Sunday 26 July 2015

Alternative "In nomine patri" Ep, 1982

This is 221984/8 and a visit to THE Scottish anarchopunk band of the early 80's. Ian Glasper called Alternative "the Scottish Crass" in "The day the country died", a sensible comparison, although when one considers the rather heavy turnover inside the band, he could very well have called them "the precursors of Oi Polloi in terms of member policy".

I always saw Alternative, along with Dirt, as perhaps the most "Crass band" from all the Crass-related bands. They had the black-clad looks, they had a great name, they had their own house (the "pad" as it is explained on the sleeve), they had the political banners, the anti-war slogans, the great-looking logos, there were quite a few people in the band and there was a strong emphasis on pacifism and anti-nuclear armament (though to be fair, the Japanese-themed imagery was all theirs). Does it imply that they were mere Crass-clones? Some would dismiss them for their seeming unoriginality and say they were just that. Others would point out that they had a great influence in shaping a politicized punk scene locally and that there is nothing essentially wrong in being influenced - even heavily - with a band (cough, cough, Discharge anyone?). It all depends on your true motives I suppose. Me? Well, I think they were a band of their time and Crass were huge at some point so it is only logical that they would have had some followers. Besides, I don't think they sounded like Crass that much, not to such an extent as to be called "clones", and in later years they certainly did not anyway. And really, Alternative penned enough great tunes by themselves to prove that they were a good band standing on their own two feet (and even if they wore Crass trainers). In fact, you could view Alternative as the epitome of the traditional anarchopunk style. I am aware that anarchopunk was never supposed to be a genre, a style, but rather an approach and a common set of values, nevertheless, a lot of those bands shared similar musical, aesthetic and political influences. As a consequence, apart from those truly original bands (and there are not that many, let's get real, which does not mean that the others ain't worthy), contextualization implied and fostered the birth of an anarchopunk style (Crass are, of course, in a league of their own), with distinct rhythms and beats,  recognizable flow, guitar tones and so on. Well, basically, Alternative were the typical, solid, reliable anarchopunk band that was a genuine focal point locally. They may not have been the most memorable in terms of sound but I see them as incorporating all the elements that retrospectively serve to define "anarchopunk". To sum it up, if some ignorant geezer asks you what anarchopunk sounds like, just play "Where are your Hiroshimas?".

By all means, Alternative was an early anarchopunk band as they formed as early as 1979, in Dunfermline, Fife. Though it looks like a rather small town, Dunfermline seemed to have been the cradle of quite a few punk bands, some pretty famous like The Skids, some pretty forgettable like The Dissidents (I think they were called Urban Dissidents at some point), and others criminally underrated like The Actives. Not bad, innit? As usual, Alternative got the Crass deal after contributing a track to the first Bullshit Detector Lp. Prior to the "In nomine patri" Ep, the band had recorded several really good demos, notably "Hawks and doves" in 1981 and "Anti-Christ" in 1982, the both of which appear on the excellent "Demos 1982" Lp that the always excellent Antisociety released in 2011. Speaking of highly due reissues, I have always found it utterly preposterous that the Alternative records got the reissue treatment (I read somewhere that it had something to do with a copyright issue involving Southern).

"In nomine patri" can be seen as the achievement of Alternative's early years with Trinity and Rice on vocals (the band had a female singer after the Ep's release only), Rodney on guitar (he was the only one who was in the band from the start until the end), Dougie on second guitar (who actually played in The Actives before that), Gogs on bass and Jaa on the drums (he joined the brilliant Reality Control shortly after "In nomine patri"). It is rather intriguing that there was only one common member - Rodney - between the line-up that recorded the Ep in october 1982 and the one that did the Lp in april 1984, but there you go... Line-up instability did not keep Alternative from going on, though one might think that they slowly became more of a concept, an idea rather than a band, and from releasing some excellent materials throughout the years like the "Isolation from one's self" tape from 1984, the fantastic "How dare you?" and "Just because the boot fits" tapes from 1985. Some of their late tapes featured two female fingers (which I am always a sucker for), one of whom was Lisa from another local anarcho act Direct Action that had a song on Bullshit Detector volume 3 and a fair enough demo (called "Crime against humanity" I think). These showed a much poppier, moodier side to Alternative, with almost folk songs that would not have been out of place on a Lost Cherrees, The Dead or Chumba record. On a much more pragmatic level, and as a punk archaeologist, Alternative's constant turnover combined nonetheless with intense activity gig-wise, made me check out several local bands such as Why? or UK Anarchists and realize that the last Alternative's second guitarist was (and still is!) in the strong AUK (whose blend of Amebix-meets-Cress-by-way-of-Smartpils I really enjoyed but I had no idea they had been around at some point in the 80's...).

