Saturday, 15 April 2017

Conflict - It's Time To See Who's Who


The intention of spreading awareness was an honourable one shared by a good many bands at that time of which Conflict would happily have included themselves. Garry Bushell had from the very start spotted the potential of Conflict to be a bridge between the Crass camp and the Oi! brigade and from there spreading their Anarcho message to an even wider audience.
'We want to further people's consciousness. And we want to use whatever means are possible,' as Conflict stated in a pamphlet included with their Live At Centro Iberico EP 'We want to reach people by whatever means we can - papers, television, radio, music, the lot.'
Their ambition was evident as was their energy and passion as witnessed during their live performances, along with their commitment as shown by their solidarity with the DIY Punk scene. Conflict readily offered their support to anyone aligning themselves with Anarcho Punk and in turn the Anarcho Punk elders such as Poison Girls, Crass and Southern Studios owners John and Sue Loder offered their support to Conflict.

The obvious next step in maintaining their momentum was for Conflict to release their début LP which they duly did in April of 1983 on the Corpus Christi label. Affiliated to Crass, Corpus Christi had been set up to allow bands total artistic freedom regarding their records. In particular, this meant they were free from Crass label design 'restrictions' and that John Loder instead of Penny Rimbaud would decide on who and what to release.
For Conflict at that time, artistic control meant releasing their LP in a full-colour gate-fold sleeve, the artwork and lettering beautifully designed by one Bernard Chandler, future bassist of Poison Girls. Entitled It's Time To See Who's Who, the LP was essentially the live set that Conflict had been touring around with, finally rendered coherently audible by Crass bassist Pete Wright on production duties.

When playing live, Conflict would create a blistering vortex of noise with vocalist Colin Jerwood - eyes popping, veins bulging - shouting for all his worth at the centre. On initial hearing of the LP, what surprised was how tuneful a lot of the songs actually were and what with the lyrics transcribed onto the sleeve, what exactly Conflict were raging about.
One subject known to be very close to Conflict's heart was animal liberation, represented most powerfully on the track Meat Means Murder. Flux Of Pink Indians were the only other band who had ever really focussed on vegetarianism and animal abuse, and even then had still not quite managed to disassociate the subjects from hippy and middle class connotations. Being solidly working class and thoroughly unpretentious hard bastards, Conflict were endorsing vegetarianism with a credibility it had never had before: "Can't you see that juice is blood? From new born throats red rivers flood. Blood from young hearts, blood from veins. Your blood, their blood, serves the same."
This was a subject that Conflict would never abandon, encouraging many of their listeners to not only give up eating meat but to become militantly active against the perpetrators and beneficiaries of animal abuse, animal experimentation and animal exploitation.

Conflict's natural-born inclination towards anti-authoritarianism manifested itself in them shouting down officialdom and power in all its forms, whether it be the government, the police, the law, the Bomb, the music business, the media or whatever. Conflict were natural-born anarchists, with nothing studied about their anarchism, nothing scholarly or gleaned from text books just an instinctive, gut-level understanding of right and wrong.
Equally important, unlike a significant proportion of the Punk fraternity as represented by The Exploited, for example, Conflict weren't at all interested in numbing themselves to the world through drugs and noise. Instead, Conflict were very much Punks of a positive inclination, offering much needed inspirational attitude: "The Left-wing manifesto, the Right-wing sham, tell us we can't but I know we can. They tell us we can't but I tell you we can. Stuff your lies, I know we can. We can!"

In the track Exploitation, The Exploited and their fine but amusing appearance on Top Of The Pops with their song Dead Cities is referred to as an example of how unrepresentative such bands were of their actual audiences, serving in the end to be of service only to the music business: "Yeah, we live in dead cities and the streets are grey, but I don't need Top Of The Pops to make me think that way. I can see this rebellion on my tv screen, but no sign of a future for you and me."
Conflict’s intention was to set themselves apart and to actively oppose the machinations of the music business through both word and deed, taking the same stance toward politics and social justice. In this respect, demonstrating in protest marches and involvement in direct action was just as important as playing a gig or releasing a record - if not more so.

There were high expectations of Conflict's début album but when it came to it, the album acted more than anything else as a way of cementing their presence as a band. Conflict needed to forge their own essentially anarchist identity not only within the realm of Anarcho Punk but within a wider social context. So, not only were they rejecting both Left and Right-wing politics as any good anarchist might but rejecting also all ideas of historical English identity: "Great Britain thinks it leads the world so civilised, pure and free. Great Britain doesn't lead fuck all, Great Britain shit, you don't fool me. Smashing Argies, Falklands ours. Falklands ours, what a con. We ain't even got a place to stick our arses on."

Many of the songs on It's Time To See Who's Who seemed to be more about dealing with specific subjects so as to get them dealt with and out of the way, so as to enable the band to move on to other territory. Along the way a veritable storm of bluster and fury was being whipped up and this in turn was becoming Conflict's most prominent feature. Like all the other Anarcho Punk bands, Conflict were saying 'No' but in their own unequivocal and unerring manner: "Fuck you! Fuck off!" they were roaring "Fuck you fucking fuck off!"

