Memories Are Made of This; Music as ritual and the paradox of the triple present

Memories Are Made of This; Music as ritual and the paradox of the triple present

Matt Grimes


Drawing on some of Negus’(2012) interpretations of Ricouer’s (1984-88) ideas on time, narrative and the “paradox of the triple present”, I wish to explore, through the concept of what Negus refers to as “music as ritual” (2012, 492), the notions of memory and nostalgia; two things that are closely related to time and narrative but not attended to by Negus in his article. I will use examples from my ongoing research into British Anarcho-punk (1979-1985) to demonstrate how these two important and two closely linked concepts can be applied to the notion of music (listening) as ritual.

Memory and nostalgia

Garde-Hansen (2011) suggests that, as human beings, we like to think of our memory as a biological storehouse or bio-technical hard drive from which we can retrieve coherent data on demand, whereas she argues it is far more undisciplined and creative. Our memories are often triggered randomly in a fleeting and disordered way and the degrees of depth and accuracy are depending on what is triggering those memories. Ricoeur suggests that our memory is constructed around a set of narratives, where experienced events are turned into narratives through emplotment (Simms 2003, 105-106 cited in Negus 2012). This plot, Ricouer suggests, is central to the way we understand our personal and collective identity. We continually update, adapt and manipulate these narratives, based on both past and present events that we choose to remember or suppress. This state of ‘flux’, where those narratives are constantly shifting, is further impacted on by the very nature of Who? What? Why? When? Where? those narratives are recounted. In a sense, our memory operates to justify and legitimise through strategies of selective addition and/or omission, or framing of the narrative through the omission or emphasis of a casual chain of events.

Similarly Ricoeur argues that narrative provides a cognitive “grid” through which as humans we interpret, understand and give order to the chaos and uncertainty of temporality (1991, 338 cited in Negus 2012). I would suggest that narrative also provides us with a grid which helps us locate, structure, interpret, and make sense of those memories of the past. Ricoeur refers to our experiencing of the past as something that no longer exists but is perceptible as a residue or a cache of remnants of the past manifested in the present, through memory or the process of remembering. So it could be argued that our experience of the past, and our ability to connect with it through memory, is located in our association with the present.

Where time and narrative feature prominently in Negus’ article I want to turn attention to the notion of personal and collective nostalgia (Wildschut, T., Constantine, S. et al, 2006, 45) and its relationship with time, narrative and memory. It could be argued that nostalgia relates to sentimentality for the past, which paradoxically contains positive and negative emotions and, like memory, helps us connect the present to the past and vice versa. By drawing on our memories our present emotional state is to some degree determined by the memory of past events. Bower (1981) suggests that emotional feelings serve as retrieval clues for memories associated with that emotion; therefore it could be argued that music that evokes a more emotional response is remembered better. Nostalgia also typically revolves around memories with or involving others in a communal or group experience of which we were part which, I argue, reaffirms our attachment to community and collective/personal identity, both past and present.

Music as Ritual

Negus suggests that our engagement with music exhibits behaviors that are a feature of rituals, and in doing so help us to locate ourselves, understand our identities and deal with our temporality (2012, 492).

Small (1998 cited in Negus 2012) stresses the communal qualities of ritual and how those rituals allow people to collectively explore, affirm and celebrate their relationship to each other and themselves. Using the live performance experience as an example of a communal music ‘ritual’ and listening to recordings, or what Eisenberg conversely refers to as “private phonographic rituals” (1988, 42), I suggest there is a link between music as ritual and memory and nostalgia. My own research into British anarcho-punk (BAP) was partly stimulated by a renewed interest in BAP from the media and music consumers. The research involves methodologies such as in-depth interviews, with previous participants of that scene, where issues of time, memory, narrative and the discourse of nostalgia feature prominently in discussions around ageing within music scenes. I suggest that these issues are central/key to understanding the participant’s relationship with the past, the present and the future. This interviewing process has required the research participants to reflect back on the historical moment of the past through the recollection of memory that is grounded in the present.

More often than not for my research participants the process of recollection or remembering has mostly followed a linear pattern, where they have tended to recollect past events in a chronological order. Negus suggests that linear time is the process of unfolding in a straight line with people and things occupying points on that line and unable to return to a previous point on that line. (2012, 489). Whilst I agree with Negus, in so much that we are unable to ‘physically’ return to a previous point on that line in present time, our memory can help, and in some cases allow, us to re-imagine ourselves at a particular previous point and thus consider time as circular as well as linear. This can manifest itself in hearing a particular piece of music and it transporting us back to a particular remembered or re-imagined point in time, with music being the stimulus or the carrier of that memory(s). So although we are not physically returning to that previous point on the line our memory allows us to ‘re-imagine’ that moment and help us construct a narrative of that past moment in the present.

