“At school they give you shit…….”


“At school they give you shit, drop you in the pit,
You try, you try, you try to get out, but you can’t because they’ve fucked you about”.

(Crass-Do They Owe Us A Living)


Once more on the ‘memory-go-round’ dear friends, once more. Another trip back in time to when we were much younger, more naive, less jaded and cynical, more hopeful. Where every new musical movement, event or scene that presented itself to us, seemed to offer up new possibilities that would perhaps catapult us into adulthood. The promise of a new found knowledge and education, less formal than school, but oh so important!!!

I remember running home from town that Saturday morning, with THAT record tightly tucked under my arm. The rush of anticipation to get back and play THAT record was almost overwhelming, so much so that I had completely forgotten the usual Saturday routine of avoiding particular streets, and keeping a keen eye out for the skinheads that would revel in the oft opportunity to beat the crap out of a 14 year old punk in town on his own. Such was the excitement, it shattered my Saturday ritual of going to my favourite record shop, Vinyl Demand, where I would usually hang out all day, with my mates listening to the latest punk releases, reading zines and talking about the next gig or latest release or band. So as you can gather this was most unusual behaviour for me, but this was a most unusual record; a record of mammoth proportions that promised everything I needed at that point in my life, and didn’t fail to deliver. Actually that last bit is not quite true, but almost delivered everything and set me on a trajectory that has ingrained itself in my lifecourse.

I was familiar with the band Crass through fanzine articles and I had heard on the grapevine and through the punk ‘zines about this record, edgy, dangerous, controversial, blasphemous, lots of swearing; everything a good punk record should contain. I had reserved a copy of ‘Feeding of the 5000’ for its release date based on a recommendation from Terry, owner of Vinyl Demand, spitting image of Phineas Freak and a throwback to the hippy 70’s counter-culture; and now once collected, after waiting for him to open the shop that morning, was on it’s way back to my bedroom where my record player awaited.

So I finally got home, panting, out of breath but very, very excited. I carefully slipped the vinyl out of the gatefold sleeve in anticipation, placed it on my record player dropped the needle into the lead in groove, turned it up full volume and waited. I played that record consecutively probably about 15 times, over and over that day, and to be frank I thought the music wasn’t all that great. It wasn’t the punk I was used to listening to but that seemed to pale into insignificance because what that record taught me was a perspective that I was never going to get taught at school. The one great thing about Crass and their records was the aesthetic of the record sleeve, and this sort of set a template for many anarcho-punk records that followed in its wake. The sleeve unfolded into 6 sections to a disturbing and shocking poster of a dismembered hand impaled on barbed wire with the ironic war recruitment cry ‘Your Country Needs You’.

Alongside the images of war, animal experimentation, state violence were treatises and two line statements, questioning power, authority and encouraging self autonomy and dissent. But most importantly were the LYRICS. This was raw truth, an exposition, an explanation and I am not exaggerating when I say that record changed my life, it articulated everything I was feeling at that time as a 14 year old punk. How school, your parents, your teachers, the police were all colluding against you to try and control your life or at worst fuck it up, to turn you into a subservient robotic worker. Get qualifications, get a job, get married, get a house and become a slave to the system. Of course those weren’t the words I was using at that particular point; but that moment, that vinyl epiphany, suddenly started to put vague threads of thoughts, feelings and ideas into place; into some semblance of cohesive order and importance. The combination of stark imagery, and powerful words were like gold dust to a young boy trying to find his place in all this madness of youth.

So as you can see those lyrics were so important in my education, my politicization and the values and beliefs I developed and gained from my engagement with anarcho-punk have, in most parts, remained with me though in a less naive and Utopian way as I have got older and more measured. Part of my research is to explore if, and how, my research participant’s engagement with anarcho-punk as adolescents has had a lasting impact on their subsequent adult lives. Going through the data of my research interviews the issue of the importance of the lyrics of anarcho-punk songs kept coming up in those discussions. I am going to share with you some of those discussions along with the ‘The Feeding of the 5000’ for your aural enjoyment

