Various Artists: Riot City Complete Singles Collection
4CD | DL
Released 19 March 2021
New 4CD set which brings together every single side released by Bristol punk label Riot City, plus the 1982 Riotous Assembly compilation album as a bonus. Contributors include label founders Vice Squad (and their satirical doppelgangers Chaotic Dischord), The Abrasive Wheels, Chaos U.K. and The Varukers. Ian Canty sees what was cooking in the South West of UK82…
Riot City Records originally came into being when Bristol punk outfit Vice Squad decided they wanted to release their own record. For this, they sought the assistance of Simon Edwards, who had been running the local Heartbeat imprint since 1978. The band had come into his orbit by donating the rough Nothing to his highly-rated Avon Calling compilation LP back in 1979. Radio One DJ John Peel picked up on the track and over time the Squad worked on Edwards, who was initially reluctant to sign them to Heartbeat. Eventually, he was persuaded to put a disc out by the band, but they were to have had their own specially set up imprint instead. In 1981 Riot City was born.
Vice Squad’s first two EPs, Last Rockers and Resurrection, both sold in large quantities and although they departed for EMI soon afterwards, their record sales left the label on a firm footing. An upsurge of new punk outfits quickly turned up to fill the void left in Vice Squad’s wake, as punk in the UK got a belated second wind in the early 1980s. Many of the subsequent Riot City singles sold fairly well and made it to the upper echelons of the independent chart, but by 1984 the game was up and the label folded.
This collection is in the same format as the recent No Future set (reviewed here). It bangs a lot of stuff together in a cheap and cheerful way, though I have to say it would have been nice to have gone into a little more detail on some of the lesser-known outfits in the sleeve notes, rather than just a list of line ups and indie chart placings. Having said that, there is an informative and interesting history of the label from Vice Squad’s drummer Shane Baldwin contained therein, so maybe I am being a little harsh.
Disc one of the set starts with those two Vice Squad EPs. Last Rockers still sounds like an anthem for doomed 80s youth, as no future became a fact of life rather than the chorus to a pop song. The apocalyptic message dovetailed with the feeling of hopelessness that marked the times in general and punk specifically, being pretty much derided on all sides without anyone even listening to what the punks had to say. There wasn’t even the booby prize of being “in fashion” anymore. The song broods nicely enough, still giving me a shivering throwback to what was on the whole a pretty depressing time.
The second band to record for Riot City were Wigan’s Insane. They pursued a quirky career path which at one stage saw two separate outfits playing under the same moniker. Catching them at an earlier point, their Politics EP is explosive, ramshackle fun and captures a “tea tray” drum sound on Last Day, something I regard very much as a plus. The Abrasive Wheels were a quality outfit from Leeds that already had issued an EP of their own (which was reissued by Riot City, so features later on this disc) before the high energy excitement of Vicious Circle came out on Riot City in 1982. Their great Burn It Down single turns up on disc two. It was their last for Riot City and a real corker.
The Expelled, also from Leeds, sound a lot like Vice Squad on the glorious pop-punk of Dreaming from their No Life No Future EP. The title track and What Justice are more basic thrashes though. They contribute their superior second waxing, the Government Policy single, to the second disc of this set. From much closer to Riot City’s HQ came Chaos U.K., The Undead and Court Martial, who are each represented by two singles they cut for the label. Court Martial’s Gotta Get Out is at least pretty funny, a truly daft but adorable UK82 ditty played by a band barely in control of their actions. The Undead were another Bristol mob who eventually didn’t last long, but made the indie charts in the UK with their first recording, It’s Corruption.
Chaos U.K. were of course a much longer running outfit, with most people’s introduction to them being their cut on the comp Punk And Disorderly, Four Minute Warning, from the Burning Britain EP which features here. But to be honest, the four tracks that make that record sound a bit of a mess (mitigating circumstances were that it was a band demo that was released by Riot City), with only Victimized feeling like it has anywhere enough power. The reissue of the rough but fine Army Song 7″ by The Abrasive Wheels and joke outfit/Vice Squad spin-off Chaotic Dischord’s spot-on spoof Fuck The World to end the first disc. After a relatively short period of time in existance, Riot City was already sending itself up, with Chaos U.K. and Disorder (who were famously rejected by the imprint) being the main targets here.
On disc two we get the second singles by those three Bristol bands from disc one and they all represent something of an improvement. Court Martial’s No Solution has more energy and focus and Take Control starts interestingly enough, before then becoming a stereotypical headlong rush. Yes, it’s that annoying UK 80s punk trait of starting off with a promising introductory riff and then changing tack to pile in with something much less gripping. Chaos UK’s No Security, from the Loud, Political & Uncompromising EP, is another example of this, but at least it rocks (in fact it’s not too far from Motorhead). Finally, The Undead’s Dead Revolution has decent mid-paced fire and sneakily nicks a line from The Models’ The Freeze. This Place Are Burning, the other track on their Violent Visions 7-inch, has some good guitar moments on it too.
New on disc two of the set and showing that every dog has its day, The Ejected managed to cut somewhat of a minimalist classic in Have You Got 10p?. Of the other two tracks on their Riot City debut, Class Of ’82 owes a fairly weighty debt to The Cockney Rejects and One Of The Boys riffs away merrily. Their second EP for the label, Noise For The Boys EP, wasn’t too bad either (Fast ‘N’ Loud is The Ramones superdumb thrash transferred to Dagenham), but the less said about their Touch Of Class album the better. Mayhem hailed from Southport and their 4-tracker Gentle Murder is the kind of standard, muddy sounding hardcore that played right into the hands of Riot City’s detractors. Better is The Nowhere To Play EP by Resistance 77, which is honest shoutalong stuff, with the best track being the raucous Nuclear Attack.
