Riot starting, bouncer bashing, cop baiting, hotel trashing, foul talking, noise making, chaos causing, venue wrecking, government hating, rule breaking, piss taking, unrelenting, punk rocking. Clearly we’re not talking about Pepsi adverts here, or indeed the many so-called punk bands that would gleefully sell themselves to such corporate giants for a palm full of silver. Whoo-hoo! The taste of a generation! Fuck off! Let’s get one thing straight: The Exploited are not ‘punkers’ or any of the other cutesy, watered down, MTV friendly names you might want to call them.
The Exploited are punk rock.
But maybe we should put that into context since it means so many different things. It’s early 1980 and ‘entertainment’ on a Saturday night (or any other night of the week) consists of sitting around at home watching crap on TV or sitting around in a bus shelter drinking cider or sniffing glue. Unless, of course, you’re old enough to drink in the same pub as your dad. Oh the thrill of it all! Punk rock is all you have. It’s your lifeblood, the only thing that makes sense and the only thing to look forward to in a world with ‘no future’. And it’s fucking exciting! The next single, the next gig, the volume coursing through your veins to remind you that you’re alive. Punk rock is a dangerous business. The mere act of looking like a punk will earn you a night in casualty if you’re not careful, and getting to and from one of the few venues that will let punk bands play can literally be a matter of life and death. So, you can cop out and be a part time punk (flatten your hair down for school, work or more likely the dole queue) or follow whatever trend you’re told is ‘in’ this week. The other option, the only other option, is to give to punk rock what it has given to you — everything! If you’re going to be unemployed, then be unemployable! If you’re going to get beaten up, then go down fighting! If you’ve got something to say, then shout it! And most of all, if you’re going to be in an obnoxious punk rock band, then be in a really obnoxious punk band!
This was the route chosen by ex-squaddie Wattie Buchan (vocals), Big John Duncan (guitar), Dru Stix (drums) and Gary McCormack (bass). Right from the start (early 1980, if you were paying attention) there was no toning these Edinburgh punks down, no diluting their music for public consumption. The Exploited were punk rock.
Released just one year later on the Secret label, their debut album was as much a rallying battle cry as a record. It was called ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ and went on to become the number one independent album of 1981 (before most of the Indies were just majors in disguise), reaching number 20 in the national charts and selling 150,000 copies. Which kind of proved the point. If punk was dead, no one had told the Exploited’s rapidly growing ‘barmy army’. And while admittedly, ‘Punk’s Not Dead’ wasn’t the greatest record ever made, as an opening gambit it was unbeatable and live, the band were nothing short of incredible. The long hot summer of ’81 saw the whole country going up in flames. Real anarchy in the UK as city after city, town after town exploded! A perfect time for the Exploited to co-headline the legendary ‘Apocalypse Now’ tour with fellow punk giants, Discharge. The sell out London show (at the Lyceum Ballroom) took place just one day after the Brixton riots. Talk about an electric atmosphere! By October that year The Exploited were in the singles charts with the violently evocative ‘Dead Cities’, leading to arguably the most ferocious performance ever seen on Top Of The Pops (yeah, you read that right! And yes, there were numerous complaints) and another massive UK tour. If memory serves correctly, this was the one where Black Flag supported them, the one that ended in a full-scale riot at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park. Or maybe that was another time; certainly it was snowing in the Capital the night and ever demented front man Wattie declared war on the Mods (some idiot had booked the Jam to play just up the road), resulting in a pitched battle outside the venue.
1982 saw the release of the Exploited’s first genuine classic album ‘Troops Of Tomorrow’ (number 17 in the charts), which ten years later was to see tracks (most notably ‘UK82’ changed to ‘LA92’) covered by Slayer for the ‘Judgement Night’ soundtrack. More proof, if it were needed, that without the likes of Exploited, Discharge and GBH there would be no thrash metal and thus, no Metallica, Slayer or Slipknot. It has even been noted that those punk bands influenced such varied acts as Queens Of The Stoneage (whom Wattie presented with a ‘Best International Newcomers’ gong at the Kerrang Awards in 2000) and Atari Teenage Riot, Nirvana (Ex-Exploited guitarist Big John even played for them briefly) and Massive Attack. In over two decades The Exploited have been tear gassed by German cops, banned from Holland, arrested in Spain, declared that the Falklands are British forever whilst on stage in Argentina and have caused more carnage than a multi-car pile up on the M1. Throughout that time they have remained steadfastly true to their roots, never selling out, never splitting up (despite numerous line-up changes) and never bowing down. They’ve been accused of being dumb (yes, sometimes, but wilfully so) and causing trouble (guilty again, but smashing stuff is fun and punks are supposed to be obnoxious). But The Exploited are also fiercely (not to mention bluntly) socially and politically aware, covering everything from the Criminal Justice Act to the increasing use of Big Brother CCTV and never wavering from their anti-authoritarian, anti-war stance. And while a critic once suggested they were stating the obvious (politicians are liars and war is bad), someone is still voting for the fuckers and we seem to be on the brink of World War Three. Someone should be shouting about it for Christ’s sake! And no one shouts louder than The Exploited! Who else would have the nerve to drown a Tory politician in their video (for the title track of their ’96 masterpiece ‘Beat The Bastards’) or repeatedly refer to Maggie Thatcher as a “fucking cunt!” (‘Maggie’).
So we face the start of another New Year and nothing has changed. The country’s still fucked and on the brink of war as America’s lapdog, bored kids still wander the streets (smack and designer labels having replaced glue and cider) and The Exploited are just as relevant today as they were in 1980. Punk rock has come to mean so many different things to so many different people. Like an incurable virus the genre has infected the whole world, evolving, mutating (often beyond recognition) and contaminating everything that gets in its path. Fashion, art, comedy, politics and of course, music have all been irrevocably altered by punk rock. Christ, even football got in on the act — a mohican haircut we’re told, is now called a Beckham. Not bad for something that has been pronounced dead more times than Dracula. But to The Exploited punk rock still means everything.
“Fuck The System’ their eighth studio album sees the band on more explosive form than ever, riotous, unrepentant and wholly uncompromising. Tracks like ‘Never Sell Out’ and ‘Chaos Is My Life’ (both self-explanatory) are as brutally heavy as anything bands half their age have to offer and prove beyond doubt that, not only is there life in the old dog yet, but the fucker’s got rabies! ‘Fuck The System’ isn’t just an album title; it’s a statement of intent. But then, it is a punk rock album, and make no mistake.