Thursday, 23 March 2017

Anthrax - Capitalism Is Cannibalism


Based in Gravesend, Kent, Anthrax had initially been featured on Bullshit Detector 2 and from there had gone on to have a record (entitled They've Got It All Wrong) released on the Small Wonder label, leading to airplay on the John Peel show. Pete Stennet, proprietor of Small Wonder Records always had a good ear for a good band, being responsible for the first independent label recordings of a plethora of classic acts including Cockney Rejects, Menace, The Wall, Cravats, Punishment Of Luxury, The Cure, and of course, Crass.
Among the large number of demo tapes sent to him, something obviously stood out about Anthrax to warrant doing a single with them as it did with John Peel to warrant giving them airplay. Could it have been perhaps the angry intelligence at work in their songs and the perfect jelling of sentiment to sound?
Crass too obviously picked up on it by the fact of awarding them the opportunity to put out a single on their label. In the process of doing so, however, something very unexpected occurred: In the studio with Penny Rimbaud on production, Anthrax were turned into an astonishing hybrid of Flux Of Pink Indians and a teenage Crass. With phlegmy, snarling vocals, pounding drums, rumbling bass and squealing, feedback-torn, fuzz-drenched guitar, Anthrax were imbuing the Crass formula with new life and vitality.

The title track of their EP, Capitalism Is Cannibalism, was a masterpiece of political Punk combining both anger and despair in equal measures: "What a fucking set up, what a real mess. I can't make sense of it, it doesn't make sense."
Casting a beady eye upon the world, vocalist Oskar was diving head-first into the maelstrom and letting rip with invective: "Raised from the cradle and teethed on possession, they reared you upon TV capitalism. They spewed you out of school, they gave you a nice job. You get turned on when you're on top."
To Oskar, society was a vicious circle in which positions of consuming and of being consumed become blurred, where roles are prescribed and what you get for what you give becomes ever more toxic: "You have to survive by producing crap. Can you call that life? With the very same crap you have to buy back displayed on the supermarket shelf, over a thousand varieties - to damage your health."

For all the sloganeering within Punk alongside the grappling with politics and the wrestling with economics, it was very rare that the term 'capitalism' was ever mentioned. Whilst 'communism' was a part and parcel of everyday language from Sex Pistols lyrics to mainstream news reports, 'capitalism' was deemed almost archaic as though it was a redundant word. When describing the nuclear stand-off between East and West, even, it was always 'communist' Russia against the 'democratic' West.
Professor of linguistics and intellectual political activist Noam Chomsky would argue that this was no accident and was all part of the manufacturing of consent. If this be so, then Anthrax were one of the very first bands to go against the grain by not only ripping the mask of democracy away and addressing the western world's political and economic system by its proper name but defining it truthfully also with one of the most precise Punk slogans ever: Capitalism is cannibalism.

Equally unequivocal was the track-cum-slogan Violence Is Violence, which found Oskar describing how the media condemns violence one minute then condones it the next according to whatever suits whatever agenda is being set at the time. Citing the way the tabloids glorified the Falklands war when only weeks earlier they had been deploring hooligan violence on Britain's streets, he makes a good argument: "The whole fucking affair seems the same to me, one minute they're deploring it the next minute adoring it. But violence is violence no matter who inflicts it, whether used in a street fight or a war caused by politics."

Probably without realising it themselves, Anthrax were actually years ahead of their time specifically in regard to the subject matter of their songs. As well as bare-naked capitalism, for example, they were even getting to grips in the track All Things Bright And Beautiful with environmental conservation. These being two themes that years later would become the focus of major protest movements.
Although the artwork on the sleeve of the EP was perhaps not up to the usual high standard of Crass Records covers, the bold statement on the main fold-out poster side offered final evidence if it be needed that their hearts were firmly in the right place: 'Capitalism gives opportunities in life - Anarchy gives life'.

The Capitalism Is Cannibalism EP along with their Small Wonder début would be the only records Anthrax would ever release in their own right during the Eighties (until reforming many years later and finally releasing two albums, the first a compilation of past glories and the second a collection of totally new material) which was a shame, for even though they were derided by some as being mere Crass copyists, Anthrax were in actual fact a very special band indeed.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Greenham Common


The Easter weekend of 1983 saw 70,000 people descending upon the county of Berkshire to once again congregate beneath the CND banner and stage another anti-nuclear protest. Having 'embraced the base' just a few months earlier, this time a 14 mile-long human chain was formed stretching from Greenham Common to Aldermaston nuclear research centre via Burghfield where the final assembly of mounted nuclear warheads took place. Highlighting the connection between the three establishments, it was a peaceful, symbolic demonstration keeping strictly within the law.

Back at Greenham that same weekend, stepping beyond the boundary of the law but still remaining resolutely peaceful, 200 women dressed as teddy bears stormed the perimeter fence of the base. Once inside the site a surreal protest in the form of a teddy bears picnic took place before being rudely gatecrashed by the police and the bears escorted off the premises.

Apart from the disparity in numbers, the main difference between the two protests was that one was conducted within the law and the other broke the law through trespass on government property. Not that this made any difference to newly appointed Defence Minister Michael Heseltine who accused all the protesters whether acting legally or not as being "misguided and naive enemies of the State".

Heseltine was to prove himself a formidable opponent of CND and indeed, even Thatcher would soon become wary of him and the threat he might pose to her own position. With his forceful character and striking appearance he cut an imposing figure who through sheer antagonism on his part would quickly become a politician to despise.
The problem with Heseltine's criticisms of CND supporters as being "misguided" and "naive" was that these were people whose only demand was that there be peace. It wasn't too much to ask for in life, surely? Heseltine may not have agreed with their advocacy of unilateralism but all he could offer instead was a constant state of fear, the constant threat of all-out war and a world edging ever nearer to nuclear destruction. It was a no-brainer.

And as for being labelled an "enemy of the State", what better accolade could there be? What better street credibility? Especially if as well as being a CND peace protester you also happened to enjoy playing in an Anarcho Punk band who had a record out on the Crass label...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Star Wars


Such determination as displayed by the Anarcho Punk bands was going to be much needed in the face of what one of the world's most powerful Christians was about to announce. Since his entry into the White House, President Ronald Reagan had been successfully proving himself a good friend to all his loyal supporters who had aided him in his election victory. For the rich he was pro-tax cuts, for the conservatives he was pro-family, for the Jewish lobby he was pro-Israel, for the Christian Right he was pro-life, and for all of them he was pro-national defense. In the eyes of all these people, the enemy of freedom and of all that was good was Russia and after 40 years of Cold War, Reagan was determined that it would be his Administration that would finally see the end of it with western democracy emerging triumphant.

Having already escalated the arms race to an unprecedented level, without any prior warning given to his allies Reagan suddenly announced the spear-heading of a programme of research into a new defense against ballistic nuclear missile attack - the Strategic Defence Initiative.
The basic idea was to develop satellites with the capability of firing deadly laser beams at nuclear missiles, either at their point of launch or before point of impact. Controlled by a sophisticated computer system on earth, the satellites would provide an ultimate shield against nuclear attack from Russia. In all but name, Reagan was advocating the future militarisation of space where science fiction would become science fact and where science fact would become science dystopia. Critics immediately dubbed the whole idea 'Star Wars'.

Whilst obviously escalating the arms race further, Reagan tempered this fact by suggesting the Strategic Defence Initiative would actually supersede nuclear weapons as a deterrent and ultimately make all nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. As a firm believer in the 'mutually assured destruction' doctrine, Thatcher was appalled at the talk of a nuclear weapon-free world. According to her, it was absolutely due to nuclear weapons that there had not already been a third world war and the idea of a world totally free of nuclear bombs was neither attainable nor even desirable.
For their own (unspoken) economic reasons, Russia too was dead set against the initiative and for them the whole issue would soon come to dominate all talks on arms control. Due to the ultimate impact it would have on the nuclear arms race and Russian/American relationships, Thatcher would years later say that Reagan's original 'Star Wars' decision would be "the single most important of his presidency". At the time, however, it was yet another mad leap down the rapidly spiralling path to Armageddon.

