Saturday, November 22, 2014

Robert Wyatt & Friends
Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974
Observer Music Monthly, November 20th 2005

By Simon Reynolds

Long bootlegged, this glorious live album documents an intriguing moment in UK rock history, when the rock mainstream and the outer-limits vanguard were in bed together.  Three decades on, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary equivalent to the supergroup that Wyatt convened in September 1974: multiplatinum-selling musos Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason rubbed shoulders with out-jazz players Julie Tippetts  and Mongezi Feza, and with avant-proggers such as Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, Hatfield and the North’s Dave Stewart, and Soft Machine alumnus Hugh Hopper. There’s also a cameo appearance from Ivor Cutler,  John Peel’s favorite comic eccentric. Peelie himself features as the show’s compere, informing the long-haired, afghan-wearing audience that the musicians will be uncharacteristically sober tonight, because the door to the Theatre Royal bar has been locked for fire-and-safety reasons.  

The wondrously woozy music played that evening must have been intoxication enough, surely, for performer and listener alike. After the Dada-esque sound-daubings of “Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening”, the bulk of the set consists of a run-through of Rock Bottom, the Wyatt album released earlier that summer, a crushingly poignant masterpiece shadowed by the singer’s paralysis following his fourth-floor tumble during a wild party. “Sea Song”,  as mysterious and beautiful an oceanic love ballad as Tim Buckley’s “Song To the Siren,” opens up into a fabulous extended improvisation, a malevolent meander of fuzz-bass and glittering keyboards that’s something like an Anglicized Bitches Brew. Wyatt’s falsetto spirals up into ecstastic scat arabesques, as though his spirit is trying to escape his shattered body.  “Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road” --its title a whimsy-cloaked allusion to the accident--is equally stunning. Feza’s trumpet again channels Miles, while Wyatt’s delirium of anguish is only slightly softened by the English bathos of lines like “oh dearie me, what in heaven’s name..”  The singer actually miauows at the start of “Alifib,” a gorgeous quilt of shimmering keys and glistening guitar (courtesy of Oldfield, then regularly voted the top instrumentalist in the UK by music paper readers). The feline thread is picked up with “Instant Pussy,” originally recorded by Wyatt’s shortlived band Matching Mole and featuring yet more gorgeous abstract vocalese from the wheelchair-bound bound singer. “Calyx”, a different sort of love song, features killer lines like “close inspection reveals you’re in perfect nick”, and the set ends with a rampant, edge-of-chaos take on  “I’m A Believer,” the Monkees cover that took Wyatt into the UK hit parade. Alarming but true: the best record released in 2005 is a time capsule from 31 years ago.
You Could Have It So Much Better… with Franz Ferdinand

by Simon Reynolds

In an early short story by Ian McEwan, a female novelist struggles to follow up her acclaimed, best-selling debut. The psychologically macabre twist in the tale comes when it’s revealed that the manuscript she’s been toiling over for months is actually a painstakingly typed-out, word-for-word reiteration of the first book. Now, You Could Have It So Much Better is far from a note-for-note duplicate of Franz Ferdinand. Still, for a band dedicated to the resurrection of arty pop, there are surprisingly few risks taken on their sophomore album. It used to be a matter of honor for art-rockers to make giant leaps with each successive record. But on You Could Have, the attitude seems to have been “let’s not mess with a winning formula, lads, shall we?”

As formulas go, it’s a winsome one: brittle white-boy funk topped by Alex Kapranos’ suavely crooned vocals and witty, sexually piquant lyrics. Franz are master exponents of that distinctly British forte for using abrasive guitars in a way that feels pop rather than rock. And they’re equally adept at that other Britpop ploy whereby fey young men seduce the girls in the audience by acting like they’re really more interested in boys.  Last time, it was the bisexual epiphany of “Michael”;  this time, it’s the homo-erotic ardor of “This Boy” and the saucy boast “your famous friend/well I blew him before you” in “Do You Want To.”  A glorious, gleeful romp jam-packed with quotables, that song is the album’s strongest stab in Franz’s  main mode of  oddly fussy, flustered discopunk, closely followed by “The Fallen” and “I’m Your Villain” (one section of which actually recycles the riff from “Take Me Out”). In a rockier vein, “Evil And A Heathen” stomps like Iggy Pop circa Lust For Life. But You Could Have’s only real departure is “Fade Together,” a piano ballad whose ebbing waltz-time  rhythm gorgeously matches the langorous nihilism of the lyric, which could be about a suicide pact, or sharing a needle, but either way is alluring and disturbing in equal measure.

