I was in London, England in the summer of 1980 only a few weeks after riots had ripped through the city. There were still store fronts in Portobello Road with fresh plywood where there once had been windows, and tension and tempers were still high. Most of the tension centered around mistrust of the police by the large black community in the city; unwarranted and over eager attention by the Bobbies towards London's blacks had been one of the causes of the riot.
One of the lead stories carried by the underground press while I was in town was of a black man, a Rastafarian, being picked up by the police on suspicion of planning arson because he was carrying a Jerry can filled with gasoline. The fact that the police hustled him to jail without doing anything to verify his claim that he'd run out of gas and was making his way back to his vehicle didn't do much for their credibility or their relationship with the black community.
It was Margaret Thatcher's England, and being poor or a minority, (and usually both) was tantamount to committing a crime. The train I took out of London passed through Brixton, where poor whites and immigrants lived stacked on top of each other; a powder keg of anger and resentment that had only needed the tiniest of sparks to blow the lid off. The rioting had started here and spread out across London with the beating up of of some South Asians by members of the neo-Nazi, skin head movement, The National Front.
Looking out my window at row after row of narrow streets crammed with row-housing, where the only relief offered was the occasional block of council flats, I could see how these neighbourhoods gave birth to [unk four years earlier in 1976. Punk was an expression of the anger and hopelessness felt by so many, as the "No Future" that the Sex Pistols sang about was a reality for most people under thirty living there. The Clash, Billy Bragg, and others worked to shape and direct the raw anger into resistance through songs like "Guns Of Brixton".
To me what always separated the real punks from the posers, were the ones who stayed true to those political roots. That didn't mean they had to be from the streets of Brixton, or even Brits, but they had to be working in the same spirit. I've known that bands are still out there, but I haven't seen anything that resembles the spirit of resistance that I remember from the 1980s until now with the Mental Records release of The T4 Project.
The T4 Project is the brain child of Mental Records producer Shannon Saint Ryan, who composed the music, produced the CD, played guitar, and co-ordinated the community of musicians, artists, and technicians who worked together for two and a half years to bring the project to it's final fruition. The T4 Project is an eighteen track Punk Rock song cycle and companion graphic novel packaged together as a story based concept album. While that might sound more like the description of an album from one of the progressive rock dinosaurs, both the concept and the content of The T4 Project are far removed from the sort of pretentious clap trap that used to permeate those recordings.
The T4 of the title is a bacteriophage virus that propagates by invading a cell until its filled to bursting. Once the original host bursts the virus rapidly multiplies by infecting more cells within a body. The T4 virus is being used here as a metaphor for the manner in which societies indoctrinate young people with any means at their disposal so they conform to the status quo and be the link in the chain that passes the message along to those coming after them.
The booklet and the song cycle together tell the story of the virus and some of the people who are trying to resist being infected by it. Interspersed between the songs are samples of the way in which the world spreads the virus. These take the form of commercials; become an unthinking drone by joining the army, take a pill that cures cancer – potential side effects include may cause cancer. Or samples of speeches that reflect prevalent attitudes; a reminder to doctors not to cure patients, only to treat their symptoms so they don't put themselves out of business.
The music throughout is undeniably punk and is played by musicians representing bands from Germany, Canada, the United States, and of course Great Britain. The rhythm section alone included former Subhuman's drummer, Trotsky, from Germany, Spike Smith from England, whose drumming career has included Morrissey and The Damned, Jay Bentley of Bad Religion brought his bass from Canada, and The Buzzcocks' bass player Tony Barber, who now lives in the States.
In my mind the composition of those involved in putting this together is almost as important as the recording itself. It signifies that this project is more than just one person, or one band spouting off. Rather it's an attempt by a community of like minded people to give voice to what they believe in. Aside from the people named above, there were also guitarists and vocalists, all the technicians, a forty person choir, and the artists who worked on the graphic comic and other associated products who all had a hand in making this work.
In some ways The T4 Project is quintessential punk, in the way that it was put together and in the content that it offers. Punk was always marked by a do it yourself ethos that allowed performers to remain independent of record companies. Part of it was because labels initially didn't want anything to do with punks. So, if they wanted to record and distribute their music they had to do it on their own, but it was also a way of ensuring that they had complete independence when it came to what they produced. Nobody was going to tell them what they could play, how they should dress, or what they should say.
Punk was in of itself an antidote for the virus of imposed conformity and unquestioning obedience and with The T4 Project those involved have created a vehicle to bring that philosophy to life. For those of you who've forgotten how potent punk can be when played well and with passion, or those who never knew, than this disc is for you. Aside from all the philosophy and politics, it's still, first and foremost, about the music – and this a disc of great music.
As an added bonus if you slip The T4 Project into your CD ROM drive on your computer you get a video set to music from the disc showing scenes from its making. The T4 Project can be pre-ordered now and goes on sale May 13th 2008.