Anarchive – 001 The Mob

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Anarchive

001 The Mob – May Inspire Revolutionary Acts (Overground)

Firstly, if you’ve never heard The Mob, this album is the wrong place to start. Score a copy of the Let The Tribe Increase CD. If you enjoyed that, then sit down with May Inspire Revolutionary Acts – it works better that way.

Of course, if you’ve sat through the twenty tracks on Let The Tribe Increase and found them not to your liking, I’d recommend leaving it for a week or two, and then coming back and giving the disc another shot. A quarter of a century or so ago, it took me more than one sitting to appreciate The Mob and I’ve no reason to believe that I’m in any way unique.

What this new compilation from Overground records represents is fragments of the shattered glass in which The Mob reflected the mood, atmosphere and zeitgeist of a specific era. In order to appreciate the significance of these fragments it is necessary to have some understanding of the whole. The trio’s sole studio album maps The Mob’s genome; May Inspire Revolutionary Acts offers sections of DNA.

The bald facts are that the CD is comprised of nine tracks from The Mob’s 1981 demo cassette Ching, an unused studio recording of the 1979 debut single ‘Crying Again’, the original version of ‘No Doves Fly Here’, which is rendered more stark and crystalline by the removal of Penny Rimbaud’s synthesized embellishments, five songs drawn from the Tribute To Bert Weedon cassette that also featured drummer Joseph Porter’s previous band Zounds, and a live quartet recorded at Meanwhile Gardens during the summer of 1983.

The bald facts are really only tangential to the music on this disc and the three young men who made it


The Mob existed in an age of slogans and rhetoric. As the grim and interminable Thatcher era gathered its venal momentum, those who felt galvanised to oppose her employed short, pithy statements of opposition aimed at articulating their resistance and galvanising others. These slogans served their purpose, or sometimes fell wide of the mark, or on closed minds. However, slogans are (by their very nature) facile, direct single-issue statements. Many (too many) well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands felt that to string such slogans together was sufficient to convey the whole of their being. Too many well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands wanted to be Crass.

However, Crass were already occupying the role of Crass with gusto and aplomb and would doubtless have told these young musicians to do their own thing. Crass strung slogans together in a manner that offered an entry point to a complex manifesto of ideas and abstractions from the norm. Too many well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands were too naïve, impressionable and anxious to support their adopted slogans with that kind of consideration.

Crass were wordy. Their songs appeared as granite chunks of typewritten prose that extended and defined the simple statements of song titles and rama-lama choruses. They also supplied lengthy text pieces that further explained and clarified where they were at and why they were so fucking angry. Eventually, Christ The Album arrived with a lengthy booklet that offered glimpses of the real life politics that drove the theoretical politics. Beneath the rhetoric, the ideas, the slogans, the symbolism were people and these people were like you or I and had feelings too expansive and nebulous to be contained within a four-word slogan.

The Mob flipped this paradigm. The lyrics of their songs dealt almost entirely with feelings, with the humanity of how it felt to be oppressed. Their political radicalism was implicit, evident from the dystopian landscapes occupied by their lyrical recountments of human suffering. This demonstrated an awareness and openness to ideas that existed outside of the culture within which they largely operated. This awareness was what made The Mob special and what led to their dissolution.

Both Crass and The Mob shared much ideological common ground. At the core of this ideology was an essential, human love. Whereas Crass employed their lacerating guitar shards and militaristic drum salvos as a sonic backdrop onto which ideas could be projected (a form of tough love), The Mob were, in an entirely secular sense, new testament. Their love was manifest, made achingly so through vocalist/guitarist Mark Wilson’s poignant lyrics and underscored by psychedelic and folk elements that combined with a ‘Lost In Room’ era ATV take on punk to produce a miasmic mesh of sound and imagery.

The Mob’s uniqueness leaked into the anarcho underground via a handful of singles, an album and gigs at festivals, squatted municipal buildings, pubs and concert halls. May Inspire Revolutionary Acts provides a lo-fi series of snapshots taken along this route.

