Vancouver occupies a special place in Canadian musical history. Stuck out on the West Coast, far away from the musical capitals of Toronto and New York (to say nothing of London), Vancouver’s independent scene fed itself on records and rumours from those fabled and faraway places and grew strong.

With no record company A&R reps within a thousand miles, the punk rockers of Vancouver were left to make their own album. In 1978 various punk bands, inspired by the example set by Stiff Records’ Akron scene sampler, decided to record a track or two each in a suburban eight-track studio. By the spring of 1979 they were done. One fundraising show and a surprise gift to top up the fund for the pressing and copies were ready. 'Vancouver Complication' – named after its torturous gestation – was born. Twenty one tracks were fitted onto the 12-inch disc, and as one would suspect it’s a musical grab bag.

The best known contributor is DOA. (The Sudden Death record label, owned by DOA main man Joey Shithead, is responsible for the compilation’s reissue.) The group’s chainsaw punk rock, like their mates’ the Subhumans, is tough, angry, often funny. The Dishrags’ snotty punk rock has a similar feel; the band opened for the Clash on the latter’s first North American show. The Pointed Sticks 'Marching Song' echoes the Buzzcocks, Exxotone’s synthesizer-tinted moper 'Big Shot' and their 'Sideways' have been devolved a la Devo. Active Dogs' 'Fun While It Lasts' comes off a bit like XTC (though it was probably recorded too early for any active influence).

Other performers seem more wedded to skinhead glam rock stomp (e.g. No Fun’s 'Mindless Aggression') or pub rock (Private School’s 'Rock & Roll Radio'). The K-Tels 'I Hate Music' has Jonathan Richman’s unstudied charm (after budget record company K-Tel got wind of their name, the band quickly transformed into the Young Canadians).

U-J3RK5’s tinker-toy spazz-rants 'U-J3RK5 Work for Police'and 'Naum Gabo' beat modern-day nutcases like Les George Leningrad to the punch by 25 years.

Many punks will probably find Tim Ray and A.V.’s 'New Clientele' too New Wave, while 'Pork U' by BIZ is a humorously blunt take on 60's pop love songs. As for what the more straight-jacketed punks thought of the one man synthesizer-and-guitar weirdout 'e295'by {e}, one fears to ask …

As with any scene primer, there are a few holes: Vancouver’s first punk band, the Furies, didn’t last long enough to make the cut, though singer Chris Arnette did make it on as part of the Shades. (Jim Walker, the Furies’ drummer, flew to London with the plainly ridiculous idea of getting into a band with Johnny Rotten - worked, though: That’s him drumming on PiL’s first album.) And leaving off the DOA/Subhumans/Stiffs song 'Fuck You' is akin to publishing a primer on London punk and leaving off the Sex Pistols’ 'God Save The Queen'.

The reissued compilations adds another song by the Dishrags and one by Tim Ray (this time fronting the Druts), as well as three nautical tracks ('Tits on The Beach', 'Sea Cruise'and the theme from 'Gilligan’s Island') by Rude Norton, one of Vancouver’s joke “fuck” bands.

Most of the acts lived and died in their local scene, but a few names did cross over; Chuck Biscuits, a member of DOA and the Subhumans later served as a drummer for Social Distortion and Danzig, Jade Blade of the Dishrags resurfaced in Volumizer in 2001, Art Bergmann had a lengthy solo career.

A few of the bands - Subhumans, Young Canadians, Pointed Sticks, The Dishrags – lived long enough to put out albums or compile enough material for post mortem compilations.

Outside of music, Gerry Hannah of the Subhumans took their song 'Urban Guerilla' to heart and joined a terrorist group called Direct Action, who bombed an “environmentally unfriendly” hydroelectric plant and a Toronto factory that supplied parts for cruise missile plant (he went to jail for 10 years as a result). U-J3RK5 organist David Wisdom went on to a prominent career as an announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Other scene compilations followed: The New Wave worshiping 'Things Are Still Washing Ashore' and the excellent 'Last Call: Vancouver Independent Music 1977-1988', but 'Vancouver Complication' still remains one of the best compilations to capture the birth of punk rock in one city.








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