Interviews with Active.

This interview is to be translated into Polish for the zine Chaos w Mojeje Glowie and so I thought I might as well make it available in English. It was done in April 2017 with me alone – Jon, by email.

 

Hi Jon!

I am sending you the first set of questions, please give the full answers...

- Where did you grow up?

Grow up? Well depending on who you talk to maybe I haven’t much! Ok I guess doing English pun jokes is not a good idea for an interview to be translated, no more gags!  I grew up in Leicester in the Midlands. In the 1970’s Leicester had both one of the largest mixed race populations of any UK city and also one of the biggest National Front  (fascist) groups. But my upbringing was very safe, secure and middle class.

- When did you encounter for the first time with punk rock and how it happened that dragged into it? 

A TV programme called Top of the Pops showed bands like the Sex Pistols and the Damned when they sold enough records to make it in to “the charts”. That was the first introduction. But I was already looking for something different something that answered my desire to rebel against school and normality. I then discovered John Peel on the radio and used to listen to his shows on a small transistor radio in bed at night, his programme was between 10 and 12pm. The first record I bought was Rat Trap by the Boomtown Rats the second was their first Lp, the third was London Calling by the Clash. I didn’t have enough money to buy records, so I used to record them from my mates collections.

- Was there a certain point that changed your life and view of the world?

The Ruts, cemented my love of punk rock, but getting a copy of Feeding of the Five Thousand by Crass gave me the impetus to look at anarchism as an answer to my searching for a real alternative. There are a few moments that I remember as “turning points”. Such as,  Arguments with teachers at school trying to convince me that rebellion was a waste of time and the only way to change the system was to knuckle down and do well so I could change it from the inside!  Or being shopped by my parents for graffiti, spending several days in a police cell refusing to answer questions after doing some anti nuclear demos, working at Sainsburys on Saturdays and turning vegetarian.  Getting my first Poison Girls Lp and learning so much from the amazing lyrics.

- Which bands, situations or events inspired you to your own activity on DIY scene? 

The bands were CRASS, Dead Kennedys, Poison Girls, Zounds  and Omega Tribe to name the most memorable. But going on demo’s like Stop the City and marches against racists etc made me want to do stuff more direct and effective.

I remember reading Malatesta and other early anarcho punk magazines and thinking that this  idea of anarchy has been around  along time and was a lot more influential in the past that it is now regardless of how many people were dressed in black. An interview wth The Poison Girls gave me the sense that there may never be a global anarchist revolution during my life but that changing myself and as much as I can is a revolution worth itself.  From then on its been my desire to have a feeling of integrity that has kept me “fighting back” rather than the belief that we will win.

- WELL, YOU ARE SUPPORTING INDIVIDUALISM THEN… WHAT ABOUT COLLECTIVISM?

I think revolution starts with the individual realising their own potential, breaking out and then going with others to achieve things that one alone could not do – like the Cowley Club in Brighton or the defense of a squat against the forces of law and order.

- I UNDERSTAND, THAT YOU ACCEPT THAT VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE, IF NOT ALMOST EVERYBODY IN SOCIETY, WOULD REJECT ANARCHISM IF GIVEN SUCH A CHOICE TO LIVE IN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE ORGANIZED BY ANARCHISTS?

Not sure what the question is here!  But lets just say that revolutions aren’t neat and tidy, but an anarchist one can’t be imposed on a population.

-  Have you been doing a fanzine or playing in a band before you started with Active Distribution?

Yeah I was involved in starting a paper called Swansea Black Sheep whilst at university. Never joined a band, I noticed early on that people  in bands tend to become self important, and their band becomes more important than anything else.

- IS THAT WHAT YOU REALLY BELIEVE? WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING DEVOTED TO A BAND?

- Tell me about the beginning of ACTIVE DISTRIBUTION. What were your distribution activities at that time, what things did you spread? Was it mostly music or you rather focused on other things?

Active started when I moved to London and joined up with another small anarcho punk distro called Perjury. Before that I use to do a live gig tape distribution and some badges and stuff. Then when I was at Uni I started distributing books and pamphlets etc. at gigs and events on a small scale. I started getting records in because the CRASS bands etc were important to me and weren’t always easy to find. Later I realised I could sell records a lot cheaper than the shops did and also a record box would attract punx to a stall a lot quicker than a bunch of books!