Crass-Feeding of The 5000



The early roots of it to me was simply that experience probably related to Crass, I guess, I mean my memories of sitting there unfolding Feeding of the Five Thousand and listening to Crass and there was an expectation that you sit there and you’d read through the lyrics and you’d look at images and that would have been alongside the fairly bouncy music. And you would punctuate that music with your own reflection on what that lyric was about and reference that more broadly, I was more conscious of that. Less so than what I refer to as the 1st wave of Punk but Anarcho Punk that seemed to be the template to me, that was set out by Crass for me in that way. Cut up artwork and a focus on lyrics that were normally shouted and quite abrasive music with a punchy rhythm which was the anarcho-punk construct really. And that formed an attitude within myself that was my expectation of what stimulated me, what was relevant, what was real. (S)

The first anarcho-punk record I heard was probably Feeding of the Five Thousand, which I didn’t really enjoy that much at the time. The person who played it at me was obviously very excited about it and showed me the pictures, and read the words out to me and this I found more interesting than the actual music, which I thought was badly produced and recorded. The music was fairly irrelevant to me – it was the politics which was of much more interest. Of course there was a political slant to songs by The Clash and others, but I guess that really didn’t strike a chord with me. Whereas the lyrics of the anarcho-bands were much more clearly defined as protest songs which highlighted the problems within the “system” and offered solutions. (G)


I did have a key moment reading Crass lyrics at a skate park in Kettering which a friend brought along and something struck me about it. It was saying things that I’d perceived and it was expressing how I felt about my position in life. I was 14 /15 and the lyrics were articulating how I was feeling. Obviously things are a lot more kind of amorphous and vague, you’re listening to different stuff and influenced by different things and it’s not just one moment or not just one thing particularly. (M)


I just went Wow.  I had to listen to the whole double album twice because I thought it was so brilliant and I really, really liked it a lot. It spoke to me. The words, the lyrics, the anti- religion stuff, the anti-war stuff, the anti-rich stuff, the anti-class stuff, it encapsulated what I was thinking at that time which they put into song……when the Anarcho Punk bands came along they were actually saying something.  Conflict, animal rights that kind of stuff and that was more me, you know. I think music’s important and it can change people, it changed me, it changed my perception of things, it educated me (W)


Somebody somewhere played me a Crass song and I just thought, “I want some of that”, and I can’t even remember what song it was, but yeah. So I went out and hunted down ‘Feeding of the 5000’. It was just unlike anything I’d heard and it was so obviously angry and, you know, I couldn’t understand a bloody word of it. So I thought if I go and buy it and listen to it I might understand what the hell they are saying, apart from the ‘fuck, fuck, fuck’, you know. Which is weird, because now I listen to ‘Feeding the 5000’ and I can understand everything he says. . I mean the lyrics of the songs either helped me at the time cus I was so fucking angry with nowhere to place the anger and….they shaped me politically, so I channelled that anger and developed my own thoughts. They made me think a lot, you know. I went out and read stuff that I would never have read if it hadn’t of been for that, you know. Stuff on animal rights for example, and 31 years later I am still a vegan, about the only one out of all the people I used to know. (C D)


Crass’ Penis Envy is quite a significant album. Erm….. a strong feminist thing, female adolescence. I mean I don’t know if I completely understood everything that was going on. And then things change as well. The music of Vi Subversa, Poison Girls, I mean I loved that stuff, oh, I suppose that’s quite significant actually. Poison in a Pretty Pill, I was struggling with the contraceptive pill when I was 19 perhaps and er…I hated it and it was just like, for fucks sake, messing about with my body. And I played Poison in a Pretty Pill and burnt my contraception pills at the same time, that’s quite a significant one!. Poison Girls, I actually understand the lyrics these days, where I don’t think I really did back then. Because I was a teenager, I was just a bit of a kid, Vi Subversa was talking about a mutual women’s life and so I look at those song in a completely different perspective now. (J M)

Crass ‘Feeding of the 5000’ was actually the first time I’d read the lyrics to a punk song as well. It came out with, it came with a booklet inside with all the songs in the booklet so I sat there every night reading the booklet. I’m sure if you talk about Signs and Receivers and everything I’m sure the lyrics were just as important. Obviously the music came first to the receiver ……all these ideas and concepts were certainly being implanted which otherwise wouldn’t have happened if it was without the lyrics booklet. I also remember prior to that, in terms of lyrics, you know, you’d get Smash Hits, you’d cut out the lyrics to punk songs and stick them on your wall and stuff. But you never really, I was never aware of sitting down and listening to the lyrics to you know, UK Subs, ‘Strangle Hold’, while listening to the record the way that you would with Crass records. The lyrics were kind of like an afterthought. The lyrics didn’t really count until Crass. The simple fact that if you were to listen to the record you wouldn’t have been able to make out a fucking word Steve Ignorant was singing so you needed the lyric sheets with the record to be able to follow them. (C L)

