"Tonight,(Back from the Death)" 7" (General Speech GS-02)
"Tonight,(Back from the Death)" cass. (Capitalcide Tapes 7)
"Pity...Driven Senseless by Loud Music" 7" (S-S SS002)
One of the best aspects of Shit-Fi, for me, has been learning about new music. I was certainly not the first to extol the virtues of lo-fi, primitive, and ineptly played music, but I hope I have convinced some music fans to dig deeper and rethink their ideas about music as a result. Anyway, one of the most startling discoveries of recent years was The Decay 7", from Switzerland, 1985. I had heard vague mentions of the record here and there but no descriptions until a friend pulled it out of the Maximum Rocknroll collection and let me know that I absolutely had to hear it. Switzerland is low on the list of countries one considers when looking for the ragers, bangers, mashers, fuckers, or suckers of 80s hardcore. Even its 70s punk, fairly well-regarded among aficionadorks, is mostly tame and melodic. Exceptions (always exceptions, always exceptions) include the pantshittingly awful Abgas 2xEP; Poison Noir compilation tracks by the enigmatic lasers+drum-machine-core freaks Discolokosst (say it aloud for full effect) and their compatriots/the same band under a different moniker with the same sentiment Fuck-Wave (seriously, these geniuses in the Poison Noir scene [?] were geniuses); Manisch Depressiv’s mindmelter EP of Joycean primitive punk (it’s the Finnegan’s Wake of KBD; or, Portrait of an Artist as a Pissed-Off Young Woman with a Bad Haircut); and, finally, GKH (either you know or you don’t—and if you don’t, well, fuck off/enjoy this fuck). As an aside, how GKH ended up on a "Flipside Vinyl Fanzine" alongside Agent Orange, Misfits, and DI is a mystery for the ages.
Where was I?
So, flashback to, I dunno, five years ago. Maybe a few more. I learn about The Decay single while drooling/indoor circle-pitting/updating my wantlist at MRR HQ. Flashforward to, I dunno, four and a half years ago. This dude Ryan Wells, who apparently is an old punk but you wouldn’t know it by looking at him, shows up at my door bearing a note safety-pinned to his Izod shirt that says, “Dear Stuart, This guy is a cool dude. Please let him crash at your place for a few days during the WFMU record fair. Love, Graham Booth.”* So I let Ryan Wells stay at my house. Or maybe I didn’t exactly “let” him, but he stayed over. We talked about rare records and the budget of the state of California. The Decay came up. “Oh yeah,” he says. “My buddy Scott Soriano bootlegged that record.” Say What ? No, really. SAY WHAT? He continues, “As a token of my grateful thanks for your hospitality because you’ve never met me before and my three-day visit is going to turn into three weeks of me crashing on your couch, next time I see you, I will give you for free a copy of this extremely cool record bootlegged by my buddy Scott Soriano.” Well, who could resist?
Over the next five years, during my annual visits to San Francisco, I would repeatedly run into this dude Ryan Wells in the same bar (which is one of the key loci of the gentrification of the Mission). He apparently rents an SRO from a Divine impersonator in the Mission and pays his rent in crappy 90s garage punk singles. Or something. So each time we run into each other, he asks me to buy him a beer and promises to give me that Decay single.
Now, in the ensuing years, I did what some collectors might call due diligence. I have searched high and low for a bootleg of The Decay single. I have seen neither hide nor hair of it. Nor Dave Hyde nor Dave Hair. WTF.
Somewhere in the middle, some drunk French Canadian with a dread mullet contacts me. He says, “Dude, vous connais that Swiss hardcore band Decay, eh?” “Sure, I do,” I say. “Well, Je le officially reissue on cassette, eh?” Say quoi?
I paypal him a few Canadian francs, and next thing I know, I’m in possession of a limited-to-thirty cassette of “Tonight,(Back from the Death).” Nombre dix-huit. And, as if that were not enough, it says on the sleeve that it includes two bonus tracks AND “This is the band’s rough mix.not 7" mix!” So, let’s review. One of the absolute shittiest records of all time. Re-released on cassette. With the original mix, which is “rough.” Is there anything better on planet earth? No.
So I listen to it. It’s great. By great I mean terrible.
I start writing this article. I decide I have better things to do, like writing a dissertation about the cops, and I stop writing this article after the first sentence or two.
Then, a few more years pass by.
I run into Ryan Wells in a bar in San Francisco. He says, “Hey, buy me a beer.” I buy him a beer. A cheap one. He says, “I’ll give you that Decay single next time I see you.”
A year passes.
I roll into San Francisco. I tell the nice lady at the car rental counter when she asks “business or pleasure?” that I’ll fucking kill Ryan Wells if he doesn’t give me what I have decided is a nonexistent record. And it’ll combine business and pleasure. I show up at the bar. On cue, Ryan Wells sidles up next to me. I pull out my wallet. And my knife. Instead of saying, “Hello Stuart Schrader, buy me a beer,” he just hands me some shitty-looking record that says “The Decay” on it and walks away. I never saw him again after that. Maybe he got evicted from his SRO and moved back in with his mom.
So here is this fucking shitty record that is probably by an entirely different band with the same stupid fucking name. It looks nothing like the skulls/studs/anarchy sleeve of the 7" I know. As if I weren’t already channeling George Tabb in this stupid article, here’s where I say, “Take my life, please.”
