crass adj : (of persons) so unrefined as to be lacking in discrimination and sensibility
EtymologyFrom etyl la crassus.
- coarse; crude; not refined or sensible
- 2002, Mike Tyson to the Media,
- You guys would rather be with someone else who’s equal to your status in life. Tiger Woods, or somebody. I comes across as crass, a Neanderthal, a babbling idiot sometimes. I like to show you that person. I like that person. [...]
coarse; crude; not refined or sensible
- Dutch: grof, ruw, ongevoelig, onsensibel
- Hungarian: vaskos, durva
- Dutch: materialistisch
- Dutch: dicht, opeengepakt
Crass were an English anarchist punk rock band, formed in 1977 which promoted anarchism as a political ideology, way of living, and as a resistance movement. Crass popularized the seminal anarcho-punk movement and advocated direct action, animal rights, and environmentalism. The band used the "Do It Yourself" approach to produce sound collages, graphics, albums and films. Crass also criticized and attempted to subvert the dominant culture with messages promoting feminism, anti-racism, anti-war, and anti-globalization.
Crass practiced their "direct action" philosophy by spray-painting stencilled graffiti messages around the London Underground system and on advertising billboards, coordinating squats, and organising political action. The band also expressed its ideals by dressing in black, military surplus-style clothing and using a stage backdrop which amalgamated several "icons of authority" including the Christian Cross, the swastika and the Union Flag.
The band were critical of the punk movement itself, as well as wider youth culture in general. Crass promoted the type of anarcho-pacifism that eventually became more common in the punk music scene (see also anarcho-punk).
OriginsThe band, which also advocated squatting, was based around Dial House, an open house community near Epping, Essex. The band came together when Dial House founder and former member of avant-garde performance art groups EXIT and Ceres Confusion Penny Rimbaud (real name Jerry Ratter) began jamming with Clash fan Steve Ignorant (real name Steve Williams), who was staying at the house at the time. Between them they put together the songs "So What?" and "Do They Owe Us A Living?" as a drums and vocals duo. For a (very) short period of time they called themselves Stormtrooper, before choosing the name Crass, a reference to the David Bowie song "Ziggy Stardust" (specifically the line "The kids was just crass").
Following this incident the band decided to take themselves more seriously, particularly paying more attention to their presentation. As well as avoiding drugs such as alcohol or cannabis before gigs, they also adopted a policy of wearing black, military surplus-style clothing at all times, whether on or off stage. They introduced their distinctive stage backdrop, a logo designed by Rimbaud's friend Dave King (later of Sleeping Dogs Lie). This gave the band a militaristic image, which led some to accuse them of fascism. Crass countered that their uniform appearance was intended to be a statement against the "cult of personality", so that, in contrast to the norm for many rock bands, no member would be identified as the 'leader'.
The aforementioned logo represented an amalgamation of several "icons of authority" including the Christian Cross, the swastika and the Union Flag combined with a two-headed snake consuming itself (to symbolise the idea that power will eventually destroy itself). Using such deliberately mixed messages was part of Crass' strategy of presenting themselves as a "barrage of contradictions", which also included using loud, aggressive music to promote a pacifist message, and was in part a reference to their own Dadaist and performance art backgrounds.
The band eschewed any elaborate stage lighting during live sets, instead preferring to be illuminated by simple 40 watt household light bulbs (the technical difficulties of filming under such lighting conditions in part explains why there is such little live footage of Crass in existence). The band pioneered multimedia presentation techniques, fully utilising video technology and using back-projected films and video collages made by Mick Duffield and Gee Vaucher to enhance their performances.
The Feeding of the 5000 and Crass Records
Crass' first release was The Feeding Of The 5000, an 18 track 12" 45 rpm EP on the Small Wonder label in 1978. Workers at the pressing plant initially refused to handle it due to the allegedly blasphemous content of the song "Reality Asylum". The record was eventually released with this track removed and replaced by two minutes of silence, ironically titled "The Sound Of Free Speech". This incident prompted Crass to set up their own independent record label, Crass Records, in order to retain full editorial control over their material. "Reality Asylum" was shortly afterwards released on Crass Records in a re-recorded and extended form as a 7" single. Later pressings of the album (also on Crass Records) restored the original version of the missing track.
As well as their own material, Crass Records released recordings by other performers, the first of which was the 1980 single "You Can Be You" by Honey Bane, a teenage girl who was staying at Dial House whilst on the run from a children's home. Other artists included Zounds, Flux Of Pink Indians, Omega Tribe, Rudimentary Peni, Conflict, Icelandic band KUKL (who included singer Björk), classical singer Jane Gregory, Anthrax, Lack of Knowledge and the Poison Girls, a like-minded band who worked closely with Crass for several years.