Musically, "In nomine patri" is a very serious effort, a really fine example of old-school anarchopunk that is energetic, tuneful and with a lot to say (which might be one reason why they always had several singers). Rimbaud's production works fine here, I think, his harsh tones going well with the catchy guitar work, the intent to be play bass-driven punk-rock and the usual pounding tribal anarcho drumming. The guitar tunes definitely help the songs on this Ep and allow rather typical punk songs to stick in the listener's mind. The sound on "In nomine patri" is certainly colder and not as bouncy as on the (possibly) superior 1984 Lp, "If the treat you like shit, act like manure", which was produced by Pete Wright (also from Crass but probably a little more open-minded than good ole Penny) but had a very different line-up anyway. If you have never listened to Alternative, expect a hearty mix of early Crass, Epileptics, Flux of Pink Indians, with a subtle Clash flavour as well for the anthemic quality. The first song, "Anti-Christ", takes the whole first side and is the highlight of the Ep. It is a long, mid-tempo, anti-religious diatribe, with a rather gloomy, ominous sound, with long spoken parts that work perfectly with the two singers and several layers of guitars. This is clearly Alternative at their best during the early stage of the band's existence. "Warfear" is a direct punk number with your classic "1-2-1-2" beat enhanced with a tuneful, slow-paced break in the middle. "Who's sussed" is possibly the earliest example of Flux worship and has a singalong chorus (yeah, it goes "Who's suuuuuuussed!"). Finally, "Moral bondage" is the other hit of the Ep, as it starts with a slow, mournful melody driven by a terrific guitar lead before exploding into a bouncy, 1977-styled punk-rock song. What I really enjoy in Alternative is that they often made a genuine effort to really write songs. By no means were they arty (or even artists...) but you can tell that they actually gave some thought about the construction of the songs, the songwriting. Although it remains spontaneous and straight-forward enough, there is a genuine intent to be catchy and to write songs that breath with the lyrics.

Apparently, Alternative gigs were often attacked by thugs (be they skinheads or your average dumb males) and, although I obviously feel nothing but contempt for the perpetrators, I can see why it was so: Alternative was a smart, serious band. I am not saying that their message is deprived of any naivety but it is actually pretty elaborate and well-written, just give it a read. There is a long introduction in the gatefold explaining the political principles of the band and how they condemn a status quo based on violence, fear and ignorance. There is also a part questioning gender roles, homophobia and the constraint to be "normal". Like most of the Crass bands, Alternative defended non-violence, although I think they took it more seriously than many others in that they saw the systematic recourse to violence as one of the basis of the system, and therefore something to be banished. And Alternative were openly feminist as well. Well, I suppose that all of this made them a target of choice for the idiots who loved to "beat a hippie" and didn't help them enlist in the Barmy Army which did not put feminism and pacifism at the top of the list.

Anyway, the lyrics are good, with an effective use of images and a lot of sincerity, Crass-oriented though they might be. And the poster fucking rules too, great, striking slogans that remind me of some Antisect writing (could they have borrowed the idea from the Scots?).    



Wednesday 15 July 2015

Omega Tribe "Angry songs" Ep, 1982

This is 221984/10 and a healthy (I'm not too sure Peni's would qualify as "healthy" but Omega Tribe's certainly did) slice of vintage anarchopunk.