Only one of the nine Ching tracks failed to make it onto vinyl – the coyly titled ‘White N*****s’. The song adds little to the band’s creative canon, but provides some indication of the kind of material discarded along the back roads of Britain and Northern Europe as The Mob developed from being an ATV influenced group not averse to performing ‘Louie Louie’. Three of the Bert Weedon tracks ‘Violence’, ‘No Time’ and ‘Clown’ also serve this purpose, as does – to a lesser extent – the versions of the two songs that comprised the a/b of their first single; Crying Again/Youth.

This process of development reached its vertex with The Mob’s final single ‘The Mirror Breaks’ – a beautiful, crystalline distillation of the direction that the band’s sound had been travelling in. Among the tracks taken from the Burt Weedon cassette is a formative version of the song, that – when compared with the single of three years later – illustrates the band’s creative development better than any other.

The final four tracks on May Inspire… present The Mob in their live element. A run-down public space in Westbourne Park overlooked by brutallist tower blocks on one side and brutalising forces of law and order on the other. Below, rainbow-haired post-punk-proto-crusties danced in the lead-infused summer air, as The Mob pumped out urgent versions of four of their best-loved songs in a spirit of freedom and defiance.

Within months of this performance, The Mob realised that they had successfully finished being A Band and went away to do some other things.

Nevertheless, they became very good at what they did and May Inspire Revolutionary Acts is an effective documentation of their journey. It also makes a convincing case for a live compilation

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Tags:, ,
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The Crassical Collection: Penis Envy – Crass (Southern)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Anarchive


You don’t want person – You just want woman

Eve Libertine, ‘Dry Weather’ 1981

Throughout 1980, Crass consolidated their position as the pre-eminent forum for genuine dissent within the punk milieu. Although no album was released, the group had become a fully fledged record label, issuing the Poison Girls’ Chappaquiddick Bridge album, the first volume of the Bullshit Detector series (compiled from tapes sent to the group from the likes of the Amebix, Alternative and the Snipers – all of whom would go on to have singles issued on Crass Records), as well as singles by the Poison Girls and Zounds, the latter topping the independent chart. As Margaret Thatcher inflicted the first full year of her increasingly oppressive regime on the British populace, Crass restricted their own output to the split ‘Bloody Revolutions/ Persons Unknown’ seven-inch, which they shared with Vi Subversia and her band.

Despite the paucity of new Crass music emerging from Dial House, the group’s profile continued to grow as their gigging schedule increased exponentially – almost all of these shows being benefits with the band relying upon the kindness of strangers to put them up in spare rooms, or any available floor space. Stations of the Crass continued to sell in significant numbers, as did a re-release of Feeding of the 5000 – which emerged in early 1981, with ‘Asylum’ restored. The group continued to eschew the mainstream music press in favour of granting interviews to fanzines, and grass roots support for the band also continued to grow, with gigs being typified by the sight of scores of black clad followers chanting along, word-for-word, with Steve Ignorant.

The downside of all this is that it could viewed as a bit of a ‘boy’s club’ – like most punk bands, Crass’ audience was predominantly male and the aggressively confrontational nature of the bulk of their set gave rise to what Eve Libertine described as a ‘boot boy image’. To a degree, this had already been offset by the release of ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’ in February 1981. The song was an evocation of the aftermath of a nuclear strike, that at times resembled gamelan far more than anything remotely related to rock’n’roll. Featuring deeply affecting vocals from Eve Libertine, the track (backed by the tour de force rebuttal of church and state, ‘Big A, Little A’, took up residency at the top of the independent charts and stayed there.

Eve’s suggestion of recording an album using only female vocals struck a chord with Penny Rimbaud who felt it would challenge the group’s audience and play a role in reclaiming feminism from ‘a whole generation of women [who] had taken to power-dressing rather than power-thinking.’ The decision to record such a set was wholly indicative of Crass’ aversion toward developing anything resembling a ‘career’ – the group were absolutely aware that the new material was likely to turn off far greater numbers of existing listeners than would be potentially engaged. However, that wasn’t the point of Crass and although it’s fair to say that Steve Ignorant was initially less than overjoyed to be sidelined for an album, the group collectively committed to the project.

In addition to being an apposite response to Thatcher’s aggressive masculinity, an album of songs from a feminine perspective brought technical challenges to set alongside those of an ideological nature. ‘Compared to our previous two albums, the material brought to the studio contained a far greater sense of poetry and lyricism – which, coupled with the softer tones of women’s voices, required a much more open approach than we had hitherto had to make,’ explained Penny.

