We interview a lot of technically good bands on OMM, but there’s always a space in our heart for the more chaotic ones. However not everyone is so impressed when people succeed despite their apparent shortcomings. For example, in The Devil’s Notebook, Anton La Vey sarcastically bemoaned, ”It’s easier to love imperfection that perfection’, and there will always be people like that, admitting through gritted teeth that attraction is a curious thing, like the drunken oaf that steals your girlfriend, even though you did everything right in life and you iron your socks. Today, we ask, is there merit in being a talentless thorn in the side of society, yet demanding to be taken seriously, and particularly if you can get other people to like what you do? Maybe this overly ambitious and frankly daft article is a start?
Surely we can make a list of the worst punk rock on vinyl. Surely..?
I was eight or nine when I first saw a glimpse of the Sex Pistols on TV. I asked my mom who they were, and she gave an assured mom-splaining chuckle, peeling some potatoes over a copy of The Sun, and said, ”Oh they can’t even play their instruments”. I nodded, not entirely convinced. They sounded amazing to me, like a blast of foul truth. I briefly imagined that like some superheroes they might come to my school and punch the pompous twats we had for teachers. “And they make themselves sick, and go to the toilet on stage”, she added, opening a box of Findus Crispy Pancakes and lighting a menthol cigarette.
Fast-forward a few years to the early eighties and I was torturing the neighbours with bands that did actually sound like they did those things – all the money I had was spent on UK82 singles, Bullshit Detector compilations and a hissy Finnish punk cassette, and here is where we discover the most sloppy yet charming punk rock you are ever likely to hear. My mum didn’t mind Toyah, or Adam and the Ants, but this….”Turn it down!”, she’d yell. ”It sounds like terrible heavy metal!’ My grandfather was a music fan. He played one of my compilation tapes on his new Walkman and looked devastated. “I think you should bury that in the back garden”, he said, handing me back the cassette.
The thing is, when you hear modern bands, they all play in time, don’t they? So why is 1980-83 the period when you hear so much musical sloppiness? Well, there are a few reasons one can postulate. Firstly, punk was not supposed to have rules, so musicianship was not strictly important. Less-musical band members could be assembled around a member who could actually play. Secondly, even though Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Blondies Heart of Glass had been out for a while, no one in working-class UK, nor most recording studios, had a clue about a click-track, so songs often got into a bit of a mess around the drum-fills, and the bass was played like a guitar, so rarely lined up with the beat. Thirdly, perhaps young people at the time were in a rush to get their point across.
I’ll stop here to labour that last point. What we are looking for in this list is the unique sound of aspiration beyond ability, coupled with a mixture of naivety and self-belief. The bands were trying to play well but not quiet achieving it and either not caring or were unaware how sloppy they were. I cut off in 1983 because by that point this kind of punk was prolific enough that bands were conscious of how loose it was and possibly emulating that sloppiness deliberately.
So we need to filter out the non-aspiration beyond ability-sloppy stuff and define what makes good sloppy punk. Firstly, at least one element needs to be functionally musical – they might be horrified at what the rest of the band is doing, but if everything is sloppy, then it’s just a mess, and anyone can make a mess. So, Terry and the Idiots don’t count, sorry. Astute listeners might be saying “yeah but we heard this all before with Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica”, but if you listen to that you’ll notice the vocals are structured and tuneful, it’s the rest of the band that sounds like its falling down an eternal lift shaft, and anyway we now know that he deliberately wrote it to sound like that. That’s ability equal to aspiration, so that doesn’t count either.
And no, Chaotic Dischord doesn’t count, that was deliberate. We stop at crossover because thats when bands either learned to play, or egos overtook reason and being in a band was a contest between the members to see who could platy the fastest. For that reason 1983s Crucifix Dehumanisation doesn’t get in even thought the vocals are hilariously tempo rubato and the drummer spends much of the album trying to catch up with the guitar and bass.
Similarly MDC were a mess but that was a by-product of their post-conscious punk need for speed. In fact all the US bands are too good for this list. For a start, they had functioning equipment and probably even changed their guitar strings. Does that tell you anything about comparable living standards between US and Europe at the time?
Are you guessing what’s going to be here? Let me first tell you who don’t even come close. Discharge, GBH, One Way System, Destructors, Varukers, no….all tight as a gnat’s chuff. Chaos UK are too tight for this list. Special Duties are way too good. GISM were noisy, but on point. We even replayed the Bullshit Detector albums and were horrified at how competent most of the bands were. Sometimes they’d be out of tune, but still coherent. God, why did I start this?
- All the bands have to have good songs.
- They have to be trying to play well but come across as unable to play.
- They are all young and fearless so it is testament to them that they went ahead with their music and this list is a celebration of that spirit.
THE PATHETICALLY SHORT LIST OF TRUE SLOPPY PUNK:
4) COURT MARTIAL – GOTTA GET OUT EP
Disappointingly, a reasonably tight band ( and very young at the time ) but the singer sounded like he was on Temazepan, so it gets in.
Sloppiness factor. Bass line 10% Drums 20% Guitars 10% Vocals 50%
Tightest track: Gotta Get Out
Sloppiest track: Young Offender
3) DISORDER – DISTORTION TO DEAFNESS EP
Only just making it on the list, a band with a long and complicated relationship with sloppiness ( arguably 40 years after first forming they are now sloppier than ever ). But in the early days they were taking sonic risks and using non-rock and roll song structures that confused ( and angered ) many listeners, and whilst their haste left them a bit baggy around the edges, the accrued sloppiness still made for an exciting sound. Loose bass playing and overly-ambitious double kick pedal work secure Disorder in the top ten. Great lyrics too.
Sloppiness factor. Bass line 40% Drums 30% Guitars 10% Vocals 10%
Tightest song: Rampton Song ( from the early days )
Sloppiest song: Daily Life.
2) CADGERS / KAAOS
I sooo wish I had this split on vinyl. CADGERS probably steal the show here, but this early KAAOS recording is still pretty abominable.
Sloppiness factor. Bass line 50% Drums 35% Guitars 10% Vocals 50%
Sloppiest song: CADGERS Kaaosta taa maa Kaipaa
They could have got the top spot, but I suspect they were actually trying to play like that, and the songs aren’t very catchy, so….
1) THE ACCURSED
Hands-down taking the number one spot, the absolute KINGS, and I mean in 40 years of listening to music I don’t think anyone has even come close, is London’s ACCURSED. Beneath this mess, you might be surprised to know that Steve Hall was actually an amazing guitarist and prolific song writer under the name Afflicted Man. Indeed by the next album Up With The Punks, they were a lot better. However, on 1983s Aggressive Punk, Gaz rarely sang in time, Glenn the drummer and Gary the bassist had good ideas but the beat would drift back and forth from the pulse giving the songs an ethereal quality that charlatans like Philip Glass could only achieve in their dreams – the result is less punk and more like an abrasive psychedelic heroin-fuelled experience, a kind of infernal gamelan performance, with long, seven-or-so-minute songs that either hammer through just a couple of chords or sound like a drum kit tumbling down several flights of stairs. Things get even crazier when you hear that in the early days the band was effectively bank-rolled by dodgy right-wing groups. Imagine a teary-eyed national-romantic patriot trying to make sense of this decadence? You will never hear music like this again, that’s for sure. I’m certainly never selling my copy! Favourite sloppy punk band ever!
Sloppiness factor. Bass line 55% Drums 70% Guitars 10% Vocals 90%
Tightest song: Accursed.
Sloppiest song(s): Annihilism, and the other six.
Got something to add to this list? Comment below!
 I’m exaggerating for effect, my mum never usually did all those things at the same time.