It was released just after yet another classic anarcho Ep, "Capitalism is cannibalism" by Anthrax, and just before a much more obscure record, Sleeping Dogs' "Beware", which was more of a music project from California, with future members of the brilliant A State of Mind, Trial and Brain Rust in its ranks (the cd reissue of "Beware" actually included a Brain Rust Lp). 1982 was Crass Records' busiest year and as it was the second wave of UK punk music's in general. Absolutely cracking records were released that fateful year and Omega Tribe's "Angry songs" certainly belongs to the "crucial" category.

OT formed in 1981 in Barnet, although they didn't play often in their hometown and didn't really see themselves as a "local" band. Contrary to bands that endeavoured to contribute to the scene in their area, OT quickly started to play regularly in London instead, thus reinforcing the already strong punk contingent that was stationed there. Their friendship with Pete Fender (the son of Vi Subversa), who played in the Fatal Microbes, Rubella Ballet and was a music producer as well, made it easier, I suppose, to get in touch with the London scene at the time. As was often the case, it was one of their songs on a Bullshit Detector compilation Lp (the second one to be accurate) that got them the Crass Records part. Don't get me wrong, there were some terrible tracks on these comps, but then you also had fantastic numbers that really stood out and Omega Tribe's "Nature wonder" was one of them. It didn't take a music genius to figure out the band's potential which relied mainly on three things: the voice of Hugh, the bass lines of Daryl and the pop sensibility of the music.

"Angry songs" is not OT's crowning glory: without a doubt "No love lost" is. But it is certainly one of Crass Records' best releases (after all it did very well in the charts too). Recorded in september 1982 and produced by, yes you guessed it, Penny Rimbaud with the help of Pete Fender, who had by then joined OT on second guitar, it was released during the spring of 1983. The two sides of the Ep are similarly structured as each of them comprises one standout poppier song and one bouncy 77-flavoured number (behold my awe-inspiring analytical tools). The Ep opens with "Another bloody day", a song memorable for its unexpected twist (I would say "out of nowhere" but it is so overdone, right?). The song starts fast and noisy, probably the fastest and noisiest that the band could really muster, and then, suddenly, goes all soft and melancholy, like a ballad with profound vocals and a piano. Yes, a bloody piano. Now, it is usually cause for me to call the punk police when I hear such instruments of the devil, but in this case it works so well, it sounds so peaceful and powerful, that it takes the song from being a great punk song to being just a great song. "Profiteer" and "Time for change" on the B-side are genuinely brilliant punk-rock songs, influenced by the first wave, with super catchy chorus, tuneful hooks and deep, energetic vocals (maybe not too far from the Neurotics actually). The icing on the vegan cake has to be "Is this a future?" though, essentially a ska song (shock! horror!), but one that is deprived of joy, one that is not written to make you dance (deep sigh of relief). Remarkably produced, this is such a potent song, full of emotions, anger, sadness. I dare anyone not to hum the chorus after one mere listening, and that's coming from someone who is terrible at humming.

Omega Tribe's pop sensibility was probably best demonstrated on their Lp, which had a much warmer, rounder sound, but even on this Ep, and despite the usual harsh Penny production, it was obvious the band could write pop-rock hits. Hugh was possibly the best male singer in the anarchopunk scene, along with Tony from Naked. It is not that he had the coolest punk voice, but just that he could actually sing in tunes, in a powerful fashion that perfectly conveyed the emotions at stake. Like many Crass-related bands, Omega Tribe's music was bass-driven, but where many bands were content with rather simple lines, Daryl must have given much thought about his, as they are not only undeniably catchy and carry the songs, but they can appear to be relatively complex as well. In fact, it is revealed in "The day the country died" that he used to play with a pick during the hardest, fastest parts and with his fingers for the mellower moments (that grew more and more numerous with time). OT could have been really huge if you think about it, they could have gone quite far with their skilled heartfelt songwriting and their ear for a good tune. It was Crass meets Newtown Neurotics meets The Clash meets Beat music meets protest folk music.

