Category Archives: protest

New research article: ‘They’ve got a bomb’, Crass, CND, sounds

Who can say how much [the Bomb] changed all of us … our music … our art … ? Crass, ‘Nagasaki nightmare’ sleeve notes (1980)

This article explores the links and tensions in Britain between a musical subculture at its height of creative energy – anarcho-punk – and the anti-nuclear movement, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It identifies and interrogates the anti-nuclear elements of anarcho-punk, looking at its leading band, Crass. At the centre is an exploration of the sounds of Crass’ music and singing voices – termed Crassonics – in the context of anti-nuclearism: if the bomb changed music and art, what did the new music sound like?…

The nuclear fascination of punk rock is first and most publicly articulated in the Sex Pistols’ 1977 chart-topping single ‘God Save the Queen’, in which singer Johnny Rotten points to the ideological constraining of the British establishment: ‘They made you a moron/A potential H-bomb.’ While it is not entirely clear what the function of Rotten’s H-bomb is – national defense or inarticulate self-destruction of society, possibly both – it is clear that the bomb is viewed as ‘moronic’ in ideation, and that, while the H-bomb is qualified by the word ‘potential,’ there will be, as the song lyric repeatedly states as well as fades out on, ‘no future’. Punk’s eschatology is established more or less at its beginnings. As Jon Savage has written in England’s Dreaming, of these two lines from this one song, ‘In these phrases you can hear the struggle of post-war youth culture, reacting against those whose world view was shaped before the event which broke the history of the twentieth century in half: the Hiroshima atom bomb’….

How have the recorded sounds of anarcho-punk – what I now tentatively term ‘Crassonics’ – captured and articulated its self-styled ‘aesthetic of anger’?…. Crass claimed that music was ‘changed by the bomb,’ and they sought to confirm this observation not only in lyric and text but also with the very music they were making. Their music incorporated and created sounds of destruction, alienation, and accusation, in a righteous and relentless assault on the new nuclear norm. But in the binary culture of the (anti-)nuclear sublime, listenability and expressibility seemed polar opposites: for Crass, to express nuclear horror in music and capture the outrage around it, one had to interrogate the limits of what one would be willing to listen to…. 

This article appears in the academic journal Rock Music Studies 2019. You can download a FREE copy of the entire piece here.

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Contesting the 1985 Stonehenge People’s Free Festival: 2 images

[On the occasion of the centenary of public ownership of Stonehenge]

In 1985 I was squatting in the city of London. On 10 April I bought somewhere a copy of Michael Balfour’s book, Stonehenge and its Mysteries. I’d been at the festival the previous year, and found it a powerful, challenging and liberating experience. No doubt I wanted to know a bit more about the stones, and their history, ownership, meaning. It must have been one of the only books I actually bought round then, because I was living light at the time, of course.

In the book, which I still have, there are pasted on the inside front cover, below my name and place/date of publication, these two pieces of print media. One is from a London listings magazine, the other from a lamp post in the street. At the time I knew they represented the poles of opinion or value around heritage and identity, and thought of them as competing versions of Englishness.

With the so-called Battle of the Beanfield two months later—hundreds of travellers and festival-goers en route to the stones ambushed by a seemingly out-of-control English police force, violently attacked and homes destroyed—these opinions and values around heritage and identity were starkly politicised, though of course they had been about politics, land and life all along.

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