They said we were trash

Well the name is Crass not Clash

They can stuff their punk credentials

Cos it’s them that take the cash

(Crass, White Punks on Hope)

What’s the link between the label and the band Crass and Iceland? Let me try to explain it…

Crass logoWhat about Crass?

Crass were an English collective and punk rock band formed in 1977. They promoted anarchism as a political ideology, a way of life and a resistance movement. Crass popularised the anarcho-punk movement of the punk subculture, advocating direct action, animal rights and environmentalism. The ‘Do It Yourself’ punk ethic approach was used in leaflets, sound collages, albums and movies. So you could see Crass as a sort of “art punk”. Known for their anti-war, anarchist, feminist, anti-consumerist ‘graffiti’.

The band Crass was formed near Epping, Essex and based around ‘Dial House’, an open-house community. Dial House founder Penny Rimbaud started to jam with Steve Ignorant, who lived in the house. This was the fundament of the band Crass. Crass refers to a line in David Bowie’s song ‘Ziggy Stardust’: “The kids was just crass”. The logo and stage backdrop were designed by Rimbaud’s friend Dave King. The logo is an amalgam of several icons of authority, Christian cross, the swastika, the Union Jack and a two-headed Ouroborus (power will eventually destroy itself). It gave the band a militaristic image. Although wearing black, military style clothing on and offstage, their uniform was a statement against the cult of personality, no member would be identified as “the leader”.

They prefered to play under 40 Watt household light bulbs. This is the reason why there isn’t much good footage of the band. They pioneered multimedia presentation, using video technology to enhance their performances and distributed leaflets and handouts explaining anarchist ideas to their audiences. After an incident with Small Wonder record label in 1978 about their first release, the 18-track EP “The Feeding of the 5000”, Crass set up an independent record label: Crass Records. During the making of their fourth LP, “Christ – The Album”, the Falklands War broke out and ended. This caused Crass to question their approach to making records. As a group whose primary purpose was political commentary, they felt overtaken and redundant by world events. The band split up in 1984. Last concert was a benefit gig at Aberdare, Wales for an audience of striking miners.

KUKL 2What about KUKL?

KUKL was formed in August 1983 when Ásmundur Jónsson from Gramm Records wanted to create an avant-garde supergroup to perform on the final episode of a radio show he hosted called ‘Áfangar’. He assembled vocalist Björk Guðmundsdóttir of Exodus and Tappi Tíkarrass, trumpeter and vocalist Einar Örn Benediktsson (aka Einar Örn) of Purrkur Pillnikk, keyboardist Einar Arnaldur Melax from the surrealistic group of friend called Medúsa, and bassist Birgir Mogensen from the band Spilafífl, as well as drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson (aka Trix/Siggi) and guitarist Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson (aka God Krist) from the band Þeyr.

EÖB CrassWhat about EÖB, KUKL & Crass: A ‘ménage à trois’

Einar Örn had studied media at the Polytechnic of Central London, which enabled him to come in contact with UK anarchopunk groups such as Flux of Pink Indians and Crass. This led to the 1984 release of Kukl’s first album, “The Eye” (produced by Crass member Penny Rimbaud) on the Crass Records label. The title “The Eye” came from Björk’s favorite book, Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (1928), whose plot involved the sexual adventures of a young French couple within a violent context. The album cover was illustrated by Dada Nana. The Eye contained an English-language version of “Söngull”, retitled “Dismembered”. A video clip was shot for the song “Anna”, directed by Óskar Jónasson.

Kukl released their second and final studio album, “Holidays in Europe (The Naughty Nought)”, on Crass Records on January 24, 1986. Two video clips were produced, “Outward Flight (Psalm 323)” and “France (A Mutual Thrill)”. In a manifesto published as a Crass Records press release to announce the album, the band said:

”The Naughty Nought” pertains to the insignificance of the individual as being nothing but a numb number in a computer game of loss/profit good/evil black/white binary pairs. You are taken from Quintessence to the four elements from the Holy Trinity to dualiy and then from mooistism to the naughty nought. In this process the music breaks the scale by thundering trumpets and pouring vials of wrath together with subtle musical poetry. The naughty nought is the source of all creative energy and is manifested through whirling cyclonic motion from the very shatters of matter to the spiralling galaxies. By contemplating the kinetic aspect of this naughty ality you gain your former potency as the master and creator without mutilating your fellow beings.”

Crass Label in Iceland

Ásmundur Jónsson aka Ási, co-founder of Gramm Records label and record shop with Einar Örn Benediktsson & Dóra Einarsdóttir, distributed the records released by Crass Records with big success in 101 area.

Crass Gig in Iceland

Crass with the headliner of a concert with the name “We Demand A Future”. Penny Rimbaud was absent for the drumming duties at this particular gig due to a perforated ear drum. The post was taken up for the night and the drumming successfully completed by Martin of Flux Of Pink Indians.

Crass affiche leafletConcert took place on the 20. September 1983 at Laugardalshöll. KUKL’s first live show followed shortly after by their first release, the 7″ single “Söngull” (Gramm).

After the concert a lot of car windows were smashed.

Crass audienceTrausti Júlíusson:

Oxzmá also played the gents toilets … I was there of course and remember it well. Crass did not play their “hits”, mostly their latest album, Yes Sir, I Will. I remember them as a thick an noisy wall of sound …

Grímur Atlason (Iceland Airwaves Manager):

Crass were great but Megas with Ikarus was just a life changer for me. I was 12 years and 9 months old.

Valtýr Björn Thors:

I was there. Was right in front of the stage when Crass played. Got stuck between Steinþór from Q4U and some other punk that pogoed through the whole Crass set. They were wearing leather jackets with spikes and i was totally shredded after the gig. It was like being stuck in a cheesegrater.

siggi pönk punk MBL August 2001Siggi Punk (with a Crass tattoo on his right upper arm):

I was there as a 15 year old punk, drunk of course. Vonbrigði and Kukl were striking, but like Trausti says and vocalist Steve Ignorant remembers in his biography, they old played “Yes Sir, I will” album which is just noise, not songs, it was a disappointment (for a fifteen year old back than) and Steve agrees in his book, he wonders “who´s idea that was?”

Paul Fontaine (Reykjavík Grapevine Magazine)

Only 1 actual song on “Yes sir, I will”: “If there was no government”

It was a poetry album with noise accompaniment. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Anyway, the one actual song on the album is still quite good.

Jón Gnarr, the ex-mayor of Reykjavík, is a self-proclaimed anarcho-surrealist. On his right forearm the logo for the old school punk band Crass is tattooed, and his left arm bears the Reykjavík coat of arms below a Chinese character.

Jon GnarrHe became fascinated by punk music after hearing the raw sounds of the Sex Pistols play live on TV. He took the anarchic and rebellious nature of this newly discovered music and applied it to his own life. Gnarr played bass for the punk band Nefrennsli (“Runny Nose”) as a teenager and chose to embrace the punk spirit in his everyday life. In the 1980s Gnarr became acquainted with the Reykjavik-based alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, which included Björk Guðmundsdóttir and Einar Örn Benediktsson. Benediktsson would end up being his right hand man in the Best Party.

A Dutch documentary about Crass:

KUKL gig:

You must learn to live with your own conscience, your own morality, your own decision, your own self.

You alone can do it.

There is no authority but yourself.

(Crass, Yes Sir, I Will)

- Wim Van Hooste

More about Crass in the Icelandic press in my virtual Icelandic Music Museum: