Counterculture? by Ruts DCRelease date: November 11, 2022
Label: Sosumi Recordings
Long story short. The Ruts first single ‘In a Rut’ came out in 1979 on People Unite followed by ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Something That I Said’ and ‘Jah Wars’, the latter three appearing on their debut album The Crack. The album was an insightful look at urban Britain, the tracks ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Jah Wars’ and ‘S.U.S.’ especially incisive in their use of social commentary as resistance. In March 1980 the band released their fifth single ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ but then in July, following a struggle with heroin addiction, lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead. A sixth single ‘West One (Shine On Me)’ was released in August. In two years The Ruts had released six singles and an album that set a new standard in punk for musicianship and lyricism that has rarely been equalled since. Virgin put out another album Grin and Bear It, a mix of live tracks, B Sides and the last two singles.
The remaining three members of the band, Paul Fox, Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy felt they should continue and became Ruts DC releasing Animal Now in ‘81 and Rhythm Collision in ‘82 before calling it a day in 1983. And that appeared to be that until 2007 when the three members reconvened for a one off benefit gig for Paul Fox (who had been diagnosed with cancer) with Henry Rollins as lead vocalist.
However, things evolved, Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy worked on some tracks together which eventually became Rhythm Collision Vol. 2, in 2014 a live album followed. And then in 2016 the Ruts DC (now including Leigh Heggarty on guitars) released Music Must Destroy, a rock album of such extraordinary quality that Viva Le Rock made it their Album of the Year and one reviewer described it as ‘possibly the finest rock’n’roll album you are likely to be aroused by this year, maybe this decade (1). Music Must Destroy crackles with energy, compassion and righteous anger dealing with, amongst other things; mental health, misuse of power, the need for tolerance and unity-each subject dealt with in a mature and thoughtful way. It is an album of unprecedented relevance for the UK in the 21st Century.
And now it’s 2022. We’ve had six years of the shitshow that is Brexit and its aftermath. The brazen, not really bothered if you know, corruption of a Tory government intent on savage class war. A media whose gaslighting narrative would confuse you and rewrite history.
And a new Ruts DC album. Counterculture? ‘Was there ever an age with more reason to rebel?’
That’s a quote from an interesting accompanying text in the press release, which may be in the album’s artwork, asking questions about counterculture; what it is, what it comprises of. In many ways, Dunstan Bruce’s one man show ‘Am I Invisible Yet’ asks similar questions from the perspective of an ageing/aged anarchist. What does living in a way that prefigures a better tomorrow look like? How do we keep that vision of a better society alive? What have we learnt (are learning) that we can use now to help bring about a better future?
You’ve been on Facebook, you’ve read the comments, you know that ‘the punk scene’ can be just as reactionary, just as right wing, just as bigoted as the world around it. The Ruts DC text continues to remind us that the counterculture doesn’t consist of fashion accessories or events attended, you can’t buy it. It consists of individuals in networks/communities living lives based on, and expressing, a different set of values, a different social vision, a different set of social relations from the discourse that shapes the society, the mindset, around them. On this album Ruts DC reaffirm their position as part of that Counterculture.
The album kicks off with ‘Faces in the Sky’, a sense of unease pervades the track, like walking home sober waiting for things to kick off around you, “This a song for the dispossessed. The undiagnosed and the great unblessed. Brothers and sisters have we come to this? Have we come to this?” Surveillance, drones, A.I. Who to believe? The experience of the disempowered. Our own complicitity/ignorance, “Most of you people are fucking clueless”. Althusser’s ISA and RSA (2). As openers go this sets the bar extremely high.
‘Caught in the Kill Zone’ keeps the pace up, “10,000 tears must fall, take me back where I belong. 10 million standing strong, again, again, again, again. 10,000 tears must fall, take me back where I belong. 10 billion standing strong’…Born alone and we’re caught in the kill zone. For too damn long we been caught in the Kill Zone”. Seems to be about the love/hate relationship with place, how it can constrain us, how we and place can be mutually constitutive, reproducing each other.
‘X Ray Joy’ is lyrically and musically superb, acoustic guitar, “Bored and ignored we pick up the sword. The sword cuts the word and the word is adored, But sometimes the words open the door to the pain”. Initially I wondered if this song was about Malcolm Owen but “I can’t pretend I ever knew you well” and “She’s lost control gotta sing out” made me reconsider. It’s a beautiful, powerful song to people we’ve known.
“I ask the question-I get no answer, I ask the question-I get no answer. Who is the servant and who is the master. I ask the question, I asked a question’…We are not servants, we serve no master, we are not servants, we serve no master”. ‘The Question Is…’ explores themes of power and hidden truths.
‘Born Innocent’ in some ways sums up the first side of the album, themes of questioning, of power, of questioning power. Some of the lyrics are in the form of a prayer which seem to be questioning organised religion while asserting some of the core values of Jesus’ teachings of treating other people as you would like to be treated. It also asserts that people cannot be reduced to their physicality, there is more to a person than their body. Intriguing track. Slower paced, it sets the scene musically for a lot of the second side.
The title track ‘Counterculture?’ starts side two with “I get stressed before I’m even dressed, I must confess it’s a very testing time. I’m distressed cos I’m under duress, we gotta stay untied yet unified…What happened to the Counter culture? The dreams they sold yer, the lies they told yer? What happened to the voice of freedom? That kept us breathing. Did we stop believing?” ‘Counterculture?’ picks up some of the themes explored in ‘Kill the Pain’, of Derrida’s concept of hauntology, a sense of nostalgia for lost futures (3). “…Got to break the chain to stay in the game”.
The rest of side two is slower paced without the quality never dropping, remembrance of significant encounters and relationships, toxic relationships and/or a swipe at an ex-PM on ‘Poison Games’, “B liar B still”? ‘Cyclone’ is a call for unity, an expression of empathy for the struggling and the broken, while ‘Pretty Lunatics’ is a dismissal of those who the establishment would portray as impressive and important.
I wondered if Ruts DC could follow up Music Must Destroy with an album of equal quality and relevance. The good news is they have!
Ruts DC are playing:
18/11- Exeter Phoenix
19/11- Southampton Brook
20/11- Cardiff Globe
21/11- Oxford O2 Academy
22/11- Stoke Sugarmill
23/11- Glasgow St Lukes
26/11- Liverpool Arts Club
28/11- Sheffield O2 Academy
29/11- Bristol Thekla
30/11- Nottingham Rescue Rooms
02/12- Birmingham Institute
03/12- London Islington O2 Academy
1. Pete Ringmaster, 2016, Ruts DC-Music Must Destroy, https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/ruts-dc-music-must-destroy/
2. Althusser, Louis. n.d. On Ideology (London and New York NY: Verso Press).
3. Fisher, M. (2014), Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, Zero Books, Winchester UK/Washington USA