‘I LOVE TUBE DISASTERS…!’
Album Review of:
‘STRIVE TO SURVIVE CAUSING LEAST
SUFFERING POSSIBLE + NEU SMELL’
by FLUX OF PINK INDIANS
(One Little Indian TPLP 1172, August 2013)
‘Punk belongs to the Punks, not the businessmen,
they need us, we don’t need them…’
If you were there, if you were part of it, you already know this. If you weren’t… well, there was a time, before the Boy-Bands won. A time when there was more to music than just celebrity status. Although there was mischief aplenty, Flux Of Pink Indians’ strivings were always at the service of their radical politics causes. Which were the regular Anarcho-Punk short-fuses of anti-nukes, veggie Animal Rights, anti-sexism, anti-religion and anti-closed-mind bigotry. A litany of values pretty-much consistent throughout sub-culture protest in general. But nevertheless urgently delivered with painful sincerity. Those concerns, always off the mainstream, are even more distanced now. So it’s all the more important that these voices should be reignited, heard again, compelling you to wonder just what we’ve lost out on over the intervening years.
As the first wave of the primal Punk ‘Big Bang’ bifurcated, some into mainstream New Wave chart celebrity, others – the more politically focused groups, gravitated into the more considered ground-level ethos expressed through the messy fanzine underground. Formed out of the ashes of The Epileptics in 1980, in the unlikely environs of Bishop’s Stortford in sedate Hertfordshire, Flux Of Pink Indians (‘Flux’ for change, ‘Pink’ for Gender Politics, ‘Indians’ for marginalised and victimised Native Americans) were contemporaries of Poison Girls, and more especially of Crass – with whom they shared bills many times.
In fact their devastating debut EP ‘Neu Smell’ was produced by Penny Rimbaud and originally released in 1981, on Crass Records. Supported by John Peel radio-plays the first side consists of a stunning suite of three linked tracks, intro’d and outro’d by short poems. The first sound is of crows. A distant dog barks. Then a gnarly accent voice, ‘Can ye smell the neu smell, travelling through the air?’ it enquires, ‘Aye, I can lad, it’s a-coming from over there’. The strange dialogue continues ‘over the hills, down in’t valley, there’s no buildings there, there’s a nuclear dump-site there...’ with the punch-line kicking in ‘Parliament says it’s safe, so why not dump it THERE?!?’ An explosion. A nagging bass figure. Rim-sharp drums. Crashing guitars. Hoarse razor-tongued vocals. ‘I love tube disasters, I wanna marry a tube disaster, I wanna ‘nother one like the last one, ‘cos I live for tube disasters’. The short sharp Punk-dumb Ramones-minimalist absurdist lyric delivering the exact counterweight necessary for the book-ending spoken-word bits. Is it gratuitous shock for shock’s sake? Or a metaphor for society hurtling towards disaster? Either way, it closes with tube-train noises. Then a more considered poetic dialect piece with apocalyptical visions of existential bleakness, ‘and oh, as yes the sky did turn to night, I shield my eyes and hide from the bright of day’. Daringly iconoclastic, a brilliantly luminous noise, this brief sequence is just about as perfect as anarcho-Punk would ever get.
The second side of the EP consists of “Sick Butchers” and “Background Of Malfunction”. Both scathing attacks on meat-eating, the first lending voice to cows who end up as car seat covers, giving ‘my soul for your soles of shoes’, the second extending to the hypocrisy in which there’s public outrage when a menagerie lion kills a zoo-keeper in ‘cold blood’, while humans tuck into a ‘lovely steak’. The full story explained in the typewritten text of the full fold-out EP-sleeve manifesto. Adopting an exaggerated ‘Posh’ voice to caricature the safe middle-class diners, “Background Of Malfunction” is carried on a ‘Pretty Vacant’ forward-drive. While “Sick Butchers” is all high guitar squeals, insistent tom-tom drums, and an impassioned ‘meat is murder’ howl of protest. ‘You may like my taste. It might say in the Bible that you can kill me…’ (yes, it does) but ‘I don’t want to die.’ Told from the animal’s POV, I ‘used to graze in the field. Used to breathe. I used to be alive. Now, sold in supermarkets’, ending with a cow’s plaintive mooo drowned out by electronic whines. Sonically, the 2013 re-mastered reissue reinforces the songs’ uncompromising message – angry punk rock, spine-cracking backbreaking riffs that smite pomposity and corruption, played hard and fast without unnecessary polish, a visceral reminder of just how fiercely politicised the underground music and sub-cultural landscape of the time could be.
