The text of my short news report on the No Sir, I Won’t conference, from the June 2013 edition of Freedom:
Rich Cross. 2013. ‘Debating the legacy of anarcho-punk’, Freedom, 74 (June), p.7
Around 50 academics, students, amateur researchers and punk enthusiasts gathered at Oxford Brookes University on 28 June for a conference reconsidering the impact and legacy of anarchist-punk band Crass and the anarcho-punk movement.
The event was organised under the auspices of the new and informal Punk Scholars’ Network (PSN), an association open to anyone interested in researching, writing and publishing on any aspect of the past, present and future of punk internationally.
The morning session of the ‘No Sir, I Won’t’ conference (its name an inversion of the title of Crass’ fifth studio album Yes Sir, I Will) offered two presentations: the first exploring the changing perceptions within anarcho-punk of the utility of political violence; and the second examining the sometimes awkward relationship between anarchist punks and activists in the ‘traditional, formal’ anarchist movement.
In the afternoon, a trio of presentations looked at the inclusion and exclusion of anarcho-punk in the canon of punk documentary film making; at the representation of political ideas in the distinctive graphics and iconography of anarchist punk; and at the sometimes challenging tensions between the musical and political ambitions of anarcho-punk bands.
The day concluded with a panel discussion featuring academic and author George McKay, founder member of Crass, Penny Rimbaud, and Sarah McHendry (who’d spent her youth as a feminist punk activist in Telford), each of whom spoke of their different experiences in the original anarcho-punk wave. Rimbaud in particular provided an intentionally challenging and provocative account of his work with Crass, Exitstencil Press and Crass Records. The interactive panel session, which sparked a large amount of questions and debate, generated some illuminating personal perspectives; complementing the more analytical presentations that preceded it.
The conference also included an exhibition of anarcho-punk graphic design, featuring record sleeves, posters and political artwork, accompanied by an illustrated booklet authored by exhibition designer Russ Bestley.
This highly productive conference is evidence of the growing interest amongst radical punk historians in the UK in drawing together a critical participant account of the experience of anarcho-punk, and its contribution to the wider political and cultural history of British anarchism.