Reflections: Vice Squad’s Beki Bondage discusses the past and their latest EP, When You Were 17.
Earlier this month, in the midst of the UK’s lock down to prevent Covid-19, English punk band Vice Squad released a new EP titled When You Were 17. Originally formed in 1979, this latest offering shows they are fresh as ever, having lost none of their passion to either time or commercialism.
An excellent collection of four bone-crunching songs that were mixed entirely in their home studio, each track showcases lead singer Beki Bondage strong vocals against the powerful guitar riffs of long-time member Paul Rooney. Bassist Wayne Firefly and a few different drummers comprise a tight foundational rhythm section on which Bondage and Rooney construct songs as solid as brick shithouse. Each one is curvaceous, muscular and appealing.
Lyrically, Bondage’s keen intellect and observational skills stand front and centre. The title track–the best of the bunch–features a catchy main riff and reflects on the anger and passion of youth and how it changes as we grow older. Bar Code Babies and London Fog are equally solid pogo fodder and lament on the problems of modern technology and life in the big city. Beautiful Toy playfully reverses gender roles, with Bondage singing about a male who wears make-up the way a male singer would normally sing about a lady he met at a gig. The song plays broadly enough to archetypes and events that play out on any given night at a punk club in London that the gender of the person in question hardly matters. Unable to play live during the lock down, Ms. Bondage addressed this question and several others in an interview conducted via e-mail.
Walk me through the genesis of how you develop new songs. Does one person handle all the lyrics or it is collaborative with both words and music?
One of us comes up with a title or a riff first, usually a riff. Paul is responsible for most of the riffs and I’m responsible for most of the lyrics and vocal melodies. We sit down with guitars and construct musical parts first and then add lyrics. Sometimes we just play a beat and write a song over that. There are no set rules.
The song When You Were 17 looks back at the life of a young skinhead who has lost his rebellious streak. When you both look back to your youths, what do you think has changed about you the most?
When You Were 17 is about the innocence and arrogance of youth and how you come to realise that you knew nothing. My understanding of human nature has increased enormously since I was a teenager, as has my understanding of economics!!
There are a lot of articles written about how being young today is a lot different from what it was for our generation. In terms of the music business, what is the biggest change in the music industry you’ve seen since you were 17.
Most of the major labels have been eaten up by even bigger majors, and many of the larger independent labels no longer exist. There are thousands more artistes today because everyone now has access to the technology required to record music. This is both good and bad because it gives obscure bands a chance to be heard, but it also means there is little chance of them being discovered by a wider audience. There are thousands of other artistes competing for that audience. In the 80s if a label thought you had talent you could be signed and have a career, but now you’re more likely to grab the spotlight if you have money behind you. Although recording and making videos is cheaper, it still costs a lot of money to market music. At the top end, the industry still has gatekeepers so those with the most ‘push’ and money behind them are most likely to be heard.
Barcode Babies confronts the dangers of evolving technology to humans. Some of the technology arguably makes it easier for artists to create at home and get their music to the world efficiently. This EP was entirely recorded at home. The mix is great. Compare the home studio process of recording/mixing vs. a commercial studio. Do you have a preference? I would imagine having complete control is both liberating and a lot of work!
As a writer/composer, I like the control you get from working at home, but I don’t like the noise restrictions! The advantage of a commercial studio is you can sing at midnight. Plus, you have an engineer to help get the sounds you want. Paul and I have had to learn to be producers and Paul’s taught himself to engineer, so in effect our lack of money has made us self-sufficient. It is a lot of work but, when the result turns out well, it’s worth it.
Describe the technical process and specifically get into some detail on the video for When You Were 17.
The 17 video was one of two that we filmed on the same day. We filmed a video for the song ‘Ruination’ and had about an hour left so did ‘When You were 17’. We filmed it in a studio in Brixton by Stuart ’Studley‘ Stirling, he’s filmed us live a few times and has a very distinctive style where he uses lots of quick cuts. The first edit he did was a bit too comedic, no wonder considering how much we were clowning around, but we got him to make it a bit more serious looking. The skinhead in the video is Taylun Watts. Our drummer Ant Overman in Nottingham shot all that footage. I asked Ant to capture swagger, bravado and vulnerability from Taylun. Paul suggested he film him shaving, looking in the mirror and squeezing imaginary spots. Taylun went the extra mile and shaved his head on camera. I think Ant has definitely captured what I saw in my mind’s eye and more, he is very talented.
What’s next for Vice Squad, both short and long term?
We have a new album Battle of Britain ready for release. It was meant to come out on 1st May but we have put it back because of the lockdown. It’s disappointing for us, but nothing compared to what some people are going through at the moment.
We’ve started recording an album of acoustic songs. We recorded a couple for the live stream and people liked them and asked us to do more. You can really get inside the songs when you strip away the bombast of electric guitars and loud drums, and the lyrics are a lot clearer.
If the quality of this EP is indicative of the what we’re in for when Battle of Britain is released later this year, it’s going to make going to live gigs post-lockdown all the better.
The EP When You Were 17 is available now for download, CD and vinyl at vicesquad.co.uk