After the first wave of traditional UK punk rock started dying down toward the late ’70s and early ’80s – Sid Vicious died in 1979, The Clash broke up in 1986 and the punk rock genre began to take on a lot of new stylistic directions – The Exploited really pioneered a second (and more hardcore) wave of punk rock in the UK. Starting with the 1981 album Punks Not Dead, the band has continued releasing music until the album Fuck the System (2003). The good news for The Exploited fans is that a new album, TBA, is scheduled for release sometime in 2015. Legendary for their electrifying logo, The Exploited have become a universal symbol of anarchy, rebellion and punk music. And this year, they graced Amnesia Rockfest with their unruly and colourful presence.
As The Offspring blasted their album Americana from the main stage area of Amnesia Rockfest, I headed to a next-door hotel to share a few words with The Exploited. I nervously waited in the reception while the lyrics to The Kids Aren’t Alright resonated dramatically throughout the hall. Suddenly, a burly man sporting a bright pink Mohawk and countless facial bling appeared in front of me. His bulging eyes warmed up as he introduced himself with a heavy Scottish accent. I was officially speaking to Wattie Buchan, lead vocalist of the Exploited.
Despite my original impression of facing some sort of punk-styled goon (Wattie Buchan is quite the tough-looking fellow), I rapidly discovered an incredibly honest man who has a lot more in common with me than I could have ever believed (in spite of me finding some of his political views somewhat straightforward and naïve). Although he did emphasize how “shit” most of the other bands playing at Rockfest are, Buchan gave me a lot of sensible insight on his values and on what he believes punk rock should really be. The strong accent Buchan originally warned me about did blur some of his words, but I still managed to grasp what a beautifully authentic individual the singer really is.
Nadia Blostein (NB): First of all, by whom do The Exploited feel so “exploited”?
Wattie Buchan (WB): The governments and the fucking record companies exploit us, while most people are just being exploited by businesses in general… That’s why we named our band The Exploited; the working class is simply being exploited by everyone.
NB: And that would explain why you guys have an album labelled Fuck the System. How would you advise someone to actually “fuck” the system?
WB: They should stand up to the government. All the government does is maintain policies to keep the people suppressed – like taxes and stuff. Fuck the System is really about standing up for yourself
NB: As someone who shuns the idea of government so much, would you go as far as actually defining yourself as an anarchist?
WB: Yeah, I would. I hate people telling me what to do yet I’m always surrounded by people telling me what to do.
NB: I understand completely: punk bands are what really helped propel the rise of anarchy as a political ideology popular amongst youth.
WB: Well, here at Rockfest, you got a lot of bands that define themselves as punk bands but they’re shit. They are so pop oriented that they don’t even stand for any values; they do not deserve the status of being defined as punk bands.
NB: So what bands at the festival this year do you genuinely dislike?
WB: Well, Linkin Park is really shit. Descendents are not great either. And The Offspring… So commercial.
NB: So are there any bands here this weekend that you actually like?
WB: Ehhhh… (Wattie ponders the question for quite a while.) The Exploited, of course. (He laughs gruffly.) And GBH, and Carcass. Those are good bands. I just saw No Fun At All for the first time, they’re also pretty good, got some solid tunes. And Slayer’s okay. I mean, only some of their stuff is okay. I’ll restrain myself from say anything more about them.
NB: How about the Buzzcocks; haven’t they been a high influence for you?
WB: Well, they used to be good but they really sold out. A lot of the bands here used to be good until they turned to more pop rock. Like when I was a punk (when I was young), I used to see the Buzzcocks live, it was great.
NB: Are you digging the more industrial bands here? I just talked a bit with Skinny Puppy, their set was great.
WB: I like Skinny Puppy, haven’t seen their show today but I’ve liked them for years and years. Ministry are also playing; they’re pretty good.
NB: And being of Scottish origin, do you feel any special bond with the celtic-punk Real Mackenzies?
