Blood, Sweat & Teargas
Machineries of Joy
Sweden’s T.W.A.T. describe themselves as “Oi!BM”, which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin, a combination of Oi! Punk and Electronic Body Music. That’s not as disparate a mix as it might appear at first blush: from the jump, EBM has had a focus on “work” as a general concept (although usually minus the class issues that inform Oi) and the new oldschool movement has its share of bands working in a laddish mindset that isn’t too far removed from that of a band like Cockney Rejects or Cocksparrer. Still, it’s only on hearing their 2011 debut LP Blood, Sweat and Teargas that the concept really clicks; T.W.A.T.’s Martin Sax (also of EkoBrottsMyndigheten and Prototyp) and Mary Slevin Sax have totally committed to the idea, and are going full steam ahead with it, boots, braces and all.
A glance at the tracklist of Blood Sweat and Teargas gives a pretty clear indication of the sort of rude boy, UK Skin subject matter T.W.A.T. write about; even if the image of Sax and Slevin in full-on skin gear on the cover went unnoticed, song titles like “My Skin”, “Battleground” and “Working Class” get the point across. I won’t claim to be an expert on (or even have a basic knowledge of) Oi in Scandinavia, but it certainly seems like its themes localize well, the shouted “We are the rude boys/They are the IKEA people!” verse on “The Barricades” transplants the class identification issues that have always been a part of Oi to Sweden without much difficulty.
That attitude carries over into “Lazy Fuckers”, a mildly uncomfortable ode to those taking advantage of social programs to avoid work, and to “Sverige” a protest against the invasion of American style violence into Swedish society. In their use of broader and more universal ideas like rallying against authority (“Conformity”) and racial unity (“My Skin”) T.W.A.T. mostly manage to avoid aping any distinctly blue collar attitudes from the UK that might cause a disconnect for the listener. The only real misstep is on “Born and Raised”: the distinctly Irish synthesized fifes and drums are enough to cause a bit of cognitive dissonance when taken in the context of the “where I come from” lyrics.
Aside from the England/Sweden duplex at play in T.W.A.T.’s work, there’s the question of how well they reconcile punk and EBM. The answer is that they do it surprisingly well. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that these songs could just as easily be played on bass, drums and guitar, it’s moreso that the band knows how to situate the things they cherrypick from Oi, like the football chant on “Too Rude for Radio (Punked Up)” or the use of “Oi! Oi!” as punctuation on “Battleground”. Musically the songs point to the punk influence on EBM’s progenitors, “Choke” and “Bow and Obey” especially feel like they could have come from the D.A.F. catalogue, albeit sped up and dosed with some modern production technique. There are a few sounds that don’t originate in either camp, most noticeably the chiptune accents on “Run the Cameras” and the bubbling reverbed intro on “Conformity”. T.W.A.T.’s balancing act doesn’t leave much room to bring in additional elements without running the risk of dilution, but the effort is appreciated; if nothing else it points to a group with ideas that extend beyond a singular gimmick.
My concern before hearing Blood, Sweat and Teargas was the potential for the slightly peculiar crossover to be more fun in concept than in execution, thankfully the album is a solid first volley. The songs are catchy and performed with gusto, and at 40 minutes T.W.A.T don’t overextend themselves. Whether the premise of Oi!BM has legs beyond this record is still up in the air, but in this case, much like the class it claims, it works.