Formation and early days (1979–1980)
The original line-up consisted of: Terry Buchan (vocals), Stevie Ross (guitar), Colin Erskine (bass) and Andy McNiven (drums). Formed in the West Granton area of Edinburgh, a large grey council estate on the north side of the city. The band's politics was reflected in its name, coined by drummer and songwriter McNiven, whose father was a Korean War veteran and a Communist. While in the early stages as a band, with little equipment, the band were invited to play their first gig at Craigmuir School. The band seemed to be a victim of their own publicity here. They had spray-painted their band name locally and had stolen Sunday papers, milk, and rolls in the early hours of Sunday morning and redistributed them outside peoples' front door, with a note saying, "a gift from the exploited". Their first gig was on Friday 15 December 1978. The date was recalled by McNiven as it coincided with a performance by the Doomed (the Damned by another name) at Clouds in Edinburgh to which they went after performing their own gig. The gig was attended by Terry's older brother Wattie, who had recently left the army and was a punk in London.
Wattie soon replaced Terry, and Andy McNiven and Colin Erskine were dropped from the line-up as well. Jim Park became the drummer in January 1979, first playing on February 3 1979 at the YMCA in Edinburgh, (the day after Sid Vicious died in New York City). After a few gigs in and around Edinburgh, Stevie Ross left after an appearance in Aberdeen supporting the UK Subs. A few months later, he and Terry Buchan formed The Exposed. The Exposed split in 1980 after a gig supporting The Exploited. While Terry left for London, Stevie was prominent in the Edinburgh band scene during the 1980s and fronted bands like Strychnine and Burlesque before becoming lead singer with blues band Roadside Medicine. Now based in West Lothian, he still sings and writes original songs.
Early releases and Punk's Not Dead (1980–1981)
Influenced by 1970s punk rock music such as music by the Sex Pistols, the quartet created a simple, no-frills sound characterized by speed and aggression. In 1980, the group founded its own independent record label, Exploited Records, and released their debut EP Army Life, which was #6 in the Indie/Independent charts for eight weeks, then was in the Top 20 for eighteen months. The B-side was called Fuck the Mods / Crashed Out and the record's back cover stated "To all the Edinburgh punks and skins - keep on mod-bashing!!".
They then released another single, "Barmy Army", which jumped into the independent charts and remained there for 53 weeks, peaking at #4. Their single "Dead Cities" peaked at #31 on the UK Charts. Their single "Exploited Barmy Army" peaked at #4 on the Independent/Indie chart.
In March 1981, the band signed to Secret Records, and spent a month recording their debut album, Punks Not Dead. The Exploited released the single "Dogs of War", which peaked at #2 in the Independent charts and #63 on the UK Charts. Also in 1981, the band released their first live album, On Stage, recorded during a concert in Edinburgh. Thereafter, the band performed, along with Discharge, Anti-Nowhere League, Anti-Pasti and Chron Gen on a tour called Apocalypse Now, which was recorded and released as a live album. Their album Punks Not Dead, released in April 1981, went to #20 in May, then number 1 on the Independent Charts. During this time, The Exploited appeared on the popular mainstream TV programme, Top of the Pops. A lot of fans of The Exploited were unhappy with the band's decision to appear on the show. The hardcore punk band Conflict wrote the song Exploitation about this appearance, which began a long-standing rivalry between Conflict and The Exploited that divided the punk fan base.
A young punk wearing an Exploited T-shirt in 1984.
Troops of Tomorrow, Let's Start a War, and Horror Epics (1982–1986)
The band released the albums Troops of Tomorrow in 1982, Let's Start a War in 1983 and Horror Epics in 1985. The period between these albums was marked by severe discord over the band's musical direction: guitarist Big John Duncan and bassist Gary McCormack both left to form new bands – "bands with disco beats and guitar solos, total shit", in Wattie's words – and the band went through a rapid succession of drummers, one of whom allegedly left after a "nervous breakdown". The band was driven away from the Secret label by new management who demanded unrealistic changes in style and personnel. Their next label, a tiny enterprise named Pax Records, folded after its owner fled with all its assets.
The concert album Live at the White House was recorded in Washington, D.C. in 1985 at the 9:30 Club and was released the following year in 1986. They also released the studio EP Jesus Is Dead in 1986, following up with Live and Loud, a videography of The Exploited performing around Europe and in the United States. During the tour of the USA, Wattie and Karl Morris had a fight on stage, and Karl left shortly afterwards. He was briefly replaced by Mad Mick, who then disappeared without trace. Nigel Swanson was then appointed as the new guitarist.
Death Before Dishonour, The Massacre and Beat the Bastards (1987–2001)
"Sexual Favours", a single from the album Death Before Dishonour, was released in 1987. The album only ranked in the top 200 of the Britain Alternative Music list. However, the album sold out quickly. The album's cover featured artwork from the American punk artist Pushead, who complained that he was neither paid nor credited for the work.
In 1990, The Exploited released their album The Massacre. The album is a crossover thrash album. The band went on to release a Singles Collection album in 1993. The Exploited also released the videography Live in Japan in 1993. Their album Beat the Bastards was released in April 1996.
Fuck the System and next album (2002–present)
The Exploited performing in Vorselaar
, Belgium in May 2018
In 2002, the band released the album Fuck the System on Dream Catcher Records, and in the following year, they toured in the UK and US. On 14 October 2003, about 500 fans started a riot in Montreal, Canada after an Exploited concert was cancelled due to the band not being allowed into the country. Rioters destroyed eight cars and set them on fire; broke eleven shop windows and caused other damage. The band were banned from playing in Mexico City due to the riot.
In a 2012 interview, Wattie Buchan claimed that a new album was being finished. In February 2014, Wattie Buchan suffered a heart attack on stage during a performance in Lisbon on the band's Taste of Chaos Tour with Hatebreed and Napalm Death. He was taken to a hospital, where he was expected to receive treatment for at least a week. The band signed a deal with Nuclear Blast Records, and was to have many of its albums reissued in March 2014. The band has also confirmed that its first album in a decade will be released during the 2010s. It is currently unknown when the album will be released.