All of the respondents in my research talked about particular pieces of music being stimuli for not only remembering specific events from their past experiences of the BAP scene, but also as a way of connecting to those times past. So for many people music seems to be an influential memory cue, (Schulkind, Hennis, and Rubin (1999). Adam (2004 cited in Negus 2012) suggests that music is used to evoke memories it also serve as a resource in the pursuit of memory by connecting the present with the past and I would suggest vice versa (493). Janata, Tomic, and Rakowski (2007) reported that music and songs frequently evoked memories and that one of the most common emotional responses named was nostalgia. Taking these two closely linked concepts I will apply them to the notion of music (listening) as ritual.

Alongside this renewed interest in BAP a large number of ‘original wave’ anarcho-punk bands have reformed to perform after being inactive for many years. For a number of these bands, there seems little desire to record new material but only to go out and perform. I asked my research participants their opinions on bands reforming and performing again. One respondent, who was returning to performing with their original band after a 30 year hiatus stated that this process of reforming was, for them, very much based around nostalgia and revisiting the past. This included the thrill, excitement and buzz of performing in front of an audience again and recapturing some of that earlier spirit and energy, whilst it could be argued celebrating that moment of the “present in the present” (2012, 487). Even though that involved them performing songs penned over 30 years ago they felt that the political intent of the lyrical content, albeit slightly naïve, was still relevant today as it was then, however they had no interest in writing new material. For this respondent listening to old anarcho-punk recordings also held the same values

“I do listen to anarcho-punk nowadays, though when I am on my own as my partner doesn’t like it so much….. Having kids it seemed that I lost myself in family life. It has helped re-focus me. I listen to the lyrics and they seem as relevant now, in fact the political messages just reinforce my beliefs and I see them from a different perspective- I understand them better now through the mind of an adult”

One of the other respondents when also discussing songs from that earlier period stated

“For me the musical and lyrical content still resonate, it speaks to me in a very base emotional level and is the most powerful influence on my life of anything, books. film, art. It’s a sort of touchstone for living without having to think about it-it’s a personal politic informed by anarcho-punk”


I suggest that this reference to the lyrics, or indeed narrative, of the songs is conveying experience of the past in the present but more importantly perhaps, as Negus suggests, “songs seeking political persuasion or engaging in social commentary may convey a comprehension of the present of the future as a desire for a better world” (487). The desire for a more ‘utopian anarchistic’ society without power, greed, poverty, control etc featured heavily in a large number of anarcho-punk songs of that period. This suggests that for a number of my respondents some of the associations with the past have remained and continued or, as Ricoeur would argue, are the traces or remnants of the past in the present; therefore perhaps making it easier for those respondents to make sense of them in the present.

Two other respondents were more critical of the notion of bands reforming and the nostalgia associated with it. One respondent stated that

“I am not big on nostalgia, and for quite a while I resisted seeing bands who had reformed just because if they are shit it will ruin my memories and opinions of them. It is nostalgia; though when people say that, it always seems a bit sad and desperate trying to recapture or recreate something from the past.

The other similarly critical stated

“I did go to Rebellion last year (an annual 4 day punk festival in Blackpool which has a number of ‘old’ punk bands that ‘reform’ each year only to perform there) and I was slightly challenged by some what I saw. There is a lot of nostalgia there, if I’m honest. Simply to reform a band and play the set you did 30 years previously for me is not good enough, there needs to be something else, there needs to be a freshness”

Similarly, through my own observations at a number of recent live performances of ‘reformed’ anarcho-punk bands, it seems that the live performance aspect gives the audience a sense of experiencing the past in the present. Interestingly at these live performances, the majority of the audience was male and in their 40’s and 50’s, so many of them would have experienced watching the bands in the 1980’s. A large number of them were wearing old T-shirts with the logo of the band performing or other bands of that past era. One could argue that although this is a display of fandom it also conveys an experience of the past in the present. Similarly a large proportion of the audience were singing along to the songs and reciting the lyrics, punctuating particular words or lines synchronously, conveying that experience of the past in the present, and which seemingly played a large part in the ‘nostalgic’ experience and the communal experience discussed earlier by Small (1998). Frenetic dancing and pogoing, as was/is associated with punk music, was not so prevalent within the audience, so perhaps where age has limited their more physical engagement, the personal connection between the past and present is maintained and displayed in other ways.