WB: They’re not actually Scottish; they’re Canadian, I think. I don’t feel any special political bond with them – my brother, the drummer of the band, is a lot more conscious of Scottish politics. However, I’ve played with them a few times; they’re total alcoholics. Good people: their gigs are always excitin’.
NB: I know the Real Mackenzies have, but have you ever worn a kilt on stage?
WB: Nope, not on stage. I’ve only ever worn a quilt to my brother’s wedding.
We share a moment of silence as I ponder over what that might have looked like.
NB: So, what’s your stance on religion?
WB: Fucking hate religion.
NB: How about Bad Religion?
WB: No, they’re shit as well.
NB: That’s a very blunt way to put it, but at least you’re honest.
WB: Yeah, I’m always honest, always. I never say anything I don’t mean and I never talk shit about anyone unless I am ready to say it to their face.
NB: You come off as quite similar to Johnny Rotten in that regard!
WB: Yeah, well, John Lydon always speaks his mind and there are not many people who do that these days. If I like something, I will say that I like it. But if I hate something, I’ll just say that it’s shit. I will never lie because I fucking hate liars and I have been lied to all of my life. I always speak my mind and I always say what I think, even if what I say may not be what my interlocutor wants to hear.
NB: So what would you truthfully define as “punk rock”?
WB: To me, punk rock, it’s not about hitting the best chords; it’s about enjoying what you’re doing. Who cares if everyone else thinks you’re shit as long as you enjoy what you’re doing? As long as you give your 100%, that’s what matters. People judge people and shit like that but as long as someone is happy doing what they’re doing and they don’t hurt anybody, that’s all that matters. If someone’s okay with me, I’ll be okay with them. If someone fucks with me, then I’ll probably fuck with them – and that’s just how I look at things.
NB: Is that why you are unable to see a lot the bands playing at Rockfest this year as genuine punk rock?
WB: Yeah, well I don’t like how a lot of them are playing just for the money. When I see a band, I can tell by their faces if they’re lovin’ it or fakin’ it. I love to see musicians enjoy playing. They may be a tiny little band but to me, that’s better than being a fucking sellout. I’ll tell you a story. Years ago, I had to go to some music awards ceremony for a music magazine. We were invited to present an award. So one of the bands to get an award was Green Day. And I fucking hate Green Day. I really fucking hate them. So I had to give them the fucking award. Later that night, I was sittin’ at the afterparty, surrounded by a lot of those “big” bands. And then the Green Day lead singer comes over – Billie Joe, isn’t it? He’s like this fucking big (Wattie mimics a really short height). And Billie goes to me: “See, when you die, I’m going to be standing over your grave, laughing at ya.” I looked at him and stand up (Wattie stands up to his full height to demonstrate how much taller he is than Billie Joe). I go “What did you say?” and I went: “I tell you what; you may have a big record company and lots of money, but I’ve got something you’ll never have, and that’s respect from the punks.” And then his buddies grab him and pull him away. The point of that is that I’ve done things with my music that have meant something for other people’s lives, and that’s respect. You can’t buy that. And to me, that’s better than money. When people who’ve been following the Exploited for years tell me what an impact our music has had on their lives, to me, that’s something priceless. That means I’ve done something worthwhile in my life. People make being a musician worthwhile, and to me, that’s the big thing.
NB: From seeing how much you dislike Green Day, I am assuming that you guys don’t really like modern-day punk rock. The Exploited have been around since the early 80s; how would you define the evolution of punk rock in the approximate 35 years that you guys have been playing?
WB: Well, the evolution was just very bad because I find that all recent music is just pretty shit. Maybe it is because I am quite a negative person, I guess.
NB: What are you ever positive about then?
WB: Eh… The Exploited.
Classic Wattie Buchan. He then went on explaining to me his hair treatment. Buchan has been parading his glorious Mohawk for over 35 years, and it has passed through many colours, including blonde and blue and red – but never green, since Wattie “fucking hates” green. As our interview concluded, I wished Wattie a glorious return to Europe, where the Exploited were scheduled to play at Hellfest, alongside Marilyn Manson.