Volumes 1, 2, and 3
V/A “Bullshit Detector vol. 1” LP (Crass)
V/A “Bullshit Detector vol. 2” 2xLP (Crass)
V/A “Bullshit Detector vol. 3” 2xLP (Crass)
Why the “Bullshit Detector” compilations have never appeared on a list of killer, top-shelf primitive shit-fi music is beyond me. Pound for pound, these compilations include an astonishing number of sub-basement-quality punk rock. Plus, these records were quite well-distributed, making them probably the easiest-to-obtain unheralded shit-fi classics. I figure their lack of latter-day critical attention has to do with the bad taste anarcho-punk leaves in the mouths of many listeners. Their loss!
A possible explanation: many a young anarch-o-punky has coveted Crass’s three “Bullshit Detector” compilations, only to finally track them down and be terribly disappointed. Though there are some cool anarchopunk tracks on each one, including the first vinyl appearances by Napalm Death, Amebix, Omega Tribe, and others, there is not really any Discharge-style hardcore nor any punk that meets the high standards set by Conflict, Flux of Pink Indians, Rudimentary Peni, et al. But some years later (for me, nine or ten), it is possible to appreciate these records because of the woefully inept, charmingly naïve, and terribly recorded material spread across the five LPs that comprise the three compilations. Sure, there is a good deal of utter garbage on them, especially the material that attempts to imitate the spoken-word/poetry material by Crass (sorry, Waiting for Bardot, you ain’t as smart as Crass) or some of the overly self-righteous (even by anarcho standards) by-the-numbers peace punk on the third volume. It seems to me that “ UK DIY” is a better lens through which to view a lot of these tracks, as their roughness and aggressive anticommercialism call that stuff to mind. These bands were generally punkier than most UK DIY, but the anarcho scene and the realm of Fuck Off Records were not strictly separate. Bands like Zounds, Androids of Mu, The Mob, Six Minute War, and others had feet planted in both of what we today might consider to be discrete scenes. Rough Trade, as would be expected, was the unifier here. Anyway, what follows is my attempt, from the shit-fi perspective, to give advice on which tracks you might want to submit to a second listen and reevaluation. (One of the premises of Shit-Fi is that with the right perspective, on reevaluation, much music that one might have previously disliked can become rather enjoyable for new reasons.) Not every track is included below, just the ones for which I could come up with something snappy to say.
(Also, I want to note that if I ever write a book about punk, these compilations will serve as evidence supporting the thesis, which will be something like: “punk history” as usually told is wrong; what is important is not what The Clash or Sex Pistols did, it’s what they inspired others to do. Just wanted to get that out there, so if anyone else tries to write this book, you’ll know whose idea was stolen.)
The overwhelming feeling I got listening to volume 1 was that the bands were way too humorless. Perhaps that is the distinction to be made between whatever this “scene” might be labeled and UK DIY. Also, most of the songs go on for way too long. A lot of the bands totally dispense with traditional notions of tuning, melody, tempo, meter, etc. A few of the songs make more sense as outsider or real people music than as anything remotely “punk.” Also, the bands’ artwork is charmingly awful overall. “Artwork” might not even be the right word for some of it.
Anyway, Andy T starts off with some performance art where he improvises a rant against commercial music while fooling around with a turntable playing big band music or some similar crap. He says business and music don’t mix. I might be inclined to agree, but he forgot the music part.
Counter-Attack have a good basement guitar sound and play ultra-simple punk. The song goes downhill for a while after the cool first 30 seconds or so.
Reputations in Jeopardy play very lo-fi sub-sub-sub-Essential Logic skronk without the sax. Or maybe with.
Crass themselves play an excellent embryonic version of “Do They Owe Us a Living?” with only drums and vocals. It goes on a bit long, but the end where they speed up and get more angry is kind of cool.
Amebix—well, this track just annoys me. None of their later sound is evident on this anti-student, anti-Rock Against Racism, anti-everything-including- nihilism track. It might be cooler if it didn’t have an almost dance-music bassline. Should’ve been anti-annoying.
Sceptics play lo-fi and muffled ultra-simple punky punk with verve. Not terrible.
The Sinyx song is better than anything on their over-rated EP (if it’s rated at all). Intense vocals and out-of-tune guitars. Still dying to hear their presumably demo-only anti-Israel song whose lyrics I read in an old issue of Obituary zine. Let’s just say they fall into the trap of equating Judaism and Zionism. Ouch.
Frenzy Battalion: annoying and unintelligible.
Icon is rough and melodic but ultimately goes on too long and gets boring.
APF Brigade sing about getting an anarchist elected to Parliament over totally no-fi acoustic guitars and a drum machine. I’m not sure that’s the revolution I’m holding out for, but it makes me wonder if watching Parliament on television would be more exciting. Probably not, because as it is, they’re wild over there.
Fuck the CIA is a great band name, don’t you think? The “singer” sounds like she (?) is reading the lyrics for the first time. The musical accompaniment is Andy T blowing into a tuning pipe. He manages to make it sound out of tune.
Cain Mutiny and Kallisti Apples of Nonsense is another great band name. This one is another atonal outsider music piece. It’s clear from the Situationist-inspired lyrics and the artwork that a lot of thought went into this contribution to the compilation. I wonder if they thought it paid off in the end.
The impeccably named Sucks don’t.
SPG Murders is good DIY punk that could appear on the Groucho Marxist label or any number of local compilations from the period.
Eratics play an Oi-ish tune that with 200 or so more rehearsals could have found them a place on “Carry on Oi!” Cheers to band members Snout, Stringy, and Bondage.
Armchair Power put so much energy into trying to come up with a riff (and nearly succeeding) that they forgot to hire a drummer.
Disruptors and Alternative contribute the best and most enjoyable tracks in traditional punk terms, but the real classic of the compilation is Action Frogs with their song “Drumming Up Hope (Ferret Skank)”. They have cool artwork on the sleeve and an obvious sense of humor. Beating on textbooks and strumming on a guitar in a dorm room has rarely sounded so infectiously fun, rather than ponderous. Why they’re on a Crass Records compilation is beyond me. This is UK DIY at its most elementary. The moxie of putting this on vinyl is what separated it from a million other stoned students throughout history. Did this sort of thing open the door to the legions of stoned students since then to waste petroleum distillates on getting their hackneyed message out? We won’t tackle that issue just yet.
On to volume 2. I think this may be my favorite of the three volumes.
Starts off with Waiting for Bardot. Next, puh-leeze.
The Suspects play an interminable laugh-out-loud lethargic political whiteboy reggae jam.
Your Funeral contribute what may be the best track on the all 5 LPs from the shit-fi perspective. The song is an actual song, and the minimal instrumentation includes a loud, crude, basement guitar sound. It’s like Four Plugs, one of the finest UK DIY “bands,” meets The Architects, a hopelessly obscure proto-Jesus and Mary Chain outfit found on the old Messthetics vol. 6 CD, which is out of print. Right click here to download "You Speak German" by The Architects.
Kronstadt Uprising released a cool 7" and a bad 7". This song has abrasive basement sound and an angry singer. Pretty cool. A little long.
Welsh streetpunks No Label are streetpunky. Also from Wales are The Rejected. I had high hopes based on a review I read of their demo in an old fanzine. Basement sound and lyrics about not writing songs about the same old topics but basically forgettable crap. Also, Deformed’s and No Label’s tracks are reversed on the vinyl.
Boffo, a guy playing a cover of “Garageland” on guitar with a drum machine backing him, imitates Joe Strummer’s voice and changes the lyrics to be a sarcasm-laden critique of The Clash: “Back in the garage, there’s a brand new Cadillac / [something something] upholstery, TV in the back / Our old bullshit detector cannot now be found / left it in the garage, but the garage fell down.” Nice one.
XS play an angry juvenile punk song called “Fuck the System.” The singer has a good voice and the recording is quite lo-fi. Cool stuff that actually brings to mind some late ‘90s streetpunk. Main complaint: it goes on too long.
Toxic are another highlight: UK DIY meets Disorder-style noise. Pretty cool and very primitive.
1984’s song is against alcohol-fueled relationship violence. Important subject matter. Alas, this song probably didn’t convince anyone into such violence to stop.
From Aberdeen, Scotland, Toxic Ephex went on to release some great pissed-off anarcho-/drunk-punk records. Their song on this compilation presages their later career well.
Sic play super-simple sorta punk with a guitar that sounds like it fell out of the car trunk on the way to the recording session.
Molitov Cocktail’s “Ain’t Got A Clue” is bebop meets basement anarcho-punk. Must be heard to be believed.
Capital Punishment play bile-filled punk with arrythmic drums (and cowbell) and a terrible guitar sound. Their bassist, Hoggy, apparently forgot to plug in. Somewhat nonsensical lyrics influenced by Crass’s “I Ain’t Thick” about how the singer is an anarchist and therefore he’s supposed to be stupid but he’s just being himself. Uh, sure.
Anthrax contibute probably the most “professional” song on the compilation. It’s a great, anthemic, driving anarcho-punk tune that is just slightly out of tune, making it more interesting to me. No surprise Crass wanted to put out an EP by this band.
Endangered Species, who forgot to include their address, lyrics, or band member names with their tape submission, have painful vocals, with lyrics about vivisection (it seems), over utterly out-of-tune and tuneless guitar bashing. A drummer seems to enter the room and pick up sticks halfway through the song. Somebody must’ve been like, “Oi! Mate! Some blokes are recording for Crass Records down the hall and they need a bleedin drummer.” “This me chance t’ make a load o’ dosh, geezer. I ain’t never ‘ad nuffink. Sign me up!” Etc.
