I have been toying with the idea of doing some sort of anarchopunk epics on Terminal Sound Nuisance for a while now. Originally, TSN was meant to be about bands or recordings that were lesser-known or overlooked, criteria that, I am the first to admit, tend to evolve with time, place and trend. The decision to focus on materials that is available elsewhere does not mean that I am running low on obscure stuff, but rather, it is a way to talk about records and bands that I consider as important and, in the process, maybe try to bring a different light on them, something more than "legendary and mandatory 80's anarchopunk" if you know what I mean. So I guess the next posts on the blog will be about my first true love: British anarchopunk. Well, in fact, it is my third true love, the first one is Saint Seiya while wrestling comes second... But whatever, it is all about love.
Most of the bands and records I am going to rant breathlessly about are probably no newcomers to your ears, so to avoid repetition, I have chosen to talk about them through the perspective of the label. One might say that labels are often as crucial as the bands themselves when it is time to pick a record from a distro. When you trust a label for quality music, even an unknown band seems reliable. And if there was one label with a discrete identity in the early 80's, it would be Crass Records. Even if you don't give a fuck about Crass or anarchopunk ("but what are you doing here?" I might ask then), you are bound to recognize the label's aesthetics that are still so influential to this day.
Crass Records was created in 1979 although it was not supposed to be a proper label at the beginning. Crass had had a bad experience with Small Wonder Records concerning the release of the 1978 Lp "Feeding of the 5000" which resulted in one of the songs, "Reality asylum", being erased from the actual Lp because it was deemed blasphemous (and how fucking punk is that!). But anyway, in order to be in total control of the production process of their own records, Penny and co decided to found Crass Records. The first releases on Crass Records were, obviously, Crass records, but they really soon set out to release records from other bands they felt close to, like the Poison Girls, probably the one other fundamental anarcho band from that late 70's generation.
So what made Crass Records releases so particular?
First, there was the visual aspect. Each record (well, almost...) was packaged in a stricking poster sleeve with beautiful artwork, lyrics, drawings, political statements... The covers all used the same structure with the name band and record written in a stencil-style in a black circle with the band logo at the centre of it. This artistic choice created a common identity between the various bands, a common ground. In spite of the vast musical differences between them, the shared aesthetics implied shared anarchist (in the broad sense of the term) values. It certainly was a departure from Riot City Records or No Future Records that provided little or no artwork and looked like products to be sold quickly rather than works of passion (and don't get me wrong, I love most of Riot City and No Future catalogues).
Then you had the very cheap price of these records, with the label ensuring that they remained as affordable as possible by putting the now legendary "Pay no more than" indication on the sleeve. Though this certainly didn't survive the record collecting mania exacerbated by the internet, it nevertheless was a genuine democratic gesture. Through Crass Records and its success, a lot of people became aware that it was indeed possible to create your own small record label, that DIY punk was a viable alternative to 16 year old punks being ripped off by a greedy trend-surfing short-lived record label. Crass Records releases all had an original catalogue number that referred to the ominous year 1984. For instance, the 1980's Zounds Ep was numbered "421984/3" as it was released in 1980 (four years to 1984) and it was the label's third record that year.
Finally, despite the relative musical variety of Crass Records releases, one cannot help but notice that, in addition to the visual likeness, there were undeniable similarities music-wise as well. The first obvious reasons for this is that a lot of bands, especially the punkier ones, were as much influenced by Crass musically as they were politically. Even though there was no band then, and there hasn't been any since, that actually sounded like Crass (that's how genuinely inimitable they are), them being an older, respected and successful band certainly impressed a lot of the younger anarcho bands. In a very materialistic sense, the similarity between the label's productions also resides in the fact that most of them were produced and engineered by the same people: Penny Rimbaud and John Loder. Penny, according to most, had very strict ideas about what the bands' music was supposed to sound like so he often applied the same recipe to very different bands, thus creating a sonic likeness, a common tie, most of the time against the band's opinion. This typical "Crass production" retrospectively confered a proper identity to the anarcho sound and certainly helped shape what people imagine anarchopunk to sound like today, despite the fact that the principle of anarchopunk was that it was not a genre but rather a way of doing things.
But enough talk. Let's get to it, shall we? I have chosen five Crass Records Ep's that I will post chronologically. I didn't necessarily pick the "best" ones, but rather the ones I wanted to put an emphasis on. .