In a moment of particularly spoiled kvetching during the recent tour film Low in Europe, frontman Alan Sparhawk discussed his most loathed road duty: “I really hate carrying our luggage out of the hotel and into the van.”
Excuse me, did he say hotel? Even at their brattiest moments during 1999’s “it’s such a bore to be famous” whine-fest documentary Meeting People is Easy, Radiohead couldn’t manage to mope about actually having a decent place to sleep at night. It’s especially surprising to hear this gripe from Sparhawk since Low have no doubt spent their fair share of time sleeping on floors in the past. You would think that his body at least would carry the memory of all those stiff and sore mornings.
Some bands never get it so easy. And Soul Jazz wants to make sure you know that one of those bands was As Mercenarias.
Liner notes included with The Beginning of the End of the World do an appropriate job of sizing up the trials and tribulations found in being an all female post-punk band in 1980’s Brazil. Plagued by label disinterest, audience ambivalence, extreme poverty and military dictatorship, As Mercenarias certainly didn’t have a cake-walk. Given the extreme difficulty of setting up extended tours in South America, they probably didn’t have a van either. Never mind a hotel room.
It is this sense of desperation that makes listening to The Beginning of the End of the World so exciting. As Mercenarias dedicated themselves to making punk music in a climate where their dissent was particularly relevant and where there were few — if any — material rewards to be had for their efforts.
Most importantly, the music still stands up. Gathering together songs from the entirety of their career, the record begins with relatively straight ahead punk anthems “Policia” and “Panico”, but develops with each passing song into more unique territory that’s just as interesting as anything their UK peers were doing. In songs like the mathy “Ha Dez Anos Passados” and “Somos Milhoes”, As Mercenarias rise above their influences and stake out a unique voice that makes the record valuable as more than just a curiosity.
In a time that might be called an “indie-boom”, where bands sometimes invited maximum exposure with minimal effort (Low not included here), it’s invigorating to be reminded that for some people the difficult path was worth taking. It’s hard to say whether The Beginning of the End of the World will enjoy the kind of influence and popularity that other Soul Jazz compilations (particularly those of ESG and A Certain Ratio) have been granted, but it is certainly worthy of similar praise.