CRASS - Penny Rimbaud
CRASS - Formed 1977 - North Weald, Essex.
Personnel; Eve Libertine - Vox, Joy De Vivre - Vox, Steve Ignorant - Vox, Phil Free - Gtr, N.A.Palmer - Gtr/Vox, Penny Rimbaud - Drums, Pete Wright - Bass, Mick G -Films, Gee - Backing trax, visuals & artwork.
If trakMARX hadn't begun this piece by stating that commerce is the antithesis of true creativity, it would've spent the rest of the article wishing it had. Formed in 1977 by Penny Rimbaud & Steve Ignorant, CRASS came together in celebration of this basic concept.
By late 1978 Small Wonder Records released their first ep, "The Feeding Of The 5000". The ep's opening track, "Reality Asylum", was deemed so offensive by pressing plant workers that initial attempts to press the record were hampered. The ep's picture sleeve also caused offence in some quarters with it's depiction of a ravaged & rotting street scene, a parody of a collapsing community. When the record finally appeared there was a silent space where the cut should've sat (eventually restored for the "Second Sitting" vinyl version & subsequent CD re-issues).
CRASS immediately started their own label, CRASS RECORDS, & in May 1979 issued "Reality Asylum"/"Shaved Woman" on 7" only. With it's black & white sleeve & striking graphics, this release saw the beginning of a movement that would dominate the grass roots punk scene until the mid 80's. CRASS RECORDS would eventually provide a home for a whole host of anarcho-punk bands including; The Poison Girls, Flux Of Pink Indians, Conflict, Rudimentary Peni & The Subhumans.
September 1979 saw the release of the 1st CRASS lp, a double; "Stations Of The Crass". Featuring another striking sleeve & comprising studio recordings & live recordings, "Stations" issued stinging rebukes to plastic sell out punks, religious hypocrites, the architects of "Thatchers Britain", the press (most notably for their stance on Myra Hindley) & the punk establishment, amongst others. Delivered in a furious style that would be imitated by many lesser groups over the next decade, CRASS appeared to revel being outsiders. CRASS badges & anarchy symbols became de rigueur for all committed smash the system punks, the length of the spikes of their hair grew along with the influence of CRASS.
In May 1980 CRASS joined forces with Poison Girls for the "Bloody Revolutions/Persons Unknown" split 7" single. Politically extreme in-excelsis, it was promptly eclipsed by the release of the most celebrated punk shock record of all time; "Nagasaki Nightmare"/"Big A, Little A" (Feb 81). These records sold in their thousands but the band's tough stance meant they saw very little cash themselves. The legend; PAY NO MORE THAN..........became a feature on most CRASS RECORDS releases.
CRASS personnel would often come & go depending on who was inhabiting the Dial House at the time. The democratic nature of the band allowed individual members to the front whenever they wanted to express themselves. The feminist issues associated with the band's next release, "Penis Envy" (Oct 81), were largely the work of Eve Libertine who shared the vocal duties on the lp with Joy De Vivre. Featuring one of their most controversial sleeve designs yet, "Penis Envy" boasted a boxed blow-up doll & ensured that even sympathetic record stores had problems displaying the sleeve.
"Christ The Album" (Aug 82), saw CRASS push the sonic envelope further still. Expanding their musical boundaries & upping the spoken word content brought criticisms from some hard line punkers worried about neo-hippy tendencies.
CRASS dropped their own bomb,"How Does It Feel (To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead)?", in response to the Falklands War, The Belgrano & the fascist regime of the Iron Lady. The band consequently had tapes confiscated by the authorities & were eventually charged under the Obscene Publications Act.
The final CRASS lp appeared in May 1983; "Yes Sir, I Will" was an even more experimental outing & divided critical opinion totally. A final single, "You're Already Dead", was followed by CRASS' official swansong "Ten Notes On A Summers Day". In Jan 1984, in accordance with George Orwell, CRASS were confined to history.
For those wanting an introduction to the band, you can do no better than July 86's posthumous "Best Before 1984" collection, but all titles are still available through Southern Records.
trakMARX tracked down CRASS drummer & founder member, Penny Rimbaud, to discuss the past, the present & the future.
1. trakMARX - Debate surrounding the origins of Punk Rock still rage today. Which Proto-Punk artists had the biggest influence on CRASS & their music?
CRASS - The American Beat poets, the British angry young men & the French existentialists were my greatest influences, seconded maybe by John Lennon, Joni Mitchell & Bob Dylan. Further to this, Benjamin Britain's "War Requiem" had a great effect on me when I was young, as it still does today.
