Drug Free America
Me, I’m from the city. That’s not my fault or yours, man, it’s just the way it is, and even though the football players and drug nerds probably whooped it up to QR and Def Lep at keggers aplenty back then, Teen Demons in my town had options. Looking back, maybe I should have spent a little more time working on getting laid and a little less on hanging around the newsstand dressed like the dude from Fields of the Nephilim, reading English music papers like the NME, Sounds, and Melody Maker and chain-smoking menthols, but hey, at least I knew who Disco 2000 were.
Throwing Crazy Shapes
My primary musical obsession back then was Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, and his whole high-tech Jesus-biker-savage-freakbeat-sex messiah routine, so I read the papers every week, scanning for the latest Z skinfo, and sniffing out the inevitably coattail riders. Out of Zod’s fertile cartoon Viking-scape sprang a myriad of rock, cock, and shock-a-delic bands, all of ‘em larger than life and driven by thudding machine-beats and sledgehammer guitars. Pop Will Eat Itself dragged the Z-aesthetic straight into the disco inferno, merging hairy-scary rawk with Sigue Sigue Sputnik futuristic bleeps and blips and even primitive whiteboy hip-hop, and for one brief moment (the Box Frenzy LP), they nailed it. Crazyhead dressed just like the Love Reaction, and even ripped ’em off wholesale for their first few singles, before fizzing out on a warmed over biker-billy sound. Goth-pop Weird Girl Danielle Dax dropped her puppy killer routine for one glorious Zod-inspired sleaze metal single, “Cat House”, and Wendy James’s T Rex-riffing glitter-pop band Transvision Vamp were like the Love Reaction’s pink puffball doppelgangers. Gaye Bykers on Acid, as the name would imply, played Z-esque psychedelic, Stooges-fried motor-rock, and the Almighty, hell, you could barely tell the difference between the two bands. But out of all the Tattooed Beat Messiah-bes running amuck in the UK in the late 80’s, the band that stomped on all their neon skulls was Drug Free America, a bunch of barking-mad ex-new wave freaks dressed in ‘Nam chic threads so super-swank, they very nearly out-cooled the Love Reaction’s Nazi-biker leather warrior look. Even better, they sounded the way they looked, like combat shocked maniacs looking to make you dance with machinegun fire. They had dirty, thumping death-disco beats, they had thick, sick Big Black-style bass rumblings, they had dive-bombing sleaze metal guitars, and they had a dude in mirror shades and a camo-covered helmet up-front who sounded like 17 packs of cigarettes, barking out psychotic neo-beat poetry through a crackling megaphone. Ok, so they couldn’t synchronize their stage moves like the Love Reaction and their singer never fucked any Banaramas in the ass in the back of any shiny black limos like Z did, but Drug Free America still knew how to spread their disease all over the place, baby.
Drug Free America rose from the ashes of Vicious Pink Phenomena, a sex-obsessed British new wave duo from the early 80’s. Brian Moss, the synthro-pimp, and Josie Warden, the minidress-sporting crooner, recorded a slew of semi-chart burners like “Fetish” and “Take Me Now”, from 1982 to 1986. Their space-porn disco tracks have been endlessly remixed ever since, and one such hi-fi sci-fi hit, "8:15 to Nowhere”, has been released in no less then ten different versions. I know, you don’t care, but hey, legend has it that Brian Moss beat up Sisters of Mercy front-grump Andrew Eldritch in 1984 for hitting on Warden, so it’s not like he was a total pussy, even if he was making puffball astro-pop at the time.
I feel Like a Truck, It’s Kicking In Good
VPP dissolved in 1986, and a year later, Moss formed Drug free America with gravel-throated vocalist Steve Dixon, who went to art school in the late 70’s with Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, and even formed an (I’m guessing) insufferably precocious synth-punk band with Marc and the equally young n’ arty Fad Gadget. Luckily, there was no trace of ‘art school’ left in him when he teamed up with Moss. Their first single, “No Solid Ground/Throw a Crazy Shape” was released in 1988, on Blind Eye records. Beating Life Sex and Death by at 4 years, they launched a neo-metal glamdirge assault of crazy-angry-guy howls and buzzsaw guitars. “No Solid Ground” was pure adrenaline (“Enough ain’t enough/on the killing floor”), and “Throw a Crazy Shape” was like Jim Thirwell reeling from a vicious sucker punch, dizzy and mean and feral. Machine rock was still in it’s research and development stage in 1988, so nobody knew exactly what Drug Free America was up to, but they knew what they liked. DFA got the royal treatment in all the papers and scuttled up the indie charts.