Total Chaos and Pseudo-Sadists are recognizable from their other releases. Both seem a little out of place on this compilation, though I’m sure it was the high point of their respective careers.
“Dougie” “recites” a “poem” about radioactive fallout, punctuated by bird calls.
St. Vitus Dancers contribute a particularly notable piece of Joy Division-inspired punk wave with female vocals. I wonder if the singer was a New Romantic. The lyrics are fairly obvious nuclear annihilation material. I can forgive Tracy Toulouse, the singer, because she’s an unknown pleasure to listen to. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Also, is the guitarist’s given name really Dick Sense? But seriously, one lyrical gem: “I feel my cells disintegrate.”
Stegz play out-of-place sub-industrial noise. The song is called “Christus Erection,” which shows the Crass influence, but they were probably listening to Throbbing Gristle and the like.
Competent herbert-punk comes from Metro Youth, with suprisingly cool saxophone a la X-Ray Spex. I’m way into this track. It’s going on my next mixtape.
Normality Complex! Great name for creepy whispered anti-vivisection cho-mo poetry with a funereal intro. Ugh.
Youth In Asia play minimal proto-Riot Grrrl probably influenced by Poison Girls. Good but not great.
Riot Squad SA, from South Africa, play political streetpunk with loud guitars. This song sounds like their EP.
Destructors contribute material that’s a little more depressive and less stark and up-tight than their typical fare. Also, more lo-fi. Still, not a band to paint on your MC, kids.
The Pits play a terrace anthem that never made it past the garage door.
Possibly the best song herein from a UK hardcore perspective, The Bored must have been listening to Discharge because they have great squealing Discharge-esque guitar solos. They hint at a d-beat, but never really get there. The song is too mid-tempo and the vocal sorta drag, but this song was a pleasant surprise due to its wholly unpleasant guitarwork.
Toby Kettle plays troubadour neofolk about Charles and Diana. I guess Toby had the last laugh.
Chumbawamba: no comment.
The Passion Killers were a two-piece DIY phasered-out punk-wave band. Great stuff I could see fans of Siltbreeze Records enjoying.
Finally, Amerikan Arsenal, from San Francisco, sound a bit like Noh Mercy or Sheer Smegma. Lesbian separatist thuggy folk-punk with a traditional American up-by-the-bootstraps ‘tude.
Volume 3 has the best artwork by the bands. Some of it is pretty impressive and original, showing the obvious influence of contemporaries with sophisticated art, like Icons of Filth or Rudimentary Peni. Unfortunately, there is no tracklisting on the sleeve, so the listener has to follow the roadmap of the bands’ artwork, which is annoying and difficult. This volume also has the bands with the most “pro” production, like Barbed Wire (overproduced!). Overall, it’s clear that by the time these songs were recorded, peace-/anarcho-punk was becoming more rigidly defined. The LPs get a little grating even though “melodic peace punk” seems to be the most prevalent style on them, and I still wish there were some actual hardcore herein. There’s a lot less on the third volume that falls within the Shit-Fi purview, but I’ll be generous and crack wise about nearly every track.
Let’s see…Avert-Aversion. Cool name. Suck-o track.
Awake Mankind is melodic peace punk with rough-throat vocals.
A Nul Noise is another one that must be heard to be believed. I can’t quite place my finger on the sound. Maybe oom-pah punk? I think it has violins instead of guitars. Maybe Morricone meets punk rock. Bizarre.
Animus is Oi-ish, with a refrain about “nuclear piss,” like a sophisticated, less blunt version of Blitz’s LP. The mix sounds a bit like each instrument was in a different room. Nice.
A band that never learned the verse/chorus/verse songwriting formula is Peroxide, with a very rough live sound. Does this deserve the name “song”?
Untitled come across as painfully pretentious and stuck up. Their high-falutin statement about the political importance of their “song,” which isn’t music at all, falls on its face. Next, please.
Oh hooray, Xtract comes next. Meaty, melodic L, B, S, & A punk.
Verbal Assault play anti-Reagan dark wave-punk.
From the US and Canada via the Lower East Side hail Fifth Column with an anti-consumerism up-tempo UK-sounding punk tune. It’s impressive, and certainly would’ve fit in on a label like Spiderleg (maybe I’m getting an Epileptics feeling from the song).
Another great song is Potential Victim’s populist punk in the spirit of bands like DOA, with a fucking killer disgusting guitar sound a la Mentally Ill (or Dirge). One of the highlights of the compilation, marred slightly by the poem that follows the song.
Following Potential Victim’s cool guitar sound is another decent, rough guitar sound from 7 th Plague, who definitely lean toward hardcore.