Crass Records also put out three editions of Bullshit Detector, compilations of demos and rough recordings which had been sent to the band, and which they felt represented the DIY punk ethic. The catalogue numbers of Crass Records releases were intended to represent a countdown to the year 1984 (eg, 521984 meaning "five years until 1984"), both the year that Crass stated that they would split up, and a date charged with significance in the anti-authoritarian calendar due to George Orwell's novel of the same name.
Penis EnvyFrom their earliest days of spraying stencilled anti-war, anarchist, feminist and anti-consumerist graffiti messages around the London Underground system and on advertising billboards http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09400a.html, http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/leaflet2.html, the band had always been involved in political as well as musical activities. On December 18th, 1982, Crass co-ordinated a 24 hour squat of the Zig Zag club in West London primarily for an all day event attended by approximately 500 people to prove "that the underground punk scene could handle itself responsibly when it had to and that music really could be enjoyed free of the restraints imposed upon it by corporate industry".
Bands playing at the Zig Zag (in running order) were Faction, D and V, Omega Tribe, Lack of Knowledge, Sleeping Dogs, The Apostles, Amebix, Null & Void , Soldiers of Fortune, The Mob, Polemic Attack, Poison Girls, Conflict, Flux of Pink Indians, Crass and DIRT.
In 1983 and 1984 they were part of the Stop the City actions instigated by London Greenpeace that were arguably fore-runners of the anti-globalisation actions of the early 21st century. Explicit support for such activities was given in the lyrics of the band's final single release "You're Already Dead", which also saw Crass abandoning their long time commitment to pacifism. This led to further introspection within the band, with some members feeling that they were beginning to become embittered as well as losing sight of their essentially positive stance. As a reflection of this debate, the next release using 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."
ThatchergateA further post-Falklands war hoax that originated from members of Crass became known as 'the Thatchergate tapes'.
This was a cassette featuring what appeared to be an accidentally overheard telephone conversation, due to crossed lines. In reality the tape had been constructed by Crass, using edited recordings of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagans' voices. On the Thatchergate tape they discuss the sinking of the HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, and appeared to allege that Europe would be used as a target for nuclear weapons in any conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Copies were leaked to the press, and the US State Department believed the tape to be propaganda produced by the Soviet KGB, a story reported by both the San Francisco Chronicle and The Sunday Times . Although put together totally anonymously, the British Observer newspaper was somehow able to link the tape with the band.
Crass all but retired from the public eye after becoming a small thorn in the side of Margaret Thatcher's government following the Falklands War. Questions in Parliament and an attempted prosecution under the UK's Obscene Publications Act for their single "How Does It Feel..." led to a round of court battles and what the band describes as harassment that finally took its toll. On July 7 1984 the band played their final gig at Aberdare in Wales, a benefit for striking miners, before retreating to Dial House to concentrate their energies elsewhere.
Guitarist N. A. Palmer had announced that he intended to move on from the band in order to further his art college studies, and the reported group consensus was that replacing him would be "like having a corpse in the band". This catalysed the affirmation of Crass' consistently stated intention to split up in 1984. Steve Ignorant went on to join the band Conflict, with whom he had already worked on an ad hoc basis, and in 1992 formed Schwartzeneggar (sic). From 1997-2000, he was a member of the group Stratford Mercenaries. He has also worked as a Punch and Judy professor and as a solo performer. Eve Libertine continued to record with her son Nemo Jones as well as performance artist A-Soma. Pete Wright concentrated on building himself a houseboat and formed the performance art group Judas 2, whilst Rimbaud continued to write and perform both solo and with other artists.
2002 onwards: The Crass Collective/Crass Agenda/Last Amendment
In November 2002 several former members of Crass collaborated under the name The Crass Collective to arrange Your Country Needs You, a concert of "voices in opposition to war" held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank that included a performance of Britten's War Requiem as well as performers such as Goldblade, Fun-Da-Mental, Ian MacKaye and Pete Wright's post-Crass project Judas 2. In October 2003, the Crass Collective changed their working title to Crass Agenda. During 2004 Crass Agenda were at the forefront of the campaign to save the Vortex Jazz Club in Stoke Newington, North London, which has now relocated to Hackney. In June 2005 Crass Agenda was declared to be 'no more', subsequently changing the name of the project to the 'more appropriate' Last Amendment.
A "new" Crass track (actually a remix of 1982's "Major General Despair", with new lyrics), "The Unelected President", is also available http://www.peace-not-war.org/Music/Crass/index.html.
