Louder Than War Interview: Reaction/Heavy Drapes
Something strange and exciting has been happening in Scotland’s punk scene this year. Two bands have emerged that have broken the mould of the close-knit but stagnant scene, happily ruffling feathers in the process.
Reaction are original 70s outsider-punks from the post-industrial heartland of Lanarkshire, while Heavy Drapes were spawned more recently on the east coast of Scotland. Reaction’s breakneck assault takes in garage rock & roll, psychedelia and grubby Americana, while Heavy Drapes are a classic British working class rock band in the tradition of the Sex Pistols, Slade and Oasis.
What unites these two contrasting outfits is their unstoppable swagger and an unswerving belief that punk rock still has the power to smash through barriers and impact on the mainstream. 2016 saw both bands make their Rebellion Festival debut, stealing the limelight from big name acts and winning over new converts.
With an essential AA split red vinyl single now available on New York label Tarbeach Records, Reaction and Heavy Drapes are set to take their ‘New Punk’ revolution beyond the shores of the British Isles. Gus Ironside posed five questions to each band’s chief motormouth-in-residence – Reaction guitarist Joe Whyte, and Heavy Drapes’ provocative frontman De Liberate- and retired to a safe distance to watch the resulting fireworks. Their answers are presented below in full, unedited and uncensored.
1 John Robb recently described Heavy Drapes and Reaction as “the two most talked about bands in the punk scene this year”. What makes your band stand out from the mass of punk-inspired outfits in the current UK scene?
Reaction are inspired by punk but are striving to do something that’s a million miles away from the lumpen, punk-by-numbers crap that currently masquerades as the genre. Most contemporary punk rock is so unimaginative and identikit as to make it possibly the most conservative (with a small C) style of music out there. Ridiculous when you think about it. We, as Reaction, always believe that “punk rock” (whatever that actually is) is about the energy, the style, the élan and about doing something exciting. Playing boring songs with boring lyrics is not what we do. We leave that to the rest. It’s not just about being different for the sake of it- we don’t have jazz breakdowns or bits of electronica in the songs but we try and make music that excites us and makes us go “wow”. We also have a deep-seated disregard for bands that “dress up as punks”- punk rock was never, ever about a uniform. We’re a rock and roll band first and foremost and we try and make our shows a “you’ll never know what can happen” type of event.
We’re a bunch of guys that have their roots in punk, but we’ve all travelled the roads and lanes of other music for years. I had a rave period in the 90’s (as did vocalist Carson) as that’s where the excitement then was; myself and Scot played Americana kinda stuff with God-Fearing Atheists for a few years and Scot has long been a devotee of math rock, slowcore type music and has his own band Fram. Punk to me was always the Dolls, the Stooges, the Pistols, the first Damned album, MC5 and a million other things. The UK82 shit was where it all became a bit wrong for me.
I think that the scene needs a shake-up. I think that’s what Reaction and Heavy Drapes are all about. We half- joke about “the new wave of punk” and all that; I’ve never been into being part of a movement. What we are about, however, is making punk rock and roll sexy and exciting. Forget all that dross about drinking songs and celebrating crap-ness that loads of bands do. Forget all that novelty pish, too. We don’t dress up in stupid hats, costumes and make-up. Our songs are about living the live, speeding off your tits, the chaos of small-town night life, Tarzan and gorgeous terrorist girls. Among other things…
Well, it was either people would buy into it or not. You’re either going to get it or not. I’m delighted we’ve captured John’s imagination. I’m assuming he’s the same as me, sick and tired of the dross clogging up the UK punk scene. Something has to give, it’s dire out there. I’ve spent the year going up and down the UK, I’ve seen some truly awful bands who claim to be punk; not in my book matey. The majority of bands have no personality or most importantly, tunes. No one prior to Heavy Drapes was prepared to challenge the current set-up. We’ve had enough, we’re not having it, it’s all wrong,
The difference between us and them, we understand what rock n roll is all about and embrace it. It’s in everything we do and say. I like the fact that when we go onstage anything can happen. We’re not safe and predictable people to be around, this can either be extremely entertaining and exciting for some people or a direct threat, there’s no in-between. Musically, we’re out on our own. You won’t get any 2nd generation punk influences in what we do, that stuff does nothing for us. As a band, we’d agree on Sex Pistols, 1970’s NY punk and Iggy as the kinda thing that fires us up but individual influences have their place, so don’t be surprised if you hear or see a bit of Oasis and Stone Roses swagger. You do what you do, right? It just so happens people have been so into what we’re doing, and in a lot of cases, they have waited a long time for us to come along. In all their excitement they’re calling it the new wave of punk. You know what, I buy that coz excitement beats bland every time.
