Ruts DC – Counterculture?

  • Peter Hough posted
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Ruts DC Counterculture?

Ruts DC

Counterculture? - Sosumi Recordings

In many ways, the much-loved and revered Ruts DC are British music’s best kept secret, a band that have kept a particular kind of faith since the tail end of first wave of British punk. They never did showbiz, never became cartoon figures in off-the-peg punk fashion. The original Ruts were scarily tough, brutally musical and pumped with a kind of furious energy that saw them ride that wave of scene popularity that also gave us Max Splodge and Plastic Bertrand. Yeah, where there’s a Lord Mayor’s Show there’s always a shit cart. That wave broke with a particular ferocity with the loss of frontman Malcolm Owen to heroin in 1980 and, ebbed to nearly nothing when founding and by then very occasional guitarist Paul Fox succumbed to cancer in 2007. But to frame Ruts/Ruts DC‘s career in terms of a relatively short-lived and often wretchedly inept musical fad from back in the day would be doing them a massive disservice. This was an outfit steeped in musicality from the outset, with roots in funk and dub. Where The Clash and others dabbled in reggae, Ruts were living and breathing anti-racist causes, playing Rock Against Racism benefits and bringing elements of heavy dub and reggae into their canon from the start. They walked the walk because that’s what they loved to do and because it was the right thing to do. This dogged belief in themselves and their causes and their refusal to play any kind of entertainment industry games put them firmly on the outside of the business. And here they have remained, steadfast and innovative while the world revolves around towards them.

The Ruts

From the throbbing opening of Faces In The Sky forwards, Counterculture? is a fierce, menacing and muscular piece of work that draws upon favourite themes – questioning unthinking subservience to a bad system and a society sleepwalking while everything crumbles around them. It’s protest music from band simultaneously on the outside at yet at the heart of everything. There’s a restrained power in these 11 tracks that showcases a lifetime’s understanding of dynamics and melody. As a band they have the musical firepower and chops to realise any soundscape they want. Effortlessly accomplished with no need for flamboyance, just the necessary texture and dynamics to bring the songs to vivid life. This ability is ably proven in the band’s semi-acoustic set, captured admirably on 2021’s Electracoustic album.

Ruts DC don’t chase a sound or tip their hats to musical trends. Quite the opposite. They can dip in and out of genres at will, yet never relinquish that quintessential Ruts DC sound. Born Innocent revisits the band’s love of reggae and is a growling, grumbling slab of dub, and then title track Counterculture? is riff-laden, galloping almost Iron Maiden-esque metal. Pop is on the menu too. XRay Joy is an almost breezy ditty, while Too Much is mid-tempo polished pop with an off-kilter 80s flavour, replete with pushed-back chiming guitar under the chugging rhythm. It’s a long stretch to the haunting and cinematic Poison Games, which is a kind of unsettling Tales Of The Unexpected-type TV show theme. Sleep is menacing, bass-heavy and reverberant. A malevolent and grinding lullaby with unearthly slide guitar and disconcerting stereo effects. For Cyclone, the band launch a hostile takeover of The Travelling Wilburys, replete with a delicate and haunting synth undertone. Closing track, if anyone listens to albums sequentially anymore, is Pretty Lunatics, which is a pure and perfect 90s spaced-out trebled-up bass riff coiling around a simple and affecting structure with a message expressed chillingly simply: “All in all, we need you standing tall, all these pretty lunatics don’t matter at all.” It’s a sly wink to an era, with its mesmerising, slowed down, hazed out All Apologies vibe.

Ruts DC

If this stylistic promiscuity sounds alarming, don’t worry. This is 100% Ruts DC and a fine successor not only to Music Must Destroy, but also The Crack and everything in-between. But don’t put these albums in a line, they’re all part of one evolving masterwork. Keep listening and keep the faith. Highly, highly recommended.

Counterculture? is out now on Ruts DC‘s own Sosumi Recordings.