Our Music editor Tim Forster brings us another great interview, this time with left-wing punk band The Restarts!
Where would you place The Restarts politically? You started in the mid 1990s, has your politics changed over time?
Restarts have always sat firmly left of centre, anti racist, non nationalist and pro equality. Basically anything that is pro human rights and against bigotry. We have had several line up changes over the last 18 years but our political standing has stayed pretty much the same, if not more resolute. We don’t really have an agenda, we aren’t politicians but rather fuel creative anger from issues that affect us. Different topics get flagged up locally and internationally which forces people to look at them and address them. With the recognition of civil partnership in the UK folks were forced to have an opinion on the matter, where as before I felt the whole gay issue was relatively overlooked in punk rock. In a way it becoming a national debate has had a positive impact against homophobia within the scene. We like to support that.
You are based in London and on your website you mention being involved in the squat scene early on-how have you seen the Tories attacks on squatting affecting people?
Yes when I first moved to London everyone I knew squatted. The squatting community encompassed a large demographic of folks from punks, anarchists, travellers, crusties and activists. All of which you would see at free festies, squat gigs, and rave parties (when combined with live music stages). Now a days I don’t know many people that squat, of course there still is people at it, but they are usually younger folk who don’t mind being evicted every 6 months. The big push by the Tories against squatting was an unnecessary campaign, a show of muscle flexing to drive home their right wing position. It is almost like if they do something that appears left wing (approving gay marriage) they then will match it with a campaign to keep the old school Tories on board – attack the great unwashed squatters and at the same time make homelessness illegal (shutting down soup kitchens in Westminster etc).
You’re a band that tours the UK and Europe, what would your take be on how people are feeling and responding to neoliberal austerity being imposed across Europe?
In general it sows the seeds of resentment and inequality, alone seeing the audacity of Bank CEOs still receiving 6 figure bonuses while the tax paying public absorbs the debt leaves people feeling a sense of outrage. We take to the streets and protest but within days we will be distracted by some other sensational new story and then it just becomes last weeks news? It is incredible but somehow by opening up all these channels of communication it has left the average citizen SO distracted we have trouble holding on to one thought for more than a minute!
The most common complaint we hear about on the road is a stronger police force clamping down on any form of activism. The erosion of civil liberties and of course places like the USA seems to be just an endless catalogue of the worst examples of police brutality with little or no repercussions. Totally sickening to watch!
The Restarts have had a few personnel changes-have those shifts in collaboration effected your music and lyrics?
We have always had a 3 way input, lyrically but usually falls within the confines of our left of centre standpoint. With new members they will bring in their particular influences and ideas. One of our latest songs Independentzia speaks about Basque independence. Robin our guitarist wrote it as he and his Basque girlfriend Itxi visit quite often and have an understanding of the injustice going on over there. So we do change our platform from time to time. Musically we started out thrashy and fast and then had a pull towards steady paced 77 style rock’n’roll with some ska elements thrown in. Since Darragh’s departure we now seem to be steering back towards getting faster again (fighting against the were getting “old, fat and slow” tag!)
We also like I have some fun songs to allow people to have a fun night out when going to a gig – it can’t all be dreadful bleak musings of the end of the world! We are also aware of not coming across as preachy or above people. punk rock is like and on going conversation… and so should the gigs be.
You have been involved in the’ punk scene’ since the mid 1990s’s. As a band who sing about social issues have there been any changes in that scene that encourage/discourage you?
I personally get encouraged when I see the new generation of punks taking action and getting involved. You can see the influence of bands and their ideologies on young kids who have taken up the mantle of organising gigs, protests, action groups etc. Some of our best gigs have been set up by teenagers who are very young but super motivated. Sometimes its good to take a chance on the new kids rather than stick with the older established organisers.
You have spent 20 years in activism and stimulating others to think- how have you avoided becoming jaded or cynical?
I dunno, I think it is all too easy to become jaded and drop out. I feel a responsibility to the younger punks. Playing live we get the benefit of performing for an appreciative audience, so it is a positive exchange. In my personal life I have moved into facilitating music workshops for rehabilitation for vulnerable adults, prisoners and young offenders. This reinforces my beliefs that Punk rock and music CAN be a force for change. Not just a teen age fad that you grow out of when its time to get a ‘real job’. I am employed by an organisation called Good Vibrations that uses Gamelan (indonesian bronze percussion) to help build key life skills. We have also recently started a “Rock school” workshop at Behtlem Royal hospital dealing with music tech and playing more traditional western instruments. It is very empowering work especially when you see direct results in peoples well being.
An overtly left wing, pro-gay, anti racist stance would be pretty normal in UK punk, at least in my limited experience. Is that true of European and American punk?
I would hate to think I am generalising but punk is such a vast entity that I think each continent you have mentioned can embody all different kinds of punk! What we as a band need to think about is to which section of punk we are playing to? I know we span a lot of different categories. I can’t fully explain why but I have somewhat of an idea. We have been labelled in the past as “street punk” “oi?” we also get called “Anarcho punk”, “thrash punk”, “DIY” and “Harcore punk”. What the hell does it all mean?? lol I actually think it is a good thing as it can bring different groups together. I love when someone tells me they hate our ska songs yet I see them dancing away into pit when we play them. I also like that mohicaned street punks show up who may not be into “political punk” yet let themselves be open to listening to what we have to say. I remember from being a young punk that we are all just carving our path in life and you should never write someone off for being into a certain style or genre of music.
I think the European punk movement is very much centred around squat and youth centres and running your own autonomous spaces where as in Amercia they are always struggling to find all ages venues due to their ridiculous liquor licenses (drinking age of 21). Doing bar shows in the States is like shooting yourself in the foot as teenagers can’t get in. You are better off knocking drinking on the head and playing all ages gigs.
Politically America and Canada seems to be a healthy mixture of politically or socially driven punk, largely due to the great bands in the 80’s who paved the way. There also is an anti political sentiment usually harboured by previous bands falling out with each other over differences. Much like the divide in the UK during the 80’s which was Exploited, GBH vs Conflict, Crass etc. Meanwhile I grew up across the pond in Canada loving all the bands and only finding out about the divide by Exploited slagging off Crass on their ”On Stage” album. Then discovering Special Duties and their Bullshit Crass ep. It was very sad seeing north american punks importing this attitude and applying it to local scenes. Very counter productive.
Obviously the internet has changed how people access music, do you notice any other effects on how people ‘relate’ to a band?
Yes it is very interesting how todays independent music works! With online streaming and torrent downloading people can access everything they like and learn about new genres in a very short amount of time. I think it is a good thing, but again always leaves the artist at odds when it comes to trying to cover your costs. As an independent band we do alright. Having our music and t-shirts available from our own web shop allows us to not only rely on what we can sell at shows but helps us out all year round, particularly helping out with rehearsal costs.
Fans of music have much more of an insight as to what the bands get up to due to social networking and music sites for bands. In a way it has levelled the playing field, knocking down a few of the barriers that come up with the inevitable “putting people on a pedestal” syndrome that music scenes tend to create. I think it is a positive step forward for independent music.