Tag Archives: peace

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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Crass and anarcho-punk symposium, June 28 2013

No Sir, I Won’tReconsidering the Legacy of Crass and Anarcho-punk

Friday 28 June 2013

Organised by Oxford Brookes’ Popular Music Research Unit (PMRU)

in association with the Network of Punk Scholars (NPS)

Stations of the Crass, patch30 years since legendary anarcho-punk group Crass released their highly challenging LP Yes Sir, I Will, this symposium will explore the impact and long-lasting legacy of Crass and anarcho-punk. Crass are widely perceived as ‘reluctant leaders’ of the anarcho-punk scene; an ironic title for self-proclaimed anarchists, of course. The central question, for this study day, is: were Crass and anarcho-punk scene significantly effective politically or, alternatively, was the anarcho-punk scene surreptitiously more about clothes, music, image and ‘symbolic rebellion’ (to use Adorno’s term)?

Newspaper articles, journalist/fan publications and a growing body of scholarly work on Crass and the anarcho-punk music scene has been keen to celebrate the fact that such groups sold many thousands of records (more than a million in total in Crass’s case, reportedly), contributed substantially to the rise of anarchistic strategies on the Left and the revitalization of CND in the UK, drew the attention of the UK establishment including the House of Commons and were eventually prosecuted under the Obscene Publications [A]ct.

Recent scholarly work on punk has challenged classic academic accounts of punk such as Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Querying the legitimacy of such accounts has been a specific intention of the nascent Network of Punk Scholars, for example. This symposium, however, would offer a counter-challenge to post-Hebdigean scholars: what is the meaning and politics of punk? What have bands such as Crass done, beyond the ‘bricolage’ which Hebdige describes? What are (were) the limits to their efficacy as agitators? Was/is anarcho-punk really about more than music? If so, was music the best possible vehicle for the forms of agitation which Crass undertook?

Within the study day, in addition to presentations from members of the Punk Network of Scholars and any other interested parties, an afternoon panel combines the views of Penny Rimbaud (the vociferous drummer of Crass), Sarah MacHenry (Crass fan, 1in12 member and ex-Witchknot/Curse of Eve drummer) and George McKay (author of Senseless Acts of Beauty, discussing examples of correspondences he had with Crass in the early 1980s).

Themes for papers might include (but are not limited to):

  • Penny Rimbaud and George McKay in conference discussion, Salford 2008

    Penny Rimbaud and George McKay in conference discussion, Salford 2008

    Specific discussions of Crass

  • Discussions of other bands from the anarcho-punk milieu
  • Comparisons between anarcho-punk and other punk sub-genres
  • Anarcho-punk as a subculture
  • Anarcho-punk as a political ‘culture of resistance’
  • Continuities between hippies, punks, ‘eco-warriors’, ravers and so on
  • Music versus Politics
  • Anarchism versus Marxism
  • Underground versus Mainstream
  • Pacifism versus Violence.

The deadline for proposals for papers is Monday 15 April.

The symposium will be free of charge and will run all day. A free lunch will be provided. However, spaces are limited and interest is expected to be high so it is recommended that you book a place early to avoid disappointment. Those interested in giving a paper or wanting to book a place should contact Dr. Pete Dale at Oxford Brookes  University, pdale@brookes.ac.uk c/o School of Arts, Richard Hamilton Building, Headington Hill, OX3 0BP. Please do not hesitate to contact Pete if you are at all interested in this symposium event.

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