Singularly Crass


The band Crass had a big effect on some of us Free Associator’s lives. Indeed we’ve had a bit of talk about them here of the years. We’ve discussed the chances of a Crass revival, or whether, in fact, Crass are beyond recuperation. In fact Brian brought up the topic just the other day. Well M’lud, I present above exhibit A, nicked from the ever interesting Uncarved Blog. Angelina makes a strong case for the recuperation argument. The important point though is does it matter 12_crass_songs_-_cover.jpgThis seems timely because Crass have actually had a bit of a revival recently. Firstly Anti-Folk Anti-star Jeffery Lewis released a great album of 12 Crass covers. Then ex-Crass lead singer Steve Ignorant did a couple of gigs playing the Crass album “Feeding of the 5000”, alongside a load of reformed anarcho-punk bands from the time. Check out this video of him doing “Big A, Little A”. Given the heavy moralism of the scene around them at that time, these events have caused plenty of discussion. Out of it all I particularly liked this post:

Also, those early Crass gigs weren’t just about the people on the stage playing instruments and singing, it was about the whole event – being in small, claustrophobic venues, with all the rumours flying about that there was going to be trouble, but still choosing to be there, the people going around selling their hand-produced fanzines and cassettes, the films, the poets, the handouts and badges, mingling with all the odd-balls, misfits, hippies, punks and creatives and general outsiders to mainstream society who would turn up, being introduced to often new and challenging ideas and ways of thinking, the tension and energy and that whole sense of being ‘in the moment’ and not quite knowing what was going to happen, either during that evening or in terms of where ‘the movement’ might be headed – sometimes it really did feel like being part of a revolution… naive though that sounds now that was the kind of energy and buzz that you’d get at a Crass gig back in the day. Sometimes it was about the empowerment of realising that you weren’t the only one who thought this way, and gaining confidence from the whole DIY and ‘there is no authority but yourself’ ethic to believe in yourself. A revivalist Crass of old geezers on a stage going through the motions would no more recapture that spirit than The Sex Pistols doing huge stages in public parks recaptures what it must have been like at the 100 Club Punk Festival or Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, or that real sense of ‘Oh shit, society is about to collapse!!’ I had as a kid when Steve Jones swore on the Bill Grundy show… Which isn’t to say the Crass night wouldn’t be a ‘right good laugh’, but it does feel as if theres something slightly sad about the whole thing.

In a way this guy is right. These are singular moments in time and space, that can’t just be recreated. It’s a contingent coming together of ideas, subjectivities, bodies, technologies, practices that at a particular moment in time opens up potential for the creation of something new, that elevates a time and place as a singular moment. It’s not something that is carried in one person as though you can find the reason for singular moments in a person’s biography. On the other hand such moments are fairly rare and perhaps you can re-visit events to re-examine their potential, to see if that potential can be re-actualised in different conditions, which I think was partly the idea that Jeffry Lewis was playing with on his album. He even has a comic strip about Trojan horses on the album cover and wonders if you can smuggle the ideas across without the harshness of the original presentation. I mean who can tell what would spark off those affective refrains in someone.

The other thing it makes me think is just how strange it is that a certain style of dressing or a style of music can carry such potential at a certain times and places and not in others. I was reminded of it earlier this week when I went to see a play by the Belarus Free Theatre. Back home in Minsk they perform underground, that is in semi-secrecy, with the constant threat of arrest for them and their audience. To recreate that atmosphere they followed the practices they do at home in Leeds. We had to gather at a redirection point and then follow a guide to where the play would take place. Of course we’re familiar with these tactics from political actions such as Reclaim The Streets. The group then performed a medley made from Harold Pinter’s plays, alongside excerpts from Pinter’s Nobel acceptance speech as well as testimony of torture from their own country. It was pretty powerful and vital stuff: the staging and performance left you with an overwhelming sense that this stuff really mattered, that Pinter’s plays and style really resonated with their situation and that underground theatre was an important art form in their country. This must reflect the cramped conditions in which it’s made but you wonder how long it would stay so vital under different conditions. So does recuperation matter? Well recuperation does describe something that happens, it is a material process but it isn’t the only process that occurs or come to that the most important one. Perhaps what we need to think about is whether the recuperation prevents the new from emerging. I quite like the way Sadie Plant puts it in an old interview:

I used to be fascinated and very concerned by this dilemma – the situationist notion of recuperation is still a very good way to think about it, and that’s how I came to be so interested. But I now think that what is really important is the sense of momentum and dynamism in the system – the fact that small scale, grass roots movements continue to emerge. Even if or when they do become absorbed into the establishment, political or artistic, there are always new tendencies coming up behind them. If one looks at dance music, for example, which moves very fast and continually changes, it is probably a mistake to regret the fact that, say, jungle or drum’n’ bass get absorbed or recuperated into the mainstream – what is vital is the emergence of new music, new undergrounds in their wake. Even if they are destined to become part of standard culture, they can still stir things up in the meantime. What I really fear, and what it is perhaps most important to oppose, is the possibility that such a dynamic would cease to operate: it’s the movement, the continual emergence of activity, that is really important.

Oh yeh and as to Brian’s suggestion that we call an anthology of our stuff “When Two sevens Clash” – here’s a potential front cover.


Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.