Titled Penis Envy, in, what Rimbaud describes as, ‘acknowledgement of one of many absurd concepts born of Freud’s barely disguised vagina craving’, there was a certain incongruity in Crass releasing an album of less bombastic material just as inner city rioting erupted across England in response to Thatcher’s ongoing clampdown. In truth, the album represents one half of a collision of radical ideologies – Crass’ libertarian inclusiveness set against the solipsistic capitalism of the incumbent Tory junta.

Whereas Penis Envy’s upfront feminism and often savage lyrics led to parallels being drawn with the largely unlistenable and painfully worthy Raincoats, the album’s subject matter aligns it most closely with the Au Pairs excellent debut, Playing With A Different Sex, which was released around the same time. The main difference being that Crass weren’t concerned with making anyone dance, while the inclusion of final track, ‘Our Wedding’ provides a welcome shot of the humour that Crass’ detractors so often accused the group of lacking. Indeed, Penny Rimbaud’s sleeve notes recount the full story of how the archly saccharine number was conceived as part of an artful hoax perpetrated against the gormless Loving magazine, who were persuaded to include the song as a giveaway flexi disc as part of an issue promoting the concept of matrimonial servitude. Credited to Creative Recording And Sound Services (geddit?) ‘Our Wedding’ is a miasma of cliché and interlocking synth lines, guaranteed to induce a hypoglycaemic episode in anyone bar the most witless listener.

The greater degree of musical subtlety within Penis Envy has certainly allowed it to benefit far more apparently from the remixing process than has been the case with the two earlier albums issued as part of the ongoing Crassical Collection. Although songs such as ‘Bata Motel’, ‘Systematic Death’ and ‘Where Next Columbus’ conform to some extent to the band’s existing martial template, ‘Poison In A Pretty Pill’ and ‘What The Fuck?’ (in particular) couldn’t be much further removed from any type of orthodoxy. These songs contain delicate, sometimes ethereal elements that have been brought to the fore by the remixing. Similarly, the greater clarity afforded the otherworldly ‘Berkertex Bribe’ enables Eve’s expressive vocal and accomplished pacing to be more fully appreciated than was the case on the original LP.

Although the repackaged album follows an identical format to its two predecessors, the additional extras are fairly meagre this time around – just three tracks. The tangential ‘Yorkie Talk’ could arguably be included on any of the remastered series, and bears more relation to Rimbaud’s post-Crass material than anything the band produced collectively. ‘Yes Folks’ is similarly indicative of the drummer/lyricist’s fascination with sound collage, although it is notable for a delightfully cheesy faux advert for the ‘Our Wedding’ flexi. The CD’s final song, ‘The Unelected President’ is an updating of ‘Major General Despair’ that straddles the gap between the original song and Eve/Penny’s more recent works. The track is particularly interesting as it offers a tantalising glimpse of what a contemporary Crass might be like, and we could certainly use something of that ilk in the current climate.

To order the remastered album from Southern Records:

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, ,
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The Crassical Collection: Stations of the Crass – Crass (Southern)

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Anarchive


The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 200,000 people – that’s what I call obscene.

‘Shaved Women’ introduction, March 1979

By the time Crass released Stations in late 1979, the mainstream music press had recovered from the initial shock provided by Feeding of the 5000 and adopted extreme polarised positions based on individual reactions to the debut 12” and subsequent single ‘Reality Asylum/Shaved Women’. On one hand, the likes of Tony Parsons and Garry Bushell continued to express their vehement dislike of the band (Parsons in particular penning an alarmingly hysterical piece in which he built himself up to a fine Daily Telegraph style froth before exhaling, ‘Good old Crass, our make believe secret society, our let’s pretend passport to perversity. They’re nothing but a caricature and a joke.’) Similarly, Sounds’ Dave McCullough warmed up for his shot at canonising Ian Curtis by describing what he termed ‘The Crass Phenomenon’ by attacking the group for being in his view, ‘All-Holy’ and ‘witless’. Conversely, the likes of Jon Savage, Paul DuNoyer and Paul Morley were far more positive, while, perhaps surprisingly, Tommy Vance described them as ‘the only true underground band.’

