The Spin Alternative Record Guide wrote that Crass were "probably the first rock band whose liner notes are not only indispensable, but often better reading than the records are listening." Rather more cheekily, British lo-fi pop prodigy Martin Newell (Cleaners From Venus) once commented that "they did actually sound like two lathes buggering each other on an elevator in an aircraft hangar." And Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud noted, "I don't think we were in the least bit involved in developing as a band... It would have been nice to have had that time to think, 'it would be nice to use a C sharp there.'"
Interviews by Richie Unterberger (September 1998)
So why did Crass matter? It's more down to the method of their rebellion than their actual buzzsaw punk records. The Crass were not Rage Against the Machine, delivering metalish rants against the system on Epic Records. Unlike most bands delivering rebellious diatribes, they actually lived out the uncompromising politics of their songs. They lived in a commune, debated the Falklands War with a conservative politician on the BBC, helped fund an anarchist center, and refused to dilute the confrontational, explicit lyrics and sleeve designs in the face of enormous legal pressures. That helped give their songs-- articulate, if blurrily delivered, attacks upon war, organized religion, sexism, and social injustice of all sorts-- more weight.
The struggles inherent in doing things their way, on their own label, may have led to their breakup in 1984, although they note that they had planned to disband in that infamous year all along. Their legacy lives, however, in the countless hardcore punk bands that emerged in Crass' wake, who found inspiration not only in their lyrics and lifestyle, but also in their striking black-and-white album graphics, which were emulated by countless other releases, albeit without as much style as the fold-out posters designed by Crass' G Sus.
There was a lot of mystique built up around Crass in the United States, where their records were only available as imports, and where vague rumors circulated about this bizarre hippie-punk commune in the country that was getting harassed by the British authorities. Unconcerned about building up American sales figures, Crass nonetheless aren't all that hard to contact today, with various ex-Crassers still involved in music, art, literature, and political activism in the late 1990's.
G Sus and Penny Rimbaud talked at length about Crass' history and significance near the end of 1996, in an interview conducted for the Crass chapter in UNKNOWN LEGENDS OF ROCK'n'ROLL, a volume examining sixty cult rock artists, which was published by Miller Freeman in the spring of 1998.
All photos courtesy of Crass and Southern Records.
G SUS INTERVIEW PENNY RIMBAUD INTERVIEW
Also see Richie Unterberger's web site
(which has many more interviews)
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