DOUG and me interviewed Stig and Aphid (aka the Baron) of Amebix at the Bierkeller in Leeds in December 1983, where they were appearing on a bill which also featured Disorder and Antisect.
With a rather confrontational interview style – the modus operandi seems to be to get drunk and ask as many awkward, deliberately stupid questions as possible – we collided with a band who were desperate to break out of a punk scene they felt they had little in common with.
This fractious encounter makes up the second part of our February anarcho-punk double whammy.
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WHY are you so obsessed with war?
Aphid: “We’re trying to make people aware that there are certain situations arising that could result in a nuclear war in Europe. There’s not a great deal else happening to write about. So I can’t find any other inspiration”.
Is Britain approaching the beginning of the end?
A: “I can’t say. I’m not a politician”.
Did you start the band to just have a laugh or did you want to achieve something?
A: “Basically, we started just as a piss about. Stig got a little guitar and a little amplifier, a bloke called Clive got a bass and another shitty amp and we had a drummer sitting on a motorbike seat hitting a biscuit tin. We just pissed about, really.
“We used to play a lot in Devon and got ourselves a really bad reputation. One gig we played, out at a place called Milton Abbott, there were about 150 kids there, not punks, mostly ordinary kids. We just said, ‘if you don’t like it, you can fuck off out of the hall’, so everybody left. Except this one kid who was a mate of ours. Everybody else was outside getting pissed”.
So, have you actually changed anything since the band formed?
A: “We haven’t actually physically changed anything, but I think the only way to do that is to change yourself first of all. That’s why we’re in a band, to change ourselves, to come to some agreement about what we want to do”.
So it’s not about anyone else, it’s all about you?
A: “It’s for anyone else’s interpretation but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s us”.
Is Winter the nuclear age?
A: “Winter has got no meaning whatsoever. Somebody interpreted it as the Jews leaving the concentration camps after the Russians had liberated them. It means nothing. It was just a shitty single that we did at the time – that we don’t like anymore. The B-side is just a sceptical view of the world as we see it at the moment”.
Why do you write lyrics that talk about stuff on a personal level?
A: “I write lyrics saying ‘you’ rather than ‘I’, unlike a lot of trendy, poppy bands, which defeats the object, cos you’ve got to be able to put your point across through someone else’s eyes rather than your own. I mean, everybody thinks differently. We don’t preach to anyone”.
Isn’t it a bit irresponsible to sing about ’puking on cider and glue’?
A: “Not at all. That song is about most of the kids in Bristol. It’s also a phase that a few of us have gone through as well. The Happy House on Rampton Road is a place where we used to live. But it’s saying, ’this is how you can live if you want to’. I don’t give a fuck about what other people do to themselves. I’m not in a position to tell anyone else what to do.
“Same as I totally disagree with a lot of vegetarians or vegans or whatever who give other people a hard time. I might agree with certain points of view and even carry it through myself, but nowadays there’s so many people trying to push their shit down your throat, saying, ’look, you shouldn’t eat meat, you shouldn’t smoke, you shouldn’t do drugs, you shouldn’t whatever’. I mean, what are we trying to be, fucking puritans or something?”
Stig: “It’s like the priests in the Middle Ages. They used to beat themselves for having a naughty thought and then go off feeling all pleased with themselves”.
A: “We’re not slagging off Crass or anything, but I think, basically, people should do what the fuck they want to do. We say, ‘No Gods, No Masters’ and that’s exactly what we mean”.
What bands do you like?
A: “I don’t really like any punk bands. Oh, Antisect are good live. And I like the Rudimentary Peni album. But apart from that, none really. I like Metallica, Venom, Black Sabbath …”
S: “Gary Moore, Tank, Ozzy Osbourne. I’m prepared to listen to anything”.
A: “A lot of people are very bigoted towards other kinds of music and say that if you’re a punk, you’ve got to listen to punk music. I don’t agree with a lot of the sentiments behind heavy metal music, the lyrics -”
The ridiculous sexism?
A: “Well, let’s just leave it at that. It’s just bullshit. I think you should use music to do something constructive and make people think. However, the music is, in itself, really powerful and that’s how we want to get, sometime. Not in a heavy metal style, but just to be a powerful band, because there aren’t any powerful punk bands”.
S: “It’s all too fast. You lose your power by going fast”.
A: “Don’t tell them that! You’ve given away the secret!”
S: “People are gonna start realising it sooner or later anyway”.
But Discharge manage to be fast and powerful, don’t they? What about something like State Control?
A: “But that’s relatively slow, same as that new 12-inch of theirs. If you take some of the American hardcore stuff, it’s just fucking ridiculous. You’ve got Gang Green who go, ‘da-da-da-da-da-da’ as fast as you can, and you’re expected to hear someone go ‘aaaagh!’ and understand it.
“I mean, you take that to your average punter and say, ‘Listen, punks are really caring people. We’re into peace and freedom and equality for all and that, and this is our music: Aaaaaaagh!’ and they don’t understand a fucking word. What do you expect?”
Do you think punk is more vital and important now than it was in 1977?
A: “No, in importance. In so far as political leanings are concerned, I suppose, yes. But it’s not altering anyone’s viewpoint – except for the people that listen to it. That’s what I’m trying to get across to you. All it’s doing is establishing a fact with someone that already knows it.
