ISSUE NO.150
SEPTEMBER 18, 2003
 
 
theBeat
'Exploited' Wattie's Not Dead
The Umpteenth Coming of Punk
By Craig Froehlich
 

hey came in uniform—poster- perfect punks in studded leather, proclaiming in cracked paint the many bands to which they swore allegiance. This night, for those attending the Sept. 11 Salt Lake City show, was a night for The Exploited.

The RED Interview

 
  Former soldier and presently pissed-off Wattie Buchan first embraced punk in 1977, then started his own political punk band, The Exploited.
   

In late 1979, while critics and even some punks declared punk rock’s demise, a former soldier from Scotland thought he’d give it a go and threw together a band. The members’ intimidating street-punk looks matched a reputation for starting riots and trashing hotels. They made furious, if vague, stabs at the establishment. They cursed war, touted anarchy and revelled in being pissed off, betrayed and, well, exploited.

Only one member from the early ’80s lineup made it to Club Bricks last Thursday, a fact not lost on Wattie Buchan, who started—and later saw—it all as the front man for The Exploited. A lifestyle fueled by alcohol and fury tends to erode friendships. “Years ago, I thought it was normal for guys to get pissed and to get in each other’s faces,” Buchan said. “Now I realize I was a bit of an idiot.”

Along the way, he took on his brother Willie as a member. He intensified the band’s sound, found new guitar players, made enemies in the press and on stage and never managed to get rich doing what he apparently loves— demonstrating that his brand of punk still has a pulse.

Buchan stalks about the stage and stares down the audience. Back in 1981, his boyish sneer and tall red mohawk arguably represented the archetypical punk for thousand of aspiring social misfits. He now brings to mind a diminutive, despotic alien. Long, tight braids the color of synthetic cherry sprout from a head heavy with piercing hardware. He barks out lyrics, points accusingly at an unseen oppressor and makes abbreviated lunges at the audience.

He knows what brings the kids off the streets and sings The Exploited’s signature songs with the same ferocity as the newer fare from the recent album Fuck the System. Songs like “Dogs of War” harken to days of shouting “Oi!” They lend themselves to the sing-alongs that Buchan asks from the audience every time he plunges his mic into the swirling humanity at his feet. The coup de grace “Sex and Violence” is a sort of Rorschach test for punks. The music and lyrics consist of melodically shouting “sex and violence” in varying cadences. In some it invokes celebration, in others a condemnation of pop culture. To some it’s just punk in a “Surfing Bird” kind of way.

Buchan discovered British punk in 1977. Bands such as the Sex Pistols wowed the 17-year-old, but the music itself eclipsed the players. “I heard it and I knew I was a punk. It’s pretty fucking simple,” he says. “I heard a band called Johnny Moped and the singer just sounded fucking horrible, but I liked it. So I thought—I can do that.”

Wattie’s singing—or according to his astute 8-year-old son, shouting—voice remains gruff, forceful and only hints at the thick Scottish brogue that becomes nearly indecipherable in conversation. “Wot?” he asks the request-yelping audience members. He then announces his decision in Gaelic…or something.

He finally gives in to recurring calls for the song called “Maggie.” He seems almost nostalgic when asked about the target of the song, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “She was a bit of a cunt, but at least she was honest,” he says. Buchan respects that. As for Great Britain’s current leadership, “Tony Blair is a total fucking, lying fanny wank.”

Tell the fucking truth. It seems a recurring theme with Buchan. He debunks the sincerity of his “punk is dead” anarcho-punk contemporaries, Crass.

“People listen to bands and believe what they sing about. Crass was just words,” he says. “They were full of shit. They said they believed in this and that, but bought record companies under other people’s names so it couldn’t be traced back to them. It was all about money with them.”

Buchan makes like Johnny Cash and extends some love to the audience.  
   

In contrast, Buchan continues to admire bands such as the iconic-to-a-fault Sex Pistols. “When they got back together in the ’90s, they admitted they did it for the money, all the money they never got the first time around. As long as you admit it, I respect that,” he says.

Buchan likely sympathizes with those who never reaped the rewards of music for which they bled both emotionally and physically.

He sits in the flickering interior of a battered hulk that doubles as a tour bus. When it’s all about the music, you attract plenty of other people who beg to differ. To them it’s all about money—your money. Punk itself complicates matters. In the world of punk, appearing on England’s “Top of the Pops”—as did The Exploited in 1981—was less an omen of bigger, better things than a death sentence. However, refusing never to give ammo to those yelling “sellout” makes little sense when the bus breaks down.

Recounting days of being hounded by British tax officials with only £400 to his name, Buchan sees it as yet another reason to keep going. “Real punk is to stand up for what you believe,” he said. “I regret nothing.”

Salt Lake punks seem a little bashful at the show. One expects— no, demands—that a crowd sporting mohawks and liberty spikes of every hue to come to a furious boil soon after the first power chord. At times, the pit merely simmers.

They’re just kids, Buchan points out. This is not a The Damned concert filled with 30-somethings bedecked in evening attire. Tonight, punk is for the young. Try to ignore the precocious aroma of clove cigarettes wafting from the all-ages crowd.

Despite the hard living and the hard music, punk soldiers on for another evening.

“If punk was dead, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Buchan said.
craig@red-mag.com

 
     
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