“The nature of our oppression is the aesthetic of our anger”
Crass ( UK 1977 -1984 )
Crass was the brittlest and most hard-line radical of the first wave of British punk bands.
They were a group of artists, activists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians that banded together using punk as a resistant cultural form for the promotion of anarchism as a political ideology—a way of living as a resistance movement
Even for those with no taste for the band’s brand of confrontational punk, they deserve recognition as one of the relatively few acts in the music who attempted to live their values, and not just sing about them. While other punks might have been singing about “AN-AR-CHY” for shock and fashion, anarchism was a way of life for Crass.
If The Sex Pistols and The Clash were the first political punk rock action in PM Margaret Thatcher’s, England, then Crass were the first “opposite reaction”. While Lydon and Strummer questioned English norms, Crass put punk and public policy to task, digging into both with equal fervor in order to see what really was under the veil.
Whilst the Sex Pistols and The Clash sold their souls to big record labels, Crass stayed true to their anti-corporate ideals (despite selling 1.5 million records without mainstream support or recognition !). Their lyrics, albeit snarled, warned against consumerism, corporatism, racism, and globalization. They formed a rock and roll resistance movement against the excesses of culture, using an aggressive sound and image to gain creditability for a pacifistic ideology.
Crass released a series of records that challenged the status quo and defined the meaning of the words “rock revolution”. No group has come close to their fierce idealism. Let’s face it, no other group could be bothered to put up with the constant police harassment or the poverty.
Crass were the missing link between counterculture hippies and punk’s angry rhetoric. The fact they got so big with no radio play and music so uncompromising is testament not just to their communication skills, but also to their generation’s willingness to experiment.
The band released a series of records that spliced art-school (in the best possible way), avant-garde collage with white-heat, punk-rock anger. When Crass got mad, they got really mad, and they were ranting and raving at the UK during a mean and miserable time, when Labour buckled and Thatcher took over. The music of Crass can only properly be understood in this context – the decaying nation, state brutality, the miners’ strike, the Falklands war, and the death of 60s idealism.
Crass advocated direct action, animal rights and environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism, and were decidedly antiwar. Crass practiced “direct action” by spray-painting stencilled graffiti messages around the London Underground system and on advertising billboards, coordinating squats, and organising political action.
When punk ruled the waves, Crass waived the rules and took it further, putting out their own records, films and magazines and setting up a series of situationist pranks that were dutifully covered by the world’s press. Not just another iconoclastic band, Crass was a musical, social and political phenomenon
Their late-’70s recordings may sound like just so much hardcore punk decades later. But at the time they were indeed shocking assaults of noisy guitars and relentless drumming, backed by throaty, angry rants that were made incomprehensible to many ears by the heavy British accents and the sheer speed of delivery. They were the definitive uncompromising punk band, which guaranteed them a cult following of very disaffected youth, and also ensured that they would never come remotely close to mainstream exposure, or even to many new wave playlists.
Like few other rock bands before or since, Crass took rock-as-agent-of-social-and-political-change seriously, and not just in their music.
In addition to putting out their own fiercely independent records (though the majors were certainly not knocking at their door), they also formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and labels, and on the behalf of various political causes.
But they were also afflicted by considerable tension between the medium and its message — not more than a few thousand people were exposed to Crass’ very broad social concerns, and their musical inflexibility guaranteed that the band would be preaching to the converted almost exclusively.
In keeping with early punk ethos, Crass assumed obviously fake stage names. The membership changed a bit over the years, but the group’s mainstays were vocalists Steve Ignorant, Eve Libertine, and Joy de Vivre. Drummer Penny Rimbaud and G. Sus, who did tape collages and provided the distinctively bleak black and white artwork on the fold-out posters that usually enclosed their LPs, were also important contributors.
Their late-’70s recordings may sound like just so much hardcore punk decades later. But at the time they were indeed shocking assaults of noisy guitars and relentless drumming, backed by throaty, angry rants that were made incomprehensible to many ears by the heavy British accents and the sheer speed of delivery.
They were the definitive uncompromising punk band, which guaranteed them a cult following of very disaffected youth, and also ensured that they would never come remotely close to mainstream exposure, or even to many new wave playlists.
An undiluted lyrical message was far more important to Crass than commercial considerations, and until 1984 they cranked out anarchist-leaning recordings without much variation in their attack.
Occasional experimental cuts were promising variations on their format, particularly when they branched into tape collage, or spoken poetry. Those were largely the exception rather than the rule, though Crass weren’t without the occasional moment of humor.
Crass always intended to disband in 1984, and true to their ideals as always, they did exactly that when that year came around. Even for those with no taste for the band’s brand of confrontational punk, they deserve recognition as one of the relatively few acts in the music who attempted to live their values, and not just sing about them
The horrors of war, the arbitrary nature of legal justice, sexism, media imagery, organized religion, the flaws of the punk movement itself — all were subjected to harsh critique. Like few other rock bands before or since, Crass took rock-as-agent-of-social-and-political-change seriously, and not just in their music.
The band frequently used art as a means of bringing forth messages of pacifism, social criticism, and political action. Crass very quickly demonstrated their presence as not just another band in the emerging Punk scene of the U.K, but as an entity that was capable and willing to create opportunities for change in the world.
In addition to putting out their own fiercely independent records (though the majors were certainly not knocking at their door), they also formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and labels, and on the behalf of various political causes. But they were also afflicted by considerable tension between the medium and its message — not more than a few thousand people were exposed to Crass’ very broad social concerns, and their musical inflexibility guaranteed that the band would be preaching to the converted almost exclusively.
Sadly, we’re living through similar times now. Are we too cynical to create an answer like Crass did ?
There are plenty of political rockers, and many are effective, working inside the mainstream. But Crass were very much on the outside and on their own terms – they were like the Gandhis of rock. They said no and people listened. Few could be bothered with that kind of hardship today.
Crass were always about more than just the music. They kept the flame burning with albums that came packaged in brilliant, incensed artwork from Gee Vaucher, and they were active in promoting pacifism, vegetarianism, communal living and hope in the middle of the collapse of punk rock.
While others were spraying “anarchy” on the wall, Crass were patiently explaining what that term meant and how it could work.
Could someone repeat this in 2011?
The political conditions are certainly there, and Crass’s back catalogue still sells strongly. The ticking time bomb of their idealism must surely live on in a new generation. But who knows when it will explode?
Crass employed plain-talking, working class-oriented language to deliver direct, practical, and ideological messages. The tone of the music is angry and aggressive, though the essential message of Crass, and many bands like them, is pacifistic. More hardcore bands such as Rage Against the Machine also rely on an aggressive sound.
Inspirational to thousands of youth the world over, Crass broke new ground in what could musically be considered punk and how a punk band could present itself.
Penny Rimbaud was fascinated with how major corporations presented themselves and drilled their image in people’s minds. Penny wanted a symbol for his projects that could hold the same power. He wasn’t looking for a band logo, but a logo for a movement. He turned to his friend and artist, Dave King.
Originally conceived and intended as the cover artwork for a self-published pamphlet version of Christ’s Reality Asylum by Penny Rimbaud, the Crass logo represented an amalgamation of several “icons of authority,” including the Christian Cross, the Swastika, and the Union Flag, combined with a two-headed Ouroboros to symbolise the idea that power will eventually destroy itself.
“The symbol represented the various forms of oppression…family, church and State.” – Heraldic in quality, the circular design broke on its edges into two serpent’s heads, suggesting that the power it represented was about to consume itself. It was an extraordinarily powerful piece of work which…became synonymous with the ancharo-punk movement that we had spawned.”
Using such deliberately mixed messages was part of Crass’ strategy of presenting themselves as a “barrage of contradictions”, which also included using loud, aggressive music to promote a pacifist message, and was in part a reference to their own Dadaist and performance art backgrounds.
The band’s militaristic appearance ( which led some to accuse them of fascism ) was intended to be a statement against the “cult of personality”, so that, in contrast to the norm for many rock bands, no member would be identified as the ‘leader’.
The band eschewed any elaborate stage lighting during live sets, instead preferring to be illuminated by simple 40 watt household light bulbs (the technical difficulties of filming under such lighting conditions in part explains why there is so little live footage of Crass in existence).
The band pioneered multimedia presentation techniques, fully utilising video technology and using back-projected films and video collages made by Mick Duffield and Gee Vaucher to enhance their performances.
Crass, the band whose name and image is synonymous with the genres of “anarchopunk” and “peace punk,” emerged in the second wave of punk rock which began immediately following the Pistols in 1976.
As a band, label, and collective Crass delivered on many of the ideas which were posited but never fully explored by the original punks: they made punk an explicitly ideological, revolutionary enterprise and they applied that ideology to every aspect of their art.
By choosing DIY (do it yourself) as a political stance rather than a necessity of survival, they pushed punk to the next level and set the stage for a counter-cultural revolution that activists and artists today are still trying to catch up to.
They heard Johnny Rotten’s cry of “I am an anarchist!” as more than a shocking confession of depravity, and in fact took it quite at face value.
Drummer/producer Penny Rimbaud and singer Steve Ignorant spent the early part of 1977 assembling the band, and were operating as a full-functioning unit by the summer.
Crass the band was comprised of individuals who, by and large, came from an earlier generation than most of their audience. Veterans of the hippie counterculture, the ’60’s activist scene, and especially the anti-nuclear Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the band brought a historical perspective to their endeavor.
With a handful of songs they set out to play rowdy drunken shows wherever they could, and were promptly banned from the premiere London punk venue: the Roxy. According to Rimbaud, all the band members arrived drunk at the second gig, and were ejected from the stage.
This event was immortalised by their song “Banned from the Roxy” and the essay Crass at the Roxy by Penny Rimbaud.
Following this incident, the band decided to take themselves more seriously, particularly paying more attention to their presentation. As well as avoiding alcohol or cannabis before gigs, they also adopted a policy of wearing black, military surplus-style clothing at all times, whether on or off stage.
This act of censure only reinforced their growing feelings of betrayal as their forebears turned into preening pop stars, leaving the underground to rot. Crass resolved to get serious and stake their own path.
The band quickly adopted an aesthetic approach that would set them apart from the vacuous fashion punk that was turning the scene into a fad and a marketing scheme. They took to wearing all black, projecting video and film during their set, and stringing the stage with political signs and banners.
All of this served to emphasize the importance of the message over the cult of the performer. Since the lyrics were often indecipherable, the band also printed a newspaper and handed out leaflets containing political screeds, artwork, and tasty recipes.
They adopted an enigmatic logo, two intertwined serpents, that has become almost as ubiquitous a punk symbol as the circle A they adopted from traditional anarchism. Their cover artwork was similarly challenging. Gee Vaucher’s amazingly complex, collage-like surrealist paintings provided an elegant counterpoint to the abrasive music and spartan, stenciled graphics that Crass deployed on stage. The thick booklets for their records read like political pamphlets.
Crass played alongside the UK Subs at the White Lion pub in Putney. These latter performances were often not well-attended; “The audience consisted mostly of us when the Subs played and the Subs when we played.”
In keeping with early punk ethos, Crass assumed obviously fake stage names. The membership changed a bit over the years, but the group’s mainstays were vocalists Steve Ignorant, Eve Libertine, and Joy de Vivre. Drummer Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, who did tape collages and provided the distinctively bleak black and white artwork on the fold-out posters that usually enclosed their LPs, were also important contributors.
The early Crass gigs weren’t just about the people on the stage playing instruments and singing, it was about the whole event – being in small, claustrophobic venues, with all the rumours flying about that there was going to be trouble, but still choosing to be there, the people going around selling their hand-produced fanzines and cassettes, the films, the poets, the handouts and badges, mingling with all the odd-balls, misfits, hippies, punks and creatives and general outsiders to mainstream society who would turn up, being introduced to often new and challenging ideas and ways of thinking.
The band themselves were close-knit, living together in a commune-type farm hidden away in the countryside outside London. The farm has seen a fluctuating guest list since it was established in 1968 (including a young Bjork who was in the band KUKL). It was another way the band embodied what they sang about.
The insular atmosphere gave birth to the unique Crass sound that has never really been duplicated: a hellish noise like cats fucking in a garbage can during a police riot.
Penny’s military drum beats and Phil Free’s plodding basslines drive along as the guitar feedback screeches and crunches, often with no discernable notes being played. Over this Steve, or Eve, or someone is yelling like a mad ranter about some kind of injustice, often with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Sometimes it was about the empowerment of realising that you weren’t the only one who thought this way, and gaining confidence from the whole DIY and ‘there is no authority but yourself’ ethic to believe in yourself.
The tension and energy and that whole sense of being ‘in the moment’ and not quite knowing what was going to happen, either during that evening or in terms of where ‘the movement’ might be headed – sometimes it really did feel like being part of a revolution… naive though that sounds now that was the kind of energy and buzz that you’d get at a Crass gig back in the day.
Emblematic of a more credulous and committed age, Crass promoted anarchism as a political ideology, a way of living and a resistance movement – promoting direct action, animal rights, feminism and environmentalism. Uncompromisingly DIY, the band were based around Dial House, a commune near Epping, Essex, and became notorious for their sloganeering graffiti assaults on the walls of the London Underground and advertising billboards, as well as coordinating squats and organising political protests.
The band was based around “Dial House” , an open house community near Epping, Essex, when Dial House founder and former member of avant-garde performance art groups EXIT and Ceres Confusion Penny Rimbaud (real name Jeremy Ratter) began performing with Clash fan Steve Ignorant (real name Steve Williams), who was residing in the house at the time.
