Despite their stellar punk credentials, many of the early punk bands still chose to sign to major labels. The Pistols originally signed to EMI, the Clash signed to CBS, Siouxsie went to Polydor and The Slits chose Island Records. So was this all just a great big sell out?
Fortunately for the massive Indie scene to come, this approach wasn’t for everyone, and out of the ashes of Punk’s big bang, the first of the Independent record labels started to take shape. Stiff Records first release was Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes” which rolled off the presses in August 1976, soon to be followed by The Damned’s “New Rose” in September ‘76.
Meanwhile, in Manchester The Buzzcocks borrowed £500 to record and release their EP “Spiral Scratch” in January 1976 on their own New Hormones label, a record now often touted as the starting pistol of the Independent labels. “Spiral Scratch” took the Punk “here’s three chords now go form a band” idea a step further. It’s self funded release upped the ante to “here’s a few hundred quid, now go and make a record”. By September 1977, The Buzzcocks had signed to United Artists, but the idea of bands not needing a label to release records soon inspired others to follow suit.
One such band, The Desperate Bicycles, took up the Spiral Scratch baton, and set about releasing their own record right from the get go. The band have been widely credited as the missing link between “Spiral Scratch” and the total explosion of Indie labels that was to follow.
In March 1977, they booked themselves into a studio in Dalston east London for 3 hours and recorded two tracks, “Smokescreen” and “Handlebars” which they released on their own Refill Records for a total cost of £153. Whereas the Buzzcocks might have seen their self release as a stepping stone to the majors, the Desperate Bicycles were not interested in a major deal, they just decided to record, press and release their own record – simply because they could. They didn’t want to make a career out of it, they didn’t want to become a label, they simply wanted to put their own records out – but more importantly they wanted to encourage others to do exactly the same. The Desperate Bicycles took Punk’s DIY ethic a step further, once you had your 3 chords….you didn’t even need a record contract anymore.
Scritti Politti, The Swell Maps, and The Television Personalities have all cited The Desperate Bicycles as a primary influence, along with many of the less celebrated “DIY” bands around the world that followed, self-recording and self-releasing their music on their own hand-stamped 7inch vinyl.
The first single ends with the words, “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it!” and the second single, “The Medium was Tedium” leaves the ball firmly in the court of the listener – “Go and join a band. Now it’s your turn…”
Desperate Bicycles interview from Common Knowledge fanzine 1979