Later on that year, they dropped their most devastating payload, the “Dayglo Pussycat” 12” single. They (there’s actually 4 dudes on the cover, but I think two of ‘em are just stand-ins) look like sinister napalm addicts from Planet 1975 on the stark, black and white cover. They’re all shades, leather, chain mail, skull rings (and skull belt buckles), bullet belts, beards, and scowls, a buncha dirty motherfuckers that just lost a real nasty-ass war. Total badasses. Inside, A-side “Dayglo Pussycat” sounds like Zodiac’s Prime Mover as mangled by some insane Vegas show band with jungle rot. Flash metal guitars smash headlong into new-wavish synths, a horn section, tribal warfare drums, and Dixon’s skuzzy yelling. “There’s a million hearts/waiting to be broken”, he growls. “Let the tears flow! Let them flow!” A classic of mean-spirited excess, “Dayglo” is pure sleaze set to a broken-necked sex-disco beat.
The flip has two tracks. “Zero” is a cinematic, goth-tinged, evil-cowboy sin-stromental, and “Candy Revisited” mixes spy jazz horns, splattery industro-beats, acidic sleaze riffs, and more of Dixon’s venomous bellow. I’m not sure what it’s about, but it SOUNDS like murder.
In 1989, after two more successful singles, DFA released Attitude 50 Cents, their first full-length, and their last before heading in a completely different direction.
“Attitude” contains most of their hits (although “Day Glo Pussycat” is conspicuously absent) including the devastating “Just Like Daddy’s Gun”, which is pretty much the growl n’ roll equivalent of a belligerent drunk that stumbles over to your table to call you “fuckface” and pour his beer in your lap, right in front of your girl, for 7 minute straight. It’s also got the amazing “Viva Viet Vegas”, a brawling epic of stabbing horns, thumping drums, whirring chopper blades, Satanic-panic vox, and the “Pretty Woman” riff tortured and mutilated beyond repair, as well as the manic robo-sleaze madness of “(Talkin’ bout)Your Brand New Auto-mouth”, and an unsettling orchestral third act that will have you convinced that you are about to meet you maker, and he is none too fuckin’ pleased to see you. It’s some fucked-up record, Jack.
Nostalgic for the Future
Understandably, Drug Free America didn’t catch on with Drug Addled America AT ALL, even with the hardcore Foetus-heads. DFA’s vision of barbed-wire sleaze didn’t exactly mesh with the Crue’s hookers and blow aesthetic, ya know? In those waning days of Flash Metal Supremacy, bands were getting increasingly literal and obvious– also-rans like biker glam meatheads Little Caesar and tepid, half-Japanese sleazesters Cats in Boots were beating the formula into the ground, sopping up the last 30 seconds or so of hairmetal’s 15 minutes before it all dried up completely. Bands like Drug Free America and other like-minded Brit beat-aholics – World Domination Enterprises, Meat Beat Manifesto, Renegade Soundwave, Slab – were offering a tantalizing new road for flash metal to travel down, opening up a mind-bending new vista of sexy, sleazy sounds. However, besides Zodiac Mindwarp’s disastrous attempt at Flashbeat Metal, “Hoodlum Thunder”, and White Zombie’s much more successful reinvention as superdisco mecha-metalbeasts with 1992’s “La Sexocisto”, nobody bit. So we got grunge and fuckin’ Candlebox instead. Lucky us.
Although they continued to do well in England, shortly after “Attitude”, DFA called it quits for 3 years, eventually remerging in 1992 with a new album, “Trip”, a complete and utter Flash Metal Suicide that dropped the ‘Nam-metal freakshow for a straight-ahead electro-dance sound. In 1994, Dixon left, and was replaced by Hayley Windsor, a Bjork-alike in PJ Harvey skin. She sang on DFA’s next two albums, and continues to perform with Moss in the bass-driven electronica outfit Mirazma. How the machine gun turrets and flame throwers and corrosive drug riffs and slimy screams gave way bubbling synths and the frothy chirp of Windsor is anyone’s guess, but suffice to say, despite lyrics like “Sliding down a rope to hell, he feels a little higher, arm your RPG, take aim and fire” (from Mirazma's “To Give Death”), Moss doesn’t look like he’s gonna strap on his bullet belt and head hell-bound for Viet Vegas again anytime soon. But hey, at least we had 1989, right?
- Ken (former 80's Teenage Sleazegrinder turned grizzled Demonologist)