Crass still exists today as a commune at ‘Dial House’- a safe haven for those individuals of principle who still live by the old punk slogan ‘Do it yourself’.
For a short period of time, they called themselves Stormtrooper, before choosing the name Crass, a reference to the David Bowie song “Ziggy Stardust,” specifically the line “The kids was just crass.”
Crass performed their first live gig at a squatted street festival at Huntley Street, North London. Here they had intended to play a set of five songs; however, the “plug was pulled” on them by a neighbour after three songs.
“There wasnt a frontman or frontwoman = we were all equal”
Steve Ignorant (Vocals) / Eve Libertine (Voice) / Joy De Vivre (Voice) / N. A. Palmer (Rhythm Guitar) / Phil Free (Guitar) / Pete Wright (Bass and Voice) / Penny Rimbaud (Drums, Ptoduction Voice on “Yes sir I will: Track 2″) / Gee Vaucher (Artwork, Piano, Radio) / Mick Duffield (Films) / John Loder (1946–2005), sound engineer and founder of Southern Studios, is sometimes considered to be the ‘9th member’ of Crass / Steve Herman (???? – 1979) left Crass shortly after their first gig..
The same year Stephen Williams was born in 1957, British Prime Minster Harold Macmillan told the populace of Britain that they’d “never had it so good”.
But in reality, Williams was born into poverty while Britain struggled with the after-effects of war. An alcoholic father, a violent brother, a strict grandfather and a preoccupied mother plunged the boy into a world of misery in which he was forced to forge his own education, amusement and dreams.
Depression would eventually hit Steve as an adult and result in a suicide attempt, but as a teenager he would escape the drudgery of life by embarking on a brilliant career of school truancy
Two decades later he’d change his name to Steve Ignorant and form Crass with Penny Rimbaud. They would make the biggest change to popular music – and popular culture itself – since The Beatles.
“I don’t consider it too grandiose to claim that Crass was later to become one of the most influential bands in the history of British rock,” Penny Rimbaud wrote in his autobiography Shibboleth ( 1998). “The band was never a great musical influence, but the effect of its lyrics on broader social issues was enormous.”
After years of taking part in rallies, political events, and music events all over the U.K., Crass finally called it quits in 1984 after guitarist N.A. Palmer decided to pursue an education in art school; Crass’s band members decided to end the band rather than replace Palmer.
Steve Ignorant went on to join the band Conflict, with whom he had already worked on an ad hoc basis, and in 1992 formed Schwartzeneggar. From 1997-2000, he was a member of the group Stratford Mercenaries. He has also worked as a Punch and Judy professor and as a solo performer.
In 2010, Steve has finally settled on the coast of Norfolk, working as a volunteer lifeboat crew member. It’s a far cry from Dagenham in the 1950s. Rationing ended in Britain in 1954 – just under a decade after the end of the war – but its effects were still being felt by those on the poverty line when Steve was born
Steve Ignorant performed Crass songs at the Shepherds Bush Empire in the United Kingdom on Nov, 2007, with special guests performing as his band.
In December 2010, Crass’s Steve Ignorant made an announcement via his blog stating that he would be embarking on a tour titled “The Last Supper,” in which he would be performing Crass songs from the time period between 1977-1984.
The news struck the Punk community with a shocking magnitude; although Steve Ignorant performed the “Feeding of the 5000″ in its entirety back in 2007 in the United Kingdom, the last time the world experienced Crass’s live music was 1984, the last year Crass was together.
Depending on your perspective, legendary British collective Crass was either the truest band of anarchists to ever strap on guitars — loudly, proudly advocating radical ultra-left politics through its atonal avant-punk music, Dadaist collage artwork, and edge-dwelling DIY lifestyle — or it was a snotty, pompous, and amateurish bunch of untalented crypto-hippies who thought its shit didn’t stink.
In fact, it’s technically a band called the Last Supper, which is led by Crass frontman Steve Ignorant and exists solely to play Crass songs.
Penny Rimbaud, Eve Libertine, Phil Free, and other original clan members aren’t part of the proceedings. For the casual fan, that might be fine. After all, didn’t John Lydon just play in town a few months ago with a band called Public Image Limited, despite having only Lydon and no other original PiL musicians?
Nor is this the first time Ignorant has taken the stage to play those old Crass anthems: in 2007, he performed the band’s entire 1978 debut album, The Feeding of the 5,000, over the course of two nights. “Me and the band are really looking forward to this,” Ignorant blogged about the forthcoming U.S. tour on his website. “Being able to the play the Crass songs in places where Crass was never able to go will be an honour, and a huge amount of fun as well.”
Steve Ignorant interview.Wed, Oct 20, 2010
Did Crass miss the mark on anything?
Well, apart from certain records I wouldn’t have released? No, I think we covered all the areas that we had to cover. It’s funny, because in going through all the Crass songs and choosing which ones we should perform, I found out there are actually quite a few Crass songs that say the same thing. And some say it quicker than others. So we’ve tended to go for the faster ones to give people a good time.
Are the other members of Crass concerned about what this tour and Crass reissues might be doing to their reputation?
Well, some of the members are. There are three members who are totally against these re-releases, and I don’t think they’ve got any idea whatsoever about how important those records are to people. I just don’t understand how they can sit there and say, “No, there shouldn’t be these releases. The only releases that should be allowed are the original vinyl.” Well, a lot of people don’t have record players anymore. Or they can download off the computer – well, not everybody’s got a computer. I just think… I mean, why shouldn’t they be available to people?
I don’t think those three ex-members of Crass go to gigs, but I go to gigs, and I don’t think those members have any inkling of how horrible or stupid it’s making Crass look or making themselves look. Okay, if you don’t like the cover – there’s a bit on the cover that I don’t particularly like, but I’ll let it go. There are some of the vocals, my original vocals on “Feeding” which I wish, oh, I wish I’d done different. But you can’t change it. You have to live with it.
And then they threaten us, saying, “If you do release it, I’m going to take you to court.” Well, how ridiculous is that? Big, bad anarchists Crass can’t sort a problem out without running to court, or the system that they were fighting against. How weird is that?
They’re fighting pretty hard. It’s gone quiet at the moment, but we call it the “lull before the storm”. Something is going to happen. We don’t know what, but while we’ve got the chance, we’re selling the things as fast as possible. Maybe I’ll see you in prison
Jeremy John Ratter (born 8 June 1943, Northwood, England), aka Penny Rimbaud, is a drummer, writer, poet, former member of performance art groups EXIT and Ceres Confusion, and co-founder of the anarchist punk band Crass with Steve Ignorant in 1977.