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Omega Tribe - Angry Songs


Having previously graced Bullshit Detector 2 with the outstanding Nature Wonder track, Omega Tribe had been steadily raising their profile by playing support to bands such as Conflict and Poison Girls, providing a more melodious and approachable counterbalance to Conflict's Punk barrage and Poison Girls' brilliant oddness.
The Angry Songs EP, released on Crass Records, revealed a maturity beyond Omega Tribe's years, not only musically but in their grasp of protest politics where their desire for "a peaceful, happy, equal earth" was tempered by an unblinkered perspective. The opening track, Another Bloody Day, kicked off in healthy Punk mode but then almost immediately cast off its thrash cocoon to reveal the butterfly within. As an elegant piano motif took over, the sudden change of gear gave pause for reflection as vocalist Hugh in dulcet tones asked: "Angry songs and bitter words, have you heard it all before?"

When the Sex Pistols appeared on the Bill Grundy-hosted Today programme in December of 1976, television history was made as they and the idea of 'Punk' was propelled into mainstream public consciousness. Just as important though less acknowledged, however, was their very first appearance on television a few months earlier on the Tony Wilson-hosted So It Goes programme. This was the seminal moment when a combination of factors were joined together to define Punk as inherently a force of absolute relevance and uncontrollable energy. Moreover, it was the moment when utter anger became an integral part of Punk.
"Woodstock!" shouted Johnny Rotten by way of introducing his band, "Coming to get you!" Seemingly aimed not just at Tony Wilson in his soft denim and clogs attire but at the whole smugly satisfied, grim, burnt-out culture of early-Seventies post-hippiedom; it was a taunt brimful of contempt.
"Get off your arse!" Rotten roared, the hostility in his voice and the incandescent fury in his eyes warranting a sense of danger before unleashing a savage version of Anarchy In The UK, soon to become, of course, one of the greatest urban folk songs of the modern age.
As the song screeched to a halt in a blaze of feedback, the band along with leading uber-Punkette Rocker Jordan had already started kicking over mic stands and throwing chairs around the set as the camera zoomed in on Rotten, looking intensely into the distance as though surveying the battlefield of future wars to come.

"Bakunin would have loved it," said Tony Wilson in his summing up and indeed he might well have done; intrigued by the rage, the urge to destruction, the indignation and, of course, the anger. The die was cast. Anger and the feeling and expressing of it would forever more be an important facet of Punk, acting as an engine for action. "'A' equals action, 'T' equals time, 'V' equals vision," as Mark Perry put it, perceptive as ever.
Anger was a weapon for use in defence and attack, a motivating force and a wholly justified response to injustice. Without anger Punk could still be dangerous of a sort though far less potent as would be evidenced by the number of Punk bands over the ensuing years choosing Punk style over Punk substance. The arrival of Crass and (in the words of Garry Bushell) their 'full-frontal, screaming banshee attack' imbuing this Punk anger with an intelligence even fiercer than Rotten's, cementing it as an irrefutable virtue that would inspire legions of new Punks, Omega Tribe being among them.

"Angry songs and bitter words, it's all the same old stuff," advised Omega Tribe, and indeed they had a point. As Anarcho Punk flourished, it was apparent that a plateau had been reached and even though rage was being vented in a variety of ways from Disorder screaming blue murder to Conflict shouting the odds to Crass getting near-hysterical, it was crucial to remember that the medium was not the message, or as Omega Tribe put it: "Angry songs and bitter words, but words are not enough."

Another Bloody Day was a nod toward the same production values as exhibited on No Doves Fly Here by The Mob although a more typical example of where Omega Tribe were at musically was the song Profiteer, which served also as probably the best track on the EP.
If capitalism is cannibalism as Anthrax had pointed out, the engine driving capitalism to devour itself and everything else was the eternal quest for profit. As Conservative government policies prepared the ground for deregulation and privatisation, profitability was becoming the singular method of measuring the worth of anything and everything.
This was a hard and unforgiving ethic of Thatcherism that made a mockery of core human values such as empathy and charity. The profit motive bypassed all notions of collectivism and mutual aid, appealing directly instead to conservative individualism and selfishness. Not that this was any kind of new phenomenon for in one way or another it had always been in place but only now was it being magnified ten-fold. "Implanted from your childhood in your mind is to profit, not to love, to care, be kind," sang Omega Tribe.

Thatcher's advocacy of the free-market supposedly meant the democratization of capitalism and the birth of the stake-holder society but it also meant the social acceptance of exploitation and the sense that greed was a good thing. Thatcher was giving the green light to economics based on the survival of the fittest and then letting that idea bleed into civil society where it would manifest itself as neglect and basic dehumanization of less able people.
Omega Tribe's initial aim was to simply make people aware of aspects of the world such as this, sugaring their message in a tuneful, Anarcho Pop Punk style: "You are exploited from the very day you are born. You are paying them for the privilege of living. You are giving them their profit."
Coming from the same stable as Crass, their suggested solutions were familiar ones: "Why must we suffer to fulfil their positions of power and greed? If you stand out you are a start towards a change. Say 'No!'"
Omega Tribe's special talent was in conveying these ideas in a highly approachable manner, their Angry Songs EP being fine evidence of this, making it to be one of the most respected and loved records of that whole era.

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...