Words by Ryan Bridgewater
Lockdown and social distancing in response to the Coronavirus pandemic have brought challenges for musicians who have been responding in creative ways. From Croydon drill rapper Psychs’ ‘Spreadin’ (Coronavirus)’ to Birmingham grime MC Lady Leshurr’s ‘Quarantine Speech’ some artists have addressed the issue directly. Another group of musicians to do so is Distance, a self-described ‘virtual band’ who intend to exist only as long as these measures last. While such a phrase may bring to mind Gorillaz, Distance take a distinctly lo-tech approach. Their Bandcamp release ‘Stay In and Survive’ was recorded using the free software Audacity and a single SM58 microphone. Distance play a niche sub-genre of hardcore punk called D-beat, which is characterised by shouted slogans, caustic riffs, and an aggressively simple kick/snare/crash drum pattern.
D-beat is named after the nuclear war fixated band Discharge from Stoke-on-Trent. Their 1982 debut album ‘Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing’ and early EPs like ‘Why?’ are cornerstones of hardcore punk and have been influential on extreme metal. Since the early 80s legions of bands worldwide have borrowed their simple yet effective formula – from Sweden to Japan to Brazil. Many of these bands have similar names – Disgust (UK), Disrupt (USA), Disclose (Japan) – and often adopt the iconography of Discharge.
In 1995 the Scarborough punk duo Active Minds released ‘Dis Is Getting Pathetic…’ as a critique of this trend, later telling journalist Ian Glasper ‘it had just gone silly’. Still, the meme-like proliferation of bands did not stop there and in the 2010s new heights of absurdity were reached with the band Thisclose. They take inspiration not from the aforementioned ‘Hear Nothing…’ but its much slated follow-up album ‘Grave New World’. Calling their style ‘Grave New Beat’ they approximate the ludicrous falsetto vocal stylings of that album.
Distance are the latest D-beat band on the block, or rather the Internet. Their digital EP titled ‘Stay In and Survive’ is a reference to the Discharge classic ‘Protest and Survive’ and the cover art is a parody of their debut EP ‘Realities of War’. While sticking rigidly to the Discharge template, the timely lyrics set them apart. On opener ‘2 Metres’ the terse, reportage-style is repurposed for the current crisis we find ourselves in:
Fear of crowds avoiding contact
Soviet style queues for bread and tins
The following track titled simply ‘Covid 19’ highlights how abuse of animals is ‘globally endemic’ and the repercussions this can have on human health. The final song ‘Mania for Profits’ criticises the government’s assault on the NHS:
10 years of austerity
Trashed and privatised
Nurses got nothing
MPs got a pay rise
Perhaps D-beat endures for the same reason it makes a suitable musical idiom for tackling Coronavirus. As Discharge guitarist ‘Bones’ said of their debut EP: ’It was sent off to the plant the same day we recorded it, and it was out a few weeks later! We used to bang it out, to keep the essence of what we were writing.’