Rimbaud (so named as a tribute to poet Arthur Rimbaud, the ‘Penny’ being a pun on the phrase “arfer (half a) penny”, referring to the long discontinued British Ha’penny coin) was expelled from two public schools, Brentwood School and Lindisfarne College, and went on to study philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, before quickly realising that, in his own words, ‘Oxford wasn’t about learning, but about a peculiarly unpleasant form of class indoctrination’.
After a period of bohemian wandering in Spain he enrolled at the South East Essex Technical College and School of Art in the early 1960s, where he met his life-long creative partner Gee Vaucher. While there, he exhibited a talent for tailoring, and quick to realise the potential within the then fledgling Pop Art movement, he scored considerable success as an innovator.
Aa young and mod-like Penny Rimbaud 0eeting an equally young John Lennon on Ready Steady Go in 1964. It’s a key moment because, in many ways, Crass took Lennon’s (occasional) idealism and ran with it further than any other group.
It is widely believed that Rimbaud (aka Jeremy) was the model for John Lennon’s 1965 song “Nowhere Man” (aka Jeremy). Penny received a prize from Lennon for winning a competition to produce a piece of artwork depicting The Beatles’ song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.
His prize was a copy of Mingus by Charlie Mingus and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto, to which Lennon, clearly discomfited, remarked ‘Rocker!’, adding as an aside, ‘That’s nowhere, man. I’ll get you for that’.
He also set up the anarchist/pacifist Dial House community in 1967 with Gee Vaucher and Phil Russell and helped to instigate the free festival movement.
An ardent, articulate and still angry polemicist, his works include Reality Asylum, Rocky Eyed and Oh America. Says Rimbaud of his own legacy: “our response to things wasn’t a musician or a lyrical response, it was a political response.”
Louise Elliott an Australian tenor saxophonist and has performed with a wealth of international musicians and has played with Penny Rimbaud for 9 years.
Originally known for her appearances with cult rock outfits Laughing Clowns, The Saints, Ed Kuepper and Paul Kelly, Louise has a fiery commitment to inspiring and energetic live performance which has been referred to in the media as “her profoundly diverse smorgasbord of funk, blues and rock” and “an African inspired jazz explosion”.
Penny Rimbaud has released a new book: This Crippled Flesh – A Book of Philosophy and Filth.
A thought-provoking but unsettling rush of surrealism and darkness, the book is a mixture of neo soft porn and arcane weirdness that manages to be both profane and poetic. And if that wasn’t enough, Rimbaud is producing his own musical interpretation of Alice in Wonderland and releasing a book of naked self-portraits.
What is it about what Crass stands for that has made them such a powerful rallying point, years later?
Central to what we had to say was the notion that there is no authority but yourself. At the time I promoted that idea with anarchistic thoughts and referring people to other anarchistic thinkers, but I have gently updated it to “no responsibility but to yourself”. What I really believe is that it’s not the politicians that change the world – it’s people like Descartes and Nietzsche. To my mind the true battleground against capitalist ideology is the cultural one because I think it’s from there that a sense of empowerment can grow.
There has been quite a bit of Crass activity recently, including the reissue of The Feeding of the 5000.
I battled to do the Crass reissues, and to get them released, because I believed in them. I finally managed to get them out, despite all kinds of legal threats from people. We did it, and the response has been amazing – interestingly, not just from the new young punks on the scene but from academia and the media, which is totally new to us. We have been getting praise from people who once spent most of their time deriding us and, suddenly, they’re saying that we are important and a valuable voice, particularly in this hideous mess the country has been driven into by the coalition.
It’s taken a long time for Crass to be understood, is that your fate?
It’s taken 30 years for what we were saying then to be taken more seriously. I sort of feel the same fate for my books. My new book is as radically demanding as Crass was 30 years ago – if it’s not, then I’ve failed. The book is not trying to be pretentious, it’s simply looking into myself, trying to dig deeper and deeper. It’s the human frame without the pretensions. That’s what I have struggled to do all the time; expose myself as nakedly as I possibly can.
Your books are complex, how long did it take to put the new one together?
I first started writing it when we were fighting to avoid eviction from Dial House, 20 years ago. I had to look through reams and reams of legal documents every day, but I didn’t want to stop writing creatively. So I created a series of files, each one of them for a different mood. I had an “upset” file and I had a “happy” file , and I could go into those and write whatever I felt like writing when I had time. While I was doing that I noticed that there were certain patterns emerging. After we had won the case I went back to this huge catalogue of files and thought: “Ok, I am going to make this into a complete book.” Then it fell together extraordinarily easily, actually.
Another element in the book was that Gee [Gee Vaucher, Crass co-conspirator and the woman responsible for the band’s artwork] had this collection of soft porn magazines because she has always used soft porn in her art. I got fascinated by their banality – of the cheap eroticism – and every time I drew a blank I used something from one of the porn mags in the book as inspiration. That culminated in the last big sexual act in the book which was fucking the capitalist pig. I realised that the whole book was about commodification; particularly the commodification of women – and how the sex that you read about in porn was completely divorced from the concept of love and attachment. So the book became this strange tangle of philosophy and filth.
Now the book is out, you’re working on an Alice in Wonderland project. Can you tell me a bit about that?
I’m working on a very different angle to the original book. It’s primarily a musical project at the moment – and then a book, maybe. I see it basically as a sort of opera. I have a young daughter who wants to be Alice. The idea was to simply try and draw her through Wonderland, so as it’s seen from her perspective. I absolutely have no plan of guiding her at all. It’s about her impressions and her ideas, like a sort of guided meditation through Wonderland as Carroll wrote it – to see what her reactions are, and look at the darkness and the light. I saw that new Alice in Wonderland film recently, and I could not believe that anyone could have done that. I can’t see what relationship it bore, whatsoever, in any form to Alice. It seemed to me to typify everything that the modern world offers: a sort of post modern nightmare that is colourful and pretty but has no depth.
There was one saving grace, and that was Johnny Depp who does a great Mad Hatter. I really like what he brought to the character. But, beyond that, it seemed like no one had done any study or work. It was so completely banal and, given the huge depth that it could have had, it was disappointing. It typifies what I mean by this huge gap between deep culture and consensual entertainment – and that gap seems to be getting more and more enormous.
What other projects are you working on?
In book terms I’m working on a volume which is basically my notebooks of the last five years; one-liners and side thoughts, as well as 120 close-up photos of my naked body, because the naked mind and the naked body go together. Another novel could be difficult to do since they take so long to write. They seem to take 15 years, and I’m becoming aware of my own mortality. I’m sort of thinking of how best to use that time that I have got left.
The English artist Gee Vaucher is considered the leading light of the protest art movement of the 1980s.