“Fade” is far and away the best thing on the record, in large part because it’s the least Franz Ferdinand-like. The song makes you wonder what this group could achieve if they actually pushed themselves, and the envelope, a wee bit, in the spirit of the art-rock ancestors--Roxy, Bowie, Wire, Gang of Four, Josef K--they either invoke or echo sonically.  Art-into-pop should be about vision and ambition, over-reach and the possibility of falling flat on your face. It shouldn’t just entail spicing up indie plain fare with a smidgeon of androgyny and a pinch of pretension. So here’s hoping for a torturously difficult third album. 

You Could Have It So Much Better... with Franz Ferdinand
Blender (different mix)

by Simon Reynolds

The paradox of Franz Ferdinand’s second album is that the best thing on it is the least Franz Ferdinand-like. Instead of the band’s trademark mode of flustered discopunk, “Fade Together” is a gorgeously torpid piano ballad, whose ebbing waltz-time rhythm matches the langorous nihilism of the lyric (which could be about a suicide pact, or sharing a needle, but either way is equally alluring and disturbing). Elsewhere on the album, though,  Franz’s attitude seems to have been "och, let's not mess with a winning formula, shall we lads?" 

Then again, why not, when the formula--gawky whiteboy funk topped by Alex Kapranos’ suave croon-- is so winsome?   Franz Ferdinand either delightfully resurrect Orange Juice (if you’re ancient enough to remember that early Eighties Scottish band) or feel as revitalizing as a glass of freshly squeezed OJ (if you’re young enough to neither know nor care). They’re the latest in a long lineage of British bands who use scratchy guitars in a way that somehow feels pop rather than rock,  fronted by fey young men who seduce girls by making like they’re more interested in boys. Last time, it was the bisexual epiphany of "Michael"; this time, it's the homoerotic ardor of "This Boy" and the saucy boast "your famous friend/well I blew him before you" in “Do You Want To”. A glorious, gleeful romp jam-packed with quotables, that song is this album’s “Take Me Out” (whose riff actually gets recycled on another killer tune, “I’m Your Villain”). In a rockier vein, "Evil And A Heathen" stomps like Iggy Pop circa Lust For Life.

Contrast Franz with the plain fare that passes for Britrock nowadays--the steady drizzle of rhythmically inert  post-Coldplay mope--and the piquant appeal of the group’s funked-up grooves, dandy verve, and mischievous wit is easy to understand. But when you compare Franz with the art-rock ancestors they invoke or echo--Roxy, Bowie, Wire, Talking Heads--their achievement seems more modest. With that breed, it was a matter of honor to attempt a giant leap on each successive album. Apart from “Fade Together,” Franz’s second effort shies away from such challenges. It’ll do just fine for now. But here’s hoping for a torturously difficult third album.


Art Brut
Bang Bang Rock & Roll
Banana Recordings/Fierce Panda import
* * * *
Blender, 2005

In 2005, few things could be less “rock’n’roll” than playing rock’n’roll. Real estate speculation, starting a restaurant, modern art--all have stronger claims to the cutting edge. Yet rock groups infest the land,  fresh droves of them arriving each month bearing ever stupider names. “Formed A Band,” the opening track on the debut album by London’s Art Brut (not actually a stupid name, always a good sign), hilariously skewers the presumptuousness of taking the stage and demanding attention like it’s a birth right. Yet tangled up inside the self-mocking chorus--“look at us, we formed a band!”--there’s a primal yelp of idiot-glee. Almost despite itself, the song exalts the exuberance and cameraderie of ganging up with your mates to make noise.  

Dark droning punk with a twist of Wiry weirdness, “Formed” also recalls Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”, in the sense that this is the group’s defining, all-too-perfect song, the immaculate mission statement Art Brut may have problems surpassing. Hitting the listener with your best shot straightaway is a strategic blunder in terms of album sequencing, but there’s plenty of further excitements within Bang Bang. “My Little Brother” is shouty ‘n’ jumpy New Wave with another funny lyric, about being embarrassed by a younger sibling who’s only “just discovered rock’n’roll” and throws spazzy shapes on the dancefloor.  On the title track, singer Eddie Argos demands “no more songs about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll/It’s boring,” while “Bad Weekend” mournfully confesses “popular/culture/no longer/applies to me.”  But Bang Bang isn’t wall-to-wall meta.  “Emily Kane” pines for a long-lost girlfriend (although Argos does imagine the song being such a hit that “kids on buses” will be “singing your name”) and “Rusted Guns of Milan” is an oblique account of erectile dysfunction, suffused with a hangdog seediness faintly reminiscent of Pulp.

