Today's artists issued a blitz of records that were ruthless in both their unrelenting sociopolitical screeds and their amelodic crash of noise. The horrors of war, the arbitrary nature of legal justice, sexism, media imagery, organized religion, the flaws of the punk movement itself -- all were subjected to harsh critique. Like few other rock bands before or since, Crass took rock-as-agent-of-social-and-political-change seriously, and not just in their music. In addition to putting out their own fiercely independent records (though the majors were certainly not knocking at their door), they also formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and labels, and on the behalf of various political causes. Here are the brittlest and most hard-line radical of the first wave of British punk bands.........N'Joy
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Crass were an English art collective and punk rock band formed in 1977 which promoted anarchism as a political ideology, a way of life and a resistance movement. Crass popularised the anarcho-punk movement of the punk subculture, advocating direct action, animal rights, feminism and environmentalism. The band used and advocated a DIY punk ethic approach to its sound collages, leaflets, albums and films. Crass spray-painted stencilled graffiti messages in the London Underground system and on advertising billboards, coordinated squats and organised political action. The band expressed its ideals by dressing in black, military-surplus-style clothing and using a stage backdrop amalgamating icons of perceived authority such as the Christian cross, the swastika, the Union Jack and the ouroboros. The band was critical of punk subculture and youth culture in general. Crass promoted an anarchism which became more common in the punk-music scene. They are considered art punk in their use of tape collages, graphics, spoken word releases, poetry and improvisation.
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The band's fourth LP, 1982's double set Christ - The Album, took almost a year to record, produce and mix (during which the Falklands War broke out and ended). This caused Crass to question their approach to making records. As a group whose primary purpose was political commentary, they felt overtaken and redundant by world events. Subsequent releases (including the singles "How Does It Feel? (to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead)" and "Sheep Farming in the Falklands" and the album Yes Sir, I Will) saw the band's sound go back to basics and were issued as "tactical responses" to political situations. They anonymously produced 20,000 copies of a flexi-disc with a live recording of "Sheep Farming...", copies of which were randomly inserted into the sleeves of other records by sympathetic workers at the Rough Trade Records distribution warehouse to spread their views to those who might not otherwise hear them.
From their early days of spraying stencilled anti-war, anarchist, feminist and anti-consumerist graffiti messages in the London Underground and on billboards, Crass was involved in politically motivated direct action and musical activities. In 1983 and 1984, Crass were part of the Stop the City actions co-ordinated by London Greenpeace[ which foreshadowed the anti-globalisation rallies of the early 21st century. Support for these activities was provided in the lyrics and sleeve notes of the band's last single, "You're Already Dead", expressing doubts about their commitment to non-violence. It was also a reflection of disagreements within the group, as explained by Rimbaud; "Half the band supported the pacifist line and half supported direct and if necessary violent action. It was a confusing time for us, and I think a lot of our records show that, inadvertently". This led to introspection within the band, with some members becoming embittered and losing sight of their essentially positive stance. Reflecting this debate, the next release under the Crass name was Acts of Love: classical-music settings of 50 poems by Penny Rimbaud, described as "songs to my other self" and intended to celebrate "the profound sense of unity, peace and love that exists within that other self".
Another Crass hoax was known as the "Thatchergate tapes", a recording of an apparently accidentally overheard telephone conversation (due to crossed lines). The tape was constructed by Crass from edited recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Crass had become a thorn in the side of Margaret Thatcher's government after the Falklands War. Questions about the band in Parliament and an attempted prosecution by Conservative Party MP Timothy Eggar under the UK's Obscene Publications Act for their single, "How Does It Feel...", made them question their purpose:
"We found ourselves in a strange and frightening arena. We had wanted to make our views public, had wanted to share them with like minded people, but now those views were being analysed by those dark shadows who inhabited the corridors of power (…) We had gained a form of political power, found a voice, were being treated with a slightly awed respect, but was that really what we wanted? Was that what we had set out to achieve all those years ago?"
The band had also incurred heavy legal expenses for the Penis Envy prosecution; this, combined with exhaustion and the pressures of living and operating together, finally took its toll. On 7 July 1984 the band played a benefit gig at Aberdare, Wales, for striking miners, and on the return trip guitarist N. A. Palmer announced that he intended to leave the group. This confirmed Crass's previous intention to quit in 1984, and the band split up.