Gee Vaucher’s collaboration with the anarcho-punk band Crass was seminal in the oft-colliding worlds of protest art and punk rock. Vaucher created paint and collage pieces for the band’s album covers and inserts, as well as edited many video pieces which played alongside Crass during live performances. Her influence on and creations for the band were not just complimentary, but integral to their spirit
Punk was as much about a look as it was about the music and Vaucher was influential in creating and perpetuating the look – her collages and paintings were among the most disturbing and acclaimed images of the time. Vaucher’s anarcho-pacifist and feminist views shine through in her surrealist artwork which she sees as a tool for encouraging social change.
She has also been much sought after for her work as an illustrator and painter and since Crass disbanded in 1984 she has adapted from overt political statements to a more personal expression of the human form. Her thought-provoking work treads a fine line between the beautifully strange and the shockingly depressing and always holds a hard-hitting message.
Vaucher has exhibited extensively throughout the world.
She still produces art which continues to explore the Crass ethos of pacifism, animal rights, and anarchism.
To see more of Gee Vaucher’s Crass artwork you can either flip through some old record bins and pray, or hunt around for a copy of the book Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters, which she published with AK Press in 1999.
Vaucher’s Crass art remains every bit as vital today as it was in the early eighties. Sadly, this is as much due to the dark subject matter remaining all too relevant as it is to the work being aesthetically stunning.
Joy de Vivre
Joy De Vivre ( Virginia Creeper) was the second female singer (along with Eve Libertine) of Crass. She was also one of two lead singers on the Crass album Penis Envy in 1981.
She studied at Colchester Arts School, where she met Andy Palmer.
Eve Libertine (real name Bronwyn Lloyd Jones) was one of the two female vocalists (along with Joy De Vivre) who worked with the influential British anarcho-punk band Crass.
Her works with the band include the controversial single “Reality Asylum”, as well as performing most of the vocals on the group’s third album, Penis Envy (1981), the lyrics of which have a heavy anarcha-feminist content.
After the dissolution of Crass in 1984, Libertine worked with her guitarist son Nemo Jones, as well as performance artist A-Soma.
She also trained as a classical singer, and has recently performed as part of Crass Agenda (renamed Last Amendment as of 2005) along with Penny Rimbaud and others. Her most recent major work is the 2004 Crass Agenda recording of Penny Rimbaud’s Savage Utopia.
Peter Wright, better known as Pete Wright, was bass guitar player and vocalist for anarchist punk band Crass from 1977 until 1984. Occasionally he is credited as Pete Wrong on the bands’ record covers.
After the dissolution of Crass he formed the performance art duo Judas 2 and built a houseboat,
N. A. Palmer (real name Andy Palmer) is a British musician and artist, most well known as rhythm guitarist for Crass.
He joined the band in 1977 and plays on all their albums and singles. He played his guitar in an unusual way: his left hand would be sliding over the fretboard while he strummed the strings with his right thumb, using the instrument to produce ‘drone’ or percussive sounds. He hardly ever played conventional chords and never a solo.
Palmer was also responsible for the artwork for some of the albums released by Crass Records, such as The Eye by KUKL and The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks by Flux Of Pink Indians.
He left Crass in july 1984, after a concert in Aberdare, Wales. This catalysed the affirmation of Crass’ consistently stated intention to split up in 1984. The band stopped performing and recording, and Palmer returned to his art college studies.
Palmer collaborated with former Crass members as part of the 2002 ‘Voices In Opposition To War’ event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank, performing three songs with Eve Libertine and jazz guitarist Phil Robson. However apart from this he has chosen not to participate in nor contribute to any further Crass related activities or projects, including books and documentaries about the band
The Feeding of the 5000
Crass’ first release was The Feeding Of The 5000, an 18 track 12″ 45 rpm EP on the Small Wonder label in 1978.
The title referred to the minimum requirement for a run of records (5000), which the band had little hope of ever selling. The Irish pressing plant also refused to press the record if it was to contain the first track, “Asylum.”
That song was an all-out attack on Christianity delivered in a venomous spoken word poem by singer Eve Libertine over white noise and sound effects. The song ends with Libertine contemptuously stating, “Jesus died for his own sins, not mine.”
The record was eventually released with this track removed and replaced by two minutes of silence, ironically titled “The Sound Of Free Speech”.
The Reality Asylum/Shaved Women EP was the inaugural release for Crass Records. While they had finally gotten the music on vinyl, the controversy was far from over. Scotland Yard, acting under a loophole “criminal blasphemy” law, began raiding record stores and confiscating the record. The band personally received a visit from inspectors who warned them against ever trying to do anything like that again.
Like most big punk bands at the time, Crass records charted on the pop charts. When “Reality Asylum” charted, however, a blank space appeared where the name should have been.
This incident prompted Crass to set up their own independent record label, Crass Records, in order to prevent Small Wonder from being placed in a compromising position in the future as well as retain full editorial control over their material.
The record, with its barely musical songs, enigmatic black and white packaging and wordy, shouted lyrics, was unlike any other punk band at the time. The press hated it. Crass was courted by Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey for a spot on his big-time punk tour package, but declined.
When the band found a less pious pressing plant willing to handle “Asylum,” they re-recorded the track (this time adding a jarring tape-splice job to the already disquieting rant) to release as a single in 1978.
Crass’ third album, 1981’s Penis Envy focused completely on radical feminism. The female members of the group shared complete vocal control over the 10 tracks of empowered indignation.
This marked a departure from the ‘hardcore punk’ image that The Feeding of the 5000 and its follow up Stations of the Crass had to some extent given the group. It featured more complex musical arrangements and exclusively female vocals provided by Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre (although Steve Ignorant remained a group member and is credited on the record sleeve as “not on this recording”).
Although “Systematic Death,” makes it clear that this is still an anarchist attack on the patriarchal standards of capitalism, Penis Envy made the connection explicit in a way that no other Crass record had.
The album addressed feminist issues and once again attacked the institutions of ‘the system’ such as marriage and sexual repression. They were motivated by the sexism rampant in the Chaos Punk/Oi! craze sweeping England
The last track on Penis Envy, a deliberately saccharine parody of a ‘MOR’ love song entitled “Our Wedding”, was also made available as a white flexi disc to the readers of ‘Loving’, a teenage girl’s romance magazine – that was planning a special Bridal Issue.
The song is a sarcastically saccharine send-up of the traditional myths of marriage. Sung with mocking primness by Joy de Vivre, the song collapses into a messy cacophony of wedding bells as it slowly fades out.
The free flexi offer had been suggested to Loving by an organisation calling itself “Creative Recording And Sound Services” (note the initials).
A minor tabloid controversy resulted once the hoax was revealed, with the News of the World going so far as to state that the title of the flexi’s originating album was “too obscene to print”. The album was banned by retailers HMV. It was a supreme act of “culture jamming” before such a concept existed.
Christ – The Album
The band’s fourth LP, 1982’s double set Christ – The Album, took over a year to record, produce and mix, during which time the Falklands War had broken out and ended. This caused Crass to fundamentally question their approach to making records.
