Six original members of the anarchist punk band Crass, in collaboration with other artists, presented an evening of musical, spoken-word and video performance at the National Film Theatre (NFT) on Saturday 15th June — in celebration of the culture and politics of anarcho-punk.
For the uninitiated, the event was a visceral demonstration of the passion with which Crass always pursued their assault on the horrors of war, consumerism and the state. For those more aware of their work, it offered confirmation of a sense of commitment and self-belief undimmed in the years since Crass dissolved — and capable of fresh creativity and insight.
The majority of the films on offer in the NFT’s jubilee punk retrospective rehearsed familiar concerns with the musical dimension of the 1977 punk explosion, focusing on the usual suspects amongst the London and New York in-crowds — that ‘punk aristocracy’ so derided by Crass for its betrayal of the movement’s revolutionary aspirations.
Yet it was their attack on the complicity of so many of those original leaders in the recuperation of punk that saw Crass develop, between 1977 and 1984, into the organising catalyst for what became a vast international counter-cultural youth movement. The activists of that movement strove to realise the potential of punk ‘as it was always supposed to have been’ and energised the mass oppositional and anti-war movements of the day.
The collection of performances which made up Crass’s NFT show Killing Time included new poetry from Penny Rimbaud; ‘unplugged’ performances of original and classic material from Eve Libertine, Andy Palmer and Steve Ignorant; and readings by other artists.
These were combined with the screenings of films by Gee Vaucher and Mick Duffield — always integral to Crass’s live gigs, and stunning pieces of confrontational cinema in their own right. This culminated in the showing of a re-mixed and re-edited version of Yes Sir, I Will — a relentless excoriation of the Reagan-Thatcher alliance, written in the desperate aftermath of the Falklands tragedy, when the arrival of Cruise nuclear missiles in Europe was imminent. For some, a repellant and indecipherable cacophony; for others an urgent and compelling call to action — but, without question, the band’s most intense and uncompromising declaration of war on the war-state.
The relaxed discussion session which concluded the evening provided a striking counterpart to the intensity of the performances that had preceded it. Most contributors referred to the importance of Crass in introducing so many of those present to libertarian and revolutionary politics, even if — some twenty years on — assessments of the worth of the anarcho-punk movement were likely to be less breathless and more critical than they were in what felt like the life-or-death struggles of the 1980s.
With time running out, members of Crass retrieved their drinks ‘rider’ from the hospitality room to share with the audience — a genuine and entirely unselfconscious impulse of a kind familiar to many who had worked with the band in the past. But what emphasises the significance of Crass above all is not just that, in the absence of any real publicity, they can fill an auditorium at the NFT, but that, some eighteen years after the band last performed live, the reverberations of anarcho-punk remain palpable in the present.
Review from Freedom 29 June 2002