The ‘Neu Smell’ line-up consisted of Colin Latter (vocals), Derek Birkett (bass), Andy Smith (guitar), Neil Puncher (guitar) and Sid Ation (drums). Yet by the time of their 1983 debut LP, ‘Strive To Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible’ – issued according to their DIY ethos, on their own Spiderleg label (1983, SDL8), just two of that original line-up survived – Latter and Birkett. Reasons are up for grabs. Ation was also gigging with Rubella Ballet, and quit Flux to play with them full-time. Simon Middleton (who replaced Andy Smith) and drummer Dave ‘Bambi’ Ellesmere both returned to the Insane from whence they’d come. In a fanzine interview (in ‘No Class’) the break was blamed on the group shoutily espousing veggie issues, whereas two members were still carnivores. Well, maybe. Meanwhile, guitarist Kevin Hunter who had been a part of the Epileptics – who name-changed to Epi-X after bad-taste accusations from the British Epilepsy Association, re-emerged, and re-joined. The reconfigured line-up was completed by Martin Wilson (drums).
If the album doesn’t quite serve up the aural variation promised by the EP, falling short of its concise compressed perfection, that’s more within the nature of the format. When extended and multiplied, something is lost and something gained. Greater consistent emphasis. With no personal dimension, and every fibre given over to vibrating disgust and insurrection. Thuggish riffs, gleefully wrathful rants, and guitars drenched in Molotov cocktails. It could be accused that maybe their sometimes inept strivings are in the cause of their sometimes poorly-understood issues, but don’t tell me they don’t mean it, and each track has the saving grace of at least one clever line.
The first of its twelve tracks, “Song For Them” is a straight serious poem read over a background of scatological inter-band dialogue, taking just forty-nine seconds to attack the global imbalance of wealth coexisting alongside extreme poverty. Exclaiming how it’s ‘hard to believe their plight is accepted, while money so wasted could be redirected’, that those in drought and famine are ‘not some race that don’t feel pain’ and that ‘starvation is something you don’t become immune to’. “Charity Hilarity” extends the theme, its speed-thrash making the neat point that ‘the money we donate to charity is too small to be of real consequence, but large enough to ease our conscience’. “Some Of Us Scream, Some Of Us Shout” makes the same point, with the chanted equation ‘feed starving people: fuck your bombs’ (partially recalling Allen Ginsberg’s ‘go fuck yourself with your atom bomb’ in his poem “America”), while expanding the scope to militaristic social conditioning, with ‘they shove toy guns on impressionable children, their future soldiers of war’ as guitars squeal in pain. It closes with Colin’s exasperated ‘fuck off’ howled from an air-hungry throat.
With the general ideological terrain of uninterrupted invective established, in dead earnest, “Myxomatosis” focuses on a menu of ‘experimentation, vivisection, devastation, starvation, torture, war’, balancing the equation ‘animals feel pain: people feel pain’. Jostling, squealing with dive-bombing guitar runs, there are dual voices, one high and ranting, vocal chords strung as tense as clotheslines, the other adding low commentary like a manifesto, ‘to live in peace, we must reject all oppression on all levels… there can be no compromise’. With solid near-Sham 69 vocal attack, the track preceding it concerns those victims of animal testing who are deliberately “Blinded By Science”, by having chemicals dripped into their eyes. And those who look the other way in the hope it’ll go away. The slow bass of “Tapioca Sunrise” re-mangles John Lennon’s sloganeering into ‘war does not pay’, its ‘Road-Runner’ scratch-riff perforating down the fret aimed at the then-current Mutual Assured Destruction madness of Cold War superpower posturing. There are atom bombs on land, in the air and at sea, threatening innocent animals and people (animals first, people second!), using military might as proof of what is right. More manifesto than song, but none the less potent for that.
Throughout the album there’s few concessions to any kind of Green Day-style melodic song-content, with everything reduced down to high-impact high-velocity urgency. But it’s never less than energising fun, and always immensely enjoyable. Two further tracks face up to the dilemma of voicelessness in the face of structures of power, with the guitar jangle of “They Lie, We Die” – a title that’s stubbornly chanted over and over again, a slogan, a street-chant, an anthem, addressing the suspect implementation of nuclear power to generate electricity, pointing out ‘don’t wait to be asked, no questionnaire will come’. While opting out (or in hippie-speak ‘dropping out’) is the only meaningful response to “Progress” – ‘you want to devastate… all I want to do is breathe’, propelled by Martin’s double-drumming. Modern life, it seems, is rubbish.