None of which mattered very much to Crass. At the root of Bushell and Parsons’ opposition was their assumption that the group were looking to forge a career in the music business in the same way that they were. Despite consistent and undeniable evidence to the contrary, neither journalist seemed able to believe that Crass did not share their interest in making money or furthering personal agendas. For his part, Penny Rimbaud was keenly aware of divisive media practices, ‘Through “gossip columns” and carefully edited “interviews”, they fabricate differences and animosities between bands that in reality may well not exist. In their capacities as servants to the music business, they separate and divide bands who without their intrusions would probably be able to work together. Bands are often totally unaware of the aggressive and dishonest tactics used to promote sales and hype charts by the record labels to which they have signed. As the labels get richer the bands invariably remain penniless; hyped by the business and lied about in the press, they slowly sink into a helpless position where the honesty with which they might have started their band is lost in the compromises that are forced on them by others.’

Rather than become mired in the national music press’s web of hyperbole and self-aggrandisement, Crass would give the overwhelming bulk of interviews to underground fanzines – trusting the motives of hobbyists far more than those who were subject to commercial pressures. Their most evident response to the pouting from Bushell (who had initially liked Crass, but opted to spit the dummy after receiving a series of corrections from Rimbaud subsequent to an early piece on the group), Parsons and their ilk, was to record ‘Hurry Up Garry (The Parson’s Farted)’. Written by Penny, the vicious-yet-funny rebuttal of their detractors’ standards and morals can be viewed as a rare own goal on the basis that you should never give an egotist publicity. ‘It gives them too much fame, really,’ observed Steve Ignorant.

There were two main reasons why reactions by the music press were largely irrelevant to Crass. Firstly, they had little wish to engage with corporate backed mass media publications – their ethos was all about reaching out to the individual. Furthermore, they had bigger issues to occupy them – the state, the church and the very real threat of nuclear conflict being slightly more pressing than Tony Parsons’ assertion that punk had become a lame duck the minute he lost interest in it, or Garry Bushell’s enthusiasm for Minder.

On 3 May 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected as prime minister, ushering in a shitstorm of oppression that would gather faecal velocity throughout the remainder of the group’s existence. ‘The New World Order was about to rise like a tsunami to drown us all,’ Rimbaud recalled. ‘Up until then, we’d been riding our own wave.’ For Crass, this was the moment that iconoclastic pot-shotting became a genuine fight. Beginning with ‘Contaminational Power’, much of the band’s future output would be determined by the actions of the incumbent Tory government as Thatcher set about implementing her own particular brand of radical class war. Recorded in August 1979, Stations of the Crass is a soundtrack to battle lines being drawn.

It could be argued that Thatcher’s most effective ploy was the manner in which she redefined the roles of the police, army and media to advance her ambitions. Just as the police were politicised by their role in the miners’ strike, and the armed forces used as tools to keep her apparently moribund government in office through their actions in the Falkland Islands, Thatcher used the press and television as a means of dissemination – often progressing policies that had not been agreed by her cabinet by announcing them on air. Fittingly then, Stations opens with the blistering ‘Mother Earth’ – a devastating assault on the media’s vicarious moralising, with specific reference to the way in which the neophyte Daily Star had run a ‘should Myra Hindley be executed’ feature as a means to help establish the flagging tabloid on newsstands. The song features one of Ignorant’s finest vocal performances, he spits his distaste with palpable venom and provides anguished squeals that emphasize the fact that underneath the press posturing lay dead children.

In this new edition, ‘Mother Earth’ is one of several songs that benefit from the remastering process, which amplifies the subtle layers of sound from their slightly tinny state on the original disc. The enhanced bottom end gives added crunch to rhythm guitar and Pete Wright’s propellant bass is again (as on Feeding) afforded a liquidity, while the maelstrom of fuzz and squall on tracks such as ‘Big Hands’, ‘Chairman of the Bored’, and ‘Darling’ are given added resonance by the production team of Rimbaud and Harvey Birrell. The reissue also serves to bring female voices to the fore, as Joy DeVivre’s ‘Desire’ emerges crystalline, deliquescing from the white noise and radio static to emerge as its own form of twisted disco. ‘Shaved Women’ is among five bonus tracks from a March 1979 Peel Session that are included on the re-issue and this uncluttered version of the song showcases Eve Libertine’s remarkable delivery of Annie Anxiety’s lyrics in an affecting and resonant manner. Almost a companion piece to ‘Asylum’, ‘Demoncrats’ is similarly given extra depth and displays Eve’s striking spoken word skills to great effect. Pete Wright’s bravura vocal performance on ‘Tired’ tops what is possibly the disc’s strongest remix, as his blast furnace delivery strips the covers from the tired circus of vapid rock’n’roll. The only evident fault in the remastering process is the failure to eliminate some vocal bleed on ‘Time Out’, Gee Vaucher’s powerful dissection of family and class.

