Uniform Choice Re-Releases “Screaming For Change” on Southern Lord
Uniform Choice is one of straight edge hardcore’s most beloved bands. Next to Minor Threat and the East Coast hardcore scene in the ‘80s, Uniform Choice became the role model to the California landscape. They served as a monument to the many bands who followed on their heels and became a foundational bond on the genre.
Originally released in 1986 on their personal Wishingwell label, Screaming For Change became this group’s mantra that paved the way for the rest of their career. Over the past years vocalist Pat Dubar discovered that there were unauthorized bootleg recordings scouring the scene. To offset the accusation of sub par quality, Dubar worked with Southern Lord to come out with a definitive version. The resurrection of Screaming For Change is a reproduction in its purity and a statement the continued interest this album has.
Out of the ashes of Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of the Western Civilization— the documentary looks at Los Angeles and an attempt to realistically showcase the battered ruins of society powered by a scoundrel punk counterculture highlighted by drugs and violence— Spheeris wanted to tell a story that this is what dominant society did to them. Through imagery and realism, you can almost here Spheeris’ scream, “Look what you made us do!” Ron Baird of Stalag 13 recalled that the violence in the early Los Angeles punk scene was very real. However, this version of Dante’s Inferno turned into a small group of kids creating a posi-scene that did not include drugs or violence but a community that focused on the fundamentals of morality: be good to yourself and be good to each other.
These were kids, including Dubar, who decided to take an unacceptable approach to the punk ideology and stand up for what they believed in. It’s a similar mentality Greg Graffin sang in Bad Religion’s “Against The Grain.” What this reactionary movement caused was exactly what the punk ideology was all about, an anti-establishment model against the anti-establishment strengthening not collapsing in on itself.
The origins of Uniform Choice
In the beginning there was Unity, formed by U.C. drummer Pat Longrie. They brought Dubar into the band. At the time, guitarist Vic Maynez was developing Uniform Choice and got Dubar involved to transform their sound from a pop-based model to the aggressive vitality we know them for. They recorded a rough-sketched demo with Dave Mello on bass. By 1983, the band had problems with their original drummer and then added Longrie to the band. By that time, everything negative about the scene had been building up in this band like a volcano destined to erupt. That eruption came a few years later with their debut Screaming For Change. Their need for something positive became other punk’s needs. Unity could not break through like Uniform Choice but thanks to both bands, the straight edge scene on the West Coast was born.
Black Flag released Jealous Again in 1980. The album was a blueprint for the imminent hardcore scene. “Jealous Again” attacked relationships with ugly reality from a hormone-driven teenage perspective that felt very adult in nature. “No Values” was an oxymoron with an admittance to not having values but indeed provoking people to think about the idea of value. “White Minority” attacked the skinheads and non-diverse culture that later was expanded by Minor Threat. Black Flag dug deep into the cranium of teenagers and provided an unapologetic outlet.
How “Screaming For Change” Impacted Punk Culture
On Screaming For Change, Uniform Choice did not point accusatory fingers at race and class like Minor Threat did, but when high school friend Mike Pritzel turned Dubar onto Jealous Again it blew his mind that provided a connection between him and punk rock. First it was Black Flag, then it was the Sex Pistols and Circle Jerks. But when he picked up the 7” of Minor Threat’s “Filler,” it was the moment that changed his life. This was music and meaning that coincided with everything he believed in. And it is what transformed into the opener “Use Your Head.” Like Black Flag, this song was an attack, this time at the current state of punk culture:
It’s in your eyes
Made you blind!”
The song was a wake up . . . full disclosure in under two minutes.
Made this hate
Forced this pain.”
There is no solution or remedy to this song, only exposure. Like a parent, Dubar screams, “You better use your head.”
How do they respond to that? They look inward with the song “In My Own Mind.” On one side, punk was devised as a community. Punks came together with a common goal be it the system sucks, my parents suck, or society sucks, among others. But bands like Uniform Choice reminds us that punk rock is an individualistic attitude and way of life that came from within you and not just a external reaction. This song expresses that more than anything else in their discography.
There are simple outlet rage songs. “Scream To Say,” the title track, and “Big Man, Small Mind” are moments when you just need to let it all out. It’s that moment in Donnie Darko when Drew Barrymore walks outside and yells “fuck” at the top of her lungs. These songs became the generators to boost energy in the pit. The other songs are catalyst to sing along in unity.
Where I think this album should have ended was the appropriately stated “Don’t Quit.” It’s a message that is now timeless despite how the movement has changed and transformed.
There are two more songs set up as after thoughts. “In Time,” is a slower romp where the guitar work stands out more than the bullhorn. “Silenced” is spoken word bedroom poetry left there simply for contemplation. It’s more less poignant lyrically than “Don’t Quit” and maybe not as pertinent, but it is a clear sign that the band realized the summit was a long climb ahead. This was only the beginning.