Hyped 2 Death
Hyped 2 Death
“When my Hyped 2 Death comfort package arrived I was so excited I couldn’t go to the toilet for a week” – Jean Encoule – trakMARX.com
When 70’s punk rock, DIY & powerpop dies - does it go to heaven? A very reasonable question, young Grasshopper. Sit awhile - & I will expound:
From the hyped2death.com website: “Hyped to Death, Teenline, Homework, Messthetics, etc. present the best of indie punk, powerpop and DIY from the late '70s into the first few years of the 1980s...with brilliant sound and plenty of handy info at a reasonable price... Drawing on a huge vinyl archive (plus a small mountain of cassette-only and unreleased material provided by generous H2D bands), each H2D CD series is compiled alphabetically, letter-by-letter, with full discographical information - not to mention gratuitous essays on regional scenes, the music business and human (and musician) nature in general. Liner-notes are continuously updated on-line (and in print) with links to web pages, fan-club sites, legitimate reissues by H2D bands - and anything else that bands are up to now.”
“H2D works hard to be as band-friendly as possible: hopefully this ends up being the best deal for everyone involved [you listening, you erstwhile punk rockers!]
“H2D is all digital: no more scratches, tape hiss, pops or clicks: the sound is better than the records themselves! [The volume on H2D’s CDs and CD-Rs is lowered deliberately to preserve the full dynamic range of the original vinyl (or tape masters) without the crushing over-compression and T-waves that make most conventional CDs sound like...CDs. We're smart enough to turn up the volume knob ourselves, right?]
For its first five years, H2D was 100% CD-R - and proud of it: “Most record-labels spend a truly depressing amount of time and energy worrying about how to sell boxes and boxes of older releases in order to come up with the cash (or the storage space) to bring a new release or two to market. Someday soon the world will be ready to consume these musical treasures in more respectable quantities, but for now, CD-R is the only way to keep the focus on the music. Not only can H2D upgrade sound and packaging ‘on the fly’ - but the overall quality control is better than on conventional CD. In seven years of trading, H2D have had less than 30 defective returns!”
H2D’s profile rose again earlier this year with a full-page feature in UK broadsheet The Guardian:
. . . on the release of their keynote collection:
Messthetics Greatest Hits: The Sounds of UK D.I.Y. 1977-80 (Messthetics #100)
[H2D’s hype, again:] “As ‘Nuggets’ and ’Pebbles’ were to 60's garage-bands - as ‘Chocolate Soup For Diabetics’ and ‘Rubble’ were to freakbeat - and as ‘Killed By Death’ and ‘Bloodstains’ were to indie punk, the Messthetics series documents the essential bands of the DIY and the [very] indie post-punk generation of the British Isles.
"Greatest Hits" showcases a dozen examples from Johan Kugelberg's worldwide "Top 100 D.I.Y. Singles" (from Ugly Things #19):
...and ten more that are quite possibly even better (including two never-before heard tracks by the legendary Rejects, Bruno Wizard's 1977 band before he formed the Homosexuals). With O Level (pre-Times), Reptile Ranch (pre-Weekend), Six Minute War (pre-400 Blows), Mud Hutters (pre-Spaceheads), Danny & the Dressmakers (Graham Massey pre-808 State) plus Puritan Guitars, Dum Dum Dum, Scrotum Poles, Anorexia, Tronics, Royston, Reacta, Instant Automatons, Exhibit A, Slight Seconds, Steve Treatment, Take It, Thin Yoghurts, Walking Floors, and the Digital Dinosaurs. 22 songs with a 10-page colour booklet including unseen photographs & essays on every group.”
Jean Encoule caught up with H2D’s Chuck Warner just the other day to bring you this:
trakMARX - Tell us a little about your Punk Rock background.
Chuck - Below average. I was a suburban teenager in the heady days of "Underground Radio" (re-branded "Progressive Radio" in the mid-70s): Little Feat, Ducks Deluxe and Gentle Giant. There was Ziggy and Iggy and Roxy Music, too, of course, but my experience was all radio and remote rock-stars-on-a-big-stage - and besides - I'd already settled on the Who (pre-Tommy) and the Kinks (pre-Arthur) as the ‘Bands That Really Mattered’. I went to a boys-only school where unsurprisingly nobody had bands of their own, and since I'd failed miserably in my several attempts to learn piano (and flute) the DIY urge never presented itself. Whenever people asked me what instrument I played I grinned and said "the stereo".
trakMARX - Tell us a little about your Punk Rock education.