Despite the gathering gloom spread by Thatcher’s rise to power, there’s enough lyrical wit and vibrancy evident to dispel the media depiction of Crass as lemon sucking puritans. Steve Ignorant’s booklet notes recall the sense of fun that permeated the recording sessions and Penny’s recountment of the group’s encounter with archetypical BBC boffins during their Peel Session recording is laugh-out-loud funny, as are his recollections of the half-assed attempts to prosecute the band on the highly questionable grounds of obscenity. The bonus tracks feature Peel being caught out by the group’s sudden endings and decision to count in at the end of a song, leaving the unfortunate disc jockey ‘covered in confusion and yoghurt’.

This Crassical Collection edition features the Peel Session tracks in place of the live performance included with the original LP, which will be made available as a free download from Stations of the Crass can be viewed as the album that established the group as the heralds of a movement that would graft social and political awareness to punk rock in a genuinely significant sense. It is simultaneously a document of its time and a warning for the present.

To order the remastered album from Southern Records:

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, , ,
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The Crassical Collection: The Feeding of the 5000 – Crass

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Anarchive

International  Anthems

Do they think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys?

In terms of punk rock’s political legacy, it’s difficult to overstate the primacy of Crass. Whereas the class of ’76 adopted a received petit bourgeois version of anarchism as a fashion accessory, the Epping Forest collective and fellow travellers such as the Poison Girls established a far more considered reading of the ideology, in far harsher times, as Thatcher’s clampdown began to coalesce.

What followed has been well documented – tens of thousands bought Crass’ output, read the sleeve notes, and thought about politics in a way that could never have been facilitated by The Clash’s confused mix’n’match dogmatism and the thousand vague calls to rebellion from the reductive copyists that followed in their wake. Many of those were inspired to re-assess their lives, form bands, start their own labels, or fanzines, or take direct action via protest. Crass supported new bands, welcomed hundreds of visitors into their home, contributed to centres where people could meet and exchange ideas, and rattled the establishment to the degree that questions were asked about the band in Parliament, and the collective found itself under constant state surveillance. The eyes of a generation were opened.

Crass engaged, inspired and polarised in equal measure. For every individual who subsequently questioned the way in which their lives were being controlled, there was another – often so affronted by the nerve of being encouraged to think for themselves – who would erupt into a blind rage at the very sound of ‘Reality Asylum’ or ‘Shaved Women’. Likewise, careerist hacks with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo aimed weekly brickbats at the group from the pages of NME or Sounds. The likes of Parsons and Bushell (both soon to be lured by the gaping coffers of The Daily Telegraph and The Sun respectively) sought to caricature the group as humourless, mung bean munching hippies, bent on imposing an ascetic regime of po-faced, counter-intuitive ‘anarchism’ on us all.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. To a large degree, Crass’ use of ‘anarchy’ was simply a means of distancing the group from being tarred with any specific dogma. ‘I don’t think that we were particularly anarchist,’ explains Steve Ignorant. ‘But because we were being courted by the left wing – by the SWP, and by the NF at that time, people were saying, ‘Well, you dress in black and you wear sort of Nazi-looking things’ and we thought that the only way that we could be unpolitical was to be anarchists, and put an ‘A’ in a circle and it sort of built up from there.’ As Penny Rimbaud explained in his sleeve notes recounting Crass’ origins and early development, ‘Having already had a brush with the British establishment, we then got a charming letter from an organisation called the ‘Sicilian Americans’ who thought that they ought to let us know that they were aware of ‘Asylum’ … They continued by stating that “we believe that we should all work together to live in harmony, don’t you?” Adding, “It’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse.” It was the first, and certainly not the last, of missives from organisations left, right, and centre seeking either to silence, or co-opt us.’