As a group whose primary purpose was political commentary, they felt they had been overtaken and made to appear redundant by real world events.
By contrast to the Falklands War, and the outrage and urgency of the How Does it Feel? EP, 1982’s Christ the Album appears somewhat jumbled and anti-climactic. Its targets are scattered across the board: from the familiar anti-system rants to a critique of the meat-headed Oi! scene that had made Crass and their slogan “Anarchy and peace” one of its favorite targets.
Sheep Farming in the Falklands
Crass secretly produced 20,000 copies of a flexi-disc featuring a live recording of “Sheep Farming in the Falklands.”, which were randomly inserted into the sleeves of other records by sympathetic workers at the Rough Trade records distribution warehouse as a means of spreading their views to those who might not normally hear them.
Unsuspecting record buyers would return home to find a bonus inside their LP: a bitter, sarcastic attack on the Tory war machine.
How Does it Feel
The Falklands War demanded that all of their attention return to their anti-war, pacifist ideals.
The 1982 single How Does it Feel to be the Mother of 1,000 Dead? addresses Margaret Thatcher directly. Although the war is a minor point in history to most Americans, it was a crucial issue in England at the time, and did in fact claim around 1,000 lives.
The How Does it Feel? single actually made it to the floor of Parliament, where conservatives led by Tim Eggar tried to get it banned as obscene. The controversy was swept under the carpet after Eggar was humiliated by Crass in a debate aired on the BBC.
The record, sold for the usual low Crass price, sold thousands of copies..
Stations of the Crasss
The front cover artwork from Stations of the Crass, illustrates the stenciled graffiti used by the band. From their earliest days of spraying stencilled anti-war, anarchist, feminist and anti-consumerist graffiti messages around the London Underground system and on advertising billboards, the band had always been involved in political as well as musical activities.
Your Already Dead
Explicit support for such activities was given in the lyrics of the band’s final single release “You’re Already Dead“, which also saw Crass publicly express growing doubts regarding their long time commitment to pacifism. This led to further introspection within the band, with some members feeling that they were beginning to become embittered as well as losing sight of their essentially positive stance.
Acts of Love
As a reflection of this debate, the next release using the Crass name was Acts of Love, classical music settings of 50 poems by Penny Rimbaud described as “songs to my other self” and intended to celebrate “‘the profound sense of unity, peace and love that exists within that other self.”
Yes Sir,, I Will
In 1983 Thatcher was re-elected and the prospect of opposition to war and suffering seemed even less likely. Crass’ next album was their most reactionary yet. Yes Sir… I Will is nothing if not immediate, catching every desperate pang of pain and frustration in an atonal mess of twisted bass lines and totally trashed guitars. While the album borders on unlistenable, it also might be the band’s most ingenious work.
There are moments where a sort of quiet, calm breaks through and then you’re sucked back into the chanting, flailing fray. In many ways it was the band’s dying word: delivered kicking and screaming in true Crass style.
Although they did go on to do other work together, Yes Sir was the last project to include all the members of Crass, and it’s dual message of “There is No Authority but Yourself,” and “Love is the Root of our Anger,” are appropriate parting words.
Crass had been involved in subversive activity since their early days of spray-painting situationist-style stencils over adverts in tube stations (the source of the double pun in Stations of the Crass).
Crass all but retired from the public eye after becoming a small thorn in the side of Margaret Thatcher’s government following the Falklands War. Questions in Parliament and an attempted prosecution under the UK’s Obscene Publications Act for their single “How Does It Feel…”led to a round of court battles and what the band describes as harassment that finally took its toll.
Guitarist N. A. Palmer had announced that he intended to leave the band in order to further his art college studies, and the reported group consensus was that replacing him would be “like having a corpse in the band”.
Facing a high-profile that made it harder to get away with such actions and a cult status that bordered on the same hero-worship they hated about the punk sell-outs, the band broke up (as they had always planned) in the Orwellian year 1984.
On July 7, 1984 the band played their final gig at Aberdare in Wales, a benefit for striking miners, before retreating to Dial House to concentrate their energies elsewhere.
crass old band in action.
crass do they owe us a living live demo tape
Crass Independents Record Label
As well as their own material, Crass Records released recordings by other performers, the first of which was the 1980 single “You Can Be You” by Honey Bane, a teenage girl who was staying at Dial House whilst on the run from a children’s home.
The label quickly became not just a vehicle for Crass to release their own work, but a showcase for like-minded artists who might otherwise have toiled in obscurity. Crass’s popularity was used to gain exposure for numerous other acts which may have otherwise never have gained an audience.
When it came time to expand out into a record label, Crass applied their branding technique to this new venture as well. Each release on Crass records had a black and white circular logo on the front. This associated every release (almost all by previously unheard of artists) with the mega-popular Crass.
Crass’ first two records had caused quite a stir, and when their second LP, the double-disc Stations of the Crass sold 20,000 copies, they suddenly found themselves with ample resources to put out records by amazing bands such as Zounds, the Poison Girls, Flux of Indians, the Mob, Rudimentary Peni, Conflict, Omega Tribe, Icelandic band KUKL (who included singer Björk), classical singer Jane Gregory, Anthrax, Captain Sensible, and Lack of Knowledge.
Crass Records also put out three editions of Bullshit Detector, compilations of demos and rough recordings which had been sent to the band, and which they felt represented the DIY punk ethic.
The catalogue numbers of Crass Records releases were intended to represent a countdown to the year 1984 (eg, 521984 meaning “five years until 1984″), both the year that Crass stated that they would split up, and a date charged with significance in the anti-authoritarian calendar due to George Orwell’s novel of the same name.
With simple images and design Crass sent out their message to the world with the goal of essentially brain washing their audience. This, coupled with the booklets, posters, patches, and buttons that came with every release, made Crass records a one-stop-shop for the aspiring anarchist.
This may not sound too revolutionary but it is worth keeping in mind that Crass was operating in 1980. At that time, literally no one had yet thought to apply corporate tactics to presenting and spreading radical ideas. Their goal was to brainwash their audience and remake the world in their own image.
Poison Girls ( 1976 to 1989 ) were a Brighton, England anarcho-punk band fronted by female singer / guitarist Vi Subversa, but was not an all-girl band, despite their name.
Vi Subversa, was a middle-aged mother of two at the band’s inception, and wrote songs that explored sexuality and gender roles, usually from an anarchist perspective.
The original Poison Girls line-up also included: Lance D’Boyle (drums); Richard Famous (guitar/vocals); Nil (tapes/bass/electric violin); and Bernhardt Rebours (bass/synthesiser/piano).
Poison Girls moved to Burleigh House in Essex, ( close to Dial House) , the home of fellow anarchist band Crass, with whom they worked closely for a number of years, playing over 100 gigs with the band.