- IS CRASS STILL IMPORTANT BAND FOR YOU?

No not really, other than historically for me personally and for my love of their records. But they ceased to exist as a band a long time ago and now those that represent them wether it be their label or Penny keep doing and saying things that make me unlikely to wear a CRASS shirt again, even one I made myself.

IS THEIR MESSAGE STILL CAPABLE OF GUIDING YOUNG PEOPLE OR INFLUENCE THE CONTEMPORARY PUNK SCENE?

Maybe it is, I think the lyrics and texts they wrote at the time are amazing and still stand as inspiring. But if you find Crass records repackaged with fancy artwork rather than the art of anger with normal commercial prices on then the messages within have been seriously diluted in my opinion.

- You were growing up during the reign of Margaret Thatcher… How did it look like from your perspective? 

Shit.

- BUT THAT UK PUNK SCENE WOULDN’T BE THAT GOOD WITHOUT HER, INN’T? HAHA…

if Thatcher hadn’t got in the UK would have had a much bigger fascist party in the form of the National Front so lets not be too happy about her. Thatcher was the head of a greedy evil regime but I think she was reviled all the more because she was a woman and that’s something I’m not so comfortable with.

- Why do many Britons are still proud of the Thatcher? Isn’t it phenomenal?!

The UK suffers from a bad case of patriotism, which is soft nationalism, which is soft fascism.  Thatcher appealed to the same sick sentiments of greed and patriotic selfishness that UKIP do.

- I KNOW YOU HAVE NO MAGIC WAND TO FIX SOCIETY, BUT WHAT SHALL BE DONE TO BREAK BIGOTRY AND XENOPHOBIA HERE?

On the contrary I’ve been studying at Hogwarts and someday soon I’ll be sacrificing a politician or two and all will magically be cool thereafter…

Here? is there anywhere that isn’t plagued by bigotry and fear? Personally I think we need to question the foundations of society if we are to be rid of the worst aspects of it. There’s little point in being tolerant of patriotism and attacking fascism one begets the other. we need to dismantle institutions and beliefs in religion, democracy, gender and racial determinism etc etc

- I SAW YOU SELLING SHIRTS SAYING “RELIGION IS STUPID”… IT IS COMMON IN PUNK SCENE TO SLUG CHRISTIANITY, BUT WHY ARE WE SO SHY ABOUT ISLAM? IS THAT BECAUSE WE ARE AFRAID TO BE LABALED AS “RACISTS” OR BEING ASSOCIATED WITH SOME LIKE EDL OR BRITIAN FIRST?

I’m not! In fact Active has been getting hassle from a bunch of student twerps who accuse us of being racists because our anti religion slogans are “islampphobic” . I hesitate to give these morons much of my time or energy but lets say that I have always seen religion – thats ALL religion – as inherently conservative, traditionalist, anti-rational, and more often than not, sexist, homophobic, bigoted and stupid. Active will be publishing a couple of books on the anarchist analysis of religion, in the near future. We will continue to ignore middle class students so full of privilege guilt they are desperate to prove how cool they are by attacking anyone they think is criticising their latest sacred cow!

- When you look back, don’t you think that anarcho punk movement was just another musical and fashion trend at that time? Despite the fact, did punx really influence political environment and history of UK?

As mentioned before yes for some it was just another “phase” or fashion. It still is! I still find it amusing and sad to see punks with jackets that have CRASS patches neatly produced in some Chinese sweat shop next to GBH or Deviated Instinct or some other band with sexist lyrics and songs celebrating alcohol. Having said that there are loads of political projects that came about with the impetus or support generated by punk. The 1 in 12 Club in Bradford being a prime example and AK Press being another.

- THAT’S TRUE THAT PUNK SCENE IS VERY DIVISIVE… DOES IT MEAN YOU BOYCOTT BANDS SUCH GBH WHICH DON’T MEET WITH YOUR MEANING OF PUNK?