Chuck - Weirdly compromised, actually. I'd spent two summers working at an outdoor used record stall in Cambridge (Massachusetts), but from late 1975-79 I was at college in New Haven Connecticut, where there was only one record-shop that stocked import or independent singles. There was a 12-year-old-kid who worked/hung out in the 45 department, and unbeknownst to me he was grabbing both copies of every decent punk 45 that came in for himself and his buddy (who turned out to be Bun E. Carlos). What got left for me was the Tyla Gang, Roogalator, Little Bob Story, etc, etc. So you can see how 1976 "punk rock" did not impress me as much of an improvement on 1975 pub-rock (The 12-year-old Spike Priggen ended up in a great-but-mostly-unreleased band called TV Neats (who’ll soon have a CD on Wizzard in Vinyl, Japan) -and his recent solo CDs are great pop.)
I had a show at the Yale radio station starting in November 1975, so I was there when the first LPs by Blondie and the Ramones came in but I immediately determined that both were (enjoyably deliberate) musical dead ends. The former as girl-group revivalists (who'd of course been championed by my girl-group guru, Alan Betrock), and the latter as an obvious conceptual art project in minimalism a la Philip Glass - adding maximum volume and ridiculous speed.
Fortunately, New Haven was a mere 75 minutes by train from New York City and after my girlfriend from WYBC moved there I spent many loud and revelatory weekends at CBGB, Tier 3, etc (for some reason I never made it to Max’s). "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You" was what we sang together (non-LP flipside of "Boyfriend"[US] or "I Remember You"[UK]). Additional Sex Pistols singles having arrived in New Haven, I was hooked (although I still kept my horrifying sideways afro).
Still, it's important to remember how few NYC ’77 bands EVER had a "conventional" punk sound. We saw the Ramones a lot, but there were no imitators, and the dominant “Punk” sound there was somewhere between the Voidoids and the Contortions (saw both of them a lot, too).
After that - when I finally made it to London - my timing was simply awful. I was there from late December 1977 through January 1978 (a Baron's Court bed-sit for something less than £6.00 a week!) and then again for a few days in February... when punk was very close to dead indeed. To be fair, the better bands were all signed and out on tour but the local flavor-of-the-month was skinny-tie "powerpop" which in the hands of the likes of the Boyfriends [UK] and the Pleasers was at best a spotty pub-rock shadow of the Rich Kids - and nothing at all like what I knew as real powerpop from the US. Althea and Donna and TRB were high in the charts, but #1 was Joe Dolce... Feh!
Whether by drink or by boredom, I've entirely forgotten most of the bands I saw back then - but it'd be safe to say the only really important shows I caught were by the Soft Boys (who were utterly brilliant and I thenceforth followed them everywhere) and Patrick Fitzgerald (who was mind-blowing when he walked on uninvited at a London University show (Jets and ???) singing "Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart" a few days before (I think??) the single came out and became the NME's pick of the week).
So again, I experienced high-style '77 punk almost entirely on vinyl. From college through the 1990s I mostly supported myself as a rare record dealer, so I bought tons of punk singles not only on my own but as part of many large record-collections and the stock of a couple defunct record-stores. There was no way to sell anything but "Piss Factory" and Boojie Boy singles so the boxes of punk (and the equally hard to shift new wave, experimental and powerpop 45s) just kept growing.
trakMARX - Tell us about the birth of Hyped 2 Death.
Chuck - I'll try to make this short: By the late 1990s the Killed By Death bootlegs had proliferated wildly and I was increasingly annoyed that all my mail-order customers (who'd previously done such a good job of trusting my good taste and sending me their money) now wanted only the records they already knew from bootlegs. Coincidentally, I'd been working with digital audio for several years as a radio producer in St. Louis (a rare straight job) and I'd seen what amazing things could be done to restore audio. So I started making sampler cassettes of the stuff I was trying to sell. I did them all deejay-style with overlapping segues (geez what a pleasure to be able to do that all digitally -perfect mixes every time) and made maybe twenty copies apiece of two dozen C-90 samplers/mix-tapes. These immediately had the undesired effect of merely adding those records to my customers' wants-lists - without making them the least bit more adventurous about trying the other things I recommended. But I had so much more fun making the tapes than selling the records!
So (smart business has never been a strong suit of mine) I decided to blow off the collectors altogether and walk away from the rare-record trade - just in time for eBay and all that as well, of course. I took a "severance package" from my day-job, and bought the first under-$1000 Yamaha CD burner, spent the rest on hard drives, and launched Hyped to Death. (The “hype” in the title was entirely ironic to begin with, though ever since the Homosexuals 3CD we’re guilty of laying it on as thickly as any other indie label with a messiah/persecution-complex. Why we’re not already fabulously wealthy AND notorious pop icons remains a complete bafflement!)
