Nefarious Artists: The Evolution and Art of the Punk Rock, Post-Punk, New Wave, Hardcore Punk and Alternative Rock Compilation Record, 1976 – 1989
By Welly Artcore
Published by Earth Island Books
In his second book for Earth Island (the first being the brilliant US tour memoires of Chaos UK and Four Letter Word, ‘Directions to the Outskirts of Town’), Welly Artcore (of the very long-running and well-respected Artcore fanzine) revisits the sadly all-but-forgotten medium of the compilation record. Long before your listening pleasure was second-guessed by algorithms and corporate apps, the compilation record (and of course, the more DIY compilation cassette – not covered here) was how many of us would have heard about exciting new bands for the first time. It would seem that Welly has amassed over 800 of these comps across the decades – EPs as well as LPs – and finally decided it was time he reminded the world about their importance in the evolution of alternative music.
The format is simple. Welly walks us through 500 of his favourite comps; you get a colour image of the sleeve, and half a page of descriptive text, that is both enlightening and humorous, especially if you’re in tune with Welly’s sardonic wit. The comps are split into years, starting from 1976, when punk is alleged to have begun, and finishing at 1989, because, well, Welly is an Eighties kid through and through. But to be fair, he had to draw the line somewhere. Maybe the door’s been left open for a second volume. Every three years, there’s also a brief historical overview of world events for that period, just to give some much-needed context to the musical soundtrack that accompanied them.
As is the way with this type of book, you typically jump to the albums your band was on (heart in mouth as to whether Welly will acerbically denigrate your perceived place in history!), then you jump to the comps you love (and it’s wonderful to finally have official confirmation that ‘Welcome to 1984’ is indeed one of the best international hardcore punk comps ever curated!), and then you simply pick it up every time you walk past it, dip in and explore at your leisure, and with your interest piqued, go off and discover some musical gem that would otherwise have passed you by. And so, the book mirrors the beloved compilation records that it exists to celebrate. Which is nice.
There is a great mixture of the obvious and the obscure, the good and the bad (and the ugly), the mainstream and the underground, and as that snappy sub-title suggests, the book leaves few stones unturned in the ballpark of punk rock. It would be both churlish and pointless to then pick out a few comps I think should have made the cut, but didn’t, because at the end of the day, this is a staggeringly comprehensive piece of work regardless, and it’s been a joy this last week to think once again about amazing compilations that really did open my eyes to fantastic music that has stayed with me to this day – ‘P.E.A.C.E.’, ‘Cleanse the Bacteria’, ‘Rat Music for Rat People’, ‘Burning Ambitions’, ‘Riotous Assembly’, ‘Who? What? Why? When? Where?’, ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans’, ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’, ‘Wessex 82’, ‘Wargasm’, ‘Viva Umkhonto!’, ‘Digging in Water’, ‘A Country Fit For Heroes’… the list goes on and on. Even the ‘Oi!’ albums, that Welly takes some well-aimed potshots at, were regular fixtures on my turntable and introduced me to the likes of the Test Tube Babies and Partisans.
This book is a genuine pleasure to browse, and I virtually guarantee you’ll be revisiting it until it’s well and truly dog-eared. Which reminds me, it looks the dog’s bollocks as well.
Simply put, this is easily the best book about punk compilations I’ve ever read. Admittedly, it’s the only one I’ve ever read, but don’t let that detract from the fact this is an essential purchase if you have more than a passing interest in the punk and new wave subcultures. Let Welly be your guide on a fascinating voyage of nostalgia and/or discovery [delete as applicable].