Why Crass are still challenging authority

By Emma Millward

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Crass may have disbanded 35 years ago, but the music and message of the British anarcho-punk collective has never stopped being relevant. Now, three of their albums have been remastered and made available on vinyl, with more to follow. Stations Of The Crass, Feeding Of The Five Thousand (The Second Sitting) and Best Before 1984 have been unavailable for many years, but are being distributed on the band’s own Crass Records via One Little Indian.

Listen and buy Crass remastered catalogue on One Little Indian

Ahead of the releases, Crass made a free download of their Best Before 1984 compilation album available for fans for 24 hours and sent out hundreds of their instantly-recognisable spray-paint stencils. The anti-fascist symbol was infamously sprayed all over London and the Underground during the band’s active years in the ’70s and ’80s.

In the first of a new series of vids, Penny Rimbaud tells Crass like it is and like it was. Hitting on the genesis of the Crassical Collection re-masters and the controversy it caused within the band itself, Penny confirms a commitment to openness and transparency which from the very start were a part of the Crass programme.

The band formed in 1977, promoting anarchism as a political ideology and direct action to effect change. Their DIY approach involved creating everything from sound collages to poetry as a way to challenge authority, and the individual members carried on with that work even after the group disbanded in 1984. Despite their largely pacifist politics, the imagery and sound of the band led some to see them as the very people they were fighting against. These contradictions became an important part of the band’s identity, a way of encouraging their audiences to think for themselves.

The Crass Records label was set up to regain editorial control of their work after a record-pressing plant refused to handle their debut EP because of the apparently blasphemous content of the track ‘Asylum’. This was far from the only time that the band courted controversy. The most notorious incident came when their spliced-together recording of a conversation between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was thought to be propaganda created by the KGB, before the hoax was eventually traced back to the group.

Crass co-founder Penny Rimbaud says that the band’s lyrics “remain tragically relevant”, containing warnings that only now “make sense to those who in the day preferred to keep their heads buried in the sand… Where the Pistols and The Clash now sit comfortably in the backlit annuls of rock’n’roll history, Crass continue to contribute to the ever-growing voice of global dissent.” With their focus on animal rights, global warming, feminism and anti-fascism, Crass certainly seem as much a band for our times as they were for the punk heyday of ’77.

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