Lyrically, OT really belonged to the pacifist punk camp (but don't call them "peacepunks" because that is a term for the US scene, remember?). But rather than taking the war-haiku path - which wouldn't fit with the music anyway - or the moral condemnation of war, OT picked the sensitive option (as they would) and focused instead on the bitterness, the powerlessness, the sadness that one feels when confronted with the absurdity of armed conflicts. For instance, "Another bloody day" is told from the perspective of someone watching the news and being affected by pictures of war, even though it feels like a never-ending battlefield (isn't this a Bolt Thrower song?), while "Is this a future?" is told from the point of view of a little girl living in a wartorn area who is surprised at the sight of warplanes in the sky. It is a little curious that such a pacifist, non-violent band would tour with Conflict in the 80's, but they actually did (but then, Conflict toured constantly). The aesthetics of OT emphasizes their peaceful nature with their now famous Japanese dove symbol (though it could also have been lifted from Star Wars), that was reused by Contravene among others, on one side and a skull caught in barbed wire on the other (a representation of darkness versus light I presume). The poster does take the cake in terms of borderline cheesy pacifist punk though, with a child standing up over the wreckage of modern society and looking toward a bright, flower-powered, pastoral future, with the sun shining, the birds flying and sheep grazing peacefully. This is kawaii before it was big in Europe. The text bordering the poster is a call to freedom, peace, mutual aid and total liberation. I had never seen the poster before I actually got the Ep and I can only imagine what was the reception of the so-called "chaos punx" to such display of hippie-punkism... Oh well, it is fine by me.

As I mentioned, OT released a last Ep in 1985 after "No love lost" but also a live tape in 1984 entitled "Live at the Clarendon", which I strongly recommend. It was released on 96 tapes, an offshoot of All The Madmen Records done by Rob from Faction. I feel that, if you think of Omega Tribe as an All The Madmen-type band, they make even more sense actually... Punk but not totally punk-rock... Good protest music with heart, love and a sense of tune. 96 Tapes also released tapes from A Touch of Hysteria, Blyth Power or Faction if you know hat I mean (and Demo Tapes is going to reissue them all anyway...).


Sunday 12 July 2015

Rudimentary Peni "Farce" Ep, 1982

This is 221984/2 and probably one of the most famous Crass Records releases from one of the most loved bands of the period.

I have yet to meet a punk who is not into Peni, or at least doesn't claim he or she is. The first time I heard them was through a home-made tape that had songs from a lot of different Peni records with no indication or classification whatsoever, therefore inducing in the teenage inexperienced punk-rocker I was then a tremendous WTF effect. Now that I am older but don't look it, I still feel in awe before their work but I suppose I can relate to it much better.

That Rudimentary Peni was an uncommon, highly original band among the UK punk scene has already been stated countless times. They formed in 1980 after the demise of the Magits, a rather unlistenable band that had Jon and Nick Blinko in it (he actually played an influential role in the early years of cult goth-punk band the S-Haters as well). Prior to the rise of Peni (no pun intended), the both of them had also created a small record label called Outer Himalayan Records that was used to put out records of the Magits, but also of the aforementioned S-Haters and Soft Drinks, the two bands Peni shared the stage with for their very first gig. The first Peni Ep from 1981 was also released on Outer Himalayan and if it always difficult to really know the reception it got when it came out, I am pretty sure that the phrase "insane and intense punk-rock from out of nowhere" would fit just right.

So what made them so unique? Obviously, one could mention the artwork, the aesthetics of the band that mattered as much as the music itself with their bizarre, deranged and morbid representations of social madness, influenced by the works of Lovecraft, Poe and outsiders' art, that feel both uncomfortably monstrous and yet recognizable. But there is another sticking dimension to Peni that is not often discussed. If you try to forget the morbid and deranged for a second, and focus instead on the early songs of Peni. Absolutely NO ONE in Britain in 1981 was playing this kind of punk music.

