Protest, Resist, Live: An Interview with SLUG
To be honest, this turned out to be a bit of an odd interview. Three days earlier to meeting Phil, JJ and Trev on a sunny afternoon in the ‘Our Black Heart’ pub in Camden, London, they had announced that SLUG were no more. Posting a pensive-looking shot of them sitting on Brighton beach (very tongue-in-cheek) the band had decided to move on to other projects. At first, I wondered whether they would cancel the interview, but was relieved to find they still wanted to meet. It was also odd in meeting Phil again for the first time in just over 15 years. In a previous life I had taught him music in a college in Portsmouth. Although at home I listened to Crass, Culture Shock and other noisy shenanigans, I taught Schubert, Mozart and Debussy, all of which are a far cry from the stuff that Phil plays today.
Formed in London, UK, SLUG consisted of Brickett on vocals, JJ on guitar and vocals, Campos on Bass, Phil on guitar and vocals, and Trev on drums. With members from Active Slaughter (JJ and Trev) and Bug Central (Trev), the band played fast, aggressive punk, dealing with subjects such as animal rights, Britain First and class war. Discography includes the album Detect, Denounce, Destroy (2014) and the split Echoes of the Past…Reverberate into Our Future (2014) with Piss on Authority. I started with the obvious….
Me: Pleased to meet you all. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
JJ: Normally I answer ‘no comment’ [Laughs]. JJ, guitarist of SLUG, and Trev sitting next to me, we started the band three years ago, a few weeks before Phil joined. For about 10 years we both used to be in a band called Active Slaughter. So we started SLUG and then we dragged in Phil and Sam and a fella called Bruce who was in a band called Bug Central, which used to be Trev’s band as well. Bruce stayed for about 6 months and then left and we brought in Campo on bass.
Phil: I’m Phil, I play guitar in SLUG. I met the other members in a squat called Kernels, in South London. That was roughly about five years ago. Me and the singer [Bricket] joined the band about three years ago with the guys sitting with me. Yeah, and I’m from Pompey.
Me: Thanks. I’ve been listening to your album Detect, Denounce, Destroy, and I particularly like tracks such as ‘Class War,’ ‘Shoot to Kill’ and ‘To The End.’ I’d really like your thoughts on definition and thought I’d start with a loaded question: do you see yourself as an ‘anarcho-punk’ band?
Trev: Personally, I have real trouble with the whole ‘naming’ everything different ‘sub-genres.’ I know, I understand, why people do it, but personally, I don’t like labels.
Me: Yeah, I can fully understand that. I mean, do you see Bug Central as an anarcho-punk band?
Trev: Yes, if you’re going to ‘abide’ by the divisions then yes. But personally I’m not in favour of sub-dividing it. To me, it’s all punk; it’s that simple.
Me: I see what you mean. I remember hearing Penny Rimbaud’s thoughts on this and he said that defining punk in this way could be pretty divisive.
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s pretty difficult. Don’t forget that music is only a medium of expression, so like the question it’s a pretty loaded position to be in, as well. I think from some of our perspectives – as with the outset of anarcho-punk – anarchism in general is seen as something that is completely free from the clutches of the State. That’s what anarchism could mean as to some people it could be different to other people. And that kind of feeling, a feeling you get when you’re free from the State, so I don’t think being a band, being in a punk band, as an active band, can give you that feeling. And I think there are certain aspects of life where you can get that feeling, like squatting, for example. During those two years where I was squatting there were some parts of that feeling where I was completely free from the State. I had no troubles and I was doing things creatively and I had little trouble doing it at all. And also, from the animal rights perspective that came from the ’80s [to JJ and Trev] you’ll be able to answer this better, but that has always been a big part of it.
Trev: I think the thing with the anarcho-punk label as well is that it’s kind of a convenient way of basically saying what your politics are. I mean, if you just take for example anarcho-punk and Oi, if two bands had those labels you would pretty much be able to determine what the politics are and the people who would be into them were into to. And I think that’s just a convenient way of describing something.
JJ: I agree, it can cause divisions, but I don’t think the labels do that people do that themselves without the labels. Then again, I’m giving it all that, but to be honest, some of punks out there I wouldn’t wanna stand side-by-side with. I might wanna stand side-by side with somebody else who don’t even like punk – they might be into Celine Dion or something! It’s not about what music they like or into, it’s about who they are. There’s all this punk unity stuff but at the end of the day but I don’t wanna unify with a lot of people and that includes punks.
Phil: It’s quite important to separate anarchism and anarcho-punk as well. I mean, you go to protests [and the people who attend] are not necessarily into punk music they’re into other stuff and so it is quite important to separate anarchism and anarcho-punk in that sense because you can’t sort of like say that everybody dressed in black down in the local estate is looking to smash the State or are into anarcho-punk or into anarchism, whatever that might be.
