Anarchic punk questions answered

“When are you going to bed, dad?” asks AL junior…

“When I have finished answering these questions about anarchic punk.” I replied. It is now 1.15 am and I have just finished. Bit daft really – questions are about the ‘anarchist punk movement’ and I start off by saying there never was such a thing… so it goes.

It is the questionnaire mentioned here by John Simpson, which Ben Franks has sent me.

And a pic of the recent Olympic Torch Relay

Here it is. Good night

Anarcho-Punk, Society and the Falklands War Questionnaire

N.B. Please bear in mind that the focus here is history as the individual remembers it, feel free to elaborate as much as you can. You may, of course, for convenience or otherwise, choose not to answer any of following the questions. Thank you in advance for any assistance.

Name: Alistair Livingston

Occupation 1980-1986 (or thereabouts):

I worked for the London Rubber Company [Durex condoms] as a draughtsman and engineering estimator from 1977 to 1983, ran All the Madmen record company 1984/5 [sole employee], and helped look after a young child 1985/6.

Email address (entirely optional)

Please provide a sentence or two indicating the circumstances of your life during this period:

It was pretty intense – working full time in factory and training to be an engineer, living in bedsit in Ilford to begin with, going to gigs and anarchist meetings (Persons Unknown Trial support group), then becoming a punk at weekends as part of the Kill Your Pet Puppy Collective, going to various anarchy centres etc, moving into a Black Sheep (punk) Housing Co-op house, giving up a well paid job to run a record company, meeting my future wife [married in 1988, had four kids by 1991] who was a Greenham Woman and Stonehenge Campaign person by 1986 living with her and son in a council flat in Hackney. With various events in between… it was an incredibly intense, creative and chaotic few years.

1. How effective do you feel artistic responses to political issues are? (i.e. how political can music be?)

That is a skewed question, implying art and politics have a cause and effect relationship. Art and politics arise together out of the experience of everyday life – and you can have political reponses to artisitic issues – for example when the Nazi’s exhibited ‘deviant art’, or when religious groups try to ban ‘blasphemous’ art.

Self-consciously political art works as propoganda, but obvious propoganda is usally pretty cheesy -for example USSR socialist realism – which was countered ideologically (and quite effectively/ not cheesily) by the USA (CIA) who financed shows of abstract expressionism.

Music can be as overtly political as you care to make it. However overtly political music – like national anthems [UK one has unused line about “Rebellious Scots to crush” , written in response to Jacobite threat] – is less effective because it is like in your face adverts saying ‘YOU MUST Buy this product’. Music works because it evokes emotions and feelings – not rational thought. Even if you mix strong words in the music, the repetition of the words as the piece of music becomes familiar will blur and fade the impact of those words.

Where the music is heard is important too – a piece of music played at a demonstration or political rally will have a different impact to hearing it as background music on a radio, or on an mp3 player.

2. Does this response change when considering music as a reaction to war?

(Consider the US folk revival and Vietnam protests)

No. Music can also be part of war, can, if used as part of nationalistic propoganda create the conditions for war by evoking patriotic fervour. The US troops in Vietnam listened to rock music and probably sang along with Country Joe and the Fish’s ‘Feels like I’m fixing to die’…

3. Do you feel the aims of anarchism were properly represented through the anarcho-punk movement? What role did the structure of the music industry play?

This is an unhelpful question. Firstly, there was no ‘anarcho-punk movement’. The phrase ‘anarcho-punk’ was first used by journalist/ muscian David Tibet in a review of a gig by Kukl in 1984. It was never used by any of the participants at the time and has only retrospectively been applied to give the illusion of coherence to one part of punk in the period 1979/1985.

Since even today there is debate and discussion amongst self-confessed anarchists about what the ‘aims of anarchism’ are, it is not possible to assess the representation of such undefined aims in punk.

This question requires that something called ‘anarchism’ existed then as a clearly formulated set of beliefs and ideas which punks could try to represent ‘properly’. But there was no such one true anarchism, rather there were (and still are) several different anarchisms. Some punks took ideas from various of these anarchisms, but never in any straightforward way and those borrowings were mixed with situationist thefts, bits n bobs of marxism, a hefty chunk of nihilism, a wiff of fascism/nazism and so on.

The role played by the structure of the music industry was to encourage a DIY approach to producing and distributing music. The stucture of the music industry means it is only interested in commercial products. By 1980 punk was in (mainstream) commercial decline, becoming a niche market like heavy metal. Even if a group had wanted to ‘sell-out’ they would not have been able to since no major record label was interested in boring old punk.

So a DIY – at its most basic a network of people swopping tapes – ‘home music industry’ emerged, mixed in with fanzines. Within this DIY scene the ‘music industry’ was irrelevant. There was no mass market and so no need for mass production.

4.  How do you feel anarcho-punk effected mainstream culture on the whole?

a) Was this important to you and others around you?

b) How do you feel mainstream culture effected anarcho-punk?

Oh dear…. struggling to get through this. Since I have suggested that there never was an ‘anarcho-punk movement’, it follows that it could not have had an effect on mainstream culture. There were ‘anarchic punks’ , who did have an effect on mainstream culture, but as part of a continuing countercultureof which punk was a part. The continuing counterculture had an effect on mainstream culture during the early eighties by strongly opposing attempts to heighten the Cold War – for example the deployment of nuclear Cruise missiles.

This was very important because it could not be ignored I.e. it was popular enough to become part of mainstream culture – and challenged the whole idea that ‘we’ were engaged in a life or death military struggle with an ‘evil empire’.

What might have happened if there had been no such anti-nuclear/ peace movement then?

No opposition would have led to a build up of nuclear weapons (eg Molseworth was planned as a second base after Greenham) and there may even have been popular support for taking a hard line with the Russians – along patriotic/ nationlalistic lines.

This would have increased Russian paranoia, so they would have acted more agressively, increasing western fears… the end result could have been a sprial into war – but a nuclear war…

Which answersd part b. – the influence of mainstream culture on anarchic punks was to make us think – “These nutters could kill us all”and so overcome the more nihilistic aspects of punk.

5.  What sort of legacy do you feel the anarcho-punk movement of the 80s maintains? How much does this matter to those involved in the movement itself?

The legacy is that we are not all dead in a nuclear war… which matters quite a bit to those of us who have survived.

6. What was your own reaction to the Falklands War? Was this consistent with other members of your band and/or the anarcho-punk scene?

I thought the Falklands War was a total farce. I don’t remember anyone getting very excited about it.

7. What do you remember of the Crass releases ‘Sheep Farming in the Falklands’ and ‘How Does it Feel…’?

No memory at all. Never bought them, never listened to them. I thought Crass had wilfully misunderstood punk then and still do now. Vastly overrated, far too authoritarian to be punk.

8. What kind of progress do you feel has been made in sub-cultural/countercultural movements and music? Could a band or song have more or less impact today than in 1982?

There is no such thing as progress, only change. The idea of progress is the enemy, it justifies all manner of idiocies. Subcultural/ countercultural movements and music are no better and no worse than they were in 1982 – only different. Back then, nuclear war was the big threat – today it is global warming. A band or song could have more or less impact today than in 1982… Might have more impact. Might have less. I could be wrong. I could be right…

My contact details:


Thanks again,

John Simpson

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