I look inside the record. It tells some story about how this guy Scott Soriano, at age 7, when he first became a columnist for MRR mailordered a demo tape from Switzerland after reading a Tim Yohannon review that said, “Well, ‘anarchy’ about describes it. Beyond that, it's a noise/free-form/HALF JAPANESE freak-out. Actually, there are distinct tunes, but it is rather too unique to describe. Oh yeah, it's not wimpy! Creative.” Actually, that is what the review says. But I don’t know if that’s what it says inside the 7".** Problem is I filed it in non-alphabetical order in my collection so I would never have to see it ever again, and I can’t find it right now (or, hopefully, ever) to double-check. So Scott Soriano thinks this really shitty demo tape by this Swiss “too unique to describe” band is great. And he apparently has nothing better to do now that he’s in his late 60s or whatever than bootleg it. And convince the SF Chronicle to blog about it. He wanted to get in touch with the band, but how the fuck are you going to find a dude named “Insane Johnny” who lives in a hut on the side of the Matterhorn with seven goats and three sheep and two-and-a-half boxes of unsold The Decay demo tapes? After all, this was pre-Facebook.
Here’s the funny part. It turns out that Insane Johnny, singer of The Decay, is actually named Pablo. What’s even funnier is that this dude Pablo never actually dropped out of punk. In the years since 1985, he has continuously been in bands and continued to release records. If you were part of the tape-trading or mailordering DIY European crust records scene in the 1990s, you probably sent an IRC to him. His band even appeared on one of the genre-defining “Chaos of Destruction” compilations, put together by my dearly departed friend Kawakami (OK this is the one serious part of this article). The point is that Scott Soriano could have contacted Insane Johnny. Except that Insane Johnny (né Pablo) does not use the Internet. He’s that punk.
Now here’s the question. How did a band with a record that looks like this (see above) manage to put out a synth demo? Well, actually, there is an answer to that question. Here’s where the story gets really weird. It seems that some dude in Kentucky—I shit you not. You think I could make this shit up?—has one-upped our dear friend from the frozen north and reissued The Decay single—yes, “Tonight, (Back from the Death)”—on vinyl with the permission and cooperation of one Pablo. Not only that, he has published an interview with Pablo in his fanzine, “General Speech.” In the interview, Pablo explains. “That being the ‘Atomic War’ demo we recorded in Sheffield, England in 1984. Our bassist announced he can’t make it…and a few days before we headed off our drummer pulled out. So we arrived in the studio that was recommended to us by Dunk of Rot Records and the engineer welcomed us by saying ‘You must be crazy.’ Ah cool, a ‘Hello’ would have been nice hahaha. When we told him we lost half of the band on the way and wanted to record all the 54 songs we had lyrics written for he must have thought we’re totally nuts.” And then he heard the music. Pablo continues, “So there we were with a guitar and nothing else. It was then Mark told us he’s got a drum computer and we could use some synth for the bass.” The devastating honesty of this interview is perhaps the punkest thing about it: “Only the 3 rd song we recorded was the one and only I had a melody in my head.” You don’t say. It’s “the legendary ‘Tonight’,” natch. Listen to the synth version here. The reason it’s legendary must be the version on the 7".
About the 7". Take one part uber-rudimentary mostly off-time drumming, lyrics like “I never was in London / But I want to go / I have friends but no money / I have money but no honey” and then “My brother hasn’t time / All think it’s fine / Don’t be a clay / Be clever don’t say”, and abrasive trebly guitars, subtract anything like a melody, and pour into a cistern. The result is the sound here. But WAIT. The reissue of the record released by our friend from Kentucky says on the insert, “Hey there!This is NOT a repress of the “Tonight(Back from the death)E.P.”.It is a pressing of the band’s original mix,that was apparently too intense for the press plant at the time.They sent us back the master and told us it’d blow up all the speakers!But here it is as we intended it to be.” And believe it or not, the sound is fairly different. I mean, still no melody or talent can be discerned. But the guitars sound a bit more flanged or something. As compared to the cass. version from Canada it's even better-slash-worse-slash-I-have-completely-lost-any-sense-of-what-is-good-and-what-is-bad-music. Insane Johnny is right. It is an intense mix.
Scroll down to listen to "Holidays in London" (original mix). Surely, you crave more. If you want to hear the two originally unreleased tracks—"Nazi Skins" and "Destruction (Atomic)"—from the same session, you'll have to find the Canadian cassette. And then there are the many other tracks that appear on the demos in addition to what Scott Soriano released. Apparently there are two full LPs’ worth.
One utterly useful/useless collector’s tidbit from Pablo, forwarded to me in an e-mail: “we did a first press of the 7" of 204 copies with printed central labels and copyright(we were forced to!).Andy then later on pressed another 102 copies with blank labels and we then drew stuff on all those labels.” That would explain why it is so rare, along with the fact that most people who acquired a copy probably promptly tossed it in the trash. Jello Biafra traded a Tragic Mulatto EP and a 7 Seconds EP for it back in the 80s. I’m sure he still has his copy. He certainly got the better end of the trade. Also, I learned in the “General Speech” interview that the four band members at first were Swiss, Italian, Austrian, and “half-Mexican.” The Italian guy was replaced by a “half Argentinian / half Saudi Arabian” guy. That proves something. I'm just not sure what. Maybe the lyric sheet has the answer. I'll look it over. Hang on. Oh right. Here we are: verse two of "Police State USA." "Cop cars are cruising down the streets / Looking if they could arrest some freaks / If you smoke grass they give you a fine / Instead they should stop the real crime." And the chorus? "Police power everyday / In police state USA." Sounds like the first few sentences of my dissertation, the writing of which I'm procrastinating by listening to bad music.
* NB, All resemblance to actual, living human beings/subhuman record collectors in this article is purely coincidental. No claim is made on behalf of the author of any factual accuracy, truth, or whatever the opposite of libel is.
** In fact, the demo on the 7" is their “Atomic War” demo, not the “Anarchy” demo referenced by Tim (though both were apparently included on the tape sent to MRR).