I THOUGHT I was quite enlightened in 1984 but apparently not. This ‘vintage’ postal interview is from the pages of Fun & Games, which was very much a one-off zine I did when I moved to Darlington for a year.
Anyone for a leading question? Can I interest you in a chauvinist worldview then? And the less said about Gary the bassist, the better. To their credit, the band gave him the boot when he went off the deep end.
Not my best work – some of Mick’s answers demand follow-up questions, to say the least – but it’s an interesting take on the mid 80s UK anarcho scene, if nothing else. Don’t judge me.
DECADENT FEW formed from the remnants of Youth in Asia, who you’ll probably remember from their track Power and the Glory on Bullshit Detector ll.
There are still a few YIA tapes to be had, among them the ace Sex Object, which, like all the others, will set you back £1.50 from Mick, 1 Palmerston Road, London E17 6PQ. Decadent Few are Kaya Byatta (vocals), Mick (guitar), Gary (bass) and Bernice (drums). Mick answered the questions.
Is there any special significance behind the name?
“No, there’s no particular meaning behind the name. I’d like to think it cocked a leg to the fashion for ‘grim’ names in punk bands – though of course we could have called ourselves Annihilated Youth or something and got in Final Curtain straight away”.
If the people buying your tapes, Crass Records etc, are so concerned about the exploitation of the third world, for example, don’t you think it would be better for them to give their money to Oxfam or some other charity?
“If people are buying records as a social statement per se, I’d agree that they are far better supporting a cause, especially if it’s one of those causes people ram down your throat all the time”.
Is ‘anarcho punk’ and the whole subculture that has grown up around it – fanzines, gigs, veganism etc – just part of the teenage rebellion syndrome?
“I don’t think the basic ideas are, just some of the twats involved. A lot of these people are very sincere in their beliefs, if a little dogmatic. You mention veganism – this a big change in people’s lifestyle, but some others just paint their leather jackets to wear at weekends and write two-line letters to bands like us. The DIY zine/gig/band aspect is great and will always carry on as the legacy of punk, it’s just a pity they all want to ape Crass.
“I dunno. They’ve been calling punks 15-minute wonders for the last five or six years and we’re still here, though I don’t think it’s ended up in a particularly healthy state. I preferred the original punk movement as I grew up with it and it was really exciting, great music, great ideas and real energy. Since Crass came along, it’s all become pretty dogmatic and overly humourless and one dimensional.
“The active side of the anarcho thing is great and I think they’ve done a lot to increase public awareness of vivisection, war etc, which can’t be sneered at, can it?”
Wouldn’t it be more constructive to write about more immediate issues than feminism?
“If we were singing about feminism, I’d say yes, but we don’t. Some of Youth in Asia’s lyrics concern sexism, an entirely different subject. It’s still very institutionalised, but women are guilty of it too.
“Our lyrics are more about life in general rather than one-dimensional rants against the usual thing. Some may concern ‘trendy’ issues, but you have to read between the lines to see what they’re getting at”.
Do you agree that some feminists become reactionary and sexist themselves?
“Yes, I agree. I recently read some hysterical tripe along the lines of ‘dead men can’t rape’. We also had someone in the band for a short while who believed in all that crap and was very condescending to the men around her. It’s a very insular world for people like that, a world of black and white stereotypes memorised parrot-fashion from the pages of Spare Rib.
“Saying that all men are potential rapists is like saying all blacks are muggers and you wouldn’t get our trendy, left-wing feminists saying that, would you? Rape is an alien thought to me but I’m sick of getting looked down upon just for the sex I happen to be born.
“To be suspicious of the other sex is an adolescent emotion, usually due to ignorance. When I was younger I had some unfortunate experiences with girls and older women and almost hated all women for a short time – but I realised that this was a stupid generalisation. Kay went through exactly the same thing until she realised that all men are not sex-obsessed pigs.
“In a way, it all reminds me of the Rock Against Racism/Anti-Nazi League thing in 1978, when the same kind of generalisation was made regarding racism, in particular that it was all white racism. Not only did they ignore black racism in London, sometimes more apparent today that the BM/NF are, but I’m sure most blacks found it patronising anyway.
