The Great Revolt

Cease & Resist – Sonic Subversion & Anarcho Punk In The UK 1979​-​86

Cease & Resist – Sonic Subversion & Anarcho Punk In The UK 1979​-​86 takes us back to the heyday of anarcho-punk when DIY values were inextricably bound up with political statements.

Still relevant after all these years: Steve Ignorant of Crass.

Noting that anarcho-punk “thrived in opposition to the music industry, existing as a fiercely underground alternative to the bands, labels and venues of the commercialised mainstream Punk scene”, the compilation’s liner notes collapse past and present.

“Anarcho Punk represented one of the last truly underground and autonomous music movements ever witnessed and remains a movement that has never sold out and has never gone away.”

It is crucial to insist on this continuity.  Aside from the fact that we once again find ourselves in a kind of Cold War grown hot, there is no doubt that anarchists’ trenchant critique of power structures is as pertinent as ever, and the continued popularity of anarcho-punk reflects that.

Over and over, the lyrics on this compilation – most of which are more spoken than sung – cut through the self-delusions necessary to take a lesser-evil approach. Music for edgy liberals and leather-jacket-wearing leftists, for whom bands like Nirvana are still “punk”, this is definitely not.  Those bands have their place, but not as radical politics like this.

Could Cease & Resist – Sonic Subversion & Anarcho Punk In The UK 1979​-​86 be the start of a trend? Reissue culture has been with us for over two decades now, with both major and independent labels realising that it’s easier to sell something that has already been sold than break unknown bands and introduce new genres.

Despite similar releases, such as Overground Records’ four-volume series of anarchist punk compilations in 2007 (Anti-State, Anti-Society, Anti-Capitalism and Anti-War), this trend has largely focused on individual artists, isolating them from the relations that made their success possible.

Either someone already well-known is further elevated at the expense of everyone else, or previously neglected work is given the same treatment, liberating it from collector nerd obscurity, like the anarcho-punk supergroup Crisis, whose first recordings in the late 1970s were never released in album format until 2005’s Holocaust Hymns.

This compilation rebels against such tendencies. Cease & Resist recontextualises the biggest names associated with the genre – Crass, Chumbawamba, and The Ex – reminding us that they were the product of closely-knit scenes while sounding nothing like each other. And it also shows that great as these bands may be, they had lots of company in the early 1980s.

Consider Honey Bane’s “Girl on the Run”. A Kathleen Hanna sound-alike’s matter-of-fact description of a woman’s suffering, complete with a scream at the end, brilliantly sets off a bubbling post-punk rhythm section.

A clear precursor of the Riot Grrl movement that coalesced a decade later, this song forcefully demonstrates that the historical narratives we’ve ended up, with their “winners” and “losers”, are arbitrary.

The track that follows, Crass’s ramshackle masterpiece “Bloody Revolutions”, with its reappropriation of the Marseillaise, has a more profound impact when heard after great music that had largely vanished from view.

We intuitively grasp how the political message it communicates also targets the organisational structures of the music industry: “Nothing’s really different/’Cause all government’s the same/They can call it freedom/But slavery is the game”.

When this compilation was originally put together, it was taken for granted that the only way to avoid this slavery was to provide alternative structures which helped resist the singling out on which the industry depends.

Anarchists aren’t afraid of order. They just want to see it shaped in ways that value collective experiences as much as individual ones. This is an especially important nuance lost on detractors of anarcho-punk, who find it too metaphorically loud to quantify.

Another stand-out track on the album is Alternative’s “Anti-Christ”, which begins with an extremely goth organ part, wanders through a fuzzed-out metal wilderness and then turns into a great post-punk ramble. There are no boundaries to its genre-hopping. The sense of freedom it exudes is exhilarating.

Maybe the best thing about the music collected on Cease & Resist is its refusal to follow the implicit rules of songwriting. The unwillingness to adhere to convention, whether it be pop or underground, though stereotypically punk, is so much more than that. It’s about imagining social mobility in a post-capitalist world. It’s classic anarchist utopianism.

Anarchism hasn’t always been this artistically cool. But there was something about its collision with punk in late 1970s Britain that highlighted how radical its aesthetic aspirations were. This is why records like Cease and Resist can still reproduce this inspiration at the level of form as well as content.

Tracks frequently have long intros and outros, sometimes with a tenuous connection to the material in between. And they tend to be overstuffed with musical ideas – a business-minded person might add “wastefully” to this assessment – instead of the streamlining that major labels prefer.

But that’s exactly why when the music explodes, it clears absolutely everything in its path.

From the upbeat Flux of Pink Indian’s track “Tube Disaster” to The Mob’s brooding album closer, “No Doves Fly Here”,  Cease and Resist successfully communicates that punk was always about starting over and wiping the slate clean.

How we go about doing that might seem counterintuitive. But, to harken back to an era in which music was more important than it is today, we just have to let the sound lead the way.

Photograph courtesy of  Phil King. Published under a Creative Commons license.