In this paper I have briefly explored the notions of memory and nostalgia in relation to Ricoeur’s theoretical approaches to time, narrative and the paradox of the triple present by applying them to some examples from my ongoing research. In this I have demonstrated how those notions connect our experiences of music between the past and the present, and suggest that memory and the evocation of nostalgia, through music as ritual, play important roles in how ageing fans of music make sense of the past in the present.


Bower, G.H. (1981)Mood and Memory. American Psychologist, 2, p129-148

Garde-Hansen, J. (2011) Media and Memory. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press

Negus, K. (2012) Narrative Time and the Popular Song.Popular Music and Society. 35(4) 483-500

Ricoeur, P (1984-1988) Time and Narrative (Vol 1-3). Translated by McLaughlin, K. and Pellauer, D. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Schulkind, M.D, Hennis, L.K, Rubin, D.C. (1999) Music, emotion, and autobiographical memory: they’re playing your song. Mem Cognit.  27(6):948-55.

Small, C. (1998) Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover; Wesleyan University Press.

Wildschut, T., Constantine, S., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2006). Nostalgia: Contents, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91(5), 975-993.

Anarcho-punk ‘zines -Symbols of Defiance

A book chapter on anarcho-punk ‘zines that I co authored with Prof Tim Wall and published in Fight Back:Punk, Politics and Resistance edited by Matt Worley also available here


This link will take you to the full  book chapter   punk_zines_symbols_of_defiance_from_the

Forthcoming presentation at the Punk Scholars Network 1st Annual Post Graduate Symposium

PSN Postgraduate Symposium Poster Final-page-001PSN Postgraduate Symposium Poster Final-page-002

As well as being a member of BCMCR/Interactive Cultures I am also a member of the Punk Scholars Network, which is, as it’s name suggests, an international network of scholars academic and non academic that research and write about punk rock in all its different manifestations. The PSN has organised its first  Annual Punk Scholars Network Post Graduate Symposium for the end of this month and is being hosted at The University of Leicester and I am going to be presenting some of my Phd research into anarcho-punk. Specifically it will be reflecting on my methodological approaches. Here is my abstract for my presentation;

“Where There’s a Will There’s a Way”: Methodology, investigating memory and the life-courses of 1980’s British anarcho-punks.

Matt Grimes

Birmingham City University


Taking its title from 1980’s British anarcho-punk band Discharge, this paper investigates some of the issues faced by researchers conducting qualitative research interviews focussed on memory and the politics of everyday life. I will draw on my on-going doctoral research into a group of participants of the 1980’s British anarcho-punk scene and what significance that their engagement with British anarcho-punk has had on their lives. My doctoral research aims to build upon work about fan identities and practices within life-course transitions and the negotiation of fandom and identity amongst older fans produced by Hodkinson 2013, Harrington et al 2011, Bennett and Taylor 2012, and especially Bennett 2006, Davis 2006 and 2012, which examined the wider punk rock scenes.


Drawing on the work of Harrington & Bielby (2010) and Vitale (2013) I aim to contextualise my study and discuss the application of the life-course framework to my research. Additionally the presentation will raise some of the issues involved in memory studies as highlighted by Wang & Brockmeier (2002), Van Dijck (2006) and Labelle (2006). Drawing on the work of Rubin & Rubin (1995), Wengraf (2001) and Kvale & Brinkman (2009) I discuss the processes of and issues involved in conducting qualitative in-depth research interviews, the ethical considerations involved in this approach and managing interview data.

What is equally exciting about presenting at this conference is that Sophie Sparham, a recent graduate from the Birmingham School of Media, where I teach, will also be presenting for the first time at an academic conference. Here is her abstract;

How Close Is Too Close?  The role of the punk rock ethnographer and their relationship with their research subjects.

Sophie Sparham
Birmingham City University

Drawing on my personal experiences of touring with anarcho-punk band Addictive Philosophy in 2013, this presentation firstly discusses the significance of gaining and presenting subcultural capital as a way of gaining a more in-depth insight of a specific music scene, and therefore seeks to uncover the sometimes blurred distinction between researcher and research participant. In doing so it raises issues around the ethical dilemma of involvement and participation for the ethnographer and their relationship with the research subjects in the documenting of reality.

