This interview with ‘Crass’ (no introduction necessary) dates from August ’83. It appeared in Religieus Bloedblad (a portmanteau-word for religious massacre), a fanzine done by Michel Vanderhaeghen & Peter Beaufays, guitarist and vocalist of the band ‘Krank‘ (from Turnhout). They did 9 issues in the period 1982-83. Peter found this in his archives and donated it. I’ve never seen any of the issues myself: in that period I was doing civil (instead of military) service and was pretty much stuck in my hometown because of the meagre fee that paid…
Around that time Michel also did a comic-strip inspired by a song of the Belgian cold-wave band ‘De Brassers’ (“revellers”)…
No idea why Michel and myself started our zine Religieus Bloedblad. Probably because of an overall agitation and an urge to shout out loud about everything we didn’t like. And to ‘score chicks’ of course. We had a print-run of about 200 copies (bimonthly, if I’m not mistaken). We did interviews with ‘The Ex’, ‘Amsterdamned’, ‘Dead Kennedys’, ‘Dirt’, ‘Special Duties’, ‘Crass’, ‘Moral Demolition’ and more, reports about concerts and demonstrations, LP-reviews, etc. Unfortunately pretty much everything has vanished into the garabage-bin in the past.
Regarding this ‘Crass’ interview: via via we’d obtained the address of their farm in Epping. As a way of spending a ‘cheap holiday in other peoples misery’ ‘Ratje’ [Tony Van Steenbergen, drummer], Roel [De Loore, bassist], Michel, Staf (RIP) & myself found ourselves in a squat in Brixton: a newly built apartment-block, however without electricity and water-supply. With lack of a better alternative we crapped in the bathtub, which was filled with shit up to the edge. Yummie. All in all a pretty marginal situation, and the fact that a few aggressive skinheads were living in the neighbourhood, didn’t improve our peace of mind either. Concerts we attented at that time: ‘The Mob’, ‘The Alternative’, ‘The Virgin Prunes’, ‘Sisters Of Mercy’, etc.
When we got fed up with the chaos of London, we took the subway to Epping, where we hitchhiked direction Dial House. We got a ride from a surprised Eve Libertine in a decrepit little van. We were allowed to set up our tent in the garden of Dial House (the ‘Crass’ farm), rehearsed with ‘Krank’ in their rehearsal-space and were all in all bij quite hosptably welcomed by our heroes in ‘Crass’. Inbetween we commuted back and forth between Brixton and Epping. The last time it was just Michel and myself: after all we had an interview to do. The chat took place at the kitchen-table, we slept in the guest-room and we left in the morning, a stack of buttered sandwiches was waiting for us, together with a farewell-letter. Looking back these little outings to ‘Crass’ left quite a serious impression, and they put me on a new track in my (at that time still) very inconsiderate young life. Thanks for that.
If there are still certain people who think that ‘Crass’ are pretentious and that they’re out to grab money, they should go and have look themselves how it really is like. ‘Crass’, in my opinion, is one of the few (only) bands that exists since ‘77, and that didn’t give up on their initial ideals, but realized them. As for the money: they’re not rich. When they go on tour, they usually lose money and with money they do make, they help out other bands (Flux [Of Pink Indians], The Mob, …).
83-08-15; Dial House, Epping (UK)
Before the interview started ‘Crass’ told us that the answers are to be considered as not just those of the people that give them but of the entire band. So: the opinion of a person is usually the opinion of the whole band.
R.B .: Is there a lot of tumult in England between ‘Crass’(punx) and other punx?
‘Crass’: We didn’t really notice that. It’s probably the press spreading such rumors. We don’t think there’s much going on it that sense in the streets.
R.B.: And during concerts? Aren’t there always certain people who try to boycott ‘Crass’?
‘Crass’: Yes, but I think that’s also happening at concerts of any other band. There are always people who think they should do something like breaking down the toilets. But it doesn’t happen specifically at ‘Crass’ gigs. It’s usually people who apparently agree with nothing and I don’t know why they’re doing it; it’s probably the easiest thing to do in the world, to act aggressively. They are being stupid.
I don’t think there’s aggression between ‘Crass’(punx) and other punx, a lot depends on the media. The aggression we notice at our concerts is not aimed at us. It’s more of a Friday-night habit to start a riot.