2. trakMARX - "White Punks On Hope" lambasted the Clash as early as 1979. Did CRASS view the entire British 1st Wave in a similar light?
CRASS - "White Punks On Hope" expresses only a small part of the disgust I then felt for the 1st wave punkers. They were all pose & promise, nothing but rock & roll puppets waiting for a hit. I have now come to realise that if it hadn't been for CRASS, punk would have died the death that all Tin Pan Alley projects have done in the past. Through CRASS, punk became a worldwide movement whose effects are still felt today. Johnny Rotten was & is just another Cliff Richard, but with a different message, a pop queen flashing paste jewels. Pop history has tended to give 1st wave punk the only platform, & to ignore the wave generated by CRASS. The reasons are obvious. The 1st wave was just another pop product. CRASS challenged, threatened & acted against that pantomime & has never been forgiven for having done so. But for all that, the message remains loud & clear. Without CRASS, Seattle would probably not have happened. That alone is legacy enough.
3. trakMARX - "Reality Asylum" caused a few problems for the release date of "Feeding Of The 5000". What actually happened & how did CRASS react?
CRASS - The pressing plant refused to press the lp. The printers refused to print the cover, so we removed the track from "Feeding" & replaced it with a silent track entitled "The Freedom Of Speech". Eventually we found a pressing plant willing to press "Asylum", so we re-recorded it in an extended version, hand printed our own covers & released it as a 7" single on our own, newly formed label. Within weeks we were charged with "criminal blasphemy", but eventually the charges were dropped. A week after the charges were dropped, Police started visiting record stores warning the owners not to stock our records. Draw your own conclusions.
4. trakMARX - CRASS sleeve artwork stands the test of time very well. Was the graphic representation of the group a group effort?
CRASS - Nearly all CRASS artwork was created by Gee. Other members of the band helped in the overall design & layout, but it was she who is responsible for the style & content of that work.
5. trakMARX - CRASS live shows featured films playing on screens behind the band. What influences led you to this kind of visual expression.
CRASS - Prior to CRASS, Gee & myself worked in an experimental/multi media band called EXIT. Much of CRASS' stage presentation was a continuation of the techniques that we had employed with EXIT. EXIT, in turn, had been involved with the Fluxist Movement (of which Yoko Ono was a member). CRASS was more influenced by the avant garde than it was by any rock & roll precedent.
6. trakMARX - How do you react to claims that CRASS music was secondary to the image & the agenda?
CRASS - CRASS was a whole package, a lifestyle. The image, the agenda, the music, the breadmaking were all equally important. The whole cannot be divided. If people choose to separate the parts of the whole, it is merely an indication of their own limitations.
7. trakMARX - You were charged under the Obscene Publications Act around the time of the Falklands War. How did the authorities interest in the band manifest itself & were you actually prosecuted?
CRASS - The authorities objected to our stance against the Falklands War & attempted to bring a case against us. Realising that if we were brought into the Courts the information (much of it classified) that we had on the war would become even more public, they withdrew. At the time of the withdrawal, a memorandum was passed out to all members of the Tory Party, informing them "that at all costs, any provocation from a band called CRASS must be ignored" - it was clearly seen as a more effective way of hiding the truth than silencing us through the Courts.
8. trakMARX - What were the highs & lows of your 6 years together?
CRASS - Every day brought its own joys & sorrows. It would be impossible to separate one day from another. All the same, the greatest low must have been at the time of Thatcher's war in the Falklands and her equally vicious war against the miners. It was then that we realised the degree of our impotency.
9. trakMARX - Did CRASS achieve their objectives & what is their legacy?
CRASS - For as long as I can remember, my major objective has been to live my life in my own way. In that respect I have achieved (&continue to achieve) my objective. CRASS sought to do nothing more than to share that objective with as many people as possible. It is not until people refuse to be governed that government will collapse. CRASS introduced thousands of people to that concept, & whereas government has not collapsed as a result, I believe that we are just a little bit closer to the possibility of it doing so as a result of our efforts. So, yes, our objectives were achieved.
CRASS' legacy can be seen in virtually every radical movement that has existed since the 80's. Never before has a band had such a broad radical effect, & I somewhat doubt that any band will ever do so again.
10. trakMARX - The ownership of the Dial House, the band's base & spiritual home, has recently been secured by its residents for the first time in the 30 years of its occupation. This is an achievement that must outweigh even the best CRASS moments for those involved. Tell us a little about the struggle & your hopes for the future.
CRASS - The best answer to this question can be found on the CRASS website where a pocket history is given on Dial House.