Secondly I discuss the role of the radio documentary producer; from the interviewing and recording process to the editorial decisions that were subsequently made to enable the creation of the documentary.  This also raises issues of the documentary producer’s desire to present reality whilst contending with regulatory broadcasting restrictions.  I demonstrate how my initial intention of making a radio documentary of the tour soon expanded into a much larger documentation and critique of the current anarcho-punk scene in the UK and Ireland.  The finished documentary was shortlisted for ‘The Charles Parker Radio Awards 2014’.

I have really enjoyed teaching Sophie and similarly I am enjoying working alongside her in developing her presentation. I am hoping it will be a really valuable experience for her and may encourage her to return to academia and engage in some post-graduate research and study .

Research project update.

One of the issues around maintaining a blog is time spent writing for it when perhaps I should be spending that time writing for my PhD. Anyway I am going to post a brief update here as a break from some philosophical reading I am conducting on Paul Ricoeur (Time and Narrative) and Michel Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge) both recommended by my new, yes new, supervisor Nick Gebhardt. Nick Has recently joined the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research from previously being at Lancaster University. He has a wealth of knowledge and some really erudite advice and I am really pleased to have him as a supervisor./ My other primary supervisor Prof Tim Wall has other commitments as the new Faculty Dean of Research however he has kindly committed to continue to support me as a third supervisor. So new supervisor and new progress-I recently presented my work so far to a panel for the transfer from MPhil stage to PhD stage. It was a 35K word lit review and a couple of case studies-fortunately it was approved so I have now achieved the status of being a master in my field of research. The next step was to present my new research proposal to another panel to see if my new line of investigation was worthy of conducting and worthy of approval. I am continuing with my investigation of anarcho-punk but my particular interest now is in the memories of the scene participants/ audience/ fans that were not necessarily band members though they are not ruled out of this project.

The projects aims are multi layered:
• Firstly the research focuses on the memories of the projects participants involvement with/in British anarcho-punk, musically, aesthetically, politically and ideologically
• Secondly how that involvement has influenced and/or impacted on their subsequent life courses, life choices and decisions, past and present, and shaped their lives (or similarly perhaps not).

I have decided to conduct a set of interviews this coming year with 5-6 participants that I am currently in the process of identifying and contacting. So far I have placed a couple of requests on punk forums and the response has been very encouraging with quite a few people expressing a strong interest in participating. Interestingly enough only one female response-which I am grateful for as I think the lifecourse trajectory of female participants may vary from those of male participants-I will no doubt find out. I am working my way through the methodological and ethical approaches to this form of data gathering and how my line of questioning will develop. One of the particular issues I will face is around people’s memories which includes memory recall, accuracy, memory narratives (hence Ricoeur and Foucault). Memory (and forgetting) is often problematic when trying to piece together historical analysis. I will be discussing this in more detail over the coming months hopefully in a set of blog posts here.

Crass/Thatchergate/ Secret Cabinet papers released under 30 year rule

With the recent release of the 1984 secret cabinet papers, under the 30 year rule,   Crass have again had a flurry of interest and publicity in the media regarding the infamous Thatchergate tape that they made and released in 1984. Without going into  detail I have included some links that cover most of the publicity surrounding the tape and the recent media coverage. These include the cabinet papers, interviews with Penny Rimbaud, the tape recording and other ephemera

You can download the cabinet papers here from the National Archives:


No Sir I Wont: Reconsidering The Legacy of Crass and Anarcho-punk. Punk Scholars Network Symposium.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the third Punk Scholars Network event organised and hosted by Pete Dale and the Oxford Brookes University Popular Music Research Unit. The title of the symposium was “No Sir, I Won’t”: Reconsidering The Legacy of Crass and Anarcho-Punk. The day started off with a pleasant taxi ride from the station with Pete, Penny Rimbaud, drummer and one of the founder members of Crass, and Sarah McHendry, musician and activist, member of Mwstard and former drummer of Curse of Eve, Baba Yaga and Witchknot. On arrival me, Penny and Sarah went off for a coffee at which point I started testing the ground with Penny about the paper I was to deliver that day on Crass and the documentary “There Is No Authority But Yourself” directed by controversial Dutch filmmaker Alexander Oey. My reason for broaching the paper with Penny, in advance of my presentation was because I felt quite nervous discussing somebody in the first person whilst they were there in the conference audience. It seemed from our discussions that my interpretation of the documentary was along the same lines as what Penny and Alexander were trying to convey through the documentary. Whilst this was reassuring I was yet to see how the audience would respond to my reading and the line of questioning I might get from Penny et al after I had presented.