In 1979 they contributed to the revival of the peace movement by playing a number of benefit gigs with Crass and paying for the production of the first CND badges since CND’s heyday. Again in 1979, and again with Crass, they proved influential to the establishment of the short lived Wapping Autonomy Centre by contributing the track “Persons Unknown” to a split single with Crass (who contributed “Bloody Revolutions”) and raising over £10,000.
In 1980, Crass and Poison Girls released a combined single. The A side had “Bloody Revolutions” by Crass. It was backed by “Persons Unknown” by Poison Girls. That’s right…two bands for the price of one record. The single went to the #1 spot on the U.K. indie singles chart.
Their song “Bully Boys”, an attack on violent machismo led to the band being blacklisted by the left-wing Socialist Workers Party and attacked by members of the National Front both convinced it was an attack on them.
Though their last studio recording to date was in 1985, a number of Poison Girls compilations have since been released, and their songs frequently appear on punk anthologies.
Crass became particularly infamous for their politically motivated hoaxes, including the so-called Thatchergate tape: a cassette, leaked to the press, featuring what seemed to be a private telephone conversation picked up by accident as a result of crossed lines.
Around 1984, a tape was spliced together in which Thatcher and Ronald Reagan appear to discuss the Falklands War, with her admitting to purposely starting it, and him threatening to nuke Europe to defend American pride.
The tape found its way into the hands of the US State Department, who issued a categorical denial of its veracity. It was then included in a study released to the press about the increasingly “fine-tuned” technological disinformation tactics being employed by the KGB.
On the Thatchergate tape they discuss the sinking of the HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, and appeared to allege that Europe would be used as a target for nuclear weapons in any conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Copies were leaked to the press, and the US State Department believed the tape to be propaganda produced by the Soviet KGB, a story reported by both the San Francisco Chronicle[ and The Sunday Times. Although put together totally anonymously, the British Observer newspaper was somehow able to link the tape with the band.
When it came to light that the tape had in fact been compiled by Crass bassist Phil Free and leaked by Crass, the State Department looked ridiculous.
The tape was actually constructed by Crass using edited recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’s voices; on the tape they discussed the sinking of the HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, and appeared to suggest that Europe would be used as a target for nuclear weapons in any conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union
The band had struck another victory for subversion and found themselves doing interviews and speaking out all over the British and American press. The “Thatchergate” tape would be the last controversy for the band.
Tape of Thatcher – Reagan Telephone Conversation. Made During Falklands War.
T. ……own business!
R. I urge restraint. It’s absolutely essential or the area ‘be “through the roof”.
T. Look, our objectives are fundamentally different. Al Haig…
R. ….Secretary Haig….
T. ….doesn’t seem to be able to find a solution.
R. Why eliminate “Belgrano”? You directed this. The Argentinians were then going…. Secretary Haig reached an agreement.
T. Argentina was the invader! Force has been used. It’s been used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.
R. Oh, God, it’s not right! You caused the “Sheffield” to have been hit. Those missiles we followed on screens. You must have too, and not let them know. What do you hope to gain?
T. What I said before -“Andrew”- ….As “cruise” go in, I want incentives at all levels….
R. There’s a deal….a third more submarine ballistic missiles, and you will see that the United States forces remain deployed. The intermediate range missiles are U.S. defence. You proposed building them in Europe. Build up the economy. They don’t work, they’re social programmes…. The United Kingdom is a….er….little nation….
T. You still need those nations, and you’re given long term international markets.
R. We are supported by our allies, whether they want, or not.
T. I, I don’t understand you….
R. In conflict, we will launch missiles on allies for effective limitation of the Soviet Union.
T. ‘mean over Germany?
R. Mrs Thatcher, if any country of ours endangered the position, we might bomb the “problem area”, and correct the imbalance.
T. See, my….
R. It will convince the Soviets to listen. We demonstate our strength….The Soviets have little incentive to launch an attack.
T. Our British people….
R. London! ….
T. I think….
R. Let that be understood…………………………………….
Phony Reagan-Thatcher Tape
[reprinted in its entirety from ]
A fake tape of a purported conversation between President Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was circulated in Europe this spring, possibly by the KGB, the State Department said yesterday.
“This type of activity fits the pattern of fabrications circulated by the Soviet KGB, although usually they involve fake documents rather than tapes,” the department said in a written response to reporter’s questions.
The department said that although the recording is of “poor quality,” a technical analysis revealed that the voices were those of Reagan and Thatcher.
But the department indicated the voices were spliced together and said they were not part of an actual conversation.
“We checked with the White House, which advised thay no such conversation took place,” the department said.
The President’s part in the recording apparently was lifted from his Nov. 22, 1982 speech on nuclear disarmament,” it said. “We are not sure where Mrs. Thatcher’s remarks came from.
The department said a copy of the tape was received by the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands a week before the British elections.
The tape dealt with the Falklands crisis and U.S. missiles in Britain, the department said.
It said, “From the drift of the tape, the evident purpose was to cause problems for Mrs. Thatcher by blaming her for the sinking of the British destroyer Sheffield and also for us by stirring trouble on the INF (Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces) issue.”
The Sheffield was sunk by Argentine forces last year during the war with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
Britain and the United Staes took part in a NATO decision to install intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe late this year as a counter to similar Soviet forces if an agreement on restriction such weapons is not reached.
The State Department said the tape-recording was sent with a covering letter from an anonymous person to Dutch journalists.
It is said an analysis by the language experts “suggests that the author was not a native speaker.”
The Reagan administration has contended for some time that the KGB has contended for some thime that the KGB has a forgery factory producing false documents to mislead target audiences.
‘Soviet’ faked tape is rock group hoax
[reprinted in its entirety from The Observer, Sunday, January 22, 1984.]
by David Leigh and Paul Lashmar
A TAPE recording, purporting to carry details of a secret telephone conversation between Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan, has been revealed as a hoax manufactured deliberately by an anarchist rock group.
The recording was taken to newspapers throughout Europe –including The Observer– but, apart from one Italian newspaper, nobody had been taken in by the hoax tape until it appeared in the Sunday Times earlier this month.
That newspaper described it as part of a KGB propaganda war. Unfortunately the tape was recorded not in Moscow but in an Essex farmhouse.
The New York correspondent of the paper reported that the State Department believed the tape was evidence of ‘an increasingly sophisticated Russian disinformation cam- paign.’
The real authors of the hoax tape, the anarchist punk rock group Crass, said that they had been ‘amused and amazed’ that the tape had been attributed to the KGB.
The recording first appeared in the offices of a number of Continental newspapers shortly before the British general election last year.
A covering note said it was a recording of a crossed line on which was heard part of the two leaders’ telephone conversation, and that the person who sent it wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
Key lines in the tape include Mr. Reagan apparently asking why the Belgrano was sunk during the Falklands war, when Secretary of State Haig was nearing a peace agreement. Mrs Thatcher appears to reply: ‘Argentina was the invader. Force had to be used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.’