A few years ago, I remember a friend of mine who grew up listening to US hardcore trying to describe Peni to someone who didn't know them at all. My friend described them as "some sort of early American hardcore music but with a morbid and demented identity". If we always tend to define things with what we already know, through our own experiences and background, it was still a revelation to me since I had never thought of Peni as a "hardcore" band. And yet, if you listen closely, and even though there is a definite English feel to their sound, Peni could relevantly be seen as probably the first US hardcore-influenced band in the UK. In 1981, there were of course hard-hitting UK punk bands like Discharge or Chaos UK, but they didn't sound anything like the early hardcore bands from the other side of the pond. It is often thought that the first British bands that were openly influenced by the US hardcore scene were acts like the Stupids, AYS, Heresy and so on, but that was not until 1984, and these bands were attracted by the speed of US hardcore and not so much its groove. Listening closely to Peni's first Ep's only shows that, indeed, there is a strong similarity with hardcore music: aggressively fast mid-tempo scorchers with this distinct feel in the riffs. And then there is the incredible shortness of the songs themselves, with several of them lasting a minute or even less. I can't really think of another British punk in 1981 band at the time who wrote such short songs, apart from 6 Minute War (but then, I doubt they were ever an influence on Peni...). In an interview with Grant from 1982 (read it here), he states that bands like Minor Threat, Neos, Gang Green and Necros are influences (and you can certainly add Black Flag to the list as early Peni had a similar roundness). Also listed are Part 1 (who were artistically and personally quite close to Peni), Crass (for their bass-driven songwriting and their uncompromising approach), but also The Mob and even Amebix (who were still "The Amebix" by then) which makes sense since, despite the big music differences, Peni, Amebix and The Mob were part of the anarcho scene but didn't totally fit in it, as they all played with the macabre and had their own unique dark sound.

But let's get to the actual record. "Farce" was recorded in 1982 and released on Crass after Penny had been given a copy of the first Peni Ep. As was the tradition, it was recorded at Southern, produced by Penny Rimbaud and engineered by John Loder. Now, I have already talked about the continuity that one can notice on Crass Records releases as far as music production is concerned and "Farce" is no exception. Apparently, the band members were not too chuffed about the result and arguably the first Peni Ep was probably closer sound-wise to how the band wanted to sound like. Basically, "Farce" was produced like a Crass album, with a rather trebly, distorted guitar sound, omnipresent drums and a driving bass sound. Nick probably never sounded as much like a Boston hardcore singer on the verge of hysteria as on "Farce", which is pretty funny considering Penny was unlikely to have been into US hardcore (and after all he did not produce the MDC Ep). The vocals make me feel like a madman is grabbing me by the shoulders, the mouth foaming, eyes protuberant, and trying to explain to me why the end of the world is just around the corner. And yes, that is a good feeling.

Although the 1981 Ep and the immense "Death church" Lp were possibly better incarnations of Peni's early work, I still have a soft spot for "Farce" and the song "Sacrifice", with its uncontrollable anger, is one of my favourite punk songs ever. It is of course difficult to find points of comparison when discussing a band as unique as Rudimentary Peni, but for the sake of it let's say that it sounds like a Lovecraft convention held in an asylum where Die Kreuzen, Crass and Chaos UK were invited to play. Or something. "Farce" is also Peni's most political record, not illogical considering it was on Crass Records. Apparently, bass player Grant was the one into Crass anarcho politics and it is likely that he penned the explanatory texts that you can find inside the gatefold sleeve. Pretty good stuff it is too with long rants about religious indoctrination (a current theme in Peni's work, be it music or visuals), sexism, competition under capitalist rule and one about the alienating notion of youth culture and the acceptable cliché of the rebellious youth (had someone been reading situationist writings?). Although Peni were certainly not your orthodox anarchopunk band, and they did not define themselves as such actually, their lyrics still reflected social alienation and social ills, albeit under the shape of metaphors using morbid or macabre images.