Before the papers were delivered there was an excellent exhibition of anarcho-punk graphics from Russ Bestley of the University of The Arts London who pulled together some great examples and created a set of really powerful photomontage posters. To accompany the exhibition he also designed and printed a beautifully crafted limited edition ‘zine’ that was full of some great anarcho-punk graphics and an interesting historical perspective of the anarcho-punk movement/ scene in the UK in the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. You can see his excellent work here:PSN Oxford Booklet Layout PDF LR and here and throughout this blog post:

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The first presenter of the day was Rich Cross whose paper was focused around discussions on the anarcho-punk/ peace punks’ relationship with the 60’s hippy counter culture and the development of political violence in the anarcho-punk movement. In his discussions he proposed that the singular fixed view of pacifism being integral to the early anarcho-punk movement misrepresented a more complex and contradictory reality, within the movement, where adherence to pure pacifism had become a contested principle. He drew on examples of the movements involvement with varying political groups including anti- fascist, animal liberation, anti- capitalist, Class War, Stop The City etc  and how that involvement challenged the original pacifism of anarcho-punk and saw some anarcho-punk militants adopt newly confrontational approaches.

02 Crass Poster LR-page-0 copy

Second up was a stimulating paper from Jim Donaghey who discussed anarchism as a politics of punk and punk as a culture of resistance. He proposed that there is a supposed gulf between ‘lifestyle’ and ‘ social’ anarchism where anarcho syndicalist’s ‘workerist’ interpretations of anarchism are somewhat in conflict with the social/ cultural interpretations of punk. In his paper he mapped out the anarcho-syndicalist principles of Rudolf Rocker onto DIY punk where it could be argued that the ‘workerist’ means of production are in the hands of the producers within DIY punk. In doing so he argued that a major foundation for successful struggle is a culture of resistance in which DIY punk contributes to in the contemporary anarchist milieu, as DIY punk bridges both political/personal and cultural/material.

03 Crass Label Poster LR-page-0 copy

After lunch it was my contribution where I discussed how music documentaries are used as a way of presenting and documenting popular music history, specifically punk for the screen. I argued that particular stylistic devices and tropes used in popular music documentaries engage in canonical processes that contribute to the formation of a punk canon. Alexander Oey’s documentary about Crass “There Is No Authority But Yourself” steers away from these stylistic devices and rather than presenting a ‘history’ of Crass presents us with a different insight.  In documenting Crass, Oey becomes more interested in the contemporary lives of some of the band members and  how the ideologies of the band are still, for some, core to their  lives and lifestyle. This raises the issue about an investigation and documenting of Crass being a vehicle for a broad range of ideologies that members of the band had before the band formed, and continue to live by today, rather than an intention to document history per se. The full paper is available here:

04 Anarcho Poster LR-page-0 copy copy


After me was Ana Raposo, who also presented an interesting paper on how  politics are represented in anarcho-punk music graphics. The core of her paper investigated how content and stylistic devices of music packaging are utilised as a propaganda tool and used for specific purposes such as loyalty or allegiance to  a scene,  strengthening an existing scene or recruiting people into the scene. In doing so they also present a critique of contemporary realities or utopian environments. she drew on some interesting graphical examples to demonstrate these processes at work. In some respects it was a way of also articulating or putting an additional  voice to  some of the graphical content of Russ Bestley’s exhibition.

05 Anarcho Poster LR-page0001 (2) copy

Last presentation of the day was from Pete Dale. He drew on the work of Ian Glasper’s series of books on underground UK punk, which  provides  an oral ‘history’ and a useful document of the politics of punk music and culture. In this insightful and at times amusing presentation Pete explored the notion of punk being about ‘more than music’ and pieces together some of the verbatim quotes of  informants and contributors to Glasper’s books to paint a picture of the  relationship between punk’s music and political affiliations and the way they changed over time. In doing so Pete pieced the quotations together to show how  a clearer understanding of where punk amounted to ‘more than music’ and where it also failed to amount to such.