On the downside, Argos’ half-spoken delivery means he sometimes seems to operate “outside” the music, in the mode of punk poets such as Jim Carroll and John Cooper Clarke, rather than in the thick of it, while the Art Brut sound occasionally verges on merely mundane liveliness.  At their slightest, Art Brut come over like indie-rock’s equivalent to The Darkness (in “Good Weekend” Argos even eggs on Chris Chinchilla’s solo with a “go guitar!,” just like Justin Hawkins on “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”).  But at their most thrilling, Art Brut fuse the spiky cool of Elastica with the witty self-consciousness of an LCD Soundsystem. They mean it, sort of, maaaaan. 

“Art Brut, we’ve only just started,” Argos declares on “Formed.” For once, this isn’t just an empty promise. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century
Melody Maker, June 15th 1989

by Simon Reynolds

If you sometimes wonder if we at MM read too much into rock music, then your minds will BOGGLE at what Greil Marcus brings to bear on his subject matter. Starting with the question, “what is the source of the ‘irreducible power’ of the Sex Pistols’ music?” he sweeps the reader along on a breakneck, century-spanning odyssey that takes in Dada, the Situationists, the Paris Commune of 1870, Saint-Just, and Mediaeval mystics like The Brethren Of The Free Spirit and the Gnostics.
Marcus sees Johnny Rotten as the latest incarnation of a cultural archetype: “the negationist” who rejects utterly his parent culture, makes impossible demands on life, and rejuvenates a moribund Art by exhibiting absolute contempt towards it. Art is the enemy, because it upholds the border between dreams and everyday life: it siphons off utopian idealism and petrifies it in objects, which themselves turn peopleinto objects, passive consumers. Punk, Dada, the Paris uprisings of May ’68, were subversive because they exploded the gulf between art and lived experience.
Rather than tracing the genealogy of ideas, Marcus convenes a “conversation’ between figures, separated by decades, who have mostly never heard of each other. For Marcus, “serendipity is where you find it”: his special delight is in the metaphors that recur uncannily across the eras. He shows particular Pistols’ lyrics to be either borrowings or unaccountable echoes of earlier anarchist/nihilist catchphrases: “Cheap holiday in other people’s misery” originates in a Lettrist rant against tourism (capitalism’s latest means of accommodating and controlling people’s dreams). “I am an Antichrist”, he links with the celebrated 1950 incident where a group of neo-Dada pranksters entered Notre Dame during Easter Mass and, dressed as monks, delivered a sermon on the Death Of God to 10,000 strong congregation.
Another goodie is the fact that Nik Cohn, the first writer to celebrate pop as a GLORIOUS BURST OF INCOHERENT NOISE (“Awopbopaloobop”), turns out to be the son of Norman Cohn, historian of the apocalyptic anarcho-cults of the Middle Ages (The Pursuit Of The Millenium). And that Little Richard’s histrionic gibberish descends, via gospel, from the Gnostic incantations of the second century.
The Pistols’ rock wasn’t protest, didn’t present the “proper authorities” with a programme of demands: it was pure demand, blank and intransitive—”Don’t know what I want/But I know how to get it.” Rotten’s singing (like the sound poetry of Dada and Lettrism, or the Gnostics speaking-in-tongues) “dissolved the ideologies of left and right into glossolalia”: issued a “statement” that could be “understood but never explained”.
A key source for Marcus is Henri Lefebvre, Marxist ally of the Situationists, and his “Theory Of Moments”: the tiny epiphanies that explode through the “poverty of everyday life,” glimpses of a “totality” that’s been lost in the fragmentation of late 20th century capitalist life.
The Situationists caught, in the “self-destructive” nature of avant-garde poetry, glimpses of this lost utopia. Their project was to ‘realise poetry.” “The sort of moments eveyone once passed through without consciousness… now everyone would consciously create… ” Theirs was the impossible dream of living a life of unremitting bliss.
Of course, the idea vaporises the minute you think about it: it isn’t possible to be a social or even a humanbeing, and live at a perpetual peak of word-less ecstasy.
Obviously, I’m a partisan of Marcus’ inflationary cause but, as far as I can see, Lipstick Traces (Secker and Warburg, £14.95) rarely oversteps the mark or taxes your credulity: punk did contain all these ancient and limitless longings, it did demand the world and, for a few vinyl moments, it did seem to have it (even if the world never knew).
Above all, Lipstick Traces exemplifies Marcus’ brilliance at bringing music to life: in punk’s case, conveying the sense of people seizing the moment. He makes me want to listen to records I’ve disregarded for years. If the book has a fault, it’s that the tone is elegiac, the implication being that punk still towers over all that came after it, and remains a reproach to an impoverished present.
In fact, lust for chaos and hungerfor the impossible, raves on in the underground rock of the moment. What is missing is a sense of altercation with the times.