2007: The Feeding of the 5000 (revisited)On 24 and 25 november 2007 Steve Ignorant performed Crass' entire Feeding of the 5000 album live at the Shepherds Bush Empire, United Kingdom, backed by a band of "selected guests". Other members of Crass were not involved in these concerts. Rimbaud initially refused Ignorant the right to perform Crass songs Rimbaud had written, but later changed his mind. "I acknowledge and respect Steve's right to do this", he said, "but I do regard it as a betrayal of the Crass ethos" Ignorant had a different view: "I don't have to justify what I do. (...) Plus, most of the lyrics are still relevant today. And remember that three-letter word, 'fun'?"
InfluencesCrass influenced the anarchist movement in the UK, US, and around the world. With the growth of anarcho-punk came new generations of people who became interested in anarchist ideas. The philosophical and aesthetic influence of Crass on numerous punk bands from the 1980s were far reaching, even if few bands mimicked their later more free-form musical style (as on Yes Sir, I Will and their final recording, 10 Notes on a Summer's Day).
The band has stated that their musical antecedents and influences were seldom drawn from the rock music tradition, but rather from classical music (particularly Benjamin Britten, on whose work, Rimbaud states, some of Crass' riffs are directly based ), Dada and the avant-garde such as John Cage as well as performance art traditions.
Their painted and collage-art black-and-white record sleeves produced by Gee Vaucher themselves became a signature aesthetic model, and can be seen as an influence on later artists such as Banksy (Banksy and Vaucher have latterly collaborated) and the subvertising movement.
- Steve Ignorant (Voice)
- Eve Libertine (Voice)
- Joy De Vivre (Voice)
- N. A. Palmer (Guitar)
- Phil Free (Guitar)
- Pete Wright (Bass and Voice)
- Penny Rimbaud (Drums)
- Gee Vaucher (Artwork, Piano, Radio)
- Mick Duffield (Films)
- John Loder (1946 - 2005), sound engineer and founder of Southern Studios, is sometimes considered to be the '9th member' of Crass
- Steve Herman (???? - 1989) left Crass shortly after their first gig.
Discography(All released on Crass Records unless otherwise stated.)
- The Feeding of the 5000 (LP, 1978, Small Wonder Records) [UK Indie -#1]
- The Feeding of the 5000 - Second Sitting (LP, 1980, Reissue on Crass Records 621984, with the missing track "Asylum" reinstated) [UK Indie – #11]
- Stations Of The Crass (521984, LP, 1979) [UK Indie – #1]
- Penis Envy (321984/1, LP, 1981) [UK Indie – #1]
- Christ - The Album (BOLLOX2U2, double LP, 1982) [UK Indie – #1]
- Yes Sir, I Will (121984/2, LP, 1983) [UK Indie – #1]
- Acts Of Love (1984/4, LP and book, 1985. Poems of Penny Rimbaud set to classical music, sung by Eve Libertine and Steve Ignorant. The book is illustrated with paintings by Gee Vaucher)
- Best Before 1984 (CATNO5, LP compilation, 1986) [UK Indie – #7]
- "Ten Notes On A Summer's Day" (CATNO6, 12" EP, 1986) [UK Indie – #6]
- "Reality Asylum / Shaved Women" (CRASS1, 7", 1979) [UK Indie – #9]
- "You Can Be You" (521984/1, 7" single by Honey Bane, backed by Crass under the name Donna and the Kebabs, 1979) [UK Indie – #3]
- "Bloody Revolutions / Persons Unknown" (421984/1, 7" single, joint released with the Poison Girls, 1980) [UK Indie – #1]
- "Tribal Rival Rebel Revels" (421984/6F, flexi disc single given away with Toxic Grafity (sic) fanzine, 1980)
- "Nagasaki Nightmare / Big A Little A" (421984/5, 7" single, 1981) [UK Indie – #1]
- "Our Wedding" (321984/1F, flexi disc single by Creative Recording And Sound Services made available to readers of teenage magazine Loving)http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09410.html)
- "Merry Crassmas" (CT1, 7" single, 1981, Crass' stab at the Christmas novelty market) [UK Indie – #2] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09417.html)
- "Sheep Farming In The Falklands / Gotcha" (121984/3, 7" single, 1982, originally released anonymously as a flexi-disc) [UK Indie – #1]
- "How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of 1000 Dead? / The Immortal Death" (221984/6, 7" single, 1983) [UK Indie – #1]
- "Whodunnit?" (121984/4, 7" single, 1983), pressed in "shit coloured vinyl") [UK Indie – #2]
- "You're Already Dead / Nagasaki is Yesterday's Dog-End / Don't get caught" (1984, 7" single, 1984)
- Christ: The Movie (a series of short films by Mick Duffield
that were shown at Crass performances, VHS, released 1990)
- Semi-Detached (video collages by Gee Vaucher, 1978–84, VHS, 2001)
- Christ: The Movie (a series of short films by Mick Duffield that were shown at Crass performances, VHS, released 1990)
- Crass Agenda
- In the Beginning Was the WORD – Live DVD recorded at the Progress Bar, Tufnell Park, London, 18 November 2004 (Gallery gallery Productions @ Le Chaos Factory, 2006)
- "It's You" — track on P.E.A.C.E. international anti-war benefit compilation released by R. Radical Records (1984)
- "Powerless With A Guitar" — track on Devastate to Liberate benefit compilation for the Animal Liberation Front, TIBETan records, (1986)
- "The Unelected President" — track on Peace Not War anti-war CD compilation. (This track is actually a remix of 1982's "Major General Despair", with new lyrics and additional instrumentation provided by Dylan Bates), (2003)
A fairly complete list of all Crass gigs http://www.southern.com/southern/forum/viewtopic.php?id=1586
References in culture
- Anarchist punk band Conflict included a song called C.R.A.S.S. on their album The Ungovernable Force.