06 Anarcho Poster LR copy

To end off a really stimulating day there was a round table discussion with Penny Rimbaud, George McKay and Sarah McHendry. (photo courtesy of Rich Cross ). I wont go into detail of the discussions as you can listen to them here (they were recorded on a mobile phone-not brilliant quality but the conversations are audible):

George McKay
Sarah McHendry
Penny Rimbaud

Here is also a link to Rich Cross’ presentation slides from the conference and will also take you to his excellent blog.

Here is also a link to some photos from the conference courtesy of Sean Clark and his blog post about the event


Punk Scholars Network (PSN) Reading April 19th 2013. Punk In Other Places: Transmission and Transmutation


I recently attended the second Punk Scholars Network (PSN) event hosted by Dr Matt Worley and the School of Humanities at Reading University. The PSN, of which I am a member, has been in existence for approximately 8 months and is a collection of academics, and some non-academics, that have an interest in researching and investigating punk and its many musical, cultural, social and political facets across many disciplines of study and research. This event was titled Punk In Other Places: Transmission and Transmutation and entailed a collection of presentations considering punk, its global ‘reach’ and localities.

The first presentation was from Hilary Pilkington (University of Manchester) who discussed an ethnographic study of a punk scene in a post-industrial post USSR town (of which the name eludes me) in Russia’s arctic hinterland. Described by the local punks as a ‘rotting city’ Hilary’s study followed a group of local punks and examined in what ways the group defined themselves as ‘punk’ and how that particular subcultural group negotiated their place within the city and alongside other subcultural groups. The particular town was in both industrial and social decline and many young people would leave and move to larger metropolis, whereas some, including this particular group of punks, decided for one reason or another to stay.  One of the interesting things to come out of the study was how the many subcultural groups in the town would share places, spaces and resources within the city to maintain their scene. Despite the groups were fundamentally different in their music and style they appreciated that due to a lack of investment and resources they were having to renegotiate their subcultural boundaries in order for each of those scenes to survive.


The second presentation was from Jim Donaghey, a PhD candidate from Loughborough University who is researching his PhD around notions of anarchism within punk scenes in UK, Poland and Indonesia. In this particular presentation he discussed some of his findings from a recent visit to Indonesia where he was conducting an ethnographic study of Indonesian street punx (sic). His study highlighted how 2 particular groups of street punks expressed their punk aesthetic, anarchistic beliefs and politics in a country with a regime that was both extremely politically and religiously (Islam) repressive. Marginalisation, discrimination and physical intimidation were regular themes that came out in his work, but despite this there is a sense of positivity and deep comradeship within the punk scenes he is investigating. Those scenes are deeply immersed and entrenched in the DIY principles of punk as access to media and resources to support them are barely available and would also bring them to the attention of the authorities that regularly clamped down on any youth cultures that fell outside of the ‘norm’ in both the eyes of the authorities and the local religious leaders. You may have read last year in the Guardian newspaper about groups of street punx in Indonesia being rounded up by the religious authorities and sent off to ‘ youth boot camps’ where they were ‘de-punked’ (heads shaved, piercings removed etc.) and ‘re-programmed’ (religiously and socially) before being returned to society as a ‘normal model citizen’. Quite repressive and disturbing.


Following on from Jim was a presentation by Melanie Schroeter of Reading University who discussed the issue of racist and xenophobic lyrics in German punk song lyrics of the nineties. Applying discourse analysis to the lyrics she highlighted the relationship between German punks and the asylum debate following on from the fall of the Berlin Wall and series of racially motivated attacks on hostels housing immigrants.


After an agreeable lunch Russell Bestley, from the London College of Communication, gave a fascinating presentation on the visual imagery of punk (predominantly record sleeves) and its relationship to regional locations. Decentralizing London as the home of punk he demonstrated how punk bands from regions around the UK would use local landmarks, such as street signs and known buildings, as backdrops for the covers of the records released by those bands to firmly locate them in their region. He argued that this was partly done to show that London didn’t ‘own’ punk and that punk and its scenes were existing and flourishing in other parts of the country, despite media rhetoric about it being a London phenomenon. It was great seeing some of the old record sleeves including the Vaultage series from Attrix Records, that had all the Brighton/Sussex punk bands showcased- I was part of the punk scene that developed around The Vaults ‘venue’ which was a crypt below an old church in the centre of town


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Following on from Russ was an interesting talk From Pete Dale who started his discussion around Scottish post-punk by delivering a searing critique of Simon Reynolds and his work on post punk and how Reynolds attempt to locate his work in academic theory and theoretical grounding failed-I can’t quite remember the full content of what Pete said but I remember it being controversial and received some nods from the audience. Note to self: remember to take a digital audio recorder to future events.