“People are generally quick to generalise, but to say ‘all whites are racist’ or ‘all men are sexists’ is just ridiculous and reinforces the barriers between us. Divided we fall etc etc.
“This isn’t to put down the sincere people among the feminists who are basically fighting a fight worth supporting. Unfortunately, the idiots and extremists quickly move in”.
Would you break up the band if you thought you could ‘achieve’ more through some other medium such as video or poetry?
“I don’t know about this one. The medium we’ve chosen is music. I think it would be great if a few more punk bands would use video, there’s so much potential in it but you see it sold short so often. Look at the videos all those Top of the Pops bands make – meaningless crap. I reckon some punk bands could make superb videos to go with their records if only they had access to it.
“If we had the chance, we’d make videos to go with our music, not a load of people posing on yachts in the Mediterranean but something shocking.
“A couple of weeks back on TV, I saw this punk bloke video scratching – splicing together new film and various other bits and pieces into short films to illustrate particular songs. I think that’s a great idea and we’d definitely explore other media.
“The only trouble with most punk bands is that they’re so limited. They’re content to preach to the converted, so to speak. I’d like to make some great music for once, instead of being content with second best.
“I’d like to play on The Tube and sit sneering among the posers and the trendies and say, yeah, we’re a punk band. Cos I think there’s still a place for bands like us. Obviously, it’s a very high ideal to want to get into accepted channels and stay pure but I’d like to try”.
If you had to describe Britain in terms of concepts, would you choose ‘hate and war’ or ‘love and peace’?
“The former. For many anarchists, living in an acid-tainted dream world, love and peace may seem a relevant concept in their lifestyles, but outside the worlds is getting worse, especially the militaristic, right-wing mood of this country at the moment.
“The hippies put flowers in gun barrels but Vietnam went on and they just disappeared up their own arseholes. I can’t see much changing here, laying in the road singing Lennon songs and sexist, women-only peace camps. Love and peace is a bit of a redundant phrase though. Whoever dreamt it up from the mires of ‘the bus’ ought to take a good fucking look at the world around them and wake up to reality.
“It’s too theatrical for me to accept. There’s no point in saying ‘but wouldn’t it be nice if it did happen’ if you’re not trying to create it”.
Do you think Decadent Few can do anything to contribute to a change of attitude in Britain?
“We’d like to think we could contribute something, but as part of the greater whole. As individuals or as a band, I doubt we could do a lot. The cynic in me says most people in this country are only too willing to lap up The Sun and all its attendant shit, but you’ve got to be optimistic”.
“I’m also a bit doubtful that you can change much through music. Most of the punk audience are already converted on that score, but we have to increase the awareness of the other 50 odd million people before any change will come about. All said and done, we’d like to make a contribution without all the sanctimonious attitudes/methods of the circled A brigade. But you have to be realistic.
“As for the fans, many just went to the Anarchy Centre for a few months, full of changing the world through punk, and ended up listening to Style Council records – a very shallow commitment, in other words. You always get idiots who treat it as a dalliance, something to do at weekends before they go back to work at the bank on Monday, but what can you do?
“Punk is made up of people and people aren’t perfect.
“Kay and Gary have an interest in the anarcho side of things. Me and Bernice support many of the causes but find that the dogma frightens us off.
“The musical side of punk is pretty awful, with only a few bands – Amebix, Flowers in the Dustbin, Chumbawamba, Lack of Knowledge, Apostles, Death Cult – doing anything interesting with it.
“in my opinion, since the Pistols, only two bands have ever reached these heights – Joy Division and Killing Joke. I prefer the bands I used to see years ago – the old Ants, the Clash, 999, Furs etc. Obviously, they weren’t so politically committed but the music was great. The current mob have managed the political bit but don’t seem to be able to make it listenable.
“I’d rather read their lyrics. But the trouble with putting aware words to a tuneless noise is that only 2000 people hear it, instead of 200, 000 people, and that can’t be right”.