Clearly, something was going very wrong with the world. The nuclear nightmare was growing ever more real, propelled by the Right-wing political agendas of both the Reagan Administration in America and the Thatcher government in Britain. In the name of peace - on land, at sea, in air, at home, abroad and now potentially in space - a war was being waged against all things politically left-of-centre. The forces of conservative power and control were on the march and no longer was there the option of ignorant bliss or of splendid isolation. The only question now being 'What to do?'.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Alternative - In Nomine Patri


In Scotland, there was another band who were showing they had mighty good taste by dressing all in black, sporting Kamikazi bandannas, and playing live beneath huge stage backdrops and banners depicting anarchist slogans. Consisting of six members including dual vocalists, they were espousing ideas of autonomy and peace through the mediums of fanzines, leaflets, and a sublime form of Punk Rock. The band was called Alternative, their main influence, of course, being Crass.

Brought to the attention of a national audience by the inclusion of a song by them on the first Bullshit Detector LP, Alternative had grown to be a force to be reckoned with and an important Scottish connection for like-minded bands wishing to play gigs in Scotland. It wasn't too long before Alternative were sharing stages with all the leading Anarcho Punk lights, leading to a record by them being released on the Crass label.
In Nomine Patri was the title of the 4-track EP and was nothing short of a high-octane blend of UK Subs and early live Clash rinsed thoroughly through with a healthy dose of Crass. The centre-piece song on the EP was a track called Anti-Christ, being essentially a dramatic and powerful venture into Crass's Reality Asylum territory. With a near-epic, fanfare introduction featuring church organ, the Lord's Prayer, pounding drums, and crashing guitars, it effectively and immediately established Alternative as being just as able if not not even better than any English band at denouncing religion: "I will not cry or reach out for Christ's hand. He carries my guilt and my sin which was never there. I reject this Christ, I reject the myth that holds us. Where is this Heaven You speak of? Where is this love You offer? Have I no self-control over my thoughts? Whether I like it or not? Is my fate sealed to an endless existence binded in guilt and sin? Your cross has been worn as a symbol of guilt for too long."

Was it Patti Smith who first unwittingly gave the green light for blasphemy in Punk when she declared on her Horses début album "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"? Or was it Johnny Rotten when proclaiming himself an 'Anti-Christ'? Or was it Crass who well and truly flung open the door with Feeding Of The 5,000? Whoever it was, it was clear that a rich seam had been opened up within the Punk realm that was being mined for all it's worth: "I seek no Christ as my saviour, I must find control myself. I seek no god, no painted idol. I'm the only one who answers for me. I ask for nothing. I owe Him nothing."

In a secular age, religion and in particular Christianity had become a sitting duck for criticism if not outright abuse, particularly over the way those with their finger on the nuclear button would use it as the backbone of their morality. At the same time, however, there were also a number of quite radical free-thinkers within the Peace Movement who would cite Christianity as the backbone of their own morality as well. So it went both ways.
Increasingly, then, being blasphemous for blasphemy's sake was becoming a rather pointless exercise unless good reason for it was given. To their credit, this is what Alternative were doing: "His conditions, His ten commandments, slip the noose around our necks... What right has He to share His pain? What right has He to crucify us?... Religious rantings support this system, we're caught like flies in a spider's web."

Like all good anarchists, Alternative saw religion as just another tenet of the system, another pillar of the State, and another form of repression. Their advice being that as well as rejecting organised religion, that people also: "Reject this system. Sow the seeds of peace. Don't recognise the rules of the power-monger, for his hand shall not touch upon our peace. Let no politician make your decisions, for the only government is your self. Reject and pacify."

Anti-Christ was a magnificent achievement both sonically and polemically. The problem Alternative were now going to face, however, was that by setting such a high standard with this particular song, they were going to be hard-pressed to follow it. Not that they weren't going to give it a good try if the other three tracks on the EP were anything to by, all being super-charged Anarcho Punk work-outs operating on a scorched earth policy. 
Or even going by the self-belief as conveyed on the record's inner sleeve: 'We are not alone. Our voices will not fade. We will confront and question. Our vision is absolute.'