In its initial incarnation H2D was intended as the world's first "above-ground bootleg" - where I'd find everyone I could ahead of time, and then make it as easy as possible for everyone else to find me through the website and CDs. Unlike Killed by Death, etc, I could offer the bands a place to get the facts straight, tell their story and link to current projects, reissues, etc. And because of the way that Google scored web-searches at the time with all the pages at H2D and all the possible hits for the thousand or so bands involved, I could pretty much guarantee that my site (with their info and links) would turn up near the very top of any web-search. Because the CD-Rs were all burn-to-order, the bands were free to leave at any time (with samples and mechanical royalties regardless) and I could easily re-master with some other track in their place and re-do the liner-notes and artwork - although no one on Messthetics ever did say no.
However, by 2002-2003 it had become possible through the Web and word-of-mouth to trace perhaps 80% of the bands in the U.S. - so the Teenline, Homework and Hyped to Death series shifted over to all-authorized format (and got new numbering schemes). Things were much, much harder in the UK because of BT's copyright on phone-listings (and the way they prevent permit broadly-useful searches on their web-site). I’d found barely half the bands on Messthetics and fewer still on Bad Teeth (the indie punk series), so Bad Teeth went away completely...but the “original” Messthetics CD-Rs stuck around while I kept searching. At this point slightly-revised versions of Messthetics #1-8 have joined the American series in all-authorized form, but these will still disappear once the first round of the Messthetics 100-series CDs is out. The idea is that people who don’t want to wait can still get an 160-song instant DIY collection...but I’ll try to give them fair warning that they’ll be obsolete as soon as I can get my act together on the regional CDs. There’s a small problem with the bands that said okay 5 or 7 years ago - but who’ve since disappeared. They’ll probably end up on a supplemental CD-R til I can re-trace them... Steve Hall of the Afflicted, Nick Noze of the Spunky Onions - where are you?
trakMARX - The Hyped 2 Death umbrella covers the Teenline, Homework & Messthetics series. What's the definition criteria for each series?
The criteria are completely arbitrary - in general the bands on the punk series (Hyped to Death for the US and Canada, and the now-defunct Bad Teeth series for the UK) were anyone that called themselves “punk” at the time. Meaning there's still a lot of keyboards, saxophones, effects, etc, that you'd never hear on one of the “better” volumes of Killed By Death.
Teenline is American pop-rock and powerpop of the old-school variety - meaning they were influenced by the 60s and 60s-influenced bands: Byrds, Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger, Big Star (the Five "B"s of powerpop – make it six if you're manly enough to add the Bee Gees), Raspberries, Hollies, etc. In other words they weren't really influenced at all by contemporary acts like say the Flamin’ Groovies or the Knack (or the Rich Kids, although some '78 bands certainly dug the Jam).
Homework (for the US) and Messthetics (for the UK) are a home for all the bands that took punk's promise of anarchy (while shedding punk's presumption of Importance) and applied it not just to the Ramones' repertoire - but every other kind of music they knew as well. It's certainly post-punk - in a chronological way - but it’s a mistake to connect the Messthetics/Homework brands of DIY and homemade punk-wave to "post punk" - in either the 1978 variety (now mostly known as Goth) or current fashion (Rip It Up, etc.). The Messthetics and Homework bands are loosely united by lyrical content (mundane/local/private), lack of pop-star ambition, a penchant for unfashionable instrumentation (whatever is handy/cheap/looks interesting) and a general spirit of impecunious one-take bonhomie – but there’s no set of musical rules. Broadly speaking, the American bands had the advantage of more money and more music-lessons (assuming that is that proficiency on clarinet or cello is actually a plus) but they never got any meaningful peer-support - or encouragement from the music press or influential radio - which the UK D.I.Y. bands had in spades, of course.
D.I.Y. bands in the UK were often just showing off to impress each other (and annoy/perplex the established media): how cheap, how inept, how ingeniously borrowed or recycled, and... how DID they make that noise!???
trakMARX - Living in the frozen North of the USA - as we understand you do - where did you get such an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure UK DIY punk rock?
