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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Anarcho-punk questions answered

Lance Hahn of Honeybear records has asked me a series of questions for a possible 'anarcho-punk' book project - working title 'Let the Tribe Increase'

Here are the questions and my dubious replies.

How did you get into punk rock? What was appealing about it?

When I was 16 and at school [Kirkcudbright Academy- in very small town in rural south west Scotland] in 1975 when a friend loaned me Patti Smith's version of 'My Generation/Gloria' but I didn't think it was very good so when the same friend said I should listen to Patti Smith's Horses I didn't bother.( Horses is now one of my all time favourite records). It was not until I heard New Rose by the Damned in late/ October 1976 that punk first grabbed me. The songs which really turned me on to punk were Neat Neat Neat by the Damned and White Riot by the Clash. The Sex Pistols 'Anarchy in the UK ' confused me - it did not sound as 'revolutionary' as I had been led to believe it was by the music press.

To confuse the situation more, I had visited London in the summer of 76, but spent my time searching for pre-punk counter culture Pink Fairies/ Hawkwind locations in west London e.g. Portobello Road. My main pre-punk music influence was late sixties/ early seventies counter culture. It was not really until summer 1977 (when the Rezillos played in my home town/ Castle Douglas Town Hall) and the whole anti-Jubilee / Pistols God Save the Queen 'political' aspect of punk hit home that I gave up my nostalgia for pre-punk counter culture and adopted punk as being 'my generation',

Do you think that there was a real relationship between punk and Situationist dogma or do you think that was mostly for fun?

To begin with, I doubt if Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood were directly inspired by the Situationists, but once Jamie Reid was recruited a strong Situationist element was included. Jamie's work with The Suburban Press (1970-1974) was strongly influenced by Situationist theory and his Sex Pistols work continued this theme. Jamie's artwork for the [banned] cover of 'Holidays in the Sun' is pure Situ. Punk was never about 'fun' - it was always deadly serious. Or rather, punk took 'fun' seriously. Punk was revolutionary or it was nothing. If punk had not been revolutionary, it would have been just another a political popular youth subculture like Teddy Boys or Mods. But it was not. Punk took the suppressed elements of the Revolutionary/ Situationist late sixties/ early seventies counterculture and used them to briefly politicise popular youth culture - e.g. Pistols God Save the Queen in summer 1977. This was Situationist theory put into practice - as fun...

By the time of KYPP, Larry Law was producing his Spectacular Times which we cut up and sampled in various issues. I also remember at least one copy of Debord's Society of the Spectacle doing the rounds and for ages had a copy of The Revolution for Kids [? or some such title] I had picked up somewhere. I guess a lot depended on who you were. Some punks just listened to Anarchy in the UK, others tried to find out what 'anarchy' was. Ditto Situationist influences on punk - some punks went to places like Compendium bookshop in Camden or anarchist/ alternative bookshops and tried to follow the ideas through. In a way it was a bit like what happened with, for example, Bowie in the glam period - people/ kids like me would start by seeing Bowie on Top of the Pops, buy the single (Starman), buy the album (Ziggy Stardust) and then work backwards to Bowie's early material like Hunky Dory (from which Life on Mars got re-released after success of Ziggy) and then find mentions of Velvet Underground and connection with Lou Reed/ Transformer and go back to the original Velvet Underground records... which is how I ended I buying the first two VU albums in 1974.

But there was no attempt to fetishise 'Situationist dogma' within punk. It was there as an influence, just as glam and surrealism were.

What activities outside of the fanzine was the group involved with?

Many and various ... we helped run and organise several 'Anarchy Centres', a housing co-op (Black Sheep), went on political demonstrations, went to Stonehenge Free Festival and Greenham Common Peace Camp, the Stop the City demos in 1983 and 1984...

Who were some of the other members?

There were many members of the Kill Your Petty Puppy Collective - Jeremy Gluck of the Barracudas for example- in total about 20 people directly contributed, about 200 indirectly via the various Anarchy Centres, about 2000 as our readership, 20 000 through our link with The Mob and 200 000 as people who bought into the Crass version of anarcho-punk .

To what degree was there an interest in magic and what did that mean for you?

Magic was very much a minority interest. Myself, Tony D. and Bob of Blood and Roses were pretty much the only ones originally interested, but once Throbbing Gristle became Psychic TV after 1981, the situation changed and 'magic' became more a mainstream part of (post) punk . I only got involved with 'chaos magic' after 1986 so that was my 'post-punk' phase.

What did you feel was the uniting factors between punk, magic, Situ politics?

There was no uniting factor. Punk and Situ politics were/ are realistic and rationalistic, focused on everyday life. Magic is anti-realist and anti-rationalist, focused on the Otherworld. They can be united, but only by constructing personal creative interpretations and meanings for 'punk' , 'Situ politics' and 'magic' - which takes a long time to achieve and cannot easily be put into words. It is a question of recognising through experience a sense of similarity between them.

What do you think was so important about the Mob?

The Mob were important for us because they were like a musical version of KYPP. In terms of wider importance it is difficult to say. The Mob were part of the scene and offered a creative alternative to the restrictions imposed by the identification of Crass with 'anarcho-punk'.

