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Mission Of Burma - Profile

  by Mark Rowland

published: 17 / 5 / 2005

Mission Of Burma - Profile


Often criminally over-looked, Mission of Burma made some of the most influential post punk of the late 70's and early 80's. Mark Rowland looks back on the Boston rockers all-too-short career

Mission of Burma made some superb post punk music in the late-70's and early-80's but are often criminally over-looked when compared to the status of other American punk and hardcore bands, despite their songs being covered by REM, Moby and Graham Coxon from Blur. The band formed in Boston in 1979, with guitarist Roger Miller and bassist Clint Conley taking both songwriting and vocal duties, Peter Prescott behind the drums and Martin Swope uniquely (for the time) taking on the role of behind-the-scenes tape loop manipulator. Mission of Burma quickly gained a reputation on the local live scene, creating layers of feedback driven noise, made all the more strange through Swope’s electronic twiddling. Most didn’t even know about Swope’s role in the band and were left scratching their heads over how the band got such strange sounds from their instruments. The band’s first recorded output was the ‘Academy Fight Song’/’Max Ernst’ single, which proved that there was more to the band than just noise. Conley’s ‘Academy Fight Song’ is a post-punk anthem that is probably best known as an REM encore. The song had great pop hooks reminiscent of prime Buzzcocks, layered guitars and Swope’s subtle atmospherics. Miller’s ‘Max Ernst’ is much less melodic and darker in feel, but still very catchy, with driving verses and a strong chorus. Mission of Burma’s sound took its cues from British post-punk bands like Wire and Gang of Four, but they took it to noisier extremes, especially during their live shows. ‘Signals, Calls and Marches’ was their next release, opening with their second influential post-punk anthem, ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’(again by Conley) a slow building track with an explosive chorus. Moby and Graham Coxon are just two of many who have covered this song, which has become the definitive Mission of Burma song, even though the band’s heart was really in its noisier stuff. Conley may have written two of the band’s best known songs, but Miller was the more prolific of the two. ‘Reach for My Revolver’ is the only song on ‘Signals...’ that was written by Conley alone. The instrumental ‘All World Cowboy Romance’ was written by Conley and Miller together, but the rest were Miller compositions. The songs on ‘Signals…’ are quite varied, from the all out punk-funk of ‘Outlaw’, to the Clash-like ‘Fame and Fortune’. Although his songs were noisier and more discordant, Miller still knew how to write a great tune, and this is evident in his songs on the EP. Despite this, an attempt to get some interest from Warner Brothers (because the label had signed Gang of Four) failed because the label only wanted songs like ‘Reach for My Revolver’. Not that this bothered Mission of Burma much: they were never really interested in becoming famous. Their first and only full-length, ‘Vs’, took their sound to noisier places, as they tried to capture their live sound on record. It is an excellent album; the great tunes are still there and it is really a better representation of what Mission of Burma were about, although ‘Signals, Calls and Marches’ has the best known and most immediate songs. Mission of Burma came to an end shortly after the release of ‘Vs’. Playing live had taken its toll on Miller’s hearing. He already suffered form mild tinnitus when Mission of Burma started out and it was becoming unbearable. The band had no choice but to call it a day. Despite their all-too short career, Burma were one of the most influential bands of the eighties. They can be heard in Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Fugazi – pretty much every American indie rock and punk band has something of Burma in them, an impressive feat to achieve in just four years.

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Mission Of Burma - Profile

Mission Of Burma - Profile

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Interview (2013)
Mission Of Burma - Interview
Paul Waller speaks to Roger Miller from seminal Boston-based post-punk act Mission of Burma about his group's influential early releases, their reformation after two decades apart and latest album, last year's 'Unsound'

live reviews

Dingwalls, London, 13/5/2010
Mission Of Burma - Dingwalls, London, 13/5/2010
Anthony Strutt at Dingwalls in London watches an uninspiring set of noisy, repetitive new wave from 1970's Boston-based punks, Mission of Burma
Koko, London, 22/5/2006

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