Friday, January 22, 2010

Short Sharp Shock

While Discharge is my favorite Britpunk band of all time, Chaos UK comes in at a close second. One summer afternoon when I was fourteen or fifteen, I was guest-DJing on WRCT, the radio station at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. My sister was a student there, and her friend would sometimes let me play some records on her show whenever I went back east to visit family each summer. I wanted to play something “punk” that I’d never heard before on the radio, and happened to pick up a copy of (what I learned much later was) the Digging in Water compilation. A song called “Kill Your Baby” by a band called Chaos UK certainly sounded punk enough to me, so we played it alongside a bunch other crap that was considered punker-than-shit when I was fourteen or fifteen. It was kinda noisy and fast, and maybe a little too much so for a kid whose taste in English punk bands didn’t extend much further than the Sex Pistols and the Exploited yet.

But of course that changed within a year or two, and Chaos UK would come up again. By then, I’d already heard Crass and Rudimentary Peni. Discharge and Extreme Noise Terror managed to burn their way into my soul, and also got dubs of classic records by GBH and the Varukers as well. I think how I got back into Chaos UK was actually trading a dub of the GBH tape for one my friend had of 100% Two Fingers in the Air Punk Rock. From there, I started checking out other bands from the same period, but these cider-swilling Bristol punkers always rated the highest among the UK82 bands I made a point to listen to. Eventually, I came across Short Sharp Shock and got to hear Chaos UK playing in the same style as they did when I first heard “Kill Your Baby” years ago.

By the time they’d released this album (their second) on Riot City in 1984, Chaos UK had undergone several lineup changes, leaving bassist Chaos as the lone original member. Prior to this, they’d released two excellent 7-inches—Burning Britain and Loud Political & Uncompromising. Their self-titled debut LP has its moments, but is actually rather boring overall. But Short Sharp Shock captures the early Chaos UK sound fully. Just listen to that chainsaw guitar, which was equally influential to Disorder’s Perdition 12-inch in driving Japanese punks wild enough to start bands like Confuse and Gai. They started to build on this noisier approach on the half-studio/half-live Just Mere Slaves 12-inch, but seemingly opted to standardize their style on their 1986 split LP with Extreme Noise Terror and beyond. Although I still like quite a few of the later Chaos UK records, I can’t help but wonder what could have happened if they’d chosen to continue in the direction that Short Sharp Shock and Just Mere Slaves were taking. Apparently this album drove singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked wild too—she released a record four years later that ripped off this album’s title and cover photo idea.

Stud your jacket, charge your hair, and lace up that old pair of boots. It’s time to grab a bottle of cider and dance the farmyard boogie to one of the all-time greats of the UK82 era.

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