I could have answered that with one line – We’re the greatest and everyone else is fucked.
2 Both bands made their mark at this year’s Rebellion Festival. How did you find the experience of playing Rebellion, and what reaction (no pun intended) did you get?
Reaction had an early slot- 12.25 on the Friday after the opening night. I have to say I was a little apprehensive about folk actually turning up. Scot (Van den Akker, bass) had arrived with literally minutes to spare (this despite several warnings from me about parking in Blackpool and the holiday weekend traffic- he didn’t have time to get changed and played in camo shorts and a t-shirt. We may let him forget it, but unlikely….).
The Arena Stage is a big old room- it looks pretty empty standing on that stage sound-checking! There did seem to be a bit of a buzz going, though, and we had a few hundred in before we started. We had a cracking reaction from the crowd- we had a queue for merchandise at the end of the set!
Throughout the weekend people were telling us how much they’d enjoyed it- it was certainly a “wakener” for us. Me especially, having played at 2am the night before and needing my 10 hours’ beauty sleep.
I’d played the festival a few times with Jericho Hill (the Johnny Cash tribute band) so knew what to expect. The rest of the band, I think, were a little shell-shocked at the reception and the whole size of the festival. We’d played a few smaller festivals and I think they maybe expected something sort of casual like those. Having a full crew and side of house engineer was a bit of a revelation to them, I think.
Rebellion is a one-off; there’s nothing like it in the world. People snipe about it and go on about “commercialism” and all that old bollocks. Darren and Jenny do it for the love of it. Of that, I’m sure. They’re music fans, first and foremost.
When we got offered a slot, we were only 2 months old; that was a major achievement. This is the festival every punk band wants to play, not just UK bands but bands from all over the globe. The main man really likes what we’re all about. The thing is with Rebellion, you’re not just going to be offered a slot, you need to show that you’re a serious outfit and you’re not pissing about. I know bands who have been waiting 10 years for a chance; what they don’t understand is you need to be pro-active, you need to be out there doing it and you need to create a buzz. We’ve played a huge amount of shows this year all over the UK. We’ve put our own cash into this because you don’t make money at this level. I started my own label to get our music to the people and I’ve done nothing but hustle for gigs for 12 months. No other band has been prepared to do what we have done, that’s why we are the most talked about new punk band in the UK.
The build up to Rebellion was fantastic. This was our first time and we were gonna enjoy it. Due to the fact we had played down south many times prior to it, we built up an audience who were at Rebellion to support us. We went down a storm, it was a blast. We got filmed for the Rebellion movie which has been 3 years in the making and should be out at Xmas. We also had the opportunity to hang out with the big boys, The Damned, Ruts, Dictators etc; they were well into us. I’d say we’re now officially punk rock stars. I believe we were the first Scottish band after the Skids to secure a Rebellion slot in 2017.
3 What role does punk rock have to play in 2016, in the UK and worldwide?
Punk is protest music I suppose. Woody Guthrie must be the first punk, then.
It’s also the last youth cultural thing that had such a massive seismic impact. Celebrating 40 years and all of that gives me mixed feelings. Punk was meant to be short, sharp and not meant to last.
It was, in a way, a bit like a 7 inch single in a picture sleeve; a snapshot of a time and a feeling. It’s extremely weird how it’s now almost a national treasure.
Punk bands, particularly the formulaic ones, are preaching to the converted in many ways; I KNOW who the bad guys are, I don’t need a dumbass crappy song to tell me that the world is a shitty place. Maybe folk younger than me do, though; maybe they need a nudge in the right direction.
I kind of hate it that it’s become some singalong, beery nostalgia trip for some; it also makes me happy that bands like Penetration and The Ruts are releasing new music that’s not just trading on past glories. Buzzcocks, too. They’ve released some great material over the last decade that’s forward-thinking and experimental. Folk just want to get drunk and hear “Promises”, however and that’s okay I guess.