Me: We talk about what anarcho-punk might mean in the 1980s – lyrical content including animal rights and anti-religion – do you think that this political sloganeering is just as important? [To JJ] I read your statement about HLS [Huntingdon Life Sciences] and SHAC [Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty], so that’s really important to you, isn’t it? [JJ was one of those involved with SHAC, an international animal rights campaign involved in the attempted closing down of HLS, a company that tests medical and non-medical substances on over 75,000 animals every year. In 2009 and 2010, 13 members of the group were jailed for between 15 months and 11 elevens on charges of conspiracy to blackmail or harm HLS and its suppliers]
JJ: Yeah, more than the music is. At the end of the day, anarcho-punk is just music to me. I have more important things, my beliefs. Music is like a subdivision of that – like an extension – and I’m into all different kinds of punk and not just anarcho-punk, and not just punk. But if it’s changed, then Trev was there in the ’80s so….[everyone laughs]
Phil: What was that band you were in?
Trev: The first band I was in was The Miscreants…
Phil: and Anthrax as well…
Trev: Well, I knew Anthrax, yeah.
Me: Capitalism is Cannibalism was ’82 and of course there are arguments that this so-called first-wave of anarcho-punk was over by ’84. Where do you think it came from? Why did anarcho-punk develop such a political message from ’77?
Trev: It’s entirely Crass, it’s all their fault. Everything is their fault. Well, for me it was. I’m sure Penny Rimbaud has said this countless times but after hearing the Pistols and stuff like that, it was kind of the next logical step to make. If you believe in the notion of anarchy as in ‘Anarchy in the UK,’ then, they…what did someone once say…that the Sex Pistols told us about anarchy and Crass told us what anarchy actually was. And I think that was essentially what happened.
JJ: And also, they were a cross between hippies and punks weren’t they? They mixed the both together and I think that’s where the passion came from and the politics because of the ’60s and ’70s and they’d done a lot.
Trev: And older people. I think if it had just been up to seventeen-year-old punks…if they’d just left it to the kids they would have fucked it up [laughs].
Me: Do you think it was more like a counterculture, of it being a little more ‘thought out’? There was certainly a sense of ideology around the movement.
Phil: I don’t think it was too engineered though. It was more like a natural progression to make out of first wave punk.
Trev: Yeah. I mean, Dial House. There’s the perfect example of putting peace into practice, basically.
Me: And you think that these ideals are still relevant today?
JJ: For the anarcho-scene today, if we’re gonna go back to the labels, there are a lot less anarcho-punk bands around than in the early ’80s. I think, perhaps, the majority of band in the early ’80s were anarcho bands….
Phil: I would say though that kids today are more pissed off than when I was younger. The squat where I lived in south London for a good few years…like so many kids came through and basically they just got younger and younger. They were so disillusioned, with some of them being homeless, and many of them wanting a real say in how they live their lives – so much more than 10 years ago. Back then everyone seemed to have jobs and stuff and people were like doing well. But now, it’s completely different. Like our singer, for example, he’s in the clutches of this government’s Workfare Scheme, [a Conservative-led policy in the UK where individuals must undertake work in return for benefits] which has made him more pissed off than I ever was as a kid. I think kids have more of a say, but not under the influence of anarcho-punk as a label, but are still as influenced by what we term as punk today. Some of the messages that come out of the scene can still be deemed under anarcho-punk, but wouldn’t necessarily be described as that, if that makes sense? It kind of highlights the difficulties with labels and stuff.
Me: And what about the DiY scene? Do you think the scene is as prominent as it was in the 1980s?
Phil: I think there is more of a friendly collective of people but some people like to position themselves outside of DiY. You know, ‘I don’t wanna be part of that scene,’ but it’s just like one of those dumb things. There’s nothing wrong with doing stuff for charity, there’s nothing wrong with doing benefit gigs.
Trev: I think the thing is about DiY is that it’s incredibly easy to be DiY. You can do it in your own bedroom – although you could always do it in your bedroom but it was on a cassette tape….
Phil: I mean you can run your own label from your own bedroom…
Trev: Yeah, it’s dead easy to be DiY, but I don’t think it’s as prominent…
JJ: The thing is, is that I think that everything is split up now into different types of punk, and not even punk. You know, the majority of anarchists out there are not into punk and people seem to be split up into other groups. So the anarcho-punk scene seems smaller, but the amount of anger that the kids have now and how politically aware they are, it’s just as big now as it was in the ’80s.
Me: [to JJ] And of course, tied in with the anger and that political awareness, I read your statement online about what happened to you. It reminded me a little bit of Mark Barnsley and the pressures that he encountered whilst in prison and what happened to him when he got out.
JJ: Yeah, I used to write to him when he was in prison.
Me: Because I was listening to the track on your album about HLS. Are you able to write about HLS now? In your statement you talked about going to see Conflict and you were pulled up for it.
JJ: Yeah, it turned out that someone who worked at probation was into punk and he was there at the gig. Out of all the places, you know, small world. So a few days after that, someone from Scotland Yard, from like the anti-terrorist unit, he used to come once a month to have a chat with me and see what I’ve been up to and that – basically to put a bit of fear into me – he turned up a few days after and all he wanted to talk about was that gig and who was there, who I spoke to. So yeah, they weren’t happy about that. So, it just shows that obviously back in the day Conflict was really well known band in the political movement – alongside Crass as well – and Scotland Yard are still thinking that Conflict are a powerful part of the movement today. We’re saying that anarcho-punk isn’t as powerful, but Scotland Yard are still interested in what Conflict do.
