recorded history is something of a mystery. Tape traders have circulated a two-song demo with “Free the Animals” and “Glorious War Games” on it. “Free the Animals” begins with a tedious sample about vivisection, but then it turns out to be the same song as “The Day I Was Born” on the Revoltation bootleg. “Glorious War Games” begins with a Reagan sample and the song calls to mind the “Another Religion Another War”-era Varukers. There is another version of “Free the Animals” also circulating, dated February ’86, which is clearly live and inferior to the supposed second-demo version. Unfortunately, none of these additional recordings is available with good fidelity; deterioration of the tape is audible. Do high-quality master tapes still exist, as for “Aftermath”?
Kawakami from Disclose tried to find every Diatribe recording, and he discovered two incomplete live tapes, one from their appearance in New York (with that classic live-at-CBGB sound) and another from Long Beach, California. Incidentally, Diatribe had a US tour with Terveet Kädet planned in 1985, but it never happened, possibly as a result of the bad taste left in the mouths of scores of American punx by their countrymen Riistetyt. At the Long Beach gig, Diatribe played at least four songs not on any studio recording I’ve encountered: “Dividing Line,” “One Struggle One Fight,” “Silent Course,” and “ Charade.” The title of the first song they played in NY is unknown. Because Get Revenge was able to re-release the demo with the permission of the band, I wish they had turned this EP into an LP and included all the other material floating around, along with a clarification about whether the “second demo” ever had a sleeve or contained more than just two songs. When I heard this reissue was planned, I offered to supply some of the printed material I’ve collected over the years to be included with it. The label declined, but the insert includes the article I mentioned that the band wrote about itself for Maximum Rocknroll in 1985, which also has lyrics to an unreleased song called “To Your Grave.” Some of the material I’ve collected is now available here on Shit-Fi. I wish Kawakami could see this stuff, as I never had a chance to show him these photos or stickers before he died. Listen to “Glorious War Games,” which he taped for me. With this song’s more metallic interpretation of the d-beat raw punk formula, it would’ve been great to hear Disclose cover it in the “Dis-Bones” era. One effect of Kawakami’s death has been to make me even more keenly aware of how necessary good reissues of obscure music like Diatribe are. There’s no reason today not to do a bang-up job on a reissue. Get Revenge got the sound quality right here, which should be the first priority. Thoroughness should be second, and on that front, I give the label a C+. But considering that the label has put out several Zero Defex EPs, maybe a positive reception of the Diatribe EP will cause Get Revenge to put out a second one, with the band’s help, containing live and unreleased tracks. Hair charged, fingers crossed.
Thanks to Paul May for helping track down archival material.