Well since I saw the Sex Pistols on Top of the Pops I’ve loved that type of punk rock sound but after discovering the ideals of anarchism and DIY anarcho punk I have tried to avoid supporting such bogus revolution. Punk without politics is pop as one of the Active stickers says. I grew up hating pop culture with its sexism, money worshipping, body fascism and so when punk slips into that culture it becomes meaningless to me except for maybe as “entertainment”

So whilst I work on my distro mail order my computer plays a mix of pop lie Motorhead, ACDC, and The Damned as well as bands that really move me like The Ruts, Slime, The Gits, and The Dead Kennedys. And there are  a few bands left that I still “believe” in!! whose lyrics continue to make me question or encourage me to keep fighting. The Poison Girls, Autonomads and Slime are the only ones I can think of at the moment.

- Is contemporary anarchist movement linked with the hardcore/punk scene these days? As far as I am concerned, you are pretty critical to the punk movement now, right?

Yes, I’ve given up on the “so-called” anarcho punk scene. Too many people in bands I considered representative of the “movement” have proved to be unworthy of my support. I’m tired of watching drunk punks with CRASS shirts dribbling over my book stall fighting over girlfriends or spilt beer etc. Bands that started and gave the scene veritas and spirit are now reforming for the sake of a cheap holiday abroad and other such egotistical wank. Other bands let their record labels act like the EMI in order to protect their profits, fuck them all.  Anarcho punk is a flag I no longer wish to wave. Its good to meet young bands with enthusiasm and  revolutionary zeal. I just hope they see the dinosaurs of the anarcho punk past for what most of them are and don’t follow the same course. Anarcho punk is dead, Long live anarchist punk!

- ISN’T THIS OPINION A LITTLE BIT TOO JUDGMENTAL? I MEAN, WE ARE JUST HUMANS, HAHA… I’M ALWAYS SAYING “THERE’S TIME TO FIGHT AND THERE’S TIME TO HAVE A FUN”, OTHERWISE EVERYBODY GETS MAD WITH THE REALITY… YOU DON’T AGREE WITH IT?

What are we if we don’t make judgements? I find the “don’t judge me” excuse as a rather pathetic attempt to avoid facing up to your own contradictions or indeed bullshit. I make no apologies for judging the scene like this, I have spent decades putting up with drunk punks messing me about. being fairly big this wasn’t always a threat but it gave me a sad insight in to how much shit women get from drunk men punk or not!  There is of course nothing wrong with having fun. Wat Tyler were the best example of that!

 - Do you still believe, that the music can change the world or crush the system?

It still has a roll, but as one band that used to have integrity said “music in itself does little other than to entertain, but if it inspire one to think and take action then it I can be more than just entertainment” or some such similar wording.

Revolutionary songs and music have been around long before Johnny Rotten and Penny Rimbaud came along. Music is  great joy and inspiration. It has helped keep me up when everything else was bringing me down and it still helps keep me motivated. It won’t “crush the system” though but it might help if its not just a safety valve for teenage rebellion and a money making exercise for big business. See The Poison Girls “State Control”

- JOHNNY ROTTEN SUPPORTING DONALD TRUMP IS NOT SO REVOLUTIONARY ANYMORE… I GUESS, THAT PENNY RIMBOUD STILL IS. YOU KNOW HIM PERSONALLY, RIGHT? 

I do, though haven’t seen him for some time now.

ANY ANECDOTE ABOUT PENNY, PLEASE? HA HA...

No, Penny was always very friendly and straight with me if a little muddled at times but then again so am I! The last time we met I told him what I though of the latest CRASS goings on, we were still friends,  I guess if we meet up again we’ll test that again.

- THANX TO YOUR WIDE ACTIVITY YOU GOT A CHANCE TO MEET AND GET IN FRIENDLY RELATIONSHIP WITH SOME PUNK “ICONS”… ANY DISSAPOINTMENT WHEN YOU GET TO KNOW THIS PEOPLE CLOSER? I DON’T NEED NO NAMES! HAHA…

Yeah most people I’ve met from bands have been a serious disappointment when I got to know them better.  Protag from Blyth Power, Vi from the Poison Girls and Disck from the Subhumans have been notable exceptions and there are others. I once arranged a dinner for myself, Eve Libertine and Vi Subversa. It had been many years since the two had met up and I was friends with both. The evening went well and but afterwards I confessed to Eve that I had been nervous about being in such august company, she told me not to be so silly and I resolved never to let myself be intimidated or in anyway in awe of ‘my heroes” again. I had made friends with them and others easily partly because I didn’t ttreat them as special in some way, always free with my comments and criticisms. I used to laugh at the way all the anarcho punks visiting London would make the “pilgrimage” out to Epping to be blessed at Crass’s Dial House. I never went until Penny personally asked me to come visit them.  Discovering that the lyric writers of anarcho punk classics are in fact small minded, sexist, jealous, lecherous, greedy or just ignorant really took the wind out of my anarcho punk flag.