Phil: Yeah, apparently Scotland Yard have parked up outside Colin’s house in the past…
Me: And of course what you’ve written about Scotland Yard putting undercover individuals in with you whilst you were planning the HLS stuff. A bit like the McLibel Trial fiasco with Helen Steel and stuff.
JJ: Hopefully there might be a little more of that stuff coming up in the future as we’re talking to barristers at the moment about this. They’re the barristers who are involved with all the undercover police stuff that we’ve been hearing about at the moment.
Me: What you went through sounds horrendous.
JJ: One of my co-defendants went through even worse. That was just my story.
Me: I think there were 31 other defendants and because you pleaded guilty to a lesser chance this meant you got a shorter sentence. However, some of the other defendants got pretty long prison-terms, like 10 years.
JJ: Heather got the worse. She got 11 years. Then a few got 9 years and below that a few got 7 years. And quite a few got 5 years, and few got like 2 years and 3 years.
Me: Was it true that HLS were on the verge of closing down?
JJ: Yeah, due to us. We basically closed it but the government stepped in and gave them a bailout.
Phil: They were about to float on the stock exchange weren’t they?
JJ: That was after then. They were stopped, but they did afterwards. But there was one point when there was basically a victory and then the next day we found out that the government had stepped in and bailed them out with taxpayers’ money. The government basically said we’re gonna keep you open no matter what and then the pharmaceutical companies started to step in, people like Glaxo, Merck and Roche, and they put pressure on the Blair and Brown government and they said to them look, if you don’t sort them out these activists, we’re gonna leave the UK and that was when they brought in the new laws. So it was the big pharmaceutical companies influencing government.
Phil: Also, many politicians have financial interests in pharmaceutical companies anyway so it was obviously in their interests to keep it open. In fact, I think it was more about that issue than the animal welfare issue.
JJ: It’s like either the second or the third biggest industry in the UK, the pharmaceutical industry, so it’s pretty powerful…
Trev: It’s after anarcho punk….[all laughs]
Me: We’ve talked about the past. Where do you think punk is going? Where would you like it to go?
JJ: To inspire people, that would be my dream. Some kid off the street, he’s angry, and he doesn’t know where to point his anger towards and suddenly he gets into punk and listens to whatever band and he thinks ‘I like these lyrics, I agree with them’ and so gets into the scene, meets similar people and then suddenly he becomes influenced by other people’s ideas which are similar to his and he’s got direction then. Yeah, giving people a direction, inspiring people, bringing them together.
Phil: I think there are two ways to look at this. There is the personal and the collective. From the personal point of view we each have our own politics, our own ideas and thoughts about how we express that. In terms of the collective, I think there needs to be a bit more, er…not ‘leadership’…but collective determination to protest. We go to demos – like housing demos for instance – but we need more people there. In also goes for animal rights – and also, I think people should leave Facebook alone. Stop clicking stuff and actually go out and do it!
Trev: I think the way in which we all grow together, like JJ says, is that we get together and go ‘we agree with this, or agree with that.’ I guess that’s all we can hope for really. I mean, when we make music, everything we write has to be somehow political, otherwise, what’s the point? And that’s it, you play it and hopefully inspire somebody to do something, say something, or be active.
JJ: And we have, over the years, in Active Slaughter and SLUG, we’ve had people come up to us and say you know, ‘you’ve changed my life. You’ve turned me vegetarian, you’ve turned me vegan, you’ve turned me into an activist.’ One bloke I know he got into Active Slaughter years ago and within a couple of years he was doing time for animal rights. It was amazing.
Trev: I mean, there has to be that, doesn’t there? Somebody does have to influence somebody else, that’s how ideas spread. It just so happens we’re doing it in musical form, other people do it in other ways.
JJ: I can relate to that. Trev influenced me quite a lot within punk, especially with his bands Bug Central and Intensive Care. Musically and also about ideas round punk and that. I mean, I liked him so much I stole him out of the band for Active Slaughter [laughs]. But Trev probably influences me more than people like Steve Ignorant or Dick Lucas [Trev gets up and buys a round] I was just gonna say, you owe me a drink after that! So, you don’t have to be someone like, ‘famous,’ – I hate saying that word – like Dick Lucas or Steve Ignorant, you can just be someone who not many people know.
Trev returns with our drinks and we continue chatting in the sun. The conversation moves away from punk towards Kanye West at Glastonbury, Steve Reich and the Criminal Justice Bill. With a band tuning up in the pub and regulars turning up for a night’s drinking we walk down towards Camden Underground Station where, although it’s late afternoon it’s still hot and there are still plenty of tourists milling around wanting to see the ‘famous’ Camden Market. Phil tells me that he still listens to Schubert and I tell him we shouldn’t leave it so long next time.
It’s a shame to see the end of SLUG, but I have a feeling that there’s something else to come from Phil, JJ and Trev……
For more information, go to http://www.slugattack.com.