Thermonuclear Youth: A Guide to Punk’s Feral Kids

We know all about the Sex Pistols and Ramones. But what about the children? Step back in time with our hero Ed Zed of legendary kid punk band The Walking Abortions, as he recalls, recommends, and celebrates the finest noise-making, sneery, juvenile delinquent bastards in punk history and celebrates the brat that lives in all of us. Up yours, mine, and everybody’s…

Ah, punk…What a parent it was. A drunken, louche, overly permissive parent who nonetheless shepherded me through the turbulent landscape of my youth pretty damned well.

It helped me at age 12, for instance, to swap the nighttime vandalism born of my prepubescent angst for a slightly worthier pursuit: singing and drumming in a band called The Walking Abortions. Well, I did say a slightly worthier pursuit. But more on that later.

Most of punk’s surviving progenitors are now approaching pensionable age, some of whom—for better or for worse—are still flying the flag of the movement that first radiated its shockwaves four and a half decades ago. Nothing wrong with that of course. I mean, if one views punk as the people’s culture, then surely it shouldn’t discriminate against something as inexorable as human aging, right? Depends on who you ask, I suppose.

For me, no matter how far I may stray in time and taste from the raucous path it originally sent me down, I know that a kernel of punk will remain at my core ‘til I pop my clogs. There’s no denying, however, that punk is often at its most potent when sparking those white-hot fires of youth, something that seems in no danger of ceasing as long as there are pissed-off squirts in the world.

As one such former squirt, I’ve always loved punk rock made by kids—for its rawness, its naïveté, and its honesty, unfettered by the rigors of this sham called adult life.

And that, my pogoing kin, is what brings us here today: We are diving into the glorious world of the child punks. The bands and their wicked ‘n’ wild anthems featured below are in no particular order (which seems fitting), but I’m starting with Eater, as they were the first of the punk tykes I ever encountered. So without further ado…

Eater – ‘Thinkin’ of the USA’ (The Label, 1977)

Despite not always being taken seriously by certain members of the so-called punk elite, cheeky 15-year-olds Eater were a bonafide part of the first wave of UK punk, and bloody great to boot.

They were a huge influence on my own brat punk outfit, particularly their second single ‘Thinkin’ of the USA’, which really spoke to us in its yearning for excitement beyond the monochrome world of London’s fringe towns.

Coincidentally, my nascent troupe formed a friendship with Eater’s vocalist Andy Blade after we found out he worked in our local offy (that’s a liquor store to you, America). 

At age 16 I very briefly played drums for a reformed version of Eater, and Andy went on to manage one of my later bands, but that’s another story. Right now, get on down to this ’77 corker by the original teen degenerates:

Teddy and the Frat Girls – ‘Club Nite’ (Fartfaced Decadence, 1980)

This is without a doubt one of my favorite songs of all time. An exquisite, raving howl of unparalleled teenage delirium, ‘Club Nite’ pushes the needle straight through the red until it pops off, and the gauge glass shatters completely.

The lead caterwauler for this unholy platoon was the fabulously named Cookie Mold, 16 at the time the Frat Girls’ lone E.P. was recorded. 

Amidst a burgeoning drug habit and a strong desire to flee her native West Palm Beach, she and guitarist Spam Ax did just that, relocating to San Francisco where they proceeded to sell the reissue rights to the Frat Girls’ record to one Jello Biafra without ever consulting their other bandmates.

Regardless of the dubious morality of such a move, this wider pressing on Alternative Tentacles did allow far more of the world to be exposed to the horrific aural splendor of Teddy and the Frat Girls, and in my humble opinion that is exactly what the world needed. And very much still does.

The Prats – ‘Disco Pope’ (Rough Trade, 1980)

I first heard The Prats on the legendary Earcom 1 compilation, and couldn’t believe how such an amateurish-sounding band could deliver a song as catchy as ‘Inverness’.

Even though me and my mates initially made fun of their ramshackle racket, that soon changed when we heard the ‘1990s Pop E.P.’ which contains what I consider to be their greatest track, ‘Disco Pope’. 

‘Pope’ is something of a Prats mission statement, voicing their disillusionment with the confines of punk itself and a yearning for fresh new territory.

For these lads to be thinking in that way at such a young age was incredibly inspiring to me as a wee snot a decade hence, and I like to think that they helped me to eventually look beyond ‘the punk bang crash’ and ‘Sham and The Clash’ myself (not that I would ever totally leave those things behind of course 🙂

On a side note, when former Walking Abortions guitarist Sam Phetamin and I were in our 20s, we phoned the contact number on the back of ‘1990s Pop E.P.’ one inebriated night, and – unbelievably – got through to former Prat, Jeff Maguire, and had a long and lovely chat with him. Tragically, Jeff succumbed to cancer in 2020, but the legacy of his fabulous band of forward-looking punks lives on. 