Because I came from a poor background, my family is so poor and have always struggled, possibly from that side of things, you know. Crass were singing about my family, the way I’ve been brought up as fodder, respecting Queen and country or you supposed to and it just struck a chord with me. When you bought the records you had the lyrics with it, didn’t ya. I read ‘em, read ‘em and read ‘em. I’d put the record on the record player and I’d play it over and over till I got to know all the lyrics. Not only that with the Crass records you’d have so much information on the sleeve, I’d read it, I didn’t understand all of it but I’d read it over and over again to learn and understand more. It was an education, it was more of an education than what you were getting at school really cus I wasn’t interested in getting educated at school and …. I had such a big interest in anarcho-punk. That was my education (C)


The lyric sheet/booklet and accompanying imagery played an important role in the propagation and circulation of some of the core ideas in anarcho-punk.  I mentioned earlier, that seminal Crass recording and visual aesthetic set a template within anarcho-punk where the record sleeves started to take on a similar role to the fanzines and political and ideological treatises that were circulating within that scene. The record sleeve became more than just a carrier of the artefact, the record, but a carrier of ideas, politics, protestations, ideologies, values and beliefs that were implicit to the development and reinforcement of anarcho-punk. They were also implicit in my own personal and political development, opening up new possibilities, somewhere to direct my anger and frustration, giving me strength and hope; a reason……….


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.

How I finally learnt to love………….Grindcore! and in doing so reclaimed a very close friend

How I finally learnt to love………….Grindcore! and in doing so reclaimed a very close friend

Matt Grimes

(For Stevie G – my punk soul brother)

Section I: Memories

I still remember it to this day, the sheer feeling of shock and surprise when my then best mate Stevie G played me the opening refrain of “You Suffer” – the first vinyl release from Napalm Death. Just as I heard the first few seconds of aural assault coming from the speakers on Stevie’s record player it was over, as if it didn’t happen, as if it was an acoustic hallucination – all 1.3 seconds of it. A momentary blast of noise that seemed to be made up of pure unadulterated, visceral anger, and despair. In an instant, it seemed as if anarcho-punk was destined to morph into another more extreme sub-genre that was beyond my comprehension of what symbolized music, well anarcho-punk music at least. Stevie had this massive smile on his face as if to say, “This is as good as it is ever going to get Matt,” – this was the future, past and present of extreme music, right there in the squat we shared.

I had heard of Napalm Death before hearing this particular tune; their name had been brought to my attention through an advert in a fanzine I had picked up at a gig somewhere. It was for a demo tape they had made called “Punk is a Rotting Corpse” and available by mail order from the fanzine distro. Perhaps the title of the demo tape was a portent to what was to follow in the ensuing years that, for me, marked the demise of anarcho-punk as it fragmented into a number of more extreme sub-genres of music that seemed to push the envelope of sonic experimentation and assault.

Stevie and I were really close mates and had been since secondary school. We had made each other’s acquaintance through the tried and tested ceremony of the school playground fight. Stevie was the only outwardly visible punk at my new school and when he spotted me on my first day of school, also doing my best to look as punk as I dared, he decided that in a school of 1,500 kids there was not enough room for two punks, so one of us had to go.

As is common with school fights, no one ever wins because the teachers come and break them up before it gets that far. We were both dragged off to the headmaster’s office and given five of the best with a Dunlop Green Flash plimsoll (the headmaster loved tennis and I was convinced he didn’t like even numbers either, hence only getting five rather than six of the best). From that day on Stevie and I decided that the fight wasn’t between us, but  between us and the “system” – that school, our parents, the police- in fact everyone who was not a punk.