In the absolute certainty of their anger the targets that Flux attack are religion, the State, patriotism, monarchy, capitalism, career politicians – all the manipulative social elements that distort human behavior away from the simple truths of the mutual co-operation of free and equal peoples. With the egalitarian group-structure offered as the perfect self-sustaining alternative model. An assertion that “Take Heed” clarifies, a detailed virtual analysis of the way the idealism of the original Punk-movement was sabotaged by the monetising greed of the music industry. An appropriately jerky dislocated noise, the voice is mixed well back, from which hectoring phrases emerge and submerge, before tailing off into haunting slithering feedback. The lyrics were nevertheless printed on the album inner-sleeve, making their stance clear. With no possibility of missing the agenda. Anti-materialist. No time for hesitation. No space for compromise.
There’s none of the open-ended uncertainty of earlier generations of protest. Nothing is blowing in this wind. Yet there are two tracks that admit the possibility of questions. Accumulating in spiky mass, the accelerating twittering and rasping of “Is There Anybody There” verbalises a crisis of faith in its ‘I’ve worked hard, lived in fear of judgment day’, before appealing ‘is religion really true, or just another tool used to control and manipulate the things we do?’ While the stately rhythms of “TV Dinners” – a longer more structured piece, comments on the diet of media violence through which ‘we’ve all learned to love to hate’, which ‘isn’t acceptable in any form’. Untypically generous in conceding ‘the blame lies not within the system, the blame lies not with the State, the blame lies not within religion… it lies within each and every one of us’, as its riffs, overlaid with Kevin’s stinging guitar, accelerate suddenly, tempo-shifting with accumulative power, before this garbled syntax of apocalypse collapses into a cacophony of discordant noise and yells. Then the closing track “The Fun Is Over” announces ‘the nightmare has started… the end has arrived’. It’s time to stand back and reject it all. Now’s the time for action.
Although this is the album that defines Flux Of Pink Indians, and best encapsulates what it was all about, the fun was by no means over. It was followed by a second LP, ‘The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks’ (Spiderleg DLP SDL13, 1984). Then, by 1986 Birkett had ignited the fledgling One Little Indian label, through which the group released its third and final album, ‘Uncarved Block’ (1987, One Little Indian TP1) produced by Adrian Sherwood, with the band-name abbreviated to Flux.
Appropriately, it’s One Little Indian that re-mastered and re-issued ‘Strive To Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible’ (on 8th July 2013), in various formats. With a double vinyl pressing augmented by original album demos plus the now-highly collectible EP ‘Neu Smell’. All formats restore the original 1983 artwork, while the CD and download package adds a live set from Shepherds Bush Empire, captured in November 2007 by a one-off reformed line-up playing support to ex-Crass singer Steve Ignorant’s ‘Feeding Of The 5000’ show. On this night Flux was completed by bassist Ian Glasper, who’d met Colin and Kev while researching his authoritative book ‘The Day The Country Died: A History Of Anarcho-Punk 1980 To 1984’ (Cherry Red Books, May 2006), his sequel to ‘Burning Britain: The History Of UK Punk 1980-1984’ (Cherry Red Books, January 2004).
For the accompanying publicity release, Martin admits to initial reservations over reforming, ‘considering all the principles and beliefs that Flux stood for, I had mixed emotions as to why we should play the show,’ but ultimately discovered ‘I was astonished at how much interest there still is in Flux.’
‘The opportunity to play all those great songs from ‘Strive’, and alongside Steve of Crass, was too compelling to say no to’ rationalises Colin. And ‘we were able to reproduce the album with more power than we ever had before.’
‘I wasn’t sure how it would feel playing a gig with the band again after a break of twenty-five years,’ concurs Kev, ‘especially as I’d hardly picked up a guitar in the interim, but as soon as we started rehearsing it just felt right.’ And it does.
Inviting people to think, to question, to protest, is not a significant element of what’s going on in music today. And Flux Of Pink Indians were always bottom-up, not top-down. More concerned with igniting activism in their audience, provoking them to form their own groups and their own labels, to work through an underground network of not-for-profit fanzines, to join an activist demonstration. This was more vital than getting their ID-mugshots across the cover of the ‘NME’. That might have been a part of it. Although not, by any means, a significant part of it. Things are different now. I download the digitalised version of the album package. How would Flux have originally dealt with downloads and online subversion? As “Take Heed” eloquently documents, they always distrusted and were fiercely opposed to Big Music industry machinations. But downloads is an even more efficient way of circumventing monolithic industry structures… isn’t it?
“Punk will never be dead,
as long as some of us refuse to be led…”