Crass’ singer talks the crappiness of DIY and touring the States for the first time
Published: May 4, 2011
Steve Ignorant's CRASS songs
There’s punk as a sound, an aesthetic, and there’s punk as a way of life, a set of principles: anarchism, peace, environmentalism, self-reliance. DIY. More than any other band, Crass is responsible for forging this idea into iron. Crass existed for seven years, breaking up in 1984, according to plan, and promising never to re-form. Crass has kept that promise, though frontman Steve Ignorant formed a new band in 2007 with the purpose of playing Crass songs, a decision met with a whole lot of ire in the punk community. We talked to him by phone from the first leg of his first U.S. tour performing Crass songs.
City Paper: The big question first: Why tour now?
Steve Ignorant: Of course, I think the Crass songs are timeless. They’re still relevant today. That’s the strange thing I’ve been finding out since we’ve been doing these tours. But really the main reason is that Crass never toured America, and I just felt that for one last time, a first and last time, maybe those people that never got a chance to see Crass should just be able to get a little taste of it.
CP: How do you think Crass and the ideals of Crass relate to our world in 2011, particularly in America?
SI: I don’t really know anything about American politics, I have to admit. But we’re still all fighting the same battles. Even though Crass finished in 1984, not a lot has changed in the political world. We’re still getting screwed over by governments, there’s still wars going on, there’s still people starving everywhere.
CP: A great many bands have adopted the ethos of Crass in some form or another, a firm self-reliance that’s become the DIY brand. The difference is that bands now already have this primer in place, whereas Crass was just sort of starting from scratch. What led you and Crass to follow these other, alternative ways of doing things?
SI: Well, we didn’t go out intentionally to explore those things. We had, literally, no money in those days. We had really crappy equipment. The places we played were really small and usually in the back of a noisy pub. There was no such thing as the internet, no mobile telephones. We really just had to make it all ourselves, and it just kind of carried on from there, really. It’s strange. Sometimes I wonder how different it would have been had we had the internet in those days.
We didn’t do it out of a style, it was out of necessity. And now people are part of this DIY scene, and the thing about that is that it seems to me . . . that because it’s called DIY, it has to be shoddy and badly put together, and that’s not what DIY was ever about. DIY was about taking the big corporations for a fight, and trying to do it as best you can, even though they’ve got all these millions of dollars or whatever. So it’s sort of backfired on itself.
I know there are a lot of really good people involved in the DIY scene, even today. But I don’t really like it. I don’t like turning up at a place to find that only half of the PA works and there’s nothing you can do about it. I think that’s really unfair to the audience that came to see it, because they’re only hearing half of what you do. And that happens time and time again.
CP: Is there hope for reclaiming DIY from fashion?
SI: I don’t know. I think if one has principles and tries as best he can. Back in my day, we used to send cassette tapes to promoters. Nowadays, they’re sending DVDs with videos on them. They’ve got all this new technology. There’s people all over the world making records in their bedroom on a computer. That’s the DIYest you can get. Or people going on YouTube, and doing it that way. There’s still a DIY scene going on, but what do I know about it? I’m a fucking old man. I’m 53. [laughs]
CP: Crass did come to America once, right?
SI: Yeah, that was back in 1978. We only played in New York. Nobody knew who we were.
CP: But you’ve never actually toured here?
SI: No. Because somehow it was decided that before we went to another country, we should sort out our backyard, which was England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. So we toured extensively there. We made sure we went to the most remotest places. People were like, “Come to America, come to America.” And we were like, “No, we have to do Wales first, we have to do this first.” Then, of course, Crass split before we had a chance to come here.
CP: Do you think Crass means different things in England and America?
SI: There seems to be a different intensity over here. English people relate more to the sort of working-class gutsiness about Crass. In America, I find that people are much more intense about the actual message, the DIY, the peace aspects. I think that’s the difference. It’s all very good, but because we’re English, there’s always going to be a sort of misunderstanding, a point where it can’t be related.
CP: This tour is called “The Last Supper”—the last time you’re going to do this. What’s next for you?
SI: I’m going to take a year off, maybe a year and a half. I’m already thinking about new material. My plans are to do like a spoken-word thing, very small scale. I want to present it more like you’re watching a theater, and do it with, like, very small stage props. And maybe a bass for background music. Basically, I’d talk about things I’ve done, anecdotes. And the second half do a question-and-answer thing. I’m hoping to be able to do that in small gatherings or bars. I’m looking forward to it.
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