The Desperate Bicycles tonight. A good chance you may never actually have either heard them or heard about them. They weren’t together for very long. But . . .
The Desperate Bicycles were an English punk band who released a series of independent recordings in the late 1970s and inspired many other bands to do likewise. They pioneered the do-it-yourself ethic of punk, adopting a proselytising role exemplified by their ardent exhortation: “it was easy, it was cheap – go and do it!”. The group have been described as “DIY’s most fervent evangelists”.
The music of the Desperate Bicycles has been described as: “Spindly, fuzzy, guttural guitars through puny amplifiers, reedy, wheezy organs, out of tune electric pianos, cardboard box drums and monotonous declamatory yet somehow utterly reasonable sounding vocals”. Another reviewer described them as “a shambling wreck of a psychedelic post-punk band”. The writer Simon Reynolds states that the group’s music “was almost puritan in its unadorned simplicity, its guitar sound frugal to the point of emaciation”.
For the Desperate Bicycles, it was as though sloppiness and scrawniness became signs of membership in the true punk elect. The very deficiency of traditional rock virtues (tightness, feel) stood as tokens of the group’s authenticity and purity of intent.
They were a group of amateur musicians who remained determinedly independent. Their enjoyment of the creative and technical processes of making music is revealed in their recordings. The example they set, their energy and enthusiasm and the simple message of “go and do it!”, inspired a generation of punk and post-punk bands to follow in their footsteps, in both the UK and further afield.
So next time people start talking about DIY (Doing It Yourself), you will know exactly where that phrase came from and you can give a gesture of thanks to the members of The Desperate Bicycles for starting it all.