Anti-System was an anarcho-punk band from Bradford, West Yorkshire, in England. Originally the band came into existence in early 80s to be revered as one of the pioneers of the UK82 hardcore punk sound. Their lyrics dealt with the usual topics of anti-establishment, anarchism and animal rights but in an even more direct and confrontational way than most of the contemporary bands of the time.
Their most controversial song “Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Ignorance” off their last EP “A Look at Life” sparkled a lot of tension between them and the local punk-rock crowd, especially GBH fans that felt directly offended by the Anti-System’s song. The above mentioned EP is also notable for the band’s sound moving more into the heavy metal / thrash direction, which makes Anti-System an influential band for the later development of crust punk genre. However, it became their last record in that era, partially due to members of the band being imprisoned for smashing up three butcher shops, destroying an abattoir and freeing all the cows that were sent for slaughter.
In 2014, Anti-System came back together with a new line-up to steer up the punk circles again with their old school sound and uncompromising message. They even managed to record a brand new EP in 2017 called “At What Price Is Freedom?” (Boss Tuneage Records), followed by a series of shows, including their current Balkan dates in beginning of 2018.
After their shows in Greece and Bulgaria we sat down together with the editor of Sofia Rebel Station zine to interview Dean Martindale (vocals), Mark “Varik” Teale (guitar) and Kevin Frost (drums) about Anti-System and their legacy. Modern day photos by John Bolloten and Mr. & Mrs. Hardcore Photography, 80s photos unknown.
OK, let’s start with the introduction. How did you get involved in the DIY punk and subculture and then how did you become a member of Anti-System?
Varik: We were a band with no instruments for two years, when we were 13-14-15 years old. No instruments, just going “rah-rah-rah”. No money, nothing. Then we started our own band called Morbid Humour. We practiced at the same space as Anti-System.
When Anti-System first started they made a single (“Defence of the realm” EP, 1983) but in a very quick time some of their members have left. So they carried Anti-System ongoing using my old band Morbid Humour. Me and Keane were both in Morbid Humour. Back then we’ve got some basic instruments, we were just 16-17 years old.
At the time of “No Laughing Matter” LP (1985) Mick Teale was the Anti-System’s singer and Keane was on the bass. There was a direct action against the meat trade. Smashed the vans, the wagons of the meat industry, let the animals out. Smashed, paint, and fuck everything up. But then they’ve got caught. I didn’t get caught but them two got caught. Then, after this, we did the second record (“A Look at Life”, 1986) but the only original member was the drummer from the first record. But he wasn’t punk anymore. We thought it was his band, so we finished as a band.
Through all this time we thought it was his band, so we couldn’t redo it. But we said fuck that, we took the name Anti-System four years ago and we took the young lad, the good singer Dean, and we carry on from there. It’s going good, the band gets stronger. We are now doing gigs everywhere, it’s cool.
Mark Keane: Mick Teale joined after Nogsy left and I joined on bass after Mickey Knowles was dropped by the band, and Varik joined shortly after we started working on the album “No Laughing Matter” (1985).
Me and Mick Teale were imprisoned shortly after recording “A Look at Life”. We were sent to a prison based on a military style. We were given a bad time for being vegetarians, fed the same shit for every meal. The inmates respected us after a while.
Dean: Hello, my name is Dean. I sing in Anti-System. Before Anti-System I was a drummer in a cover band with the original bass player Mickey Knowles, who was on the single. He saw me sing in another band, so he asked me can I sing in Anti-System. So, obviously, I said yes.
So, we’ve been doing this for four years now and it’s fantastic. I’ve got into the punk scene with bands like Black Flag, The Casualties, Crass, Conflict, all the anarcho bands, and everything just got from there.
Kevin: I’m Kevin, currently playing drums for Anti-System. I joined the band February 2016. I first came across Anti-System in the very early 80s and used to put up a gig for them around 1984. This never came off. Always been familiar with the band, with all their releases in the past. I came from a very heavy punk background from 1979. I’ve played for various punk bands, I still play for a punk band called The Varukers, also play for Disorder and a few other punk bands along the way. I came to support Anti-System a couple of years ago in Wakefield with another band called The Vile. I’ve got caught in Anti-System and I’ve been ever since.
What does anarcho-punk mean to you and is it true that by the mid 80s the scene just died down because of everyone being a self-righteous asshole?
Varik: Yeah, it would have been like that a bit cause the scene died down. In England it died down and a lot of people were despondent with how everything went. Thrash metal was coming and it seemed a lot of people were moving to that. Punk was left for a while, myself included. I’ve left the punk scene for a bit because of children, family, and other stuff to do.
For many years, I’ve always wanted to come back and do it but couldn’t get the members. It wasn’t until 2016 when the new version of Anti-System really came together. After a couple of bumpy years to start, until we’ve got solid again to be productive and get things back in line. To tell the fucking establishment to fuck off again.
It’s been brilliant last five years. Four years ago my dream has come true to be again in Anti-System. So it’s not just for the fans but for me as well and I’m so proud with my band. Proud with what we do, with what we stand for. Against fascism and against fucking inequality in our society. This has been always what we are about. I, personally, am not gonna stop fighting until I’m dead.
