Various names were entertained for the fledgling group, with Bad Attitude serving as the band's name for a short period of time. Some archival posters exist with this name, featuring a cartoon of a man with a tuxedo, top hat, and bushy, handlebar moustache holding a revolver. However, the group eventually settled on the name Anarchy, as a nod the infamous Sex Pistols' song, "Anarchy in the UK." Even at their callow age, the band realized this name was a little too "on the nose," but they kept the name anyway.
Befitting the group's moniker, the bands' initial musical style was punk/hardcore. While the group played some cover songs (e.g., Black Sabbath, Motörhead, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag), the group primarily played original music, composed primarily by Baker.
As would be true throughout the band's career, Anarchy had its own unique spin on its chosen genre, which they facetiously referred to as "happy hardcore." While the music was certainly in the hardcore style and often contained dark, subversive lyrics, the music was typically written in a major key and contained unconventionally catchy melodies for the genre. This disconnect between the musical style and the lyrics and the music's harmonic and melodic structure, created an ironic tension that became the group's trademark. The band's lyrics addressed such themes as political corruption and authoritarianism (e.g., the group's eponymous song infamously began "Screw all the politicians and their fascist ambitions"), school indoctrination and conformity (e.g., "Ode to WHS," written after Baker was escorted from a school assembly for refusing to stand during the school song), and the folly of war ("Die on Command").
During this early period, the band struggled to find a lead vocalist and bassist. A revolving door of aspiring vocalists and bassists attempted to fill the roles, but all who were hired ending up departing, usually by their own choice. However, many of these folks went on to found their own musical groups, and in this way, Anarchy was an inspiration, incubator, and touchstone for young musicians in the area at the time. These personnel challenges led to Baker assuming vocal duties most of the time, which was less than ideal due to his bass voice, and the band doing without a bassist.
Even with this incomplete lineup, the band's early shows were something to behold — Reel's speed drumming and relentless cymbal crashing, Potts' lightning fast guitar playing and even faster, atonal solos, which were sometimes punctuated with guitar stunts such as playing behind his head and playing the tremolo bar with his foot, and Baker's ironic preaching of the band's unique gospel of cheerful free thought, nonconformity, and rage. A number of low-fi recordings were made of the band's early shows and rehearsals due to the fact that the band actively encouraged bootlegging and also recorded and circulated various low-fi recordings themselves.
The subversive potential of the band's music did not go unnoticed by authority. Among other things, local law enforcement officials unjustly accused the band of various, incredible misdeeds; ministers preached against the band from their pulpits, warning parents not to let their children listen to the band's music; and one of Baker's teachers even told him he should be "taken out and shot." Perhaps, this sort of reactionism is inevitable in a benighted small town when young people question authority, think for themselves, and encourage others to do so as well. However, the stone throwing did not discourage the band but only strengthened their resolve by proving the veracity of their message. The opposition also gave the band an edgy image, albeit mostly unwarranted, that appealed to and garnered many young supporters.
While the band played a number of house parties early on, its first "real" gig was a four-hour New Year's Eve event in 1988. The band booked the gig while still not having a vocalist or bassist. Since there was little hope of securing a vocalist and bringing her or him up to speed before the show, Baker and Potts agreed to split vocal duties for the show. However, playing the gig without a bassist seemed unacceptable. As a result, the band realized that either Baker or Potts needed to switch from guitar to bass. Both were willing to make the change, but Baker agreed to assume bass duties, as he believed Potts' idiosyncratic, Greg Ginn-esque lead guitar style was critical to the band's sound. Baker received a bass guitar for Christmas and, consequently, had less than a week to learn how to play. A two-cassette, widely circulated bootleg recording was made of this show, titled Live at the Midway. The recording is a treasure for Potts' fans, as it's one of the few recordings with Potts on vocals.
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The following are some vintage recordings from the Anarchy Classics of Early Years series. The recordings are very low-fi and the performances are … um … developing. OK, they stink. But the recordings make fun listening anyway, and the listener can easily see why the band was frequently asked to move. The MIDI files that follow better reflect the later, more mature versions of the songs in both performance and arrangement.
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