And that’s how Stevie and I forged a relationship that lasted for a number of years. We did just about everything together. Hitched penniless around the country to go to punk gigs, experimented with drugs and alcohol, got into fights with skinheads and mods, bunked off school and listened to punk music whenever we could, and argued with our teachers and parents about the injustices of authority. In the summer of 1981 when it was time to leave school and the parental home, it only seemed natural that we would get a squat together because that was what we had been talking about for years. So along with a number of other miscreants we had “collected” on the way, we set off into town to liberate a building and join the ranks of the real punks. Time moved on, and whilst some things changed others remained the same. We still carried on squatting together, spending a lot of time with the anarcho-punks in London, often staying at squats there for weeks at a time. We went hunt sabbing, took part in political rallies and demos with Class War and the Anarchist Federation, even hippy free festivals such as Stonehenge, where I made my first contact with a ‘tribe’ of people that would later form the next chapter of my life. Anarcho-punk was in “full flight” and Stevie and I were living the dream (of sorts): no money, and no jobs but, most importantly, no responsibilities and feeling part of a community of likeminded free people.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but at some point the mood of anarcho-punk shifted and got darker, as did the politics and the people around it. Margaret Thatcher’s decimation of the mining communities, the Peace Convoy, and an escalating nuclear muscle flexing exercise with Russia only added to the darkness, as society seemed to become more fragmented.  The music also started to get a bit darker and more aggressive, with bands such as Discharge, Amebix, Icons of Filth, Antisect, and Extreme Noise Terror playing breakneck speed thrash punk with lyrics focussing on nuclear death and destruction, and total state control of a near future oppressed dystopian society. Squatting became more problematic and with it came a new breed of crusty squatter, dosed up on Special Brew, Tuinal and even louder and more aggressive extreme music that seemed shambolically reflective of its listeners.

Stevie had been up in Birmingham for a while, staying with some mates and came back excited about a new band he had seen a couple of times at a venue called The Mermaid, which already had a reputation for the punk scene that had developed around it. That band was Napalm Death and Stevie described the experience as likened to being hit in the face with a sonic sledgehammer – he had (he said) found what was missing from his life: something that unleashed and expressed that anger he had carried with him; something cathartic.

So this sort of brings me back to the beginning and me hearing Napalm Death for the first time. I just didn’t get it, and Stevie trying to convince me by playing it over and over again, that this was the future of music. We didn’t see eye-to-eye over this, it just didn’t work for me and that’s when the problems started. Stevie was always a 100%, all or nothing bloke and he had latched onto this sound and that would be his focus from that point on. With Stevie’s forays into this extreme music, and my lack of interest in it, he started hanging out with a more “committed” group of people, who ended up at the squat and with them came this additional pervading darkness: heroin.

It was only a matter of time before Stevie got tempted into it, part of his all or nothing character, and from then on heroin became a regular feature of a large number of the squats residents. We would argue more, the music in the squat became more extreme and aggressive, personal stuff would start going “missing” and after one of Stevie’s so called “committed” new mates threatened me with an axe, after a four day amphetamine binge: our friendship imploded.  I decided after some contemplation and another summer at free festivals to get away from the toxic atmosphere in the squat and join the Travellers on the road. As a parting gesture of goodwill and hope, I offered the hand of friendship to Stevie and tried to persuade him to come on the road with me, away from the heroin and the darkness, but he was too wrapped up in his own pitiful ego by then. I left Brighton, not returning for a number of years, and sadly heard on the grapevine a year after leaving that Stevie had died of a heroin overdose. I couldn’t bring myself to attend the funeral – a regretful decision that has always troubled me. Looking back it was almost inevitable that Stevie would not quit this mortal coil easily or peacefully – he always was a person of extremes, energetic, volatile, unpredictably violent, but beautifully funny and my best mate.

Section II: An Afterword

I’m not suggesting that Grindcore (as this type of extreme music later became to be known by) was responsible for our friendship falling apart, I am sure it was as much the heroin and the company Stevie chose to keep. For a number of years I could not entertain the thought of listening to Grindcore because of the memories associated with it and my musical tastes had, by then, encompassed the E- generation as I travelled from one free techno party to another, with my new “tribe.”

Certainly the highly political song titles and lyrical content of Napalm Death had always struck a chord with me, even if the music initially didn’t. Finally, after hearing Napalm Death again on the John Peel radio show one night in 1992, I decided to revisit the band’s stuff. I was intrigued by the production values of the band and the paradox they seemed to create. The sound of their music takes punk’s lack of concern for formal structure and standard musical convention to another level. They offer a version of punk at its most blunt and brutal. Atonal in their approach their songs are brief, often limited to one or two minutes, and tended to avoid formal lyrical structure in favour of short, sharp statements, revealing a pre-occupation with state control, corporate power and a dystopian society built on economic and physical slavery.

