Originally posted on The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey 12/12/1999.
Steven Wells wrote to me and told me how much he enjoyed this piece: I even ended up on ATTACK!'s press release mailing list for a while. The company published three more books - Tommy Udo's Vatican Bloodbath, Stewart Home's Whips And Furs and Mark Manning's Get Your Cock Out - and then it all went quiet.
These days, Swells can be regularly found in the sports section of The Guardian, surprisingly enough.
Mission statements? They're sooooo 1996, darling. A couple of years ago, you may have been able to get away with starting a whole new artistic movement with a single-sentence statement of intent: these days, however, nothing less than a full-blown manifesto will do. The most prominent example in recent times has been the Dogme 95 crew in Denmark, who've used their manifesto to set out their high ideals of removing the directorial ego and expensive Hollywood fripperies from their films, leaving just the pure artistic core of their stories and characters.
A new British publishing house, ATTACK! Books, has just published its own manifesto. Whether it's a statement of its writers' high artistic ideals or a cheap bit of hype is up to the reader to decide...
"This generation needs a NEW literature - writing that apes, matches, parodies and supercedes the flickeringly fast 900 MPH ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK! velocity of early 21st century popular culture at its most mEnTaL! We will publish writers who think they're rock stars, rock stars who think they're writers and we will make supernovas of the stuttering, wild-eyed, slack-jawed drooling idiot-geek geniuses who lurk in the fanzine/internet shadows...
"The self-perpetuating ponce-mafia oligarchy of effete bourgeois wankers who run the 'literary scene' must be swept aside by a tidal wave of screaming urchin tits-out teenage terror totty and DESTROYED! ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!"
Well, these guys can certainly talk the talk: can they walk the walk? Luckily, they're writers, so the two things are the same anyway. But who are they? For some of us, the name Steven Wells will explain everything. Wells started life in the early eighties as ranting poet Seething Wells, shouting loud violent tales of Tetley Bittermen on the rampage to anyone within earshot. From there it was only a short step to a regular job with the New Musical Express, where he still works to this day. You may not always have agreed with what he said, but at least by the end of a Wells piece you'd know what he thought (a rare thing during the Paul Morley/Ian Penman doldrums of the NME in the early 80s), and his speedfreak style would always ensure you'd got a couple of laughs.
ATTACK! is Wells' own idea, and is an attempt at extending his journalistic/poetic style to novel length. There are a couple of obvious influences visible here. The main one is the whole tradition of British pulp fiction that everyone traces back to Richard Allen's youth cult novels of the 1970s such as Skinhead. Bashed out in double-quick time by professional hack Allen, his books invariably took the latest teen cults and fads and spun them out into novel form using a predictable mixture of sex, violence and swearing, guaranteed to ensure his works would be passed around school playgrounds by sniggering teens for years to come.
Allen's work is pretty much unreadable nowadays - certainly the racism and sexism in his books are just a little too enthusiastic to be written off as merely the attitudes of his characters - but his approach has been the basis for a number of pastiches and rip-offs over the years. Stewart Home's 1989 novel Pure Mania, for example, was a brave attempt at a left-wing update of the Allen formula, telling the story of a vegan terrorist unit known as the Morrissey and Marr Commando. Meanwhile, Malcolm Bennett and Aidan Hughes were writing and drawing short tales of shagging, mayhem and lager in their comic BRUTE! - a publication whose whole philosophy was summed up in their T-shirt featuring a thug with an enormous gun yelling "Get your farting gear round THIS!!!"
So there's a whole tradition for the ATTACK! writers to draw upon, and the first three novels to be published by the imprint approach it in different ways. Tony White is the only one here with previous form as a novelist, having already published the self-styled 'crusty classic' Road Rage, as well as the brilliantly titled police novel charlieunclenorfolktango. White's newie Satan! Satan! Satan! is the closest thing to a Richard Allen parody here, focussed as it is on a youth subcult, in this case a group of Yorkshire Goths. A number of characters are converging on a Halloween rock festival in Whitby, the coastal town most notorious for being Count Dracula's port of arrival in England. Gothettes Deb, Tish and Sal are there for the bands and possibly some hot roadie action. Bilko is hopelessly smitten with Deb, and will try any means on heaven and earth (or elsewhere) to get her. Albino Christian nutter Jeremiah Jones is determined to get the whole festival stopped. And in the middle of all this, the headlining act Dogs Of Thor are preparing to make an entrance that nobody will ever forget.