C86 and all that

An interview I did with Mario Lopes for the magazine Publico on C86 and all that. 

- “C86” was not the first or the last of its kind. Five years before, we’ve had “C81” which, in some aspects, represented indie pop in a more accurate, diverse way, than “C86”. Ten years afterwards came “C96”, following the Britpop craze. Why is it then that “C86” is the one we always look up to, the one that came to stand through time has an important artefact in pop culture?

Well, it depends who you’re talking to, I suppose!

C81 is a much more significant compilation to me, both personally and I think as a document of the music scene at that time – although limited mostly to bands on Rough Trade or loosely linked to it through distribution, it’s a really good survey of what was going on in postpunk at that time.  Everything from the harmolodic jazzpunk of James Blood Ulmer to Cabaret Voltaire’s sinister electronics to the weirdo vocal music of Furious Pig to fierce jangle of Josef K and Orange Juice.  So to me C81 represents a high point of the era that I wrote about in Rip It Up and Start Again. The diversity, the ambition, the talent on C81 dwarf what is on C86. Equally, C81 represents the NME at its highpoint as a music paper.  The NME in 1986 was not the paper it had been from 1974 to 1983.

But C86 does capture a moment in the codification of indie music – the shift from “independent” to “indie”. Independent refers to a means of production, it’s not a musically limited term. But “indie” refers to a rather narrow genre of sound.  So along with the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Smiths, and Creation Records, you could say that C86 represents a key moment in the evolution of indie. Or devolution, if you want to be bitchy!

Did “C86” documented a scene or created a scene?

It documented. What it included had existed for a good couple of years, or at least had been emerging for a good couple of years. Really these bands on the cassette are the children of the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Smiths, and The Fall. You have the noise-pop, the jangly dreamers, and the grating abrasive bands like the Membranes and Bogshed.  That was all developing from about 1984 onwards and by 1986 it had come into consciousness as a scene, a sound, and a style, by which I mean a clothing look (anoraks, etc).

- You once wrote that the most important thing to come out of punk was the post-punk that came afterwards. Can we say that the most important thing to come out of C86 was what came after?

Well, in so far as C86 is a fairly dreary compilation, in my opinion, and the wider movement it describes was not exactly bursting with innovators or major talents, then you would have to say that the legacy was more interesting than the music on the tape!  

The legacy is in fact surprisingly rich - much larger than I would ever have imagined at the time when I was writing about this scene for Melody MakerBirthed by shambling diehards like the Sarah label, there’s the international network of “twee-pop”  that encompasses the likes of Belle & Sebastian. Riot Grrrl and its UK counterpart (the “Huggy Nation” bands clustered around Huggy Bear) was the politicized, overtly feminist offshoot of C86. Kurt Cobain was a huge fan of the Pastels, the Vaselines, K Records et al.  Manic Street Preachers revered two shambling bands that had an unusual political consciousness, Big Flame and McCarthy, and the latter group evolved into the great Stereolab.  Saint Etienne and Primal Scream, meanwhile, fused C86 with house music.

 The fact is that it was not only jingle-jangle pop – Stump or Bogshed, for instance, are closer to Pere Ubu than the Byrds. Why did people stuck with that jangling sound as representing everything that was there? Because those bands had the stronger imagery, both in terms of style and sound?