But perhaps the most interesting effort on this disc is from Welsh band No Choice. Their Sadist Dream is truly disquieting, a slow and menacing anti-war meander with jangly guitar and spoken vocal, a real step away from 100 miles an hour Mohican thrash of 80s punk. Their other two offerings, the faster, echo-laden Nuclear Disaster and Cream Of The Crop, are both different too, showing a band with a good dose of imagination. It was apparently one of the poorest selling records Riot City put out, which I suppose shows the lack of taste for anything a little spicy in the narrow confines of UK punk of that era.
By disc three of this set, we’ve reached the time when Vice Squad were long gone and The Abrasive Wheels had also upped sticks to Clay Records, where they attempted to adapt their sound to the changing times with limited success. Riot City appeared to be on a sticky wicket in 1983, but thankfully this element of the boxset kicks off with Emergency (featuring ex-members of The Hoax) from Manchester and their excellent Points Of View single.
This solid showing is followed by six efforts by two spoof outfits with Vice Squad connections, Chaotic Dischord and The Sex Aids, which seem to be basically the same band. Chaotic Dischord’s Never Trust A Friend is one of their best, with Are Students Safe’s daftness being the pick of the 3 tracks present. The Sex Aids’ Back On The Piss EP beat CA in the indie charts and after a brief send-up of heavy rock, the lead track develops into shouty mid-paced punk. The EP also includes a fairly faithful Motorhead cover We Are The Road Crew.
Mayhem return with 3-tracker Pulling Puppet Strings, which confusingly includes the track Gentle Murder. It’s an improved effort though with a sharper sound this time around. Yorkshire’ Ultra-Violent make their debut with Crime Of Revenge. On the title track, the band seems in a furious hardcore mode that recalls more the US sound of the time. Nears neighbours The Underdogs come next, recycling the Steppin’ Stone riff on East Of Dachuau and doing similar with I Don’t Want To Work For British Airways on Johnny Go Home. All these offerings are okay but don’t exactly knock the stockings clean off one’s feet.
Having said that, the durable Varukers turn up with their Die For Your Government and Led To The Slaughter singles, after previously recording a couple of records for the Birmingham-based Inferno imprint. Both have plenty of purpose and intent, particularly the breakneck excitement of Die For Your Government itself. The two Ejected EPs that show up on this disc, one released and one shelved because of Riot City closing down, are testaments to why bands should only record when they’ve hit on something worthwhile to set down on tape. Only 24 Years and In The City from Press The Button are really worth a listen. Both are lyrically duff, but the former has a nice Stranglers influence to it musically and the latter a decent amount of tension applied.
The final disc of The Riot City Complete Singles Collection is given over to three 12 inch records – 8 trackers by Chaotic Dischord and The Varukers and the Riotous Assembly album, which is added as a bonus. Chaotic Dischord’s Don’t Throw It All Away has covers of Stab Your Back and Rock & Roll Swindle with Captain Sensible, Knox and John Perry of The Only Ones assisting. But they actually are much better without these star turns, like on their classic Anarchy In Woolworths and they also hilariously flounder through Sausage Beans And Chips and Who Killed E.T.?.
Another Religion Another War by The Varukers was Riot City’s final release in the summer of 1984. Punk in the UK was dying a slow death as the 80s wore on and while this 12 inch wasn’t going to change things, it’s still a committed blast of hardcore punk from the Leamington Spa speed machines. The hell for studded leather The Last War and the jolly angry Neglected were my picks.
Finally, we go back to 1982 for the Riotous Assembly compilation album, released when Riot City were in their pomp and featuring a broad swathe of new punkers. Big guns like Vice Squad themselves, The Abrasive Wheels and The Expelled are represented, along others that would put out singles for the label in Chaos U.K., The Undead, Mayhem and Court Martial. There are also a few unknown quantities too, with Organised Chaos, London’s T.D.A., Havoc and Lunatic Fringe also cropping up. To finish, we have the Vice Squad connected pair of Chaotic Dischord and Dead Katss.
Coward by Vice Squad starts things off with the old “interesting intro and then heads down” bit again, but it isn’t bad and It’s A Sell Out follows a similar format. As usual, The Abrasive Wheels impress on their anthemic Criminal Youth and Court Martial emerge as unlikely rivals to Chaotic Dischord’s comic crown on the unintentionally funny Your War. Chaos U.K. resemble their comedy doppelgangers on Senseless Conflict and The Expelled’s rough Blown Away is enlivened by a good vocal performance and catchy refrain.
The lesser-known acts don’t fare as well, with Organised Chaos’ Mary Whitehouse lurching pretty near to self-parody. Dead Katss sound like a dodgy Vice Squad act tribute on Fun Wars and Havoc offer up a standard, badly produced punk thud in Where Does The Money Go?. T.D.A. rough, self-titled hardcore at least has a manic approach that gives it an edge and Lunatic Fringe’s British Man uses some nice effects in its intro, but soon settles into a swirling thrash. The album, and this set, finish fittingly enough with court jesters Chaotic Dischord’s madcap Accident. To be honest, Riotous Assembly is pretty average fare for the most part but is good to have as part of this set to round off the Riot City story.
Dubbed “the dustbin of punk” by the press at the time, with the benefit of hindsight Riot City did offer a bit more than that, despite some lapses in quality control (to be kind). After Vice Squad left the label early on, with the exception of The Abrasive Wheels and The Varukers at a stretch, the label didn’t have any bands really out of the UK82 top drawer. But RC still managed to put out some entertaining records even so and admittedly some pretty naff ones too. So goes the story of UK punk’s early 1980s rise and fall. Riot City Complete Singles Collection does well in highlighting the reasons why it was a case of boom and bust. It all makes up for an intriguing musical history lesson which gives the listener a fair serving of fun and excitement along the way.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here