It’s only because people write something in the press that most people hear about it. One creates a certain image in the press and the punx think it is that way; they even go along with that particular idea.
Even because you ask that question you generate a certain idea that in fact doesn’t exist. You have to be very careful with the media. The aggression against us doesn’t really exist among the people. I’ve never heard of street-fighting because of ‘Crass’. (laughter)
R.B.: You are disappointed in punk, we assume?
‘Crass’: Yes, terribly. Probably for reasons that you can think of yourselves. Most punx just drink, are bored, etc. It’s the same here in England and we don’t sympathise with that. I understand why they do it but I don’t accept it; those people are weak. We try to say that it doesn’t have to bet hat way. They can do something with their lives. That’s the difference with certain punx. There are a lot of punx that do something, even if it’s just something that keeps their life together or makes it worthwhile. You don’t see those people in the streets. But there are a lot of people who organise their lives that way. They do fanzines like you do, they have a band, they do all sorts of things. Perhaps they even have a garden where they can work. When we talk about punx, we mean the mass that parades on King’s road and these aren’t really punx. It’s just their clothes, their parade. They have the thought of saying ‘no’ to authority but they do it in a way that doesn’t help them to make progress. They don’t do anything to make a change.
R.B.: Do you sometimes get negative reactions, unfriendly letters…?
‘Crass’: No, we don’t get anything of threatening nature. Once we received 2 letters in which we were called “bastards” and “fuckers”. One letter was from a skinhead in the navy who was with the nazi party. But instead of scolding him, Steve wrote him a very kind letter to ask what was going on and why he reacted that way. And a while later we received a letter from him saying that he hadn’t expected such a response from us and that he was rather happy with it. That’s how we actually noticed that he’s just a friendly guy. We regularly receive letters from him now and that’s also interesting for us because of the fact that he’s in the navy, he went over to the Falklands. We regularly get letters from people in the army. They’re usually people who have signed on at a young age because they were unemployed. But they didn’t want it themselves and now try to get it out, but that doesn’t work out because they signed for a relatively long period. So they’re spending most of their time in an army-prison. There’s an organisation been set up now trying to get them out in a legal way.
R.B.: Have you already had troubles because of your singles about the Falkland war and against Thatcher?
‘Crass’: Yes, but not enough! (laughter)
Sometimes we do things that we think “OK. That’s it, they’re gonna come knocking on my door.”. But it’s strange, they apparently prefer keeping things secret.
R.B.: But we read in a Belgian newspaper that you had to come to court regarding a single about the Falklands.
‘Crass’: No, we haven’t been to court, but we received a letter from the House Of Commons (parliament) and they asked us to stop the single, to get it out of circulation. First, they gave as the reason that the record was obscene and because of the insults against Margaret Thatcher (mother of a 1.000 deaths); afterwards, they it was because of the fact that we had used an illegal radio-programme (recordings) about parliament. But they dropped everything and we haven’t heard anything about it.
For Asylum we got the moral-police at the door. Again because of the record’s obscenity.
I think they’re very careful about making the charges against us public because they would have to answer some difficult questions themselves. But I think that all the things we’ve already done are in police-files and when one day it gets too much, they’ll start digging them all up.
R.B.: Will you do anything more serious in the future then to get at?
‘Crass’: Something worse? (laughter all around, then serious again)
It’s not our intention to get worse. We don’t know if we can reach something that way. We actually say what’s on our minds, nothing but the truth actually. It’s not our intention to shock but to communicate. But the following projects are quite ‘soft’.
Margaret Thatcher has just been re-elected and it’s indeed difficult to express one’s frustrations and anger about that. It’s quite rotten for us that Thatcher has been elected for 5 more years. Everyone in the band was depressed and disappointed for a month. But now we’re going for it again. It’s been since christmas that we’ve played. There’s a concert scheduled in Iceland (September 10th); this gig will bring everything back together and we’ll see what kind of things happen afterwards.