Last up was Paul Harvey who discussed his journey from playing with Penetration (a great Scottish punk band who I was/is still a fan of) to academia. His story was one of reticent acceptance into the academy but came about from his excellent PhD that linked Stuckist art to punk through questioning the whole concept of authenticity,what makes punk ‘punk’ and punks relationship to Dadaism and the Situationist movement. I thought his deconstruction of notions of authenticity in punk through the questioning of memory and what he referred to as ‘fabricated cliches’ was insightful.

All in all a great afternoon where I met some really interesting scholars and am really looking forward to the next one.

From Protest to Resistance: British anarcho-punk fanzines (1980-1984) as sites of resistance and symbols of defiance

Following on from my previous blog post about writing chapters for future books on punk  I have decided to share with you the abstract for my next solo submission for a forthcoming book specifically on anarcho-punk. The book is titled The Aesthetic of Our Anger:Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music, 1979-84 and is edited by Mike Dines and Matt Worley. This looks to be a seminal publication as it will be the first of its kind in academia to focus purely on anarcho-punk. I am really excited about this as I will be publishing alongside some academic luminaries in the field of punk studies.

From Protest to Resistance: British anarcho-punk fanzines (1980-1984) as sites of resistance and symbols of defiance

This chapter focuses on the role that alternative publications played in the cultural, political and ideological practices of the British anarcho-punk movement between 1980 and 1984. I explore the way these fanzines disseminated the central ideas of Anarcho-punk, the way that the editorials, reviews and articles mediated a shifting notion of ‘punk’, and how these ‘amateur’ publications fitted into the paradoxical construction of the early 1980s alternative rock scene.

As punk emerged in the 1970’s fanzines soon became one of the central methods of communicating the developing ideologies, practices and values within this new musical and subcultural movement as they have historically been regarded as an alternative to mainstream publishing and being independently representative of the ‘underground’. I will show how the Anarcho-punk editors of these fanzine worked with an ideological sense that early punk was an attempt to challenge and exist outside of the ‘mainstream ‘ of popular music and culture, but that punk’s style, fashion and music soon became co-opted, commodified and absorbed into popular culture. Early protagonists of anarcho-punk, such as Crass, sought to reinforce the personal politic of being responsible for one’s own authority and actions, and the political agenda of anarcho-punk came to embrace notions of anarchism, peace, libertarianism, animal rights, feminism, anti-capitalism and anti-globalization. The analysis explores how these discourses of political position were mediated and the sense of an Anarcho -punk movement that they constructed.

The chapter focuses on the visual and textual discourses of a selection of British anarcho-punk ‘zines’ and examines how discourses of authenticity, community and identity were embodied and reinforced by and for their producers and consumers. I first explore the role of anarcho-punk fanzines as a link between members of the scene, and second how its editorial content and design fostered a subcultural movement that self-consciously sought to resist what they saw as the commodified fate of the earlier punk movement. In doing so I examine how DIY fan production practices, through the articulation of specific and at times oppositional ideological positions, contributed to the construction of the musical, cultural and political boundaries of the anarcho-punk movement.


Steve Ignorant discusses the emotion of performing the final gig of his The Last Supper Tour

Here is a link to Steve Ignorant’s (Crass) blog discussing his recent final performance of The Last Supper tour. Really honest and insightful piece of writing. I had the pleasure of seeing this tour in Sep2010 when he came to Birmingham. Seems so long ago. Gutted that I missed the final show as he was joined on stage by friends and former Crass members Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine.

Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change-A cross disciplinary symposium

Thursday 15th/Friday 16th September I attended a conference about subcultures and subcultural studies at London Metropolitan University. I was presenting on a panel chaired by Pete Webb from Goldsmiths college, I am a big fan of his academic work especially around Bristol music making/Massive Attack/Smith and Mighty et al and Nick Cave. I still use his work on Bristol music milieu as one of my core texts in my Popular Music Culture module when discussing ideas about how global music influences local music making practices and then is uniquely developed and re-positioned back into the global music milieu. Great to have finally met him and looking forward to some future meetings and discussions with him. Anyway I digress. On the panel were 2 of my colleagues from the BCMCR Andrew Dubber who did a presentation on his ‘Monkey On The Roof’ project and Jez Collins who talked about Hip Hop as a force for social change in Colombia’s favellas, particularly in Medellin.