Were there other bands as close to the collective as the Mob?

Probably not, but variously Blood and Roses, Hagar the Womb, Brigandage, the Turdburglars, the Barracudas, Zos Kia, Flowers in the Dustbin, Charge, the Associates, Rubella Ballet... it was a shifting mix of relationships between members of the collective and individual members of bands rather than between 'the collective' and 'the groups'.

At the time, did you relate to much of the other anarcho bands?

Thinking about it, and with reference to 10. above, the question misunderstands the situation at the time (1979/ 85). What there was a punk version of the UK/ London late sixties/ early seventies counterculture where there were several thousand self-confessed punks, with a concentration in London. Within the counterculture there was no clear boundary between 'audience' and 'performers', between fanzine writers and fanzine readers. I remember this most clearly from gigs when one group stopped playing they would get off the stage and return to the audience whilst the next group to play would step out of the audience and onto the stage (sometimes there wasn't even a stage). The Kill Your Pet Puppy 'collective' were indistinguishable from the 'punk collective'.

How would you describe the Centro Iberico to someone today?

The Centro Iberico was a place where the Do It Yourself ethic of punk prevailed, where anarchist theory was everyday practice. Where there was no boundary between audience and performers. This was challenging - there was no-one in charge so for something to happen (e.g. to build a stage and wire it up) those with enthusiasm to make it happen, had to enthuse enough others to get the job done. There was no 'product of alienated labour', no 'spectacle' to be 'passively consumed'. The biggest challenge was how change attitudes - how to persuade alienated youth not to trash place and get them to realise they 'owned' it. It was a problem punks with a squatting background had faced many times before... The Centro Iberico was about what happens after the revolution. How do we find ways to move from destruction of the old world to the creation of a new one? I remember the experience as exhilarating and liberating - the closest equivalent being the atmosphere on Claremont Road in 1993/4 during the M11 Road Protest Campaign. See http://www.geocities.com/londondestruction/claremont.html for a bit of historic background

How did you get involved with All The Madmen?

My involvement began in the kitchen of Puppy Mansions, Westbere Road, West Hampstead, London in early 1983. Mark Wilson of the Mob was there and he mentioned the idea of the Mob making an album. At the time I was being trained as a ‘Project Engineer’ by the London Rubber Company (makers of Durex condoms) so I applied a bit of the theory I was learning to the problem - break down a project into small do-able units and cost/ time them. So Mark began scribbling down the costs etc. of making an album on a scrap of paper - cost of studio time, cost of mastering disc, cost of art work, printing costs, pressing costs - which he knew from the Mob producing their own records like Witch Hunt.

Mark then managed to get Rough Trade (who distributed the Mob’s singles and knew that their ‘No Doves Fly Here’ single on Crass’ label had been a best seller) interested. Rough Trade told Mark that if he could finance the recording costs, they would cover the other costs in return for a distribution deal.

Mark then got myself and others (Mick Lugworm for example) to contribute to the recording costs and the Mob went into the studio and made the record - Let the Tribe Increase. With the help of Tony D. , Mick Mercer and other fanzine writers who were now writing for music papers (NME, Sounds, Melody Maker) and magazines like Zig Zag and Punk Lives, the album got rave reviews and sold well beyond expectations. This meant that by the end of 1983, the Mob had several thousands pounds held in credit by Rough Trade. Mark had the idea of using this money to put out records by other groups on their All the Madmen label and asked me to help manage the project. This I did, though it meant going from being paid £90 a week at London rubber to getting £15 a week …

Unfortunately, after releasing ‘The Mirror Breaks’ as a single, the Mob then split up. None of the other groups (The Astronauts, Flowers in the Dustbin and Zos Kia) on the label were able to sell more than the 1000 copies of their records needed to break even… so the money slowly began to run out. See following questions for next part of this story.

Who were Clair Obscur and how did they wind up on the label?
What was the story with their live LP?

I can’t answer these questions, I had parted company with All the Madmen by the time they were on the label.

Who were Zos Kia and how did you know them?

Zos Kia were a Psychic TV spin off group and in their early days crossed over with Coil. Psychic TV (1981) in turn came out of Throbbing Gristle who were contemporary (1976) with punk. Genesis P. Orridge of TG/ PTV lived in Beck Road in Hackney and there was a strange cross-over between Brougham Road (a squatted street where Mark of the Mob and many others including briefly former Bader-Meinhof gang member Astrid Proll lived and with a link to the original hippy-traveller Ukrainian Mountain Troupe group) and TG/ PTV…

Min was the direct link, she was ‘sort of’ a KYPP collective member, I first met her at a Mob gig at Parliament Hill Fields/ Hampstead Heath in summer 1981- which was also our first encounter with the Mob themselves. Another link was through Mouse, who was briefly a member of PTV and a friend of Coil.

Anyhow, through the various overlaps and connections, Zos Kia put out their single Rape on All the Madmen.

What was the “Rape” 7” about? I remember it being extremely shocking at the time.