Apart from regular trips to the UK through the mid-80s (they’ve been rarer since), I've listened to tons of records over the years - and then I tried very hard to convince other people to buy them from me (although sometimes people seemed to enjoy reading my descriptions more than listening to the records). I also kept a database of band-members that I copied off the backs of the picture-sleeves, so I had a decent grasp of which bands were related to each other, but the bottom line on my "encyclopedic knowledge" is what my old seminary professor told us at our first Greek class, "You don't need to know anything...as long as you know where to look it up." I forget massive amounts of information nowadays - although whenever there’s some amazing-looking disk that I've "never seen before" or a description of a something that I realize I absolutely-must-have for Messthetics ...there's usually already a copy buried somewhere here in the "archives", or there's a pissy comment on it in my database denouncing it as "anthem bombast' or "dance/honk Pigbaggery" (although today's trends would suggest giving the latter another listen!).
trakMARX - Considering the value of most of these records - & I'm presuming they all live in your private collection - the insurance premiums for the H2D warehouse must be pretty steep!
Chuck - There’s a Tibetan proverb, "If the valley is reached by a high pass, only best friends or worst enemies are visitors." Frequent money-crunches have depleted the mega-rarities, but yeah, there's still a lot of vinyl here. Keeps the 'ouse from tipping over.
trakMARX - Since the release of "Messthetics Greatest Hits" the prices of some featured records from the collection have begun to go through the roof (over £200 for a Reptile Ranch 45!). How do you come to terms with an eventuality of this nature?
Chuck - It's dismaying, but unavoidable as this all gets better-known: I LOVE not having to deal with the collectors' market – or pay attention to the arbitrary/mercenary criteria that govern, say, what ends up on Bored Teenagers (but I still love you Dizzy!). I want to get the music out in a reasonably comprehensive and scholarly way before we start seeing lazily-assembled collections based only on fame or eBay prices. Whenever I make "first contact" with a band I try hard to tip them to the proper care and feeding of their potential treasure. If there's still a box or two under an ex-girlfriend's bed I tell them first to wait (and NEVER sell any in bulk), and then to list a single copy on eBay every couple months - while being careful never to use the name of a band-member (since collector-dealers DETEST it when bands make the money instead of them - hence it's a sure way to kill the value).
Some bands do get a little money-crazed - I had to say ‘no thank you’ to a certain Northern combo who wanted a £500 signing-bonus (not even as a recoupable advance!) for their song to appear on “Messthetics Greatest Hits” . . . Nevertheless I'm glad to know that it's him that's raking in £120 apiece for his none-too-interesting second single - and not one of the eBay pros.
trakMARX - We understand you have a UK (Midlands) volume forthcoming in the Messthetics series. Any details yet?
Chuck - As I've been re-organizing Messthetics on a region-by-region basis, I’m paying much closer attention to the peculiarities of individual scenes. (Messthetics #101, 102, 103, etc, will include - in no particular order - full CDs for London (3 separate CDs), Midlands-to-Norfolk (2 CDs), Manchester-Liverpool-Lancs, Wales, Scotland, South Coast, West Country, and a Yorkshire/Northeast set.) In Birmingham’s case (and also in Leicester) it’s actually a matter of something that was missing. Astonishingly (given its size) Birmingham lacked even one established indie punk/post punk label of the sort that flourished at least briefly in every other major U.K. city (save Leicester...who’re on the same Midlands, etc. CD). The “major” indies were not always a blessing, of course: the extraordinary success of the Liverpool bands on the Zoo and Erics labels actually seemed to discourage other DIY records there. But with no indie-label model for success in a huge city like Birmingham, bands there seem to’ve been more professional in their musical demeanor - and also to have focused on expensive trips to professional studios instead of the shabby kitchen-studio festivals of tape-hiss and improvised percussion that account for so much of Messthetics elsewhere. So for the moment, can I say that it’s still not sounding “DIY” enough? ...I want to paint a faithful picture of whatever happened where bands put out their own records (there'll still be places of honor for the Dangerous Girls and Cravats) - but I’m hoping to line up a few more tracks from the, uh, ruder end of the Midlands spectrum, if only to keep the CD recognizably in line with the Messthetics ‘norm’? So please send me your suggestions! (The outer boundaries for this first “greater” Midlands CD run from Stoke to Cheltenham to Leicester, but I'm obviously interested in hearing anyone, anywhere!)
trakMARX - Any other themed series planned?
Chuck - Not series, but there'll be a couple of one-offs: "Let's Talk About Prams" - an all female vocal CD named after a brilliant Vital Disorders song. Also a collection of cassette-only tracks - "Messthetics Greatest Hiss" (a title I've just nicked from an improvisational band called New 7th Music whose 1981? quadruple cassette was titled "Greatest Hiss - Volumes 1-4"). Someday I do hope to re-launch Bad Teeth - It's too much fun as a title not to put to proper use!
trakMARX – And finally, where next for H2D?
Chuck - Messthetics #101-111, a Homosexuals ‘Live At The Whisky/Demos’ CD, world domination, toilet training - that sort of thing!
Jean Encoule – tMx 25 –06/06
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