The effect of Crass’ determination to distance themselves from the established political and radical orthodoxy quickly ensured that they accrued detractors on all sides. At the same time, the group’s initial burst of releases sold (at less than cost in the case of ‘Reality Asylum’) in such quantities that they quickly found that they had a burgeoning cottage industry on their hands. People were taking notice, considering the lyrical content and informative sleeve notes, and thinking about the issues therein. Of course, there were those who bought into the received idea of what Crass were all about and followed the group on that misguided basis, or those who saw anarchism as a fundamentalist credo with its own set of strictures, but then there’s always someone who gets a Sid Vicious tattoo.

For seven years, Crass relentlessly ploughed their own unique furrow. They were largely ignored by the mainstream media, excluded from the record charts, and seldom heard on the radio. This, in turn, led to a revitalisation of the sagging fanzine culture as hundreds of new DIY publications were produced, each seemingly carrying an interview with Crass. On the rare occasions that the band did receive national coverage, it invariably took the form of hand-wringing outrage at the issues the group were addressing. The series of moral panics that the media set in motion around Crass served to establish the primacy of their message over the band’s music. To a large extent, the Crassical Collection (of which, this represents the first instalment of a comprehensive overhaul of Crass’ studio output) appears to be an attempt at correcting that imbalance.

Aside from a pleasing package that includes a booklet featuring contributions from Ignorant and Rimbaud alongside a fresh presentation of the band’s lyrics, a reproduction of the original Crass Records sleeve, and a selection of demo tracks, the meat of the album is the remastering of the original 18 songs from the 12” disc. This largely takes the form of enhancing the mix’s bottom end. As Steve Ignorant observed, ‘To me, there was always something missing, some bit of “oomph” that I knew we put across live … Just something about it that didn’t quite hit the spot.’ For Steve, Penny and Harvey Birrell’s efforts have been successful, ‘I thought that it was well worth doing – the music needed updating and I think it’s got a bit more oomph in it now and the artwork, I think is just great.’

Mostly, this holds true – certainly Feeding sounds a lot more rounded; ‘Asylum’ has greater texture, the guitars skitter and chug far more noticeably, and Pete Wright’s pumping bass, at times, takes on a more glutinous, liquid quality than had been previously evident. At times, Penny’s drums seem further down in the mix than is usual – this is possibly a result of the enhanced bass, which mitigates against the percussive, rattling nature of the original album. However, once one becomes accustomed to the way in which the album has been remastered, subtler aspects of Rimbaud’s playing become more evident – particularly the overlapping percussive salvos in ‘Sucks’.

This specific emphasis on Crass’ music allows the group to be viewed as exemplifying several aspects of post punk – avant garde influences being particularly evident in the musique concrete of ‘Asylum’, ‘Women’, and ‘Angels’, while the way in which individual instruments drop out of the mix indicates a clear dub influence. Indeed, Crass’ clearly stated desire to move on from the growing orthodoxy of punk, identifies them as being among the post punk vanguard, rather than marginalised in the anarcho sub-category. In this respect, the remastered album wholly fulfils its brief, enabling a new assessment of Crass’ musical depth.

The timing of the re-issue is prescient; Steve Ignorant is currently touring many of these songs for the final time, and is discovering – on a nightly basis – just how much they mean to so many people. ‘I’ve just been overwhelmed by the response from the audiences,’ he reveals. ‘I didn’t think that it was going to be like that, I thought there might be a bit of applause, but people have really travelled from far and wide to come and see it and I haven’t seen a negative response yet on email, or Facebook, or whatever and the whole thing’s just been totally overwhelming.’ Elsewhere, David Cameron and his kangaroo cabinet are attempting to enforce a simpleton’s version of the kind of monetarist policies that Thatcher used to divide and rule thirty years ago. Everything comes around again, especially Crass.

Order the album from Southern Records:

June 5, 2015 By : Category : Punk Reviews Tags:, , ,
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God Save The Queen: Kunst, Kraak, Punk – 1977-84

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Anarchive

God Save The Queen:
Kunst, Kraak, Punk (Art, Squat, Punk) 1977-1984:
Central Museum of the Netherlands,
Utrecht, Netherlands 3 March to 10 June 2012

Picking my way around the medieval city of Utrecht, eventually coming upon the Centraal Museum in an otherwise anonymous street, I found myself transported back to a distant and dangerous time in the Netherlands’ history.