It’s prettier, more accessible music, maybe. And it deals with real-life emotions of love, longing, sadness, etc. Also, it’s probably easier to play than the Pere Ubu/Captain Beefheart strain. You have to be pretty proficient to play Ubu.  Jingle-jangle is much more reachable for the averagely talented.  Well the shambers like Bogshed and Pig Bros weren’t particularly skilled either, I don’t think. I thought of them as a lumpen, bastardised version of Ubu and Beefheart.  Stump had some good musicians in them, though, and I guess it took talent to make music as abstruse as The Shrubs did. 

- The compilation came amidst the so-called hip hop wars (it’s almost funny to think of “hip hop wars”, of a time when hip hop was viewed as a menace to the glorious guitar bands). Was C86, considering the two worlds at “war”, a conservative stance in a period of change, or a revelation of something that was bubbling in the underground and therefore, as hip hop, represented something new, a change in the pop word of the day?

The hip hop wars was just something internal to NME, it really had little relevance to the scene itself. Although on the indie scene, it was quite common to be dismissive of dance music and mainstream pop in general. But at Melody Maker, where I wrote, most of the writers were as excited by new noisy rock groups as we were by Public Enemy or Schoolly D or the Def Jam groups. In fact they seemed to have more in common with each other than not: noise, aggression,  a political edge.  Husker Du and Public Enemy, to me, were part of the same anti-mainstream spirit. Even though Public Enemy had hits and Husker Du were melodic and signed to a major label and would have liked to have hits, I’m sure.

Most of the C86 music seemed feeble either compared to the best underground rock bands of the time (mostly from America) or the rap music of that time. A lot of which hip hop actually sampled rock riffs at that time.

At NME you had a camp of diehard indie supporters on the staff, editors and writers who wanted to put The Go Betweens and The Shop Assistants on the cover. And there was a very vociferous, ideologically determined camp of “soul boys”—also editors and writers--who thought that only black music was valid, relevant, and progressive. They were very scornful of indie music and regarded it as retrogressive, even crypto-racist in so far as it didn’t engage with black culture. But to me the irony was that your indie fans, tending to be college educated, were more likely to have anti-racist, left-wing, progressive beliefs and attitudes than many of the white fans of black pop. It’s just that rap and R&B didn’t speak to them, it didn’t describe their lives. Being middle class, bookish, shy types, they didn’t like the overt sexuality, the materialism, and in rap’s case, the sexism.

The indie faction at NME were more in touch with the magazine’s readership, but they didn’t have the strong ideological drive and discipline of the black music faction, so the latter were able to dominate the paper for a while. But eventually they were all ousted, probably I suspect because the owners of NME could see that pushing hip hop through front covers would alienate the readership and lose sales. 

At Melody Maker we just loved the fact that NME was tearing itself apart. We wanted to cover everything that we thought was exciting. We covered indie, noise, industrial/EBM, Goth, rap, club music, later on house and R&B, experimental.

- When you go back to this music, what do you hear there? Does the music still resonate in its youthful abandon, its carefully constructed innocence?

It gives me a small tingle of nostalgic pleasure because I associate it with my first year as a music writer and the excitement of working at Melody Maker. I wrote quite a bit about this scene, usually with some ambivalence, but taking it seriously.  NME owned C86 but they had not been able to say why it was significant. None of their indie-faction writers had that theoretical or sociological approach. (Some of the soul-boy writers did have the ability, but they despised the music too much!). So I wrote this piece “Younger Than Yesterday” to locate the buried manifesto within the music and the clothes. It was the opening salvo of a period during which Melody Maker beat the New Musical Express at its own game.

But as music, some of it captures a certain kind of wistful, delicate poignancy. The Bodines’ “Therese”, Shop Assistant’s “Somewhere in China”, a few other tunes. I think many of these bands had one really great tune.  Maybe two.  I also really liked some of the groups on the edge of the scene, like James, Fuzzbox, The Chills, Felt.

 Many point out the fact that the C86 cassette and the music that came afterwards, influenced by it, showcased women that were “just” band members like the boys, not “the beautiful face for the boys to look at”. There was none of the misogyny that rock culture embraced before. Is this a fact? Was it something that was evident by hearing and seeing these bands, by reading their interviews?

I think that was the continuation of postpunk. That was one of the good things that it did preserve from postpunk.  C86 was all about wimpy, shy boys and girls who were either a bit tomboyish, or, even if they looked schoolgirl-like and innocent, they were tough,  opinonated and often the leaders of the band. As was the case with Talulah Gosh.  Amelia Fletcher and Elizabeth Price were forthright feminists.

