Punk for the People
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
September 30th, 2010
The Story of Crass
Punk for the people
by Stefan Christoff
The Story of Crass, by George Berger (PM Press), 304 pp.
The Story of Crass traces the creative history and social-activist roots
of the U.K. punk rockers
Punk rock culture is diverse, from frontline anarchist squatters to
candy-coded punk-pop radio hits, yet across the spectrum it is without
question that legendary U.K. collective Crass carved into the rough
edges of punk-rock history.
Crass burst onto the U.K. punk scene in the late '70s, delivering a
sound and political practice that challenged and reshaped the genre.
Spitfire lyrics aiming at state and religious authorities rode over more
vague artistic renditions on the punk sound, while Crass collective
members actively joined grassroots campaigns of the era, putting lyrics
into practice as social activists.
The Story of Crass, by George Berger, offers a striking and deeply
reflective account on the formation and trajectory of Crass. Beyond
punk, the book offers key insights into the political context in Britain
during the post-hippie, economic-depression era of the late '70s that
fostered the emergence of punk culture in the U.K.
Iconic playwright Bertolt Brecht's famous meditation "Art is not a
mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it," aptly
begins a key chapter: art for the band is vividly described in the
biography's pages as a creative process directly tied to confronting
perceived social injustices of the time.
Crass' unique take on punk culture has earned the group an enduring
status in contemporary punk history, yet The Story of Crass points out
the anti-stardom of the group, especially at their height, as well as
delving into the origins of publicity-shy practices of celebrated
revolutionary music collectives like Montreal's own Godspeed You! Black
Emperor, who continue to baffle mainstream music press even today.
"Perhaps unbeknown to the members of Crass, their deliberate policy of
anonymity, mixed with tales of their remote farmhouse in the country,
lent them a certain mystique in punk circles," writes Berger. "Everyone
wants to know the answer to a secret, as any stage magician or
amateur-physiologist will testify."
In fact, one of the many open secrets to Crass, as the books tells, is
their expression of an honest grassroots rage at the social injustices
of the Margret Thatcher era. In weaving together music, political
activism and artistic experimentation during a period rife with social
unrest, Crass made their mark on contemporary cultural history.
The book goes beyond slogans to detail the multiple artistic influences
on the band, which famously combined sound collage, live projections,
noise guitars, punk rock vocalizations and sampling at a time before
computer-made music. It is certain that the resonance of Crass is also
linked to their groundbreaking artistic experimentation, as the
collective orchestrated not only a unique sound but some of the first
national graffiti projects in the U.K.
"Another thread of Crass' multimedia assault on conformity came in the
forum of the stencil graffiti campaign," outlines Berger. "The stencil
graffiti craze became a minor revolution in the U.K. for a while as
people the length and breadth of the country followed Crass' lead and
took up political sloganeering, subverting adverts ('sub-vertising') and
society throughout the land." The Story of Crass also points to the
lasting cultural influence of Crass graffiti on street art culture,
citing globally celebrated artists such as Banksy.
The Story of Crass goes on to trace the punk culture scene that gave
birth to Crass via subcultures of the late '60s, breaking a punk
subculture taboo in highlighting a historical trajectory between the
hippie era and punk rock that would make Sid Vicious roll over in his
grave. But Crass' attempt to articulate revolutionary dreams, in action
and sound, reaches beyond cultural labels like punk rock. Key to
understanding the continuing relevance of Crass today is the universal
nature to the anarchist ideas that fuelled the group.
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"