All those things are so frightening; it’s not just Thatcher but also the entire American scene that sends missiles and troops everywhere. It’s terrible and we don’t know what we can do about it. We can’t beat them. Disgusting is also the mentality of certain people. As you may know, we recently released a single from an Irish hit-parade band and on the cover you’ll find information about the use of plastic bullets by the police in Northern Ireland, that already killed several children. And there’s been a review of that single in the N.M.E., and all that man could come up with was that ‘Crass’ supports the I.R.A., that ‘Crass’ supports murderers. He didn’t say anything about the song, nor about the plastic bullets. Then we responded to that man that we were displeased about the review and all he could say was: “Yeah, I thought you would say that.”.
Northern Ireland is a very difficult subject. And the politicians don’t touch it because it would mean the end of their career. There’s only one man who dared to start tackling because he was elected for parliament being a member of the political side of the I.R.A. This is considered outrageous in England because a member of the I.R.A. is now in parliament. It may give positive results.
R.B.: What do you exactly mean with anarchy?
‘Crass’: It’s a very extensive subject but I’ll keep it short. When we use the word chaos, we mean it in the sense of chaos in thoughts. You can doubt yourself in such a way that you create total confusion in yourself. Until you can clear your mind, and then you can start thinking again in the true sense of the word. That’s the anarchy we’ve always talked about. And what results from that, is that we look at each other and build a new world in which we try to avoid fear, and try to achieve confidence and happiness. We make lots of pamphlets in which we explain what anarchy is, or what it means to us, you can translate it and put it in your zine if you want.
We see anarchy as something individual. It must all happen in yourself first; but people wonder what will happen when there is anarchy. Who will take care of hot water, who will repair my TV, etc. But if you want to achieve overall, total anarchy, that’s a process of hundreds of years of cooperation in harmony.
We also believe that anarchy, the way we see it, is not in the future but now. If you want to live like this, you can do it now. It’s here and now in yourself. And you can use the system (society) to do that because if you try to break down society by violence in the streets…forget about it. They can stop you as they like, they have so much more power than you. But you can use the system to overthrow it, you can use and bend their rules and laws, and we’ll go on until they have to give up, because they’ll have to give up some day.
R.B.: Now something about the prices of the records. They are usually more expensive than the ‘pay no more than’ price.
‘Crass’: That depends a bit on the import-taxes. They can be quite high.
It also depends on the store. They can actually ask more in the shop than what it says on the cover. It’s just a suggestion we give. Legally we can’t do anything about it but what we actually do here is ask the addresses of the stores where they’re more expensive and we call those people and say that if they don’t lower the price we won’t supply them any longer. And usually they lower the price then. But if they’re really too expensive, you better buy them somewhere else, otherwise you’ll support someone who makes a relatively high profit.
R.B.: Where do you get the money to keep everything going?
‘Crass’: From the band.
We make a profit on the records that gives us enough to make the next record. We live of 120 pounds a week for 7 adults and 4 children.
But we live a very simple life, we grow our own vegetables here, we don’t have any extravagant habits. The most luxurious thing for us is smoking (Tobacco is terribly expensive in England.). From the money we pay each of the band-members a sum of 500 pounds a year. That’s a lot of money to me, it’s enough for us to get by. And if we save that, we have enough to visit another country some time.
R.B.: In Belgium, people think that you live in a rather luxurious farm and that you are quite rich. But that might have something to do with the punk-industry, if you see all those T-shirts, etc.
‘Crass’: We have nothing to do with that. They’re probably earning more money than us. A big advantage for us is this house. We’ve lived here for a long time and we still pay the original rent, 9 pounds a week, which is very little.
We do have a very strict money-system because we can’t afford to make a lot of expenses. Like this cocnerts in Iceland. Our tickets will be refunded, it’s the first time that happens. But we also still have to pay several things, which we can only just afford, because we don’t get paid for it. We do it to help them.
The rumor that we are rich may be because we’re living in the countryside. For many people today, in England anyway, it’s a dream to live in the countryside. And when punk started in London it was normal to wander around in the city, that people were on the dole and drinking beer.
And also because most people think that a well-known band is always rich, but that’s not the case.
The ‘Cockney Rejects’ once said they thouht we were a bunch of assholes because we’re living in the countryside, and I was recently talking to someone who had the same idea. I explained him how difficult it sometimes is. When you live here you can’t go anywhere. If you want to go out in London you have to leave at 10.30 p.m. and need a lot of money for the subway. And there are no concerts in the neighbourhood.