“So everybody goes round patting each other on the head, saying, ‘yeah, yeah, we’re happy anarchists, we know what we’re about’”.
S: “We’re running around in circles, sniffing each other’s arses, patting each other on the shoulders, saying, “Yeah man, doing well. You’re a vegetarian as well are you? Wow! So am I! Yeah man!’”.
A: “I mean, how many punk bands have actually made the effort to get across to another audience?”
S: “That’s what we want to do”.
A: “Basically, we’re looking for the right bands to play with”.
But, by playing with Disorder, you’re hardly going to change your audience a great deal, are you?
S: “We haven’t done it yet, we’ve still got to find the right sort of bands”.
Like with that No Sanctuary 12-inch. I hardly think you’ve changed your audience there.
A: “We change the audience but not the music. We have the option. We can play to any kind of person we want, as long as they’ve got the open-mindedness to listen”.
But you’ll find that a lot of people haven’t – and only punks will listen to you.
A: “True, but a lot of punks don’t listen to us either”.
S: “It’s taken us five years to get punks to listen to us. The only reason they do is because we just won’t go away”.
A: “Punks are our audience because we’re on Spiderleg Records. If you’re on Spiderleg, people think you’re a happy little anarchist band. Say, if we were on No Future Records – which I wouldn’t want anyway – then they’d put us in a different category. It’d be Oi. Your label dictates your audience, as we were discussing earlier with Marcus [Featherby]”.
That reminds me, what do you think of the Exploited’s big change of heart now that they’ve signed to Pax Records?
A: “I think the Exploited are scapegoats for a great many people. It’s divide and rule. If you can’t come to some fucking compromise, then we’re not going anywhere”.
But they actually say that they want people to beat mods up.
A: “Yeah, Fuck A Mob, right. It’s full of crap. I don’t agree with it personally, but they have the freedom to express that opinion. There’s fuck all you can do about it. You can’t bind and gag a person”.
I wouldn’t want to. If hardly anyone listened to them, it wouldn’t matter if they talked a load of shit but lots of people do listen to them and are affected by what they say.
S: “I know loads of people who sing Fuck A Mod just for a laugh”.
A: “If the Exploited want to change their opinions, that’s up to them. If I want to put myself forward as a person who believes in individual freedom, then how can I condemn another band for what they do?”
Alright. What’s Moscow Madness all about?
A: “We thought we’d put a bit of humour into punk, instead of all this sour-faced pessimism – ‘Uhhh, Punk rock, woe, death, destruction!’
S: “It was a spur of the moment thing. We just went into the studio and did it”.
A: “It’s just a happy tune”.
In Progress, you sing, ‘They can’t force you to drink, but you do’. How do you explain that?
A: “‘Drinking’ is taking the shit. Why do they do it? I don’t know, I’m not them”.
Why did you write Battery Humans?
A: “I’m not vegetarian myself, but it’s just to say that people are more shocked by the prospect that humans can be battery farmed than if it were animals. It shows the level of morality that most people have. This song disgusts people because it’s about humans, but if it was about chickens or little micey-wiceys, they wouldn’t give a fuck”.
S: “We were vegetarians for a while but too many people tried to force their opinions on us. We do the opposite to what people tell us to do”.
What are the pictures on your sleeves all about? Like that crucifixion on the cover of Winter, what does that mean?
A: “Oh, that’s just a little ditty I did. Well, they crucified Christ for being outspoken, but as far as I can see, he was a pretty good bloke. It’s just that his present day followers haven’t got any idea what the fuck he was on about”.
S: “‘They’ll crucify you like they crucified him!’”
A: “And it’s a nice little picture”.
It looks good on the back of a leather jacket, surrounded by studs.
A: “Especially if you’re a vegetarian”.
Are you looking forward to 1984?
A: “Yeah. Great. Christmas should be a good laugh. Do you mean 1984 in the Orwellian fashion? I’m looking forward to the future, it doesn’t fucking matter what year it is. People take a work of fiction to be the fucking Bible”.
S: It’s been 1984 for the last 10 years, it’s just that people have been looking forward to the actual year so much that they haven’t realised it’s happening now”.
What would be the best thing that could happen to Amebix now?
S: “You’d pay us for the interview”.
A: “The best thing that could happen to us is that we could get through to a few more people. Punk is supposed to be an open-minded movement, so if you’ve got something to say, why not say it to other people?”
[This interview first appeared The Primitive Patriot Rides Again fanzine in January 1984]
Dunno what happened to the rest of them but Rob Miller aka the Baron aka Aphid, ended up on the Isle of Skye making ornamental but very functional swords. Here’s an interview from a couple of years ago, taken from the excellent The Day The Country Died DVD, where he’s saying pretty much the same thing as when we met him, which is kinda cool.
UPDATE * 1 (14/02/08)
Exciting developments at the Baron-endorsed AmebixSpace, where, seemingly as a result of the death of John Loder, Rob/Aphid says that he’s finally got his hands on the original masters of all the early Amebix material and will be reissuing them this year. There’s also a DVD in the offing, through Alternative Tentacles.
Even better, he says there are absolutely no plans for the band to reform.
UPDATE * 2 (20/02/08)
Things are moving on apace, according to Rob Miller’s own SwordSpace. And, he says, he might have to eat his words about that reforming thing …