The Desperate Bicycles were formed in March 1977 specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label.
Three months later The Desperate Bicycles were back in the studio to record their second single and this is the result. “No more time for spectating” they sing and who knows? They may be right. They’d really like to know why you haven’t made your single yet. “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it” (the complete cost of “Smokescreen” was 153 pounds). The medium may very well have been tedium but it’s changing fast. So if you can understand, go and join a band. Now it’s your turn…………….’
The Desperate Bicycles set the initial standard for the Do It Yourself alternative. To cut mastering costs in half, they pressed the same two songs on either side of their first two singles (August '77 and Feb. '78), and they recorded in one take.
"We know what we're doing...What we know is how it sounds"
While punk fizzled in '78 in a wave of tunelessness and gobbing, more timid bands either plugged away at over-hyped (and again, tuneless) skinny-tie pop [Pleasers, Boyfriends] or diluted whatever other fresh ideas they might have had with ever-more expensive gear and slicker production values. So meanwhile John Peel and others were only too happy to play and promote the rising tide of self-produced, home-made vinyl.
Bands were more likely to list their production costs than to list their band-members' names. They were highly competitive about the former...and quite egalitarian about the latter.
"No more time for spectating"
The important thing was to get the music out and to do it independently, the main considerations being not just the end product but also the very means of production.
The means justified the ends; the promotion of a liberating and alternative way of doing music, bypassing the music business establishment justified their not sounding like Cheap Trick or even the MC5.
If you’re going to map out a history of DIY, you need to start with the Desperate Bicycles, and perhaps further back, The Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch, which started the step sideways from standard-order punk and hinted that self-realisation was a possibility for any group, should they choose to follow the darker trail. The first two Desperate Bicycles singles, ‘Smokescreen’ and ‘The Medium Was Tedium’, were intensely meta documents, the grunting jangle of the two singles almost a literal smokescreen for smuggling in, almost by the back door, an industrial lesson in how to liberate art from conglomerates and corporations. The third point of the triangle would be Scritti Politti, the Marxist collective who’d relocated from Wales to their Carol Street squat in London, got fired up by the Desperate Bicycles’ lead, and self-released an EP, Skank Bloc Bologna, on their own St. Pancras imprint, detailing the costs and contact details for producing your own record on the sleeve.
"They'd really like to know why you haven't released your single yet."
On the photocopied sleeve, Scritti Politi went one better than The Desperate Bicycles in the demystification stakes. The band exhibited an explicit do-it-yourself attitude, which manifested itself in their hand-made record sleeves with detailed breakdowns of production costs, including addresses and phone numbers of record pressing plants, and their own Camden squat address for feedback. They even produced a booklet called "How To Make A Record", which was given the catalogue number SCRIT 3, and aimed to be a comprehensive guide to recording and releasing a record for aspiring indie artists, based on Scritti Politti's personal experience of putting out their first three singles independently, plus extra research they'd done on the subject. By the time of the 4 A-Sides EP in 1979, the group had developed a sound described as "scrappy, taut, and forthrightly experimental in style, utilizing abrupt changes, rhythmic displacements, and gritty and discordant harmonies tempered by Gartside's sweet vocalizing of impenetrably obscure lyrics, vaguely political in sense but temporal and abstract in meaning.”
Two things differentiate DIY music from its potential precursors, however. One is the sheer weight of releases that flooded from the countless micro-scenes that made up the DIY diaspora – and even though this focuses on DIY from the United Kingdom, it was an international beast, albeit focused in the UK, USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The other thing that marks DIY out as its own beast is its intensely programmatic, self-aware nature.
As DIY collector Michael Train points out, “It’s an odd feature of DIY that it was created with its first record, and intentionally – usually genres get created by critics after the fact, or at a minimum by the second in the series, since that’s the only way you can have a type. (Or by marketers and enthusiasts years later, as with Minimal Wave.) But DIY came into existence fully fledged and knowing on the first Desperate Bicycles single – graphics, sound, and slogan. There was a template, and by Bicycles’ second single, even a set of instructions.”
The Messthetics Series was curated by long-time collector and dealer Chuck Warner, covering exclusively UK DIY post-punk produced between 1977 and 1983. The series was initially released on cdr and then subsequently as a series of regional compilations and discrete band collections on CD. It's an offshoot of the parent label Hyped To Death whose aim is to release rare, obscure, independent and undiscovered punk, post-punk, D.I.Y., and power-pop groups from the U.S. and the U.K. 1977-1984