by Rowan Bagley
An integral part of the punk movement is the focus on direct forms of activism, which can vary from graffiti to rioting depending on the intended message. While all punk genres and subgenres have a D.I.Y. ethic and most participate in at least some form of direct action, it was the Anarcho-punk movement that has had the most extreme and varied ideologies behind their activism.
Anarcho-punk, often lumped in with Hardcore, was a fringe movement in the larger punk scene until the late 1970s, primarily existing in European punk circles. Bands like Pink Fairies and The Deviants were central parts of the UK underground, which was an English subculture focused around finding space for social outcasts. From this regional scene, Anarcho-punk spread to the wider punk community, albeit in the form of appropriated anarchist imagery that was meant to be comedic or shocking rather than enacting real social change. In fact, bands like Sex Pistols profited off this comedy and shock which was, at best, a personal desire for hedonistic freedom with their first single “Anarchy in the U.K.” and it wasn’t until bands like Crass and Poison Girls made their debut in the early 1980s did true anarchist ideologies begin to break in the punk mainstream.
Crass, who formed in 1977, focused their music around anarchist ideals in both politics and everyday life. They were proponents of animal rights, environmental activism, feminism, and anti-fascism and blended their music with a movement called “art punk” that merged art with punk as poetry, graphics, and spoken word releases. Crass was as anti-establishment as they come, performing most of their live shows in front of banners that featured an amalgamation of symbols of perceived authority like the Christian cross, the swastika, and the Union Jack. Despite being a defining band of the Anarcho-punk movement, their music reached only a small portion of disaffected youth and the band dissolved in 1984. True to their ideals, they were one of the few punk bands who practiced what they preached.
Anarcho-punk is perhaps the most authentic distillation of what the punk movement was meant to be: active dissent. Punk has long rejected the polished nature of many other music genres in favor of controversial, harsh lyrics and messages that were meant to be polarizing, but many punk subgenres have fallen victim to the very thing they were trying to avoid and began to pander. While true punk anarchist bands may not have given into mainstream demands, they also ensured that their message never reached anyone beyond the already converted. Because of this, their message stagnated and failed to affect the change they wished to see, which begs the question: Should radicalist movements sell out in hopes of reaching larger audiences or refuse to pander and risk affecting only limited change?