For Rimbaud the initial inspiration for founding Crass was the death of his friend Phil 'Wally Hope' Russell, as detailed in his book The Last of the Hippies: An Hysterical Romance. Russell had been placed in a psychiatric hospital after helping to set up the first Stonehenge free festival in 1974, and died shortly afterwards. Rimbaud believed that Russell was murdered by the State for political reasons. Band members have also cited influences ranging from existentialism and Zen to situationism, the poetry of Baudelaire, British working class 'kitchen sink' literature and films such as Kes and the films of Anthony McCall (McCall's Four Projected Movements was shown as part of an early Crass performance). Crass have said that their musical influences were seldom drawn from rock, but more from classical music (particularly Benjamin Britten, on whose work, Rimbaud states, some of Crass' riffs are based), free jazz, European atonality and avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Crass influenced the anarchist movement in the UK, the US and beyond. The growth of anarcho-punk spurred interest in anarchist ideas. The band have also claimed credit for revitalising the peace movement and the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the late 1970s early 1980s. Others contend that they overestimated their influence, their radicalising effect on militants notwithstanding. Crass' philosophical and aesthetic influences on 1980s punk bands were far-reaching, although few mimicked their later free-form style (heard on Yes Sir, I Will and their final recording, Ten Notes on a Summer's Day). Their painted and collage black-and-white record sleeves (by Gee Vaucher) may have influenced later artists such as Banksy (with whom Vaucher collaborated) and the subvertising movement. Anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis's 2007 album, 12 Crass Songs, features acoustic covers of Crass material.
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Released with unplanned irony as the Falklands War raged -- an event that would provide grist for the band's eventual masterwork, Yes Sir I Will -- Christ, another two-album half-studio/half-live set like Stations of the Crass, once again aims to take no prisoners. Ratcheting up the continued "leave no stone unturned" lyrical approach that characterized the group from the start, Crass again sounds like the group's about to explode in eight million directions. Ignorant takes over the lead vocal role again, his rough ramalama bitterly leading the charge against the loathed Thatcher government and the society that allowed it to come into power. Libertine, here appearing as Peeve Libido, adds backing vocals while De Vivre takes the lead on "Birth Control" and "Sentiment." Free's guitar work roars along with the usual vim, as does the Pete Wright aka Sybil Right/Rimbaud rhythm section, while continual spiking of the musical punch via production or sonic collages, or even almost power pop catchiness at points, prevents things from being one note. "Reality Whitewash" even has a swelling string and brass combination to propel it along. Mock and real found-sound bites, from official statements to slams at Crass itself, pepper the studio side as bridges between songs or concurrently running elements of the tunes themselves. While hints had always been present in earlier songs, Crass collectively starts wearing their hearts on their sleeves even more than before; "I Know There Is Love" is another all-encompassing rejection of societal roles in favor of a real, untainted feeling, at once impolite and passionate. The live material, recorded at a June 1981 show, is interspersed with a variety of material from other sources, including more found-sound/media snippets and, in an interesting nod to the past, two cuts from the group's very first time in a studio.
Crass - Christ - The Album (flac 286mb)
01 Have A Nice Day 2:44
02 Mother Love 2:52
03 Ninteen Eighty Bore 4:09
04 I Know There Is Love 2:47
05 Beg Your Pardon 3:07
06 Birth Control 'N' Rock 'N' Roll 2:59
07 Reality Whitewash 3:28
08 It's The Greatest Working Class Rip-Off 3:21
09 Deadhead 2:16
10 You Can Be Who? 3:01
11 Buy Now Pay As You Go 2:22
12 Rival Tribal Revel Rebel, Pt. 2 3:09
13 Bumhooler 3:19
14 Sentiment (White Feathers) 3:56
15 Major General Despair 4:34
Crass - Christ - The Album (ogg 118mb)
Crass - Well Forked, But Not Dead (flac 276mb)
01 Banned From The Roxy + The Sound Of One Hand 4:30
02 Punk Is Dead 1:58
03 Nagasaki Nightmare 4:31
04 Darling + Bata Motel Blues 2:15
05 Berkertex Bribe + Fold It In Half 2:40
06 Big Hands + Heart-throb Of The Mortuary 2:14
07 Bumhooler 2:21
08 Big A Little A 4:26
09 First Woman 1:05
10 Arlington 73 1:25
11 Bomb Plus Bomb Tape 4:04
12 Contaminational Power 1:48
13 I Ain't Thick 1:49
14 G's Song 0:29
15 Securicor 1:41