To answer the original question, I guess that the world and society has gone full-circle back to what it was in 1976; all we need is power cuts and a bin strike! The threats are real. The powers that be are crazy motherfuckers, the rise of the right is a real worry (NB this interview was conducted before Donald Trump was elected as US President).
These are the things that fuelled punk rock the first time around. I don’t know if there’s the hunger or desire amongst the young people to create something that poses a threat to the established order; the modern world is way different in many ways. The internet has changed the way we receive and use information. Maybe that’s the next punk rock- some teenage hackers bringing down the governments. To a soundtrack of Reaction and Heavy Drapes. Maybe.
If it wasn’t for Heavy Drapes injecting the scene with some amphetamine, there would be nothing new happening. 2016 has been our year and 2017 will be ours too. Listen, if this band doesn’t move up quickly then we will walk. I certainly won’t hang around; life’s too short to be shoving around in the gutter.
Punk rock will only be a going concern if more bands with the same attitude as us start to appear. We’ve been thrown together with Joe’s band Reaction as part of the New Wave of Punk. Joe and I chat but it’s not all big hugs and back slapping. There are times where it could easily turn to violence. I don’t want to be told what to do and neither does he; we’re not always aligned to the same goal. I think my band is better than his and that’s the way it should be, it’s the nature of the beast. I can say to Joe, “we’re missing an opportunity here”, regarding promoting our split 45, he’ll say we shouldn’t shout about it too much coz it’ll piss people off. Fuck that, I don’t give a toss if I piss people off, if I don’t shout, no one else will.
On the flipside, I can relate to Joe more than anyone else outside of my band. I like some of his ideas, I like the chat and I hope his band do great things. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, yeah, I’m comfortable with the New Wave of Punk tag, I think anything which separates us from the shite is a good thing.
4 Which rock & roll/punk band or artist do you think has had the greatest cultural impact and why (from the 50s onwards)?
Oh, that’s a hard one. For me, personally, it’s the Sex Pistols. Definitely. That’s where it started for me. I was 14 in 1977 and that was a stop the clocks moment. I think I was the perfect age and personality to just “get” The Pistols. They were dangerous, glamorous and weirdly beautiful and the music was from outer space. They sounded like nothing else although with the benefit of hindsight, I now know where it comes from. After that, I guess I trawled back the way and sussed out The Stooges, MC5, Thunders and all of that stuff.
If you mean generally, I guess you can trace it all the way back to Elvis. He knew what it meant; swagger, sex, energy, rock and roll. He may have been a puppet, but maybe the Pistols were, too.
I’m obviously aware of the history of rock n roll; I am, after all, the bastard son of Alex Harvey. I like bits of Chuck Berry but I have no time for Elvis. I dig the Stones and the Who but find the Beatles incredibly dull. I’m fascinated by Third World War and how they managed to survive in the 1970 UK climate. I absolutely adore MC5 and Iggy & the Stooges but it’s Sex Pistols for me. Their impact can still be felt today, it’s alive in the soul of Heavy Drapes; this is something Glen Matlock has recognised. I’m not gonna bore people with why they had the greatest cultural impact; that’s already been done perfectly by John Robb in his ‘Oral History of Punk’ book. ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ is the best rock album ever made and it’s the benchmark for my band.
5 What would be your dream line-up (alive or dead) for your ultimate festival? And who would headline…?
Maybe The Stooges (original line-up).
Then The Ramones
Sex Pistols circa 1976 with Glen
The Birthday Party (the greatest live band I’ve ever witnessed)
The 70s Stones
The NY Dolls
The “Roxy”-era Guns N Roses
The Cramps (although the later “Stay Sick” line-up)
Green On Red
Bob Dylan to open. Electric Dylan.
And maybe a bit of Burning Spear or King Tubby late at night to cool us down.
Iggy & the Stooges
Damned (playing their 1977 albums)
Third World War
New York Dolls
Ramones (playing their first 3 albums)
*Heavy Drapes headline as voted by the other bands.
Buy ‘Hey Patty Hearst/Into the Blue’ here.
Many thanks to Joe Whyte and De Liberate for their openness and generosity with their time.
All words by Gus Ironside, whose Louder Than War archive can be found here.