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Amebix - Winter


What constitutes a classic band is far easier to define than what actually constitutes a classic record. A band either have 'it' or they don't. 'It' having little to do with the music being played but more to do with possessing an edge and a relevancy if only for a brief moment in time, no matter if that moment comes and goes in a blink of an eye to be followed by a subsequent career of mediocrity. Having touched greatness a band can always hold on to that accolade forever more - or the memory of it, at least. From being 'classic' it is then but a short step to becoming 'legendary'.
Dirt had initially proven themselves to be a classic act when first playing live and had then gone on to produce a classic début single in the form of Object, Refuse, Reject, Abuse. Although their début LP had failed to impress and in the interim they had split up, it was of no real matter because they had by then already attained legendary status.

Another contender for that same title was Amebix whose second single, entitled Winter, was released the following month, again on the Spiderleg label. This time round the Killing Joke influence was even more pronounced than on their début single; with tribal drums, rumbling bass and jagged razor-blade guitar creating a backdrop for the hoarse vocals. Once again, however, it seemed that this latest single was another stab at trying to create something unique of their own but not quite getting there.

Winter was a good mood piece to blast over the heads of the huddled Punk masses but there was no denying that Killing Joke had done it so much better and with so much more power. Not that there was anything wrong in wearing your influences on your sleeve, particularly if they were worn with pride and if they were of such high calibre as Killing Joke. And if nothing else, it also showed what good (or bad) taste you had...

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Dirt - Never Mind Dirt Here's The Bollocks


January 1983 saw also the release of the début album from Dirt, entitled Never Mind Dirt - Here's The Bollocks. With its nod to the Sex Pistols in the title, Dirt were reaffirming their allegiance to the tattered and torn flag of Punk. Not for them any denial of history or any musical/cultural progress for the sake of it. Punk was a state of mind rather than a form of music, for sure, but that wasn't to deny how utterly brilliant three-chord Punk Rock rammalama could be. Dirt being fine exponents of the art.

After numerous interviews with various fanzines a bit more was now known about Dirt as in who they were and where they were from. Not surprisingly they were London-based but interestingly two of the members - Fox on drums, Vomit on bass - were brothers and the older, tattooed guy who was always helping with the lighting at their gigs was their father, Leo.
Although Crass fans from days of old, unlike so many other bands who had been sending demo tapes to Crass (for later inclusion on the Bullshit Detector LPs) it was actually Crass who had approached Dirt rather than the other way round, offering them a support slot on an upcoming tour in place of Poison Girls.
Why Crass had chosen Dirt over so many others seemed to be down entirely to just liking them as people, so much so that they were one of the very few bands that Crass broke their label policy of only releasing one record by any one band. Thus, Dirt's début album appeared on Crass Records.

Their début single, the Object, Refuse, Reject, Abuse EP would forever be a superb slab of Anarcho Punk beauty but it was playing live where they had first impacted and it was live where they would always be at their strongest. It made sense then that Dirt might release a live album but to do so as their début just smacked of compromise. Recorded at The New Half Moon in Stepney, London, almost a year earlier, Never Mind Dirt disappointed because it wasn't what it could and should have been.

Dirt excelled at playing basic, tuneful Punk Rock shot through with a shivering, self-possessed fervour. In the studio with Penny Rimbaud their songs had been turned into finely-chisled Punk jewels; suggesting that a whole album crafted in a similar fashion would be sublime. What was actually delivered - though a bargain at 'Pay no more than' £2.00 - was instead a curiously flat affair that failed to do justice to what Dirt were capable of.
With uninteresting samples of inter-group dialogue replacing any audience applause or any acknowledgement of an audience at all, along with studio-recorded overdubs it wasn't really a 'live' recording of a gig at all. At the same time, it wasn't a full studio recording either. It was neither one or the other. It was a compromise.
Even the cover seemed to convey a mixed message with wording around the outside edge stating 'Anarchy as enacted and as demonstrated by Dirt' but the main picture design being of The New Half Moon venue beneath a looming depiction of the Grim Reaper wielding a scythe. On the back of the cover additional wording around the outside edge simply said 'The end. Or is it the beginning?'