- In the video for Alien Ant Farm's single Movies a member of the audience in the cinema is wearing a t-shirt with the Crass logo and the slogan "Jesus died for his own sins, not mine."
- Punk band Anti-Flag included a song similar in style to that of Crass on their album A New Kind of Army called This is NOT a Crass Song.
- Nofx has a song on their album Wolves in Wolves' Clothing called "Instant Crassic".
- In 2007, US anti-folk singer-songwriter and graphic artist Jeffrey Lewis released an album of Crass covers called 12 Crass Songs.
- Jonathan Downes is usually seen wearing a Crass t-shirt in his monthly webtv show On The Track, and has namechecked the band repeatedly in interviews. However, claims that he was once a roadie for the band have been denied by the CFZ office.
- Crass were name checked in Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip's 2007 song "Thou Shalt Always Kill," as 'just a band.'
- In the film American History X, a skinhead, presumably a Nazi, can be seen wearing a Crass shirt while moshing at a Nazi youth concert.
- TV chef and author Isa Chandra Moskowitz sports a Crass t-shirt on the cover of her 2005 vegan cookbook Vegan With a Vengeance.
- Footballer David Beckam was photographed wearing a Crass t-shirt which appeared in various tabloids.
References and bibliography
Also of note
- You've Heard It All Before (1993, Ruptured Ambitions Records), a 'tribute album' consisting of cover versions of songs by Crass performed by various artists.
- "Bullshit Crass" (Rondolet Records, 1982) — a 'critique' of Crass by Colchester punk band Special Duties that parodied Crass' chant of "fight war, not wars" with the words "fight Crass, not punk" http://www.angelfire.com/punk/XLordAshX/specialduties.html.
- A Series Of Shock Slogans And Mindless Token Tantrums (Exitstencil Press, 1982) (originally issued as a pamphlet with the LP Christ The Album, much of the text is now published online at http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/text/09438a.html)
- The Diamond Signature (Penny Rimbaud, 1999, AK Press)
- Crass Art and other Post Modern Monsters (Gee Vaucher, 1999, AK Press)
- International Anthem: A Nihilist Newspaper For The Living issues 1-3 (Exitstencil Press, 1977-81) (see http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/misc.html)
- Love Songs (collected lyrics of Crass with an introduction by Penny Rimbaud, Pomona Books, 2004) http://www.pomonauk.com/books/crass/
- '"The Hippies Now Wear Black": Crass and the anarcho-punk movement, 1977-1984', Richard Cross in Socialist History, 26, 2004 http://www.socialist-history-journal.org.uk/SH_26_contents.html
- George McKay Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties, chapter three 'CRASS 621984 ANOK4U2'. (1996) London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-028-0.
- George Berger - The Story of Crass (2006) London: Omnibus Press ISBN 1-84609-402-X http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/184609402X/
- Ian Glasper - The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980 to 1984 (2006) http://www.artofthestate.co.uk/Punk_photos/the_day_the_country_died_book.htm
- There is No Authority But Yourself - A film by Alexander Oey documenting the history of Crass and Dial House (Submarine, Netherlands, 2006)
- 12 Crass Songs - Jeffrey Lewis. 12 Crass songs reworked by New York Anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis. (Oct 2007)
- Official Crass website
- Official Crass news and discussion forum at Southern Studios website
- A critical view of Crass from the 'Punk 77' website
- Interview from 'Mucilage' fanzine
- A Christian perspective on Crass
- 'Dial House under threat' from UK The Guardian newspaper.
- Sample of track "Do They Owe Us A Living?"
- Crass: There is no Authority but yourself. Trailers & movie download
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