16 I Can't Stand It 1:48
17 Shaved Women + A Part Of Life 3:21
18 Do They Owe Us A Living 1:22
19 So What + Salt 'n' Pepper 3:37
Crass - Well Forked, But Not Dead (ogg 108mb)
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Wound up to an even more vicious fury of rage and sorrow due to the Falklands War, Crass completely exploded on the awesome Yes Sir I Will, its bitter title taken from an encounter between a gruesomely wounded veteran of that conflict and Prince Charles. The most concise sonic assaults against the war and the role of Margaret Thatcher's government -- "Sheep Farming in the Falklands" and "Gotcha!" -- aren't included among the seven untitled tracks here, instead appearing as separate singles. What is here, though -- essentially one long piece divided up into six shorter pieces and a lengthy second side/second half -- is, as a collective artistic expression, one of the strongest indictments of a society and its government ever. As always, Crass mixes things up in the recording studio, from beautiful string/piano pieces (the "what did you know?/what did you care?" passage, with flat-out lovely vocals from Ignorant) to amped-up roars of rant and rage. Ignorant, Libertine, and De Vivre trade off lead throughout, creating an ever-evolving piece that more than most sounds like the expression of a full society needing to simply say the truth at long last. Musically, the fierce power of the band doesn't let up (Rimbaud's drumming sounds better than ever, punchy and full, as does Wright's bass, while Free and rhythm guitarist N.A. Palmer keep up the electric aggression). The war isn't the only subject under discussion: everything from the Thatcher government's complicity in allowing U.S. cruise missiles to be based in Britain to the exploitation/packaging of musical traditions in the guise of "world music" gets a look in. Even Crass rip-off pseudo-anarchy groups go under the knife. But as the group says early on in the recording, "Everything we write is a love song," and extreme as it all seems, there's no doubt Crass wanted to help humanity up from where it was at.
Crass - Yes Sir I Will (flac 293mb)
01 Step Outside & Rocky Eyes 0:43
02 Anarchy's Just Another Word 4:42
03 Speed Or Greed ? 2:36
04 The Five Knuckle Shuffle 1:01
05 A Rock 'n' Roll Swindler 2:09
06 Burying Hatchet 12:28
07 Taking Sides 20:07
Crass - Yes Sir I Will (ogg 95mb)
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The last Crass album, completed and released shortly after the group's long-planned breakup and end of live performance in 1984, is more of an EP than anything else, totaling only twenty minutes long. Perhaps inspired in part by the side project Acts of Love album, Crass here takes a sometimes gently grooving tone, while lyrically the more blunt accusations of the past are turned into careful self-examination. The general atmosphere, heightened by the overall design, is almost elegiac in its own way, a reflection back upon a mission that (as the group discussed in the liner notes to the Best Before compilation) turned the band into something it didn't want to be at the end. The ten untitled pieces on the original first side of the album, mastered as one long first cut on CD, feature the Ignorant/Libertine/De Vivre trio continually trading off lines and reflections throughout while the musical wing of the group seems to be improvising gently as it goes. Free isn't raging with his guitar as much as creating atmospheres heightened by Rimbaud's work on piano and synths. His own drumming, along with Wright's bass, keeps things moving forward with sometimes martial precision, other times with an easy swing to it. Both Libertine and De Vivre do some of their sweetest singing yet, while Ignorant takes a distinctly ruminative tone. The second overall cut continues where the first one ended, moody keyboards introducing a partially haunting and meditative, partially choppy and atonal musical piece. It's an instrumental, giving the musicians an unexpected showcase, especially considering their work here bears little resemblance to what Crass' music was generally thought to be. With art showcasing steam or fog outside a building rather than the protest art familiar from other efforts, 10 Notes shows Crass in the end avoiding being painted into a punk rock corner.
Crass - Ten Notes on a Summer's Day (flac 205mb)
01 Ten Notes On A Summer's Day - Vocal Version 10:28
02 Ten Notes On A Summer's Day - Instrumental Version 10:09
03 Acts of Love No.37 - remix version (Southern Studios 1984) 2:01
04 Hit Parade - Pills & Ills (Southern Studios 1984) 5:20
05 A-Soma - Rocky Eyes (South London December 1994) 1:53
06 Outro including Acts Of Love No.39 (Southern Studios 2002) 2:37
Crass - Ten Notes on a Summer's Day (ogg 74mb)
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