“Crass were the missing link between counterculture hippies and punk’s angry rhetoric"
Emerging from Dial House - the bohemian commune set up on the outskirts of Epping Forest by Rimbaud and Gee Voucher in the late 60s – there was never any clear division between the band and the house. In essence, they were its musical wing. The constantly rotating cast of artists, filmmakers, writers and drifters that inhabited it ensured people of all backgrounds lived and worked together, Crass being the end result of a wilful subversion of class expectations.
“Pay no more than…” cops the phrase on the cover of every Crass record and every release on its label. Insisting on a fair maximum price was a staunch tenet of the band.
The introduction of this 'pay no more than' ethos to punk was important because it communicated in a simplistic way that records could be produced and sold for much less than the prices charted at high street record shops. other punk bands followed Crass's example and the 'pay no more than' slogan and ethos became common practice of the DIY and independent punk releases.
“JUST ANOTHER CHEAP PRODUCT… "
Rimbaud was the middle class Oxford graduate, vocalist Steve Ignorant the working class Dagenham youth – both were equally determined to escape predestined outcomes and make some noise. The rest of their musical ‘career’ was spent going hammer and tongs at the hydra's heads: political and social control, war, consumer subordination and - perhaps most importantly - self-enslavement.
But since their heyday a chemical memory of slickly edited social discord - cleanly juxtaposed imagery - has been drip-fed continuously into the popular subconscious. Countless books have chronicled the history of punk in all possible variables, while an endless stream of documentaries have montaged their way to cranial familiarity along established lines.
Crass arrived at the tail end of the punk explosion, proclaiming "punk is dead" and proceeding to kick at the Clash and the Sex Pistols for not following through on their rebellious stance. During their seven years on the road, the band gave away thousands of pounds to causes ranging from CND to striking miners, attracting the attention of MI5 along the way. They also rejected offers from major record labels who promised to help them "market revolution". Crass needed little help with marketing, as they could, at their height, shift 20,000 singles in a week with no advertising and no airplay. Combining shock value, humour and a distinctive graphic style, the band found it easy to get their message across.
But they found it much harder to stop their fans from seeing them as ideological leaders. The Falklands war saw the band at their most politically active: they recorded an attack on Margaret Thatcher that was discussed in the Commons. The band made enemies of both the political left and right and were singled out for particular hatred by then Sounds journalist Garry Bushell.
Bullshit Detector was the name of a series of compilation LPs put together by the anarcho-punk band Crass and released on their Crass Records label. Three editions were released between 1980 and 1984, consisting of demo tapes, rough recordings and artwork that had been sent to the band. The sound quality of the Bullshit Detector series was mixed, and was often very basic or poor as Crass would master the tapes directly to record without any additional production or enhancement. For Crass, the expectation of a polished performance was missing the point of the DIY punk ethic:
Don't expect music when the melody is anger, when the message sings defiance, three chords are frustration when the words are from the heart.
The Crass Symbol, a signifier of both the band and a demanding, counter-cultural questioning of authority of all kinds.
And what happens to the counter-culture, now that everything can be appropriated and sold back to a world hungry for authenticity?
In a career jammed with brilliantly provocative instigations, few surpass the situationist prank that Crass pulled on the professional romance industry just as the most overhyped wedding of the twentieth century (uniting Charles and Diana) was about to occur on British soil. Released in 1981, Crass’s third album Penis Envy foregrounded the vocals of Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre, as befitted an album focusing on women’s topics. As Crass fans know, the album’s final track, not mentioned in the album art itself, is an über-saccharine ditty called “Our Wedding.”
In 2005 Penny Rimbaud wrote the following account of the incident:
"We called in at Loving‘s IPC offices as Creative Recordings and Sound Services (CRASS) and said “We’ve just made this recording and think it would be suitable for your publication.” They jumped at it, saying “It’s great, fantastic. We’re about to do a special brides [bribes] issue. How about us doing it as a free flexi?” Which is precisely what it became. They advertised it as “Our Wedding”—an “absolute must for your wedding day”. They’d bought it hook, line and stinker, but the lyrics were frightful, banal shit about the social fantasy of marriage, you know, things like never looking at other girls or guys once you’ve fallen for it. It was total rubbish, but they happily gave it away with their magazine. Now, what kind of loving is that? Shortly afterwards a friend in Fleet Street exposed the scam and The Star printed the glorious headline “Band of Hate’s Loving Message”. I think there were a few sackings at Loving magazine."
When the hoax was exposed, a brief tabloid controversy resulted; the News of the World hilariously called the title of the new album Penis Envy “too obscene to print.”