Dean: Anarcho punk to me means solidarity, everybody working together to create live music, like what we have today. The gigs in Athens, Thessaloníki, Sofia were all fantastic. There is no money involved but everybody gets together and enjoys the scene. We’re also all vegan and vegetarian, cause it’s also all about animal rights. They have reason to be free just as much as we have. It’s all about friends, not food. Animals are our friends, not our food.
Kevin: I’ve told the world many, many times, mainly with The Varukers, that you and the rest of the world are very, very special. The UK is rubbish. You’ve got treated so badly in the UK. You will play venues where they treat you so bad, but when you play other places, in Europe especially, everyone’s so welcoming and it’s almost like you’re on a different planet, to be honest with you. All of Europe, all of the rest of the world. But, to me, the UK is just crap.
I’m not very polite about it, there are surely a lot of good people in the UK who try very, very hard after all throughout the years, but the UK is one of these places where people like to stab you in the back no matter how hard you try. We’ve had various promoters over the years putting on some fantastic gigs, but there’s always this small minority that always like to demoralize them and stab them in the back on every opportunity they ever have.
If you’re in a band and you’re touring for a living and you have to make a little bit of money, it’s almost like a daily job to you. If you can’t survive as a band, you’re gonna die. That is an unfortunate fact. You have to survive, but a lot of people forget about that.
Many people today think that anarcho-punk is about not giving anything back to anyone. But I think this is not true. So do you think that your records cost anything, that your gigs cost anything?
Varik: Yeah, everything has a cost. Unfortunately. You know, it would be great if we lived the dream of fucking anarchism—of sharing, of equality. But unfortunately we have to use evil bastard money. You know, this is a fact of life. Anarcho does not mean you don’t need to survive. I believed when we grow old we’re gonna get rid of the system. But a different way of life like this is quite naïve. To me anarchy is a personal endeavor, which really means that the old views that we can live like that as a mass society, we can’t live like that with other people. This is so sad to see when we grew up believing in something different.
The reality is a big fucking world full of ignorant people. We’ve got live it. So anarchy to me is trying to make that world as best as possible. Greed, fucking war, politics—the old fucking law. It doesn’t fucking work. They still keep recycling it, but it doesn’t fucking work. We need the people to take the fucking power. And the people are their own fucking government. That’s the solution in my book. But it’s a dirty fucking world and a dirty game of politics. Cash, greed, everything we are against. And we fight against it all our lives and nothing changes but your personal environment and the people you are with.
Kevin: Anarchy nowadays is a form of ideology. While it tends to be a personal ideology that everybody thinks about it in their own way. Anarchy as a way of life without government, etc. will never ever work. So a lot of the old punks of the 70s and 80s now think of anarchy as an ideology. You live your own way as best as you possibly can without shitting on other people. And that is the way really that it’s gonna go forward.
I’ve always lived my life by these rules. I’ll do whatever I like as long as I don’t shit on other people. And I think that’s what the punk scene as an ideology has progressed to over the years. You can never have anarchy since there are far too many idiots in the world these days. The world nowadays is just based on greed. Everybody is out for whatever they can make to anybody else. They don’t give a shit about how they make people feel, how they treat people. The world is a very, very dangerous place at the moment. But as long as you as an individual live your life by the rules that you’ve set up for yourself, then you yourself can be at peace.
I think that and that’s exactly how I live my life. And I’m pretty sure a lot of the old punks of the 70s and the 80s do the same. They’ve realised over the years that anarchy is a way of life, it will never ever happen. But as a personal choice, it’s one of the best choices you’ll ever make.
In the past, the punk scene was like a breeding ground for hunt saboteurs, militant animal rights and animal liberation activism. And now, when veganism is so mainstream in the UK and all around the world, do you think there’s still ground for militant animal rights? Do you believe in it? Do you think that vegan and AR activism now is far from what it has been, i.e. when Barry Horne was still around?
Dean: Oh, I think it’s great that veganism and vegetarianism is becoming very mainstream. People are now standing up and realising what’s wrong with the fur farming industry, that the meat industry is killing the planet. Even the dairy industry, how small calves are being ripped off from their mothers straight away just to be used as products. It’s fucking horrible…
Varik: Meat industry is fascist. If you eat meat you are depriving someone of their life. If you’re making this decision, to me, if you eat meat you’re a Nazi. It’s the same mentality. Tear, fucking grab, smash, kill.
If you take vegan, you take peace. You take humanity, a higher level of understanding of the fucking planet and what you’re doing with it. Abusing animals just for selfish fucking consumption, you need to think do you want this for your fucking children…
Thank you very much, is there anything else you would like to add?
Varik: We, Anti-System, love Bulgaria. We love the people. We love this place. And we love what you are doing. Because we did the same.
Dean: And the hospitality is fantastic.
Varik: And the more there is like this, the more there will be a community and humanity. In England, people only care about themselves. When you come to people like this, with same views; it spreads. The humans are bad, the air is bad. In England people stand around like dead sheep with no fucking emotion. They don’t have lives, they are fucking androids.
They are programmed to serve the system. Fuck that shit! We are Anti-System.