Satan! Satan! Satan! is the most conventional novel out of the three: it's written in proper English, has a genuine plot and characters, and manages to sustain a fairly realistic tone up until the spectacularly over-the-top climax. The Yorkshire accent comes through not only in the characters, but also in the narrative voice: the use of 'were' as a third person singular verb gives the story a nice homely feel even as all hell's breaking loose. White is the only author of the three here who writes sex scenes as if he actually enjoys sex, although they're done in a deliberate faux-Allen style, repetitive and ludicrously overwritten. (The euphemism "the hot pulsating heart of her being" appears at least half a dozen times.) A little short on actual laughs (apart from the revelation of the true face of the Antichrist at the end), and the nine-page quote the climax is based round is as lazy an act of sampling as a Puff Daddy record: but on the whole, an enjoyable piece of work.
Raiders Of The Low Forehead is, by comparison, far more experimental. Author Stanley Manly is the dark horse of the three: my guess is that he's either Malcolm Bennett of BRUTE! fame or an over-slavish plagarist of the man's style. If it wasn't for its length and the fact that it's all set in one size of typeface, Raiders would have worked quite nicely in Bennett's former magazine. The Raiders of the title are three hard Northern bastards out for pure sensory gratification: psychopath Stig Big, curryholic Elvis Twat and class traitor Tyrone Hoodlum. As they cut a swathe of terror through their home town, only the spazzy weakling Vince Eager can stop them, and only because Sharon Goer has promised him free oral sex for life if he sorts them out.
It's less of a novel than a series of sketches with the slightest of narrative threads holding them together: all short punchy chapters, full of crap puns, relentless internal rhymes and blatantly obvious storytelling. (After the book's 14th sex scene, Vince and Sharon discuss the meaning of the word "gratuitous".) The same three chapter headings - Sex, Food, Violence - repeat themselves over and over again, giving the plot a cyclic structure: there's a shag, a lovingly described meal (from a Walnut Whip to a curry made up almost entirely of tramp shit), a ruck, and then it all happens again. The repetitiveness goes on just long enough to be hypnotic, but not quite long enough to get on your nerves: at least that's how it was for me, your opinion may differ.
Last but obviously not least, Steven Wells himself contributes ATTACK!'s signature title, the extraordinary Tits-Out Teenage Terror Totty. He sets out his stall in the opening pages, describing an England where Princess Diana is exhumed, re-animated and killed again on a weekly basis in order to keep the public docile with grief. He then overturns his stall by revealing this to be merely the drug-induced fantasy of Jello Cobain, publisher of a whole string of hyper-pulp novels such as the one we're about to read. From that point on there's a vague semblance of a plot, involving assorted revolutionary acts perpetrated by the members of Karen Skull's Anti-Crap Jihad: but it's established fairly quickly that this is just an excuse for Wells to line up everything and everyone he hates, so that he can kick, blast and sodomise the shit out of it.
If you're familiar with Wells' journalism, then TTTT is the same only more so, without the requirement in journalism to have some sort of coherent point at the end of it. The result is, frankly, a bitch to read. The style is great for a couple of pages, but as you get further in it becomes more and more exhausting. Everything's played at warp speed as lists of crap things, huge clusters of adjectives and endless usages of the formula "x is like y on drugs" all pile up in a heap of hugely over-extended sentences (one of which goes on for six bastard pages without a full stop). However, if you take it in small doses, with a break for fresh air and exercise every hour like you're supposed to with video games, it's a hoot. Even if you don't agree with all the opinions Wells forces down your throat (and he has a curiously big problem with vegetarianism), the sheer manic pace and endless bag of invective tricks make all other literature look like the watery dribblings of a vindaloo-force-fed diarrhoetic's prolapsed arse. On Ex-Lax. OFFICIAL!!!
These three books are just the beginning, claims Wells. ATTACK!'s schedule for 2000 includes the autobiography of Mark Manning (the artist formerly known as Zodiac Mindwarp), and a rewrite of Die Hard where Bruce Willis is replaced by a bunch of pissed-up West Ham fans. So even if ATTACK! doesn't completely overthrow Eng Lit as we know it, at least on this evidence they can provide a series of books that will leave you, to use another of Steven Wells' coined phrases, "grinning like a wanking chimp". And I should know. Being a monkey, and all.
ATTACK! [dead link] have their own website where you can read their manifesto, find out about their current and future catalogue and even buy books online. While you're there, visit their parent company Creation Books, why don't you?
Amazon.co.uk may be the willing whores of the literary scene's self-perpetuating ponce-mafia oligarchy, but they'll sell you copies of Tits-Out Teenage Terror Totty, Satan! Satan! Satan! and Raiders Of The Low Forehead, and at a 20% discount too.
Abisti [dead link] is a funky little webzine dedicated to alternative media, who've got a review of an ATTACK! reading at the Clerkenwell Festival [dead link], plus an interview with Steven Wells [dead link]. And, erm, their own manifesto [dead link].
BRUTE! Propaganda is the home site of Aidan Hughes, half of the team that brought BRUTE! magazine to a generally unwilling public. Copies of the mag are rarer than rocking-horse shit these days, even online, but Hughes has a gallery of his art commissions for those of you feeling nostalgic for his style.