Keynote speakers were Dick Hebdige-writer of seminal book ‘Subculture:The Meaning of Style’ who did an interesting talk on punk rock, his time running a clubnight called Shoop in Birmingham in the late 70’s early 80’s, Japanese a popular art/manga and living out in the Mojave Desert.

Day 2 saw an excellent and at times moving keynote speech from David Hesmondhalgh about how music makes our lives better, improves our well being and that there is not enough love in the world. Clearly demonstrated by his use of Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ always a winner in my book.

It was an excellent conference and very diverse covering many areas of subcultural studies with presenters from research  areas such as criminology, philosophy, theology and more. Highlights for me included:

  • ·         The keynote speeches
  • ·         Paul Hodkinson presentation on ageing goth’s and goth  subculture
  • ·         Michelle Liptrot  from Bolton Uni on DIY punk as Resistance
  • ·         Dr Herbert Pimlott with a really interesting talk on music ephemera , cultural memeory and work around Raymond Williams and ‘structure of feeling’. Very useful for my work around histories/the canon and popular memory.
  • ·         Alex Ogg-DIY and Independence. Development of Independent record labels in the post-punk era. Wanted to have a chat with him but unfortunately had to run for the train.
  • ·         Jonathan Llan from the University of Kent-the criminality and commercialization of UK Grime music.
  • Melanie Schroeter. University of Reading. Discourse analysis of the lyrics of punk band Golden Lemon
  • ·         Andrew Bengry-Howell from University of Bath. Interesting presentation on Criminal Justice Act and the free festival/free party scene


I presented a paper on anarcho-punk fanzines which was a further development of the research I had done with Rob Horrocks that we presented at Oxford Brookes earlier in the year.  I have included the paper here on the blog without the powerpoint as the powerpoint kept freezing the blog page. It is available on request however.


Download this file


Also my colleague Andrew Dubber has blogged his thoughts on the conference, with accompanying photos/ videos etc- you can get it here:


Steve Ignorant (Crass) and The Last Supper



On Saturday 25th September I went to see Steve Ignorant (ex singer/songwriter of Crass, Schwarzenegger and The Stratford Mercenaries) at the 02 Academy in Birmingham. This date was one of many on a tour that sees Steve perform (for the very last time) a collection of Crass songs that either he wrote or co-wrote.  Nostalgia is a strange beast and where there was to some degree a hidden expectation of this tour re-kindling the atmosphere and zeitgeist of the early days of Crass and anarcho-punk it felt odd watching a combination of both young and old (old enough to have been there the first time round) punks singing and pogoing to perhaps something past it’s sell by date.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying as Steve and his band put on a fantastic, visceral and passionate performance that left me in no doubt that he still has it in him. I think what I am trying to say here is that the power, the energy and the edginess of those songs has now been lost in translation through time. When Crass first came onto the music scene, and gave punk a real sense of purpose, their whole approach to music and politics was a rallying call to a whole generation of young people dissatisfied with and discarded by mainstream society overseen by a megalomaniac government that had no time for anyone that disagreed with them.

Crass were a real challenge to society’s accepted practices and with that engendered a lot of media and political attention. My memories of their gigs were ones of both beauty (passionate angry pleading lyrics, libertarian and liberating politics and commitment from a group of performers not interested in playing for profit) and the dark underlying tension (anger and the risk of skinheads and other groups of people storming and trashing not only the gig but the audience and band as well).

The times we are living in today are not that dissimilar to when Crass first started performing (war, high unemployment, disaffected youth) but that sense of coming together to challenge our ‘lot’ has been diluted. Hence the reason that, despite Steve Ignorant’s excellent performance, it seemed to be lacking in power and meaning.

I was hoping to get to speak to Steve after the gig about my research but, obviously not being the best time, didn’t even manage to get backstage to arrange a later date that I could go and speak to him. I did however get a copy of his book ‘The Rest Is Propaganda’ which I look forward to reading soon and I am going to endeavour to speak to him at a later date.

I did however, amongst the loudness of the gig, get chatting to a few old punks that said they would be happy to be interviewed at some point in the future-so all not lost!

Yesterday I also came across an interview Steve gave just before the beginning of this tour to Near FM an Eire community radio station. It gives some insight into some of the myths around Crass but also Steve’s rationale for touring this material. I have edited the musical interludes out but here is the link to the full interview.

Here is the edited version


And here are a few photos i took at the gig on my phone (so not brilliant)