The lyrics  of the C86 bands weren’t misogynist, although  the love songs, when written by boys, often tended to idealise women in this mystical sort of way. Etherealise them.
I think there is something perennial in indie culture, in so far as it’s largely white collegiate bourgeois culture, that expresses itself through nostalgia for childhood and this kind of innocence. Can’t remember the name of the song but one tune by Looper, the offshoot of Belle & Sebastian, is all about a love story where it takes years for the girl and the boy to even hold hands.  That sensibility carried on with Saint Etienne, who have an excessive number of songs about holding hands. You couldn’t imagine them ever doing a song about shagging, a Chris Brown type explicitly sexual song.

- Have you heard the new 3CD compilation? What do you make of it? Does it shed a new light on what was happening in the indie music of the time or is it merely a time capsule of its time, belonging to its time only?

I haven’t heard it. On my blog, I quipped that the idea of improving C86 by enlarging or elongating just didn’t compute with me. Seemed like a contradiction in terms! But it’s certainly a period of music that deserves to be documented. Quite a few groups were left off the original C86.

I haven’t looked at the line-up of the 3CD thing but I hope there’s some Beat Happening on there. They were one of my favourites.

- One of the most interesting things is that this indie scene was not centered around one band, as the punk explosion that, in a way, sprung out of the Ramones british craze, or around one city, as with Factory’s Manchester or Postcard’s Glasgow in the late 70s. These bands were scattered all over the country, and London didn’t seem of bigger importance than Wolverhampton. It was happening underground, everywhere. Was that geographic democracy something new and of great relevance? If so, why? Because it showed kids everywhere that they could make music regardless of where they were?

I don’t really see this, because punk started in New York and London, yes, but it also had strong outposts in Cleveland and Manchester, and even things happening in parallel in Australia like The Saints and Radio Birdman. It was also a concept that existed in critical parlance for about five years before The Ramones album. So punk could be said to have been invented, over an extended period, all over the place.  Same with the postpunk period, it’s very decentralised, cities like Akron, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Coventry, Bristol, Brisbane, Melbourne,  Berlin, San Francisco, Athens Georgia, are very important at particular points.  So I think C86 is the continuation of that.

London is always going to be a dominant force in British music because its about ten million people and lots of young people move their after graduating college. It’s the cultural centre of the country and of the music industry. But from punk onwards British music becomes multipolar, there are regional and provincial scenes, and people in the middle of nowhere too, small towns, thanks to the spread of small cheap studios and also the rise of home studio recording.  Fanzines, the distribution network of Rough Trade and other big independents, and the role of John Peel as a nationwide broadcaster who nonetheless supported locally produced music that was sent to him - -all these help to make UK independent music  a widely dispersed scene. And one with increasingly strong ties to what’s going on in America at that time, or Europe.  During the Eighties you start to get scenes that are trans-national, like hardcore punk. 

 Nikolai Galen of The Shrubs had this sentence about the bands in C86: “It was great to have the energy of punk without actually having to be punks”. Do you think that’s the shortest way to accurately describe what that music was about? In a way it echoes what Edwyn Collins said was his idea behind Orange Juice – its sweetness, the soul love songs, the androgyny, were a punk attitude against what punk had become: stale, macho, violent.

Not really. Because a lot of the C86 era  music didn’t have the energy of punk, or the force.  It was quite abrasive on the surface , but underneath, weak as rock music.  Certainly compared to Bad Brains

It depends what you define as the essence of punk. There are a hundred different versions of this, it’s an endless argument, an undecidable argument. Almost the point of punk was that everyone disagreed about what it stood for and how it should develop!

C86 was one interpretation of punk – in my mind, quite a reduced version, a narrow version
Some of it picked up on the DIY aspect, the not having to be very good at your instruments. The fast tunes, the singalong melodies.  Like the Buzzcocks, but not as good.   Or they’d be picking up on Swell Maps, but never their more experimental Krautrock-influenced stuff, just the pure racket.

Then there was the Sixties influenced stuff  --  mostly sounded like The Velvet Underground, without the edge of Lou Reed’s lyrics or the more sonically expansive element brought by John Cale.  Either that, or it sounded like the Byrds, but without the ambition. Nobody would attempt something like “Eight Miles High”.
Finally, then there was the shambling end of things, the Bogsheds, which was based around this idea of ungainliness and abrasiveness as a refusal of pop, a dissident act.  A dead end, as far as I was concerned.