- Are you still activly co-operating with some Polish DIY punk distribution or other forms of Polish undergrond scene?

Not really.

- WHY’S THAT?

We stopped doing music and no-one in the Poland scene is interested in getting the other stuff we do. Active used to do Polish books but its not been worth the effort.

- As the result of Poland joining the European Union in 2004, many Poles, including punx, immigrated to UK. Do you think that it got a significant impact on the UK punk scene?

It did indeed. The gigs got a lot bigger and more violent! Macho Polish male punks were more likely to get drunk and start fights at gigs which previously such things were relatively rare. Unfair? maybe but you asked and I was there! The number involved in the scene in places like London and Dublin certainly increased and good bands like Post Regiment and El Banda (I think it was them!) came over and played in squat venues. The London squatting scene really was invigorated by the invasion of Polish punks back then. The London punk and radical scene has always been wonderfully diverse with UK born members often being in the minority so it was weird to have a time when most of the scene appeared to be from one country – Poland! Thats changed now but it must have been extra different for places like Dublin and Edinburgh which were less used to such an ethnic mix. The more diverse the better I say, as long as traits like fighting and alcoholism can be dispensed with.

- I THINK THERE IS MUCH MORE LESS FIGHTING NOW, AS PROBABLY FINALLY EVERYBODY GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER, HAHA…

And a lot of the idiots went “home” or grew out of it!

BUT YES, ALCOHOL IS STILL THERE… ARE YOU SORT OF STRAIGHT EDGE?

Nope I detest SXE, its a stupid american cult and the world doesn’t need anymore of those no matter how good the intentions. I stopped drinking alcohol before I’d heard of Minor Threat. I want to decide my destiny as much as possible. I want to choose my death if I can. I don’t want to be one of the drunk losers I have met fucking things up for the organisers of benefit gigs, cool venues, or anyone else. If there was no history of cultural acceptance of alcohol and it was suddenly discovered today and proposed as a drink it would be universally banned as a lethal poison that has no positive effects. As it is if we could learn to shed the impositions of tradition, fear and insecurities we would have no need of alcohol to get the so called strength to face life (and ask people out on dates!).

Try giving up alcohol and after a bit like not smoking you begin to see those that still do it as idiots and wonder why the fuck you were ever so weak and stupid. Its been 34 years since I drank alcohol and I’ve never regretted becoming tea-total.

- We are facing Brexit… Can it also change the state of British punk scene in the future?

It could. It could fuck things up for lots of things, especially the free movement of people. This shitty country has always had fascistic tendencies in the immigration control department and that seems likely tomcat worse. I remember the days before  the EU when bands like Dezerter were refused entry to the UK. Many bands from places like South America already don’t even bother trying to tour the UK when they come to Europe fro fear of being detained and deported so thats not likely to improve. Brett was a victory for small minded xenophobic British patriots and nothing else. Maybe as this country depends into an even deeper hell of nationalist griping and bigotry there will be an increase in real resistance to the system but I for one saw Brexit as a final straw and decided to get out.

- BEFORE YOU LEAVE, ANY LAST WORD?

Thanx to Suzy, Ted, Cat, Emma, Sandra, Em, and James but especially Marta for helping to keep Active alive.

Follow up questions;

- You mention the influence THE POISON GIRLS and other anarcho bands had on you; how you started to question your own attitude towards sexuality, being jealous, possessive etc. Would you like to elaborate a bit on this subject? How did this affect your own life choices etc? From what I remember, you used to live in non-monogamous relationships, is that correct? Do you still continue to do so?

