Howls from the Past: Punk Afterlives on Bandcamp

Wolves!

Within the sub-cultures—or sub-markets—of punk and hardcore collector freaks, the physical media fetish has remained strong even during the digital shift of the larger music industry. Vinyl was still a reasonable choice for smaller labels in the days when the majors were more interested in CDs and MP3s, and many DIY bands haven’t embraced the shift to streaming.

Bands that do press physical product also make their material available (often for pay-what-you-want) on a variety of digital platforms (like this one). Then there are the artists that put out a record or two, disband, and fade into the ether—for these bands, keeping their releases “in print,” or offering rarities after the band’s active years are up, via digital media, allows them to have a second life of sorts. As fans of niche music in the niche web of underground bands, it’s exciting to stumble upon unreleased music by long-gone or lapsed bands. Our fanaticism can be sated by artists cataloging and disseminating their own music that would otherwise be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Wolves! (Of Greece) is one such band. The British group’s only physical release was a one-sided 10-inch on UK label Gringo Records. They had a punk pedigree; the band featured ex-members of hyper-emotional punk evangelists Bob Tilton and proto-grind crust maniacs Heresy. The generic term “controlled chaos” can be applied to the group, but it doesn’t properly represent what they do. The music is true punk cacophony in the vein of ‘90s San Diego, former Bob Tilton vocalist Simon Feirn crooning, singing, and pleading—even breaking into a falsetto at times—over top of the structured noise. It’s urgent and powerful.

For fans, all that existed was their barren website, which contained little information beyond a bonkers live clip that showed the chaos and volume were real, not studio trickery. Everything is in the red. Wolves! (Of Greece)’s Bandcamp page, though, contains not only the 10-inch, but also a wealth of unreleased material; two live shows, an unreleased 7-inch, and instrumental demos of unfinished songs.

Like many punk bands, Wolves! was never concerned with their legacy; the immediacy of playing live was more important than leaving recorded documents. Their Bandcamp page was born out of aging past the ephemeral immediacy of playing in the band and seeing the importance of documentation. Wolves! guitarist Chris Summerlin says, “…Phil [Welding, bass] and I felt we put a lot of effort into something that deserved archiving…I worried that if anyone remembers that band whatsoever then they kind of thought we were all show and no substance (because of our commitment to making gigs ‘memorable’) so I wanted to evidence the thought that really did go into it, especially the live John Peel session.” Though he’d love to have a vinyl discography of all the Wolves! material; he recognizes the logistics of putting out a record and the lack of demand as substantial roadblocks to physically releasing the band’s recorded output. “Phil and I have separately tried to put together the various recordings we made,” he says, “and possibly remix or re-master things, but it quickly ends up being fairly maddening as no one really archived things at the time, and where things are and who did what has become blurry, to say the least. So until then a digital archive is perfect, especially as it’s free. We only ever wanted money to keep the band going.”

That burn-bright-and-fast philosophy characterized Wolves! of Greece during their existence; vocalist Simon Feirn and guitarist Neal Johnson wanted to amplify and synthesize the chaotic aspects of Bob Tilton. “The idea was to make something that was extreme on every level, so just listening to it would elicit a reaction of confusion all of its own,” Summerlin says. Recruiting former Heresy drummer Steve Charlesworth, with his pummeling but intricate style, helped cement this vision—and their practices definitely embodied this ethos. Summerlin says, “Steve has a thing where he won’t count a song in, so he just blasted straight in—and Simon sang at practice like he would at a gig, knocking me over on my arse within a few seconds. I loved being in that band but nothing came close to the first minute of the first practice. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. It was excellent beyond words, genuinely.”

After Wolves! ended, Welding and Summerlin ended up in the band Lords, releasing two albums on Gringo Records. Summerlin and Neal Johnson currently play in the excellent drone/experimental band Kogumaza, and drummer Steve Charlesworth plays in the blistering old-man legacy hardcore band Geriatric Unit as well as Endless Grinning Skulls.

Only together for a year (2004-05), Australia’s Soviet Valves played condensed, frenetic, and catchy punk rock. Consisting of two guitarists, a drummer, and a vocalist (no bass guitar gumming up the works), the group was clean and mean. They released a mini-LP, a seven-inch, a split single and a two CD-EPs during their brief existence. Only the mini-LP and seven-inch were available in America. Their Bandcamp page offers unfettered access to the band’s complete output (with the caveat “More rarities to follow…”); in the analog past, it might have taken some major digging and high import prices to track down all this material.

Guitarist Predrag Delibasich breaks out Soviet Valves’ material once and a year or so. “So last time I [listened to the material], I realized there are three unreleased songs and most of our stuff was out of print, so I got everything together and put it on Bandcamp. I just thought it would be great to have the complete opus available online, for free, or pay if you want,” he says.

Consisting of guitarists Delibasich and Clinton Bell, drummer Brendan Duggan (on the early material; he was replaced by James Vinciguerra of Total Control fame for the majority of the later recordings), and vocalist Milos Vukceviv, Soviet Valves’ treble-heavy spartan approach was deliberate; “I loved the Gories and Serbian band Partibrejkers, who in 1984 recorded their debut album with only two guitars, drums and vocals,” Delibasich says. “We loved the sound right away and didn’t want to add bass.” Stripped down like this, Soviet Valves were able to focus on great melodies without sacrificing any rock and roll punch. They were extremely active during their short run, but like lots of punk, it wasn’t meant to last; when vocalist Vukcevic moved to London, the party was over. The body of work they left behind is impressive; real standout gems in the crowded garage genre.

Delibasich sees the digital archive not as a promotional tool, but a way to preserve the music in a manner that he finds appealing; “…I don’t see much point in promoting something that died in 2005. If people hear of the band they can find it, that’s the main thing. As I said before, the only motive was to put everything out in one place. When I find a band I love I’d like to get everything they recorded and then complete the picture about them.”

Delibasich is also still musically active. His current band, the super-catchy punk group Zerodent, has an album released by Berlin-based label Alien Snatch, a forthcoming EP that’ll be available in the U.S., and an upcoming Japanese tour to look forward to. Which brings me to this point—punk musicians often make their commitment to the music a lifelong thing, and through investigating these two forgotten groups I’ve gotten connected to their members’ current projects too. Band family trees end up being more like arteries, branching off to keep the organism alive. Once you start digging, there’s plenty of obscurities both past and present to learn about and treasure.

—Simon Czerwinskyj

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