‘God Save The Queen’ sang John Lydon, before he became an ambassador for British butter, but this roar of discontent from the UK’s youth of the 1970’s thundered just as strongly in another constitutional monarchy, just across the Channel. Over several floors and rooms of this sizeable museum, the Dutch punk experience is meticulously presented, taking in not only the incendiary music of the period, but also its close cousins in graffiti art, fanzine journalism, style, guerrilla media, squatting, rioting and the general mischief that characterised the angst of this period.

Entering through a bleak corridor, one wall of glass painted out white, the other covered in graffiti, we start at the most logical place: the present. In an age when punk is completely familiar to the man on the Sloterdijk tram, it seems hard to believe it began as an incestuous little scene which spread like a particularly virulent disease across the globe. The leather jackets on display here, splashed with paint, bristling with studs and festooned with badges differ from their 1970’s counterparts only in the names of the bands they celebrate. There is no attempt to re-create a slogan-covered wall from 1977; rather, the graffiti is provided by visitors to the exhibition, encouraged even, by providing pens for you to add your own salty comments to this public notice board.

Original film of some very young looking Dutch punks, in a declamatory mood on TV, is alternated with footage of rioting in Amsterdam from 1980. By ‘rioting’, I do not mean shouting slogans at disinterested police. I mean prising up cobblestones for missiles, burning property, hand-to-hand fighting, and tanks in the streets, sort of rioting. Chilling, compelling and thought provoking, all in the space of a short film clip. Sparked off by the parlous state of the Dutch economy, poor employment prospects and the lack of affordable accommodation (sounding familiar?) that Dutch youth felt sufficiently abandoned by their government to take such action, and with such force, is a sad indictment of the country’s rulers. Those of you who have visited Amsterdam will have probably run across the brightly painted, squatted buildings in Spuistraat that bear testament to these heady and iconic times.

Posters, fanzines, film and what not from this volatile period are well represented here, all refreshingly pre-digital of course, with hand-written text seemingly the norm, peppered with highly polemical cartoons that speak of the urgency their makers felt. The ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic of punk was particularly strong here, with demonstrations, gigs and club nights all springing from a culture that had more time and enthusiasm than money to achieve it.

Recalling the Anti-Fascist movement in the UK, and comparing/contrasting it with the Dutch equivalent here chronicled, I felt just a little queasy at the thought that, whilst UK far-righters had only a slim chance of electoral success, the risk in a country like the Netherlands, with proportional representation, was considerably higher. I was also struck by the fact that Dutch punk considered organised religion to be an equally malign force in the world, with the ‘Rock against Religion’ movement’s fiery campaign against a still-powerful institution.

Artwork included selections from the magnificently named Gallerie Anus, Jean-Michel Basquiat and some of Keith Haring’s synapse-frying ‘men and movement’ pieces, equally familiar to many of the hip hop generation as well as that of the punks. Most intriguing were the snippets of videotaped moments from Rabotnik TV, a gloriously messy pirate TV station in Amsterdam in the early 80’s, which together with its predecessor, Radio Rabotnik, carried punk’s ‘Do It Yourself’ ethic to its limits.

Although the walls covered in 7’’ singles and LP’s yielded few surprises, they did provoke nostalgia for an age when music was made by inspired individuals and enthusiastic bands, rather than focus groups and committees employed by vast slick soul-less corporations.

An inspired setting for live footage of the Sex Pistols, on a screen high on the wall, surrounded by crash barriers, and an impressive collection of posters, fanzines, badges and so on, evoke an era far better than any number of talking heads, filled to the gills with complimentary prosecco on a late night TV show, ever will.

Perhaps the last word on this exhibition should belong to someone who was a million miles away from punk, and whose quote mysteriously appears on the graffiti wall;

‘Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourself’.
Frank Zappa R.I.P.

Scenester: 11/3/2012


Scenester lives in London and Brighton, as time allows. Enjoys music, film, television, books, design and anything else which won’t leave well alone. Old enough to know better.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Art Cult Culture Exhibitions Front page Punk Satire Tags:, , , , , , ,
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