Check this wonderful latter-day ‘Disco Pope’ video One Little Independent made to accompany the release of The Prats compilation ‘Prats Way Up High’ from 2020:

Fatal Microbes – ‘Beautiful Pictures’ (Small Wonder, 1979)

One of those records that belongs on the ‘can’t quite believe this even exists’ list, given the deeply unstable life of its main protagonist at the time.

14-year-old Honey Bane was uncharitably deemed a ‘juvenile delinquent’ by many, but then such sweeping classifications so often conveniently sidestep the complex issues of many a young life.

Amidst her myriad tribulations, Bane formed Fatal Microbes with three other young ‘uns in 1978, and though they were together for less than a year, they released during that time the now legendary ‘Violence Grows’ E.P. on the equally legendary Small Wonder / Xntrix labels.

The title track is a slow, ominous ode to the aggression and bystander apathy then (and still) so woefully prevalent on British streets, and while this stunning song is arguably their best known, it’s one of the E.P.’s b-sides that I love the most.

In ‘Beautiful Pictures’, a bracingly incisive satire of consumerist voyeurism, Bane sends up the vacuum of Pepsi-sheened pageantry to devastating effect.

She broke free from a detention center shortly after the Microbes split, teaming up with Crass to release the brilliant and harrowing ‘Girl on the Run’, but as space here is limited, dear reader, you’ll have to consult the interwebs for the remainder of her story.

Chandra – ‘Kate’ (GO GO Records, 1980)

Chandra Oppenheim’s ‘Transportation’ EP is a remarkable record in all sorts of ways, not least because it affords a view of tense early ’80s NYC through the eyes of a whip-smart 12-year-old.

Many of the songs on ‘Transportation’ are introspective, intellectual excursions that transcend the short years of their author, whilst others deal overtly – though no less eloquently – with more immediate ‘kid’ concerns, i.e. strangers, the perils of the subway, and in this case, the infuriatingly popular girl at school. 

‘Kate’ is hypnotically unsettling, baiting its ‘too nice’ subject as someone to whom ‘we offered help, but she didn’t accept’, before she is clinically dismissed: ‘we don’t want you, we can’t use you, you’re too good for us’. 

The track pits an uncomfortable battle between the crowd-pleasers and the cognoscenti, its sinister sing-song melody evoking a sneering playground taunt as young Chandra sticks the verbal boot in. 

Skinned Teen – ‘Punk Rockest’ (Soul Static Sound, 1993)

Widely regarded as the UK’s first true Riot Grrrl band – and certainly one of its most vital – Skinned Teen were an incandescent and hugely influential force of ’90s punk, with luminaries such as Kathleen Hanna and Beth Ditto citing them as an inspiration.

The excoriating ‘Punk Rockest’ from their first full-length E.P. ‘Karate Hairdresser’ is a short, sharp stab in the face of punk elitism, laying waste in just over one minute to the risible, rule-bearing ‘guardians’ of the culture. 

Asserting themselves as ‘more punk rock than you’ll ever be’ whilst ‘making it up as we go along’, Skinned Teen issue a stark reminder of why the freedom of DIY spirit is so essential to punk, and why misty-eyed, beer-bellied Clash disciples can really just shit off.

The ‘Karate Hairdresser’ E.P. is included here in full because the whole thing is so short. ‘Punk Rockest’ appears at 1:43:

The Silver – ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ (Black Label Series, 1980)

One of two seriously dementoid entries in this list (Teddy and the Frat Girls win the crown however), and a prime example of the riotous abandon with which kids can stomp all over music when they don’t have dullard grownups at their shoulders telling them how it’s ‘supposed’ to be done.

To even call Finnish 14-year-olds The Silver’s squalling deconstruction of Bobby Freeman’s candy-coated classic punk would be to pigeonhole it too much. The reality is closer to an outsider noise recording that borders on absolute formlessness—it sounds as though the two band members are punching their guitars rather than strumming them—whilst elsewhere pots and pans are beaten to scrap metal in the name of percussion.

At one point the song stops entirely as the band dissolves into a fit of giggles, and oh god, the whole thing is just fucking bonkers and beautiful.

Period Pains – ‘Daddy I Want A Pony’ (Damaged Goods, 1997)

Period Pains, the woefully short-lived Reading four-piece who gave the world ‘Spice Girls (Who Do You Think You Are?)’ in 1997, also served up this bitingly sardonic skewering of rich kid greed that very same year.

‘Daddy I Want A Pony’s hilarious lyrics are spat with insouciant glee over buzzsaw guitars and tumbling drums, and armed with corking tunes like this it’s not hard to see why the Pains were briefly Britain’s late ’90s punk cool kids.

The Walking Abortions once invited them to play a gig with us at our local youth club, and though we’d never have admitted it at the time, we were a bit jealous ‘cuz they were better than us. Of course, we can admit this now because we’re all mature, well-balanced adults.