So what did it all mean? And why were the titles of the tracks not listed anywhere on the record? And why even the extreme change of name of their drummer from 'Fox' to 'Shit'? It all made a lot more sense when it became known that just prior to the release of the album, Dirt had actually split up, instigated by the departure of drummer Fox under less than happy circumstances at the Zig Zag squat gig. This would also explain the finality of such statements on the cover as 'Thanks to all who shared the experience', implying not just the experience of the gig at The New Half Moon but the experience of the entire 'career' of Dirt.

Apart from this, the maddening thing about Never Mind Dirt was the fact that all the songs on it were really very good. Hi-jacking the John Lennon line "All we're saying is 'Give peace a chance'" and shouting it out Dirt style shouldn't have worked - but it did. So too playing The Animals' House Of The Rising Sun in their own specific manner and changing the words so that it became an anti-war song. It should have been rubbish - but it wasn't. Instead, it was a sing-along though not quite a family one: "Corpses lay scattered like flowers in a field, in the town of Nagasaki. Animals and land destroyed beyond belief, in the town of Nagasaki..."

Dirt were brilliant but it was just a shame the same couldn't be said of their début album...

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Subhumans - The Day The Country Died


For the Subhumans, an important signifier as to where England was at was the inner city riots of 1981, the subject of which they chose to name their début LP after. Released on the Spiderleg Records label, The Day The Country Died was a welcome return to former glory, picking up from the point at which they had first exploded into existence with their Demolition War EP.

Delivering sixteen songs of churning, spinning, speeding Punk urgency, from beginning to end the album simply bounced with excitement. The album's title came from the song Black And White and though not explicitly mentioning the riots of '81 by name, it was clear what it was that was being referred to: "Enquiries - but no solutions, faceless - empty illusions. Reasons - are always pushed aside, remember - the day the country died."
On the album's cover, a cartoon image of a spiky-haired Punk Rocker being shot through the head - molotov cocktail in hand - is superimposed over images of police, war, mobs, missiles and newspaper front pages boasting riot news headlines. Without overstating it, the summer of '81 was obviously of meaning to the Subhumans.

When listened to over the length of a whole album it was apparent that the Subhumans were continuing to perform the neat trick of avoiding being pinned down and categorised, and it seemed to be all down to Dick Lucas's lyrics. Whilst the music was a turbo-charged flurry of rushing, thrashing guitar, bouncing bass and snapping drums; in amongst the words were politics, wry observation, social comment, humour, and even poetry: "There's a hole in the bottom of the world where the blood pours out at the end of the day. When the usual amount of people have died, sit back and watch the death and decay - it's a dying world."

Whilst being fully immersed in the by now recognisable mores, activities and practises of the Anarcho Punk scene and whilst being quite capable of seriousness when it came to serious subjects, what differentiated the Subhumans from the rest of the Anarcho Punk pack was Dick Lucas's almost cartoon-like sense of humour. Liberally lacing his songs with comic asides and noises, he could also pen whole songs that read like madcap comedies: "Oh what a great experience my house is full of deviants, my Dad is going mad downstairs, my brother has just dyed his hair. We got Punks and drunks and thrills and pills and lots of things to make your head go round. It's fun fun fun fun fun til the pigs come round."

In one of the longest songs on the album, entitled Mickey Mouse Is Dead, the irreverence in his lyrics is highlighted when he turns the Crass peace chant of '1, 2, 3, 4 - we don't want your fucking war' into a more comically stupid chant of "1, 2, 3, 4 - look what you done to Mickey Mouse."
Though the subject matter of many of the songs was quite morose, the saving grace was in the way that Dick sounded as if he was thoroughly enjoying himself. In the face of doom and gloom the Subhumans were having fun, no better conveyed than in the track No More Gigs, in which Dick depicts a depressing scenario for his band: "In a smoke-filled room, 'How's it going then?'. 'It's not going at all, we got no more gigs'." But even here Dick turns depression on its head and makes a celebration of it: "A bottle of gin, a packet of cigs. Sing, brother, sing - we got no more gigs."

Despite being undeniably supportive of Anarcho Punk ideas, right down to having the 'pay no more' demand on their record sleeves, the Subhumans were far less intense about it than most of their Punk peer group. And unlike most of the other bands of the Anarcho persuasion, they only had one real message to impart and a very simple at that. A single word message as written all over the inner sleeve of their album: 'Think.'