Formed in San Francisco in 1982 at the peak of the city's hardcore punk movement, Looters were embraced by the local punk rock scene even though the style of music the multi-racial, multi-ethnic band played couldn't have had its roots further from Gilmore Street. The Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra was an early fan of the band, however, which led to the release of a self-titled EP on his Alternative Tentacles label. As legend would have it, Island Records head honcho Chris Blackwell heard the disc playing in a record store during a trip to the Bay area and subsequently signed the band to Island.
When listening to Flashpoint, Looters' brilliant Island debut, one can easily hear why Blackwell chose to sign the band before another label discovered them. Looters drew its inspiration from an entire world of music, blending old-school R&B and soul roots with African and Jamaican rhythms, tacking on socially conscious lyrics and delivering the resulting hybrid with a passion and energy that endeared them to Bay area rockers. The band's collectively penned lyrics were often concerned with racism, poverty, and the abuses of authority, the seriousness of the subject matter tempered by an infectious dance beat and amazing musicianship.
Flashpoint opens with a staggering drumbeat and funky bassline that leads into the chanted lyrics of "War Drums," the song's social commentary underscored by a huge martial beat. "Cross the Border" offers an African-styled chorus and polyrhythms that sound a lot like South Africa's Juluka, the song's imagery of an impoverished, war-torn landscape relevant to just about every continent in the mid-'80s. A tale of youthful rebellion, "Attitude" mixes James Brown bravado with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and a nasty Prince-inspired groove guaranteed to get one's feet moving towards the dancefloor.
A ringing guitar riff worthy of U2 ignites "No Man's Land," one of the band's signature songs and the source of Flashpoint's title. Soulful, gospel-tinged, half-spoken lyrics march across the top of gunshot rhythms, the anthemic tune calling on all the "gypsies" and "looters" to recognize and break free of the "no man's land" that America's cities had become. Flashpoint closes with the gentle "Being Human," the song's view that humanity will always overcome its oppressors a thread that runs throughout Flashpoint, the band's optimism tethered to a hard-won realism. One of the most underrated and overlooked of ‘80s bands, Looters offered a complex worldview and a worldly sound that defiantly refused to conform to any categorization or formatting.