Ouch a lot of questions in one! I read a load of stuff that came out of the sixties and seventies anarchist scene about the need to destroy the nuclear family and its values, about the sexual revolution, about the freedom of loving without the boundaries imposed by society and the state and all these things were quite bewildering for a young shy male going through puberty in the 1970’s. The Poison Girls and books like The Women’s Room (Marilyn French) gave me a perspective on sex and gender roles that were much easier to understand and seemed more real and revolutionary than the stuff I was learning from school, mates and the media. I came to realise that no matter how much effort I put into it there is not likely to be a global let alone UK based anarchist revolution in my time. (In the 80’s we were seriously wondering if we might be able to start an anarchist society from the remnants of whatever was to be left after  nuclear war). What I did take on board is that the revolution starts with you (me) and how one behaves towards the rest of the world. So whilst we may have to bow and scrape to get by under this system we can do as much as possible to maintain our self respect and live as we would like to after the revolution, now!. This in effect means taking control of yourself and thats where debunking the shit that society has indoctrinated you with comes in. Rejecting the arguments of militarism, patriotism, specism, racism may seem easy but they often need serious self reflection and introspection to really “deal with”. Jealousy is one such issue. To me its fairly simple. Why should I have any say over what someone else does with their body just because I am in a “relationship” with them. All the reasons for monogamy and “faithfulness” come from the institutions like church, tradition, patriarchy etc that I detest. So why should I subscribe to such a “backward” notion? I don’t and never will. Anyone I am in a relationship with is well aware that they can do what they like sexually with others as long as I know whats going on. Actually dealing the reality of this “belief” is not always easy but my conviction in the idea is stronger than the stains of “straight” culture left behind from years of socialisation on my ego. For many years I lived in a relationship that was open with varying degrees of success and I am glad for having done so, I met some amazing people and had some amazing sex with some of them. I have recently given up being non monogamous myself as my present lover could not cope with it, but she is free to do as she pleases as far as I am concerned. It may be a cliche  but I believe love is not love unless it is free.

- How do you deal with jealousy, are you completely free of it or do you always have to somehow work it through, rationalize it etc?

Oops I should have read all the questions first!  Ok to be more precise, I sometimes feel the pangs of jealousy but they are completely outweighed by the pride I feel in living my life by the code I have decided upon not what society laid down for me. Its a bit like having been vegan for 30 years I can still feel a longing for a cream cake in a Parisian patisserie but I wouldn’t act upon the thought. The brain, the process of thinking things through, of realising how stupid the basis of our societies morals, rules and laws are is fundamental to anarchism. We need to be able to analyse what makes us go to war, feel racist thoughts and such shit. Then we need to work out how we as individuals do not behave in the same way, how not to replicate the patterns and continuation of the system.

- So what’s going to happen to Active after you move to Croatia? Are you going to move the distro with you or is someone else taking it over from you? 

Good question! Its a bit up in the air, in theory there is someone going to carry on with Active but it may be slimmed down a bit. And I may carry on doing the book publishing from Croatia we gotta see. I doubt I’ll disappear altogether ! even if thats what I want to do!

Seems like you’re quite harsh on these middle class students here. But where this generalisation comes from, weren’t you both middle class and student as well? 

well yes I was born into a middle class family, my Grandad’s were both “working class” but I’m not really hung up on the relevance of this term. The point is these students epitomise the worst example of “student Power” and they have accused me directly of being racist because they have some twisted logic that criticising religion is somehow racist. So no i am not being too harsh. I was a hunt sabbing, gig organising demo going type of student annoying in my own way perhaps but not like these twits!

- And while we’re at it, what do you think about this whole cultural appropriation concept? Do you believe anyone is really entitled to feel offended just because another person (who happens to be white) has dreadlocks?

I think its like many PC ideas. it gets taken to ridiculous extremes, it becomes a dogma and becomes bollox. I think punk was interesting partly because people were unafraid to take cultural themes, music, clothes from a variety of sources and mix them together. The brotherhood of The Ruts and Misty in Roots was cool and strong and nothing to do with “stealing culture” the Ruts produced some great reggae music. My hair goes into dreadlocks when I don’t wash it for ages! Thats my personal laziness not cultural appropriation. Capitalism will exploit whatever it can. Capitalist entertainment will exploit whatever cultures it can, be it black, African, Mexican or Punk!

Does that answer the question?