Cultural historian and music writer Jon Savage has been here before, collating an obscure and worthwhile compilation with Domino Recordings. But ‘Black Hole’ is a far different, more agitated and instantly enjoyable history lesson than 2008’s ‘Dreams Come True: Classic First Wave Electro 1982-1987’. It’s an introduction that most of us need, to a forgotten time in California’s musical lineage when the hippy dream had been quashed by apathy – and then greed – and Black Flag had yet to change everything with their self-sacrificial hardcore values.

Savage [pictured above right], you might know from his UK punk bible England’s Dreaming (or as that impossible posh bloke who admits to crying when Oasis played ‘Some Might Say’ on Top of The Pops in Britpop documentary Live Forever) but he’s just as well read on late ’70s Cali punk, even if it did exist, as he says, “in a black hole”, void of funding and support from TV, radio and large tours alike.

Germs singer Darby Cash best sums up the scene and album in the final whining seconds of the opening ‘Forming’. After three minutes of the band rattling on with their heads down (subsequently influencing our own Graffiti Island in sloppy sound) the front-man self-deprecates, “We’re playing it all wrong/The drums are too slow, the bass is too fast, the chords are all wrong.” And then the track does what it has spent its whole life threatening to do – it falls apart, unremorsefully. And this sense of reckless abandon, and open slackness, is what ties together the other nineteen bands and twenty-five songs found on this collection of playfully nihilistic punk songs. From the British sounding Dils, who snarl, “I hate the rich” and thrash not unlike The Buzzcocks to Consumers and their proto-speed-stadium-metal, none of these underground bands claim to be as sophisticated or technical as Genesis, because pompous prog rock is what made them start making this brattish, loose racket in the first place.

As you’d expect – of Savage and a forgotten alternative scene – most of ‘Black Hole’’s bands are either familiar in name alone or are completely unheard of until now (with the exception of Dead Kennedys and their staple offering, ‘California Uber Alles’), and their anti-establishment rants range from the ghoulish and funky (The Alleycats) to the threateningly sexy (The Zeros’ ‘Wimp’) to the weird and borderline unlistenable (Black Randy & The Metro Squad’’s mornic ‘Trouble At The Cup’). A band like the ever-sinister Screamers meanwhile suggest how punk rock can be at its most frightening (and sarcastic and clever) when dialled down to a pace less frantic than most associate with picking up a guitar for the first time, and Urinals, who provide the title track, even dare to prove that the friendless genre and hippy psych can live together quite brilliantly, which is just one more reason why ‘Black Hole’ is a perfect introduction to a scene that should be remembered.

By Stuart Stubbs

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