R.B.: Can you tell us a bit about Dial House? (the ‘Crass’ house)
‘Crass’: Penny and I (Joy de Vivre) started it – 17 years ago – with the intention of creating an open house. Our home, but also a home for other people with whom we could work together and share. It’s actually still the same as it used to be. We thought about it a lot, we had to deal with a lot of mistakes. There were always things being created and disseminated in this house, but until now, the band (‘Crass’) has been the most successful.
In 1977, punk came up, everyone was bored with hard-rock… and I found punk to be very exciting. It was the first time people said that everything was shit. The only thing I didn’t agree with was ‘no future’, which was negative. But the energy of punk was fantastic. We started a paper and the band started to grow. We took everything very literally. When other bands started to yell “fuck off to the system”, we thought they really meant it; but apparently most didn’t. You can’t change anything by working with managers or signing contracts for 5 years and then acting revolutionary. They won’t let you go about that way.
R.B.: You have 4 children here. How do you raise them, with the anarchistic idea in mind?
‘Crass’: The children are all very different. What you’ve experienced in the garden has never happened before (We, ‘Krank’ & Staf, were laying in the garden behind the house and 2 children behaved very aggressively towards us, just because we had spilled some water on the grass, which, according to them, damaged the grass. Eventually one of the boys asked -in an impending way- ‘Rat’ if he thought of himself as being kind, and ‘Rat’ asked him the same but the boy screamed out loud: “I asked you a fucking question, so bloody answer it!”. We took off to prevent further incidents.)
R.B.: It was a miserable experience for us.
‘Crass’: Yeah, it was a disturbing experience, for him too actually, because he realizes what he did. But he can sometimes be very tense for very personal reasons. But…I…don’t know, the children are usually treated as human beings. They are children but also human beings that are intelligent, and they are very demanding. One of the children doesn’t like school at all. And after a week of school he can get very confused and fucked up. So we have to be mild and tolerant, because it is that fucking school that does all of that. He doesn’t even want to be there, in school. But we have no choice. It’s against the law not to send him to school. We have searched for other means to help him but we don’t have that much money. We thought of a private school but then we get reactions like: “You are that kind of people who want to educate their children separate and secluded.”. It’s a big problem.
R.B: Is there no problem that the children will get spoiled. That they think they ‘re allowed to do everything?
‘Crass’: Spoiled? I don’t think so, because… They have a pretty hard life here. They’re confronted with everything here, nothing just passes by with out them noticing. They’re quite open and free. You can imagine that there are a lot of strange people coming and they approached these in an open manner. What happened yesterday was very unusual and I’m sorry that you were the victim, but I think he suffered more because of it than you guys. What we really hope is that they obtain the courage and the power to handle those kind of problems. But they’re more delicate. Things are different with the other 2 children. One has finished school now and she doesn’t really like the way we live here. She has her own idea about a way of life but she’s OK. I don’t fully agree with her but she needs to go her own way. The children feel that they don’t have to live the same way we do. I don’t think they’ll keep hanging around here much longer.
It’s difficult with 4 children, because they go to school. The pressure from the outside is probably bigger and stronger than other children. You know: TV, the latest new toys, etc. They’re being influenced. They’re labeled as ‘strange’ at school because they don’t eat meat, because they live with punx and because they almost don’t watch any TV. The other kids at school talk about the latest TV-movie; do you understand what I mean?
That’s the hardest thing for them. The confrontation between school and their way of living here.
They are very knowledgeable children. They might not talk about it often but every time we make a record or a do a paper, they look at it and read it. And they know more than a thing about the nuclear energy problem e.g. and at school they get all that shit again, and they have to try and deal with that. They’re doing a fairly good job, I think. But a child is a huge responsibility. You don’t know if you are doing things the right way. You can only hope that you treat them in the most open and helpful way possible.
R.B.: OK, that’s it, I believe.
‘Crass’: Yeah? It was good, nice questions.
R.B.: Really? I’ll stop the recorder now …CLICK!
After another cup of tea and some chatting, we went to sleep. (The first time in 10 days on a real bed.) The next morning we had to get up early to get the train to London. Before they took us to the station we got another cup of tea. On the table there was a note addressed to us. It read that it had been a nice encounter and that we could take sandwiches for the travel. When we left, one of the boys waved to us. We waved back…