Rebel play dub-influence dark punk. I’m on the fence whether this is cool or totally sucks.
I had high hopes for Alienated from Northern Ireland, whose lyrics are about the Troubles. The drummer plays on “biscuit tins” instead of drums. The tune is urgent and melodic, and the singer has a powerful voice, but half-way through I realized there were no guitars. I spent the rest of the song waiting for the guitars to come in, but they never did. Total bummer.
Barbed Wire: overproduced Oi-punk.
The surprise this volume is Reality Control’s song “The War Is Over.” I’m sure it’s one of those cases of parallel evolution, but this tune manages to approximate a grungy, noisy, churning tune, with guitar shredding on top, that would probably appeal to fans of later Black Flag, Flipper, or Pissed Jeans. Totally unique for the UK at this moment.
Another fairly surprising contribution is from Youthanasia PX, who almost steal the tune from Desperate Bicycles “Advice on Arrest.” This tune is basically dirty punk rock but with an out-of-place histrionic hard rock guitar solo. This sort of hybrid, square-peg-in-a-round-hole music has Shit-Fi written all over it.
Sammy Rubette and Safety Match play what they call “sham-rock.” Har har. It’s claustrophobic but self-aware dorm-room UK DIY played on broken guitars. Shit-fi indeed.
Politicide play a loose punk anthem that would fit in on one of the many Rot Records compilations, though it has an overly long and uninteresting drum fill. Maybe that’s cool. I’m undecided.
One Man’s Meat is somewhat sing-songy troubadour punk with a phasered guitar sound and a drum machine. The lyrics are pretty good, about ecological devastation. I wish more punks had embraced what must’ve seemed like a very hippie lyrical topic. Who today worries about nuclear annihilation anymore, now that we know so much of humanity is going to be destroyed by rising seas and major storms within the next 75 years or so?
Direct Action, a lo-fi Welsh two-woman band, have an dry undistorted guitar sound and sound like they were listening to Honey Bane and Kleenex. If this song were one side of a 45, it’d probably be the stuff of legend.
Crag is unimpressive anti-vivisection/atomic-bomb poetry rushingly recited by a mushmouth. WTF is with the poetry on these Crass Records compilations? Surely a band with a member named Penny freakin Rimbaud knew what good poetry was. It is somewhat incredible how blatant these “poems” are, which is pretty much the opposite of what poetry should be.
Anyway, Attrition play gothic synth-wave. Another one that would probably be highly sought-after by collectors named Günther from Austria if it were a 45.
Napalm Death’s first vinyl appearance gives little hint of the juggernaut they would become on “Scum.” Stil, it’s pissed-off and aggressive, with enough bashing to warrant repeat listens.
Impalers also impress. They’re female-fronted ‘82-style punk rock like Violators or Action Pact. For all my NYC late ‘90s comrades, this sounds like mid-period Banner of Hope.
(The?) Health Hazard play angry anarcho-punk that’d definitely fit well on one of the Mortarhate compilations.
Malice: serviceable punk. Nothing special
Just when you thought everything on this compilation was going show talent, along comes Michael Kingzett Taylor. This is total outsider falsetto open-mic-night nutjob beating on the body of a guitar shit. It reminds me of this great night out I once had in Williamsburg during a blizzard when some performance artist threw a giant strawberry daquiri in my face because I had heckled the act before hers. On the ride home, the Sub-Saharan cabbie gleefully nearly fishtailed me and Christy to death as he told us how he’d never seen snow before in his life.
No Defences are a minor legend of peace-punk due to their unreleased record on Crass’s label. This song is pretty good stuff until the slap-bass solo. I read somewhere online that they were supposed to have had a prog-rock influence. Can’t say that’s what came to mind during the bass solo.
A.N.E.E.B is lo-fi punk from Hamburg. Not Deutschepunk, though.
Heavy, phasered ‘83 Britpunk comes courtesy of Carnage. Good song that goes on too long. Based on this track, I need to check out their EPs.
Warning play sub-sub-sub-Cure melancholic wave punk. The lyrics are in strained couplets that don’t really make sense.
State of Shock play heavily accented Scottish punk with that regional compilation sound. Varies between slow and fast enough to be rather entertaining.
Neale Harmer’s tune “Hard Nut” is a bedroom guitar warm-up played through a practice amp. Neale yells the lyrics really fast, which is kinda cool. He apparently had a label called Anarchist Thrash Tapes. No thrash to be found on this recording, though.
Running out of steam here…Dead to the World = melodic punk.
Dandruff (great name) play super-primitive UK DIY with keyboard and acoustic guitar.
Finally, Richard III from France play a memorable and powerful tune reminiscent of Zounds.
Well, even if that wasn’t exhaustive, it was certainly exhausting. Hopefully this Spotlight will encourage a newfound appreciation of these records, or else help them get into the collections of those who will appreciate them.