Unit 3 with Venus – ‘Beer’ (Permanent Records, 1982) and ‘B.O.Y.S.’ (Posh Boy, 1982)

Venus wins the prize for the youngest band member featured in this whole piece, at a mere 8 years young when these dazzling tracks were hatched. Her mom, dad, and uncle formed the rest of Unit 3, with uber-cool Venus taking care of the vocals, and lordy, this lot were incredible.

Releasing only one E.P. and a few comp tracks before Venus grew somewhat weary of punk and decided to focus instead on school, Unit 3 burned bright in their briefness, and gave the world the spectacular synth-punk anthem ‘Beer’.

A forthright putdown of that time-honored substance we so-called grownups can’t seem to get enough of, ‘Beer’ tips the glass of adulthood squarely upside down and sloshes it down the toilet. 

Another of U3wV’s tracks ‘B.O.Y.S.’ is so freaking splendid that I had to make this one a double feature. Surfacing on Rodney Bingenheimer’s ‘Rodney on the ROQ Vol II’ compilation, ‘B.O.Y.S.’ catalogs the qualities a young lad should possess to call himself Venus’s friend, and the track is every bit as sweet as it is swaggering. 

Earth Dies Burning – ‘Another 6 Year Old’ (circa 1982, released 2013, Captured Tracks)

Something gnarly was brewing in San Fernando Valley in 1981, and it wasn’t just rising intonation. A posse of synth-punk whippersnappers calling themselves Earth Dies Burning with an average age of 14 blasted onto the CA scene that year, brandishing tiny Casio VL-Tone keyboards instead of time-honored guitars, and—at one point—coffee cans instead of a drum kit.

Although the band lasted about three years, criminally no one ever saw fit to release any of their divine recordings until 2013, when Captured Tracks flung ‘Songs from the Valley of the Bored Teenager’ into our jaded faces.

Every track on this comp is superb, but the itchy, nasty squall of ‘Another 6 Year Old’ is the jewel in EDB’s pubescent crown. The track was inspired by the preposterous news story of 6-year-old Nancy Jo Burch who hit a classmate with a stick, prompting the victim’s parents to demand that Nancy Jo be tried in court as an adult for the offense. Ah, Florida…….

The Walking Abortions – ‘Four White Walls’ (Incognito, 1996)

So…time for your humble scribe to take the stage, I s’pose. The aforementioned Walking Abortions— my own gaggle of barely teenage wastelanders—is probably the main reason I feel I have any right at all to pen this sprawling appraisal of some of punk’s bastard children.

That’s teen Ed in the leather telepathically telling us to f*ck right off.

In the short time we were together, the WAs’ revolving cast of misfits managed to get on national TV, play shows we probably had no business playing with the likes of Sham 69, The Damned, and Minty, and ‘work’ at the London retail HQ of popular ’90s trainers/sneakers, Acupuncture (i.e. smoke lots of cigarettes and steal things).

Somewhere along the line, a small German record label saw fit to release our first record, the ‘Handy Pany Tony Tandy E.P.’, which provides the best snapshot of our angry, angst-ridden din. And as track 3, ‘Four White Walls’, was the first ‘proper’ song we ever wrote, it seems like the one to feature here.

This downbeat ditty was partly inspired by my nan’s near-constant kvetching at having to live out the last of her days in the poky London flat she and I shared at the time, paired with the sadness and uncertainty I felt at her decline into what I now know was serious dementia.

The lyrics that 12-year-old scrote penned back in 1992 still kind of haunt me, as they came from a haunted place, but ‘Walls’ is also very dear to my heart in spite of that. Anyway, here it is, kids:

And in case anyone is curious about the kind of filth the UK’s Channel 4 saw fit to put on the telly back in 1994: 

Ed Zed (formerly Ed Ache in his Walking Abortions days) is a musician (sort of) from London, now residing in NYC. He is one half of a fractured pop duo with his wife Varrick, until recently known as The Casual Sexists. They’re now called Strange Flesh and have an EP coming out in November 2022, with an album to follow in early 2023.

Both incarnations of the band are bloody marvelous, and can be enjoyed both here and here.

  1 comment for “Thermonuclear Youth: A Guide to Punk’s Feral Kids

  1. tprocter40
    November 6, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    What a fantastic piece, thanks Ed for digging out these crackers (and thanks Hope for publishing). Skinned Teen brought back memories of reading clumsy pieces about Riot Grrrl in the UK music press, I remember The Period Pains too, and I’m sure I remember the Walking Abortions as well (hard to forget a name like that!), I definitely used to watch Naked City. But much of this I didn’t know, some great detective work – The Prats are great and that Teddy & The Frat Boys blast is something else! The Silver reminded me in attitude of the band in Lukas Moodysson’s brilliant ‘We Are The Best!’ which is a great film about punk kids trying to express themselves in the stifling face of school, selfish / indifferent parents, boredom and patronising local rockers. Anyway, thanks again for this, a great read and great listens. Any chance Ed is unearthing more gems for a second instalment??

    Like

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