Mr. Reagan then says: ‘Oh God, it is not right. You caused the Sheffield to have been hit. Those missiles we followed on the screen. You must have, too, and not let them know.’
Later, in a discussion on nuclear strategy, Mr. Reagan is made to say: ‘If there is a conflict we shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays within its borders.’
The tape was first brought to The Observer by a Belgian journalist last June. We concluded, like most of the other newspapers, that it was a fake.
The quest for the real hand behind the tape led to an isolated farmhouse in north Essex, where the eight members of the band live with their children.
Reluctantly the members of the band, who sport names like Joy Be Vivre, G Sus and Sybil Right, admitted faking the tape. They showed how they had put it together over two and a half months, using parts of TV and radio broadcasts made by the two leaders, then overdubbing with telephone noises.
‘We wanted to precipitate a debate on those subjects to damage Mrs. Thatcher’s position in the election. We also did it because of the appaling way Tam Dalyell was treated over the Belgrano debate,’ they said.
‘We believe that although the tape is a hoax, what is said in it is in effect true.’
Crass ‘KGB tape’ hoax
[reprinted in its entirety from Sounds, January 28, 1984. Page 2]
CRASS have been uncovered as the perpetrators of a bogus tape of a telephone ‘conversation’ between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
The tape was originally circulated last sammer before the General Election and was claimed to be a recording of a crossed line between the two leaders. Needless to say it is not complimentary to either statesperson.
During the coarse of the ‘conversation’ Thatcher replies to Reagan’s question about the Belgrano by saying: “Argentina was the invader. Force had to be used now, punishing them as quickly as possible.”
And later in a discussion aboat nuclear strategy Reagan says: “If there is any conflict we a shall fire missiles at our allies to see to it that the Soviet Union stays with stays within its borders.”
Most newspapers recognised the tape as a fake but the Sunday Times attributed it to KGB propaganda a couple of weeks ago and last Sunday’s Observer took considerable delight in tracking the tape back to Crass’s HQ in Essex.
Invoking the spirit of one of Reagan’s predecessors, George Washington, they explained that the tape had been put together from TV and radio broadcasts overdubbed by telephone noises.
They justified their actions by saying: “We wanted to precipitate a debate on the Falklands and nuclear weapons to damage: Thatcher’s position in the election. We also did it because of the appauling way Tom Dalyell (almost the only MP to raise any awkward questions over the Falklands affair) was treated over the Belgrano debate in the House of Commons.
“We believe that although the tape is a hoax what is said in it is in effect true. We were amased and amazed that the tape had been attribated to the KGB.”
CRASS, An Education by Toby Mott
I was fifteen, it was 1978 at the London Filmmakers Co-Op, it was fucking loud, dark with white strobing light, despite there being no more than a dozen of us. Lead singer Steve Ignorant shouted in the microphone like he meant. ‘Securicor cares, Securicor cares, Securicor scares the shit out of you.’ This was Crass.
Different from my earlier punk thrill of outrage with sexual energy. There was no drunken hedonism, no chaos, no sex, no fun. This was raw sound screaming into the approaching apocalypse, with short shattering bursts. ‘Do they owe us a living? Of course they do, of course they do. Owe us a living? OF COURSE THEY FUCKING DO.’
London in the late 1970s. I had identified with Crass as the militant voice of my disquiet. This was harsh austere confrontational punk with a puritan uncompromising philosophy: punk as a political force. Now I was serious.
Crass was the soundtrack of my political awakening; my formative political identity was Anarchism, non-conformist, rebellion. Them and us.
I was a troubled delinquent, a founding member of The Anarchist Street Army [ASA]. A punk collective formed at my inner London school, Pimlico Comprehensive. Our activities involved talking ideas into the night, marching on leftist demonstrations, spray-painting our logo and slogan ‘ASA Running Riot’ on our clothing and around the city.
Crass were supported by the screaming punk feminists the Poison Girls. Gigs were held at spaces such as the Ethical Society, Conway Hall, not the pubs and clubs familiar with other punk bands, These concerts in the form of benefit fundraisers had a gravitas as we awoke to the realities of Thatcher’s Britain and our place in, ‘The System’.
Crass were upright on stage, performing in front of projected films, sloganed banners, ‘There is No Authority but Yourself ‘. Dressed in black, loud noise, with words on top of more loud noise; spewing blasphemous poetry, anti war polemics, this was ideology identity, punk art.
We didn’t pogo or drink, so much as watched, listened as if at a deafening political rally or meeting.
Flyers and Crass’s own newspaper International Anthem were circulated, printed on recycled paper with messages of action and freedom, records were inside raw cardboard sleeves all printed with the bold distinctive Crass mark – A contradiction of fascist and religious icons which along with the Anarchy symbol was spreading among Great Briton’s disillusioned youth.
I had carefully cut out and made my own Crass logo stencil, collected their records from Rough Trade. Following Crass was being a part of Crass, that was the punk continuum.
Punk’s initial outburst of anarchic ‘individualism’ enticed and momentarily held me in its exciting thrall, this gave way to totalitarian styled identikit artists and factions.
Crass in their militaristic black outfits, harsh audiovisual punk pacifist utopian Anarchist propaganda espoused a total living art philosophy.
Earlier precedents of this seeming suppression of the ‘individual’, were exampled in the industrial Throbbing Gristle; man as machine Teutonic Kraftwerk, automotive Devo, the seeming conformity of Gilbert & George.
In the England of the 1980s, there were others creating their own vision reacting to the prevailing Thatcherite free market consumerist culture. Psychic Youth, Test Department. Laibach. My own involvement was with the art, filmmaking group the Grey Organization. We parodied yuppie and Soviet corporate monoculture with our uniformed anonymity, shaved heads, white shirts, English suits, making and exhibiting art as product without individual authorship, something inspired from the rigorous orthodoxy of Crass.
Crass ended its own story in 1984 a suitable Orwellian demise – but while active they were nothing but authentic, inspiring and principled in a cynical age, answering to no one but themselves.
Andrew Roth Gallery Exhibition
The material featured in this exhibition spans the high period of Crass’ endeavors, from 1978 to 1984, and constitutes a special segment from the collection of artist and curator Toby Mott, a famously diligent collector of punk material whose archive was central to the Loud Flash: British Punk on Paper exhibition that ran recently at Haunch of Venison in London.”
The exhibition is comprised of artwork, albums and ephemera celebrating “the anarchic, self-produced” culture of anarcho-punk originals Crass, including LPs, 12″s and 7″s from Crass Records and a complete set of the Crass ‘zine, Inter-National Anthem.
“Crass embodied the anarcho-punk aesthetic of the late ‘70s,” writes Mott. “They privileged politics over musicianship, substance over form, and above all independence over profitability”
Andrew Roth gallery / East 70th Street / New York
February 18 – March 18