From the titles of the songs their lyrical content is seemingly important, but paradoxically is mostly indecipherable due to the mode of delivery. Deena Weinstein (1991; 2009) suggests that in mainstream Heavy Metal lyrical matter may not be of concern to the listener. However I would suggest that the importance of the lyrical matter to the artists in this case is vital: the content informs the form completely.

It would be fair to say that “You Suffer” and a number of Napalm Death’s repertoire are not songs in the context of the model adopted by Western culture and the western music canon, in recent centuries, but it could certainly be regarded as a song within the context of the musical structures of other cultures as I previously mentioned. While Napalm Death’s songs do not contain a story narrative as would be common in traditional folk ballads structure, it may be possible to view a large proportion of their work as existing within an extended tradition of Folk Music which includes music characterised by “protest,” a continuum in which I would include Crass and a number of other anarcho-punk bands whose political dissent pervades their repertoire. The political impact of extreme metal music comes into question particularly when looking at arguments such as those of Keith Kahn-Harris. Kahn-Harris (2004: 6) argues that the very nature of extreme metal is “reflexively-anti-reflexively constructed as a depoliticizing category.” He identifies the ways in which black metal, for example, constantly toys with the ideas of violent racism and fascism, however will never embrace it outright. Napalm Death on the other hand, I would suggest completely embrace the lyrics they sing, and have been involved in campaigns against apartheid, animal exploitation, global corporate, and state power among others, and express their disgust of fascism, racism and the establishment. Napalm Death, I would argue, are not accommodated by Kahn-Harris’ analysis of extreme metal at all because of the nature of their songs and their behaviour. This is also reflective of the political stance of a large number of anarcho-Punk bands and the anarcho-punk scene from which Napalm Death emerged.

The recording techniques and seeming lack of acoustic treatment and mastering perhaps reflect the very raw subject matter implicit in their lyrics. Where it is traditionally perceived that the meaning of the song is carried in the lyrical content, Frith (1986) argues that the meaning is also carried in the performance of the song. It could be argued that the “differentiation” which occurs in the sound of Napalm Death is related to the way in which the group focus on the delivery of sound and also on the way in which that sound is utilised as a carrier of meaning, both of which are key elements that seem to underpin the Grindcore genre.  The actual structure of the text of the song is broken down, by the vocal delivery, into monosyllabic content. Listening to the vocal output, this low pitch guttural sound seems to come from another place outside of the human vocal range. It seems the voice travels from the diaphragm, from the lower points of the body, inside the resonant sound chamber of the torso, which allows the low pitch to be sustained without damage to the throat or lack of breath to sustain the sound. This acoustic approach is not dissimilar to early Buddhist temple chanting, where monks would employ tonal variations in their meditative and ceremonial chanting, in a quest to connect with divinity. This style of delivery and associated production values seems to contribute to a sense of sonic rapture, of speech being drawn to a halt and fractured, with the suggestion that the end result of this process will be atomisation, an attack upon the fabric of the text itself. A form of sonic rupture where, if only for a moment, a new sphere of possibility may be opened, in the space created by this rupture.

So perhaps that’s what Stevie saw in this music all those years ago, that rupture and the possibilities that might have opened up, indeed  not only for not him but for all those around him. Perhaps if I had also seen that, then things may have turned out differently for both of us. I like Grindcore and have done for a number of years. I enjoy listening to it, albeit mostly in a slightly nostalgic way. The good thing now is that I can listen to it and remember the better, happier times with Stevie before it all went tragically wrong. Perhaps I should have just listened to Napalm Death a bit more then.




 Frith, S. (1986) “Why Do Songs Have Words?” The Sociological Review. 34(1), pp77-106.

Kahn-Harris, K (2004) “The ‘Failure’ of Youth Culture, Reflexivity, Music and Politics in the Black Metal Scene.” European Journal of Cultural Studies. 7(1), pp 95-111.

Weinstein, D (1991) Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. Idaho Falls. Lexington Books.

Weinstein, D (2009) Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture. Boston. DeCapo Press.


“You Suffer” Track 12 from “Scum” (LP) 1987 Earache Records