The recent revival of postpunk and deathrock has made some qualify Peni as a deathrock band on the ground of their imagery, which is pretty ironic considering Peni's criticism of petty denominations. While I can understand why some people might see them as such, I personally associate "deathrock" with horror, sci-fi and California and not with playing with Concrete Sox in 1993, but whatever... To me, Peni is an unpunk punk band promoting the importance of one's true self when faced with society's restrictions and the grimness of human nature.

My copy of "Farce" has seen better days so there are a few crackles here and there and the scans are not exactly immaculate (how fitting for a band despising religion). The former owner thought convenient to write the song numbers on the backcover but he didn't manage to get it right... Oh well, punks will be punks.                  



Monday 6 July 2015

Honey Bane "You can be you" Ep, 1979

It is a little-known fact that the first band to have a record on Crass Records, outside of Crass of course, was Honey Bane in 1980. But then, it would be a little misguiding to call Honey Bane a "band" anyway.

In fact, Honey Bane was the nickname of the singer of Fatal Microbes, a band that did a split with Poison Girls in 1979 as well as a full Ep in the same year on Xntrix, a label run by Poison Girls. Fatal Microbes belonged to the first generation of anarchopunks and, beside Honey Bane, had Gem and Pete among its ranks who happened to be... Vi Subversa's children! Later on, Gem would co-found Rubella Ballet while Pete would be part of Omega Tribe (and Rubella Ballet as well at some point). Fatal Microbes were a band that combined pretty upbeat pop-punk music (in the British sense) and Honey Bane's really energetic and high-pitched vocal delivery, and garnered some good reviews at the time. Besides, it must have been uncommon to see a 14 year old girl sing about serious matters and not Christmas carol in 1979. But anyway, the story has it that Honey Bane was living at Crass HQ, aka Dial House, after the demise of Fatal Microbes, apparently running from the Social Services as she had been in a juvenile detention facility just before.

The Poison Girls connection probably made the idea of a record possible for Honey Bane and since she was living with Crass, one could say that she was part of the family at that time. If you have never heard that brilliant Ep, the first listen will result in something like: "Well... it's great but it sounds a lot like Crass!", or even: "OMG it's SO Crass!!! XD" if you happen to be born in the 90's and spend far too much time on facebook. But in any case you wouldn't be wrong, since the backing band was... Crass. This "You can be you" Ep was basically Crass with another singer and songwriter (and they haven't fooled anyone by calling themselves "Donna and the kebabs" on the inner sleeve). So even though it was technically the first non-Crass record on Crass Records, it was nonetheless a pretty incestuous affair.

You will also notice that this Ep doesn't have the famous gatefold poster sleeve though it does have the stencil-style lettering. Musically it is a fantastic offering, half-way between Fatal Microbes's indie inventiveness and Crass harshness. It is not completely orthodox punk-rock either since there is some piano on "Porno grows" and some acoustic guitar and (unidentified) horns (I think!) on "Boring conversations". This was recorded just after the incredible "Stations of the Crass" double Lp and you can hear that the band was really tight and still focused on playing top punk songs, albeit in a Crass fashion. The groovy precision of the bass, the militaristic drumming and the distorted, trebly guitar give so much energy to the songs that it is hard not to tap your feet. Honey Bane's vocals are amazing too, somewhere between Dirt and Action Pact, tuneful, potent and yet a little screechy when need be. The instant hit on this one is obviously "Girl on the run", a poignant song about a teenage girl running from home and wandering in London's dark corners. This truly is an unsung punk classic. The song "Porno grows" is a feminist number about the sex industry and pornography while "Boring conversations" is more of a teenage rant on boredom. As was to be a rule for Crass Records, the Ep was produced by Penny and engineered by John Loder from Southern Studio where it was recorded.

Following that Ep, Honey Bane tried to go for a proper career in the music industry, released some danceable pop music on EMI and even had Jimmy Pursey as a manager at some point. Ironically, Honey Bane's Ep was supposed to be "a big piss off to the music-biz" and the small text on the backcover is a radical statement for liberation and a life outside the system (you've gotta love the anti-Sex Pistols rhetoric though!).


Q: And Crass records? A: Nah, overdone... Let's have some Crass Records instead!

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. .