The words of Rape were a graphic description by Min of when she was raped in the Australian outback whilst on a family holiday there. I am not sure how old she was at the time, about 14 I think. It was a traumatic experience. I cannot forget her describing it to me a couple of years before the record came out. She later told me she only listened to the record once. It was a personal exorcism. It is still intense and powerful, far more so than the ‘distanced’ explorations of extreme realities of other PTV or TG songs. After touring with Zos Kia, Min became a traveller and was at the Beanfield (Stonehenge Peace Convoy) police riot in 1985.

What were your main duties running the label?

I was the only employee / manager so had to do everything.. I did the marketing and promotion, kept the accounts and paid VAT, hung out at recording sessions, replied to fan letters, organised printing and pressing, liaised with Rough Trade/ the Cartel ( co-operative distribution network). Boring stuff.

Did you enjoy running the label?

Yes I did. Way back in 1972, long before punk, I became a fan of Hawkwind (after hearing their single Silver Machine and In Search of Space album). Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies were part of the late sixties/ early seventies UK counterculture and I wanted to be part of that… but by 76/7 punk was the scene and I wanted to be part of that as well. Running All the Madmen in 1984 and being part of the Puppy Collective seemed to me to be the fulfilment of my teenage dreams… the Mob were like Hawkwind/ Pink Fairies ( or the Sex pistols and Clash) and KYPP like International Times and OZ or Sniffing Glue.

But then the reality was also a necessary disenchantment/ disillusionment. Like the Gertrude Stein said about Los Angeles - ‘when you get there, there is no there there’. In theory I was ‘there’ at the heart of anarcho-punk, of the early eighties ‘post’ punk counterculture … but it seemed strangely empty .

How did Rob Challice wind up running ATM? Why did you quit?

I did not quit, I was asked to leave by Joseph (with the support of Curtis) of the Mob who got annoyed when he asked Rough Trade for some Mob money and was told that I was the only person who had access to the funds. Which is fair enough, since no formal agreement about how money earned by the Mob via the deal with Rough Trade should be paid out had been worked out. They left a letter on my desk saying Rob Challice was now in charge of ATM. I took this as a dismissal / redundancy letter. The only thing which annoyed me about this was that it meant that the Anarcha and Poppy record never got released. I thought this was a brilliant piece of music which should have been released… which it now has been.

Between the KYPP, ATM, Centro Iberico, etc. what do you think was your main interest and your best memories of the times?

My main interest was Kill Your Pet Puppy. I thought it was brilliant then and I still do. I put it up there with sixties counterculture magazines like International Times and OZ. Fuck Crass and their idiot ilk, KYPP was the real thing, they were just background noise. KYPP was PUNK. ATM and the Centro Iberico were interesting asides to KYPP and to the evolution of punk and I am proud that I was part of them. But when it comes to punk as revolutionary, as visionary, as creativity, as ‘be realistic: demand the impossible’ - it was KYPP which demanded the impossible and delivered it as reality.

How do you reflect back on those days?

OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!

As Wordsworth described the French Revolution. Our Revolution was inspired by the French revolution of May 1968, by the Situationists, by the Surrealists, by the Doors, by the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, by Patti Smith, by David Bowie and Marc Bolan, by the Pink Fairies, by the Sex Pistols, by… the Mob, Blood and Roses, Charge, by Adam and the Ants, by punk… but not Crass…

How do you reflect back on that music scene?

Ooops, think I have answered this above. Zounds, Rubella Ballet, … Hagar the Womb. Look Mummy, Clowns. But we also listened to the Human League and Soft Cell (well I did!) to Killing Joke and the Pop Group, to Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Psychedelic Furs, to Syd Barrett and the Misunderstood, Bow Wow Wow and the Slits, to Joy Division and New Order …. We were not bound to the constraints of ‘anarcho-punk’. We were anarchists, we were punks but the very act of such self-description destroyed the narrow boundaries of ‘anarcho-punk’ and librated us to create a ‘music scene’ beyond the puritanical constraints of ‘anarcho-punk’ as defined by Crass and their clones.


Blogger Transpontine said...

Interesting stuff, I came in late to anarcho-punk, hanging out in Luton in mid-1980s. I would like to see a book about anarcho-punk that wasn't just abou the bands and the labels but also did justice to the wider political context - stop the city, nuclear weapons, animal rights, miners strike etc. After all the engagement with this stuff was what distinguished anarcho-punk from other related scenes - and in my view the contradictions between narrow 'anarcho-punk' ideology and the wider social movements brought about the end of the anarcho-punk high period in about 1985.

I have written about this elsewhere so won't labour the point.


5:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoying the blog, memories trickled back,well 25 years is a long time saw The Mob many times, bought KYPP, did my own zine Verbal Abuse,inspired by V-SIGN (Stevenages premier zine) went to centro iberico, zig zag squat gig and loads of others, strange now reading Ian Glaspers book, and your blog thinking wow I was part of that, all right only a minor part, but still, didn't understand why Assassins of Hope weren't mentioned in it. Gonna recount some bits of anarcho scene in my blog, but I don't wanna go to nostalgic with it all, that was then this is now, even though the then influences the now. Anyway enough of my waffle. Here's a link to my blog if anyones interested.


4:16 pm  

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