Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Urgh! A Music War (1981)


Klaus Nomi: 'Total Eclipse' off Urgh! A Music War, 1981

Urgh! A Music War (1981), shown by YLE Teema yesterday, is a film that, instead of having a plot in a traditional sense, consists just of a series of live performances from some extremely diverse US and UK acts, with "post-punk" moniker as their common (and in many cases, the only) denominator. So many goodies: most acts were familiar to me, at least by name, but I have to admit I had never before heard of such as Skafish (quite brilliant, actually), Splodgenessabounds or Invisible Sex (whose bizarre performance made me roll with laughter).

Another proof why this is among my favourite musical eras: the original punk of 1976-77 was in many ways a purist putsch kicking out those musical styles and artists that had become outdated ("classic rock" millionaires WhoZeppelinStones with their Learjets and cocaine), choking under their colossal weight (prog-rock), thoroughly commercialized and -- to use the favourite expression of the era -- boring, but personally, bar some exceptions (Ramones, Pistols, Buzzcocks), most of those first wave's three-chord wonders with buzzsaw guitars and their simplistic slogans leave me cold, and more interesting things started only happen in the second, "post-" (or "new wave") phase of punk when artists widened their musical palettes to include, e.g., such things as keyboards and synths (in the most purist Year Zero punk phase only Satan's, Prog-Rock's and Big Commerce's despicable tool nothing to do with Pure, True, Authentic and Genuine Street Expression), more complicated song structures with that fourth chord (and more), more thought-out lyrics, even dance music and (terror, terror!) disco (reggae was a big influence to it all), and so on, but still retaining punk's original DIY ethos.

Of course, it was all very art-school (as had prog been its very beginnings) and artsy-fartsy, and not without certain pretentiousness (though a lot of it was interesting pretension) and by the 1980s corporate rock era it had all died away (some of these acts like Police and Sting solo eventually became corporate rock themselves), but just by witnessing the amazing variety of music in Urgh!, at least for a couple of years, extremely lively things were happening. To see and hear yourself, check Urgh! A Music War search results @ YouTube.

The complete list of all acts heard in Urgh! A Music War:

The Police – "Driven to Tears"
Wall of Voodoo – "Back in Flesh"
Toyah Willcox – "Dance"
John Cooper Clarke – "Health Fanatic"
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – "Enola Gay"
Chelsea – "I’m on Fire"
Oingo Boingo – "Ain’t This the Life"
Echo & the Bunnymen – "The Puppet"
Jools Holland – "Foolish I Know"
XTC – "Respectable Street"
Klaus Nomi – "Total Eclipse"
Athletico Spizz 80 – "Where’s Captain Kirk?"
The Go-Go's – "We Got the Beat"
Dead Kennedys – "Bleed for Me"
Steel Pulse – "Ku Klux Klan"
Gary Numan – "Down in the Park"
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – "Bad Reputation"
Magazine – "Model Worker"
Surf Punks – "My Beach"
The Members – "Offshore Banking Business"
Au Pairs – "Come Again"
The Cramps – "Tear It Up"
Invisible Sex – "Valium"
Pere Ubu – "Birdies"
Devo – "Uncontrollable Urge"
The Alley Cats – "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore"
John Otway – "Cheryl’s Going Home"
Gang of Four – "He’d Send in the Army"
999 – "Homicide"
The Fleshtones – "Shadowline"
X – "Beyond and Back"
Skafish – "Sign of the Cross"
Splodgenessabounds – "Two Little Boys"
UB40 – "Madame Medusa"
The Police – "Roxanne"
The Police – "So Lonely"